Scaffolded movement

Why is it so easy to hold one’s arm up in the air for a long time, but not one’s leg?

The muscles and joints in the torso will act like a scaffold to hold up the arm — and in the process, writing on a chalkboard is just a modification of the joint positions, and effortless, if one is relaxed.  So, in theory, if one were to get a good working relationship with one’s pelvis, lower spine, and thighbones, could one effortlessly write one’s name in the air with one’s big toe?

It seems a reasonable theory:  making it happen in a reproducible manner, on the other hand, is difficult.  The typical methods for attempting it tend to involve lots of strain and even more people injuring themselves.

That’s one example, which comes from savate: if one were to do savate well, that’s a given for a style which requires its “competent” practitioner to be able to ring a wine glass with one’s toe without breaking it or spilling the wine.  Savate requires the “chamber” (movement of the knee to shoulder without ventral collapse of the spine), “pivot” (full-body longitudinal spinal torsion) and “balance” (ability to sacrifice and regain balance intentionally) not merely as principles, but as movements which are “price of entry” in order to perform correctly (non-injurious to self). 

Now, notice that I didn’t say well.  Quality of performance implies dynamic performance — sparring, etcetera, where one is actually interacting with another person.  The “static” performance of a kick, punch, etcetera, without the stress of actually combat (sportive or “earnest”) is a sufficiently high barrier that the vast majority of martial artists wash out without developing a level of skill markedly superior to an opponent with low skill and extensive physical strength/conditioning. 

The same holds true with other martial arts.  Not that these are the “barrier” (necessary but insufficient) movements — those vary by discipline.  Tai chi and aikido, for instance, rely heavily on the “ridge pole” movement technique(longitudinal rotation of the body driven by the pelvis, but individuating the hips so that they are either isolated or involved at will) often described, sloppily I might add, as “moving from your center.”

Violin has the same pre-requisite: the bowing elbow must remain stable.

Each and every one of these (and one could create quite a laundry list, covering nearly all sports, music, and most games) benefits from elegant use fo the skeleton making just enough coordinated movements of the joints, rather than overusing one or two joints –or its opposite, involving MUCH more movement than is actually necessary.

But I’m not sure how to get from point A to point B.

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  1. Amen; price of entry to get my zhan zhuang back’s high enough, much less generalizing the damn thing.

  2. Well, besides the fact that he pretty much quietly shoved me out the door (whadda ya do when your teacher refuses any and all commo? Leave.), that’s one of the reasons I stopped training in Denton — Bernie Langan’s stuff doesn’t get the same respect, but it DOES actually help my back.

    Right now I probably can’t afford to get back into feldenkrais training next year. But eventually I *will* do it, b/c it’s the tool for the job when it comes to teaching people the “price of entry” movements that will let them actually enjoy picking up a difficult physical skill.

  3. Kevin

     /  August 18, 2009

    One of what reasons? I thought it was the baby? I don’t comment much because with work, kids and doing a MBA I don’t read much. The rest, well, I can’t answer what I don’t get and I’ve never claimed to be a healer.

    That said, I don’t think it (price of entry movements) can be taught that way. You hold this stuff by may difference muscles which is why explanations are sometimes called lies to children. Sifu’s explanation of the shoulder sounds exactly opposite mine but he taught me and okay-ed how I do it. Body differences or a different muscle group focus? Both? Neither? Over the years I’ve seen people who do body work or yoga to help their art – tried it myself – and while they say it helps, and it may make them feel better doing things – it doesn’t seem translate. There is some truth to the idea of if you want to dance, you gotta dance. Feldenkrais (sp) and Alexander can help movements feel better, they did for me, but they don’t seem to help the structure for, say, fajing. Depends what you want I guess but then 10,000 hour rule kinda excludes more than one serious practice.


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