Taking Strikes
Jim King

Some questions were posed in a recent thread asking how to absorb strikes. References were made to a video, I assume Strikes, where different individuals were taking a variety of hits, some of which were landing in the high solar plexus area. This inquirer stated he tried to practice on himself and with others striking him with little progress or enlightenment and wondered if being relaxed was really the best answer as being tense seemed to offer a little more protection (Even though he admitted he had a difficult time with the strikes regardless if he were tense or relaxed.). In response, a second poster added he too was having limited result with experimentally striking himself and later wondered if twisting the body at the moment of impact would be of greater benefit. While I am not the final authority on the subject, I can speak as one who has been touched a bit by the best.

Absorbing a strike is far more than a physical response to a physical question. Every strike has roots in a man’s body (physical), soul (mental/intellect/desire), and spirit (the eternal essence God breathed into man). So then, when a strike is taken or absorbed, we respond to the strike in each of the three parts. This interaction occurs regardless if the participants are aware or ignorant or even skeptical. The tripartite being of man has dynamic relevance to training and living in the Russian System, but this discussion may be better suited for a different thread.

Relaxed movement is better defined as not being restricted by any tenseness—physical, mental, social, or spiritual—rather than the complete absence of physical tension or other distraction. Biomechanically speaking, some degree of physical tension must be employed to maintain positive structure and execution of movement. In the Russian System, this necessary physical tension is compartmentalized to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments that require it, all the while insulating the rest of the body, soul, and Spirit from tension with calmness and confidence. This harmony of tension and complementary relaxedness are controlled in our breathing. Whether you inhale or exhale on a given movement is not always as important as connecting the complete movement with a complete breath cycle(s). This is fundamental to what we do. Further, it is not enough that we simply breathe while we move. We must also pay attention to the quality of our breathing if we wish to keep our movement free. The Russian System is so phenomenally dynamic because the cornerstone of everything we do and believe is “free” movement. In this context, “free” refers to the ability to comfortably live and move within the vastness of infinite possibility without being overwhelmed by it. Proper, quality breathing is essential to free movement.

When many new students first start in the System, they are very tense and rigid (in all areas of their being). Focusing on the physical realm, with time and understanding, they swing to the other end of the spectrum and become too relaxed. This over-relaxed phase is normal as the progressing student is learning to move through imitation, visual cues, and internal empirical feelings. At some point, the pendulum will find a point of equilibrium. This tension/relaxedness balance point is where the student compartmentalizes necessary tension without allowing spillover to areas where tension results in bad restricted movement. This equilibrium is best described as being “solid.”

When it comes to absorbing strikes, this tension/relaxedness balance point is achieved through experience. And lots of it! Always! (As a side note for veterans, this balance point is not like a polio immunization where once you’ve had it, you are set for life. Instead, this balance point is more like finding the fountain of youth. Once you have discovered its location, you must keep going back for a drink to maintain genuine vitality and understanding. While I am not qualified to speak for Vladimir, I believe this is one of the many concepts he was referring to in his powerful post Psychological Rebound. In many ways, it is more important to give than to receive.).

All this being said, the questions and experiences these students detailed are highly representative of most of us who take strikes. Initially, courtesy of pride and fear, we use muscular tension to shunt the strike. This works fine as long as the person doing the hitting is also relying on muscular strength and his efforts happen to be weaker than the protective tension exerted by our muscles. However, consider the mechanics of using muscular tension. With each blow to the body, amplified strike shock waves resonate throughout the rigid muscular tissues to less strong parts of the anatomy. In effect, the whole body is hit and suffers accordingly. In this context, the cumulative effect of even little strikes can add up quickly. In some cases, a little strike placed well can have the same devastating result as a deeper strike placed generally. Many of us can attest to this truth without having to consider strikes that are stronger than us.

In the next experiment, we try being absolutely relaxed to absorb a strike. In theory, we hope to deaden the blow with the “heavy” counterweight of our physical mass. For proof, we reference this dampening effect when striking a punching bag filled with sand or mung beans. This triumph of physics is a hollow success, though, considering the mung beans dampening the blows to our bodies are our pummeled internal organs. After a few of these “successes,” we quickly revert to muscular tension, as bruised muscles preserve the ego more than the unwarrior-like urge to wretch when a hand is in your stomach. Besides, being absolutely relaxed seems to only work once!

So how do some individuals seem to absorb some nasty strikes consistently without being rigid or too relaxed? If you focus primarily on physical position, mechanics, or conditioning for answers, you are looking in the wrong place. Remember, giving and taking a strike occurs in the three parts of our being.

When I am taking a strike, I know I must be prepared in all three parts of my being. This preparation is more than focusing and relaxing in the few seconds before I am hit. But, if we just look at those few seconds before contact to gain some insight in how I personally absorb a hit, I place my greatest emphasis on my breathing, my shoulders, and my hips. Breathing calms the Spirit as the Spirit must control the mind and emotions. If the mind and emotions are calm, the body will happily follow in being relaxed, or “solid.” Fear is not part of the process, but solemn respect of the contact is; hence the requirement for looseness in my shoulders and hips. When the strike makes contact with my body, I breathe calmly in proportion to the degree of the strike. The key is to breathe through the exact place of the strike. Admittedly, this is an advanced concept. The “smart” breath generates a compartmentalized, focused tension to protect the body. All other surrounding areas—physically, mentally, and spiritually--must remain calm and able to move. The hips are the crucial points of movement. If my breath is out of synchrony or location, the strike will try to enter my body. I must quickly regain internal composure through calm forced breathing and deliberate, relaxed movement. I breathe to remove the strike to keep it outside of my body. Once it is in, I have to deal with it on a different level…and very quickly! I have to regain my breathing rhythm and free body movement. The longer I delay, the more I collapse within myself. If my hips tighten up, restricted movement prevents the energy of the strike from escaping downward. Restricted movement usually is accompanied with improper breathing. Bad breathing most often means tension is present in the upper body, i.e., the neck and shoulders, so, now, the energy of the strike cannot go up or out. As a result of all this tension, I eat the strike completely!

If the strike enters into my body, I must dislodge it immediately. When a tough strike is trapped inside, I immediately jump up once or twice to loosen the cramped diaphragm muscle. I must keep my body as relaxed as possible when doing this. My focus is the diaphragm (I focus internally on the descent of the jump as the diaphragm “hiccups” when I hit the ground.). If other parts of me are tense, this remedy jump will send shock waves throughout the body causing more damage. Usually, the shoulder and neck joints will get a nice jolt if they are rigid. In the instant the diaphragm releases, I draw a breath through the injured area.. This action gives my being the chance to expel the strike. Remember, a strike has more than one component. Once it is inside the body, everything is affected. So, when a strike gets inside, the whole being must push it out. This is why being physically relaxed is not the same as being “solid.” Once the breathing and being are restored, I get back in the saddle for more strikes.

Obviously, this flash recovery method is invaluable in a fight. The Russian System does not say the more you progress in your training, the more untouchable you will become. Instead, the Russian System states the more you progress in your training, the better able you will be to handle being hit! In a fight, expect to get hit! Interesting to note, recovering from a hit is a necessary skill for any fighter. So…how do you practice recovering from a hit? Hehehehehe.

A simple drill to learn to connect your breathing to absorbing a strike: When first learning to take a strike, breathing is emphasized upon impact to both learn to control fear and prevent an “internal” punch from trapped air in the lungs or abdomen. The exhale on contact is initially emphasized as it is a natural inclination to breathe out to release tension (In time, the inhale and exhale are used interchangeably. Do not rush this! Interchangeable breathing is a matter of time and experience. Unrealistic or rushed expectations generate hidden tension spiritually, mentally, and physically. Be sure, a strike will find that tension!). The natural exhale impulse is incorporated into a low-level drill where a sustained push on the abdomen is used instead of a strike. The individual is directed to think of himself as a working bellows or air bladder. When I push on his abdomen, my action pushes the air from the individual’s lungs. If the individual breathes of his own accord ahead of my action, I stop him immediately and do the drill again. This is an important distinction. If an individual later uses muscular tension from his diaphragm to force the air from his body either out of synchrony with the strike’s timing or the air expelled is disproportionate to the strike’s force, the resulting tension will act as a conduit for the energy of the strike to resonate to other connected parts of the body. So, the first step to learning to breathe properly when absorbing strikes is to learn how to breathe from a push. If you think about it, strikes are just high energy pushes executed in a shortened time interval (This concept will also improve your strikes.).

You cannot effectively learn how to absorb strikes with self-punching. First, the biomechanics for generically striking your own body are not possible. Second and more importantly, your psyche is too involved in the process of giving and receiving. Consequently, the exercise is not honest. Self-striking with empty hands and select weapons does have interesting legitimate benefits, but again, this subject is for a different thread.

Lastly, twisting the body in general terms is not advantageous for absorbing strikes as you are biomechanically stressing your form to a position of increased restriction and greater danger. If you are attempting to deflect or escape the movement, do so with proper form. Later, when you are more comfortable within your shape, you will see new possibilities and opportunities in putting your form into bad positions as a means to transition to a position of greater advantage. The Russian System emphasizes Breathing, Proper Form, Relaxation, and Movement for a strong foundation. Twisting the body is a tool, not a pillar.

I hope I have not bored everyone with this long post. Thanks for staying awake long enough to get to the bottom.