Synchronising – A physical, mental and social action.

This article is not an academic document, it is a secular interpretation, not an academic one. It is based on my personal experiences during my 60 years of practice in various martial arts and sports. Judo/Jujutsu, Shaolin Kempo, Karate, Aikido, Hakko-Ryu Jujutsu, Iaido, Jodo, Yiquan, Qigong,….. and guidance from many martial arts teachers. And most important, the ability to self-cultivation.

A scientific statement.

Synchronization is, in a broad sense, coordination of rhythmic oscillators due to their interaction.

Buzzwords or ability to use tough words.

It is almost standard to use scientific terms in articles to give it an academic flavour. Without the necessary knowledge, these words are transformed into “Buzzwords”. A word or sentence, often an element of jargon, which is fashionable at a particular moment or context.

Translating scientific jargon into a plain language for martial arts, can give you a better insight into the many exercises and techniques during your training. The most important thing to improve your martial art as a human being is the competency of self-cultivation.

Definition of self-cultivation: the development of one’s mind or capacities through one’s own efforts.

From the Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia

Synchronisation – Neural-Mental-Social

In Martial Art, footwork, stretching and releasing, winding and unwinding…. All these “actions of body and mind” need to be combined into a single and smooth movement. A whole-body motion creates a more efficient technique for overcoming the confrontation with an opponent. This process is known in the language of martial art: Rendo.

But rendo is more than personal synchronization. It is also in sync with the training partner and/or adversary.

Let us look at a very simple action of the daily life:

A person’s steps unconsciously synchronize with those of a partner when two people walk together, although their foot lengths and therefore their intrinsic cycles are different.

Obviously, it’s not just a physical synchronization. Synchronization has a number of levels. There are synchronized neural processes, mental activities, and social interactions. Neural processes are critical to physical or bodily synchronization. Mental activities are required to form a picture of something we like to accomplish. Social interactions are playing an important role in our society. Social media as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…. part of our daily life.

Synchronisation on a physical level

Sports and martial arts are activities that are seen frequently on television or in other forms of media distribution. Unfortunately, the mere fact of watching competitions or sports activities on the screen or in a sport-stadium does not have a direct impact on the search for a healthy body (Mental and Bodily). We have to do physical activities like cardio workouts, flexibility programs and other forms of physical training to build or maintain a healthy body and of course a mind free from frustrations and depressions.

At a beginners level, martial art training is more focused on the physical side of training. But we cannot ignore the game of the mind and the interaction between the mind of the attacker and defender.

Synchronisation and differentiation

Differentiation is the process of dividing a homogeneous whole into parts with different properties. Characteristic of differentiation is that a whole remains and that the division into parts with different properties occurs within that whole.

In Martial Arts, whole-body movement is used to indicate the necessity of using all your physical and mental resources you have. Practising with the focus on all different resources is difficult, almost impossible, especially for beginners. Even advanced practitioners need a method to avoid an overload on details to look after. One of the chief instructors of the Japan Aikido Association made a remark during one of his semnars.

Perfection is a matter of 1000 details

Fumiaki Shishida, JAA Shihan

In a sense, he is telling us to practise with all the details. But I believe we have “to differentiate” and of course not to forget, the details are a part of the whole. The difficulty is to distinguish the various details for focused training without losing the whole.

An example can bring some clarity in this matter.

Tomiki Aikido put much emphasis on the use of “tegatana” during training. The hand can take different positions, and those positions are useful for different purposes in our hands. Using an exercise to indicate the hand position as a basic exercise for daily practice is, in my opinion, a waste of time. Tegatana positions are integral to a whole body movement and should be considered in the context of a whole body movement when using tegatana. Nevertheless, it is possible to do such an exercise when introducing the different positions of tegatana. As soon as possible, the tegatana positions must be included in the whole body movements of Tomiki Aikido.

A simple example of “synchronisation”

  1. Start posture – both “kwa or mata” are neutral – tegatana uchi-mawashi position
  2. Turning body by opening “kwa or mata” – tegatana is following body movement and synchronised with opening “kwa or mata”
  3. Body returns to start posture – tegatana drops to middle lower position synchronised with “kwa or mata”
  4. Body turn by opening “kwa or mata” – synchronising with lifting tegatana
  5. Body returns to start posture – tegatana synchronised with “kwa or mata”
  6. Movement is repeated…..

This simplified movement is an application of uchi-mawashi, soto-mawashi, uchi-gaeshi and soto-gaeshi. Synchronised with opening and closing “kwa or mata”.

Synchronisation and 6 Harmonies

Some of you recognize the word “Harmony” in a non martial art context. Take for example the harmony concept in music. Music can bring movement forward in the actions of humans, going from emotions to dancing. The main part of music is sound with the correct use of harmonies.

What is so enigmatic about sounds that provoke emotions in us? Is it just a physical phenomenon of vibrations or something more dynamic? This question can also be asked in martial arts. Our being starts in the mind, creates a kind of vibration of energy, and the result is a movement useful to apply as a waza. Everything has to be synchronised and in harmony. Without this, chaos is looking around the corner. In your search for effective movements or techniques, you will discover that martial art teachers use the word Qi or Ki.

The discussion of the word Qi or Ki in a Western “consumption” society becomes ridiculous if the focus is mainly on materialism. Fortunately, martial artists are often open-minded.

Chinese martial arts recognise 6 kind of synchronisation or in their words 6 harmonies.

Internal Harmonies

Internal Harmonies is about the way you are using your energy needed for physical movements, internal and external.

  1. Xin (fighting-emotional-survival spirit or also called “heart”) and Yi (intention or wisdom mind)
  2. Yi and Qi (physical energy)
  3. Qi and Li (strength – the physical manifestation of Qi seen as a movement – internal and external)

External Harmonies

External Harmonies is about the syncronisation of major body joints

  1. Hips and shoulders – Connection of the 4 main body joints
  2. Knees and elbows – Knees are driven by hips, elbows are driven by shoulders
  3. Feet (ankles) and hands (wrists) – Strength is controlled by the center through shoulders, hips, knees and elbows

The center is the core of the body and has 3 main parts

  1. The central part of the head
  2. The lower part of breastbone
  3. The gravity center of the body

Synchronisation of all thes elements is a main part of the training. If this is not included, your martial art will not function as a whole body system with different part working toghether in harmonie.

Many Japanese Martial Arts have borrowed some of these concepts in their training program. Of course, they added a Japanese flavor, expressed in the different forms of Budo and Bujutsu.

The equivalent of the Chinese words (or concepts) in Japanese can create some confusion.

Xin or spirit: Shin, kokoro…
Yi or intention: I, Zanshin,…..
Qi or energy: Ki,….. the physical manifestation of power is called Chikara

Tanren, forging the mind and body

Tanren-gata and shinken-gata

In martial arts, the terms tanren-gata and shinken-gata are used to indicate the difference between a kata to enhance body movements and a combat-oriented kata.

Tomiki Aikido kata/katachi may also be categorized as tanren-gata or shinken-kata.

Most basic kata (basic15, basic17, tanto basic17, ura-waza….) can be categorized as tanren-gata. A series of movements or techniques for practicing the body movements necessary for the creation of an effective technique.

Koryu no kata are essentially a sort of shinken-gata, a series of formal techniques focused on combat. There is one exception in the Koryu no kata, the dai-yon kata omote and ura are tanren-gata to improve the body movements needed during the “randori” training.

Renshu and Tanren

Renshu 練習
This training is intended to study the waza found in kata/katachi which are already understood at a base level. The goal is to improve the movements of the entire body in a given context. It may be a combat setting or a randori setting.

Tanren 作務 (building physical and mental strength)
It focuses on improving physical and mental resilience through physical and mental training. For a true practical application of an effective technique, physical fitness and mental resiliency to pain and discomfort are necessary. Tanren actually precedes the other one, renshu. Without tanren, the numerous kata/katach waza become a hollow shell. If there is a demonstration (embu) or a grading (shinsa), the evaluation must take into account the outcome of the tanren and certainly not a show of acrobatic performances. It is not an object of entertainment.

Beyond 10,000 Hours: The Constant Pursuit of Mastery

Robert Greene (born May 14, 1959) is an American author known for his books on strategy, power, and seduction. Although he has a controversial reputation, his idea on “Mastery” is worth a study.

His book on “Mastery” makes a compelling case that mastery is earned, not granted. He describes three distinct phases of the journey, I) Apprenticeship, II) Creative-Active and III) Mastery. His advice is to keep in mind that the goal is not to become a Master, but to continuously pursue mastery with a purpose.

He also mentioned, you need at least 10,000 hrs of practise to forge the mind and body.

Shu-Ha-Ri

The concept of “Shu-Ha-Ri” is certainly a similar concept and Renshu/Tanren is a part of it. We have to use “Tanren” or the forging of the mind and body for the next step: Renshu.

If you have time and energy, you can walk the path of mastery with regular training. But this training has to be of high quality in other words: Renshu

Kenji Tomiki began training under Morihei Ueshiba in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 1926. He was largely responsible for the compilation and editing of the text in Morihei Ueshiba’s 1933 training manual “Budo Renshu” (published in English under the name “Budo Training in Aikido“).

In this book, the assumption is that you have already done your Tanren, creating the foundation for Renshu.

The Switch

Changing the direction of power in a movement is not an easy task. We cannot interrupt the movement because is will also interrupt power generation. With every stop we have to start over again in generating power.
While your upper body muscles are directly involved with the action of the hand/arm, the force is generated throughout your body. Initial force is initiated by your lower body muscles and transferred through your core through to your upper body muscles. Any weakness or excessive tension in the transferring muscles will diminish the force and reduce performance.

6 major directions

We can move in many directions. Basically we consider 6 major directions. Other directions can be seen as a combination between 2 or 3 major directions and can become a spiral movement.
Movement can happen with the arms, the central body an/or the legs.

Switching between major directions

Switching is only possible when there is control of all the muscles involved.
An example how a switch can work can be more informative than words.

Kakae dori is an attack where an external pressure is applied to the body. Defending against such an attack needs a skill of expanding without using brute force.

If we allow the squeezing action of Uke, we will be thrown easily. If we can create a whole-body force against the squeezing, we will have the opportunity to free ourself. It is a question of using tension and relaxing at the same time. But how to do it?
It is based upon “opposing isometric force pairs”. There are of course other switching methods. If we suddenly, without any interuption, switch from outside tension to inside tension, uke may lose his grip and balance.

The exercise is to switch between internal and external pressure. The body needs to adapt to those 2 kinds of pressure images.

Push & pull vs. push-pull

Push&pull are two actions in a sequential order. Push-pull is one action. In the push-pull movement the balance between agonist and antagonist muscles creates a moving non-moving action. Push&pull or push-pull can be a straight line movement, a circular or a spiral movement.
When practising aikido or another martial art both action will be utilized to create attacking or defensive movements.
Again an example can be highly informative.

Push & pull

The first picture above is a push action into the ground, the second is the rebound of the power, the third picture is a pull action of the back foot bringing again close to the front foot to stabilize the equilibrium.

Push-pull

The first picture above is a push-pull action associated with holding a ball in the arm. Opposing isometric forces will move Uke around you.
The second picture is nearly a straight line push-pull. Although we said a straight line, the internal action relates to meguri. The meguri action is an internal spiral movement transmitted from the center of Tori to Uke through rotational movements of the hand/wrist/arm.The result will be a balance between a push-pull action. In other words an opposing isometric force.

Overlapping sequences

When we link all the singular movements of the body the result will be “rendo-movement”. During the performance of rendo movements, there are overlapping moments in the sequence of the actions. In the next example push & pull and push-pull are following a definite sequence.
But there is an overlapping between the different action in the sequence.

  • Picture1: grasping the arm
  • Picture2: pulling the arm
  • Picture3: body turn while keeping pulling
  • Picture4: keeping pulling and starting pushing
  • Picture5: keeping pulling and pushing while putting body into position to throw
  • Picture6: throwing and relaxing
Mae otoshi to gyaku gamae

Power needs some time to travel through the body, although this happens very fast. If we start too early our overlapping action, the force of the previous action will not be used to the full potential. If we start too late, the power of Rendo will be lost.

Tegatana dosa (tandoku undo) a switch exercise

Senta Yamada Tandoku Undo

These “tegatana dosa” are good examples to discuss switching the direction of force. As previously mentioned the mechanism of power generation:

While your upper body muscles are directly involved with the action of the hand/arm, the force is generated throughout your body. Initial force is initiated by your lower body muscles and transferred through your core through to your upper body muscles. Any weakness in the transferring muscles will diminish the force and reduce performance.

  • Uchi mawashi – Inside sweep

There are 4 arm actions in this exercise:

  • Turn the arm, palm hand up
  • Turn core of the body – tenshi
  • Switch the arm, palm hand down
  • Sweep the arm with body turn

If the exercise is done as 4 separate actions, there will be a reduced amount of power at the end of the movement. If the link between the 4 actions is established, there will be more power at the end of the movement. By using overlapping, performance will be more powerfull.

Using uchi mawashi in a paired exercise, proper unsoku (footwork) has to be added. Drilling the feet will increase efficiency.

Sotai dosa 3

In this example there is another concept which requires considiration.

We find Fibonacci Sequence at work in the principles, shapes, movements and strategies in nature but also within martial arts, by holding your arm with the correct angle at the elbow while extending your mind through the arm. The correct angle of human joints for movements has to be between 90* and 180°.

A push-pull and opposing isometric forces example
In the 7-hon-no-kuzushi gedan, spirals and opposing isometric forces are used to create balance disturbing. There are many variations, but basically all are build around spirals and opposing isometric forces.

we can see the Fibonacci spiral in combination with opposing isometric force pair. Uke will be fixed on the spot in an akward position.

  • Soto mawashi – Outside sweep

When using soto mawashi in partner training, some adaptations has to be done. The basic actions of uchi mawashi can be applied here too.

  • Turn the arm, palm hand up
  • Turn core of the body – tenshi
  • Switch the arm, palm hand up
  • Sweep the arm with body turn

Soto mawashi with partner after some adaptations.

  • Uchi gaeshi – soto gaeshi

In this sequence by Senta Yamada, the meguri concept is not visible. We only can guess if there is some internal movement invoking meguri.
In our research, the implementation of meguri and opposing isometric forces can increase the efficiency of these movement exponential. Switching the direction of forces is an aplication of meguri and opposing isometric forces and is needed to perform “waza” or techniques.

Balanced body frame: Shizentai

Shizentai

Tomiki100yrs 034Tomiki wrote many articles and books about Budo, mostly Judo and Aikido. In his writings, but also in his lectures he stressed a lot “shizentai” mostly translated as “natural posture”.
Shizentai is a posture neither limp or neither rigid. From shizentai we can move in any direction. If someone is pushing we can move away without changing the distance in our relationship with the opponent or partner.
The picture of Kenji Tomiki is sometimes used as “the” example for “shizentai”, but this is not completely correct. Shizentai is all about how your body is behaving during activity and rest. Tomiki’s picture is just one of many examples of shizentai.
Shizentai is a kind of neutral body structure, a balance between a tensed body structure and a slacked body structure.

Balanced body frame

A balanced body frame is not a fixed posture. It is a dynamic structure, and sometimes it balances between a 1-part body frame to a more multipart body frame. Both body structures are in a balanced status depending on the use of the structure in a specified situation.

It is also possible to have a “neutral” body frame, a structure when someone is touching or grabbing you and the opponent just feels your skin.
This kind of body condition is very convenient to hide your intention.

1-part body

1-part body frame

A 1-part body frame is used when we have to increase “momentum” by using more body mass.

Using gravity in a movement is a good example of the use of 1-part body frame.

By stretching up the body, a 1-part body condition is created. When the body is tilted slightly forward, a forward step is needed to keep balance. Momentum can transferred into the strike with the “tegatana”. The attacking arm is a part of the 1-part body frame, the full body weight will increase the momentum in the strike. Of course, the skill of rolling foot and tsugi ashi is needed to keep balance.

shomen ate old

Multi-part body frame

A 1-part body frame is very useful when we seem to have a lot of space to move around, but this is not always possible.

Our body has more possible options for moving and generating power. The skill of “rendo” is based upon using a multi-part body frame.

kyokotsu exercise 10

When the wrist is grabbed and twisted, the different parts of the body will allow the twisting. By allowing the twisting, energy is storing into the twisted body. This energy can be released by moving the different parts in a correct sequence.

TenshikeiThe sequence in a multi-part body frame

It is important to keep the interface of the grasping unchanged. This is only possible when the body has a neutral condition. Opponent just feels the skin of your wrist, but opponent has no access to the rest of your body. You just accept his power which doesn’t interfere with your balance and moving abilities.

The photographs are taken from a documentary:
Hino Budo by Akira Hino
The pictures are taken from Akira Hino’s book:
Don´t Think, Listen to the Body

Keeping the interface

Do not resist or try to modify the situation. If you do, you change the state of the interface (the gripped part), and change is immediately detected by the opponent who will adjust the grip and hold you more firmly. Keep the interface as it is.
The change of the interface is an indication that you’ve used your consciousness to resist intentionally. You may use your consciousness to feel, but never use it to think or plan otherwise it will be detected by the opponent. Keeping the body frame neutral is an important skill for all Budo Aikido practitioners.

Untwist the body by itself

As the twisted body untwist itself by releasing the stored energy, your elbow drops and bends, and your palm turns upwards. You may think it is advantageous to step forward and turn to the antagonist to use the weight of your body for resistance, but you’re advised not to do so. Do not try to move intentionally, for it will be overpowered by the opponent who is in a better position, he’s twisted your arm already. “Keep the interface as it is” is important here as well, for as soon as you try to use your intentional power, the state of the interface changes and the opponent will notice it immediately.

The “real skill” of Shizentai

Shizentai is a dynamic condition of being. There are no unnecessary tensions, there is no slack in the body. All actions are optimal, even during the “rest” action. Of course it takes time to develop such a skill.
Shizentai is a skill useful in all aspects of life and it must be practised until it is a part of your being.

Rendo – linking movement segments

Movement segments or the concept of “3”

Whole body movement is made of linked movement segments and it is called “rendo”. Although it is not only a physical action, the brain (and its functions) plays also an important role.

When we consider mainly the physical actions, we can divide a movement segment action in 3 parts:

  • root: source of force for movements
  • joint segments: transfer of force by using the joints of the body
  • tip: end of the line of force or the point of transfer into the opponent

By dividing the human body in 3 major segments we can focus on a smaller part of the body. Each segment can be divided into another 3-part segment. By using this concept of “3”, we can isolate partial movement and focus better on moving the partial segment. By using the skill of rendo or linking skill, whole body movement is created.

  • Upper appendicular segment
  • Central axial segment
  • Lower appendicular segment

The central segment of the human body has 3 parts

  • Head or top of the body.
  • Upper torso – with kyokotsu as control system. Middle of the body.
  • Lower torso – koshi/tanden/yōbu. Base of the body.

The upper appendicular segment, called the arm

  • Shoulder or source
  • Elbow or transfer
  • Hand/wrist or extremity

The lower appendicular segment, called the leg

  • Inguinal crease (mata) or source
  • Knee or transfer
  • Foot/ankle or tip (end of force line – see later)

 3 segments

The article “guide, movement and power” is related with the concept of  “3”.

Segment of central body

Kyokotsu controls the central body. By manipulating kyokotsu, movement of the the arm segment can be controlled.
Kyokotsu has also an effect on the koshi/tanden/yōbu. Of course this area has to be free of tension. The movement of koshi/tanden/yōbu will have an effect on “mata” or inguinal crease.
There are 3 basic movements of the kyokotsu:

  • Forward and backkyokotsu in-out
  • Up and downup & down kyokotsu
  • Figure 8tenshikei solo exercise

Segment of the arm

The power in this segment is a push/pull action. The hand is the leading factor and is a pulling action in the direction of the target, shoulder is the driving factor and is pushing forward. The elbow is transferring the pushing power in coordination with the pull of the hand.

Kyokotsu is controlling the power from koshi/tanden/yōbu and direct the power into the shoulder. The pointing of a finger has a pulling action on the arm, the elbow functions as a transfer for the power in the arm.

 Segment of the leg

lower segment of 3The lower segment (inguinal crease, knee and foot) uses the power of koshi/tanden/yōbu. The power is directed into the front foot, the knee is flexible and is used as a transfer. When the knee is frozen, the power cannot reach the foot. By using the skill of rolling feet, the body will move forward, the back leg is used as a a Nordic** stick for walking.

Some exercises : Weight shift – practical exercises.

** From Wikipedia – Nordic walking

Technique : The cadences of the arms, legs and body are, rhythmically speaking, similar to those used in normal, vigorous, walking. The range of arm movement regulates the length of the stride. Restricted arm movements will mean a natural restricted pelvic motion and stride length. The longer the pole thrust, the longer the stride and more powerful the swing of the pelvis and upper torso.

The body has more than 3 segments

The 3-part segment is of course a part of the whole body, and it is the skill of rendo to use the body as 1 whole part. Dividing in a 3-part segment is only a tool for focusing on a particular dynamic part of the body. We cannot infinite divide parts of the body, because it must be practical during training.

An example:
The end of the leg segment is the ankle/foot. By looking at the foot we can see a new 3-part segment.

  • Heel or source
  • Ball or transfer
  • Toes or end of line

3-part foot

Linking segments

In Tomiki Aikido there are many solo- and partner drills with the purpose to link segments together.

Solo drill
Tandoku undo (tegatana dosa) is one of the favorite solo-drills for linking segments. In the next videoclip, tandoku undo – tegatana dosa is covered from the “segments” point of view. The first part is covering some isolated segment exercises. The linking is covered in the solo-drill of tandoku undo.

Solo exercises from Eddy Wolput on Vimeo.

Partner drill
Basically all aikido techniques or waza can be used as a drill to create a specific skill. Creating the skill of rendo is very basic, unfortunately one of the most difficult to perform. Disturbing balance exercises is an ideal method to create whole body movement. It is not only arm movement, but all the segments needs to be linked to create balance disturbing.
Find here an example