Using tension to understand relaxation
Appreciating Relaxation by Training with Extreme Tension
Often times we hear about how tension in our bodies hinders our ability to perform technique or movement with a high degree of efficiency and effectiveness. A problem is identifying tension in our bodies and understanding how this tension negatively affects our movements. The following notes are from a class I run from time to time to help each student identify his/her tension and understand the significance of said tension. This is not meant to be the quintessential method to train and understand the affects of tension but it is an enjoyable and worthwhile class to experience and explore.
In a static push-up position rest for a few minutes while focusing on easy breathing through the entire body. Then inhale and tense the entire body. Exhale and release the tension (note that the body is in the static push-up position with proper form the entire time). Do 2-4 inhale/exhale cycles with the entire body, then work through the body doing 2-4 cycles in the legs, back, stomach, chest, arms, neck& shoulders, then the entire body again. Then wave the tension with breathing from the feet to the head 2-4 times then the head to the feet. For the over achievers you can then do left side/right side and/or inhale tension in one place and exhale while moving the tension to another place (example inhale and tense the left leg, exhale while releasing the tension in the left leg and placing the tension in the right leg, then reverse).
Same drill but from a sit-up position at 30-45 degrees, keep the back perfectly straight. Variation #1 you are to lay on the back with the arms and legs raised straight up and doing the tension/breathing drill (looks like a dead cow floating in the water). Variation #2 lay on your back, roll the legs so they are over the head, then perform the breathing drill.
Same drill but from a squat. Experiment at different levels with the squat to find your least favorite.
Basic Movement Drills
One method to learn the affects of tension is to go to the extreme and feel how maximum tension impedes our ability to move. A simple stick 4'-6' in length is a great training tool for experiencing extreme tension.
Take 3 or 4 minutes to practice rolling, falling, and recovering. Focus on feeling body and how it moves.
Take the stick and place it inside one pant leg from the belt to the foot, now do back falls and recover without using the hands/arms on the ground. After back falls do forward rolls and recover.
Now move the stick so it is across the shoulders and behind the neck, with the arms draped over the stick. Again do back falls and forward rolls.
The stick now moves to the lower back with the arms draped around the stick so the elbows pin the stick against the back. Back falls and forward rolls for fun.
Finally place the stick behind the knees, squat down so the elbows are pinning the stick against the knees and do the falls and rolls. Please make sure you are breathing throughout all of these drills.
Now drop the stick and fall and roll again on your own feeling the freedom in your movement.
#1 stabs/slashes at #2 with a knife, or if a knife is not handy attack with a fist or grab. #2 escapes without counter attacking. Movements by both parties should be smooth.
Repeat the same drill but place the stick back in the pant leg of #2's trousers. Repeat with the stick in the opposite leg. If enough sticks are present place a stick in both pant legs and do it again. Finally remove the sticks and repeat the drill with full freedom.
Repeat the above drill with the stick across the shoulders, then behind the back. Note with the stick in these positions one can squat to increase the difficulty. Always end with full freedom of motion.
During this section it is best to NOT use a specific technique or set movement. One's attention should be on feeling his/her body and the affects and changes of the training partner's body. Please keep your full attention and awareness even when you are the one being taken to the ground. A great deal of the learning takes place when you feel the affects of the other person's tension on your body. Also note that this feeling and awareness is infinitely more important than actually taking the training partner to the ground. I.E. it is far better to not use tension and not take your partner to the ground than it is to use tension and take your partner to the ground. Finally, work slowly and smoothly so both partners can have time to beware of changes in their bodies and to feel the affects of the tension.
#1 stands straight, relaxes and breathes normally. #1 does not resist or otherwise, move; he simply stands. Without using strength or tension #2 drapes his body across #1 and takes him down to the ground. Both parties should discuss where/when any tension was felt. Repeat this drill numerous times with both partners.
Same set up but now #2 tenses his right leg and maintains the tension in that leg as he does a takedown. Note the difference in the feeling. Repeat a few times then try it tensing the left leg.
Repeat the same process but tense the stomach. Repeat a few times then move on to the back, then chest, then neck/shoulders, even the arms. Perhaps even combinations of body parts.
Finish by repeating the first drill, i.e. no tension or strength. Please note the differences from the beginning to the end.
Now do the same process except #1 will be walking at #2 when #2 attempts the take down. Do with no tension, then tension in a leg, stomach, back, chest, etc. Always end with no tension.
If time permits #1 should walk in and punch, kick or grab at #2 and can follow the same training process. Note a smooth, slow pace is best for both partners to feel and explore the affects of excessive tension/strength.
#1 stands the same as above and #2 does a simple draping take down without strength. In the process of going to the ground #1 should accept the motion and reverse the takedown so #2 is likewise thrown to the ground. The more skill #1 has the better finishing position he will obtain.
Same drill but #1 is walking at #2.
Same drill but #1 and #2 walk side by side.
Note: in all of the takedown drills above the person doing the takedown is the one to tense a body part. Please do not feel limited to this structure, there is a good deal to learn and experience by having the person standing, tense a specific body part and having #2 take him down. When doing this #1 should select a body part to tense without telling #2 what part has been tensed. When the take down is completed #2 should be able to identify the tensed portion. Another twist is for #1 to hide a knife/gun on his body and have #2 do take downs. Most likely #1 will tense areas around the weapon, if #2 is sensitive enough he can feel these areas of tension and know where the weapon is located. Play with the training concept and create your own drills.
By isolating tension to specific parts of our body we can study the affects on the entire body. We learn that even a small amount of tension has the potential to grow and spread throughout the body. Likewise we learn how this excessive tension inhibits our movement which greatly limits our ability to escape, evade, attack, counter attack, etc. The more we experience and understand the affects of excessive tension the greater our opportunity to free ourselves of the tension.
Please do not limit your study of tension to the merely physical but expand your research into everyday life. By becoming aware of our bodies we can use changes in our body tension to identify stressful moments. Once the stress is identified we can apply breathing and mental techniques to reduce or eliminate the stress of the moment. Essentially the body becomes our telltale into our emotional state.
This method of training is not style specific. Technique and other training methods can be used in conjunction with or after such a training class. Enjoy.