In Search of Efficiency Part Eleven: Loose

Words are very important to me. As a person who tries to translate the movements of self defence into the written word they mean a lot.

Different words resonant with people. My job is to try and find the words that resonate with as many people as I can. I admit a bias in that I have to select the words that resonate with me first.

“Loose” is one of those words.

Very often you will hear instructors tell their students to relax. The definition of “relax” is to cause or allow to become loose or slack or limp.

“Slack “is defined as sluggish, lacking energy, activity, firmness or tautness. I don’t want to be sluggish in defending myself. So of the ways to interpret relax I do not want “slack.”

“Limp” is defined as easily bent and not springing back into shape, without will or energy. Once again because another principle we will get to is tendon power or the inherent spring of our bodies to lose that and be limp is definitely not desired. Nor do I want to be without will or energy. We see this a lot when instructors tell students to relax they go limp or rag doll and it never goes well. I also found personally when I tried to “relax” my mind went limp too – not good for self defence.

“Loose” is defined as released from bonds or restraints, detached, not contained. To loosen means to become less tight and that is what we are really after.

Because of this thing I have with words I talk about being loose or loosening rather than relaxed.

I’m going to make a bold statement and say that tensing never helps anything in self defence.

When I began my martial training like many people I was taught to tense every muscle at the end of strike. Why? Tensing the muscles brings everything to a halt. It stops and prevents movement. When hitting something the only thing I want slowing me down is my weapon penetrating their mass.

We know when striking that you hit through and not “to” the target so I want to penetrate with a strike. Let’s do a few small experiments. The first one comes from Peter Ralston.

1. Stand in front of a wall but far enough away you cannot reach it.
2. Throw a punch and tense at the end but do not retract the strike.
3. With you arm extended move until your fist touches the wall.
4. Retract the strike and loosen your muscles and keep them loose.
5. SLOWLY, and I mean slowly go through the motion of slowly throwing the same strike but with looseness.

You will find the loose strike would have traveled another three or more inches minimum. This is why it has to be done slowly or else you hammer the wall with a strike.

Second experiment:

1. Hold a hand pad up for your partner to hit.
2. Tense every muscle you have.
3. When your partner throws a punch at the pad you are going to try and move it out of the way before it hits. Remember you are starting with our muscles clenched tight as you can.
4. Now loosen every muscle, keep them loose and repeat trying to move the pad before your partner hits it.

You will find when tense they hit the pad and when loose you can move it before they do.
Third experiment:

1. Your partner holds the pad.
2. You are a distance that takes a small slide step to hit the pad.
3. Tense every muscle you have and then slide and hit the pad.
4. Your partner is going to try and move the pad before you hit it.
5. Now loosen all your muscles and repeat trying to hit the pad before your partner moves it.

Here we find when tense they can move the pad but when we are loose we hit it.

Fourth and last experiment:

1. Stand in front of your partner just within arm’s reach and tense every muscle you have.
2. Your partner is going to try and touch the top of your chest.
3. You try to move back or to the side to avoid being touched.
4. Now loosen all your muscles and repeat.

You will find trying to move when all your muscles are tense means you have to release them before you can making it hard to get out of the way of that touch.

So, striking and moving are inhibited by being tense and being loose makes them work better – pretty much means tense isn’t good for anything but being loose makes it all work much better.

Now, you might use dynamic tension in your training but that is a training tool for a specific purpose and not what I am talking about here.

Another factor that enters into this are “tells.” Tells are something that gives away what you are about to do and one of the biggest and easiest to read tell is tension. If you need tension to move, then you are sending signals out before you do.

We have talked about emptying the foot to engage gravity to enhance movement and that principle cannot be done without being loose. In addition, we often place impediments in our own way. We tense muscles that are actually inhibiting the movement we want. Learning which muscles to loosen and which to use is another topic.

For now, I will leave you with the fact that I believe in being loose and that tension does not help anything. As demonstrated in the experiments tension detracts from performance and looseness improves it.

So, stay loose.