The purpose of this post is to explain how I've currently interpreted* the Aunkai spear training as a solo conditioning tool, and as a means of understanding how to use the lower body to off balance an opponent and increase the power of strikes. You will check your understanding via a chest push in the spear stance, and then ultimately with feet parallel.
Identifying the muscles at work.
For the purposes of this post I will discuss one movement, spear thrusting. Spear thrusting can be used to develop the strength of the psoas and back extensors.
Before we can strengthen the psoas, we have to identify it. More specifically, we have to identify the psoas major.
As you can see, there are two psoas major in the body, one on the right and one on the left. We have to identify for ourselves each one inside our bodies. We can do that with a specialized stretch, called the Massachusetts Stretch.
Lay down on your back, bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. See:
Put your hands on your abdomen.
Then, push down into the floor with your right leg. Use this to support you as you lift
your knee of your left leg, lifting your foot off the ground. Once you lift your left leg enough so that the calf is parallel to the floor, extend your left leg and point your heel. Hold this position, while making sure that the muscles at the front of your abdomen remain relaxed. Then, slowly lower the left leg until your foot is about 6 inches off the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds, then relax completely and let your left leg rest on the floor. Be aware of what you feel in your torso-- you should feel a muscle that is attached to your spine and leg, and you should feel it stretch as you lower your leg to the floor. That's the psoas.
Repeat on the other side. Keep repeating this exercise until you can get a clear sense of the psoas. Over the next few weeks you can also try this exercise at random times while you are lying on your bed getting ready to sleep.
Previously, Rob John and I published a an article and web posts discussing the shintaijiku exercise.
You can see video of Akuzawa practicing the exercise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrzLp0o0oGk
We discussed splitting the body up into three axes: center, left and right. What we did not discuss (because we didn't clearly understand at that point) was that the psoas served to connect each axis of the body to the spine.
Static Spear Thrust.
Now that you have identified your psoas, it's time to use it in the spear thrust. You can use a typical 6 foot hardwood staff as your training implement. When you take the spear and sit down into the back leg to prepare the thrust, you should feel the psoas stretch in the front leg. Specifically, you should feel the psoas connecting the spine and the femur. The deeper you sit and the more you twist to be sidways, the more you should feel this.
Now, you will extend the spear forward. Push off the ground with the back leg, and allow your body to be twisted to face forward. Your pelvis will tilt forward-- this is functionally the same position that is held in the Aunkai stillness training. As you extend your arms in the spear thrust, and pivot to face the front, you will want to feel the psoas tighten on the back leg. Once you have fully extended the spear, you should feel the weigh of the spear actually stressing the psoas on the back leg, specifically toward the top of the femur. You will want to feel the back leg connect to the front hand, and the front leg connect to the back hand. You will want to lift the head and feel the tail bone pulling downwards, even at the full extended position. There is some other stuff going on with the cross (upper chest/shoulder girdle) as well but I'm going to leave that out for now. If you've been doing a lot of jujiko then you can play with that awareness during the thrust as well.
Depending on how much conditioning you already have in your body, you may also feel like your skin is stretching as a result of the weight of the staff. You can try to feel like the entire back of your body, from your heels, up the hamstrings to the top of your head, is being stretched by the bo.
Once you feel like you have hung out long enough, just retract the staff. You can do this by sitting down into your stance, and then allowing your torso to rotate as a result of your pelvis rotating back towards the rear leg. By rotation, I mean rotating with the spine as an axis. If the rear leg psoas is tightened by your thrust, then you will naturally twist back towards the leg anyways. As you twist back and retract the spear, you will tighten the psoas on the front leg again.
Simply repeat this exercise for 15 minutes, with equal numbers of reps on both sides. If this is too easy for you , then get a 12 foot tanren yari. You can also do this against a cable pull machine.
Off balancing through the spear:
Have your partner resist you on the spear as you try to thrust it forward. At first just go force on force for a few reps and try to focus on pushing the back leg hard against the ground, and going force on force.
Then, have your partner give you a steady push on the spear. Try to manipulate the spear from left to right. As you do this, you will alternate which foot bears the incoming force, and , most importantly, towards which psoas you will rotate your pelvis, relative to your spine. If you perform this movement correctly, then you will slightly off balance your partner. Once you feel your partner's weight shift, then extend the spear as before. Done correctly, you will have an easier time extending the spear, because your opponent will not be on balance. Lack of balance makes grounding the force more difficult for your opponent. To check yourself, then work with a partner who is heavier.
Now that you have learned how to off balance someone through the spear, it's time to try the chest push. Get into the spearing stance without holding a spear. Have your partner gently place their hand on your chest. You want to make sure that your partner's weight is resting on yoWhile lightly resting your hands on your partners arm, try to switch from side to side as you did while holding the spear. Just treat the partner's arm as if it is a spear. . This is what some people call "grabbing the center." If you do this correctly, you should significantly off balance your partner with minimal movement of your torso. You can also experiment with trying to tilt your pelvis forward and drive your partner down, again with minimal movement and zero pain felt by your partner.
Once you feel like you can do this in a spearing stance on both sides (right leg forward/left leg forward) then try the same drill in a front stance. You can also work up to doing this with your feet parallel.
The limit of this will of course be your own body mass vs your partner's and also your own level of conditioning. Getting the force out to the hands requires a fairly strong cross and this conditioning is accomplished via the standard Aunkai basics.
After doing the chest push with feet parallel, try doing pushout with your partner. You should be able to use the exact same spearing mechanics to move your partner around, especially if your partner is simply using passive structure.
You can also use this mechanic to drive a low roundhouse, cross, jab etc. That also requires articulating the shoulder girdle, which I have not covered in this post.
It's important also to try this movement out in some kind of freestyle setting, such as standup grappling. You should see that as you get stronger and more habituated to this kind of movement, that you should be more balanced and stronger when you engage your opponent. You can also try training this like a kind of plyometrics and using the same motion explosively to set up or execute throws.
The spearing mechanic incorporates what some people call dantian rotation. In that notation, the dantian is the concept of a giant ball in the lower abdomen. In that notation, the forward and backward tilt of the pelvis is conceding rotating the dantian back and forth. The rotation around the spine is considered horizontal rotation. However, as you can see from the instant post, you can train these things very directly via an anatomical perspective.
*If you want to know how Akuzawa does it exactly, I recommend you attend one of his overseas seminars or classes in Tokyo.