Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Relaxed Power

Things have been settling down after the activity around Sonny's passing. There will be more on his teachings, to be sure, but in the meantime other ideas come up. The following is a response I wrote to a student who sent a Systema video. I thought it might be of interest to others.

- Jeff

* * * * * * *

Systema is controversial in some circles, and I'm not sure about some of their techniques, but in general I like their theories, which are similar to concepts I've learned through other arts (Aikido, Escrima, Tai Chi). Like Chinese Drunken Boxing, effective strikes are hidden within natural movements.

There are ways to develop the kind of relaxed hitting power they talk about through other arts too. You can develop this with the escrima stick, letting power flow from the ground, through the body, and out to the point of impact. Think of a chop hitting with dead-weight into a target, or slashing through as though nothing blocked its path. Power has to extend all the way to the end of your weapon to fully release into the target.

Another good exercise for heavy hands is hitting a sandbag with relaxed power, just learning a "dead hit". Keeping the hand relaxed and just dropping the strike, do these: punch, chop (blade of hand), palm slaps, back hand slaps. Start with 5/day of each strike, each hand. If you get tingling, stop for the day. Don't build energy too fast; it's not healthy. Be patient, be consistent. Increase slowly as you feel comfortable. You can add other strikes later such as fingertips, elbows, etc.

Once you can hit relaxed, then you can focus it deeper, lighter, etc. When I did Kenpo, we learned in sparring to just hit to the surface of our partner, letting the hand relax on contact, and we'd practice that on the bag too. Deepening a blow came naturally from learning to focus the energy at the end of the hit. It goes back to that old idea of "a rock on the end of a rope." Karate visualizes the strike 1-3 inches inside the body so the energy of the blow is focused internally. With a stick, you can do a fast, powerful move and touch lightly to train, but it's the same movement and dynamics as when you finish the blow for real. It's just a matter of intention in adjusting those last few inches.

Don't think about a lot of different areas when first hitting the bag, just be consistent and accurate to one spot at a time. Doing that will make specific targetting much more effective later, because any blow can have an effect when focused at the right time and place. First get the mind/body connection to work smoothly, then refine objectives.

The problem a lot of people have is they tighten up, which literally pulls the energy up, where it often gets stuck in the shoulders rather than released through the rest of the strike delivery. The point is, and the Systema video says this, is that you have to hit things in training. A heavy bag is good because it absorbs energy similar to a body. The power is both felt and heard.

The video talks of dynamic tension, which is good, as they said, for strengthening connective tissue. That means tendons, ligaments, joint cartilege, fascia. Static positions should isolate power at the end of a blow while movement integrates the body along lines of force. It's important to be able to move between soft and hard, using what is best at different times for speed vs. power.

Stepping into you blows can develop the foot/hand timing and balance. It doesn't have to be a big step; in fact, a tiny shuffle will be less upsetting to the balance. Again, the important thing is balance and alignment at point of impact and knowing how to get all that to work optimally. Eventually it can be a subtle movement or shift, and feeling it is the source of power in your movement.

All this in a single word - control.

No comments: