Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Geekery: Body Mechanics

It's nobody's secret, unless you're one of the poor schmucks who has bought into the JKD mythology, that different martial arts use the body in different ways, and that a punch isn't a punch isn't a punch. Some martial arts styles move from the feet, some from the hips, some from the spine, some from the shoulders. Some transfer their power on a circle, some in a line, some in a combination of the two. An aikidoka rolls by turning his body into a sphere... I learned to roll by turning my body into a ribbon...

but there are certain formative basics which must remain equal, no matter what style of martial arts, or what sport one practices. One of those is the basics of the body. Men have particular bodies. Women, another. Teach a woman to roll the way a man does, and BANG! -- you're looking at a likely injury... because of the differences in the shoulder-to-hip ratio.

One of the things that I'd really like to do in life is get certified as a Feldenkrais practitioner. I think, on top of simply helping older folks re-learn how to get around without help (which would be valuable in and of itself), that I could make a contribution, because it seems that the discipline, which is inherently non-prescriptive, misses a real chance to make a contribution, based on not just movement in the joints, keeping with the functional aspect of the discipline, but by also addressing the specific role of soft tissue -- the "structure" that other folks like Ida Rolf and Michael Leahy observed in order to come up with Rolfing and Active Release Technique.

Is it possible to jump the bridge between them? Using a crude version of ART, I can get somebody's locked-up muscle to let go, and break up some fascitis. Using a crude version of Feldenkrais' hands-on work, I can teach somebody how to move in a way that they couldn't figure out.

This is well and good... but not truly mutually supporting. Function ought to be able to be integrated with structure, since the two are inter-relying concepts. If I know that I have a problem lifting my leg in the air because of tight hip muscles (this is true), and I know that I also have a problem lifting my leg in the air because I'm still learning how to really use the muscles in my lower torso to control the movement of my leg (since, after all, the quad is not REALLY the muscle being used to do this, even though one often feels it tense), both are part of the process. Similarly, if I teach a guy how to move in a way that he no longer shrugs in order to raise his hand, that's good, but it doesn't actually heal the damage caused by years of doing that... and conversely, without re-educating the body, simply fixing the damage isn't going to stop the underlying organization of the nervous system that causes it.

Now, the Alexander Technique *does* do this, at least to an extent... but only to an extent. You won't find an AT guy directly countering fascitis in order to restore soft-tissue function. But AT also makes explicit prescriptive postural assumptions, and while those assumptions are absolutely perfect for, say, taiji, they're not so great for full-court basketball.

I'm sure that this circle can be squared. I *know* it can... and I'd like to be the guy who does it. Now, how, that's another, very, very good question.

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