Relaxation in Martial Arts – Hand to Hand Combat
If you take a look at most Martial Arts, there seems to be a high degree of focus an disciplined movement and aggression when it comes to the point of combat and it seems to be a logical approach after all, we are trying to prepare ourselves for survival under extremely dangerous conditions.
The main problem with this approach is that it requires a lot of energy – nervous energy in particular and this can drain the body very quickly, leaving you even more vulnerable.
If you look at world class boxers for example, when they enter the ring for a big fight, you can see that there is a high level of intensity and when the first bell sounds, there is usually a spark of nervous energy as the first few punches are thrown, but then they seem to settle. Boxing at this level now turns into a chess game, assuming the matching is fairly even and the one who makes a mistake, get’s punished very quickly, but they rarely can keep up the intensity and pace of the first few rounds throughout the fight.
Now there is a world of difference between fighting in any controlled conditions and out there on the street and that is why it is extremely difficult to train for street encounters as you simply cannot re-create the threat and more importantly the emotional environment that you are likely to encounter. It is the emotional element that I am going to focus on here. We have all heard of the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome and the release of adrenalin when we face a stressful situation and yes in most cases, assuming an exit is available, ‘flight’ is a good thing, but if you have to fight, then you need to be able to survive, whatever the odds.
When you are at the stage of fighting for survival, all of those disciplined techniques seem to go out of the window and as aggressive as you want to be, you will not be able to sustain the level of aggression for long and this is fine when the confrontation lasts for a minute or so, but what about longer? As strange as it seems, this is when you need to be relaxed and calm. When you are relaxed, your body can move – a relaxed muscle is a fast muscle and this is the main fundamental of Ballistic Striking, but unless you are in the front line of ‘business’ and are training every day for extended periods of time, in as near to real life situations as possible, how can you prepare?
First, let me define ‘relaxed’ and I am not talking about walking around like a rag doll or being so loose that you lose your structure, you need to be strong, but able to move quickly and respond to the threat, but not so strong that you become tense and unable to move. Also, you need to control your breathing so you can remain as calm as possible and control the adrenaline response to help you sustain your efforts and in a article, it is extremely difficult to explain. To help you understand, think of a cat and how relaxed it is when moving around normally, then when there is a threat, the cat becomes ferocious in its response and then after, goes back to sleep! The cat although seems fierce and strong when it lashes out, is able to move very quickly and sustain its effort. When the cat strikes, it uses only the muscles it needs and the rest of its body provides the support for the action and of course, the animal is extremely focused.
Of course, we are not cats, but I am just using this as an example, so how can we train for this? As I have already said, re-creating a full on combat situation is almost impossible, even for Special Forces personnel, but there are some simple things you can do. There is a lot of criticism and controversy out there about how in Russian Martial Arts, we seem to practice techniques slowly and almost in a light hearted environment and at first glance it looks very strange and far from combat effective. But like many things in life, this aspect is rarely understood and there is a very good reason to practice this way.
When you are relaxed, you can move and movement is the key, along with breathing and keeping your structure. The slow training allows the person to move instinctively and more importantly, to respond instinctively and not with pre-arranged techniques or ‘stances’. Over time, the movement will become fluid and there will be little thought given to any specific response, only the natural one. Also, each time you respond, because you are working at extremely slow speeds, your body and mind will commit that response to memory and the easier it will be to utilize that response if you need to. In this way, you can subconsciously train different responses to different situations, but those responses will be unique to you. When you train this way you will train your body to keep its structure and also to control your breathing.
It is very important to work at this slow speed, but also, you have to work at higher speeds and this is where the realism comes in, but try always to move and respond naturally and in that way you will not have to ‘think’ about how to respond as it will come naturally.
You can also take a couple of exercises such as the push up and squat and do the following:
Support yourself in the push up position and begin to breathe deeply, you will feel the stress on your shoulders as they are doing most of the work. Now mentally and physically feel that your back muscles are now supporting your body and relax your shoulders as much as possible, then move down to your legs and relax the shoulders and back, then move to the left side for support, then the right, each time without changing your position. In this way you can learn to engage different muscles and relax others, only using the muscles you need. The same goes for the squat – lower yourself to half way down and hold and again, breathe deeply and start to feel the muscles that are supporting you. When you squat, you must totally relax the upper body and most of you will not when you first try it as you will be focusing of the total movement, but over time and with practice, you will feel all of the different muscles involved and you will expend only the energy you need to, by using only the muscles you need to perform the movement, but always remember to breathe smoothly and deeply!
Finally as I always say, combat is a vicious and nasty business and I sincerely hope you never have to experience it, but if you do, your first objective is to survive and get out of the situation intact!