I was talking with a colleague about what it means to be connected and I felt like sharing some of my thoughts on the topic here. This is in the context of a yoga or qigong posture, which in Hatha Yoga is called tadasana or “mountain pose”. A variation of this posture is to hold it with the arms outstretched at shoulder level, either palm up or palm down. I feel this posture is very good for building integration or connectedness across the upper body.

Normal or Reaction Force

The normal force is a force that presses back against the force presented against an object, if the object is static (not moving). So, the weight of an object resting on a surface provides a downward force against the surface due to gravity, but the surface presses back against the object with a normal force (from its own structure) perpendicular to the surface. Here is a link to a short definition of normal force.

One Possible Motivation

Because our joints can move when a force is transmitted across them, there will be strain in the joint to remain fixed at a certain position under load. We want to minimize that strain. If we have too much strain, the joint will buckle, or seize, and that can be used against us. We also do not want to push locally, using one small set of muscles. The push won’t be as strong. If your joint is a spring, you want it compress smoothly, and not buckle. That means the direction of a normal force needs to change smoothly across the volume of the joint. The way you carry your body (what some call “body organization”) is important in determining how force moves through it when pushed. There are different approaches to this, and it is not clear to me Daito-ryu is identical to Taiji Quan and that all Taiji Quan styles are even doing the same thing. So, your mileage may vary with what I describe below.

One Possible Definition of Being Connected

If we can keep the joint relaxed in order to minimize strain under load, so that force moves across the body through several joints, then the joints are working efficiently to transmit the force across the body, I will then say that path through your body is “connected”. I think what you do with this connection, once it exists, is style specific. As an example, if you transmit the force into the ground, that provides a very strong normal force back to the opponent along the incoming line, and you can uproot him. There is a difference between doing this with linear bracing using the skeleton, and being able to respond to force from a variety of directions smoothly. This is a good blog post about peng jin compared to just bracing the back leg. Different styles will have different tactics or approaches. For example, the style of Taiji I practice doesn’t focus very much on this direct response of force back at the person. That doesn’t mean it is not very effective to do that.

Being Disconnected

An example of being “disconnected” is letting your shoulders raise up next to your ears – that sends the force upward and you begin to take yourself off balance. This is what happens when aiki arts do aiki age and lock the joints up, and when a person cuts and shrugs their shoulders. Force winds up going up, with reduces the weight on the ground, reducing the normal force, and makes friction less on the feet, making us unstable, easier to push or throw. This is probably wrong across most styles of martial arts, and just because one’s shoulders are not up, doesn’t mean one is doing anything “internal” – it just means there is not a glaring deficiency in body organization.

A Simple Exercise

Start in tadasana with your arms extended outward at shoulder level, with proper relaxed posture, feet together. Hold this position for some time and notice the strain that builds in the body. Try to relax around this strain so it is reduced. At one point in my training, I did a lot of work on this posture, and was up to holding it for forty-five minutes. I don’t think that much duration is necessary; five or ten minutes at a time probably suffices.

Then, if you stand in that cross-type position, and press lightly into a wall with your left hand with your finger tips, standing close enough to the wall so you aren’t leaning to the left:

  1. Where do you feel the strain in your body as you press?
  2. Can you relax your wrist so you feel it in your elbow?
  3. Can you relax your left elbow so you feel it in your left shoulder?
  4. Can you pull your left shoulder down and hollow your chest a bit so you feel the normal force on your opposite shoulder?
  5. Can you feel your right hand want to move away from your body?
  6. What happens when you mentally do not allow that happen (with “intent”) and visualize pulling the right arm back along its line of extension (kind of inside yourself)?
  7. Can you continue this feeling back towards the wall across the incoming path?
  8. Can you keep the joints involved relaxed while this happens?
  9. What do you feel in your left hand? If nothing, by relaxing, can you notice something about your left hand?

Relaxing is very important while doing this, because of not wanting the joints to seize (essentially locking yourself), and needing to keep the muscles relaxed as possible so you can notice things. I think one difference between “internal” and “external” is relaxation so you can notice very subtle things. If you try to do that tadasana exercise and are too tense, you may not be able to do 1-9 and notice much.

The exercise described above is something I think if you do tadasana regularly as part of martial conditioning, and are relaxed, should be reasonable to accomplish and may give you an idea about what I am talking about when I talk about the upper body being connected.