Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.
Last year I spent several months writing about the “Top Ten Principles of Yachigusa Ryu Aiki Bugei.” Now it is time to cover the next ten most important principles. Of course, one must keep in mind that while these principles are officially less important than first ten, in actuality they are just as important. The truth is that in many cases understanding and executing them properly is essential in order to make the “top ten” fully effective. In other words, they are just another piece of a very complex puzzle illustrating how sceintific martial techniques really are.
Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.
Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.
MARRIAGE TO GRAVITY
When I started training with Yachigusa Sensei, 30 plus years ago, he would yell at me all the time about my posture. I was always either too slouchy or too rigid, too soft, or too hard. I leaned too much this way or that way. It seemed no matter what I did, or how hard I tried, my posture was never good enough.
Yachigusa Sensei would yell, he would scream, and he would even forcibly move me into the proper position–and I mean forcibly, with whatever he happened to have in his hands at the time, which was often a wooden cane.
Unfortunately for me no matter what he did to correct my posture during my first years, none of it seemed to work, at least from his perspective.
Now, I don’t know if my problems with posture were due to my age, the fact I didn’t understand Japanese and he spoke terrible English, my poor coordination, or if Yachigusa Sensei expected instant perfection; but things must have really gotten bad because the next thing I knew I was doing all my solo techniques with a book balanced on my head.
If you’ve never tried this, it can become quite frustrating very quickly-especially if there are consequences when the book falls. These consequences were usually harsh and unpleasant. However, balancing a book on your head is a great training tool, and after several long months of “book learning” the frequency of posture related yelling decreased.
I had slowly, unwittingly, been introduced to the principle of “Marriage to Gravity.”
After my teacher’s death, I started to attend various seminars where numerous Aikido, Jujutsu, and Judo practitioners often accused me of being extremely rigid. In other words they couldn’t capture my center, displace me, or project me. Of course, instead of examining their technical ability, they just assumed I was countering them. In a way they were partially right, but I didn’t do it intentionally. Without even realizing it, I had learned to spontaneously apply the principle of “Marriage to Gravity.”
I guess all of Yachigusa Sensei’s lambasting paid off.
Over the years I have heard this principle described in numerous ways, ranging the gamut from the supernatural to the scientific. Its been called things such as sticking, grounding, rooting, sinking, and even body dropping.
It is clear that this principle is done in numerous martial art styles, and from my experience every teacher who tries to explain it does so in a distinct, often stylistic manner. Unfortunately, these stylistic approaches often perpetuate myths and tricks over true technique.
This is a trick often used to show one’s ability to “root.”
I won’t explain here how it is done, but it has to do with physics, not Chi.
My student had five minutes of instruction before he posed for the photo, and was able to do the technique fairly well. With some practice he could fool a lot of people with his “mystical powers.”
Another famous trick to show one’s rooting ability.
Once again it’s all about physics, not Chi.
This technique is a little harder to learn than the one above.
Often the ancient mystical explanations for this principle, especially those propagated in Chinese arts, are exquisite and definitely appeal to many people’s desire to transcend normality via some ancient “secret.”
However, as much as I can respect these peoples’ desires and beliefs, I’ll forgo the usual metaphysical explanation–which normally relates to externalizing ones’ Chi and projecting said energy into he ground thus rooting a person to the earth–for something a little more tangible.
Basically, the principle of “Marriage to Gravity” refers to a postural alignment that unifies one with their centerline. It is nothing more than having the skill to align the feet and torso in a manner were force is transferred efficiently into the ground, allowing for maximum balance and stability.
Yes, you guessed it…. It’s all related to posture.
A major difference between the principle of Marriage to Gravity,” and methods often referred to as “Rooting,” is that “Marriage to Gravity” is not static. The principle applies to both bodies at rest, and bodies moving at full speed. Though I’ll be the first to admit, one is easier to do than the other.
To be honest teaching this principle is not easy. It takes a lot of time, and one on one interaction. Having taught for over fifteen years now, I can clearly see how frustrating it must have been for Yachigusa Sensei to teach me this, especially with the language barrier between us.
I know I’ve experienced times where students have simply driven me crazy, and I’ve felt I must be explaining things in some foreign language they can’t comprehend. While I’ve never resorted to striking any of them, (okay, one or two), many have endured the ancient “Yachigusa Ryu Book” method of training.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way to teach this principle in this medium. Like I said, it takes a lot of one on one interaction to get people to do it right. Even practicing this principle in front of a mirror is inadvisable since moving the head to see oneself can often change alignments.
While I can’t teach this principle in writing, I can give some anatomical background, guidelines, and a few things for readers to try.
1. Basic Posture Rules
Standing – Normal Posture
- Always hold your head straight with your chin in. The head should never tilt in any direction.
- Keep your shoulder blades back.
- Keep your knees straight.
- Tuck your stomach in but do not tilt your pelvis forward.
- The arches of your feet should always be supported.
- Always hold your head straight with your chin in. The head should never tilt in any direction. The head only moves split seconds before any turning action.
- Keep your shoulder blades back, yet relaxed.
- Keep your knees straight. Straight does not mean locked-out. There should actually be some give, an almost sinking sensation towards the ground. Just make sure your knee never ever passes the toes when moving; that puts a lot of strain in your knees.
- Tuck your stomach in but do not tilt your pelvis forward. Hips and waist should always be over the weight bearing foot.
- The arches of your feet should always be supported. One method I employ which is related to the principle of Marriage to Gravity, is placing my weight on three points of each foot. These points are the base of the big toe, the inner part of the ball of the foot, and the inside side of the heal portion of the foot. I then think about pushing the ground with these three points, concentrating my focus on the ball of the foot area.
At first, when this is done correctly one should feel their thigh muscles doing a substantial amount of work to maintain stability. That feeling should go away with training. However once this is learned, one’s stability should feel stronger.
Another benefit with this type of stance is that one will be able to execute stronger and faster turning motions. This has to do with the nature of the stance itself, which controls the action of the thigh muscles, which in turn control the upper torso.
A point to remember is that the thigh muscles don’t really have the ability to rotate without moving a least one foot. If you don’t believe that try executing a proper round kick without shifting the foot.
Balance is something we humans use all the time, but literally take for granted until we lose it. After all, good balance is necessary in order to independently perform acts of daily living and to avoid constantly falling down and injuring ourselves.
The definition of “balance,” is “the ability to maintain and control the position and motion of the total center of body mass relative to the base of support.”
It should. However, in martial arts, this is often described more metaphysically. From a martial arts perspective, this center of mass is normally located three finger widths down from the belly button, and referred to as the tanden in Japanese and dantian in Chinese, and is the equivalent to the Hara of Buddhism.
This point is regarded as the spiritual center of man, where all psychic and physical forces are centered. The Hara is the point where “Chi” (life energy) is located–“Chi” being the essential energy to perform martial art techniques quickly and efficiently.
The importantce of the human balance system is that it helps your body maintain equilibrium on an automatic basis. Keep in mind that the human frame is inherently unstable since 2/3 of our mass is located 2/3 of our body height above the ground. Even the normal act of walking is a constant state of falling and regaining balance.
In order to maintain balance the “Human Balance System” consists of three parts. They are:
- Vestibular System (inner ear) – This is the most important element of human balance. The main function of the vestibular system is maintaining balance (posture and equilibrium) by monitoring the motion of the head and stabilizing the eyes relative to the surround environment.
Within the inner ear are three canals that contain a gel-like liquid called endolymph and tiny hair cells. When both inner ears are working properly they give the brain information through the central nervous system about linear and angular positions of the body with respect to gravity.
- Visual system (depth, velocity, and motion perception) – Input from the eyes sends the brain information about the position of the body relative to other objects, their depth, velocity and motion. In addition, the eyes work in conjunction with the ears to maintain balance, as well as maintain clear vision during movements. The inner ear continuously sends impulses that adjust your eyes in coordination to the smallest movement of the body.
- Somatic Sensory or Somatosensory System) – This system provides the brain with two valuable pieces of internal and external spatial information that helps maintain balance. These two systems are called, proprioception and exteroception.
- Proprioception – Propriceptors are internal sensors in the body that give the central nervous system information about the movement of body parts in relation to other parts of the body. With out such a system it would be impossible to put food in your mouth without visually watching your hand move from the plate to your mouth.
- Exteroception – Exteroceptors are pressure sensors located in your feet and hands that provide external spatial information about the topography of the ground or support surface.
Evaluating Your Balance
This is a basic test to see what your current state of balance is. Start by standing upright, arms to your side. Now while looking forward raise one foot up without touching the supporting leg. Hold this position for as long as you can without tilting or losing stability. Failure occurs when your upper body starts tilting, your foot drops, your raised foot touches supporting leg, you hop, or your drop your foot to the ground.
Now repeat this test with your eyes closed. To make this test a little more complicated, try extending your arms to the side and touching your nose with your index finger–sort of like the field sobriety tests police officers give to see if you’re driving under the influence.
The importance of this simple exercise is manifold. First of all, being on one leg is less stable than two, thus requiring precise body mechanics to remain upright without tilting or swaying. Secondly, one must learn to properly align the base foot in order to press against the ground and provide the strength to remain stable (the Marriage to Gravity element). Lastly, a clear focus and concentration is required to maintain control over the body, and its natural instinct to fall over.
Remember the movie “The Karate Kid?”
Well Mr. Miyagi had a reason to make Daniel-san do that silly crane stance.
It was all about improving Daniel-san’s balance.
3. Stance (Static Posture)
Any stance refers to a method of “placement.” “Placement” is an orientation based on the flex of the feet, knees and hips, as well as associated body weight distribution. A simple rule to follow is that one should always point their hips and waist in the same direction as the toes of their weight-bearing leg.
This rule is simple to test. Start by assuming a long stance, a common stance found in many martial art styles where 40% of the weight is on the back leg and 60% is on the front leg.
Once in long-stance rotate your hips and waist in the direction of your back leg. How stable do you feel? If you think you have sufficient stability, try having someone push you backwards. Do not have them push hard, just enough to see if you lose stability.
Now do another long-stance, and this time rotate your hips and waist over the front leg. How stable do you feel? You should be able to feel a difference. Once again after you feel you are stable, have someone push you with the same power as before. There should be a major difference in how quickly and easily you can be pushed off balance.
Now try this same test with other postures (stances) for your particular style. You should get the same results.
4. Movement / Force
The first guideline has to do with body mechanics. Body mechanics are essentially posture in motion used to gain power. The purpose of utilizing proper body mechanics is to maximize applicable forces by taking advantage of the principles of physics as it relates to the structure of the human body.
When I teach my students I look for specific things. I look to see what muscles they utilize to accomplish a particular movement. Are they tense, or are they too relaxed? Is their weight distributed correctly, allowing for ease of movement? I check to see what muscles are utilized, over utilized, or under utilized.
In order to use the “Marriage to Gravity” principle when moving, one must first learn to use it statically. The next step is to learn to move one step at a time, utilizing the static form between each step. This progression is continued until the practitioner can make a series of movements and instantly stop with out having to make any adjustments in their posture. It can be a tedious process.
Of course, it is essential when learning this that one pays careful attention to their movements, and learns to feel how their body shifts. Maintaining complete control of ones body’s movements is also essential since one must learn override their body’s natural instincts. This means training the body to do what you want it to do, not what it wants to do, or what feels the most comfortable.
Remember we humans are basically lazy creatures and if given the choice are bodies will normally do what’s easiest. This means our bodies slouch rather than stand erect. We sit instead of stand. We walk instead of run. You get the idea.
Keep in mind that fighting is motion, and that having the ability to maintain one’s body mechanics is essential. Without proper body mechanics, it is impossible to deliver full force strikes, project one’s opponents, and maintain stability against the incoming force from one’s attacker.
Hopefully, the above four items aid anyone in examining this topic further. For the most part all of the components are fairly basic. The difficulty is putting them all together. But nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Just keep in mind that the basic tenet of the principle “Marriage to Gravity,” is to instill proper body posture. With proper body posture martial techniques can be executed with more power and speed. A martial arts practitioner is more stable making them harder to unbalance and project. Most of all overall effectiveness and efficiency are greatly increased.
Learning this principle is not easy, but it worth all of the effort.