Movement is the bedrock of martial arts, whether looking at footwork, how we punch or kick, how we move another person or even how we stand still (paradoxically!). There are, of course, many ways that we train to move that are specific to our martial practice, in this article we will briefly look at the merit of deviation away from the standard or common patterns of a Martial Style of movement.
Every martial art, under examination and through a specific lens is simply movement, movement in association with our environment, with external objects like swords or sticks, and of course with other moving things, people. As each martial art may approach a similar task in its own unique way, different movement training methods will develop specific to that Martial Art. For example, the way a Silat expert transitions to the floor to apply leg locks will likely differ from the way a Brazilian JiuJitsu expert will, even though the goal may be the same. Each style has ‘their way’ of moving and doing things and the martial arts as a group cover every conceivable way in which the body can move.
With that said there are also many similarities in the way that we move for a given task. We are after all, similarly, constructed beings and there are only so many ways to solve combative problems. A punch will be a punch, a kick a kick and there is no getting away from those similarities.
The common movements of your martial art or the similarity with others is not the subject of this article however, here we are going to look at the merits of seemingly unrelated movement practices, of moving away from the standard patterns and into the non-standard. Indeed, it is my contention that to maximise our ability in our known martial arts movements, we should be challenging our bodies outside of those familiar patterns, in addition to them.
Balance, co-ordination and Proprioception
When we watch some of the greatest fighters from any discipline, one of the defining factors that we see is an ability to adapt. Not only to adapt, but top thrive when having to adapt. They can just act as is needed, often going way outside of the usual way they would approach a situation in order to gain the win. The reason that these experts can do this is due to their acute senses of Balance, Co-ordination and Proprioception. They know precisely where they are, how their mass is moving and how their limbs are moving in association with each other to produce a given effect.
So, the question should be asked, how can we develop these senses so that they are honed to a razors edge? Firstly, we need to understand that some systems in the body are not best developed from the repetition of known or familiar movement patterns. Sure, for some systems repetition may embed specific actions over time, what could be called ‘Muscle Memory’ but rarely will it increase the actual capacity of certain senses like Proprioception or ‘balance’.
Instead we need to test the body, placing it under pressure to change within the confines of specific demands. When it comes to things like balance, co-ordination and proprioception, this means giving our body a large array of experiences that challenge those specific systems. To do this we will invariably have to go outside of the normal paradigms of a specific training method, often to seemingly unrelated training methods.
One of my favourite training methods involves using a ball, throwing it against a wall then catching it again, often with different restrictions or conditions place upon the practice. When I have taught people this method, they have often said … ‘Coach, how does this relate to my Martial Art?’. Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate would be through experience. Try the below method.
Exercise Example : - Wall Ball.
- First I want you to walk, very slowly up and down. Pay very close attention to your lower leg and foot as it touches the ground.
- Using the technique I call ‘Wall Ball’ you stand on one leg and throw the ball from one hand to another, trying to maintain your balance and posture.
- Spend 2 – 3 minutes doing this on each leg … with no rests!
- Make the throws progressively more challenging to catch.
- No slowly walk up and down again and note the difference in the lower leg, ankle and foot contact.
You should notice that after the exercise, which is seemingly about throwing a ball against a wall (pro tip … it isn’t!), that your awareness of your contact with the floor and the tissues used to maintain balance is greatly enhanced. Some people describe a greater sense of rooting, a deeper feeling of how their weight is distributed on the foot, and a greater feeling of stability.
In fact the ‘wall ball’ method seen above is taxing a number of systems, from visual acuity to balance, from testing the stabilising muscles of the lower limb to improving foot strength. We moved outside of a normal practice method, to a seemingly obscure practice method, in order to enhance our balance.
Using unknown movements to enhance known movements.
It would be easy to think that the above method is pulled out of thin air without thought or direction. It could equally be thought that all we need to do is randomly move around with no plan or objective and this variation by its very nature will improve the known / desired movement patterns in our martial art. This is, unfortunately, not the case. Instead, we need to have some type of plan when we are creating movement problems for our training. That plan should be focused on a general area of movement that will be relevant.
For example, we could focus our time on creating movement games that deal with transitioning from standing up, to laying down on the floor. This will improve our ability to squash and extend the body, to move smoothly with gravity, to change levels, even if our specific martial art does not have any ‘ground’ work. Similarly, we could design movement games around ‘avoidance’ as a topic, and use belts, sticks, balls or simply limbs moving through our personal space as things to avoid.
Creating the space for creativity
Ultimately the approach to generalise the movement methods within the context of a specific goal allows our body and mind ‘space’ for creativity when we return to sparring or combative encounter. It may be that we need to move in slightly different ways during a combative exchange and if we have only developed very specific responses to specific scenarios we may struggle when our opponent goes ‘off script’.
As mentioned earlier, some of the greatest fighters can create, adapt and change during their fights. These individuals can attack from varied and wide-ranging series of scenarios that they may never have encountered before that very moment. This is an ability that all martial artists should aspire to obtain, if free exchange is a part of the training goal.
Besides the many practical reasons to keep things moving, I think it is also important to remember how much fun it can be to create and play with movement drills. So, grab a training partner, pick a topic and get creative.