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Brachial Plexus and Subclavian Artery

Brachial Plexus and Subclavian Artery

Martial artists often train in a posture that I refer to as the “closed chest, inside fighting” position. This involves tightening the abs, flexing the pecs, serratus, teres major, lats, and obliques, while rotating the shoulders forward and pulling them down. This position makes the ribs much less vulnerable to strikes, and although it restricts breathing, it does make it much harder for someone to knock the wind out of you.  In some schools this is the principal posture from which techniques are practiced and executed. While this sort of training can be very useful,  it can cause or contribute to a number of problems including shoulder impingement, neck pain, head aches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Falling, as when taking ukemi, can have similar consequences. Active measures should be employed to ensure that one can maintain good posture when off of the training floor, and to maintain mobility in the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle.

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) can cause chronic pain, weakness, or  numbness in the arm and shoulder. Here are a couple TOS related sites that you should take a minute or two to read:

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

From the “Your Orthopaedic Connection” site.


Thoracic outlet syndrome gets its name from the space (the thoracic outlet) between your collarbone (clavicle) and your first rib. This narrow passageway is crowded with blood vessels, muscles, and nerves. If the shoulder muscles in your chest are not strong enough to hold the collarbone in place, it can slip down and forward, putting pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that lie under it.

Read the rest here.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

From MedicineNet.Com


What is thoracic outlet syndrome?
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition whereby symptoms are produced from compression of nerves or blood vessels, or both, because of an inadequate passageway through an area (thoracic outlet) between the base of the neck and the armpit.

Read the rest here.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
From the VascularWeb.Org site.


What is thoracic outlet syndrome?
Your thoracic outlet is a small space just behind and below your collarbone. The blood vessels and nerves that serve your arm are located in this space. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is the presence of hand and arm symptoms due to pressure against the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet area.

Read the rest here.

Here are some videos of exercises that I recommend to my students to help them maintain good posture (the first one gets TKRI props for using tape and tennis balls):


This is a series of basic drills we use at TKRI-MO to enhance student’s ability to move in relation to a threat while simultaneously motivating the importance of “getting inside” when it is strategically useful. The “LARP” stick is just padded PVC.

We do not pretend that this drill is at all sufficient for representing movement in relation to strong “motivated” attackers (either armed or unarmed). This set of drills is designed to begin getting students moving fluidly, and thinking about movement in relation to a threat.

Gradually we edit out less efficacious gestures, identify strategically useful ones, relate those to techniques, and then drill and integrate those techniques into more “realistic” and spirited encounters. This helps to establish for the students a “schema” or context for the techniques.

At TKRI we make a careful distinction between evasion, parrying, and blocking. This drill helps students experience first hand the difference in the metabolic challenges (to the defender) between evading (in which the entire body must move in relation to the attack),  parrying (in which some redirection of the attack is allowed while simultaneously moving the intended target), and blocking (which requires one to either forcibly redirect the trajectory of the attack, or stop the momentum of the attack entirely).

Here is the video:

In response to some curious/critical  e-mails:

Yes, one of the guys is wearing his old BJJ gi top in these videos. Do not worry we are not going all MMA/BJJ  (although there are certainly worse things we could do). It is cold here and has been raining for days. The field we train in is pretty swampy. No one wants to muddy up their nice “whites”, and blue does not show grass stains as badly. The gi top is thick and warm.

Of course I am kind of proud of the guys for getting out there and training in the cold and rain. They train whenever they can, where ever they can, wear what seems appropriate for the conditions, make their own training tools, and they seem to like to hit anything that I explicitly do not tell them not to. They hit pretty hard too. Sort of like  a “folk” art I think.

A properly stacked body’s inherent elasticity will absorb and rebound the force of striking an opponent most effectively in a certain direction.  This is called the body’s power line.  The goal of learning to be stacked and developing our kinesthetic sense is to maximize our ability to generate power in technique and be able to maintain this power line in relation to our opponent at all times.

In addition, we can use ground reaction force to “bounce” out of our frame.  When we compress our weight into the ground, it exerts an equal and opposite force against us, which stretches the muscle-tendon complexes.  This “loading,” as it is called, causes a storage of potential energy.  That energy enables us to spring forward into the opponent as the muscles shorten, or contract, during the “unloading” phase.  Developing this elastic strength is the goal of modern plyometric training. 

These are all aspects of compression.  But, it’s important to always remember that alignment comes first.  Compressing a body that is not properly aligned can lead to injury.  Often, we need to prepare our bodies for more stressful activities through physical therapy or corrective exercises.  Don’t be in a hurry to do the rough stuff.  Your body will thank you, later.

Rotation, or swinging the body around an axis, generates angular momentum.  Some form of compression always initiates the rotation of the body.  And, we rarely use pure angular momentum.  Practical applications will usually combine rotation with body shifting.

Body shifting is the primary method of generating linear momentum and always involves some sort of footwork, either a specific stepping method or, at least, a change in stance.  We use footwork to generate momentum by putting the entire body mass in motion.  The best example of this is Jack Dempsey’s “falling step.”

In the 1950 classic book, Championship Fighting, Dempsey gives a detailed description of punching mechanics.  He divides a punch into two parts:  (a) setting the weight in motion, and (b) relaying the moving weight to a desired point on an opponent with a stepped-up impact or explosion.

Dempsey uses two examples to illustrate the force of gravity.  First, he asks the reader to imagine what would happen if a baby fell from a fourth-floor window and struck a truck driver in the head, standing on the sidewalk below.  Obviously, we would predict serious injury to the man on the sidewalk.  As Dempsey wrote, “Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.”

In the second example, we picture a boy sledding down a snowy hill.  The slope of the hill prevents him from falling straight down, but it is still the force of gravity that propels him.  At the bottom of the hill, the boy will continue sledding at a right angle to the straight-down pull of gravity for a while.  This demonstrates that weight-in-motion can be deflected away from the perpendicular.

Dempsey goes on to describe how these principles apply to the performance of his falling step.  When standing with his weight on the front leg, he causes himself to fall by stepping without shifting the weight to his back leg first.  This allows the force of gravity to set his body weight in motion.  He then redirects that motion forward by pushing off the rear foot.

This motion will be conveyed to the opponent as we literally “catch” ourselves by planting our fist in him.  If the momentum is transferred correctly through our power line, we will be able to explode into the opponent with our stacked frame.  This can be considered the “follow-through” part of the technique and has to do with proper timing and distancing.  These we practice by hitting the makiwara or heavy bag…and karate people love to hit stuff, right?!?

My next article will discuss moving rhythmically as a coherent unit centered in the hips to conclude this series on the basic principles of body use.

Steve Klausmeier has an eclectic martial arts background spanning more than 20 years. We are glad to have him as a new contributor to TKRIBlog. Watch for more of his posts.

Learning to Stand Up Straight

To a beginner, the variety of martial arts styles and techniques can seem a bit overwhelming. But, they are all nothing more than examples of how to use one human body to disrupt the function of another. So, our first task is to understand what constitutes the proper functioning of a human body in the first place. Then, we can apply these principles to our own body and experience how it feels. The objective of martial arts is to maintain this feeling at all times. During solo practice, we develop a kinesthetic sense of our own body and ingrain the correct principles of movement. Through sparring practice, we learn how to keep this feeling under the pressure of an opponent trying to break us down. So, what are the principles of a properly functioning body? In general, there are only two:

Align with Gravity

Avoid Excess Muscular Tension

We live our entire lives within a gravitational field. Our bodies are designed to withstand the constant downward pressure of that force. So, it’s no big deal. In fact, astronauts who spend an extended period of time in space begin to experience negative effects from weightlessness. Gravity is our friend. When our skeletal frame is aligned properly, the force of gravity passes through our joints directly into the ground. Bob refers to this condition as being “stacked,” but you will hear others refer to the same idea using many different terms. It’s common to hear people say that someone is “rooted.” Tim Cartmell calls it true balance. In Taiji, they talk about ward-off energy. It’s all the same thing. And, when you are able to maintain the feeling of it, the additional force of striking an opponent will pass through your frame just as easily as gravity does. In fact, your body’s connective tissues have a certain amount of elasticity and force will actually rebound. We all possess this intrinsic strength. But, people who don’t understand the mechanics of it can sometimes be fooled into thinking it involves some sort of mysterious power.

So, how do we get stacked? The first thing to consider is bilateral symmetry. When standing naturally, the left and right sides of the body should be should be mirror images of each other. If one foot is turned out more, or one shoulder is higher, that indicates some type of dysfunction. Other than rare birth defects, that’s not “just the way you are.” Injuries, or bad habits, often create imbalances in our posture. The traditional practice of holding fighting stances for extended periods of time was an attempt to develop the stabilizing muscles needed to maintain proper alignment of the joints. Bob incorporates modern exercises into his classes designed to address common problems associated with karate training. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard exercise program that can be taught to ensure proper function. Corrective exercises have to be assigned based on each person’s specific needs.

Next, integrity of the spine. Hips and shoulders must always remain in line to avoid any twisting of the spine. Lifting the crown of the head will naturally pull the chin in, preventing excessive cervical curvature. And, lifting the chest inhibits a “hunchback” effect. Sometimes, using mental images can help develop the feeling of being stacked. Imagine balancing a phone book on top of your head or having a fishhook caught underneath the sternum. In general, there should be an overall feeling of lengthening the body. To maintain the natural lumbar curve, always lean forward by bending at the hip joint, not the waist. And, when squatting, the torso should be parallel to the shins.

Finally, maintain the integrity of the lower leg. The knee must always point in the same direction as the toes and never extend beyond them. Any twisting can damage the knee, and too much forward bend prevents force from being transferred properly through the heel into the ground. Imagining a tack underneath the arch of your foot can help align the ankle properly.

The process of becoming stacked usually involves learning to release compensating muscles and rediscover the body’s design. A state of constant tension naturally exists, between flexion and extension. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to move. However, correctly aligning the body minimizes this tension. With the bones properly balanced on top of one another, or stacked, less muscular effort is required to maintain an erect posture. But, when injuries or bad habits create a postural imbalance, some muscles will be forced to compensate with extra effort, while others become weak from lack of use. Making sure we are always using the right muscles for the job is one of the most important considerations of our training.

All martial arts techniques involve the expression of momentum. That’s how we disrupt the proper function of the opponent’s body. Any unnecessary muscular tension can inhibit the transfer of momentum into your opponent. My next article will discuss the primary methods a properly stacked body will use to generate momentum.

"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


September 2019
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