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Author Guest Blog: “Flexibility and the Secrets of Martial Arts”

June 17, 2011

Phillip Starr has authored four books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, including his latest must-have guide, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms. Starr shares his wisdom from over 50 years as a practitioner and teacher of martial arts in a monthly article on our blog, and writes books to help martial artists not only improve their skills on the mat, but strengthen their minds. For more information or to purchase Starr’s books, just click on their covers.

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“Flexibility and the Secrets of Martial Arts”

by Phillip Starr

“Flexibility and the Secrets of Martial Arts”

by Phillip Starr

Some time ago, I conducted a class for advanced and black belt students.  A couple of advanced (brown belt) pupils asked me about training more rigorously towards the coveted black belt grade and I agreed (enthusiastically, I might add) to focus more one-pointedly on their training.  One of the requirements I am demanding of them is this:

By the end of May (which was about two months away), you must be able to stand in a floating back stance (also known as a seven star stance, this position involves advancing one foot with the toe raised), bend over, and touch your elbow to your toes.

Yep.  They had about 8 weeks to get it done.  That means they’d have to stretch a LOT every day. Every day.  Way back when, many kung-fu teachers wouldn’t teach a pupil at all until he could do this.  Some required that you be able to place your foot on a stretching bar (about the height of a table or counter-top) and touch your chin to your toes.  True story.

Fortunately, my teacher wasn’t quite so demanding.  He only insisted that we be able to stand up straight and touch our palms to the floor (keeping the knees straight).  Most of my current students can’t do this but even at my age, I have no problem doing it.  So there.

There are several reasons for my requirement…

#1: It lets me know who really wants to learn and who doesn’t; which students are willing to do whatever it takes to learn, and which ones aren’t.  To be able to accomplish this stretching feat will require a great deal of daily practice.  If a person can’t or won’t put out the effort (and endure the discomfort) required to achieve it, they certainly won’t put out the effort required to learn advanced material (to develop real kung-fu).

#2: It will physically prepare them for advanced training.  Unless one maintains a certain basic level of flexibility, one’s speed, and hence, striking force, is seriously impaired.  Some advanced techniques and postures simply cannot be performed at all unless one has achieved a pretty fair level of physical flexibility.

#3: It will teach them (the truth of) one of the great secrets of martial arts and life.  And that is this; “To have a flexible body, you must also have a flexible mind.”

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  But think about it…as you think, so you are.

“As a man thinketh, so he is.”
-Gautama Buddha

How you regard yourself, so will you be. How you think impacts not only your behavior towards yourself and others, but the condition of your physical body…and the realities, both physical and abstract, that you create for yourself.

A person who is mentally inflexible (decide for yourself what that means) is, by and large, going to be incapable of being able to perform this stretching feat.  This does not, however, mean that he can never achieve it.  If he will “stretch” (ie., loosen) his mind, as it were, he will be able to do it…with some considerable effort.

This simple exercise demonstrates how the way you use your mind affects your physical reality.  If a student REALLY wants to learn and manages to succeed in doing it, he will learn HOW to use his mind correctly.

This is a great secret.  Actually, it can be said to be a great secret technique.  It isn’t at all complicated and requires no real coordination, timing, or any of that sort of thing.  It isn’t hard to remember, either.  But how powerful it is!

Oh, yeah….there are no short cuts short of severing the tendons behind your knees.

Severing the “short cuts” in your mind is less painful.

Have a story to share from your martial arts journey? Share it in the comments, and you could win a set of Phillip Starr’s books!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr:

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