„This is not a stretching excercise!“ – Forget about Stretching!

(Deutsche Version)

One of Funakoshi Gichin’s precepts on Karate I find most useful for my training is this one:

力の強弱、体の伸縮、技の緩急を忘るな。(chikara no kyōjaku, karada no shinshuku, waza no kankyū o wasuru na)

An adequate translation for this is: „Never forget about the strong and the weak of force, the expansion and the contraction of the body, the slow and the fast of a technique!“ (own translation).

My teacher Sugimori Kichinosuke always refering to this particular precept made me shift my practice soon to seek the expansion of the body in order to act more relaxed and faster. This didn’t mean to execute my techniques simply with a larger range or amplitude, or focusing on speed-related strength. It meant to create a feeling of length and the space within the body. Hino Akira calls this „gan kyō bappai“ (Hino 2017: 30).

From this a fundamental change in my training preparation and working the extremities arose: While „lengthening“ muscles in a state of relaxation – which means allowing them to ease in motion and therefore become enabled to work smoothly along myofascial chains – I dropped the practice of „stretching“ in order to completely focus on the expansion of the body. Although expanding creates a similar feeling due to a stretching of muscle tissue, but it is different from common „stretching“ excercises most athletes do. Expanding the body equals pandiculation, meaning the yawning and stretching movements you do in the morning:

Stretching is passive
Stretching is passive, you are not actively using the muscle, you are merely pulling on it, there is no brain involvement.

Pandiculation is active
During a Pandiculation you are actively using the muscle, your brain is involved in the process.

The Somatic Movement (2015).

As a result I didn’t have to work against the contractive reflexes any more. I was able to execute finer movements with the extremities I was expanding internally. My ability to relax while moving in a more connected way increased overnight. The popular idea of muscles shorteining without stretching exercises, thus losening the ability of kicking to higher levels, never proved to be true. I couldn’t kick higher with expansion training, but with intense stretching I couldn’t either. Meanwhile I refrained from high-kicking techniques, since the ability for this is a matter of the right anatomy of the hip joints (TMF 2014), which I don’t have by any means – like most Karate people. My experiences in Shōrin and other ryūha (schools of martial arts) proved me right in this matter. Unfortunaltely, for most practitioners this truth reveals itself too late.

Stretching can be painful
Passive stretching is generally uncomfortable and can even be painful especially if Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is present.

Pandiculation feels good
Pandiculation performed correctly feels very pleasurable and relaxing. It has the feeling of a yawn.

The Somatic Movement (2015).

The idea of expansion became not only a conceptual basis of my movement teaching but also of the martial techniques of Budō I am training until the present day. The spatial movements of the kata (form), the movements executed together with a partner (meotode), the handling of a sword between furikaburi (raising the blade) and kirioroshi (the cutting movement)… All these techniques have gained comfortable traits of generating force at the right places and simultaneously keeping the body smooth. Common stretching exercises could be done the same way. But the would probably remain static positions without any practical use. So please: Let that shit go!

Stretching provides no new sensory information to the brain
Because the brain is not involved in a passive stretch there is no new sensory information for the brain. Therefore no new learning takes place. This may be the most important difference between stretching and pandiculation

Pandiculation provides lots of new sensory information for brain
Because the brain is very much involved in the process of Pandiculation there is a large amount of new sensory information for the brain. Therefore new learning takes place.

The Somatic Movement (2015).

Later I studied the Feldenkrais and even later the Hino method. I surprisingly found out that both methods didn’t take movement as a basis for generating force only but was the basis of human social activity. Funakoshi’s precept seemed even more well thought of. But even more important was the fact that there was no profound reason to take working out or movement  as some form of burden, exhausting, and – most of all – humiliating; except within the context of a prussion work ethos. But how could anyone dare to enjoy bodily excercise in a neoliberal society? So, I found myself in the middle of people preparing for the deployment to the trenches of World War III while celebrating hatred towards themselves and their bodies. At the dōjō I had been teaching for several years after my returning from Japan my precept „this is not a stretching excercise but a movement“ was dismissed as a fairytale (!). Someone preferred to stick with the obsolet content of the instructor courses. Until today, they still teach „boobs and booties“ fitness there. Paradigms are hard to kock over.

Temporary change in length
Passive stretching confers only a temporary change in length, if any, as the muscles reflexively recontract in response to the stretch.

Long term change in length
Pandiculation confers more permanent changes in muscle length as you brain LEARNS a new longer resting length for your muscles. Please note the changes in muscle length that are achieved through pandiculation are as a result of the reduced level of tension in the muscle. They are not as a result of tissue remodelling.

The Somatic Movement (2015).

To think this way of and with the body has certain „side effects“: It feels good! Pain and penance vanish. And one finds him- or herself in the postion of being able to command certain movements. No reason for sticking to some Asian-kind of (goody-goody?) habitus of an instructor (who probably has never been in Asia) and kissing reason and common sense good-bye. Specialists genetically selected by high-performance athletic training could never be role models for a society diversified in age, body shape and sex.

It has never been so overdue to stop self-hate, the wrong body cult, and most of all the ignorance towards human anatomy, like at this moment.


Sources:

Hino Akira (2017). Don’t think, Listen to the Body – Introduction to the Hino Method and Theory of Human Body and Movement Control. Eigenverlegung.

TMF (2014). The Best Kept Secret: Why People HAVE to Squat Differently.

The Somatic Movement (2015). Stretching Vs. Pandiculation – What’s the difference and why does it matter?.

Picture found here on Dianne Bondy’s Instagram feed.

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