Muscle Recruitment

Spend a few moments thinking about your body. Notice your arms. Concentrate on where they are; how they feel; your perception of their position.

Where do your arms end? Right where you are sitting now, move one of them and find out. As you move your arm, notice your body. Do you feel muscles moving in your chest and back? Though we think of our arms as terminating at the shoulder joints, their musculature extends into the chest, down the sides, up the neck, and into the mid back.

Now think about your legs. Spend some time being aware of their sensation and position. Then notice how their musculature extends up to almost the shoulder blades in the back and frames the abdominal muscles in the front.

How is this significant to your taido practice? It’s obvious that the body is composed not of separate limb and organs, each with their own purposes, but of connected systems that share components for various tasks.

For example, jumping uses quite a few more muscles than the quadriceps. Though the quads are the primary extensor for the legs, powerful glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors are every bit as important in jumping. As a result, the best exercises for developing jumping skills are not in the squat family (which targets the quadriceps), but in the group that includes deadlifts and the olympic lifts (the clean and jerk and the snatch). These exercises work all of the muscles in the posterior chain as well as the hip flexors (the snatch being my personal favorite – it’s whole-body explosive and can be performed with odd objects as well as barbells. Plus, it’s fun to say).

A more martial-artsy example is punching. On a martial arts discussion forum on which i participate, we once had a thread that went on for about 40 pages regarding the mechanics of a straight punch. “common sense” seemed to indicate that the best punch would result from a straight path and primarily involve the contraction of the triceps, with the rest of the body acting as a mass-anchor. However, empirical evidence ran quite counter to this notion. There was some debate, and all kinds of pseudo-physics were employed to justify diagrams regarding moments of inertia and balancing torques. In the end though, a punch is made up of several systems of muscles, bones, and ligature working in accord together.

A strong punch uses the entire body from the neck to the feet, and not just for inertia production. Every bone in the body has the ability to be used as a lever for producing efficient power. Therefore, it follows that the strongest possible punch will recruit the most joints in its mechanism. Contrary to the popular concept of the punch wherein the forearm and fist act as a battering ram propelled by the upper arm and shoulder, a superior punch is one that begins on the floor and pushes lever-against-lever through the joints of the legs, hips, spine, shoulders, and arm sequentially. This lever action creates curvilinear torques that build upon one another to deliver force that is greater than the sum of those generated by each joint independently.

In light of the above, attempt the following thought experiments:

taido has no standing punches. Think of five good reasons for this. Are there potential weaknesses to only punching while in the air or kneeling?

Next, think about kicking and come up with five important factors of kamae that effect taido’s kicks. How can we use kamae to improve our joint-recruitment in kicking?

For your phd – think about the relationship between unsoku and technique. How does kamae act to facilitate this relationship? Focus soley on the physiological aspects of this interaction.

You can spend as little as five minutes or as long as several months thinking about these questions – your choice. If you like, write a comment below with your experiences. Critical thought is important to the development of our personal taido practice, and sharing our discoveries is vital to the continued evolution of our art.

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