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DYNAMIC LOOSENESS TRAINING
FOR THE MARTIAL ARTS:
OFTEN DISCUSSED, RARELY ACHIEVED


By Lt Col Al

A Long, long time ago…
At a martial arts demonstration in a County far, far away…

A man moves across the floor gracefully and silently. There are no heavy steps and from a distance he almost appears to glide across the gym floor.  About the closest thing to describing his movement would be a panther moving through the jungle.  As he moves you could hear a pin drop as all onlookers, now on their feet, gaze with apprehension.

All the other demonstrators, despite their displays of speed, power, board-breaking and Hollywood-style fight sequences, knew intuitively, in the pit of their bellies, that this guy could seal their fates.

Confident, with a poised demeanor and expressionless face, his relaxed arms, unhurried step and supple body yield no clue as to what is to happen next.

On command, within an instant there is a display of speed and power unlike anything seen all afternoon.

Many are left speechless. Some actually get up and leave, unable to deal with the reality of what they have just witnessed. Others have an expression on their face that those who\'ve been in bad situations clearly recognize: fear.

The scene I have just described is a demonstration put on by Grand Master Perkins and Master Mike Watson. I know Mike gets tired of me using his name, but if he had been standing where I was and had seen the reactions on people's faces when he walked out to begin, he would appreciate why I'm so glad he's on my side.

Those who have been involved with the martial arts for some time have often heard, "You must learn to be as supple as a blade of grass in a storm... you must become like water…" The question is: how do you develop this quality in order to apply it for combat?  

In this newsletter I\'m going to focus on the importance of looseness and offer a few concepts as to how one can improve their overall level of suppleness. For a more detailed explanation please refer to the book Attack Proof: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Protection. I am going to quote liberally from several newsletters authored by Grand Master Perkins and others in an attempt to build on this concept.

In the report "The Way of Adaptation" by Ari Kandel, 1st Dan Ki Chuan Do, Ari discusses the foundation for a basic understanding of Loosenes (perhaps a better term would be "Pliability"). Ari writes:

Looseness, or alternately pliability, refers to the maximization of efficiency in muscle use… A relaxed body can yield to and roll with impacts and falls far better than a stiff, rigid body can, which is why the rigid body is more easily broken. Is it easier to break a pine board or a sofa cushion with a punch? If you examine police reports on car accidents, you will find that severely inebriated people tend to survive bad accidents more frequently than sober people do, and with fewer injuries.

This is because the sober folks tend to stiffen up and "brace" themselves the moment before impact, while the drunks remain relatively loose and pliable. Any boxer knows the value of "rolling with punches" as opposed to tightening up and taking the full impact.


People don't fully understand the importance looseness plays in their development mostly because they don't know how to train it. Many arts (including a lot of external systems) do emphasize the importance of relaxation. However, it is generally only seen in their most advanced practitioners, and even then only to a limited degree. Also their concept of looseness is limited to just the relaxation of their muscles so they do not develop the type of dynamic, functional looseness as espoused by Grand Master Perkins.

A Little History

Now travel with me, if you will, back in time…

I can remember during one of my many training sessions with Master Carron where I asked him if I could push him just to observe how his body reacted because for the life of me, I could not understand what he meant when he said that his whole body is connected to his looseness through his balance. I said "I just want to see something…"

As I touched his arm with a feather's touch I could see a slight change in his body. As I began to prod, push and pull I could see little micro adjustments to his body. With his permission I was allowed to push harder as he demonstrated how he could easily negate my energy without compromising his body or position. Even more profound I discovered that as he moved he didn't just move for the sake of moving but always moved to a more advantageous position from which to strike. There was no wasted motion. He moved as little as he needed to.

In another display of looseness, I once had the privilege of doing Ki Chuan Do Contact Flow with Dr. Drew Miller, former student of Tai Chi Master Waysun Liao and coordinator of the Degerburg Martial Arts Academy. Though much taller and out ranging him by at least 8" inches, when I went to strike him in the chest in one fluid motion he pocketed, turned and popped me in the jaw with his elbow. At another time I can remember Master Barnett demonstrating how by remaining loose (more like liquid) he was able to cause me to run into his weapons while appearing to hardly move at all. He also demonstrated that by simply box stepping as he yielded he was able to strike me simultaneously with both hands while kicking me. As for my dealings with Grand Master Perkins, many of the things he has shown me regarding looseness are too profound to accurately describe here.

Through these demonstrations of the looseness principle I learned the following:

*By being loose you can not only negate speed and power but cut off angles preventing your attacker from ever recovering.

*You are able to cause people to move at speeds that take their weapons offline.

*Yielding becomes your block since it has a nullifying effect on incoming strikes.

*Yielding causes people to run into your weapons at an accelerated speed and thus adds power to your strikes.

*Looseness can be applied to any surface of your body so for example if they touch your hand you can fold to an elbow smash to the face or you can pocket and turn while striking.

*You can also avoid being penetrated as you enter by loosening on the way in as you strike.

*Since there is no antagonistic muscle to slow you down you can change direction at will and still strike with lethal power.

*Looseness prevents an attacker from sensing your intention since there is no antagonistic muscle, tension or structure that they can feel to find their place in the fight.

The applications are "unlimited" and entirely up to you.

In my newsletter "Understanding Sensitivity Training for Overall Improvement" I provide the equation,
Balance + Looseness + Sensitivity = Body Unity (Grace  finesse, Chi…)

I place Balance first because Balance is the foundation and without it is very difficult to apply the power generated from your root flowing through your looseness. Without balance, believe it or not, it is also difficult to remain loose as well. In other words, all of the looseness in the world may not help you if your root is not stable. Also, without a stable root, as you pocket and loosen it is difficult to stay in the fight since there is nothing to stabilize you in order to gather your power as you strike. Looseness also has a cause and effect relationship on your Sensitivity.

Ari writes,

…looseness increases tactile sensitivity. A tense limb is far less sensitive than a relaxed one, and is also much easier for an enemy to feel.

Looseness is important not only to sensitivity but body unity as well. By remaining relaxed you begin to feel the alignment of your body and in so doing, you are able, without much effort, to position your body to strike with maximum efficiency.  The relaxation derived from looseness also allows you to change and contort your body to strike from seemingly impossible positions with power. This is one of the reasons why when dealing with a person who has developed looseness it often times feels as if they are off balance when in fact it is you who are off balance.

The more balanced you are, the more you can relax as you sink into your root. The more relaxed you are, the looser you become. The looser you are, the more you can allow for your Sensitivity to feel what is going on. The more you use your sensitivity, the more responsive you become or develop what is called "Response-Ability".  As all three work together, they create the necessary body unity which when applied allows you to move, strike, avoid and recover with seemingly supernatural abilities transcending your physical limitations.

Looseness is 99.9% Yin

As Grand Master Perkins says in his newsletter article "How to Defend Yourself without Telling Your Opponent Exactly What You\'re Going to Do!":

This is what internal arts like Tai chi, Hsing I and Bagua attempt to perfect. What we are doing differently in Ki Chuan Do however, is instead of spending years and years on non-combative movements, we are taking the lethally effective strikes of World War II Close Quarters Combat--and greasing it with a sensitive reactivity.

This takes practice--but it is the way a mongoose takes down a snake--or a pissed off 14 pound alley cat can elude your grasp and rake your face to pieces despite your best efforts to throttle it.

To be completely passive, you have to remain in physical contact at all times. At this point you "lose yourself and follow the other", letting all his energy direct your responses--as if you're a turnstile and pushing one end hard whacks you in the back or as if you're Moe of the 3 Stooges telling Curly to "hit this" and then your hand spins around on impact and hits him in the head. What goes in here comes out there. This way, you completely cut off your reactivity from your thinking brain. If you rely on eye-hand coordination to pick targets and openings you drastically increases your reaction time. This can be a critical flaw of external styles.


When practicing
the Ki Chuan Do exercises of contact flow, washing the body or polishing the sphere, you must also let your mind become free-flowing. While moving I try to just focus on total freedom of movement, remaining relaxed to allow my sensitivity to drive my motions, ensuring that all of my strikes are delivered with balance and power.  I want to feel my body unity while moving, ensuring that I can move efficiently and freely like the wind. Additionally I try not to create any self-imposed limitations in my mind and just concentrate on the principles and nothing else. As a result, the principles, being timeless, allow you to continue to improve by leaps and bounds.

What Looseness Is

Being loose makes you feel like a liquid, a whip, a steel cable, a spring, or a ball and chain. Though 99% Yin, it encompasses all of the aspects of Yin and Yang (the Taoist philosophy that desribes the universe as a blending of opposite energies) and allows you to experience and create the properties of Yin and Yang even on the smallest surfaces of your body. Looseness makes you feel like the wind or like a ghost and yet gives you the ability to crash like a powerful wave. You can be the calm soothing sea or the Tsunami. You can become steam and ice in an instant. It can make your body seem resilient like a trampoline yet your arms feel like two anacondas-- powerful, yet supple, yielding, yet unbreakable. Because there is no antagonistic muscle holding you back you can move at blinding speed. How fast can you be? How fast can you pull your hand away from a hot frying pan? That fast! Looseness, "…is the way a mongoose takes down a snake…"

What Looseness Is Not!

Looseness is not like a leaf blowing in the wind or your body becoming like spaghetti or a wet noodle. Looseness is not like a fish flopping around out of water nor is it "Drunken Style" Kung Fu. All of these things are incorrect because they are unconnected to your root  balance.

Looseness is not just reserved for when you need to back up or get out of the way. Though I recognize that for most people, looseness is looked at mainly as a defensive tool used only for avoidance, looseness is also an offensive tool and is critical to your ability to avoid and tool replace as you enter and penetrate your opponent.

In our book Attack Proof: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Pprotection, we continually discuss the concept of being the sponge with the spike in it. It is in this application that looseness allows you to remain "unavailable" yet "unavoidable" while striking with tremendous power simultaneously. Looseness is important and gets short shrift since it generally takes a little longer to develop the right feel and level of relaxation in the muscles as well as the proper application of looseness in the body. However, once its application is understood, your ability to apply it becomes limitless.

Tension is the Enemy of Looseness

In his first newsletter article, Grand Master Perkins discusses under the section "Training for Spontaneity and Non-intention":

When you muscle up or attempt to control your attacker's motion you essentially telegraph everything you're going to do. A great way of training non-intention is to be completely passive when you Contact Flow, push-hands, chi sao or spar. Now when we say passive, we don't mean you become like a limp noodle. Your movements and reactions should be like spring steel or a delicately set mousetrap. It should take no more than a feather touch to set you off towards a strike--or to completely change direction and abandon a blocked strike and flow into another opening.

He further states,

Never try to CONTROL or suppress another person's motion--USE it to power your own strikes back into him through folding, sliding, skimming and snaking into openings.

As Ari writes,

Typically when we try to apply muscular strength to movement, the muscles on both sides of the involved joints contract to stabilize the joints. It is easy to see how this could be detrimental to speed and power, as it\'s like hitting both the gas and the brakes at the same time in your car.

Additionally, excess muscle contraction saps energy levels and wears us out quickly. The most efficient way to use muscles is minimally, contracting only those necessary to create the given movement while all others remain relaxed, ready to fire explosively if needed in order to change movements and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

Guided Chaos exercises train the practitioner to relax so that they may avoid putting the brakes on their own movement, and so that they can change movements instantly in order to adapt. Pliability also makes the practitioner safer.


Grand Master Perkins:

Think of it this way: there's always someone stronger than you, and more than likely it will be your attacker. Why fight muscle with muscle? Think of a surfer: he cannot hope to change the direction of an ocean wave weighing 100 tons or more. He flows with it, skittering on it's surface and instantly reacts to changes in speed and direction. The application for fighting is you must train your nervous system to flow through openings and find them unconsciously by feel--and not exclusively by sight.

Get Loose or Get Broken…

Looseness in many respects is more mental than physical. In my view it is probably 90% mental and maybe 10% physical development, which explains why a person with limited physical ability can remain illusive while maintaining the ability to strike with supernatural speed and power, seemingly at will, from almost impossible angles.  Looseness,
therefore, is important to the development of speed and penetrating power.

For those still confused as to why Looseness is crucial to surviving a real confrontation, Grand Master Perkins offers the following:
 
You're 5 foot 10, weigh a well-muscled 200 pounds and can bench press 300. That's impressive... but meaningless if your attacker is 6'2", weighs 250 and benches 400. There's always someone stronger. Remember: stone shatters and water flows. You've got to be loose to survive impacts. What do we mean by looseness? Looseness means the minimum muscular tension to keep you standing. The feeling is like a marionette on strings, a wet dishrag, a drunken chimpanzee, whatever. The point is, when you're hit, you feel like jello to the opponent, and your limbs bend like spring steel or a well-oiled mannequin. Using the opponent's incoming energy and reversing it, like a spring or rubber band, amplified by your whole body moving together in a relaxed coordinated way, you need to add practically no muscular input of your own, which keeps you responsive, sensitive and balanced, much more so than if you commit full muscular grunting exertion which over-commits your balance, tightens your muscles, and actually slows you down and makes you incapable of reacting to a change in your opponent's tactics, energy or direction.

There is a split second of full tension at the moment of impact of your strike in KCD (this is analogous to the snapping action of a whip--or a sneeze, as we like to say). But since you can generate power with hardly any room or any need to chamber a strike with Dropping Energy (shown in great detail in The Attackproof Companion Video Part 1), you telegraph nothing to your attacker. Obviously, these qualities of movement must be practiced conscientiously in a free form spontaneous way in order to become ingrained in your nervous system...


Rather than try to describe it (which is difficult at best) I\'ve attached a few diagrams to aid in your understanding of this concept. Bare in mind that this is looseness or pliability at its most "rudimentary" level and is in no way limited to what I am showing here. I merely present this to make this more understandable since words can\'t do this vital concept justice. If you haven't read or seen some of the examples we show in "Attack Proof" I suggest you re-reread it for a more in-depth understanding.

In all of the diagrams the "Blue" man represents the good guys and the "Red", well, they're the bad guys because that's the way we do it in the military, also no wise cracks about my "Stick Men".

Okay here we go.

Fig 1 – No Pocketing

In Fig 1
the Blue man (good guy) gets penetrated as he is struck by the Red man because he doesn't "Pocket" (explained below). This is because the Blue body remains available to the Red man's strikes. 1b shows a better view if this. This type of motion and lack of suppleness is common in most martial arts systems especially, the external styles.  I have also found this same fatal flaw in many internal arts where they tend to focus on their arm and hand development and fail to develop responsive loosenes in the body. When you past their arms, their body gets penetrated.

Fig 2 - Basic Pocketing / Yielding

Now in Fig 2a we see what is called basic pocketing or yielding. Notice as the Red man strikes the Blue man pockets by "concaving" his body in the affected are. 2b shows a side view of this. In doing so you create space for yourself while taking it away from him all at the same time. Notice that the Blue man does not "back up" as he creates space for himself. In doing so you prevent yourself from getting penetrated as you enter. In Fig 2c you can see that as you create space you are also able to strike simultaneously thus you become "the sponge with the spike in it". Fig 2d shows a better view of this. Again, notice that as the Blue man pockets, he controls his space as he enters in. Key points: when you loosen and yield or pocket you must sink your weight over your root and resist the temptation to rise up. Another key point to remember is pocketing has limits and your body can fold only so much. This is why you must also turn and step off-line simultaneously.

Fig 3 - Basic Turing off Line like a Turnstile

In Fig 2, in order to avoid being penetrated, you turn off line at the point of attack. As shown in Fig 3a, you are able to negate his power and create space for yourself while taking it away from your opponent simultaneously. His strike skims off your body and thus lacks power because his primary target has been "removed". In Fig 3c and d you can see that as you turn like a "turnstile" (as Grand Master Perkins describes it) you are able to penetrate from another angle, "finding the straight line in the circle" while remaining unavailable yet unavoidable. 
    
Fig – 4 Pocketing and Turning as you enter [this is what you want to do…]

Now pay close attention to this because this is what you want to do where possible. Since you already know that pocketing is good, and you know that turning off line as you step in to strike is good, then why not do them all at the same time? Fig 4 is pretty self-explanatory so I'll just cover the key points. As you pocket, turn, step in and strike you want to do them all at the same time.  As you deal with his strikes, resist the temptation to try to control or stop his strikes, allow his strikes to pass you by as you penetrate his center. Using your sensitivity you should only remain aware of his limbs as you pass them by.  Finally as you move in this manner ensure that you only move "as little" as you need to in order to avoid his strikes. One of the major mistakes that I constantly see in the martial arts is that people try to either stop things or they try block the strikes away.  As a result, they give up their arms, thus increasing the time it takes for their own weapons to recover. As Grand Master Perkins has stated, by remaining passive (Yin) as you enter, you are able to slip, slide and skim your way through as you enter to penetrate.

Fig 5 - Advanced: Pocketing, Turning, Taking Space and then Dropping the Body into the Attacker [This is way cool…]

This concept is virtually identical to Fig 4 except for the fact that after you clear his weapons, as you step in, you are going to "tool replace" your hands or arm with your body by placing your body against theirs. In doing so you free up your hands to pummel them at will. Also notice in Fig 5c that as you drop in you can engage in "multi-hitting" (see Attack Proof) since both of your hands are now free. Notice in Fig 5d the funny looking arrow on the backside of the attacker. That arrow indicates that as you either step in to take his space or drop against his body that you maintain contact with your body, penetrating his center and keeping him off balance, thus preventing him from getting loose and keeping him out of the fight. Also notice that your body at this point can actually pocket into him, rocking his body as you drop. 

I hope this newsletter helps in your overall understanding of how to work to develop your sense of Looseness for offensive combat. Please keep in mind that this newsletter only scratches the surface of this limitless principle. As always, for a more in depth understanding please refer to "Attack Proof".

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