Karate Thoughts Blog

Contents   /   Email  /   Atom  /   RSS  /  

1700+ Posts... and Counting

"One Big Muscle" Ness

I recently wrote a post entitled One Big Muscle, the idea of which is that "You have to learn to use your body like one big muscle."

For beginners, this might sound like a difficult concept. One way to visualize this is to think of a puppet. Think about a wooden Pinocchio puppet. His arms and legs are segmented at the joints (wrists, elbows, shoulders, etc.). There are strings attached to various points on the puppet's body. All of these strings lead up to the person controlling the puppet. By pulling on one string, the puppet's arm will raise, by pulling another, his leg will raise, etc. A skillfull puppeteer can make it look like the puppet is alive.

But the puppet is not alive. It only moves because of the puppeteer pulling on its strings. The puppet is just a collection of parts.

Now imagine, through the magic of technology, that the strings are removed. Instead, there are tiny motors put inside the puppet. There is a motor in the wrist, another in the elbow, another in the neck. Each motor is wirelessly connected to the puppeteer, who now uses a remote control to make the puppet walk, dance... seem alive.

This is getting closer to a "real" person, but still the puppet is not alive. Its movements are still controlled by the puppeteer. It is still just a collection of parts.

Here is the point. Most Karate students are like puppets. I do not mean that their movements are controlled by a puppeteer. Of course not. But their body is like a collection of parts that move separately and are powered in the extremities. Their body is not like one big muscle.

I feel qualified to state this because I was an expert at it! I was an expert at moving like a collection of parts. I did not mean to do it, but I did not know any better.

A puppet, not matter how you control it, is still a puppet.

In Pinocchio, the puppet magically becomes a real boy. He has no more strings, no more puppeteer. He is alive.

This is how I felt when I started to learn how to use koshi. It felt like the strings were being cut and a magical new engine was turning on. I now prefer to refer to koshi dynamics as whole body dynamics, because even the koshi (although important) is still just a part of the whole.

When you see a puppet move, you can tell that it is not alive. When you see a living person move, you can tell that he or she is not a puppet.

When you see a Karate student use their whole body to generate power and movement, you can tell. When you a Karate student move like a collection of part, you can tell this too.

Here is one more level -- the body is not just the body. Sometimes you hear the phrase, "mind, body, and spirit," which gives the impression that these are three things. But these, too, are parts of the whole person.

A Karate expert moves with his whole body, with the totality of his being... however you would like to phrase it. There is no separation of the body parts. There is no separation of the "body" and "mind." There is no separation at all.

Each movement is generated by the whole.

My experience is that when Karate students observe this for the first time, their jaw drops open. It makes no sense. How can living movement make sense to a student who is still moving like a puppet?

When Karate students experience this type of movement for themselves, they feel freed from the strings!

Learning to use the whole body is not grade or rank based. I have seen mudansha (kyu holders) with excellent body dynamics. I have also seen yudansha of all levels with extremely poor body dynamics. Of course, the experts with the very best body dynamics tend to be senior yudansha -- but not always. It all depends on the person and the way that they are training.

People who move like a collection of parts, tend to do very well in their 20s and 30s. After that, they tend to become weaker and slower. People who move "whole body," tend to be weaker at first, but much, much stronger as they age.

As an instructor, this is why I feel that it is best to teach clean and strong linear basics to beginners, and then, when they reach the natural limits of such movements, to help them transition to "whole body" movement. But this is a difficult, time intensive process -- certainly not "cookie cutter" Karate (where everyone moves the same throughout their Karate life).

You are a unique person. One size will not fit you. You have to find the best approach for you and learn to use your whole body in a coordinated manner, like one big muscle.

I am still working on this for myself. I do not mean to suggest that I have "mastered" the process. Far from it! If anything, I have "beginnered" the process. I am working on it, and that is the key. We each have to work on it ourselves.


Charles C. Goodin