Why is relaxing our muscles so difficult? 何故リラックスするのは難しいのだろうか？
Do you get over tensed or up-tight at your work or with some situations at home? I am sure you will say, “Yes, my work is important and is very demanding. I also worry about all the bills every month, then my kids and even about my pets.” It is true that most of us are living in a very stressful society and a world filled with tensions that bring us stresses. We have so many things we have to worry about and pay attention to just to survive a single day. I know you can probably use a vacation.
There are many methods and ways to help you relax that include meditation, yoga, massage, classic music, a bath, etc. etc. They are all good and beneficial. I am sure any combination of them will help you relax even more. One excellent method is progressive muscle relaxation which is a systematic technique that was developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. He discovered that a muscle could be relaxed by first tensing it for a few seconds and then releasing it afterward. Dr Jacobson’s technique involves learning to monitor tension in each specific muscle group in the body by deliberately inducing tension in each group. This tension is then released, with attention paid to the contrast between tension and relaxation. If you wish to learn more about this system the detailed explanation of the steps can be found at AMSA (American Medical Student Association): www.amsa.org.
It is very true that the state of stress and tension has lots to do with your mental or psychic state of mind. Thus beautiful music, a pleasant scent and a scene such as beautiful beach or mountains will help you relax. Of course the outer stimulants such as a bath and a massage will help too. In addition, moving your body is good method to relax and I am sure you have found it from your karate workout. These things are important but today I am going to shed a different light on the subject of relaxing.
So, I need to ask you to look at my question again. My question is not “Why is relaxing difficult?” though this is also a good question. However, I am specifically asking why it is difficult to relax ‘our muscles’. Why am I asking this? There are two reasons.
One reason is that I found so many karate practitioners to be stiff or inflexible. I will soon be 67 years old this year and I do not consider myself to be flexible but I am more flexible than most of the students who are much younger than I. I am not bragging about this as I consider the degree of flexibility I have should be one of the requirements for an instructor. I feel something needs to be done so that more karate practitioners will gain the needed flexibility. In addition, I found the same tendency among our youth. They should be as flexible as a rubber band but many of them are not. I know we are doing the stretches in our karate training, yet with all those exercises of stretches and loosening up, why did we remain somewhat inflexible?
And the other reason why I am bringing this subject to your attention is certainly not to ridicule or demean the practitioners. It is rather because no one else has talked about it, let alone explained it. You can google on this subject and go through many pages but I bet you that you cannot find a ready-made answer to this question. I have taken Ki-ko training under Master Nishino for two years in 1998 and 1999. I did not learn (or the master was unable to teach me) the technique of a punch using Ki but learned how to relax better. Then I started to practice under Master Asai and learned how to be more relaxed by observing his moves and techniques. Though he did not teach me the exact method, I believe I discovered it on my own. I also believe this method changed my karate. Today I am happy to share the concept and the idea of the method which I call body-core relaxation.
Though I will mention about the bones and cover some physiological subjects, I do not intend to provide a medical explanation such as how the muscles are constructed and how they work. I am not a medical doctor so my approach is somewhat different but my idea is new. I will present a physiological explanation that a non medical person like myself can explain. In addition, not only I will explain why it is difficult to relax our muscles but I will also share with the readers a simple and easy exercise to increase your flexibility. I am very confident that my method will help you not only in your karate training but also in your daily life. Yes, it sounds like a TV commercial but I truly believe in my findings. I will ask you to be the judge and evaluate my presentation and see if you agree or disagree.
Now let’s get back to the subject of inflexibility. By the way, being inflexible is nothing to be ashamed of. It is only one of the abilities that is required in the martial arts and you can improve it if you know how. When I talk about inflexible I am not simply talking about the leg joints. If one can do a split he or she can kick high, then that person is considered to be flexible. That may be only partially true. Even a person who can kick high would not be considered as a karate expert if he/she could move only in digital and his/her movements are not fluid. The big question here is how can we attain the ability to make our moves fluid. This is closely related to the flexibility of our body. It is more than having the flexible hip joints and being able to kick high. I am pretty confident my method will help and the result will affect (of course positively) all of your movements in your daily activities.
Before we go into my idea and method, let us look at our body. We are under false belief that we know about our body as we “live” in it. However, to our surprise we discover that most of us do not know or have the accurate knowledge of how our body is constructed, unless you happen to be in the medical field or in some science field. Our body is covered by skin so it “hides” everything that is inside of our body. We cannot see the bones and the internal organs thus they are there but they are not to your conscious mind. Let’s check and see if you have some essential knowledge about our body. The following information may not be necessary for the beginners and even intermediate but definitely is for the advanced students and practitioners. How many bones do we have in our body? According to InnerBody site (www.innerbody.com), the skeletal system in an adult body is made up of 206 individual bones. The exact number is not important for our discussion as you are not taking a test for your biology class. It is important to know that we do not have only 50 or even 100, we have many more. Did you know that the number is more than 200? Amazing, huh? Then how about the number of the joints? We need them to move our bones. This question is a little more difficult because a definition of a “joint” can be tricky. For instance the skull is made up of a large number of small bony plates but they are fused together like a single unit so they do not account as the joints we are looking for. You can check this in the different online sites and they tell you 340 or even 360 joints. What is important to us are the moveable and semi-moveable joints in our body. We have over 230 of them and many of them are in our hand (www.drstandley.com).
To make our body parts move we need the muscles that pull the bones using the joints as the pivotal points. My last question is how many muscles do we have in our body. The exact number is difficult to define because different sources group muscles differently but it is in the range of 640 to 850 (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_muscles_of_the_human_body).
Do not be amazed yet. Let’s look at the number of the cells we have to build our body. Would you believe that there are 37.2 trillion cells in our body? Yes, Trillion and not million or even billion. A trillion is a million times of a million. Can you imagine having so many cells, the “parts”, in our body?
After recognizing these figures, I hope you will have a much bigger appreciation for the complexity of our body construction and respect for what we are. Some people tried to compare our body to a complex racing car or even to something more complex, a jet plane. A Boeing 747 has more than 6 million parts. When you compare this with the number of 37 trillion, a jet plane seems to be only a crude toy.
OK enough of the complexity of our body. Now, when we talk about flexible who do you think of? You may think of someone who is flexible but categorically do you not agree that babies are flexible? I remember my son’s foot touched the shin as his ankle was so flexible. His foot can touch his ear just like the photo on the right (that is not my son). At the age of 22 he now complains he is stiff and he cannot touch his feet with his hands with his legs being straight. What had happened to him? Well you may say “Hey it is only natural. We all get less flexible as we get older.” You are right and this is true. Most of the senior citizens are very stiff and their body movements are not fluid at all. But I knew my teacher, Tetsuhiko Asai who was featured in the prominent Japanese karate magazine, Karate-do for his flexibility.
The photo on the left is from that article in that magazine. He was in his late 60s at that time. He kept his flexibility until he passed when he was 71 years old. Yes he was a genius in karate and we call him ‘one and only’. His moves were powerful but yet very fluid too. Don’t we wish we could move like that? But are we asking too much? You may think it Is impossible for us to get this wish, but my answer is “It is possible to be as flexible as Master Asai”. The degrees of flexibility may vary depending on the individual but, becoming more flexible is not impossible at all, once you find how to truly relax your body.
Now let me present my idea why we tend to be stiff or get less flexible as we get older. I believe there is a definite reason that is more than just aging or natural biological cause. When I started my sport science and kinesiology study on my own, I came to realize one very unique thing about us, the human beings. We are the only animal that walks on bi-pedal. In other words we walk with two legs while many of the mammals such as dogs, cats, horses, etc walk on four legs. Even the closest species, Chimpanzees need to use their arms to walk most of the time. As we have been doing this “trick” called walking ever since we were one year old, we do not think this is an amazing or a unique act. I jokingly used the word trick but when you think of what we do it is really a difficult technique. In fact, it takes months before a baby can walk in a steady manner from the time it learns to stand up. Initially a baby would take a step or two then it sits down or falls down. It repeats this task many times every day then it can walk more than a few steps. Before a baby can walk, it needs to learn how to stand up and keep standing up. A smiling baby who could stand up for the first time is cute. But did you notice that this baby would be swaying and you were worried it would fall down? Most of the time it does fall as it is not easy to keep standing up. Even if the baby could keep standing it does not look steady at all and not like an adult who would be. Of course, the baby needs to learn how to balance on two feet. Just think we are carrying the heaviest part of our body, our head which is on top in this balancing act. A simple act of just standing is indeed much more difficult than balancing a baseball bat or an umbrella on your finger. There is a page of standing in Wikipeida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing
Unless you already know the mechanism of standing, I suggest that you will read this page and appreciate the delicate and precise body mechanism that is required just to stand. The very important point is this, although seemingly static, our body rocks very slightly back and forth from the ankle in the sagittal plane, one of three planes of our body; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomical_terms_of_location#Planes.
So, you may not notice or be aware but we sway in our quiet standing despite in a small range. When you are a baby that sway is much larger and we notice it. As we get better with the controlling of our balance the sway minimizes to a level the people around us including the person standing next to us to notice. As I mentioned earlier simply standing requires dynamic rather than static balance. There are many mechanisms in the body that are required to make adjustments and to maintain that balance. This is a separate subject but it is healthier and better if we try to “ride” on this swing or sway rather than to stop it. I have already covered this subject in another article I published, “Unstable balance”. So, I will not go into this subject in this article.
OK you agreed that I made a point that standing does require a fine balancing act. So what? This is the key point and I wish to explain further but I need to ask the readers to be patient. I need to detour a little again. Remember one example, the balancing of a baseball bat I mentioned above? Let me ask you which is easier to balance a bat which is one piece like you see in the photo (above right) or if the wood had, say, 20 pieces that are connected by the joints. Of course, we do not have a baseball bat made up like that. Here is a photo of the wine glasses being placed on top of each other (left). So, imagine if what you are trying to balance was made up of, say, five or six wine glasses. I am sure you will say balancing the glasses is much more difficult than a baseball bat. Now I want you to look at the bone structure of our body. I am sure you know that our body is supported by the bones in the legs. What is more important is the bones between your pelvis and the head, the vertebral column or commonly called backbone or spine. Do you know how many bones are there to construct this important body part? It usually consists of 33 vertebrae but what is important is the upper 24, articulating vertebrae that are separated by the discs. For our discussion I will ignore the lower nine as they are fused into one piece. There are seven (7) vertebrae in Cervical curve that is supporting your head in your neck area. Further down, there are twelve (12) thoracic vertebrae, the upper part of your backbone between the shoulders and the back support of your rib cage. Finally in the lower back above pelvis we have five (5) lumbar vertebrae where many karatekas complain about a back pain. The exact number of vertebrae is not important in our discussion. What is important is that the spine is not a single piece like a baseball bat. It is made up of many pieces and they are connected by the discs or more accurately the intervertebral discs. Each disc forms a joint and it allows a slight movement of the vertebrae, and acts as a ligament to hold the vertebrae together. One crucial role of the discs is a shock absorber. So, what is important here is that the each vertebrae is movable. You can see this easily if you move your head. You can even rotate your head left and right. You can do the similar moves with the lower back, for instance, you can bend your upper body forward and back then to the sides. You can also rotate your upper body even without moving your pelvis. Try this from a sitting position and you will find how flexible or inflexible your thoracic vertebrae are.
We all know that the backbone is important. When you fall from a horse or a bike you may have a spinal cord injury and some unlucky people may even have suffered paralysis under the neck which will disable you from walking. You remember a famous actor Christopher Reeve who suffered quadriplegia in 1995 and died in 2004 at the age of 52. Even if the injury is not that serious we see many people in a neck brace most of whom suffered from a car accident. These are not directly connected to the subject I am covering but I just wanted to stress the fact that our head is heavy and that balancing it on top of the spine is not an easy task and in fact it requires a technique like a trick.
Now, finally, the main point I want to share. Most of us have no recollection of how we tried to stand up and to walk when we were a baby. We can guess how we did by observing a baby anywhere between 10 months and 18 months old. From then on you can stand firm and you will be able to not only walk steadily but also to run. To be able to do these feats your backbone must not be too flexible like that of a baby. It must be firm so that it can support the upper body as well as the heaviest part, the head. I am sure you agree with that. While we are awake most of us either sit or walk. These days because of the convenience of cars and other transportation vehicles we walk much less than say 100 years ago. We typically walk anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 steps per day. Now it is recommended to take 10,000 steps a day that originated in Japan in the early 1960s. Japanese researchers led by Dr Yoshiro Hatano determined that if they were to increase their steps to 10,000 steps per day, the result would be healthier, thinner people. So, you may be walkingtypically anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day for many years. When you were a baby you might have walked only a few steps but you must have increased the number of the daily steps into maybe thousands quickly as you grew older. You could increase the step numbers because you learned to keep your body steady. In other words you did not want to fall and hurt yourself. Also there was another big motivation. After learning how to walk steadily you can start running. For a child to be able to walk fast and run is very exciting and some of you may remember the pleasure of running when you were a toddler. If you do not remember then you can watch a toddler playing and they are all running around and smiling. They are full of energy and seem to be almost unstoppable. So, what do we do to steady our walk? We stiffen our body especially the backbone as it is much easier to control if it does not bend or sway. So, every time we stood up or even when you are sitting up, we learn to tighten our muscles and the ligaments around the backbone to keep it stiff so that it will remain a solid stick or pole rather than the flexible one. I believe this conscious effort to keep the backbone steady along with the natural process of body formation at the young age results in the inflexible body. If the children either play a lot outside the house or happen to work in the field with their parents they can keep higher degree of flexibility. I suspect the people in the 19th century were more flexible than the people in the 20th century like us, most of the readers. I believe the tendency is still growing more prominent since the children of the 21st century tend to stay inside the house a lot longer forwatching TV or playing with computer games. Their body stiffens up more as they do not move their body in the dynamic ways as the children of the past centuries did.
This is my theory and I have not contacted any medical staff to support my thinking but I am pretty confident that I am right about this. If any of the readers are into medical field or an expert in kinesiology I wish to hear from them.
Let us assume my hypothesis is correct and move on to the subject of how we can improve flexibility. Before we jump into the subject you may say, “I do a lot of warm ups and tried even yoga (or whatever) but I am still inflexible. Can your method help?” My quick answer is yes and I will share the basic concept of how to work on your body to make yourself more flexible. Please note that this article’s object is not to provide a “how to” instruction but rather the concept of this unique approach. To provide an adequate instruction I would need to write a book on it. You can get personal instruction from me if you participate in one of the seminars I give around the world. You can also apply to be one of the Online Dojo students. I am selective with the students and the tuition is rather high as it will be a one to one personal lesson. If you are serious and interested in finding the program, you can contact me.
OK, let us dive into the method now. Most of the calisthenics and warm up exercises we do focus on the hip joints and the shoulder joints. You will swing your arms around and rotate your hips or bend forward and backward, for instance. Well these exercises are acceptable and to some extent they are beneficial. They may give you a warm up so that they will reduce injuries during your physical exercise like karate. Unfortunately, those exercises will not give you the real relaxation of the body that is needed to bring the fluid movements in your techniques. What they are missing is more attention to the backbone that is, for most people, more solidified than necessary, meaning the ligaments or the discs between the vertebrae have been deactivated (or prevented) as flexible joints. In fact, this could and would happen to other joints such as the ankles and the knees. For instance, we, the Japanese used to sit in seiza all day long in our house as we did not have a chair there. So, our knees were accustomed to being fully bent or extended so doing the bunny hops did not cause us any knee injuries. Now the Japanese life style has changed and only a few of them would sit in seiza in their house. I hear that the bunny hop exercise was banned in the Japanese elementary school because so many students complained of the knee problems. It was a very popular and common exercise to strengthen our legs not only in the sports activities but in the general PE classes in our school days. Times have changed, indeed.
Let’s go back to the backbone as this is the key area where we must focus. I would like the readers to look at the illustration of the backbone (below left). It shows the shape looking from the back and also a side view. What do you think? What does it look like? I practice several kobudo weapons and one of them is the 9 chain whip and the backbone reminds me of that weapon (below right). I am sure most of the readers know that the backbone is curved in a shape looking like an S from the side even though we have an incorrect notion of it being completely straight. I picked this illustration as it is shown with the skull on top showing that the backbone is supporting and balancing the heaviest part of our body which is like balancing a baseball bat or a set of wine glasses on top of your hand. Anyway, what does it look like? Doesn’t it sort of remind you of a snake (sorry if you happen to hate this animal)? I will not post an illustration of the snake bones but an idea of a snake becomes important when I explain exactly how we need to do the flexibility exercise a little later in this article. By observing the backbone illustration I hope the readers get a better feeling about how this bodily structure is constructed or assembled. Let’s review again, there are 7 pieces of vertebrae, your neck, to support the head, 12 pieces for the upper torso and 5 for the lumbar area, totaling 24 pieces of movable bones. The top seven in the neck area are the easiest ones to move around but require the most care when moving about as you could easily sprain your neck because your head is heavy. By moving too quickly or too suddenly it could easily cause this sprain as you might have experienced in the past. The lumbar area may be a little more challenging but is still easy to move around. You could get a sprained back from bending forward and trying to pick up something very heavy.
The most challenging part is the 12 pieces between your neck and the lumbar portion. You will need to spend most of your time to improve the flexibility of these vertebrae. Yes, each bone should be moved in all directions as we incorrectly believed having the solid (rigid) backbone was good for walking. Well, once again you may question “What’s wrong with that?” Yes, balancing a baseball bat was easier than stacked wine glasses. It is ok as long as you are not looking for a fluid motion.
Let me give you an example from two world class sprinters, Ben Jonson and Carl Lewis. Many of the readers remember them as they competed in the same races and in fact the 100 m final at the 1988 Summer Olympics was one of the most sensational sports stories of the year. Its dramatic outcome would rank as one of the most infamous sports stories of the century. Johnson won in 9.79 s, a new world record, while Lewis came in second with 9.92 s. Three days later, Johnson tested positive for steroids which resulted in his disqualification and Lewis moved up and was awarded gold. Some of the readers may remember this as it was a big news then.
I am not discussing about his doping problem here but rather about the way he built himself up with his body and the way he ran. Do you remember? He was carrying his upper body like a baseball bat or a Mac truck. He was fast as he had the leg and the upper body muscles to run fast but his running was never beautiful. It almost looked funny and artificial. On the other hand, do you recall how Lewis ran? How do you describe it? You do not need to go to a Youtube video, just look at these two photos. Johnson has huge thighs and upper body muscles but looks cranky and even stiff. Lewis does not have the huge thighs nor big upper body muscles but he looks like he was swimming or gliding through the air. This is what I call a fluid performance. Both of them were tops in the world in sprinting but it makes that much of a difference in the body motion. You must remember Johnson was good only in the 100 meter sprint and his career was very short. Lewis won Gold medals in not only 100 meter but also in 200 meter and long jump. In addition, he was the world champion for over 17 years (from 1979 to 1996). He achieved the excellent flexibility of the joints including the backbone. He used his backbone to accelerate. If you want to see this, go check out his performance on Youtube. You will see how he does it. It could be done not only because he had the strong legs which I am sure he did, but more importantly he could summon all the muscles of the body in harmony to realize the maximum result. This can be done only if all the joints are lose and movable and in addition, if they are controllable and manageable.
Let me add one interesting point about these athletes as I clearly remember the specific reaction I had to them. Do you remember how you felt about their performances? I remember that we, as we watched them on TV, were impressed with the strong run by Johnson (left). He looked like a run-away two ton truck coming down a street and it certainly was not beautiful in the way he ran. I do not know about how you felt but at least I didn’t like his form. On the other hand, I loved how Lewis ran. I was almost enchanted with the smooth flow of his running style. So, when he lost to Johnson in the 1988 Olympics we were “disappointed” as we wanted the “beautiful” runner to win. I am sure the Canadian people were happy. When the doping was found a few days later we did not feel sorry for Johnson. We instinctively loved something beautiful and not an “ugly” runner. Johnson’s run was strong but not beautiful thus the people did not love it. But Lewis’ style (below) was beautiful and it looked natural. But, why did we feel his running style was beautiful and “right” when we did not with that of Johnson? Lewis made a big impression on us because (my personal theory) he did not solidify his upper body like Johnson did. This is only my assumption but Johnson wanted to build the big and heavy upper body with two strong legs. Instead of focusing on the body muscle coordination, he probably did a lot of weight training to make him “strong”. As a result his upper body became like a big muscle chunk. On the other hand, Lewis was also in the long jump (lucky for him) in which he needs to bend his back and use his backbone power to jump, thus he did not think of solidifying his body with a lot of weight training. Instead he probably relied on his natural talent and trained to coordinate all the muscle groups in his body leveraging the strong power generated by his backbone. This approach, I believe, kept his motion natural and also beautiful which harmonized with our unconscious mind that resulted in pleasure and big admiration.
Related to this I can also say something similar when I watch, though not too often, the kata competitors. Some of the competitors do their katas very quickly. I am impressed with their ability to move their arms and the legs so fast. But yet most of the time I am not moved as something is missing from their performance. And I am not talking about the tempo, rhythm, power, etc. I am not talking about the techniques either. I simply do not see the “natural” moves that flow from one technique to the next. The moves I see in most of the competitors are all rehearsed to move simply fast. No matter how fast they can move, I do not see the beauty in it even though we must not look for it in kata. But I hope the readers understand what I am trying to say.
OK let’s go back to the use of the backbone for the speed and creation of the beautiful body motion. Maybe you are not totally convinced that the backbone makes that much difference. Let me show you another set of photos (below). All of you know that this is the cheetah the fastest land animal that can run as fast as 112 to 120 km/h (70 to 75 MPH).
I am sure you have seen a video of a cheetah running. What did you think? Isn’t it beautiful how it can run. We already know it can run fast but what impresses us more is its beauty.
Now pay attention to the backbone of a cheetah in these two photos. You can clearly see that it is contracting and expanding the backbone and using it to accelerate its running. If the vertebrae were stiff and unmovable then a cheetah cannot run like this. Carl Lewis was smooth and fluid in his running but sorry to say that his running form is no comparison to that of a cheetah. It exhibits almost the perfect motion of fluidity. I get very excited and emotional about this subject so I can talk about the importance of the backbone for hours.
Now you will probably say, “OK I understand that it is important that the backbone to be flexible. But how do I get my backbone loose?” As I stated earlier teaching the exercise in written words is extremely difficult and could be misunderstood. I must coach you in person to show you the fine details but I will give you a couple of hints as it is not difficult or mysterious. There are only three ways to move our body. One is twisting or body rotation. Another is side bending and the last one is forward and backward bending. You practice the twisting motion in Tekki Shodan. Can you recognize which part? I wrote an article about this in “Mystery of Tekki” last year. If you are interested you can find it in one of the issues of Classical Fighting Arts (http://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Cfa/Pages/cfahome.htm).
For the sideways exercise, think of a snake (sorry again if you dislike it). You know how a snake moves and you need to imitate the moves by bending or curving the backbone. It is not very easy to do this and it will tell you how flexible or inflexible your backbone is. Once you get used to it, you can try it on the floor. You lay down on the floor and hold your hands behind your back. You need to move forward without using your legs but just swaying your body like a snake. Try it and you will find it extremely challenging.
For the last movement, bending forward and backward, I will not recommend a cheetah or a dolphin. They move too quickly for our exercise. My hint is an inchworm or a slinky. Yes, if you can move your backbone in a similar manner, in other words, in an up and down motion but it must be done slowly. By the way, do you remember this toy, slinky? Maybe you have one in your house. It was invented in 1943 and has sold more than 300 million units during the 60 years since its invention. It is also listed as one of the “Century of Toys” by the US Toy Industry Association. This is such a simple toy and why did it sell so well? I believe the people were and are fascinated with its smooth and fluid motion. What do you think? Can we learn to move our backbone something like that or like an inchworm? If you can I guarantee you that your entire body motion will be smooth and fluid.
I present that the body- muscles of most of us have been solidified or tightened up to an unnecessary (almost unhealthy) degree. I stated that we had learned this state when we were a toddler as we learned how to stand up and walk. Our body was very flexible then and we did not know how to balance well. So we over compensated with our body which was flexible then by solidifying the ligaments of the backbone into almost one unmovable unit. We kept this process with the backbone for so many years we forgot how to loosen the vertebrae. By having our core, the backbone, so rigid, it affects our entire body, almost all the muscles in our body being tightened up. This is why we find it difficult to relax our muscles. In other words, we tend to be tightened up almost always because the muscles are always being pulled or affected by the core. Though we have a stressful society the deep down cause for our inflexibility is not from the outer world but rather inside of our body. I concluded that unless we learn or regain the flexibility of the core, the backbone, our body muscles will remain tensed most of the time. We may engage in yoga, Tai Chi, Progressive muscle relaxation, etc. and we may feel good and somewhat relaxed during or right after exercise. It will only give a temporary relief and most of us will remain rigid and inflexible. This condition prevents us from achieving the fluid body motions in our karate techniques.
Despite that this trend is universal there are some who have overcome this problem. We find a few experts in all fields including the sports, martial arts and other arts such as singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. The true experts seem to have learned to be fully relaxed and own a flexible body. I believe I found a method to make all of us gain the true flexibility that only the experts enjoy.
What I am proposing in this article is that we need to train the joints particularly those of the backbone to relax and make them more movable. There are three directions of the body movements and our training must cover them. By the way, I close my eyes as I exercise my backbone or try to move the vertebrae. I try to open my “inside” eyes so that I can “see” what I am doing. When the core is relaxed, the mobility at the shoulders and the hip joints will be bigger which will result in an easier ability to relax those areas. Once we learn how to relax the body core and the major joints it will be much easier to relax the rest of our body. In addition, by relaxing our body core we will be able to manage our muscles and to achieve the fluid movements in our techniques.
What do you think? You may not believe in my method or not even be convinced if it works but isn’t it worth giving it a chance and try once or twice? You have nothing to lose and all to gain.