Understanding Martial Arts Balance Drills

Balance is the next place where we want to develop our martial arts skills, and for many of us it is a one sided issue- we train and practice to make sure we are in balance in our movements, kata, and techniques, but what about our training partner?

I hope you are not neglecting their balance, by neglect, I don’t mean helping them to stay in balance but rather helping them to take their own balance!

Balance equates strength- control the balance and you take away your training partner’s strength and ability to resist you.

Building on the understanding of distance for the moment, this concept of balance is VERY important because although we are going to be doing our best to control the distance so we never arrive at the third distance, mistakes and bad days happen, so if you suddenly find yourself at the third distance, and you can shift away or correct it, then you shift into taking balance to keep yourself safe.

So in a nutshell, stripped down from style, dogma, and hard to understand martial arts teaching what is taking balance?

Imagine I asked you to hold a twenty pound rock with both your hand- how long could you do it for?

Without thinking you would probably hold it naturally with two hands and close to your body- our bodies by design want to remain in balance.

I bet you could hold that rock that way for a good ten minutes, not that you need to try, but you get the idea.

Your body is in balance.

Now what if I asked you to hold that same rock, again with two hands so it is easy, but now you had to bend forward or backwards 45 degrees with your back/spine.

How long would you last?

A few minutes at best?

Or even if it was a long time since you are strong and well-conditioned, it would require much more effort to maintain, and in that position you would not be able to do anything else in terms of movement, while if you were holding the rock normally you could move and walk around with it, even If it was heavy.

THAT is taking balance, getting your training partner to bend their spine when they move, and as they move so to the point where they can no longer move.

Accomplish this and they can’t use their strength against you.

Take it a step simpler- back to the center of the mat with your training partner at the third distance and ask them to throw a punch at you- very dangerous and a great place for them to be to hit you. After that, go back to the same distance and ask them to bend their back and touch their toes, and while holding that posture to throw a punch.

A bit more dramatic, but you get the idea.

So how are we going to get our training partner to bend their back when a body naturally wants to stay in balance?

Well, that is the next point to explore of course…

Taking balance is something that happens bit by bit in such a way that your training partner does not notice it until they attack and then when they do attack they are not readily aware of it- so it takes them by surprise and they become trapped by it- they have already started the attack and can’t stop, but at the same time they are out of balance.

They key to the lesson here is of course to use what martial arts skills you currently have and to break them down bit by bit in application to make this idea work. Let’s take a look at an example of taking balance in action common to many martial arts to help get you thinking…

Here is the setup: You and your training partner stand across from each other and they begin by stepping forward to grab you with their right hand to your chest- a simple chest grab. You are going to respond by taking their grabbing hand in a wrist lock (kote gaeshi) and then apply a leg sweep to take them down (osoto nage).

Perhaps simple stuff that you have practiced dozens if not hundreds of time- but have you done so with an eye for taking balance?

And if not done hundreds of time, in a moment you will know the place to start so you can develop that eye (martial arts eyes).

Remember, taking balance stars bit by bit, and this will again lead us into the concept of timing in a moment, just as distance took us into balance…

So, your training partner is getting ready to grab your lapel, and in preparing for that, there is a moment in their mind where they line everything up and say “OK, now I can go for the grab and have it work!) When that happens, their feet, knees, and hips will be in alignment and directly facing your chest for the grab.

As they move to grab, you are going to step off the line of the grab just a little big causing them to move off center a bit, tracking you for the grab. This will have the effect of grinding and locking in place their ankles, knees, and hips- not enough to stop the grab but enough to begin slowing it down to give you some more time (distance) and to begin taking their balance without even knowing it.

Next as they grab there is a moment where the hand grabs your lapel- as this happens you want to move with it, extending the reach of their arm just a bit more than they would like- again not avoiding or breaking away from the grab, but causing your training partner to further extend a bit more than they would like.

Further taking their balance…

NOW, when you apply the wrist lock, use this technique not to take them down to the ground or flip them over, but rather to lock their body in place and bend their spine- which THEN allows you to sweep the leg in such a way that your training partner can’t resist or attack you back- you have taken their balance form them and by the time they realize it, the time is late.

Of course this is just an illustration, an attempt to capture an idea of motion into words, so the challenge again is going to be to review your own martial arts techniques- stuff to throw, flip, and strike your training partner, and ask yourself, how can I get them to bend their spine as they move leading up to the technique so that when I apply it they cannot resist it or attack me back in the moment.