Every now and then I add a review on the blog to inform readers of interesting books, movies, and products that I have found useful. Today is a little different.
The word "review" may not be correct for this article; "thank" is a bit more appropriate. Over the past decade or so I've gotten to know Carla Molinaro, owner and operator of a traditional Goju Ryu dojo in Eastern Pennslyvania. She studies kobudo under my primary instructor Bruce Heilman, and as such we often get a chance to cross train. Carla comes from a very strong line of Goju practitioners, training primarily under Ron Martin and receiving additional training under Chuck Merriman and Morio Higaonna.
I never really understood the potency of Goju Ryu until I began interacting with Carla and her students. Goju is a dynamic style of karate that boasts strong roots in Fujian, China. Much of the original Chinese aspects have been left intact, including an emphasis on circular movements and stability derived from the hara.
My appreciation and understanding of hojo undo (rudimentary Okinawan body and strength development) has been greatly enhanced by my exposure to Goju. I have also come to appreciate the value of kakie, a close in drill that incorporates tighter skills utilized in karate including tuite, muchimi, and tegumi.
Carla herself is an admirable role model in the traditional martial arts community. She always places a high currency on character development, even in a modern era where quick rewards are expected and honor is often misunderstood or forgotten entirely. Carla has also cleverly augmented her dojo space with other personal businesses so as to keep her dojo rates exceptionally low, allowing the focus to stay on quality instead of profit. Her Mumei Dojo website can be found here.
I'd like to thank traditional Goju practitioners all over for keeping Miyagi Sensei's dream alive, and to Carla specifically for sharing some of it with me over the years!
Martial artists tend to be uniquely attune to the foibles of their body. I, for example, have a finnicky lower back. If I’m not careful with my stretching and prep, I can pull it pretty easily. This isn’t a new problem, just a little piece of my genetic code that didn’t get it quite right.
This particular propensity toward back strain has made me acutely aware of an all too common problem in myself and others – posture neglect.
First let’s talk about me (whooooo), then let’s talk about you.
These days most of my work takes place on the computer. I do my writing for this blog online (clearly), and I work predominantly for online companies. That has resulted in a lot of sitting. In previous jobs during college and such I often had elements of manual labor that kept my body up and moving about. Not so much anymore.
A few months ago my sitting started to effect my training; even though I did proper stretching and warmups before class I was still experiencing back pain. I realized in short order that it wasn’t from any kicking drills or kata, but from how I operated through most of my day.
I pulled my instructor aside and had him run through my day with me mentally. I knew he had some back troubles in the past so I figured he would be able to help me spot common problems and work out solutions. One of the major mistakes I was making was slouching like the man in the picture above. Not only did my body have a natural desire to sink down into that ‘relaxed’ posture, but I also had a chair that leaned back too easily. I was experiencing constant, mild strain on my lower back all day.
My instructor offered up some suggestions, which I’d like to pass on in case they might be helpful to you:
1. Get a better chair. If you’re sitting for long periods of time, there is no reason to tolerate a chair that promotes bad habits.
2. Use ice or heat if your back starts to act up.
3. Lie flat on your bed with your legs hanging off. This will create a slight pulling and straightening sensation.
I made all of these changes immediately, but didn’t stop there.
Esther Gokhale – Posture Expert
Regular readers of this site will notice that I link into the authors@google series frequently. I think it’s a great resource wherein some really sharp people share their experiences and knowledge.
Esther Gokhale was one of the visitors to Google and, as it turns out, has been studying posture for quite some time. She even authored a book entitled 8 Steps to A Pain Free Back. Gokhale mixes western science with eastern yogic theory and has come up with a great system. Check out her speech here:
Gokhale provides immediately applicable ways of improving posture. I use her method of seated posture correction everyday. My body still tends to want to slouch, so I need to make routine corrections. It’s an ongoing effort.
One of Gokhale’s big theories is proper stacking. Consider this image:
During normal slouching postures, the spine and weight distribution is out of sync. This is a tricky problem because it doesn’t provide immediate negative feedback, like touching a hot stove. Instead it builds pressure over time and slowly wears away at the cartilage between the spinal discs. Although I’ve focused on sitting, these same principles apply to standing, especially for individuals who have a job that requires being up all day.
How This Applies To Your Martial Arts
The obvious way posture applies to your martial arts practice is good health. One of the biggest career killers is physical ailment. We have to try our best to stave off these injuries, and one way to do that is to be mindful of posture. The spine is a fickle thing, and if you don’t take care of it you will run into trouble.
Posture isn’t just a means of standing though; it’s also a way to convey your personal sense of presence and power.
In his book “Living The Martial Way”, Forrest Morgan dedicates a few pages to the concept of ‘developing a commanding posture’. He explains:
“Some say the eyes are windows to the soul. This may be true, but posture is most assuredly the reflection of one’s spirit. It tells a story, more eloquently than words ever could, of your strength, your resolve, and your confidence. Posture is an essential element of warrior bearing.”
In the dojo, especially if you are assuming a teaching role, it is critical to adopt the mantle of authority. Posture provides a subtle, subconscious hint to everyone in the room that you are worth listening to. A tall stance and keen look can go a long way in capturing the attention of students.
On the student side, proper posture indicates a willingness to commit to excellence. Slouching is a sign of inattentiveness and lack of resolve. Standing up straight suggests focus, which is the currency of the dojo.
Practicing good posture will also assist in natural body movement. The more you practice, the more you’ll realize the subtleties of body weight shifting. If you have to recenter your body every time you wish to move, you’ll be at an immediate timing disadvantage.
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My goal is to be able to continue practicing martial arts deep into old age. If I abuse my body now, I’ll never have that chance. I personally need to take posture very seriously. Perhaps you can take a moment today and figure out if you need improvement, and use some of the information above to start on a modestly paced track for positive change.
Follow please, the point is at the end:
David Bowie. Changes. 1973.
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David Bowie. Changes. 1990.
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David Bowie. Changes. 2002.
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David Bowie is a brilliant artist. He grows and changes with his art as he develops as a human being.
It would be easy for him to play this song the same way every time he is in concert. People would love him for it and he’d get paid. But instead he chooses to keep inventing and exploring. Sometimes it turns out better, sometimes worse.
Bowie’s persistence for originality keeps him engaged in his art. It’s not that he dramatically alters the structure of the song, turning it into something unrecognizable. Instead he plays with the intangible things like tempo, timing, rhythm, etc. It’s also why after over 35 years he still seems excited to perform, and why he still captivates audiences.
Can you grow with your art? Do you have the courage, persistence, and brilliance to keep exploring?