In this article we examine a training technique that can be found in a number of traditional martial arts and training systems. It goes by many different names, and can be seen in methods from China, Japan, Indonesia and even Russia. I call it ‘Body Cross Training’ and it is one of the most comprehensive connection training methods that I have come across in my investigations into body method training.
The method involves forming the body into a classical cross position, with the arms extended out from the sides and then filling the posture with deep and purposeful details that create a highly demanding set of conditions for the body. These conditions will, over time, force the body to adapt with increased connection, alignment, twist and stability. One of the first things that we feel in the Body Cross training is the increased sense of connection throughout the body, it is as thought the body is threaded together from the fingers to the toes. This feeling continues to permeate the training, but becomes backed by an increased sense of alignment, the sensation of the joints opening, and a deep twist force.
These conditions have a myriad of benefits for both the health of the body and habits created for martial technique. In spite of the complexity of the method, there are a few simple common goals that are often present, regardless of the source.
1) Opening the joints via extension
2) Pulling the tissues taut
3) Winding the tissues
4) Opposite hand to foot connections
These basic ideas are fundamental to all body cross training that I have encountered. Some aspects are prioritised to more or less of a degree of course. In some traditions the focus may be primarily on the connection of hand to foot, in others it may be on equal opposites, still in others it may be in the winding of the tissues or the opening of the joints, but usually there is a mixture of these basic goals at play.
Understanding the method
This body development technique is a method that enhances our ability to move with connection, stability and spiral power. The position itself can seem relatively abstract or unrelated to martial technique and certainly there is no obvious ‘direct’ application for the position found in body cross training. But as with many solo training techniques, and with MartialBody training in general, the purpose is to create a type of body ‘habit’ that will express itself in any martial movement.
In this instance the training is designed to create a few beneficial attributes in the individual. Among these is the habit of linking both sides of the body together so that they work in harmony and contribute to whole body power. There is a great benefit to associating and connecting the opposite hand and foot when it comes to power generation. When we examine a wide array of Martial Arts techniques, we notice that a large proportion of them rely on this connection through the body.
Body cross training directly relates to these types of techniques by linking and developing the lines that are responsible for powering these methods. It does not develop the exact movements of course, but instead works to form the habit of transferring power across the body which is part of the engine of them.
Secondly, specifically in the winding body cross method, the benefit lies in the habit of ‘twisting’. Again, many techniques focus on turning or twisting movements in their techniques, we only need look at a basic punch in Karate where the orientation of the fist reverses during the trajectory towards its target. This ‘twisting’ has a mechanical advantage when applied correctly.
However, in order to develop ‘depth’ to this twist, the winding body cross aims to wrap or ‘wind’ the tissues around the skeleton as it turns. This can be thought of in a similar way to wringing out a towel where an initially soft piece of fabric becomes more and more taut and strong the more it is wrapped. Over time we are aiming to cause an adaptive response in the body that rearranges some of the tissues so that they naturally and unconsciously wind during movement. Much like the fibres of the towel wrapping together, this method recruits involves more fibres and increases power and strength for combative techniques.
Extension and taut body state
Of vital importance to this method is the concept of tautness and extension, however, this is something that is often absent from more modern interpretations of the movement, which are commonly used for ‘shoulder mobility’. When extension is reached a type of ‘tautness’ appears in the body, where all of the tissues pull over the structure. It is from the point that the later stages of training can begin.
Extension here does not simply mean to lock the joints out; in fact this would be an error for body cross training. Instead, it means to lead the body to open as much as possible. Imagine ‘reaching out’ to touch something that is just a few inches out of your grasp, the feeling of everything stretching and extending as much as possible is precisely the feeling that should be ever present in this method.
The feeling of extension that we are trying to create is not married to muscle contraction in a meaningful way. In fact, muscle contraction can inhibit our ability to reach out and create extension. This can be found in the very simple exercise seen below:
1) Stand side on to a wall.
2) Reach your arm out to the side and rest your fist on the wall
3) Now move your body away from the wall until it barely touching, and you are having to really ‘reach’ to keep it in contact.
4) Now Tense the arm muscles
You will note that the hand backs away from the wall as you contract. This distance can be as much as a few centimetres in certain individuals.
As you can see from this little test – the deliberate contraction of the muscle, perhaps unsurprisingly, shortens the effective arm length. This is to be avoided in body cross training and we should be creating meaningful extension throughout the method.
Relaxation in extension
So, as highlighted in the test above, when we are preforming body cross it is imperative that we do not contract the muscle too. We need to try our best to release the muscles so that we can enter a state of extension. This state of extension has a very clear purpose, to take the slack out of the body and make the tissues of the body taut. But how can we maintain ‘relaxed’ muscles and stay ‘taut’ at the same time?
When we talk of relaxation it is related to a very specific tissue, the muscle. When the muscles are relaxed (within the context of maintaining the position of course) the tissues that wrap and enclose them can pull taut as we extend. However, if the muscles are tense then it is difficult to effectively extend and later, we can see problems arise in our ability to rotate the joints when we come to winding or twisting the body.
One of the ways that we begin to release within extension is to use the breathing cycle to link too, and ultimately remove, tension. I have discussed the role of the breathing cycle for softening in previous articles, but essentially, we are looking to breath out the tension. The out breath is linked to the relaxation / releasing system of the body and as such, we can use it to focus our release, inside a constant extension. This can be quite difficult while maintaining extension and the Taut body state, but is something that we should constantly return too during body cross training.
Opening the joints, extending the spine and pulling the tissues.
Perhaps the most important consequence of this extension is how it affects the joints and the spine. Because body cross training focuses on extending the body in all directions, a sensation of the joints ‘opening’ as you train will soon become apparent. This feeling is clear and unambiguous, and can be quite pleasurable in the later stages of training. But certainly, in the early days most practitioners will undertake an ever-increasing identification of the tensions that are preventing it.
However, without the opening of the joints it is quite hard to perform the main form of body cross training (the winding body cross) where the joints must rotate in order to create twisting throughout the body. If there is tension holding or binding the joint, it inhibits our ability to twist or turn.
Related to the opening of the joints, is the way in which we open and extend the spine. Body cross training and the extension that we create when setting it up, not only frees up the spine, it also helps to identify tension around it. Although the back and torso extended in Body cross training, it would be a mistake to think that the benefits of this work for the spine are limited to upright posture. In fact, the work could be thought of as a type of self-induced spinal decompression and when performed over time, you will notice a marked decrease in poor posture, but also an increase in spinal mobility. It is an unexpected consequence of a seemingly static position.
Wrapping the tissues and turning the joints
As mentioned above, once we find ourselves effectively able to maintain the body cross in extension and have the sensation of the joints opening, we can begin to move our process into the more demanding technique of twisting in extension. This technique follows a very specific series of procedures in order to make it effective. The basic training is to set up the body cross, then twist from one joint to the next in sequence, progressively creating a deep twist in the body until we reach the point where all joints are in maximum twist and the body is coiled up like the towel mentioned earlier.
This method is often rife with errors because holding extension while deeply twisting the entire body is extremely hard for the body and mind. We will naturally start to release the twist here and there as the postures demands take their toll. These errors are invariably related to the joints moving out of alignment as they rotate and slack appears where tautness should remain. The winding training requires constant adjustment and assessment to make sure that we are not allowing this to happen. So. we need to be vigilant and strict in the training.
The feeling of this work is quite hard to describe, but essentially you feel extremely well connected, tightly bound together like the fibres of a rope and completely consolidated. It is a unique feeling as it is not one that is created by classical tension or contraction or in many other postures. It doesn’t have the softness of Qi Gong, the linear flexibility of Yoga, the contraction of strength work … but still sort of feels like all of them! The practice is akin to the nature of the towel that is wound up and pulled taught. There is no ‘contraction’ in the fibres of the towel, they are inert, but there is a strong consolidation of the towel such as to change its attribute.
The image of the towel is also useful for understanding how this work positively impacts material inside the body, especially the connective tissues and joints. Wrapping the tissues of the body up in this way has the effect of ‘squeezing’ many of the tissues. This is sometimes called ‘washing the bones’ in traditional training methods and relates to squeezing the connected tissues. Some of these tissues are porous in nature and in these situations the liquid is wrung out of them and then rushes back in after the squeeze. This is like wringing out a dirty sponge, the more times you fill it and squeeze out the sponge, the cleaner it gets.
The upshot of this work is that the body feels more mobile, soft and ‘clean’ but also more connected and stable as the tissues are more deeply associated with one another.
Opposite foot to hand
So, we now understand the processes inherent in the training of the body cross that allow the posture to develop various qualities. But of primary importance in training this method is the development of a connection across the body from hand to foot. Actually, the connection is like a X in the body, linking through the working centre.
In the body cross method there is a focus on making this connection from the hand to the foot strong and unambiguous. The training is dedicated to setting up the posture and then leading and twisting across the body from the tips of the toes to the tips of the fingers and we focus all of our attention on this specific task. But, once again, it is very easy to let this all collapse by not maintain extension and tautness as we perform the work. I call this ‘hollowing out’ areas of the body and it is a big error that is obvious when you begin to work with another person.
Imagine taking the body cross position and pushing against a wall with one hand. The connection from the opposite foot to the pushing hand will be extremely clear and easy to feel, but what of the other side? What is the connection of the foot closes to the wall and the hand not pushing anything actually doing? It is dead and ‘hollow’? we need to be doing something with the opposite side, and this leads us into the final point in this training method.
The equal opposite principle can be seen throughout MartialBody training, in the pairing methods of the SpiralBody, the extension methods of the ConnectedBody and is also in this technique. Equal opposite means that is the action within my body is always tempered by a force on the opposite side keeping it in check, or holding it. Think of pushing the wall example above, the wall provides an equal opposite force to your push. In the instance of body cross training, the ‘wall’ is the other side of our body and a balance of force is required to maintain the static position.
In fact, as the depth and complexity of our method increases and we can twist more, use our working centre and clarify our connections, the opposite forces are also opposite in their quality. In the Winding Body Cross for instance there is a rising and falling spiral aspect to the equal opposite action. The palm turning to face up is the tip of a rising spiral force while the opposite palm turning down is the tip of a falling spiral. Classically this may be defined as Yin and Yang qualities within the body and to the outside observer this is almost completely unseen, but to the performer, the sensation is extremely clear and unambiguous.
Body cross training is one of the more powerful singular methods for the development of the MartialBody. In some respects, it can be thought of as a ‘fast track’ to improved skill and capability in the associations of the body. Through its dedicated practice we find an ever improving set of attributes present themselves, from body connection, to stability and to spiral body skills.
If you would like to Learn the Body Cross Training method, Check out our ToolKit Course on this technique