Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More pieces of the puzzle - Musubi, fascia and the body

The martial arts are very much like a puzzle to me.  With each new piece, vague shapes and ideas start to take form.  You get hints or glimpses of the bigger picture when each successful piece finds it's home. Of course, with each pieced placed, you realize the whole picture is bigger than you thought.  I love that.

I read an interesting article over at The Dragon's Orb by Sensei Strange on the concept of Musubi. There's also some great video clips to be seen.  I recommend you read it.

Musubi is an interesting concept central to many Aiki-based arts.  It's definition or translation is somewhat vague depending on where you look.  It can mean connecting two things, it can be displayed or described as a knot.  It can mean to bind together, or to combine.  It can also mean a sushi like dish made of spam, rice and nori, but I digress.

We often talk about becoming one with our opponent, about accepting their energy.  This is also related to the concept of Musubi, of connecting two things, be they people or energy.  

Just as the word Musubi has differing definitions, martial artists have different interpretations of what it is, and of how to do it.  The one thing most of us know is that when someone has a high skill level in aiki, there are times it seems that you must comply with their touch or technique.  It's difficult to explain, but if you've felt it,  you'll know what I mean.  With my own Sensei, there are times that he moves me so easily that it's clear he's not using any strength.  I feel compelled physically to go with the movement.  There are also times where the slightest movements on his part cause major disruptions to my center of balance.  A shrug or a flick of a wrists sends me flying.  There are also times I've grabbed him and when he moves, it seems I can't let go.  Weird but wonderful.  My interpretation is that all these examples are tied into Musubi.

This video was posted on The Dragon's Orb, and it is Lowry Sensei's interpretation of Musubi.  Here it is:

Interesting.  Try the things he's showing and you'll definitely get a sense of what he's talking about.

After watching the video, I started pondering why this works.  

A while back, I posted on the topic of fascia and power generation.  I was going to try to do a re-cap but I've decided to re-post instead as I feel it sums up the topic quite nicely (if I do say so myself...)  So from June 2010:

"I've been doing some preliminary research and reading on fascia. Fascia is a band of fibrous gel- like connective tissue that runs all through our bodies. It surrounds our muscles and essentially is part of all our movement.

Recent research is indicating that fascia plays far more of a role in the generation of power and strength. Some are theorizing that there really are no isolation movements for muscles. Fascia plays a part in all movement.

This elastic type skeletal covering acts like a rubber band. If you can stretch it and release, lots of power is generated.

An athlete trainer I know tried to explain some of what fascia does and how manipulating it can cure or improve other areas. And the area where the problem surfaces may not be where you treat it. (anyone see a traditional Chinese medicine tie-in?).

The trainer said when you tuck in a dress shirt too tightly, you have trouble raising you arms all the way above your head, indicating a shoulder mobility problem. By loosening the shirt at the waist, un-tucking it a little bit, you can easily lift your arm. Fascia is sort of like the shirt. Stretch it properly and other problems can clear up.

This is an oversimplification of course, but it gives an idea.

It is theorized that Bruce Lee's one inch punch is a result of a healthy fascia and his ability to use his body as one, stretching and snapping his rubber band like fascia.

Fascia also learns to adapt to what it's subjected to over time. This may be why our hip movement is so poor. Being a generation that spends that majority of it's time sitting, the fascia adapts to being in this position. This is why it's so important to stretch out your hips.

Martial artists know that power comes from the hips, so this is particularly relevant. Active functional stretching is important for mobility, power and injury prevention.

I will continue to research these findings and see if adding some of the recommendations has a positive impact on my training and movement."

I suspect that fascia comes into play in the technique demonstrated by Lowry Sensei in his interpretation of Musubi on the video.  Too deep a pressure on the arm, and you're fighting muscle and bone.  Too light and you're just pulling or pinching skin. 

The pressure that makes this successful seems to be just enough to manipulate your fascia.  This is just a working theory of mine, but I think I may be on to something.  Just as the example of the shirt tucked in too tight in my original article affects other areas, so would Lowry Sensei's example affect other parts of the body.

By taking up the 'slack' as he described it, you pull on the gel like elastic band, so while the forearm is the point of contact, the 'pull' is experienced throughout the rest of the body structure.  

does work.  That's not to suggest I'm not interested in the scientific reasons behind them, I just don't always need to know them first.  I'm also a firm believer that if a 'feeling' assists you in achieving a technique, it's not always necessary to break it down to it's nuts a bolts, at least not at first.  I also suspect there may be some things that defy scientific explanation.  Magic versus science.  Yikes.

As for this example though, learning a bit about fascia may open up new areas or understanding and experimentation in your training.  It may also explain why more isn't always better, or why we're often told not to work so hard when practicing technique.  It also goes a long way to explain why you feel compelled to comply with a talented aiki practitioner's techniques that seem devoid of any use of strength or effort.

Food for thought.

I'd also like to welcome the new followers to this blog.  Glad you've chosen to follow my journey.


  1. Double stunned!

    Someone read my blog! Someone actually learned something from my drivel!

    If you are into musubi George Ledyard's DVD about connection is good to pick up.

  2. Fascinating, really fascinating, definitely a new topic to explore...thanks!

  3. Sensei Strange,

    Thanks for the motivation. I'll have to check out that DVD as well.


    It really is interesting. I've been tugging and pulling on my training partners lately and having a fair amount of success by trying to shift that fascia layer (some strange looks, but it's working...). I'll be exploring further. Happy you enjoyed the post.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this! I'm researching fascia and your post really simplifies the explanation and the importance of it in generating power and agility!

  5. Jennifer,

    I'm very happy if it helped a bit. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Sorry about the late reply, this last week has been madness for me. Cheers!