Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
A common mistake that students make in Martial Arts is to misuse tension in their practice. The extent of misuse can extend from too little to too much or too soon. The correct method in most techniques is to apply tension only at the point of impact. The closer to impact this occurs, the more efficient and focused the attack. All other times, the bodyˇ¦s muscles should be relaxed and yielding.
When students first start Martial Arts, they often try too hard to keep pace with their fellow students. In drills where repetition is the key, such as punching or kicking routines, they tend to focus on keeping to the beat rather than how the technique is executed. This often results in little to no tension being used in the form. While this is acceptable for a newer student, as students develop, they need to start integrating tension into the form. Doing so will train the body in the correct techniques. In addition, it will also build endurance as tension requires more energy to perform.
When actually sparring or going against boards or bags, students tend to tense immediately as they execute the punch. This immediate tension in their arms or legs results in wasted energy. A student such as this will have to work twice as hard or more and tire quicker in a fight. In addition, maintaining the same level of tension is very difficult. The body naturally will tense the most at the initial moment and tend to relax as time progresses. In addition, by tensing, the body becomes rigid and inflexible to change should there be a need in combative situations. So the optimal time for strength from tension is at the very end of the technique.
One of the ways to train the body in learning how and when to tense is actually by doing the exact opposite. Within many styles, there are specific forms known as tension techniques. These techniques force the practioner to keep their bodies tense throughout the form. These types of exercises accomplish several key factors in the development of a Martial Artist. In particular relation to the discussion here, the exercise teaches the body to recognize what tension feels like and thus allows the Artist to learn how to control when to apply the force. Tension exercises are also used to build the muscle endurance and strengthen the body overall. They are also often performed with slow movements and extended breathing.
Tension is a very important part of doing good Martial Arts. Any student wishing to attain the next level should pay special attention to how and when they are using the tension in their body.