In the last article I tried to explain what is relaxation, and now I will try to explain some of the steps to how to achieve relaxation or optimal amount of contraction in technique.
When I tell people to relax their shoulders or elbows or face, many will ask how do I relax?
There are few answers to that:
1. First, apply the principles of karate technique with the form as a mean, the better one follow basic principles the more likely to be able to relax and be effective.
Principles such as:
a. Technique always initiates from ground reaction, is indirect, the technique itself is only an expression, like using a tool or weapon, the weapon is not making independent effort but is handled by the person using it. If ground reaction is not being used there is no other choice but using the arms and legs, which make for top power technique. Also think of hikite (pulling hand) rather than technique because hikite increases body action speed and range and in turn increase energy to technique. Thinking hikite will also help stay mentally centered and relax the technique limb, allow it to be a tool ann expression.
b. Timing of technique, from feet to top, each segment increases maximum energy before next segment move, so maximum energy is accumulated. Simply put, body action first than technique, so the technique itself just makes direction, serves as contact area, and is additional force to the main power from the body.
If timing is off and the full body dynamics is not utilized, there will be tendency to make up for it by muscling the technique.
c. Joint as action center, if a joint is not stable, energy will not transfer fully through that joint and again there will be tendency to make up for it with top power technique.
d. Breathing matching muscle action and dynamics, if the breath is not synchronized with muscle action and dynamics, full rate of contraction/relaxation cannot be used, ground reaction cannot be maximized and the optimal use of muscles, the right amount in the right time cannot be achieved resulting in stiff technique.
e. Stable emotions and relaxed focus, if one is not stable emotions in kumite/fight there will be tendency to be protective and tight or overly aggressive and tight forcing technique.
f. Ho Shin - Give everything, when we are able to give everything, have no mind in the technique, as if each technique is last in our life, than there is no conflict mentally, and the physical follow without contradictory and extraneous tension.
g. Limitation in a range of motion along the kinetic chain will cause compensation and overuse in other segment. For example limitation in ankle dorsiflexion, or hip internal rotation, will cause over use of the muscles around lumbar spine or shoulder or both.
2. Awareness of self – we get comfortable with our postures and movement patterns that we are not aware of tensions we carry in certain parts of our body, those tensions feel normal to us, the wrong feels right.
For that reason, I like to sometimes use the dead body position of yoga in order to develop sensitivity to tensions in different areas and by noticing them I can let go of them, using breath and consciousness.
But one just need to listen to his Sensei’s correction and be sensitive.
3. It is not enough to understand those principles, one has to truly accept, believe and digest them into the nervous system, otherwise in a moment of truth one come back to habitual patterns and try to use force and stiff technique.
Therefore karate training is very wise, use the kata which is low stimuli to learn to use optimal form and strength and digest movement principles and gradually increase the stimuli, hitting the pads, doing basic timing when elements of reaction and distance are added, and than free sparring where anything can happen and nothing can be expected.
Using the pad is particularly important to get feedback and realized and internalize the concept that soft technique is way more powerful than stiff technique, that indirect power is way more effective than direct means.