Proper Relaxation: A Diamond in the Rough

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by pesilat, Mar 29, 2008.

  1. pesilat

    pesilat Active Member

    Speed and power. A lot of people talk about speed and power in the martial arts. But the people who have been around a while don't mention them so often. They more often talk about relaxation. I don't know how many times I've heard my instructor(s) say, "Relax! You've got to relax." When I was younger, this seemed antithetical to me. "I wanna hit hard! Grr! Gotta tense up and use my muscles. That's how I hit hard. What's he mean, 'relax'?" Over time, I began to realize that relaxation was important for proper generation of power. Then my response was, "What's he mean, 'relax'? I am relaxed!" Then I became aware of what I call proper relaxation. Proper relaxation is a key that unlocks many, many doors in the martial arts. But proper relaxation, like the true gem it is, is multifaceted. Effective speed is a byproduct of timing and position. What do I mean by "effective speed?" Well, let's take a race between a Ferrari and a Jeep Wrangler. Obviously, the Ferrari is a faster vehicle - it has more potential speed. But what if the Jeep driver knows an off-road shortcut and is able to beat the Ferrari to the finish line? By making use of his knowledge of the terrain and the attributes of his vehicle, his Jeep had more effective speed than the Ferrari in that race. Potential speed isn't always the deciding factor.

    Effective speed is. Potential speed is just one of many tools. By understanding tools and using them to their fullest potential, we make those tools more effective. In martial arts, this is exemplified when a 25 year old black belt in peak physical condition spars an 80 year old master. The 25 year old probably has more potential speed. But he can't touch the old man. The old man has more effective speed. The reason for this is the old man's understanding and application of timing and position. Through proper use of timing and position, he can avoid getting hit and still land his own shots, while moving half as fast as the younger man. Since the younger man only felt the effects, he would likely finish the sparring match thinking, "Man, this old guy is fast!" Watching from the outside, though, it would be apparent that the old man isn't really moving fast at all. He's just making better use of his speed through timing and position. Economy and efficiency of motion, cutting lines of attack, and other such methods are some of the tools he uses to gain the advantage of timing and position.

    Power is a byproduct of body mechanics and proper physical relaxation (note: proper physical relaxation is only one aspect of the larger concept of proper relaxation that is the overall topic of this article). Body mechanics enable us to put as much mass behind our strikes as possible. This also includes such principles as "marriage of gravity." Body mechanics means using the physical tools to their best advantage. Proper physical relaxation is part of body mechanics, too, but I separate it out because it is, in my opinion, the most difficult aspect to internalize. Proper physical relaxation doesn't mean being a limp noodle - though that can have applications as well. But, generally, it means, tensing only what is required to accomplish the task at hand. So, for instance, let's look at a basic straight punch. To extend your arm, your triceps have to contract and your biceps have to stretch. If you're keeping unnecessary tension in your biceps, then you're not allowing it to stretch naturally and, in turn, you're slowing the acceleration of your punch and adding unnecessary fatigue to that muscle group; slowing the acceleration of your punch directly impacts the power of the punch. On the return, your biceps must contract while your triceps stretch. If you have unnecessary tension in your triceps then you are slowing down your retraction - in total opposition of the common "bring a strike back twice as fast as it goes out" principle.

    An article can't provide a complete picture of these concepts and principles, but the above description is a thumbnail sketch of the underlying structures that support the generation of speed and power. But this sketch only outlines a couple of facets of what I mean by proper relaxation.

    The next facet is awareness. I'm referring to awareness of environmental hazards and useful tools, awareness of threats and potential threats, awareness of your balance and position, and that of your opponents and potential opponents. Once physical contact is established, it refers also to tactile awareness and sensitivity to your opponent. Once you are touching your opponent, you should be aware of where his body is and its position - without looking at him. Once you're touching him, then you don't need to look at him anymore. You "feel" where he is and his general position. You can tell what his basic position and movements are through the physical connection you have with him. And you know his intent; he's trying to "take your head off". So he's a known factor. You can let your tactile awareness monitor him while you continue to attack him. Your eyes and other senses can then be used to monitor the unknown factors - such as the guy off to your left who may move in to join the fight, or he may pick up or draw a weapon. It also allows you to check for exits and opportunities to escape - which is always a good thing.

    All of these ideas, though, are facets of proper relaxation. Proper relaxation is the tie that binds all these elements together into a cohesive whole. These separate aspects must work in unison for any of them to be effective. Proper relaxation means, physically, tensing only what is necessary to accomplish the job at hand. But, beyond that, it means having a properly relaxed mind - focusing your attention directly on what requires its attention without taking away from your overall awareness of everything else. Proper physical relaxation and proper mental relaxation, as a team, form proper relaxation.

    Each martial art, in its own way, is designed to help its practitioners develop proper relaxation. A couple of good tools that I have found useful for developing this attribute are slow motion training and meditation. Slow motion training helps develop proper physical relaxation and meditation helps develop proper mental relaxation. I think these training tools are overlooked by a lot of people in today's "faster and harder" world of martial arts. Slow motion training and meditation are perceived by many people as "boring." They'd rather spend all their time "slamming and jamming." Now, please, don't misunderstand me. I think "slamming and jamming" is important and vital if you ever intend to really be able to functionalize your martial arts. My point is that a lot of people get lost in that aspect of training. What they fail to realize is that the "boring" training can and will do as much to develop their attributes as the "slamming and jamming." Each type of training is just a tool for developing attributes. It's possible to develop the attributes by using only one mode of training. But, in my opinion, it's a slower process of training and, in the long run, the results won't be as good.

    So, proper relaxation is our goal. Train hard, but train smart. Diversify your training to get the most out of your training time in the long run.


    To learn more about Mike Casto, visit his website at

    Originally published in the Houston Kenpo newsletter
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 14, 2010
  2. S.I.D

    S.I.D Valued Member

    Nice Article,
    The only thing i dint get is SlowMotion Training.....
    Considering the straight punch example n Slowmotion do u mean that practising in slow motion will get us a feel of our muscles and in that way we can be more aware of that
    is it used to develop good form n fluidity
    if possible can you give an example of SlowMotion Training, it will be very helpfull

  3. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    a direct example of slow motion straight punching, as well as tension and relaxation can be seen in sanchin kata as practiced by goju ryu and ****o ryu. search youtube for "sanchin kata goju" and you'll see a lot of examples
  4. pesilat

    pesilat Active Member

    Sorry about the delay in responding - this one slipped under my radar :)

    Both of those are benefits of slow motion training. Also, it is easier to hide mistakes - even from ourselves - when we move fast. By moving slowly sometimes you can more readily identify problems in your structure/form.

  5. jade dragon

    jade dragon New Member

    Yes it's a good article. I also use a ferrari metaphor when teachingthe same thing but in a slightly different way.
    I tell them the engine is the power of your muscles, friction with the floor etc. However, for a car to be fast it needs not only a powerful engine but also light bodywork. That is where releasing excess tension in the muscles comes in. Too much tension is like a rolls royce - big engine but heavy body work so can't move fast and has bad handling ie can't turn quickly and nimbly.
    The other factor is a car can have a big engine and ultra light bodywork but if the tyres are bald then it can't put all that power onto the road so loses it in tyres skidding. In martial arts this equates to your alignment at the point of impact. If the alignment gives, as is often the case then some of the power of the strike is lost.
    As a simple example say you punch hard with the right hand and your body weight behind it but at the point of impact the returning force causes the elbow to bend and the shoulders to move forward then you have lost a significant percentage of the power of that strike as the force is lost through excess movement at the joints. The ability to retain joint alignment while staying relaxed takes some time to develop and I haven't really seen it done effectively outside the so-called internal arts where effective use of relaxed alignment can produce the effortless power that is often wrongly attributed to qi.
  6. pesilat

    pesilat Active Member

    That's a nice analogy - I'll probably steal that :D


Share This Page