Monday, October 31, 2011

Misc thoughts on ukiwaza

Some miscellaneous thoughts on Tomiki's floating throws...

Our Ikkyu requirement is Junana #15, 16, and 17.  You can sort of throw #14 into that group as well, but youve already done that one at nikkyu.
These 3 or 4 throws are classified as 'floating throws,' which is sort of a misnomer, because all the techniques of junana can be done as floating throws.  Its just that these three (4) techniques exemplify the floating throw principle well, and all the other stuff in junana is usually done with a different focus.
What does 'floating throw' mean anyway?  Basically two things...

There is a loose, airy, void sort of lack-of-feeling between uke and tori. You are not mashing on an elbow or twisting on a wrist to make the throw happen. It is a subtle connection, light-touch type of thing that is executed through exquisite synchronization and footwork.

Like all of junana, these throws are done on otoshi timing - on a footfall - but in these three (4), there is an emphasis on exaggerating the preceeding rise in order to make the timing window for the otoshi more obvious.  You literally throw uke up in the air, wait for him to come down, and when he does, exaggerate his drop so that he hits the ground.

In the kata, all of these are done entering to the inside, capturing the wrist, making a golf swing through the offbalance hole, and tweaking the wrist and the elbow just a bit on the rise in order to exaggerate their rise.
Then, each of these throws is differentiated from the others by how uke tries to get down off of point...

in #14 - shihonage, uke retracts his arm by bending the elbow.  Tori turns and follows  and exaggerates that retraction

in #15 - maeotoshi - uke tries to take a step away. tori catches uke's far-footfall, and extends his step, pushing uke away.

in #16 - sumiotoshi - uke pulls his hand back, as if chambering a punch.  tori follows that retraction and exaggerates it, pushing uke into the back corner on a near footfall

in #17 - hikiotoshi - the footwork is confused and uke somehow managed to foul #16 for you and ends up facing you, about to come down on you.  Tweak the elbow again to get a bit of rise, then drop backward away from tori as he comes in and down.

Any of that make sense?
Patrick Parker

Friday, October 28, 2011

BOMP - Ch. 25 - Axis

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)
In Chapter 25, Pearlman discusses the positioning and use of our long, vertical axis - the line that runs through the crown of our head and our center of mass (and usually, through one foot).  This line represents our center of full-body rotation.  Pearlman gives several good examples of how to position and control our axis - most of which boils down to...
  1. vertical axis (upright posture) promotes easier, faster, cleaner rotation
  2. smaller footwork creates a narrower axis, which promotes faster and easier rotation.
I agree 100% with this as a general case, but wanted (just for argument's sake) to discuss some counter-examples...
Pearlman seems to be saying that faster is better... "As martial artists, we need to exercise the smallest Axis possible... [because this is faster]".  Well, it turns out that faster is not always better - we see this in judo and aikido  especially.  It is often important to be able to move at uke's speed instead of your own arbitrary (faster) speed.  One of my instructors once phrased this as, "It's not so much how fast you go that matters.  It is when you arrive that matters."  Timing trumps speed.
But, with that said, It is still a good idea to narrow your axis through relaxed upright posture and narrow footwork, because this potential increase in speed actually allows you to slow down and relax and process as you wait for uke to arrive at the timing window.  My students will probably see kosotogari as the ultimate example of this idea.  I stress narrow, fast, efficient footwork so much that kosotogari often feels like a "lazy throw" - that is, tori has to wait, and wait, and wait some more before he can pull the trigger and dump uke.  Tori's footwork becomes so fast and efficient that he feels like he has to lounge around waiting for uke to get to the place where he can be thrown.
Another interesting point that came to mind reading this chapter, is when Pearlman discusses keeping ones mass centered around the Axis in order to avoid wobble in the rotation.  Again, I agree with this in general cases, but there are instances where that wobble can be useful.  The two examples that pop immediately into my mind are kataotoshi and koshiguruma.  Both of these throws happen by placing a foot (the bottom of the axis) near uke, attaching the same arm to uke, and spinning the opposite leg around the axis. 
The uncentered mass of the leg creaets a flywheel-like effect, transferring power to the arm that is hooked to uke.  You can sort of see this idea in Pearlman's illustrations labelled Ax13a and Ax13b.  The oval shape of the uncentered rotating mass can act as a cam (see the excellent animation at Wikipedia) to impart linear motion to uke.
Again, my counterexamples do not damage Pearlman's excellent discussion of the principle of properly managing your long axis of rotation through upright posture and narrow footwork.  Just interesting ideas that cropped up.
Patrick Parker

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jim Elliot was a judo master

In 1956, Jim Elliot, a Christian missionary in Equador, was murdered by members of the Waodani tribe that he was attempting to make contact with.  His life and mission and death are commemorated by the fabulous movie, End of the Spear.  Elliot is perhaps best known for a famous quote that his wife, Elizabeth pulled from his journals after his death...
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
So, what does this have to do with judo?  I can think of three parallels right off the bat... 
  • Kano gave up on the 'unsafe techniques' of jujitsu that he couldnt get really good at anyway because they couldn't be safely randori-tested, and because they were socially unacceptable at the time.  In exchange, this allowed Kano and his students to perfect a smaller set of techniques, to thoroughly randori-test everything, and to get so good at what they did that Kano-ryu (Kodokan judo) became the predominant form of jujitsu in Japan and throughout the world.
  • Strength and speed are fleeting.  They are subject to inexorably diminishing returns as one ages.  Sure, you can (and should) exercise and eat right and take care of yourself, but that's just pushing that decline a little bit down the road.  True-ju classical judo holds these ephemeral physical attributes in reserve, so that the judoka can get better at timing, mobility, and strategy - qualities that tend to persist better well into advanced age. (Note that I'm not saying 'no strenghth and speed' - I'm saying 'timing, mobility, and strategy first')
  • Static balance is an illusion in the context of the human body. You cannot ever be in a condition of static balance (standing strong and immovable in jigotai, for instance), so give up on that in favor of mobility - dynamic balance.  This will make you quite hard to throw and it will destroy your opponent's ability to try to balance themselves.
It is true-ju judo to give up that which you cannot keep in order to gain that which you cannot lose.  And for that reason, I say Jim Elliot was a master of judo.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BOMP - Ch. 24 - Spinal Alignment

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP)
Most of the power that we are able to put to use in martial arts applications comes from our interaction with gravity and with the mass of the Earth.  The placement of the point(s) where we interface directly with the Earth (our feet) is obviously important.  The placement of our center of mass relative to our feet and the line of gravity is also important.  Obviously, the way that we place our hands on the opponent is important.
But an often overlooked, vital linkage in the power chain is the alignment of the spine.  It is through the structure and musculature of the spine that power is transmitted back and forth between our arms and our legs, or ultimately, between the Earth and the opponent.  If we can manage to place our feet and our hands right, and to align our spine correctly, we can serve as a very efficient conduit between the opponent and the Earth.
What is proper spinal alignment?  I was brought up in the old rigidly-upright posture school of thought.  The idea that if you have to lean to do it, then you don't do it.  Or, another way to think about it is, if you can't do it with a perfectly upright posture, then you can't do it.
But in the past few years I have come to think that there might be some acceptable deviation from that perfectly vertical posture.  These days, I think that we generally want to operate in and around a generally upright, comfortable, natural, neutral posture, but that we can (and must) deviate from that to some degree in our movement.
But how much is it permissible to deviate from vertical?  Generally I think that your torso can bend forward at the hips so long as the torso remains one stable structure - the torso does not bow and flex like a noodle.  And I think that a good, common-sense limitation to this forward bend is however far you can lean and keep your torso between vertical and the line of the back leg. So, you might, if you have to, lean forward until your torso and your back leg make a straight line...
But it would be better if you moved your feet instead of leaning - generally, if you have to lean then it is an indicator that you got the preparatory footwork wrong.
So, the lean is a backup plan for when your feet don't end up just exactly right.  But you have to get the feet correct enough that you can keep the lean to within functional limits.
It's sort of like those infuriating delta-epsilon proofs in Calculus I - where you just have to get one variable sufficiently close that the other variable stays within the bounds that you want.  Crikey! I never thought that I'd ever see a use for those awful things!

Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Balance is mostly in the mind

It occurred to me the other day (probably should have thought of it years earlier), balance exists mostly in the mind.  Sure, there's some muscular tone involved, and you can train your nervous system to fine tune your balance some, but consider this...
If you find a 4-inch wide curb or a 4-inch wide stripe on the road, and you try to walk along it, it's not too difficult, but for most folks it is at least a little bit of a challenge.  Everyone has to exert at least a little bit of attention to this task.  Most everyone that walks down an eight-foot 2x4 a few times will fall off the side occasionally.
But think about this for a minute (we learnt this in college in a biomechanics class)... Healthy adults walking on level ground, not thinking about their balance at all, their average gait width (horizontal distance heel-to-heel) is about 4 inches.  This means that if they were to take a walk and you were to follow them drawing a line through all their right footprints and another line through all their left footprints, those lines would average about 4 inches apart. 
Everyone walks 4" wide paths all the time every day, and these people almost never fall over sideways or even stumble!
But as soon as you tell them to walk on a 4" wide line and they think there are consequences to failure (embarrassment about poor balance, threat of being arrested for DUI, perhaps fear of falling...) then suddenly walking a 4" wide path is a challenge.
What is the difference?  Not the path - the state of mind with which we undertake the path.
Balance is mostly a function of the mind.
That is why I could teach an ukemi (falling) seminar to a bunch of yoga experts a few weeks ago, and immediately after the class, several of them told me that they felt more stable and centered and poised in their challenging balance poses - because I was able to remove or reduce a bit of the fear of falling out of those balance poses.  We didn't do enough actual exercise of sufficient repetition or intensity to create a neuromuscular training effect  - I just changed their minds about how they approached their balance poses.
Balance is mostly in the mind.

Patrick Parker

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why is it...

Why is it that pretty much whoever you ask around the country (maybe around the world) will tell you...
Public schools all suck, except our local school is not as bad.  It has caring, competent professionals who are trying hard - it's all the other schools that really suck!
But they'll also tell you...
Hospitals all suck - especially our local hospital.  They are a bunch of greedy, incompetent, uncaring bastards - and our local hospital is much worse than the rest!
Apparently, no matter where you live, the local schools are better than average and the local hospitals are worse than average.  Different institutions seem to induce folks to esteem their local instantiations of those institutions higher or lower than average.
...and heres another one that I heard today (that may be true, I don't know) that I found interesting...
Mechanics at car dealerships are crooks that do unnecessary work to squeeze people out of some cash - except our local dealership - theyre honest there!
Is it the same phenomenon as how we are all convinced that we have stumbled into the one true martial art with the only true master that really understands the magic of the ancients?
Patrick Parker

Monday, October 17, 2011

Goshin jutsu as randori starters

Most of the martial arts that I've been involved with over the years have had sets of goshin jutsu, or situational self-defense techniques.  You can sort of think of goshin jutsu as a concession to the folks that are forever asking, "Well, what if he grabs like this?" or "What if he kicks like this?" 
Often these goshin jutsu sets include situations that aren't otherwise commonly practiced in the rest of the system.  For instance, the Kodokan (judo) goshin jutsu includes defense against kicks and various weapons. The Tomiki aikido goshin jutsu (koryu dai san) contains clothing grabs, chokes, and seated techniques that we seldom practice outside of that context.  Often in karate classes, the goshin jutsu sets will be heavy on grappling defenses, assuming that the typical mode of practice is more kick-block-punch oriented.
These sets of techniques are usually relatively small - maybe twenty to fifty techniques, and as such they are meant to be representative instead of comprehensive.  You can't really come up with a programmed response to every possible "what-if" situation, so a set of goshin jutsu typically deals with probable situations instead of possible situations.
I've been thinking about goshin jutsu a bit lately, and something that has caused a bit of head-scratching is, what is the role of goshin jutsu in our martial arts?  See, you can treat each situational technique as a distinct kata to be performed just so.  This is sort of the approach that the American Kenpo guys took - they have dozens of short little pseudo-kata, evocatively named things like "clutching feathers" and "gift of destruction." They call these things self-defense moves (so they are goshin jutsu) but they are practiced and tested and performed as if they are kata.  They seem to have evolved from goshin jutsu into kata over the years.
Most systems that do goshin jutsu or self-defense sets, seem to take the same process of kata-fying (codifying) goshin jutsu until it becomes kata.  But that seems to lead in the direction of the American Kenpo guys - dozens upon dozens of kata-like situational self-defense moves.
Although I generally really like American Kenpo, I don't like that aproach to goshin jutsu... too much to remember... too technique-based instead of principle-driven.
So, how can we do goshin jutsu and not slip down that path to technique multiplication?
How about goshin jutsu as randori starters?  Randori matches that begin in one of the goshin jutsu situations. So, after the initial attack/situation the randori reverts to normal aikido toshu randori rules wth both players active, and the partners play out the scenario.  Then, however it ends, the partners switch roles, set up the situation again, and go again...
I suspect that goshin jutsu situations, if they were randoried sufficiently, would result in a lot of the same termination points as found in the canned goshin jutsu sets - just because many of those solutions are highly efficient, but this manner of practicing them should result in the practitioners getting much, much more practical experience than if we were to program the responses and run them like kata.

Patrick Parker

Friday, October 14, 2011

BOMP - Ch. 23 - The Primary Gate

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP).
The Primary Gate - control the position and motion of the center of the opponent's chest (the triangle between shoulders and solar plexus) and you more easily control the entire opponent.  If you leave your primary gate unguarded, you are more easily struck or controlled through it.
Pearlman's examples are mostly about striking through or into the Primary Gate of the opponent, but the concept comes into play in grappling arts, like aikido and judo, too.
In judo, it is generally advantageous to have the inside grip, meaning you have you hands on his body with your arms occupying the primary gate.  This allows you to deliver power directly to him, while forcing him to take an outside grip, and deliver power to you in a roundabout way.
In aikido, I tend to think about this Primary Gate as a sort of Cone of Power, or funnel, with its apex at the opponent's chest and sides  mostly congruent with their arms.  Inside this cone is most of the opponent's power and potential.  Aikido's two primary tactics involve either spearing through this funnel into uke's Primary Gate (irimi) or else turning out of the way of uke's force and potential - mostly outside uke's cone of power (tenkan).
A good randori game is to do some light randori, looking for times when your hands (holding him) are inside your cone of power and his hands (holding you) are outside his cone of power.  At this point, you are relatively stronger and he is relatively weaker.  You can execute a technique at this point, but I usually like to just hold him in this potition long enough to mark it in my mind, then return to randori.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Doin' the junana drag

I came up with an interesting idea for a drill to work towards multiple opponents this weekend.  We didn't get to play with this because we had other things to do, but you might try this and see what sort of mileage you get out of it.  I know we'll be trying it soon.

Choose a kata that you are thoroughly familiar with, like releases or junana, and execute it with a second uke hanging onto one of your sleeves, or hanging onto your shoulders.  You could do this with different levels of difficulty - for instance, it will be easier if the hanger-on will willingly trail along with Tori, mostly staying out of the way, so that Tori does not have to drag them around.  Or it will be harder if the hanger-on were less mobile and compliant, forcing Tori to move them while interacting with the other uke too.

Either way, the hanger-on represents a challenge because no matter how compliant they are, they constrain tori's motion and take up space that tori could otherwise be using.

Try it - you might find it fun and interesting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Multiple opponents bullets

Any seminar I go to (even the ones I teach), I like to boil them down to a handful of bulleted take-home points.  I learned this practice from Sensei Jack Bieler, and I recommend it to you.  You will get a lot out of processing and condensing lectures into a handful of bullets instead of just attending and experiencing them.
This past weekend was our annual Aiki Buddies Gathering here at Mokuren Dojo.  It was super-well attended with 12-16 folks from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee at each class.  We worked on multiple opponents randori in aikido.  The following is what I think I primarily taught...
  • We're not especially trying to learn to beat up 3 or 5 people at a time.  Just like in tanto randori we are not learning to beat up people who have knives (that's just stupid).  We are adding extra constraints to make our motion and timing and sense of distance more critical.  We are adding constraints to force ourselves to adopt a more robust, workable strategy.  Hopefully, we can eventually do enough of these sorts of practice that we treat every encounter with every uke as if they have a knife, or as if they have 2-3 buddies waiting to jump on us.
  • A good, incremental way to inject a bit of randori in a controlled way is to do a kata that you are already familiar with, but with multiple ukes taking turns attacking.  This takes the kata a step toward multiples randori, and forces you to occasionally choose different variations of kata techniques more suitable for multiple attackers.  When this happens, go back and ask yourself why the kata movement is different when you know there is only one attacker than when you know there are multiples?
  • In multiple opponent randori, you get different sorts of interactions if tori is trying to work the edges versus working the spaces or working the centers (Ledyard's concepts and terms, not mine).
  • We worked on several interesting tricks that come into play, like using uke as a shield, slingshotting around an uke, rolling the ball, and using an uke as a doorway to safety.
Y'all that attended, I'm sure that you each got something different from my bullet points and something different from each other.  Consider condensing your experience to a bullet list, and consider sharing it with the rest of us - sort of a mutual benefit sort of thing...
Patrick Parker

Friday, October 07, 2011

Reflexive vs. responsive

The falling skill is not a reflex, it is a learned, habituated thing, but it does take into account (work with instead of against) true reflexes that take place when we slip or stumble.

Everything is all status quo from our body's pov, then something disrupts us (stimulus) and a bunch of reflexes happen (postural righting, extension, crossed-extensor, metatarsal kick, etc...) and while the reflexes are happening and we are beginning to fall, our mind has time to catch up to what is happening and guide the fall enough to minimize the consequences.

So, yes, the skill part of it is responsive instead of reflexive, as Rick pointed out in the last post. But the response is based upon, and works in harmony with reflex to the extent possible.

That is reflexive falling skill.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Reflexive falling skills

Some of my instructors in the past have liked to use the phrase, "reflexive falling skills." Saying that we strive to teach folks "reflexive falling skills."  But the word, "reflex" is used in so many common ways, aside from the actual physiological meaning, that it can be hard to tell what that means.  What is a "reflexive falling skill"
A common definition of reflex is an action that is performed unconsciously in response to a stimulus.  Some definitions add that reflexes occur rapidly, with little lag time between stimulus and response.  So, a reflex is:
  • a bodily motion
  • that happens automatically
  • triggered by a stimulus
  • usually very rapid onset
Often, when we are talking in the medical sense about reflexes, we're talking about hard-wired reflexes - the way God made your nerves hook together to make reflexes happen.  But that's obviously not what we're talking about in the context of falling skills, because we think that we can develop these skills instead of having to rely wholly on our congenital hardware.  The loose definition that we commonly use is really more like habituation, but the habit, once developed has the four characteristics of a true reflex listed above.
Human locomotion (walking, running, jumping, etc...) is a very reflexive thing.  It is hardwired into our lower spine.  To a large extent, all the brain does is says, "go over there," and reflexes, like tiny sub-processors, handle most of the details about how to get your legs and feet to go over there properly.
Similarly, we have some hardwired reflex actions that happen in response to a disruption in normal locomotion.  When we trip or slip or otherwise begin to fall, several things happen...
  • we draw in a sudden breath
  • the head draws upward away from the ground
  • the arms extend, placing hands between body and ground
  • the back extensor muscles contract, trying to arrest or slow the fall
  • one leg extends forward, trying to arrest the fall
So, when you start to fall, your back and neck tries to get your head away from the ground, and your arms and legs try to stop your fall.  Getting back to "reflexive falling skills," we sould like to build our falling skills such that they take account of the normal posture (characterized by extension) that we reflex into when we stumble.
This is where I think many aikidoka and judoka (myself included) went astray.  We were taught to do forward roll by "make a circle with the arms, crouch to get closer to the ground, stick your head inside the circle of your arms, jump forward, and try to land right."  The problem with this is that this is a posture of flexion, which we never reflex into when we stumble, so it takes a long time and we take a lot of punishment trying to figure out how to translate our basic rolling form (flexion) to something that will save us when we are surprised into a reflexive extension posture.  The crouch-and-roll is not reflexive.
Patrick Parker

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

More examples of seize&freeze

A near-perfect example of the seize&freeze pheomenon that I've been talking about this week is hizaguruma (knee wheel) in judo.  If tori gets you into position for hizaguruma and you straighten your back or pull back against it, then your low back and hip muscles lock up (seize&freeze) and you break and turn over in the air pretty abruptly.  However, if you get into hizaguruma and instead of seizing and freezing, you relax your lower back - even to the point of slouching forward or laying your head on tori's shoulder, then your relaxed back and hip muscles facilitate a more complete range of motion and more often than not, you can pick up that leg and walk out of the unbalance.  It is uke's seize&freeze reflex that makes hizaguruma into a large, magnificient ippon. (See can't you find a YouTube video of a hizaguruma that stalls for an instant, then suddenly breaks and smashes uke.  I bet you can)
The same applies to deashibarai (front footsweep) in judo.  This throw most often results in a nice, low-amplitude sidefall for uke, but every so often someone does deashibarai and actually clears both of uke's feet into the air and uke drops like he was shot.  Times like this, deashi is not uke's friend.  So, how does someone end up getting both of uke's feet into the air when only sweeping the front foot?  That's right - seize&freeze!  Uke's foot starts slipping and he naturally resists by tightening up on his hip muscles. These suddenly-locked-up muscles bind the hips and both thighs into one big lump of meat and bone and the standing foot starts to slip and rotate along with the swept foot.  Seize&freeze has killed uke again.
When you get right down to it, I suspect that seize and freeze plays a major role in nearly every fall we take.  Take shomenate (face strike) - the most foundational thing in aikido - for example. This time, tori deliberately locks uke's spine and back by pushing upward on uke's chin until he is looking straight upward.  All of a sudden uke's entire torso is locked into one big chunk and his hip and leg range of motion is limited.  At this point, tori drops his entire weight forward through uke, throwing uke's locked-up body backwards and downward.  Shomenate done with proper spine-lock is a very severe thing.  Shomenate done without full spine lock usually results in uke fading back and absorbing or countering the throw.  
I bet once you get to looking for it, you'll find lots of examples of this reflex being the difference between you getting a marvelous ippon and uke shrugging off your throws.
Patrick Parker

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The seize & freeze

I like to walk along the edge of sidewalks or on concrete bumpers in parking lots whenever I get the chance. Its just one more opportunity to play with balance and motion.  I suspect a lot of my readers play like this too - aikido and judo people tend to be like that.

Have you ever noticed, while walking on a balance beam or playing on a rocker board or balance trainer, there are times that your body completely seizes up to avoid falling.  You're moving along fine and suddenly something disrupts your balance (usually you misplace a foot) and your arms fly out to the side and you lean and freeze.  It is as if your brain figures if you continue moving then your position can only get worse, so you lock up to try to avoid the degradation. I have started calling this phenomenon,  "the seize&freeze."

Yogis, have you ever felt that same fear reaction during a balance pose in yoga?  I get that feel in triangle pose and in half-moon all the time, when I get my hips rotating properly then I tend to fall over backward.

Have you ever noticed that when your postural muscles seize and freeze, there is no avoiding falling?  The seize and freeze is like a denial of the inevitability of a predicament. Just like in my previous post when I talked about hospital patients who seize and freeze, locking up their torso in a fear/pain reaction, making it impossible to stand up.

Denial does not sound very much like yoga, does it? And denial does not sound very healthy in the martial context of aikido or judo either.

The seize and freeze is counter to the ideals of yoga, aikido, and judo because it is mindless and automatic instead of being voluntary and controlled. Feldenkrais talks in his books a good bit about the undesirability of mindless, automatic fear reactions.

What if we were to learn to safely and gently fall/roll out of those broken postures instead of doing the seize and freeze?  That way, all the places on the far side of the point of no return become part of the spectrum of that particular posture.

If we can eliminate the fear of falling out of a yoga pose (or any posture), then we can eliminate the seize and freeze fear reaction and make the ukemi just part of the exploration of that pose. This way, the pose becomes a whole range of postures and motions in and around and before and after the actual textbook photograph.  That should make your yoga more joyful and more flowing.

Interestingly, the same thing happens when walking along the edge of a curb.  If you get out of whack and can just take one more step instead of going into seize and freeze, more often than not, your balance will right itself - gently and without making a fuss, just walk out of the unbalance instead of submitting to the seize and freeze.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Fear - the mind-killer

Once I attended a therapy seminar in which the seminar leader taught us a truly miraculous technique for helping a patient rise from seated to standing.

She introduced this technique by pointing out that most patients that need assistance to stand are in pain and are afraid to stand up, and that a common reaction to this pain and fear is to take a breath in and hold it, locking the chest muscles, effectively making the entire torso into one massive, unmoving block of meat and bone. It's no wonder the patient can't rise to standing while locking their torso.

So, the solution is to get the patient to the edge of the seat with his feet under him, and get him rocking forward and backward. The rocking motion is soothing, it facilitates breathing, and it prevents them from locking their torso. Then, after two or three rocks, at the peak of a forward rock, you suddenly say, "look up!" And the result is the surprised patient looks up and sucks in a breath, and their respiratory accessory muscles almost fling them up out of the chair to their feet.  This technique works like magic!

It is the fear of the maneuver that prevents normal function. And the miracle of the technique is in using deeply-seated natural reflexes to bypass the fear reaction, facilitating normal function.

We want to learn a similar trick for falling. We don't want to have to prepare for the upcoming fall, to screw up our courage and suppress our fear and steel ourselves, because resisting the fear strengthens and solidifies it. We want to learn to fall out of positions that we naturally reflex into when we stumble, and we want to learn to use natural reflex actions (like a sigh of relief) to facilitate our fall.

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