Dear Master Kim,
I am a 44 year-old cho dan student in Tae Kwon Do. I work out consistently in the dojang and at home (weights, NordicTrac, running), and have achieved a reasonably high level of ability and fitness for my age. A nagging problem that has exacerbated recently is upper-body rigidity. Sah Bum Nim reminds me constantly that my punches during forms (pyung ahn, cholgi, and black-belt level WTF) are being "pushed" and that they tend to rise as if I'm skiing. Also my elbow is traveling away from my body as I punch. He believes the source of my problem is that my shoulders are not sufficiently relaxed. Do you know of drills, exercises or techniques I can employ to solve this problem? If I "focus" on relaxing, I tend to tense up more!
Thank you for your help.
Answer from Sang H. Kim, author of Martial Arts After 40:
You are forty-something and you have still a desire to discover better ways of doing things about your performance. There are 5 things you can try:
1) Slow movement drills. Do a few your favorite movements extremely slowly thinking and feeling only that activity while you doing it. When you can totally focus on each movement, do it in front of the mirror. Watch your movement. Does your arms go out of the line? Then fix it and move on. As you progress, do things faster.
2) Slow breathing & stretching exercise. Breathing calms your muscles. When muscles are tight they lose precision control. When they are moderately relaxed, they function with accuracy. Stretching helps keep your muscles toned and tuned with your mind. Spend 15 minutes before training for breathing and stretching.
3) Lie back and relax for 5-8 minutes on a decline sit-up board. We normally stand up, but our body needs sometimes upside down time. It makes you feel good. The blood goes to your brain and your feet get lighter. Your stomach and internal organs get some relief from the gravity in which we live, work all day long. Thus, things get tense. Inversion helps you relieve stress.
4) Imagery training: Visualization. Visualize what you are going to do beforehand. Break down the process and do it mechanically correct. Then integrate the whole sequence into one flow. Do it 10 times. Then perform it with your eyes closed, slowly. Then do it with your eyes open at normal speed.
5) Slow rhythm swimming. Water can help us learn what rhythm and flow means.
I wish you the best and happy training!
Sang H. Kim