Physical Training May 2008
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If It Looks Good It's Probably Right

copyright © 2008 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

There's a rather common assumption in the martial arts that the movements are strange to look at and hard to learn. Yet the senior sensei spend years telling us that we have to do it with a "natural style". Now sometimes I've heard it explained that they're talking about a "natural" that comes with years and years of doing the awkward and unnatural movements of the martial arts until they seem natural.

I don't agree. I think that the sensei mean just what they say, that you should move naturally, and natural is what looks natural. In other words, if it looks good, it's right.

Humans are quite amazing, we know how to read lines of force, interpret inertia almost instantly, and perform ballistics calculations that give computers a hard time. We know if someone is pushing or leaning, we know if we ought to get out of the way (runaway automobile) or stop it if it's rolling past (runaway baby stroller), and we can catch a ball, while on the run, over our shoulder.

We can tell if something looks good or not.

Lines of force

Check out the two photos below, if Pam were helping to push your car out of the snow which one looks good to you? Which one looks like she's taking a rest?

Looks good fig 1: Kim Taylor 
Fig 1   
  Looks good fig 2 : Kim taylor
   Fig 2

If you answered Figure 2, the one on the right, you agree with me, I think she's working to get my car back on the road. Now, if she's performing a solo martial arts movement and she's supposed to be driving someone back 10 feet with a shove, which posture do you believe?

There are all sorts of clues that we are picking up in figure 2, not the least of which is her raised back heel which looks like it's providing some grip and shove. We're also seeing that her arms and shoulders have dropped below the bar, and her elbows are no longer locked. Her front knee pushes forward.

But most of all her hips have moved forward so that the lines of force become aligned with the supposed action, the shove forward. Take a look at the two images again below.

Looks good fig 3 : Kim Taylor 
Fig 3  
  Looks good fig 4 : Kim Taylor
   Fig 4

This time I've added a straight line from the point of contact with the barre through Pam's centre of mass, (centre of balance, her tanden). All movements go through this point, all forces move through this point which is the still centre around which we move. In figure 4 we can see that the line has moved much closer to her rear heel. Combine the line from hand to tanden to floor with the friction of her feet on the floor and you come up with a push into the barre. With figure 3? Forget it, she's still taking a rest.

You know what? Aesthetically I like figure 2 better than figure 1, she looks better don't you think? Not that she doesn't look good in figure 1 I hasten to add, but better in 2.

Let's go to another set of photos to examine these lines of force a bit more. Which of these two look better to you?

Looks good fig 5 : Kim Taylor 
Fig 5 
  Looks good fig 6 : Kim Taylor
   Fig 6

If you're doing iaido in my dojo I'm going to tell you to sit like Figure 5 on the left. It looks better to me, certainly more ladylike, but it also aligns Pam with her tanden better than the elbows out, rounded shoulder posture on the right. If she's got a sword in her belt the hands move from the centre, from her hips, to the sword hilt and right at me. If she doesn't have a sword she can still strike straight from her hips at me. In the figure on the right she's going to have to swing those elbows back in toward her body or else take every bit of the force of my attack in her rotator cuff muscles and that's going to blow her shoulders or she'll collapse backward over her feet. Yes I'm that heavy, I need to lose a few pounds.

I'm not entirely sure that everyone will agree that one posture looks better aesthetically than another, but I hope that everyone can see that one posture demonstrates a better understanding of how to project power through the tanden and out the hands than the other. To me, as a martial artist, that posture is more pleasing.

Iaido as theatre

So in this consideration of lines of force while simply sitting, we might say that iaido is a matter of posing, of posturing, of "looking good". Iaido is theatre. There's a concept in iaido of "saya no uchi no kachi" which is "winning in the scabbard". One way to do this is to present an appearance to an opponent that is neither a threat or an invitation, but one that is alert, ready and without any openings. With the body aligned correctly, ready to apply force from the ground through the tanden to the opponent, he sees no openings. Without any overtly threatening appearance in figure 5 (check out that scowl in figure 6) there's no feeling that the opponent is about to be attacked, so he's not threatened, yet there is no appearance of weakness either.

If it looks good, it's probably right.

Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies
Physical Training May 2008