I was practicing my tai chi long form on 4 April 2012. Lately, I have been focusing keeping the head suspended while lengthening the spine and sinking into the ground. I have been emphasizing these points by practicing the form with a book on my head. Practicing the form in this fashion encourages activation of the stabilizer muscles, engagement of and stability through the core and the proper mechanics of establishing a solid base and extending through the extremities. This is typically done slowly and with focus.
During my practice session, some Tae Kwon Do (TKD) stylists came in to share the space for their practice. I was happy to share with them as it was an opportunity to practice being aware of my surroundings while focusing on the task at hand. Upon finishing, I explained to them the effects of what I was doing on overall technique and application. I even suggested that they could do the same thing with some of their basic martial arts kata. This idea did not go over well; the elder TKD practitioner said that the book would fall off and one of the younger practitioners stated that they would not be able to do it. Sadly, these statements made me realize that the principles of core stability, in some cases, are not being widely taught within the context of martial arts (in general) and martial arts kata (specifically).
I felt obliged to write this blog about martial arts kata and core stability. Martial Arts Kata is the preset series of movements that are designed to teach the practitioner direction of attack, sequencing of technique and application of technique. As one’s level of practice advances, the techniques in the kata can be broken down and contemplated upon for purposes of application in various scenarios. Kata is part of more traditional styles of martial arts but their applicability to fighting, if practiced diligently, cannot be overstated.
‘Core Stability‘ is defined as the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities. *
Core training typically involves engaging the core musculature from an anchored position. In higher levels of motion and force production, it is necessary for the core to stabilize in a manner that allows for adequate delivery of force from a stable base, through the hips, to the end of the terminal limb (legs/feet or arms/hands). This means that training methods should be focused on strengthening the core/abdominals as a prelude to developing core stability and strength. The progression from core/abdominal strength to core stability will ensure that the work to be done will proceed from a strong and stable foundation.
Core muscle activity is best understood as the pre-programmed integration of local, single-joint muscles and multi-joint muscles to provide stability and produce motion. This results in proximal stability for distal mobility, a proximal to distal patterning of generation of force, and the creation of interactive moments that move and protect distal joints. *
As training ensues, it is good to have strength in the major muscle groups. However, the major muscles groups are not solely responsible for the stabilization that is necessary for optimal force production. Training methods that elicit core stabilization will set the stage for the synaptic patterning necessary for coordinated neuromuscular activity. When the core is stable and strong, a strong base can be established prior to executing the desired movement. The core is responsible for the generation of powerful, fluid movement, instead of brute force from the extremities being the sole method of force generation.
Evaluation of the core should be dynamic, and include evaluation of the specific functions (trunk control over the planted leg) and directions of motions (three-planar activity). *
This will involve some balance work. For example, from a contralateral stance, standing on the left leg, and having a handle attached to a cable tower in the right hand, is it possible for an individual to generate enough force to extend the arm forward, with good form, while overcoming 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs of resistance? It is possible. These types of drills should be part of training for those who pursue athletic activities or a more active lifestyle. These types of drills elicit activation of the deep stabilizer muscles as well as the core musculature. The stabilizers and the core should not be overlooked.
I have put together some video that displays a method of developing core stability within the context of performing a martial arts kata. In the first instance (Video I), there is no stimuli for stabilizing the core other than my movements. In the second instance (Video II), I am more stable through the core while executing the same movements at a slower pace, due to having placed a book on my head.
* This is taken from the summary of:
The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function, Kibler, W Ben1; Press, Joel2; Sciascia, Aaron1, 2006
Harold is a Certified Personal Trainer, a 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher, a 1st Degree Black Belt with the ATA, a 1st Degree Black Belt in Kajukenbo and a Tai Chi Therapist.