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Home > Columns > Chuck Clark > May, 2004 - Live Movement and Dead Movement
by Chuck Clark

Live Movement and Dead Movement, by Chuck Clark

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Some years ago I read something written by Trevor Leggett. Recently passed away, Leggett was the highest ranked non-Japanese judoka by the Kodokan. He was a linguist, scholar, writer, and expert on Asian spirituality and budo.

The piece I remember was about "Live Movement and Dead Movement". I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately and want to pass on some ideas in this brief space.

I think INTENT lies at the heart of the matter. We can learn principle, kata, techniques, etc. but unless we are also practicing the proper intent that these various things come from we miss the mark by a wide margin. Many people cannot feel the difference, but I think most of us see the difference. We may not know what the problem is - but we know something is lacking.

Our kata movements may be "correct" in form, but the movement often is "dead" and useless for anything other than exercise. For example, making a fundamental striking movement that resembles the real thing is not enough. We must have the intent to affect our partner with that movement. Understand and visualize the target, make contact softly but strongly, and drop weight through the target. The movement will then "come alive" and be useful. If we make an attack that only has the intent to give tori something to "work with" or wanting to take part in a really nice technique for all to watch, the result is often flat and lifeless. I can think of no appropriate use for "dead" movement in budo practice. Even when going slow with low levels of force and speed, our kata must be alive! The katachi or spirit of the kata must come from our intent and efficient, live movement actualizing that intent.

Some people think the difference is muscular force and speed added to the correct movement. That is not correct. In our practice, if we keep these things in mind: Target, Distance, and Timing -- and the intent to cut or move through the target, we will develop "live" movement.

Surely we all have some intent all of the time. Probably true (well, there are some of us that don't seem to have an abundance of any intent at times....) but it is important to have the intent that matches the action you want. Simple actions, like picking up a cup of coffee, are not hard to match with intent. However, there are lots of things we do that are not that simple for us such as attacking with strong, controlled force. Motivation, old memories, and habitual behavior patterns can be tied into fear and it's various forms such as insecurity that shows up when we try to learn something new. Some of us have deeply rooted feelings of inferiority or even very subtle self-destructive tendencies that affect our learning and practice. Most of us don't like it when others see us when we aren't at our best. For example, this fear will cause us to be tense and uncommitted in our physical movements. Until we feel confident and at ease with our performance we often won't really commit a hundred percent. Until we can match our intent with total committment in our practice we find it hard to relax and achieve live movement.

We may think we have the intent to do a kote gaeshi, but we often have other things in our intent that cause us not to be able to really actualize our true understanding of the kote gaeshi. We may be thinking: "I hope this works," or "I can't ever get this right," or "I wish practice was over," or even something unrelated to practice. Instead, we should be focused and thinking about posture, movement, target, distance, and timing. Just this. Right now. After some time, we aren't even thinking consciously about these sorts of things. We're adding all of that stuff together and now we're thinking about taking balance at first touch and feeling/listening to what uke's reaction to our kuzushi is, so that we can make the next creative adjustment in the dynamic cycle of technique.

This practice is a process that has no end, a journey that is really made up of the scenery along the way rather than the destination. Many of us have such a strong picture of the finish of the technique that we cannot and do not pay attention to the beginning or other parts that make up the whole. Our movement is dead because things are not working properly and our system feels that and becomes tense and analytical to try and figure out what to do about it.

In short, do one thing at a time until you can do some of them together as if they were one thing. Then add one more thing, etc., etc. Confidence will build and relaxation will happen. If our attention to detail has been developed with good principle, things will fall into place and we'll be practicing with live movement.

At some point as we become more competent, we can even keep the live movement when we're learning something new. We can keep the live movement full of intent when training slowly or when some unanticipated attack in the street has surprised us.

We can see the difference in everything we do. Whether it is Shodo, Chado, Budo, or the way we do the dishes or sweep the floor, the difference between live and dead movement is obvious.

I encourage everyone to discover the wide range of interesting subject matter that Trevor Legget wrote about over the years. His life story is as interesting as his books in many respects.

(Thanks to Aaron Clark, Keith Slatoff, Carl Bilodeau, and Charlie Atkinson)

© 2003 by C. Clark, All Rights Reserved

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