The Structure-Balance Relationship: Part 3

Sinking and Looseness

Sinking creates a state of body-being that draws intrinsic strength from the earth through the body’s structure: a process called rooting. This state is naturally resilient to force and has a quality of springiness. Your body structure becomes a sort of conduit between external forces applied to it and the floor. It’s likely to cause a person to “bounce off” of you when they attempt to use any sort of pushing force. There is a quality of elasticity to it – of holding form. Looseness on the other hand offers no resistance. There is no holding of form. It yields and gives way, making it difficult for another person to find any anchor to your center. In a way, looseness seems to be the opposite of good structure. If one looks deeper however, it becomes evident that they are two complementary sides of the same proverbial coin. No posture/structure can be strong in all directions. Force applied at the right angle with appropriate leverage will still weaken and unbalance it, or the applied force may simply surpass the structure’s limit to withstand it. This shows the limitation when relying purely on rooting your body structure through relaxation and sinking. Looseness breaks the connection between the leverage that a person’s contact point offers on your centers of mass. In other words, if the part of your body another person is applying force to in order to move you, rolls and slides and shifts around your centers of mass, the force they are applying will not reach your centers of mass and therefore, it will be ineffective at unbalancing you. Looseness also has its limits. Anatomically, every part of your body is attached. No matter how loose and mobile that attachment is, it has a limited range of motion. Once reached, the force acting on you will ultimately anchor to your center. For this reason, pushing force is much easier to yield to than pulling force. However, when combined with sinking and good structural alignment, as well as circular and spiraling motion, it is a powerful tool for maintaining balance when somebody else is trying to take it.

Looseness and Circular Motion

We mentioned before that circular motion helps maintain balance because it has a return pattern that prevents the force it generates from pulling your centers of mass outside of your base of support. We also saw how the yielding capacity of looseness is limited by the anatomical range of motion at any given joint of the body. This is true as long as that motion is linear. Circular motions however have no true limit. You can continue to circle within the natural range of motion of a joint without ever reaching its limit. When you combine the yielding capacity of a loose body-structure with circular movement, you get a potentially limitless capacity to yield to external force. That means if you can coordinate the parts of your body to move in complementary circular motions at a congruent pace to the external forces acting on your structure, then you can neutralize those forces before they can anchor onto and have an effect on your centers of mass. Applying this concept comes with its challenges. Circular motions with the arms, and even the legs, are fairly accessible to most people, but circular motions of the torso are more challenging to do and have a more direct effect on structural alignment and balance. To get the yielding benefit of circular motions with the torso without giving up structure and balance, the key is to keep them within your zone of balance.

Momentum and Axial Rotation

One of the greatest challenges to maintaining balance in motion is momentum. For our purposes here, let’s define momentum as the leftover force that continues to move an object through space after the initial action that generated that force has stopped. To illustrate the way that momentum can rob us of balance think about the last time you tripped over something. You generated motion to carry your center of mass forward and lifted a foot to place it ahead of your center creating a new (and very temporary) base of support. However, on its way to that destination, your foot caught on something and was unable to make its crucial appointment. The force you generated to move your center forward was still going, and despite the signal your foot sent your brain to stop all forward action, the momentum of your stepping motion carries you forward and you stumble, and maybe even fall. Momentum is the force acting on an object after the action that generated it has stopped – which means it is motion that is not under our control. For us, this means that we want to minimize the momentum working on our center at any given time. One fundamental way to do this is to avoid generating force by accelerating your center of mass. For example, let’s say you’re pushing someone. The force you generate is intended to drive their center of mass outside their base of support causing them to move, stumble, or even fall. Most people intuitively generate pushing force by bearing their mass forward. This often causes them to lean out of alignment, and even uproot themselves. In the process they create momentum on their own centers, and if the person they are pushing understands how to yield or deflect their motion, that momentum can throw them out of their own base of support. The alternative is much less threatening to your state of balance and far more powerful. Rather than shifting your center of mass, rotate it. By rotating your center of mass on its axis (usually the Y axis) it stays comfortably in the middle of your base of support, and is able to continue to sink into your aligned structure. Done with a relaxed and loose body-state, this motion generates essentially no momentum on your center, allowing you to project massive amounts of force while maintaining balance.

Momentum and Yielding

As much as momentum is something we want to avoid in our own movement, we want to encourage it and utilize it in others. In the art of unbalancing others, we are wise to use as little of our own force as possible. There is a wealth of available forces that can aid us in robbing another of balance. Momentum is chief among these, because it is motion not under control. It is easier to steer an object already in motion than to cause an object at rest to move – even more so when that motion is fully committed and unable to stop. If a person is generating force toward you, particularly to push you back several steps, they will often lean their mass into the effort and generate momentum on their center. There are several ways to make use of this kind of force. To encourage momentum, yield at first (allow the force to move you without resisting it). You need only do this a brief moment. Then you may apply a sudden upward diagonal force, driving their upper-body back and up while the momentum of the lower-body causes it to continue forward. The person’s base of support is then removed by their own momentum. Another way you may take advantage of momentum from a pushing force like that is to yield (offer no resistance) and move off the line of motion (a positional yield), pulling their far-side arm across their upper-body in a downward-diagonal motion (downward spiral force). The momentum will cause their lower-body to flip over the upper-body. A simpler way would be to step aside and extend your own leg across theirs, tripping them. In specific details the list is almost endless. However, in principle, using momentum to unbalance someone is always the same. You yield to their force and use it to fuel your technique.

Momentum and Reaction Force

The forces people generate to stay balanced against disruptive external forces is what I term reaction force. You could also call it “corrective force” because it is the force generated by a person’s attempt to re-center themselves, or to maintain center against an actual or perceived force. That last bit is what makes this such an effective tactic. Most people intuitively know that they need to maintain some vertical alignment to stay balanced and in control of their motion. So, if you push or pull on them in a manner that threatens their center’s position over their base of support, you will likely be met with resistance. That jolt of resistance is reaction force. That reaction allows you to set a person up so that they generate force in the direction you want them to move. For example, say I want to push someone back. I give their shoulders a tug with a short downward-diagonal pull. They respond by using their back muscles to pull backward and upward against my pull. In that moment I change my force to an upward-diagonal push on their shoulders and send them backward off their base of support. The same principle works in any pair of directions. This is an extremely difficult reaction to overcome in one’s own body. It is in our nature to seek to control ourselves and maintain balance. Our knee-jerk response to being forced is to resist. That’s why, if you can make someone think you’re going to force in one direction, you don’t even have to – their resistance to the perceived direction becomes an irresistible reaction. That resisting reaction is similar to momentum in that it is committed and out of a person’s control (can’t stop it once you’ve begun). As a matter of fact, reaction force will tend to follow momentum. If someone generates unbalancing momentum on their body (and you don’t or can’t capitalize on it) then they will undoubtedly have a moment of self-correction. In this case they are reacting to their own momentum force. If you miss the window to use their momentum, use their reaction force.

Reaction Force and Yielding

Yielding was shown to be a valuable tool for encouraging and utilizing another’s momentum. Here we will see that it is also the cure for reaction force in our own bodies. I said reaction force is an irresistible reaction to external forces, and it is, if you are operating under the point of view that you must hold your position and have complete control over your own movement. On the other hand, the reaction to resist can easily be overwritten by changing that point of view and yielding. The more you try to resist the forces working on your centers, the stronger their hold on you. Furthermore, a skilled person will simply use that resistance as reaction force and you’ll lose balance and control anyways. The cure for this is yielding because it denies the other person a connection to your centers. This hearkens back to relaxation, rooting, looseness, and circular motion. Yielding relies on all of those elements. If you develop and employ them in yielding, then the initial force generated on you will not disrupt your centers and your balance will be maintained. Therefore, there is no need for a corrective reaction force.

Listening, Following, and Blending Force

A person may not offer us opportunities such as momentum or reaction force. A more skilled person will remain centered and yielding. As such, it is unlikely we will be able to initiate imbalance in them.
However, any action they initiate to unbalance us can be used. All motion, no matter how correct, generates forces in the body. Whether as a passive support system or an active force generator, every joint and moving part of the body is affected by the motion of every other part. The way forces are generated and transferred through the body to create motion is called a kinetic chain. Most people are not conscious of this interrelationship. That lack of consciousness can be the undoing of even the most rooted and yielding person. Any link in a kinetic chain can be picked up and extended by adding your own force in its wake. The result will be that the person’s structure will collapse in on itself, or cause them to be uprooted, or jam their force into their own joint, etc. This is a far more subtle art than any of the others previously mentioned.
To accomplish this first requires an application of sensitivity I will term listening. This is the careful and accurate feeling of the forces moving through a person’s body – the identification of the kinetic chain at work within them. Somewhere in that kinetic chain is a vector of force (direction and intensity of force) that can be amplified and redirected to undo a person’s alignment and balance. This is found by following their force with your motion. When you can feel that you have connected to the right force in their kinetic chain, you add your force to it. This adding of your own force first amplifies it and then you steer it in a new direction, a direction that will undo their alignment and balance. This I term blending. Before you can succeed in this, you must first establish good rooting and looseness, and be skilled at yielding. You must also learn to generate force using axial rotation and circular motion. Without these skills, you will be too busy fighting to maintain your own balance to so deftly undermine someone else’s.