In the connected body, we aim to develop whole body connection via the training of specific lines of tissue and neurology. In the early stages of training it is important that we separate our body, working on one area and then the next, so that our mind can focus. However, later we must remove these imaginary boundaries between the various tissues and begin to think of the body as a whole. One of the ways that we can do this is through a process known as ‘linking the hands and feet’.
Part of the process of linking the entire body is to consider the extremities and feel the connection between them. When we take into account the entire body in this way we naturally begin to form correct and whole connections. There are many traditions which talk of linking the hands and feet, often focusing on the palms and the soles of the feet, and more often than now including a connection of these areas with the working centre and the top of the head.
Often called the five gates (hands, feet and top of head) these areas are of great importance in our connection training. There are two primary ways in which the connection of these points are traditionally trained, 1) via stretch and 2) Via Breath. Some traditions talk of breathing through these points, imagining our breath flowing into our palms, our feet and the top of our head. This description however is difficult to feel if it is the only focus. Still other traditions talk of stretching from these points, creating tautness in the body that can be manipulated via motion or intent. In truth, the Martialbody system utilises both of these ideas, it is important to work on the sensation of the breath, as well as the sensation of stretch, especially if we are to get the most out of this training.
Stretching to the 5 gates
The first part of the process is to stretch through the 5 gates. Stretching through the 5 gates is the process of extending these points away from the working centre, creating a type of pull inside the body. For instance if you place your hands out from your body, facing forward and then press, like you’re pressing on the wall, you may be able to feel the tissues running through the body from palm to palm pull taut. This is a very basic demonstration of the type of stretch that we feel as we connect the five gates.
Now, imagine that the working centre (area of the lower abdomen) is a stone ball, anchored to the spot, and you then try to stretch your hands, feet and top of head away from it. As you stretch your 5 gates away from the stone ball, consider that they are bound to it with thick elastic ropes which stretch. This process will create a whole body stretch where we will feel that the tissues of the body pull as we stretch away from our centre. Over time, our awareness of this stretch will spread to touch all of our tissues. We will begin to perceive how the 5 gates stretching impacts everything, much like each strand of a spiders web will react when another is pulled. We begin the process with a focus on the five gates and then expand it, as our awareness of our connection increases.
However, as we try to create this full body stretch we must take care to progress one step at a time. Initially, our mind is not capable of feeling the connection throughout the body and so we begin with segments of the body that are easier to feel. One of the easiest to feel is pulling the head away from the feet and vice versa. Pressing the feet into the floor, extending the top of the head upwards, and holding the pelvis in place, we are able to feel the stretch inside our body. This extension can be felt in the ribs in the abdomen in the neck in the hips in the legs all the way from the feet to the top of the head.
Such a simple first step is already enough for many months of training, but then we must begin to spread the sensation of connection further.Over time we begin to build a map of how these various lines interact and it is from here that we explore the various connections and associations that make up the ConnectedBody.
Breathing and the 5 gates
So, once the basic level of connection has been reached, we can turn our attention to the breathing and its impact on the connected structure. What did the traditional texts mean by breathing into and out of the extremities? I believe they meant the real feeling of the tissues being pulled and released in time with the breathing cycle.
The 'in' breath is associated with tensioning of the body. As the lungs fill, the internal pressure in the body is increased. The 'out' breath is associated with release and relaxation. When the body is taut and connected we these two phases of the breath begin to be felt directly in the taut tissues. We intimately feel the effect of the tensioning and releasing caused by the breathing cycle. This is often manifest in the feeling of the palms, and the soles of the feet, pulling in and out as we breathe. It is a consequence of correct connection that we are able to sense this process. As the breath flows in, the gates pull in, then as we breathe out the gate release and expand.
Of great importance in this practice is that we do not force the breath. You should not breathe in an unnatural way in order to try to feel the connections. Realise that it is not actually the breath that is creating the sensation, it is the connection and tautness of the body that allows the breath to be perceived in our extremities. If we are slack and loose we will not feel the pull and release caused by the breathing cycle, so it follows that no amount of forcing the breathing will help. You simply need to connect more, extend more and dig deeper into the connection between the five gates, then the feeling of breathing into and out of these points will enter your awareness.
The purpose of this work.
This is all very intellectually interesting, but what is the point of the practice? Many people are finding great benefit from connection training, and as ever it is proving to be one of the most popular sections of the MartialBody system. And focusing on the 5 gates during our connection training, linking the hands and feet, can have a great impact on this work. The more we are able to connect hands, feet and top of head, the deeper and more apparent our connection will be to us. Ultimately, this means that we will feel stronger to our opponents and training partners, and we will feel that our movement is whole and without flaws.
Of course, this has great advantages for the martial artist. Whether in the increase in efficiency for a given action, the ability to link hand and foot as we strike or throw, and the decrease in the apparent effort for large-scale results; all benefits of the ConnectedBody and of linking the five gates.
How to train this work
Training in connecting the 5 gates is a slow and steady process. It is a process full of tricks and dead-ends. It is easy for us to fool ourselves, to believe that we are connected or that we can feel the connection via breathing, when in fact we are slack. As such it is extremely important that we take our time and are honest with ourselves. You must try your best to take one step at a time, connecting each area of the body, linking the five gates before moving on to deeper practice.
So, move slowly, use the 5 gates and find the connections. Eventually you will begin to feel the breathing affecting this newfound connected structure and all of your work will improve. ConnectedBody is one of the 3 foundational attributes of the MartialBody, the deeper we make it, the better everything else becomes.