I first became aware of the center as a concept through Sensei Rick Horton who is an experienced and articulate Karate practitioner. He emphasizes the use of the Center as a focal point through which a person executes a specific task. This can be walking, talking, and even practicing Martial Arts.
Located a few inches below your belly button, the Center has been a fundamental concept in Martial Arts, Spirituality and Yogic practices. It is an important aspect of a human being that is vital to many of our primordial functions, yet it is often misunderstood or neglected.
Our Center is used in breathing, meditation and even movement. Movement is fundamental to human beings. Our survival is dependent on it. As Martial Artists, the better our ability to move, the better we are at expressing our Martial Art and defending ourselves.
Movement requires lots of coordination between our interconnected muscles and tendons. This coordination stems from our complex nervous system which ensures that the right muscles are recruited at the right time to effectively execute a movement. This is the brain-body connection. You need to create, enhance, and maintain neural pathways to move in a specific way. This is called training and the more you train, the more efficiently your body accomplishes the movement by:
- Recruiting more muscle fibers for the task
- Strengthening and optimizing the neural pathway
- Realigning your fascia to better support that movement
Using your Center for movement is an important principle which allows you to move your body as a single cohesive unit. This requires you to be mindful of your Center which you should aim to use to trigger every single movement.
Why would you want to move from your Center?
When sparring, I try not to overcommit my body to an attack so as to hunch my shoulders over my torso and create a bend. This means that when I strike, I need to maintain an upright spine at all times. If I do end up overcommitting and reaching for my opponent, I have lost my center and I have lost my ability to move in any direction as quick as possible. You can see how this can be problematic in a fight.
Even more of a problem is that I am now in a vulnerable position with my head and shoulders protruding from my frame and open to attacks from any direction. Hunching over also limits my ability to take in air so that I can breathe optimally.
How do you move from your Center?
In a fight, I need to close the distance between myself and my opponent. How can this be done without bending over to reach for my opponent? The answer lies in the approach to closing the distance.
As human beings, we understand that in order to close distance, we need to use our legs to make strides in the direction we want to end up. This is fine for walking and running. When striking, our bodies do not follow this natural pattern. We end up lunging and reaching for our opponents’ vulnerable points with our full body weight to exert maximum power.
The way I cover distance during sparring and fighting is to move from my Center. The Center is situated three finger spaces below your belly button. This is also referred to as the Hara in Japanese spiritual practices or the Dantian in the Chinese field of medicine. It is the body’s energy or chi or ki store and is also referred to as the “Seat of your Soul”.
Breathe from your “Center”
Breathing which is also fundamental to life and should also take place from your Center. During deep meditative breathing, air should be inhaled by relaxing and expanding your belly. Air should then be exhaled by contracting your body’s abdominal muscles. In Goju-Ryu Karate, this type of breathing can be found in kata such as Sanchin and Tensho, in which you coordinate your breathing movement from your Center.
The Center and Spirituality
In spiritual practices, the Center is a fundamental concept. As described earlier, it is the “Seat of your Soul”. The Hara in Japanese spiritual belief refers to the center of one’s true nature. The idea that we are not our bodies, and we are not our minds comes from yogic practice. This coincides with the belief that our bodies and consciousness are just transient expressions of our singular and unique essence – our eternal Soul.
Through spiritual practice and mindfulness, our main goal is to connect and align our values and emotions with our true nature. This can be achieved by connecting all that we do to our Center.
Martial Arts for me, is very much a spiritual practice as it is physical and mental strengthening of the body and mind. Expressing myself and moving from my center is just another way for me to connect to my true nature to better understand myself. I seek to make every decision and live every moment from my center, be it executing a side kick or a straight punch, meditating or having a conversation with a friend.
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