Whole body power forms the bedrock of some Martial Arts, indeed it is a performance enhancer that we should all be interested in. However, our ability to move every part of our body in harmony is as fundamental to our Health as it is to our martial effectiveness. In this article, we will explore one aspect of this whole-body work, which I call the attribution of effort technique.
When we move without competence or in a segmented way, we will often leave certain areas of the body uninvolved in the movement. As the arms are raise the hands may remain floppy or ‘dead’ as my Taiji Teacher would say, as we step the foot may simply hang from the leg. These are common occurrences in the untrained and disconnected body and a quick scan around the room in any Martial Arts class will highlight them.
However, with training these natural habits do not persists and instead when we raise our arms our hands are completely involved in the act, or if we step, our foot is alive, searching for the floor. We are connected from the tips of our fingers to the ends of our toes. Among other things, this change is the result of training to be aware of the required spread of effort throughout the body.
One of the ways in which we can bring harmony to the body is to look at the attribution of effort that a given movement requires. The is a very difficult process initially but soon becomes second nature with dedicated training. But what does it mean to become aware of the attribution of effort?
The ‘percentage’ method.
One way in which we can visualise this idea is by feeling the percentage of total effort your various body parts undertake as you move through a motion. I highlight the word feeling here because although I will talk about real percentages in a moment, we are talking about a type of awareness of effort, rather than any real calculations (so you can put your calculators away)!
In this method, we scan the body with our mind and feel how much effort the body parts require to perform the action. Initially we can start with the big segments, the torso, the arms, and the legs. But eventually we can do this to a very small level, looking at the joints of the fingers or toes for example.
During this work, you may perceive that, as the arms raise only the back, shoulders and arms are working. But, with further scanning, you begin to perceive the effort to extend the wrist or open the fingers, you begin to feel the effort of the feet as the weight shifts outside of its previous range. All the body parts have their little percentage to play of the total load.
So, for instance, we could say that the legs are 40%, the aligned torso 40% and the arms20%. This is a very simple split. We could in fact go further.
feet 10%, Lower Leg 10%, Upper Leg & buttock 20%,
Lower abdomen 20% Chest 10% upper back 10%
Upper arms 10% lower Arm 6%. Hands 4%
Far from an exercise in maths however, this is an exercise in microscopic awareness. When we scan the whole body from the tips of the toes, to the top of the head we make the whole body engage and come to life as the nervous tissues that innovate our entire bodies give feedback to our CNS and brain. It is very hard to identify the % of effort of a limb or finger if they are not active or involved for instance.
To do this we must first stand extremely still as we focus the mind on the major parts of the body, then zoom in to the smaller areas like the fingers. Without acute awareness of our body when still, it is impossible to be aware of the requirements when it is in motion. As we move, it must be painstakingly slow to really feel and understand the loads and requirements placed on the frame.
Awareness giving rise to natural connection
So, we can recognise the efforts required across the body units. We can use our minds to truly feel how much strength is needed in the little finger when compared to the arm for instance. This is the stage at which true formation of a ‘whole body’ power starts to present itself and a state in which movement unity must occur. It is simply impossible to maintain this level of awareness and be segmented in your motion.
Eventually, over time the extreme focus required to maintain the associations in the body fades and the body simply remembers the amount of ‘effort’ it needs in every limb, joint or length during complex motions.
The training will always remain a very slow affair, it is the nature of this advanced method of connection and awareness, but the training will ‘burn in’ the innate body skill that the movements will always maintain correct attribution of effort.
Give this method a try, it will be very slow, but very fruitful I am sure.