Where is Your Backbone?

If I ask students to point to their backbone they invariably move a finger behind their back (around the waist or over the shoulder) and point to the middle of their back. They are absolutely correct. It is hard to fault them for properly locating their spine.

But very few students ever point to their abdomen or to their ribs. Clearly the abdomen and the ribs are not your spine, but your spine is indeed embedded behind these structures. These portions of the spine are seldom considered, but they may be more important than the portion you would normally think about. In Tensoku Ryu we continually strive to look at things differently.

It helps to think about both the front and the back of the spine at different times. If you wish to move back while remaining erect it helps to think about retracting the back of the spine. Thinking about retracting this portion of the spine will allow you to remain properly vertically-oriented as you recede from an opponent. You will find tremendous benefit in this method of movement in future material.

Let’s consider an experiment. Stand erect with your feet together and then step back with one leg or the other. What normally happens is that your leg moves back and then your weight is transferred over your re-positioned leg. So there is a point at which your leg is behind you. At this point you may also detect a slight forward lean. These are all simple anatomical features of this movement sequence. Eventually your torso moves back and over your leg to establish a new point of structural integrity. In this example the leg moved first and was then followed by the upper body.

Now let’s change things a little. Stand erect once again. Now think of pulling your shoulder blades back first. I’m not talking about flexing your shoulders backward, I’m talking about moving your shoulder blades directly backward so they are several inches further back than they were before. You are in effect pulling your torso backward.

You will now notice a couple of things. First of all, your torso moves back first then your leg moves to catch up. You will also notice that you generally stand more erect as you move. This will naturally lead to improved peripheral vision.

While this may seem like a trivial movement skill it can actually be quite important. Imagine that someone is slicing down toward your torso with a sword (you know, we all carry swords around these days). If you step with your legs first your torso will be left momentarily in the path of the incoming cut. If you move your torso first you may be lucky enough to just avoid the cut. Moving the torso first provides a slight timing and structural alignment advantage.

In truth this form of movement is useful anytime you wish to move directly backward. It reduces the chances of forward lean, improves the speed of movement, and helps ensure better balance.

But if you are moving forward then thinking about pressing forward using the front of the spine is equally as relevant. It again helps you remain erect during movement. In contrast, if you think about moving the chest or foot forward first you are much more likely to bend forward slightly at the waist as you move. This naturally presses the head toward your direction of travel (and perhaps into an awaiting strike of some sort). Keeping the spine (and therefore your torso) erect while moving forward helps you keep your balance, keeps you more erect, and limits the amount of unwanted lean you may experience. So uniformly thinking of your spine as the initial point of movement can improve the nature of these movements.

When you move to the front, side, or back, try to envision these areas of your spine and think about how moving them moves your body in different and unexpected ways.  You will find this affords you with a sense of refined and rapid movement you likely did not possess before. This is all about looking at and thinking about things differently.

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