Relax, relax more…..drop shoulders…..
This is often heard in the dojo, but in most cases the student doesn’t know how to release the excessive tension of the muscles. The word is there, but the body doesn’t understand the action.
Taikan or bodily feeling or sensation has to be improved before we can start with releasing the tension. If you experience tension you have to know from where it is coming.
Movement and relaxation
Movement is basically an action performed by the muscles. The muscles are steered by signals from the brain.
When you pick up a box from the floor, most people bent over from the back. Although we know this is not healthy, most people are doing it this way. The brain is not built to recognise bad movements or postures.
When you grasp the wrist of the opponent and he resist your movement by pulling for example, the natural reaction is to apply more power with the hand and arm. We all know this is not the proper action, but it seems the brain has his own way of managing movements and using power. The brain says, more power by contracting the muscle. By doing this way, the local muscles are becoming too tensed and will block the power generated by the koshi, tanden and yōbu.
When the muscles are too tensed for a long time, the brain will give a signal to release with the result of a low muscle tone, which is on the other side of the “muscle tone” spectrum.
For example keeping the arm in the position of chudan no kamae, after a while tension creeps up to the shoulders. The tension becomes painful and the brain will say “stop”, the arm will drop down.
“Muscle tone” is often confused for “muscle strength” and although related, they are not interchangeable terms. Tone refers to the amount of tension in a muscle when at resting state (not actively contracted). Muscle tone helps our bodies maintain posture.
Low muscle tone is characterised by the muscles having less tension at resting state and feeling “floppy”. High muscle tone is created by excessive contraction of the muscle. High and low muscle will interfere with the power management of the body.
Is it possible to instruct the brain to use a pattern with a more economical use of muscle tone and more healthy for the body?
Inner balance, the solution for better power management
Adapted from an article on “generating body strength” by CP Ong
We define inner balance as a state where the muscle actions underlying movements and support are neither excessive nor deficient. This balance incorporates the internal dynamics of the muscle actions at the joints and therefore the balance of axial and appendicular muscles in alignment. The comprehensiveness of the balance is underpinned by the ease and liveliness of change of motion at the joints within the structure. The approach presumes that our postural configuration is flawed with inner imbalance. The strategy of training is to reduce the errors of imbalance, moving through states of lesser stress towards inner balance.
The ideal motion gives rise to a comprehensive force that can be applied in timely response with precision and optimal strength. The strength is uncharacteristic of physical muscular force—there is hardly any indication of exertion in the execution; it appears hidden, and thus is dubbed “inner strength.”
Governed by the principle of inner balance, in the execution of any action, the axial and inner muscles are aligned with the prime-mover muscles in balance. Therefore, the output power of the waist-power action is optimal by virtue of inner balance. In other words, body motion inspired by inner balance is ideal; unimpeded by imbalance of muscle actions, the motion is fluid,
The bones system consists of two parts: the axial skeleton and the appendicular skeleton. The axial skeleton include the skull, the spine, the ribs and the sternum; totally eighty bones. The shoulder and pelvic girdle and the bones of the limbs fall under the appendicular skeleton. This part of the bones system has 126 bones: 64 in the shoulders and upper limbs and 62 in the pelvis and the lower limbs.
What is axial skeleton?
(The white part of the skeleton on the picture)
The axial skeleton is supported by soft tissues like ligaments of the vertebral column, muscles of the face and the throat, cartilage of the ribs, and tendons of the muscles. These bones have functions of central weight bearing and protection and maintenance of posture. The skull and the ribcage protect the brain and the organs of the chest cavity respectively. The ossicles of the ear have the function of maintaining the balance of the human body. The hyoid bone is an anchor point for various muscles covering the throat as a protective function for the airways, gullet, major arteries and nerves. The vertebral column has functions in proper weight distribution, protection of the spinal cord and maintaining proper posture.
What is appendicular skeleton?
(The red part of the skeleton on the picture)
The appendicular skeleton consists of 126 bones in the body, which are arranged symmetrically on either side of the body, which include the bones of the upper and lower limbs, and their connections to the axial skeleton. They are mainly made up of long bones and other bones. The upper arm is connected to the axial skeleton by the shoulder girdle, and that is supported by a myriad of tendons, cartilages, muscles and ligaments. The thigh is connected to the axial skeleton by the pelvic girdle. The main bones of the upper limb include the humerus, radius, ulna, carpal, metacarpal, and phalanges. The main bones of the lower limb include the femur, tibia, fibula, tarsal, metatarsal, and phalanges. The functions of the appendicular bones include balance and stability, along with the main functions of locomotion and manipulation.
What is the difference between Axial and Appendicular?
Both have functions of weight bearing at differing levels, as well as those of stability, balance, and protection of organs. But the main concern of axial skeleton is that of posture, stability and balance, whereas the appendicular skeleton is that of locomotion. The axial skeleton is fused, whereas the appendicular skeleton is not fused.
Power management depends on the skill of resetting the muscles. Resetting skill stands generally for a release of tension or stimulation of the muscle tone, a return to equilibrium. The resetting skill depends on the input and output in the brain. Unfortunately the synchronisation between the axial and the appendicular systems is not optimal. Gripping the wrist, mentioned earlier, is an example of the malfunction in the synchronisation.
We have to rewire the pattern in the brain. Creating the pattern of resetting the muscles of the shoulder and pelvic girdle is the first part of the rewiring of the pattern.
By sinking the shoulders at the level of the armpit, we can reset the muscles to the correct muscle tone whenever there is tenseness.
The same can be done with the pelvic girdle, sinking of the groins will reset the muscles in the pelvic area.
The shoulder girdle is controlling the arms, the pelvic girdle is controlling the legs.
Resetting a deficiency of muscle tone can be obtained by stretching the muscles and tendons internally whenever there is a deficiency. Internal stretching is not what most people understand by the popular stretching exercises.
The expression “taking out of the slack” is referring to the internal stretching. When we use tenshikei skills, we are stretching internally the muscles and tendons of the central body. Also kyokotsu exercises will stretch internally without excessive tension.
Kiko (気功) is the Japanese term for Qi-gong, Chinese exercises for health and energy.
One of the most famous exercises is “standing”.
Ritsuzen in Japanese or zhang zuang in Chinese.
The purpose of this exercise is to reset the muscles and tendons. The shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle are the main targets in this exercise.
Seichusen is needed to be succesful in resetting. Sinking the shoulders at the level of the armpits and sinking the groins creates the necessary relaxation.
There are many postures in ritsuzen training, even the posture of chudan no kamae can be used as a ritsuzen posture for a long time. The amount of time spent practicing ritsuzen varies between styles and schools; one may spend from two minutes to two hours standing in one posture.