I was so amazed by what I learned, I had to write about it.
I only wish all of you could have been there with me that day.
A little background
As some of you may or may not know, I have a few hobbies outside of boxing, one of them being tango. My brother is a 2-time USA tango champion and 3rd place in the world in 2011. He recommended for me to take a private lesson from one of his teachers and so I did.
This is a guy who had been dancing for 40 years. And also done martial arts for nearly just as long. He looks about 55, white hair with a calm, relaxed smile. He stands completely relaxed but walks as smooth as a cat. And when he turns, it’s as swift as a snake. You get the feeling you’ve met a real life ninja.
Unfortunately, I will not tell you his name.
The Private Lesson Being relaxed to MAXIMIZE CONTACT WITH THE GROUND
He asked me, “So what are your problems? What do you want to fix?”
I told him, “I’ve been dancing for a year and a half and also boxing for nearly 10 years. I want to become heavier, I want more balance, more power, more grounding.”
And then he asked me, “And how are you trying to balance yourself?”
I replied, “Through proper body positioning, alignment of the spine, and then core strength to maintain the tension and contact with the ground through the legs.”
He smiled and said “come over here”. He knelt down to the ground and placed his hand flat on the ground. And explained “See how when my hand is relaxed, it lays flat on the ground? Completely spread out and has as much contact with the ground as possible If i try to grab the ground or create tension through my fingers, part of my hand lifts off the ground, lifts my body weight, lifts my center of gravity, and decreases my connection to the ground.”
I nodded in agreement as he continued.
“…you cannot create balance with tension. Because all tension goes up. I nodded my head again but he still didn’t believe that I fully understood.”
“Have you ever tried to carry a sleeping person?”
- I had to think about the last time I did this.
- I nodded my head laughing.
not the most tensed.
“Let me show you 3 positions.”
“This is tense.”
- He stood straight up and puffed his chest out. Arms and knees totally locked.
- Still standing striaght but his arms relaxed and his knees softened although he still appeared straight.
- He let his shoulders sag as his chest caved inwards and his head hunched over a bit.
“The reason why we want to be relaxed is because it gives us FREEDOM. We have the most balance, the most power, and also the most freedom to move in whatever way we want.” He swung his arms around back and forth while his body stayed glued to the ground.
“If you are tense and try to hold a frame, you limit your freedom. Maybe you hold a certain frame or position for more balance or for more power. But then you cannot move from this frame because then you will lose your balance. This is not freedom. You are stuck and trapped. and the tension you carry makes it easy for your opponent to push you over.”
“On the other hand, if you are collapsed and sagging you also limit your freedom. You cannot move freely if your body is bent over in an angle and can’t move because you’re off-balanced to one side or have extra pressure on your joints. Moving from a collapsed position is difficult because you need to create tension to move.”
He went on to show me how to “relax” my back and how to “relax” my legs. It was funny being taught precisely how to bend my knees but boy was it effective!
“There are basically 3 versions of all positions: tense, relaxed, and collapsed. You have to find the RELAXED POSITION. This will give you the most freedom to move.”
The RELAXED position gives you the most freedom.
“Show me how you walk balanced.”
- I started walking across the floor smoothly but cautiously with my arms out like wings. Immediately he yelled out at me.
“Let go of the tension. Put the arms down. You cannot fall to the side if you don’t have any tension pulling you to the side. Keep your arms inside and the only way you can fall is down!”
When your body is relaxed, it will fall down. If you fall to the side (OFF BALANCE), it’s because something or some tension somewhere did not let it fall down. When tension blocks your body from falling down, it then falls to the side.
Let go and let your body fall down. Your body has to release to fall down, maybe it has to twist somewhere, or release a certain area of tension. You have to become more aware of tension in your body in order to release it.
tension prevents your body from falling down.
BECOME relaxed with awareness, NOT tense in focus
“You have to be strong in presence. And presence means to be aware and to be focused, not to be tensed. To be present somewhere, you have to relax there, not become more tense there. Many people have a problem where the more they focus on something, the more tense they become there. You have to do the opposite. Become more aware and more focused so that you can relax in that area and become more present, not more tense.”
Presence starts in the core
“You have to be present in the chest. Everything, 100% attention goes to the chest. Not the legs, not the arms, not the shoulders, or the back. Relax and be present in the chest so that the chest can connect to the ground. If the top of the body is not connected to the ground, you are not balanced and you’re only working against gravity, not with it.”
He made me walk across the floor again. This time he followed along and commented every time he saw tension.
“RELAX THE ARMS!”
“RELAX YOUR LEFT SHOULDER!”
“YOUR LOWER RIGHT BACK!”
Every time he noticed an area, he would touch it with his finger and because I could feel his touch and become aware, I was able to immediately relax that area. It was amazing how accurate he was simply by looking at me. I’m sure he’d fetch a great pay as a masseuse.
Trusting the ground
“Here, feel how I walk”. He had me place my hands on his chest as he walked into me. And sure enough, he felt much MUCH heavier than he looked. It felt like I was being pushed by a car on neutral.
All of the sudden, he surprised me by leaning to one side and I immediately tensed up to regain my balance. I smiled already knowing what he was going to say.
“Many people become more tense when they lose their balance. This makes it easier for them to fall. If you are losing balance, you need to relax more to connect with the ground, not become more tense and throw yourself off the ground.”
I nodded my head in agreement but he didn’t believe I fully understood the concept.
- “Come here, sit down in the chair.” We both sat down as he looked over and asked, “How do you feel?”
- I feel relaxed.
- And why do you feel relaxed?
- Because I’m sitting down and don’t have to hold myself up.
- But you can still choose to have tension in your body even when you’re sitting down, right?
- Yes but I don’t need to have tension because I know the chair is going to hold me.
“It’s because you trust the chair!”
“That’s the problem with many people. They don’t trust the ground to hold them. They become more tense when they lose their balance because they don’t trust the ground. If you can relax the same way on the ground like you do with the chair, the ground will hold you.”
“The ground is your friend. If you know how to connect with the ground, you will have an extra friend in your fight. The ground will hold you up, give you power, and give you freedom to move. If you do not let the ground hold you, you will have to hold yourself. And if you’re too busy holding yourself, you won’t be free to move. and you have no balance. Don’t fight the ground, let the ground hold you.
“The problem with many athletes is that they have so much muscle and have learned how to use tension over the years. They trust the tension in their muscle because they’ve been doing it that way for so long. When you know that your muscles are stronger than the other guy’s, you tend to trust your muscle. Now you have to learn how to trust your relaxation. And learn how to relax to connect with the ground.”
“I promise once you learn how to relax and connect to the ground, you will never go back. Because this is the easier way. This is the natural way.”
It’s not that muscle strength is useless, it’s that you want to apply tension at the BEST time. And the best time is when you are at your heaviest and most connected to the ground. Once you are fully relaxed & grounded, all it takes is a little tension to send a lot of force. On the other hand, if you’re not fully relaxed & grounded, you can use a lot of tension and very little of it will transfer.
*** I imagine this is similar to how boxers are taught to relax the punch outwards and tighten their whole body and fist only at the very last moment.
Always relax first, and then tension. Too many people use tension first. Right away, the fastest thing they do is tension and it never works. You always become a block, and fall over. Have to relax first and connect with the ground…and THEN, if you need, TENSION.
The end of the lesson He showed me some simple but very effective balance drills and just like that, our time was up. I wish I could tell you more about what he did and how he did it but some feelings cannot be understood with words. You have to be there and feel it and see it for yourself to really understand. He was more than just relaxed, he was calculated, he was precise, accurate, so present and so aware of everything that was going on. He knew how to adjust his body immediately to any situation.
I felt so relieved for having met him at this point in my life. It took 10 years of boxing to come across knowledge of this level laid out in that manner. But I also felt proud for myself. If that’s the only thing I learned this year, I would say that I learned a lot this year.
As eye-opening as this session was, I’ve also had private lessons with amazing dance teachers who told me the exact opposite. They believed in maintaining balance through tension and that to hold a perfect position required tremendous amounts of muscle and a constant effort. The article you have just read represents one side of the puzzle. In time, I will share the other lessons.