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Martial arts drills

By Tom Seabourne, Scott Cole


Action drills initiated from the core have a martial arts quality that arises from feeling and understanding the origin of the movement. The martial arts quality is the centered awareness you feel as you move throughout the range of motion in the most energy-efficient, least-resistant way. If you are moving unconsciously (wasting your breath or flailing your limbs), you will feel the diminished results rather quickly because you will literally run out of energy. The more efficient your engine (your core), the stronger, more powerful, and sustained your activities will be. Relax into these exercises with a centered sense of power, and feel the results.

Marching/Running Drill

Stand with your feet slightly apart. March in place in slow motion, contracting your abdominal muscles naturally as you simultaneously raise your right knee so that your right foot leaves the floor, left arm moving forward with a bent elbow in opposition. Just before your right foot returns to the floor, raise your left knee in a simulated running motion, right arm following with a bent elbow. Focus on your abdominal muscles for a minute or so in slow motion. Now march in place in a relaxed fashion at a normal tempo, opposite arm and leg (just like walking), for one minute. Now run in place for two full minutes, knees and elbows moving in opposition (just like real running), your center of gravity lowered, focusing on your core connection.

Horse Pivot

Begin in a horse stance with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent (a). Stand comfortably with your weight evenly distributed. Contract your left obliques by slowly turning your body to the right, staying centered, pivoting on the balls of your feet (b). This core-initiated action enables you to turn so that both feet point to the right at a 45-degree angle. Move slowly at first so that you know where you are going. Then, once you feel centered, alternate turning to the right and left (spine extended, not hunched over) and let a whiplike core effect commence. As you turn to the right, your right leg remains bent, and your left leg straightens slightly but with a soft knee; when you turn to the left, the left leg remains bent as the right straightens slightly. Repeat 10 times on both sides.

Square Pivot

Begin in a square stance: your left foot points straight ahead and your right foot points directly to your right (a). Your feet are perpendicular so that you could trace a right angle that would intersect directly under your tailbone. Bend your knees over your toes and keep your weight evenly distributed. Contract your obliques as you simultaneously pivot on the ball of your right foot so that both feet are now pointed straight ahead (b). Your left knee remains bent while your right leg straightens slightly, but your knee is soft. Pivot back into a square stance, and repeat the square pivot with your other leg. As always, move slowly at first, so that your feet, knees, and hips are in alignment as you shift, allowing your core to really take charge. Perform 10 complete cycles (right, center, left, center is one cycle).

Brush Push

Begin in a square stance with your left foot pointing straight ahead and your right foot pointing directly to your right, contracting your abdominals with a slow exhalation (a). Pivot from a square stance to a front stance as you simultaneously contract each of the muscle groups in your torso, arms, and legs so that all the muscle groups in your entire body contract (b). Exhale slowly through pursed lips so that by the time you finish your exhalation, your pivot is complete and your core muscles are contracted. Move back into a square stance, take a deep breath, and repeat with your other leg. Add the opposing arm: as you shift to the left, the right arm follows with a flexed hand, and as you shift right, the left arm follows with a flexed hand. Keep your elbows close to your body, maintaining the "path of least resistance," feeling the centered power in your core. If you get all twisted up, you are not centered on your core and leg base. Perform at least 10 repetitions on each leg.

Repulse the Monkey

Like the brush push, this is a powerful core move, utilizing a surprising mixture of natural force. Stand with your weight on your right leg, right foot turned out for support. Your left foot is forward, perpendicular to the right foot, the ball touching and the heel up. Your right hand is up by your ear, your left arm is extended directly forward, palm up, over your left leg (a). Sit into your right leg, freeing your left leg, and step back diagonally onto your left foot, easing your weight onto the left leg (b). As you do, adjust your torso slightly to the left, right arm extending out now, left arm bending until the left hand is up by the ear or by the hip. Sit into it, feeling the rhythm of arms, legs, and core working together. Master it slowly, then try it fast, breathing with pursed lips, keeping your spine erect and elbows in close to your body. Unless you have a lot of space, you will have to step forward from time to time during this exercise since it moves diagonally backward. Do as many repetitions as you like slowly, then do at least 20, perhaps five sets of four, quickly and with awareness.

This is an excerpt from Athletic Abs.

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