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Contraction and relaxation in the martial arts!


Note: I propose today a guest article, written by Fabien Christmas, author of the blog Martial Passion. I let him introduce himself.

Hello I am Fabien Christmas Of the blog Martial Passion. I am passionate about Martial Arts and combat sports in general and also practice the internal arts such as Qi Gong, Reiki and meditation. I am also very interested in Chinese medicine and chronobiology. Practicing martial arts for more than 11 years, I decided to launch the Passion Martial Blog to share my passion with other practitioners. I thank Bruno for welcoming me on ™ for this guest article, the first of this blog (I'm flattered ;-)) ...

Contraction and relaxation in the martial arts:

This is a subject that is particularly important to me and that I will name very important. I personally took a long time to understand the relevance of this concept.
It's an implacable logic: the muscles contract and relax when moving. This is done naturally.

But what about when we want to master this phenomenon in the martial arts?

A "very" shortened explanation of how muscles work

For each movement of our body, we solicit a set of muscles. I will not go into the technical details for each part of the body, we would have for days.

During a muscular effort, the agonist muscle is the one that contracts, the antagonist muscle is the one that stretches in reaction to this contraction.
A definition of the agonist muscle: "it is the muscle that produces the movement considered as opposed to the antagonistic muscle " (The Petit Larousse).
It is interesting to remember that each muscle to its antagonistic muscle.

An example to illustrate this: when we bend our arm the biceps contracts. It is therefore the agonist muscle. In that case, the triceps stretches. It is therefore the antagonist muscle. When one extends the arm, it is the opposite that occurs.

This should remind you of the article " Karate, Yin and Yang and Mother Nature Bruno wrote on this blog. Ying Yang's notion of Asian culture inevitably applies in the human body. The world is still well done right?

Well beyond these fine anatomical details, we can also talk about a tense, dynamic attitude (or contracted), or from relaxed attitude, soft (or relaxed). It is in this direction that the rest of the article is directed.

To be too contracted

Imagine, when performing a kata for example, that you are in excessive muscle contraction. Do you think that you will succeed to the end? I doubt. Yet, it happens to regularly see practitioners hyper stiff in their bodily movements.

The results :

  • a lot of slowness in their movements
  • a lack of precision
  • poor concentration on techniques
  • a very bad balance and rooting
  • a great lack of flexibility

Good in general, these small defects disappear with practice. But it is important to be aware of it from the beginning, because it can avoid a lot of injuries.
This phenomenon is largely excused when we see the rhythm of life of our civilization. Most of us are stressed from morning to night. This is due to the lack of letting go of our mind.

To improve this kind of inconvenience, there are very interesting internal arts. Moreover, originally, many Asian Martial Arts did not separate external et internally as we do today. Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan are two very good examples among many others. It is a very good balance between letting go of the mind and loosening of certain parts of the body, but also toning and strengthening the latter. A possibility to practice martial arts while meditating on oneself at every moment. In the course of centuries, the Chinese have refined them to make an art of health.

I invite you to read the article "How to enrich your martial practice with Qi Gong? »Present on my Passion Martiale blog.

The positive side: when to use the contraction?

The big contraction must be done, mainly, at the moment of the strike ou blocking. It's a very short time.
At this moment, the whole body sheaths, to obtain a rooting and a powerful strike. In addition to this, you are much less vulnerable in the event of an attack. Indeed, when you attack, you take the risk of opening your guard. It is also a way to protect your most vulnerable parts: your organs.

The firmness of movement or striking, must also be firm in the spirit. We emit an intention of contraction and voluntary force by the mind.

To be too relaxed

You've probably seen someone drunk on the street or on television. Here is an example of an abusive relaxation. This time, the body is struggling to maintain itself vertically, much of it is too lax. Nor is it possible for a human being to move "properly" in this state.
There too, it happens to see practitioners a little too relaxed, too soft.

The results :

  • a very weak balance
  • no body tone
  • movements too slow
  • a very bad rooting
  • blockages of very painful attacks

In this case, he often has the "young beginner" parameter that comes into play. With practice and will this little problem fades.
An example not to follow: make a move hands on guard (mole) ... and barely stabilized body ... release the guard, arms dangling.
Brrouuuuhhh, I have the chills in the back just thinking about it.

The positive side: when to use the relaxation?

Relaxation finds all its effectiveness between two strikes ou two trips. One does not release the body to 100%, but one seeks an elasticity at a very precise moment. For example, it is important to know how to relax your shoulders and arms when you send a hand. As we saw above, the muscles will mainly contract at the moment of impact, which gives power. But after the strike, we relax, we become flexible again.

Imagine that your opponent comes knocking in your biceps when you send a circular punch (Mawashi-Zuki). If your muscle is relaxed "During" that you hityou will suffer 5 times less than someone who tries to send an over-powerful shot with a contracted muscle. I know, it's perverse as a technique, but it exists.

Caution : This only applies in some cases. As in the example above, if the hit is very focused and accurate, the contraction of some muscles will serve you.
On the other hand, if the strike is more massive and overwhelming, the muscular contraction will protect your bones or your organs. This is the goal of any work of muscle hardening that is practiced in most martial arts.

I recommend a film that illustrates this well, it's Ip Man 2. There is a scene in which Ip Man fights against a very strong Englishman (Wing Chun VS Boxing). In the second round, he gets through this big guy, including hitting his biceps. Of course it's a movie. But I have personally experienced it. And believe me, since I release a little more before the impact.

Look at this excerpt below. The passage in question is located from 8: 00.

The relaxation must also be an intention of the mind. If you are released into your mindyou will be a lot more vigilant, efficient and able to change your movement along the way. For example to go from an attack to a defense if necessary during a fight.

A happy medium between these two states

There is, of course, a happy medium at both ends.

The secret: to be neither in one nor in the other. But good in both permanently. We must aim to balance each movement by transforming these two states.

A tip:

Whenever you work a technique, in your club or at home, become aware of these two states present in your body. Observe your movements, your balance. Which muscles contract or relax? Are they too contracted or too loose? How can you balance that?

I had the chance to learn a fist art named Kurae No Ken. These principles are applied in every exercise. The goal is to play with his partner, whatever are his style or his way of moving. In any case, the alternation between these two states is omnipresent in everything. I wrote an article about Kurae No Ken on my blog. You will find the video of one of the creators of this art in action with his students.

En conclusion

Everything must find a balance in your practice. To feel flexible, relaxed, free spirit… but also fast, lively, powerful with an iron will.

Muscle intelligently and reasonably. There is no point in getting out all inflated because you will lose in speed of action. The exercises that teachers make you do, are very often adapted to your practice. The rest is only for appearance

To relax just enough, remember that it is especially during childhood that we have the most flexibility. But nothing is impossible at any age. It is just enough to be regular in its relaxation, a little every day. To do this, release, release and release any physical tension.

It is already very positive to take care of your health by practicing a martial art regularly. So why not push this beautiful action a little further, becoming aware of his body in depth.
After all, is not this the ultimate goal of martial arts: to achieve the perfection of body - mind union? The two being indissociable, it is interesting to learn to unite them definitively.

Fabien Christmas

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  1. this article inspires me, the unity of yin / yang is my motto, embrace the contradictions of daily life, if that is karate (I am convinced) I will find my meditation in motion!
    little I wanted to do karate this is not done, today I live my childhood dream every day!

  2. Very interesting article!
    I think I have the problem of being too contracted during Katas especially.
    Maybe the stress or fear of disappointment, of wanting to do well ...
    I will work on that ...

  3. A superb article!
    I would add one more point to the result of being too contracted: a less good endurance: after a while, we have nothing in the arms (or legs)
    About the conclusion, I thought she was addressing it personally
    Anyway, it's a nice little reminder when you train at home (and also club): always seek sensations in the movement to ensure that it works as it should.
    Congratulations for this article!

  4. Posted by Fabien NO LYes you are right Vivien,

    By cons in Systema they go much more in the extreme. I have not done an internship in this style yet, but as soon as I can I will do it. It looks very interesting and effective on some points.
    Recent article by Fabien NO L: Martial arts and non-violence, friends or foes?

    Hi, anyway, you have to touch a little everything if you want to draw an objective way ...

    • Yes you are right Vivien,

      By cons in Systema they go much more in the extreme. I have not done an internship in this style yet, but as soon as I can I will do it. It looks very interesting and effective on some points.

  5. Frankly very interesting for all Martial Arts disciples. I did not know when the muscle was well contracted, it is also more vulnerable or rather that the feeling of pain is more accentuated.
    Thank you Bruno Bandelier.

    • Posted by MounirFrankly very interesting for all Martial Arts disciples. I did not know when the muscle was well contracted, it is also more vulnerable or rather that the feeling of pain is more accentuated.


      I did not speak well on that point. At least, I have not developed enough.
      I rectify the article to complete this part, Bruno will modify it as soon as he has a little time. I invite you to re-read this part as soon as it is up to date, not to stay on this incomplete concept.

      Thank you for this remark, which will allow the article to enrich itself


  6. Excellent! A huge thank you to you Bruno. It's really funny to see this article on this blog that I admire and that I come to visit very regularly.

    I hope it will bring as many of you into their martial practice.

    If you have any additional questions, please leave comments afterwards.


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