Spring in the step

Not training hurts. I’d forgotten that, and it took ramping up to two days a week to remember that lesson. When I was in my teens, our Shotokan club took the occasional seasonal break. We learned to dread those breaks. A week away from training always resulted in the most awkward creaking pain setting in to the body. I was comparing notes with Squeak at work the other day…As a former figure skater, she had had the same experience. Stopping training sucks. Those good strong muscles, devoid of the discipline of balanced development, start to argue for dominance…and wrench the body apart.

Foam rollers help, and so does stretching or any kind of “off-season” activity. We are built to move, not to flop on couches or hunch in chairs all day. It’s a surprisingly brutal prison we force ourselves into, in the name of relaxation or comfort. We develop all sorts of short and strong muscles in places we shouldn’t.

Without the discipline of class, even the short return to training we experienced, I am already having a difficult time sitting, standing or walking. I can do it the same way I’ve done it most of my life, but it’s taking effort to do it correctly. When I sit, I tilt forward. Balancing my weight on my sit bones seems awkward and strange, even thought it’s anatomically a neutral position. For some reason it seems easier to shift my body forward, and tighten up my back muscles to stop myself from falling. It’s not muscle weakness that causes this…not a flaw in “core” muscles…it’s that my psoas muscles have been chronically shortened by decades sitting in a chair.

It’s also why walking and standing feel weird. It’s difficult to balance my weight directly over my thigh bones. When I do so, I am aware of a stretching feeling in my hips, which makes me feel awkward and tipsy. It takes so much practice just to stand right. Harrumph. At least I can still walk correctly. Here’s a fun little thing you can do to entertain yourself: Watch people walk. See how their hands swing naturally at their sides. The hands should move in parallel, in easy arcs. You probably don’t have to watch long to see someone swinging their hands in a criss-cross fashion. You might even be doing it yourself.

That criss-cross action, the hands trying to cross in front of the hips, is caused by people weight-shifting instead of actually walking. What they are doing is tilting slightly to one side to take the weight off one leg, and then using momentum to swing that leg forward. It’s a waddle, like a penguin. It comes from having stomach muscles too weak to pick up the leg, or poor muscle structure and chain giving the abdominal muscles nothing to hang on to. Ideally, the opposite shoulder and hip points should come slightly forward, pivoting the hips while the leg lifts. If this action is done, the hands will naturally fall into the nice parallel arc action.

It’s a natural and easy way to walk, but people can become conditioned out of walking that way. Slumping, shuffling and waddling can actually seem easier after years of sitting for hours a day. I double check my hand swing constantly as I walk, and correct my posture when needed. It’s pretty often, and moreso now that I’m that much behind in training.

So much work just to walk and stand correctly…and even more work when you try to apply those same principles to your fight game. A simple lunge becomes so much more complex when you have to break down all the bad habits that turn it into a slopping collapse forward instead of a dynamic and reactive lunge. with poor initial posture (which usually looks just fine to an observer, and feels correct to the fighter) even the simple initial action of slightly dropping down to key the legs for explosive movement, can turn into an awkward stumble or tilt, stealing key mobility, speed and range from the lunge.

2 Comments

  1. LOL. We call our martial arts ‘style’ the Art of Walking because being able to move effectively is the key to combat and without being able to walk properly you can’t do anything else. But even below walking is the act of standing: some of the hardest training I have tried is qigong where all you had to to was stand in one place in a relaxed and balanced manner. Surprisingly hard to do…

    • Yeah. 🙂 I’ve had students fall over when we have a class on standing and walking. It can be a real bear to break bad body habits…

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