Why My Knees Still Work

I am superstitious; I have two records which I assume will instantly break (literally)  once I mention them.

Kung Fu lady @ plumpub.com

The first is that, though I’m a martial arts instructor, I have never had a broken finger. This comes from a secret: I always keep my fingers pointed towards the opponent, never towards the weapon he is throwing. If he kicks me I never do what others do: point my fingers toward the kick. Instead, I keep my fingers pointing to his face, while I use the base of my palm to block his kick. Up until now it has never failed me, but of course that will probably end tomorrow.

The other still functioning part of me, way beyond warranty, is my knees. Though in my sixties, I still have relative comfort as I move through my forms and basics. Certainly I am not as limber as in years past, but my general freedom of movement is unimpaired. (Full disclosure: this takes into account an ACL replacement 15 years ago, the result of a slippery wet rock accident at the beach.) My students often ask about my usable knees and, once I stopped and gave it some thought, I realized that I unconsciously employ many of the lessons I’ve learned from my art. The most basic is to not be too insistent on idealized form, while not being too permissive and letting the knees in every which direction. I give some observations here, and sincerely hope they may be of some slight help, at lease to ease a bit of the pain if nothing else.

Kung Fu lady @plumppub.com1.     Fold, don’t bend. Like my elbow, my knee folds into itself. What this means in real terms is that if, for instance, I want to drop a little lower in my horse stance, I bend my knees, of course, but I also bend at the hip. I often see people trying to lower themselves without compensating in the hip joint. Folding is not a local occurrence. As you assume a stance you might consider the function of both the ankles and the hips in the seemingly simple process.

2. The second trick may not impress you but it is good Kung Fu. The idea here is to distinguish between intent and action. If, for instance you are supposed to be dropping your weight, it is not necessary to drop outside your range. Far more important is to drop your intent, to really drop, to drop internally. There are plenty of beautifully limber young boys and girls who can drop like metal bars but are not really dropping internally, in their torsos and intent. Because this intentional dropping is not quantifiable, it may not satisfy in the same way, but it actually is a much truer and essential lowering.

Kung Fu Dragon posture @plumpub.com3.     Finally, while I don’t believe in rotating the knees beyond the range of the feet or to the sides, I do encourage slight variations in the angle of the knees to accommodate each specific stance, each unique action. This allows the knees to make very slight adjustments, but all within the envelope of keeping the knee tracking the direction of the rest of the leg.

It is easy to give advice. But I feel more like I’m passing on what I have absorbed from watching hundreds and hundreds of students struggling through these problems. The ones who do best are the ones who relax their expectations and pay the most attention to their personal realities. The old saying is: follow the opponent, not yourself. In this case, you find yourself by simply paying attention.

7 Responses to “Why My Knees Still Work”

  1. J. Andrews says:

    Also in my 60’s I am quite conscious of wanting to protect my knees. For me, tucking has been crucial, as my habit was to arch my back. My knees have been much less problematic since I have learned to tuck more. But this was clearly not the whole answer. Your explanation of folding, of adjusting hips and ankles, is very helpful. I practically stood up, holding my computer, to try folding again, while I was reading this! Tucking was a good starting point, but “folding” seems much more complete.

  2. patrick hodges says:

    Heh, Heh…me also. Good advice!

  3. Yaphett Pruitt says:

    Great advice’ especially on ‘folding’ and ‘dropping’, which I had not considered before, but it makes perfect sense to give intent to your movements more so than to follow the ldealized move, trying to make it perfect. Thanks.

  4. Nicholas Hancock says:

    Great article, practical and inspirational to those of us who look forward to the possibility of many more years of functional knees. Here’s to wishing your records remain unbroken! (throws salt over left shoulder)

  5. Jeff says:

    Yes, my knees do give me trouble, mostly due to how poorly I treated them when they were younger – bicycle accidents, and years of soccer.

    My biggest issue today is my feet. I’m currently wearing an orthopedic boot due to plantar fasciitis. People see it and ask, what happened to your foot? And I say, it got old.

  6. Charles says:

    Excellent advice! I had knee surgery in 1999 for ACL, MCL, and meniscus. After discovering that I was in fact, NOT Superman, I tried to keep everything within alignment even more intently. I have only had minor issues since then with soreness.

    I’m 46 now, but staying active goes a long way to healing.

    Thank you for all the work you do Ted!

  7. charlie says:

    My knees have took a beating from kicking too many trees when I was younger studying Shito-ryu. Tai Chi has help me alot.I also have a Sciatic nerve problem that appears and disappears.. Thank you for your article,it has shed light on the knee problem. Now I know, hindsight is 20/20

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