By Martin Finnegan
How can the Alexander Technique enhance Martial Arts performance?
This was a question that popped into my mind when one of my first Alexander Teachers suggested we work on a Form that I was learning at the time. He admitted right up front that he knew only a little about martial Arts and nothing about the style of Chinese Kung Fu that I studied. But by the end of that lesson I was amazed that although he didn’t know anything about my style or that form, he knew a lot about how to perform it better, more easily and more efficiently. In fact that lesson changed the whole way I approached the form in the first place, making it much more fluid, flexible and expansive. How can the Alexander Technique do this? Because it is based upon conscious movement and provides you with a set of useful tools that are directly applicable to an activity such as Martial Arts.
In the course of my Alexander studies I came to realize that I didn’t really know how I did most of the techniques. I just kind of did them so that they felt right and my Sifu didn’t seem too displeased. But I didn’t know! I thought I did but I really didn’t know for sure if they were right or not. Many times at training I would think I had done a certain kick or punch perfectly only to be corrected over and over again by my Teacher. This was a source of continual exasperation. I could never seem to get it just right! My teachers were always telling me to relax, not to tense up, keep loose.’ That’s great’ I use to think – but how do I do that exactly. No-one could ever really explain how to do it, to my satisfaction. They just kept telling me to ‘relax’.
Alexander said ” The belief is very generally held that if only we are told what to do in order to correct a wrong way of doing something, we can do it, and that if we feel we are doing it, all is well. All my experience, however, goes to shew that this belief is a delusion.” Alexander’s words described exactly what I was going through and showed up the difficulties of teaching anything new and unfamiliar to people. However after a number of Alexander lessons I started getting the tiniest little glimpse of what was actually going on in my body as I performed any actions, and not just those in the martial arts gym. I started to see the patterns of tension that I used in even the simplest actions. It was this tension that I mistakenly thought added power to my techniques but which in fact made them weaker and more rigid.
So I was introduced to the concept of faulty sensory appreciation. Alexander discovered that his sense of feeling, his kinesthetic sense, was faulty. He realized that he did not know exactly how he used his body and mind in action, but that he always used himself habitually in the way that felt natural to him, and that like everyone else he depended upon this feeling for the correctness or rightness of his movement. Once again my own situation had been described accurately. I relied totally on my feeling to achieve my ends. And it was obvious to me now (and all along to my Sifu) that my kinesthetic sense was distorted and unreliable. So where did that leave me?
Alexander reasoned that if it was possible for his kinesthetic sense to become unreliable, then surely it must be possible to make it reliable and trustworthy again. This is where the technique is an extremely valuable tool because attempting to change by yourself is literally impossible because all we have to go on is a tool – our sensory appreciation- which is already unreliable. Alexander said that “when a person’s sensory appreciation of his use is wrong and his belief as to what he can do and cannot do is based on what he feels, gaining an end by a use that is unfamiliar means for him taking a plunge in the dark.”
It was through Alexander’s discovery of what he called the Primary control or the correct relationship between the head, neck and torso, that enables the improvement in the sensory appreciation of the use of your body or ‘sensory mechanism’. This improvement is associated with an improvement in functioning throughout the organism. This goes to illustrate one of the basic principles of the Alexander Technique – Use affects function. What the technique does is to teach a conscious awareness of your use of your self and it is the improvement in that use that affects dramatically the functions that you call upon your body to perform.
Which brings me back to why my Alexander Teacher could teach me how to enhance my martial arts pattern or form without having to know the specifics about it. He was working at a higher logical level, considering the whole of me and helping to improve my general ‘use’ which profoundly affected the way I performed my forms and techniques. He was literally helping me to make ‘leaps in the dark’ that I would never have made on my own. The Alexander Technique has proved an invaluable tool in aiding me to learn more quickly and efficiently and gain a more profound understanding of human movement and reaction. Now at last I know a little bit more about what all those teachers and instructors meant when they said to me ” just relax “.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Martin’s interest in the Alexander Technique initially came about due to his own recurring lower back problem. After realizing that the Technique was not only a practical and effective method of self care based upon sound principles, but also a powerful tool for personal development, he decided to train as a teacher. He has a long-standing interest in music, martial arts and philosophy and had lived in the Ryde District of Australia for the last 12 years with his family. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.