Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Generalized motion patterns in martial arts

Recently there has been a lot written in the martial blogosphere about the nature of kata - whether the motions are intended to be generalized or specific. Whether or not there is a historical basis to the modern proliferation of bunkai (applications) for kata movements. Articles about exercises that look like motions from martial arts forms.

What if the kata were designed to be specifically vague - not just so that a particular motion could be interpreted as several techniques - but so that by doing the kata you get better at all of the types of motions that you will see in the martial arts? What if these kata that look so strange are intended to be general neuromuscular physical education? Check out the following:

This video shows a student therapy assistant learning to do Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). These are big, expensive words that mean something like, "stimulating the sense organs in the joints and muscles to improve the coordination of muscular activities." What you see in the video is the student applying manual resistance to the patient as the patient is coaxed through four specific patterns of motion. It's these patterns that are the really special part of PNF. Notice the diagonal, spiral, multiple muscle group nature of these patterns. These two upper extremity patterns are actually the two fundamental building blocks of virtually every motion that can be made with the upper extremity. If you look at any given applied motion, like drawing a bowstring, you will see a piece of D1 here and a piece of D2 there and another piece of D1 somewhere else... Functional motions are all just composed of these two motions.

Doesn’t the D1 upper extremity pattern look like a down block (and everything else that the down-block might be interpreted as) Don’t the two lower extremity patterns on this video look like various kicks, sweeps, and steps in the martial arts? Notice the diagonal spiral nature of the patterns? Doesn't that sorta look like the silk reeling exercises?

Martial forms are chock full of these PNF patterns because the PNF patterns represent generalized natural, whole-body, functional motion, The karate kata are generalized in nature. Even old books like Karate-do Kyohan talk about (I don't have the specific reference right in front of me) how the large, general motions are for beginners because it’s better 'physical education.'

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