Training Tip #6
Using The Waist
by Mike Sigman
Because the internal martial arts use the body length to structurally convey the solidity of the ground to the hands, the middle of the body is the best controlling and directing area. Although the translation usually comes out "waist," the area referred to indicates the musculature and spine of the central torso.
In learning how to move "from the center," we are actually relearning pushing, pulling and twisting motions so that the "waist" does most of the work while the strength in the arms and shoulders becomes secondary.
Of course, the waist does not work alone. A turn of the waist is powered by pushing off one leg and transferring weight to the other leg. A push in an upward direction is caused by straightening a leg into the waist (shoulder height should not change) which slightly bows (storing energy) before structurally passing on the leg push to the hand.
A pull is done by moving the waist downward allowing the tensile connection of muscles and fascia to convey the pull from the waist to the hands; a contraction of the abdominal area and a drawing down of the lower back supplement the pull. If greater power is needed, the thoracic musculature is added; since the breath is being exhaled, the thoracic contractions are a natural addition. Use of the arm muscles is again secondary.
Twisting forces, whether upward or downward, are allowed to travel through the tensile connections of the back and shoulders to the arms much in the same manner that a twisted piece of cloth is wrung the twist of one end travels to the other end of the cloth.
At first, the twisting motions (Reeling Silk) may not feel like they really extend through the body in this manner, but with practice and muscle tone it becomes actual. Twisting skills ultimately can be felt from the legs, hips, waist, back, shoulders, and arms to the finger tips. However, the waist is the most powerful link in this chain.
In tracking a twisting motion from the leg, through the waist, back, shoulders and arms to the finger tips, it's easy to see why the "hands follow the waist." In fact, you could say, "The hand follows the elbow which follows the waist which follows the knee" because the twisting starts from the ground up.
Because so much of the controlling musculature is in the stomach and abdominal region, the practice of internal martial arts results in very pronounced strength and control of the muscles in that area.
"Tuck the Pelvis?"
In the internal arts, the idea of "straightening the back" and "tucking the pelvis" (or "tucking the buttocks") is often mentioned. The problems begin to occur if too much tension is used in holding the pelvic tuck.
When the internal martial arts stress "relaxation," they don't mean "relax everything but the pelvic area and the back" the slight pelvic tuck is a product of relaxing the lower back ("relax the waist") and relaxing the supporting knee(s). Often you hear long-term students complain of back problems because some teacher taught them to forcibly hold a pelvic tuck.
By relaxing the waist, while allowing a pelvic rotation (relax the knee!), we accomplish several things. First, the supporting and energy-storing abilities of the lower back are enhanced because the lumbar vertebrae come away from the lordotic curve and assume a more columnar configuration.
Secondly, a relaxed waist allows the hip joint(s) to easily assume a position in which the support of the ground's strength (peng) is readily transmitted through the hip, i.e., the hip and inguinal region (kua) are "open."
A rigidity on the upper side of the hip can be disadvantageous for the same reason, so the hip joint should always be "sunk" or relaxed; transmission of the ground strength is primary.
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Page maintained by Ian Young; last change June 11, 2000.