Taking strikes
by Jim King
Some questions were posed in a recent thread asking how to absorb strikes. References were made to a video, I assume Strikes, where different individuals were taking a variety of hits, some of which were
landing in the high solar plexus area. This inquirer stated he tried to practice on himself & with others striking him with little progress or enlightenment & wondered if being relaxed was really the best answer
as being tense seemed to offer a little more protection (Even though he admitted he had a difficult time with the strikes regardless if he were tense or relaxed.). In response, a second poster added he too was
having limited result with experimentally striking himself & later wondered if twisting the body at the moment of impact would be of greater benefit. While I am not the final authority on the subject, I can speak as
one who has been touched a bit by the best.
Absorbing a strike is far more than a physical response to a physical question. Every strike has roots in a man’s body (physical), soul (mental/intellect/desire), & spirit (the eternal essence God breathed into
man). So then, when a strike is taken or absorbed, we respond to the strike in each of the three parts. This interaction occurs regardless if the participants are aware or ignorant or even skeptical. The tripartite
being of man has dynamic relevance to training & living in the Russian System, but this discussion may be better suited for a different thread..
Relaxed movement is better defined as not being restricted by any tenseness—physical, mental, social, or spiritual—rather than the complete absence of physical tension or other distraction. Biomechanically
speaking, some degree of physical tension must be employed to maintain positive structure & execution of movement. In the Russian System, this necessary physical tension is compartmentalized to the
muscles, tendons, or ligaments that require it, all the while insulating the rest of the body, soul, & Spirit from tension with calmness & confidence. This harmony of tension & complementary relaxedness are
controlled in our breathing. Whether you inhale or exhale on a given movement is not always as important as connecting the complete movement with a complete breath cycle(s). This is fundamental to what
we do. Further, it is not enough that we simply breathe while we move. We must also pay attention to the quality of our breathing if we wish to keep our movement free. The Russian System is so phenomenally
dynamic because the cornerstone of everything we do & believe is “free” movement. In this context, “free” refers to the ability to comfortably live & move within the vastness of infinite possibility without being
overwhelmed by it. Proper, quality breathing is essential to free movement.
When many new students first start in the System, they are very tense & rigid (in all areas of their being). Focusing on the physical realm, with time & understanding, they swing to the other end of the spectrum
& become too relaxed. This over-relaxed phase is normal as the progressing student is learning to move through imitation, visual cues, & internal empirical feelings. At some point, the pendulum will find a
point of equilibrium. This tension/relaxedness balance point is where the student compartmentalizes necessary tension without allowing spillover to areas where tension results in bad restricted movement.
This equilibrium is best described as being “solid.”
When it comes to absorbing strikes, this tension/relaxedness balance point is achieved through experience. & lots of it! Always! (As a side note for veterans, this balance point is not like a polio immunization
where once you’ve had it, you are set for life. Instead, this balance point is more like finding the fountain of youth. Once you have discovered its location, you must keep going back for a drink to maintain
genuine vitality & understanding. While I am not qualified to speak for Vladimir, I believe this is one of the many concepts he was referring to in his powerful post Psychological Rebound. In many ways, it is
more important to give than to receive.).
All this being said, the questions & experiences these students detailed are highly representative of most of us who take strikes. Initially, courtesy of pride & fear, we use muscular tension to shunt the strike.
This works fine as long as the person doing the hitting is also relying on muscular strength & his efforts happen to be weaker than the protective tension exerted by our muscles. However, consider the
mechanics of using muscular tension. With each blow to the body, amplified strike shock waves resonate throughout the rigid muscular tissues to less strong parts of the anatomy. In effect, the whole body is
hit & suffers accordingly. In this context, the cumulative effect of even little strikes can add up quickly. In some cases, a little strike placed well can have the same devastating result as a deeper strike placed
generally. Many of us can attest to this truth without having to consider strikes that are stronger than us.
In the next experiment, we try being absolutely relaxed to absorb a strike. In theory, we hope to deaden the blow with the “heavy” counterweight of our physical mass. For proof, we reference this dampening
effect when striking a punching bag filled with sand or mung beans. This triumph of physics is a hollow success, though, considering the mung beans dampening the blows to our bodies are our pummeled
internal organs. After a few of these “successes,” we quickly revert to muscular tension, as bruised muscles preserve the ego more than the unwarrior-like urge to wretch when a hand is in your stomach.
Besides, being absolutely relaxed seems to only work once!
So how do some individuals seem to absorb some nasty strikes consistently without being rigid or too relaxed? If you focus primarily on physical position, mechanics, or conditioning for answers, you are
looking in the wrong place. Remember, giving & taking a strike occurs in the three parts of our being.
When I am taking a strike, I know I must be prepared in all three parts of my being. This preparation is more than focusing & relaxing in the few seconds before I am hit. But, if we just look at those few seconds
before contact to gain some insight in how I personally absorb a hit, I place my greatest emphasis on my breathing, my shoulders, & my hips. Breathing calms the Spirit as the Spirit must control the mind &
emotions. If the mind & emotions are calm, the body will happily follow in being relaxed, or “solid.” Fear is not part of the process, but solemn respect of the contact is; hence the requirement for looseness in
my shoulders & hips. When the strike makes contact with my body, I breathe calmly in proportion to the degree of the strike. The key is to breathe through the exact place of the strike. Admittedly, this is an
advanced concept. The “smart” breath generates a compartmentalized, focused tension to protect the body. All other surrounding areas—physically, mentally, & spiritually--must remain calm & able to move.
The hips are the crucial points of movement. If my breath is out of synchrony or location, the strike will try to enter my body. I must quickly regain internal composure through calm forced breathing & deliberate,
relaxed movement. I breathe to remove the strike to keep it outside of my body. Once it is in, I have to deal with it on a different level…and very quickly! I have to regain my breathing rhythm & free body
movement. The longer I delay, the more I collapse within myself. If my hips tighten up, restricted movement prevents the energy of the strike from escaping downward. Restricted movement usually is
accompanied with improper breathing. Bad breathing most often means tension is present in the upper body, i.e., the neck & shoulders, so, now, the energy of the strike cannot go up or out. As a result of all
this tension, I eat the strike completely!
If the strike enters into my body, I must dislodge it immediately. When a tough strike is trapped inside, I immediately jump up once or twice to loosen the cramped diaphragm muscle. I must keep my body as
relaxed as possible when doing this. My focus is the diaphragm (I focus internally on the descent of the jump as the diaphragm “hiccups” when I hit the ground.). If other parts of me are tense, this remedy jump
will send shock waves throughout the body causing more damage. Usually, the shoulder & neck joints will get a nice jolt if they are rigid. In the instant the diaphragm releases, I draw a breath through the
injured area.. This action gives my being the chance to expel the strike. Remember, a strike has more than one component. Once it is inside the body, everything is affected. So, when a strike gets inside, the
whole being must push it out. This is why being physically relaxed is not the same as being “solid.” Once the breathing & being are restored, I get back in the saddle for more strikes.
Obviously, this flash recovery method is invaluable in a fight. The Russian System does not say the more you progress in your training, the more untouchable you will become. Instead, the Russian System
states the more you progress in your training, the better able you will be to handle being hit! In a fight, expect to get hit! Interesting to note, recovering from a hit is a necessary skill for any fighter. So…how do
you practice recovering from a hit?
A simple drill to learn to connect your breathing to absorbing a strike: When first learning to take a strike, breathing is emphasized upon impact to both learn to control fear & prevent an “internal” punch from
trapped air in the lungs or abdomen. The exhale on contact is initially emphasized as it is a natural inclination to breathe out to release tension (In time, the inhale & exhale are used interchangeably. Do not
rush this! Interchangeable breathing is a matter of time & experience. Unrealistic or rushed expectations generate hidden tension spiritually, mentally, & physically. Be sure, a strike will find that tension!). The
natural exhale impulse is incorporated into a low-level drill where a sustained push on the abdomen is used instead of a strike. The individual is directed to think of himself as a working bellows or air bladder.
When I push on his abdomen, my action pushes the air from the individual’s lungs. If the individual breathes of his own accord ahead of my action, I stop him immediately & do the drill again. This is an
important distinction. If an individual later uses muscular tension from his diaphragm to force the air from his body either out of synchrony with the strike’s timing or the air expelled is disproportionate to the
strike’s force, the resulting tension will act as a conduit for the energy of the strike to resonate to other connected parts of the body. So, the first step to learning to breathe properly when absorbing strikes is to
learn how to breathe from a push. If you think about it, strikes are just high energy pushes executed in a shortened time interval (This concept will also improve your strikes.).
You cannot effectively learn how to absorb strikes with self-punching. First, the biomechanics for generically striking your own body are not possible. Second & more importantly, your psyche is too involved in
the process of giving & receiving. Consequently, the exercise is not honest. Self-striking with empty hands & select weapons does have interesting legitimate benefits, but again, this subject is for a different
Lastly, twisting the body in general terms is not advantageous for absorbing strikes as you are biomechanically stressing your form to a position of increased restriction & greater danger. If you are attempting
to deflect or escape the movement, do so with proper form. Later, when you are more comfortable within your shape, you will see new possibilities & opportunities in putting your form into bad positions as a
means to transition to a position of greater advantage. The Russian System emphasizes Breathing, Proper Form, Relaxation, & Movement for a strong foundation. Twisting the body is a tool, not a pillar.
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