Here’s a rant that all of my students will recognize immediately. I use it so often that I don’t actually have to repeat it to them. All I have to do is raise one finger and place it underneath my nose. When I was first studying Tae Kwon Do Mr. Bill Hannah repeated it to me ad infinitum, and I guess it’s stuck in my head. (I never claimed to be the brightest student so he got to use this with me a lot.) He would place his finger under his nose and asked me if the solution to his problem was to push harder, or if I should figure out a different direction for my efforts. I remember him every day in class when I look at a student and raise that finger,

In our training, it’s often clear when things aren’t working. A stance doesn’t feel right, or wobbles. Her body tells us that this muscle are that joint is overloaded. And it’s easy to think right off the bat that the solution is to try harder. I admire the mudo of that approach, but nine times out of ten it isn’t the right one. It’s almost always more useful to take a step back and think through what’s going wrong then to throw extra effort into the way you’re already doing it. To keep the image of the finger in your nose, pull it out, aim for the sky, and then push.

So what is this have to do with Haidong Gumdo?

Yesterday at the middle class in sword week we were joined by a new student, and I was reminded once again of how the body can lie to us when were learning stances.I’ve only been teaching a couple years and I’ve already lost track of the number of times I’ve seen the new students stand up in the middle of their transition from sodose to sodose.

Sodose

Particularly when were first beginning, sodose, or short stance, is very challenging. It’s not an instinctive way to stand, and were using muscles that we probably haven’t emphasized before in our physical conditioning. The more our legs fatigue, the more they complain or brain that they need some relief. Our natural instinct, then, is to let ourselves rise up off the ground more. In that split second, our legs reward our brain with a message of sweet relief that they were able to get up off the ground and resume the position we’ve been training them for since we learn to walk. Folks, if our legs aren’t exactly lying to us, they aren’t smart enough to figure out that they’re doing twice the work for a split-second sensation of relief.

Don’t do twice the work to feel better for an instant.

Every time we stand up between short stances, our legs have to do all the work to lift us from a squatting to a standing position. Then they have to do that much work again to lower us back to a squatting position and stop us before we hit the ground. We haven’t made our short stance easier, and we certainly haven’t made it more efficient or faster. All we’ve done is adult lunging squat exercise to the already demanding short stance. If you don’t think that squatting is exercise, track down a CrossFit enthusiast or a judoka sometime and ask them for their opinion.

It’s important to listen to our bodies in order to prevent injury. Our nerve endings can be very useful in telling us when were doing something wrong, or when we’ve had our limits. But there is a difference between listening to our body and letting it rule us. The proper role of the mind-body dialogue is for the mind to be in charge.

So the next time you’re working on your sodose, whether you’re turning in sodose.  advancing, or even retreating, stay down! Instead of spending the energy to stand up, use it to reach further so that your traveling stance moves. You’ll get twice the work done for the same amount of effort, and when your brain sees how much further you’ve gone, or your body reports how much less winded you are after three minutes of drill, that brain body dialogue will start working in your favor and telling you you’re finally getting it down.

Sodose is hard enough without adding squats. Your friendly neighborhood martial arts instructor is more than willing to give you all the repetitions that you will need for your physical conditioning. Don’t assign yourself extra work on top of it.

Haidong!