The motions of the body are magical, we can move many parts of our body in order to accomplish many physical tasks. But we can more with our body, there are certain parts that we have to pay attention to and we will discover many other physical features of our body.
Kyokotsu in general can be translated as “sternum”. In our case it is a special point on the sternum. By focusing on this point, we can move the sternum.
The Kyokotsu movement involves flexibility in the sternum and, by extension, the ribs and shoulder blade. The objective is to enhance the flexibility and mobility of the sternum and scapula. When moving the sternum there will be no compressing of the lungs and heart, and through the practice one’s whole rib cage will actually be expanded, or larger than it was previously. Moving the sternum is also affecting the movements of the spine and in extension the pelvis.
Turning the pelvis line
Pelvic manipulation consists of using kyokotsu. When kyokotsu is slightly pulled in the spine is straightened. When kyokotsu training is done enough, it will also affect pelvic tilt or rotation automatically.
To give you an inclined sensation of the pelvis using kyokotsu, you can try the following 4 steps. If the remark is made about an upright spine, it is not completely upright, there are always curves but less than in a normal posture.
4 steps to tilt pelvis
- Normal posture with curved spine
- Straighten legs, straighten the spine by pulling in slightly kyokotsu, called Gankyōbappai*
- Bend over, keep legs and torso straight
- Push pelvis in the direction of the ankles, keep torso as 1 block
This is an expression used to describe the postural adjustment at the chest level (Empty the chest & Pull out the back ). Keep the concave shape of the chest and stretch the spine to widen the back. Important is not to tense the muscles.
After learning the rotation of the pelvis, different posture heights can be performed with an inclined pelvis. Fundamentally, it’s an ankle movement and not knee-shifting. Even though the knees are bent, the work is done by moving the pelvis towards the ankles. You will notice that the gravity point located in the hara descends almost straight down.
Often you will hear about Achilles tendon problems with older, experienced practitioners. This is due to the abusive use of the knees and pelvis. To prevent such problems, adequate training for ankle flexibility should be introduced. A simple exercise involves moving the pelvis down and up with the ankles.
Tilting the pelvis simply using the pelvic muscles, creates tension in the pelvic region, especially when the footwork is used to move. A frozen pelvis cannot be used with skills such as tenshikei or meguri. Using only the pelvic muscles has no impact on the rest of the body structure.
Turning the pelvis line is only possible when the “mata” or “kwa” is flexible and not tensed up. Should you fail to soften your groin, a frozen pelvis will result. Some tension should be felt in the calves, especially when a deeper posture is adopted. Don’t lift the heels of the floor.
Proper kyokotsu training will affect the entire body, and after adequate training, flexibility and mobility is possible in the torso area. A frozen torso will be avoided. The use of kyokotsu during posture practice will benefit the ability to maintain a strong right posture. Legs and arms are attached to the torso and need flexibility and mobility during body movements. In martial arts, frozen limbs are a major disease when someone is attacking you. This will happen if you didn’t follow proper training, focused on movement. Remember a book written by John Wilkinson, a Tomiki Aikido Pioneer:
An exercise for pelvis, ankles and kyokotsu
During this exercise, the use of kyokotsu can be practiced. Pull the sternum in when going down and straighten breastbone when arms are raised. The ankles are bent and straightened throughout the movement.
Although it seems that the point of gravity is receding, in reality, it is descending directly.
Tension and relaxation
Excessive tension in the muscles can produce “frozen” joints, but complete relaxation will do exactly the same thing at the other end of the movement spectrum. Total relaxation is a kind of stagnancy or a state of inactivity. Both situations have to be avoided.
The problem of over-tension is often noticed by the practitioner if someone makes a remark on too much tension. The slackening of the muscles is a more serious problem because if someone makes the remark “relax”,. The practitioner has mostly a misunderstanding about “relax” and is not thinking about reducing the tension, but the practitioner focuses more about total slackening the muscles. It is maybe better if we talk about “high or low muscle tone”.
“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 rest state (not actively contracted). Muscle tone helps our bodies maintain posture.
The 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.
Taikan (体感) 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. The same with relaxed, if you don’t feel your body, it is very difficult to solve this slackening of the muscles.
In Taikan’s case, this is a “somatic” concept, we use our sensory system to feel our movements. Although it is a natural process to feel something, if our mind is not focused on the feeling process, we will miss a lot of information how to handle different situations.
Some of you will notice the word “taikan”, as another trendy word to describe a natural process. The Japanese Wikipedia and Dictionaries provides an explanation of Taikan (体 感), mostly describing the concept of feeling. The English version provides a few insights from a medical perspective.
The somatosensory system is a part of the sensory nervous system. The somatosensory system is a complex system of sensory neurons and neural pathways that responds to changes at the surface or inside the body. The axons (as afferent nerve fibres) of sensory neurons connect with, or respond to, various receptor cells. Sensory receptors are found all over the body including the skin, epithelial tissues, muscles, bones and joints, internal organs, and the cardiovascular system.
How to use “Taikan” in our practice?
Most practitioners enjoy practicing with sweat. There are some health benefits from such training. Cardio and fat burning are boosted during such training. Unfortunately, this is not the correct method to use the concept of Taikan when you like to discover the different body feelings when practising. In particular, the concept of “muscle tone and reduction of muscle tension” requires a workout at a slower pace. Everyone is aware of the slow movements of taichichuan. There is some logic behind the slow movements, feeling the bodily movements is the first step towards a more efficient martial art.
So the first stage consists of starting “kihon” at a slower pace. Feel the movements and after a while you will become the movement. From now on, you can increase the pace of motion and concentrate on what you actually do. Of course, to maintain the concept of fat burning and cardio, remember to spend time on this important element of your training. A healthy and strong body is necessary for exploring the feelings of body movements.
One important tip is to avoid vigorous “randori” in the first year when the emphasis is on Taikan. The first step of randori, kakari geiko is possible at a slow pace. Ask your partner to co-operate.