Secrets of Ancient Martial Arts Masters Revealed!

There are descriptions of proper form/technique from ancient (and recent) martial arts masters of various disciplines.

For the most part, these descriptions are descriptions of symptoms (what the master is noticing internally), or signs (what other people are noticing about the master’s movement/structure).

But only rarely do we (the student, reader, viewer) receive descriptions (and/or instructions) that actually help us to recreate that feeling within ourselves.

It’s part of the difficult thing about movement disciplines in general – How do you relay a bodily feeling in such a way that another person can reproduce it in themselves?

The old martial arts manuals relied heavily on metaphors and poetry (or “songs”). There’d be the the “song of the dragon’s tail,” etc., giving you metaphorical descriptions of the movement in question.

More recent manuals and methods include more “anatomical” descriptions of correct form – “The chest is sunken, the back is straight, the tailbone tucks under” etc.

What all of these instructions and methods are aiming at is describing a physiological state of the body, in which the body is optimized for a certain type of movement.

The Supine Sagittal Stabilization movement in DNS offers another way to achieve the “optimal” posture described by most martial arts masters.

Here’s how you do it:

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DNS – The Foundations of Human Movement – Part 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on DNS…for Part 1, click here, for Part 2, click here.

Part I covered the history and background assumptions of DNS, and went into reasons for its use.

Part II I’ll covered some of the process that I learned at the seminar.

Here in Part III I’m hosting a “philosophical” discussion about movement in the light of DNS and will include some observations of my own around assumptions we make regarding movement in our culture.

I think the second biggest thing that happened for me during the DNS seminar (the first being learning an approach to movement and motor organization that suddenly MADE SENSE) was the experience of multiple coincidences between DNS and other movement methods I’ve learned or been exposed to.

For instance, DNS is similar in ways to the developing field of Functional Neurology, which seeks to address and influence neurological (read: brain) structures through muscular and sensory stimulation.

When you’re doing these “developmental” patterns, you can’t help but think of Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, or the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen or Annie Brook. Why? Because they based their work off an observation that these types of movement patterns are the ones we start with, and are ones that make us feel better.

If we were taking the stance that DNS is accurate we’d say that the principles all of these creators were recognizing were the reflex locomotor ontogenesis of the human animal.

The Big Difference, I think, is that DNS is organizing this approach under a very clear physiological (and developmental) framework, where most somatic disciplines I’ve been exposed to approach their work only from the felt-sense of the body.

Nothing wrong with that, and at the same time, DNS to me has the benefit of having a clear theoretical framework, that can be tested against across individuals. But don’t throw out feeling!

Speaking of “somatics” and movement-based work, what about Gray Cook’s FMS/SFMA (Functional Movement Scree/Selective Functional Movement Assessment) and DNS?

Note – I do not have a certification in either the FMS or SFMA methods. Please correct me if I’m speaking out of turn here.

My take on FMS/SFMA is that they’re useful tools to standardize the assessment process of patients/clients. I’ve seen a good amount of video on these methods, and been taught the FMS assessment by a certified FMS’er.

The real value I see for these methods is that because they’re highly standardized they offer a good way to pass information along to other practitioners or to assess large numbers of people (e.g., teams or squadrons) at once.

Beyond that, though, I don’t see any difference between FMS/SFMA and any other assessment method. The practitioner still has to be skilled in identifying movement patterns and movement pattern dysfunction in order to do any type of quality work with the patient/client based on that assessment.

DNS helps the practitioner, I think, in offering a deeper perspective on what’s happening in the body.

For instance – one of the attendees is a certified FMS assessor. He has always had trouble with the shoulder mobility test, with one shoulder being much less mobile than the other in this test. In the DNS course, we had him put his scapulae into an optimal neutral position, and then perform abdominal coactivation the DNS way, and…voila…totally equal results from side to side on the shoulder mobility test.

How does this help? To me it showed that his “shoulder problem” was more about a lack of global stabilization. Working on good positioning for stabilization and proper “core” activation, and progressing those methods through movements, will likely “cure” this patient.

RKC/Primal Movement Patterns
Gray Cook has another series of videos out that are more RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certification) based that deal with “primal patterns.”

From what I’ve seen, now that I’ve been to the DNS course, Gray and Lee have borrowed DNS material and put it into various movements they feel are appropriate for RKC folks.

That’s fine, but what I’ve seen on the DVD’s doesn’t replace what you get at a DNS course, and doesn’t provide the full spectrum of information you need to (help other to) perform proper core coactivation through the use of the diaphragm, breathe well, or move through “primal movement patterns” effectively while maintaining core coactivation and breathing.

Martial Arts
Of course there are huge martial arts implications in DNS as well. After all, martial arts are usually ways of understanding the most effective (and often efficient) way to move your body when confronting another (or multiple others) in conflict.

I’ve always practiced internal martial arts (IMA’s), which rely on the manipulation of advantages of potential and kinetic energy in conflicts, rather than the direct use of potential and kinetic energy. Most IMA’s have some form of standing practice, and many do “Zhan Zhuang” (standing like a post).

Here’s Chen Taiji master Chen Xiaowang doing three variants of the Zhan Zhuang posture:

Here’s a baby exhibiting the posture that DNS calls Supine Sagittal Stabilization:

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Well that’s funny! If we look at the Zhan Zhuang posture from the side…it looks…well…

Now have a look at this image of a Skylab astronaut in weightless posture:

All so strangely similar, no?

Perhaps the similarities aren’t so strange after all. They all represent a foundational or primary postural “set-point” in the human animal. It is the posture from which we stabilize and begin to learn to interact with the forces of gravity.

The posture is determined by our ontogenetic (species-genetic) structure, which also determines the reflex neuromotor patterns in our central nervous system, and the ways in which our muscles are organized.

Chen Xiaowang is replicating a sagittal stabiliation posture (and doing proper breathing) in an upright position.

The astronaut is exhibiting a primary posture of structural stabilization while asleep in a weightless environment. You’ll notice that the astronaut’s head position isn’t “ideal.” I don’t know how long he was in space at the point the picture was taken, but eventually the flexor system begins to dominate in weightless environments, since the extensor system doesn’t have anything (gravity) to oppose.

Just as importantly, RELAXATION is emphasized in all of these iterations of this posture.

My friend and extremely experienced internal martial artist Scott Phillips and I had a chat once about the predominance of thoracic kyphosis (rounded upper back) in many older Tai Chi practitioners. Why were they developing that postural abnormality.

Scott said that it was due to a misunderstanding of the “sunken chest” prescription in Tai Chi postural cues. The goal is not to collapse the chest by rounding it in, but rather, to let the sternum “fall” or relax, while the shoulders stay broad and the upper back stays erect (as in Chen Xiaowang’s demonstration above). The head stays on top of an erect spinal cord.

This is precisely the type of relaxed posture we seek in DNS SSS. Laying on your back, allow your ribcage to relax down into the floor. Many people have a concept of good posture as the classic “military” posture – chest up, shoulders pinched back, etc. But this throws us completely out of whack and is a terrible posture for any kind of movement.

When you can attain this relaxed posture while maintaining coactivation of the “core” musculature and breathing well in a circular fashion (i.e., allowing your chest and abdomen to expand to the sides and back as much as to the front), you can start to add mobility.

Adding movement one step at a time reeducates the body regarding effective, efficient, and stable movement. That also equals powerful movement, since the expression of power depends on all of those things as prerequisites.

Going from one side to another can reeducate the body regarding bilateral deficiencies or compensations (which may have underlying sources in scar-tissue or unresolved tissue trauma…which should be treated).

Moving this posture into standing creates the “Grand Ultimate Fist” of Taijiquan.

Well…that wraps it up for now. If you have questions about DNS or anything else here, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

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