Being Off Balance, For All It’s Worth

martial balance When you lose your balance, you can also lose orientation. When you don’t know which direction to turn, can’t determine the ceiling from floor, feel as though your are on a mile-long fall, you are disoriented.

We are told, from the earliest lessons, to keep our balance and preserve our orientation. We do forms that start with simple foot patterns, like the Chinese character signifying a tree. From there we learn forms that are more challenging, asking us to move like a snake, twist like a bear, glide like an eagle.

Throughout all this practice we are expected to keep our orientation and balance.

martial balanceBut this may not convey the entire tale. It is therefore important—a great timersaver —to waste exactly no effort on practice that cannot lead to the highest levels of Kung Fu skill. A small deviation from the path here can make the player into a half story with no finish. On the other hand, strict adherence and you do not see the flowers and hills you rush past.

When we think of disorientation, we first think of disorienting—that is, what we can be the victum of or, adversely, do to our opponent. We imagine what is inside our opponent’s brain, whirling around in there. We want to cut as many wires as possible, leave him spinning and ricocheting off walls, or squashed on the mat. In a fighting art, this is definitely not a bad thing…if we can accomplish it.

martial balanceWhile he is tumbling, of course, you yourself try to maintain your perfect posture. This is an important practice, but not necessarily one that always leads you to maximum power. In fact, the opposite can be the case, frequently validated by different arts. In Judo, for example, while flopping to the ground—over and over—we are told that falling is a defensive act. This is true. But it is also true that you can never learn to throw someone if you cannot throw yourself. To be able to lead a throw with full confidence you need to push through stability into disorientation. Throwing yourself leads to throwing your opponent. Another example might be the bent over, 90º drop punches of the teacher Porf Zhou. I’ve watched how his off-angle stance almost kissed the perimeter of vertigo.

martial balanceIn Western boxing, too, a good punch can be thrown when off-balance, ensuring a strong follow through. After such a strike, we can sometimes even hear, a telltale shuffle of the feet to recover original equilibrium. 

The bonus of practicing disoriented movement lies in the fact that eventually, with repetition, you no longer feel the disorientation and can more easily direct and control it. Disorientation leads to authority in your technique.

Disorientation can help with intent. As people progress in their training, they may find themselves moving in more than one comfortable dimension at a time. They think that ‘equilibrium by counter-balance’ is the correct goal. But in true KF, when a part of the body moves in a direction, so does the rest, like the gathered winds that power a hurricane. This is the Kung Fu way to make changes: move in a decided direction and a unified whole. 

martial balanceDo I really count this? Well, if you browse through some of our product reviews you’ll notice I often point out a teacher’s command of balance. To me, a performance that never marries balance with dynamics is a static photo of someone unwilling to place their bet. Performers who commit themselves will always attract our attention because they send us off-balance, anticipating their next move.

The art of self defense often strives to make us secure by emphasizing stability. This is correct. But there are moments when only moving with speed and bursting our perceptual barriers demonstrate how powerful a little off-balance can be.

One Response to “Being Off Balance, For All It’s Worth”

  1. I am experiencing this theory of practice in my current lifestyle! Things are going on with my body that leave me feeling unbalanced and disoriented from time to time. But I can cope with this greatly when I practice my Taijiquan. Where I would feel like I’m going to fall after a few steps, I can move like silk off a runner after some grounding,breathing and stretching in practice.
    So between this and some swordplay (by the way, can you guys recommend a good resource on dual saber practice?) To strengthen the arms and steps, everything’s working out.

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