Sunday, February 28, 2010

Martial Artists as Shapeshifters

In terms of the body, the martial arts are a collection of postural forms designed to express physical energy in an intelligent way. This expression of energy can be utilized for many practical purposes, such as striking a target, throwing an opponent, or evading an attack.

The martial forms themselves are nothing more than shapes, and these shapes can be regarded as tools. The ability to shape one's body into the appropriate tool at the appropriate time is the physical objective of the martial arts.

In order to accomplish this, it is important to possess both a geometrical understanding of the body, and a spacial understanding of the area the body can potentially occupy.

To understand the body geometrically, one should first be aware of the physical center point where the body's mass and balance naturally settles. This point is known as tantien in the Chinese arts, and hara in the Japanese arts. Awareness of this point is necessary because it is the origin of the shape the body assumes. The body itself can be envisioned as a vertical line that originates at the body's physical center. When standing at rest, this line runs up the spine through the headtop, and down the tailbone to the ground.

To understand the potential space the body can occupy, one should first envision a sphere whose radius originates at the body's origin, its physical center.

If circumstances demand occupation outside this sphere, then the origin of the sphere must be repositioned to accommodate. Now, the line that represents the body can bow or hinge to shape new tools within the sphere. However, to maintain structural integrity and unification, there are two requirements that must be maintained: The first is that one's shape must either move from its origin or around around its origin; the second is that every point on the line that represents the body must be contiguously connected to the origin. If either of these requirements falter, then the form suffers disorganization, and effectiveness of the body as a tool diminishes.

- By Daniel Holland, Instructor at JMAC, sandan iaido, nidan judo, nidan jujutsu

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Upright Posture in the Martial Arts

An upright posture is important in the martial arts for four reasons, specifically:

1) it unifies the upper body with the lower body, so that the entire body has a single center of balance.

2) it places the upper body upon the lower body, so that there is a base from which to generate power

3) it defines a vertical axis around which the entire body can rotate strongly

4) it positions the skeleton and organs in natural alignment, promoting proper breathing healthy structure

In the Japanese Martial arts, the basic natural posture is called shizentai. The general requirements of shizentai are:

• the head is held erect and the chin is slightly tucked

• the shoulders are above the hips and pulled back and down

• the chest is relaxed and neither puffed forward or arched backward

• the hips are forward and the tailbone is not stuck out

• the knees are comfortably bent

• the feet are shoulder-width apart, and the toes point forward

• the soles are flat, and the weight of the body is supported above the toes (meaning that the heels can lift off the ground, the toes cannot)

Two variations of shizentai are known as migi shizentai, when the right foot is forward, and hidari shizentai, when the left foot is forward.

Parallels can be drawn from the upright standing postures to the upright kneeling postures, which are appropriate in occasions such as seated iaido forms and newaza in judo and jujutsu.

When kneeling, basic natural posture becomes seiza, or correct sitting. Migi shizentai becomes migi tatehiza, which is seiza with the right knee up, and hidari shizentai becomes hidari tatehiza, which is seiza with the left knee up.

The postural requirements of the kneeling forms are the same as the standing forms, with the exception that in the kneeling forms one or both legs are tucked beneath the hips.

- By Daniel Holland, Instructor at JMAC, sandan iaido, nidan judo, nidan jujutsu