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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Flow Motion

If you can't move you can't fight - I can't imagine anyone would disagree with that. But what about the quality of your movement?  How many people consider this in their training? Sure, you can learn lots of techniques, but without an efficient method of delivering the technique you are stuck. 

The problem is that many people equate fighting with tense, jerky movement, often designed to look good and obvious for the camera. Movements need to look forceful  and difficult to reinforce the fact that people are fighting, perhaps to create an emotional connection with the audience.  However if we look to other physical disciplines, or indeed good fighters, we see a different type of movement - smooth, fluid, dynamic and functional.

This isn't a movement system that needs to be invented, it is pretty much what we are born with - or at least what naturally develops during our early years. In that respect we are the same as animals, they have that innate quality of movement that draws the eye, powerful but understated. It's one of those things, like fitness, that can't be faked. Your mind can instantly distinguish between a live tiger and an animatronics model. Or between a good dancer and the average Saturday night king of the disco.

The problem is that our natural movement system (for want of a better term) gets suppressed as we grow older. All sorts of fears, cultural factors, environmental factors and social demands get placed over and above the need for good movement. It wasn't that long ago even in the UK that left handed children were beaten in order to make them right handed.

One of the cornerstones of Systema is this natural movement - ie allowing the body to move freely and fluidly as the situation dictates. The last part is important - very important. There are martial art styles that seek to overlay natural movement with either stylised moves or with a different movement pattern (usually involving initiating all movement from the dan tien / hara). The problem can be that the needs of the situation are sublimated to the method. While training this can be fine, but in a real life, real speed situation it takes years of hour upon hour of repetitious practice to get anywhere near as good a response as the "natural" one. If you don't believe me have someone throw a tennis ball at your head from 6 feet away and tell me which part of you moves first.

Fluid movement (or "flow motion") is the subject I decided to explore on my latest DVD. It shows some ideas to develop flow in striking and in footwork, starting with one or two movements, then building up. Along the way it also shows the importance of spirals in natural movement, referencing the Fibonacci sequence I mentioned before.  It also mentions how working this way has many positive benefits on the body and the psyche. Personally I believe that is because this is how we are built to operate - and people work best and most efficiently when doing something comfortable and familiar rather than trying to fit into a robotic or "un-natural" movement pattern.

There are lots of other benefits to developing good flow - it leaves less gaps for an opponent to take advantage of and makes your own movement much more unpredictable and difficult to counter.  It also reduces the risk of injury as you are working with your body rather than against it. Conversely you understand how an opponent's body can be manipulated into damaging itself purely by the spirals and torque you  subject it to. It also increases efficiency, meaning that more can be accomplished with less.

Of course fluid movement alone won't get results and it all needs to be pressure tested -  but it is a vital aspect of training. To ignore it in pursuit of something more macho is a bit like putting water in your car because it's cheaper than petrol - you'll only get so far before you break down.

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