Written instructions cannot take the place of a good instructor. The art lies in the how, not in the what. The art lies in the doing of it, not in the knowing of it. Techniques are merely the necessary brushstrokes, dance steps or musical tones, the art is in how they are performed and used. Much aware repetition with a self-critical attitude will lead to it, a good teacher can shorten the journey, and written notes can provide directions to help keep you on the path, but you must make the steps.
For the beginning and intermediate student integrated breathing can be a very important factor in unifying the body’s efforts and coordinating it with the mental state. A properly performed exhale will unify and stabilize the body, concentrate the energy, and release tension:
The most productive exhaling is done with the lower abdomen (not with the chest), and is often performed against a feedback pressure provided by the throat and mouth: exhale as if you were yelling, not as if you were blowing out a candle. Exhaling with no resistance ends too quickly and does not pressurize the torso which is needed for generating power and receiving impacts. The central foundation provided by the activity of the lower abdomen is the crucial element in all motion and movement.
Exhale properly and the inhale will mainly take care of itself. After exhaling fully, if the body is allowed to relax the chest will naturally return to an uncompressed state which will result in ˝ an inhale. To finish filling the lungs requires a deliberate effort to fully expand the chest, but doing this is often not necessary.
It is not necessary to inhale for every technique in a sequence. In fact to do so will usually impede the flow of motion and power in the sequence. However, it is useful to exhale with every technique, but the exhale does not need to be complete. Proper breathing should assist and augment the activity and not get in the way of it.
Begin exhaling just before the movement is to start. Do not inhale up to some intermediate stage in the technique and then start exhaling to generate power. Using the entire motion to build power will naturally result in more power than using half the motion.
The exhale itself should accelerate and lead the acceleration of the technique.
Conscious and deliberate effort may be needed initially to retrain your breathing habits, but just as with kicking and punching, the more it is practiced the more it will become automatic and just as much a part of any technique as the appropriate posture and arm position is.
In basics and pattern practice, the head should begin turning in the direction of the next action before any other part of the body moves. This is done so that power can have as long a focus time as possible, and so that a habit is created of seeing first in order to know what is needed, rather than turning the body first with what might turn out be a vulnerable posture or an inappropriate technique. Seeing first will be the safer and more useful habit to have when the next move is not known, which is the usual situation in sparring and life. Practice seeing, not looking. Because seeing is noticing what is and looking means looking for something, when something different appears than what you are looking for, you will be surprised and slower in responding. Expecting one possibility makes you less prepared for other possibilities. Practice being prepared for what is.
Stances should be practiced as low as the definition of the particular stance permits. This will improve balance, power, leg strength, and flexibility. It will also allow longer distances to be covered in a single step as well as permit a jump to be made more quickly by not having to first drop into a spring position, an action which also gives your intention away to an opponent. If practiced low, techniques will still be in control and powerful when the situation necessitates a higher stance. Training in a high stance, however, will not prepare you adequately to perform techniques when a lower stance is suddenly needed.
The height and movement between stances is determined and lead by the hips, not by the head or shoulders.
The basic posture attitude is one of focused relaxation. The most power and speed develops from, and with, a state of relaxation. Conversely, tension robs power and speed. Concentrating on speed or power usually creates tension. Focus on moving from a relaxed state, like a whip.
Power should come from the whole body, not just from the arm or leg - these are weaker and they tire more easily when used alone. Similarly, the impact mass of any technique should be developed to be that of the whole body delivered through the contact point of the tool.
Counter force (Active reaction force) should be used with all techniques. This is most easily realized initially with hand and arm techniques, as when the force of a forward punch or low block or rising block is countered by the equally strong snap of the opposite fist back to the side of its hip. This balanced movement allows the rest of the body to remain relaxed. Being relaxed permits a quicker and more complete response to the next situation, and since it is less tiring than having a tense body it results in increased stamina.
A balance which is centered left/right, up/down, front/back, and in/out needs
to be maintained for maximum results. Your center is you,
not the floor. Maximum power and speed can be achieved by learning how to
maximize acceleration starting from that center. Focusing on acceleration
keeps you concentrating on what you are doing now (the only period of
time you can do anything about). Focusing on speed, however, has you thinking
about the future result (occupying you with expectations, fear of failure and
other non-productive/tension-producing thoughts). Take care of your "now"
(acceleration) and the future (speed) will take care of itself. See the separate
UTF "The Force to Knock Over a Bull" article for a more thorough exploration of
the power topic.
Patterns take powerful single self-defense and attack techniques and tie them together in a logical series in order to provide a way to practice applying focus and power in successively more demanding dynamic situations. To fully realize this intention the student must apply power in a realistic manner within the various imaginary pattern "encounters". Practicing patterns with focus and power, while using hard and soft, high and low, fast and slow, continuous and separate, improves the foundation of sparring by providing a wider range of responses. Practicing patterns without these elements only makes the pattern sequence itself more automatic, with no further application for all the effort expended. When performed correctly a pattern should end in the same location it began.