Forget fitness for four minutes. I want to introduce you to an alternate universe where strength is forbidden and relaxation is compulsory. In this universe you can attain superior balance, greater speed and power, and much greater physical longevity (athleticism that lasts into old age). I liken this universe to the Jedi training in the Star Wars saga; in fact, Jedi powers in those movies are actually based on this alternate universe. Sound crazy?
Almost every form of exercise and physical training primarily employs resistance and tension. Muscle strength would seem to be the ultimate in the athletic sports universe. But when a movement is analyzed, like throwing a baseball, the agonistic muscles propel the ball forward while the antagonistic muscles inhibit that movement.
When you only practice muscle contractions and do not practice relaxation in a meaningful way the muscles become a “stronghold” for tension and stiffness. Over time your connective tissues become short, tense and tight. Your body degrades asymmetrically as you age. Pain in one hip. Pain in one shoulder. Every step you take reinforces your bad habits. A little bit of crooked becomes a lot of crooked, and, like a dog, the body gets old and stiff.
In the alternate, relaxation universe you must loosen much more than you can understand. You must use correct posture. You must sink your weight down toward the earth. You must relax very deeply and rest your body weight upon your tendons the way a hammock suspends a person. When you can relax in this way the bones naturally twist and become much stronger than if they are just used as simple levers and hinges.
This process of changing from reliance on the muscles to sophisticated reliance on the connective tissues is called Muscle-Tendon Changing (or MTC). This takes a long time and very specific training. If you do not train correctly you can never achieve success and especially mastery. When you can relax, sink, rotate and still maintain proper posture you will gently stretch the asymmetry out of your body. Those tight spots in your back and hips melt away leaving a lubricated, pain-free and spry athletic frame. Any weight training, jogging, planking, and yes, even yoga will reinforce the blockages prohibiting the enhanced (Jedi) capabilities.
What can you do with an MTC body? It is said you will walk like a cat, with light and lively steps. It is said the bones become unbreakable. In one biomechanics study performed by Stanford University a 160-pound man exerted measured force over 8000 foot-pounds of torque; that is more than three times as much as an Olympic boxer (on YouTube search “Bajiquan scientific”).
The strength world you know and the relaxation world of MTC intersect at many points. The expression, “No pain, no gain,” is paralleled by the MTC expression, “You must eat the bitter.” Both systems require effort and some discomfort; they both prize balance, power and speed. But the world of strength is riddled with risk. People are always getting hurt lifting dumbbells and peddling bicycles. When people train MTC they come to understand the preciousness of health, so they most often refrain from risky behavior.
MTC focuses on the internal. The energy, the breath, the posture and the movement are all controlled by the mind and the intention. The mind controls turning of the waist, and all parts of the relaxed body follow the waist. This develops whole-body coordination to the highest levels, which is the source of incredible power.
If we go back to the analogy of throwing a baseball, the pitcher is able to propel a fastball at astonishing speed. Pitchers are not 300-pound gorillas with muscle bulging from every angle. They are able to harness the Serape Effect. This kinesiological effect is the efficient coordination of the trunk and the extremities. Hitting a golf ball or a tennis ball requires the same kind of coordination—not raw strength developed with muscular isolation.
MTC and the Jedi power I suggest develop from the slowest of movements and the deepest relaxation. A lot of people see this kind of training and think it looks boring and ridiculous. But Tiger Woods trained this way. So did Ted Ligety and many other professional athletes.
Wu-Tang Clan named their band after this system. “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” is all Wudang. The Force in Star Wars is based on the concept of “chi.” And the most popular exercise in the world is, in fact, Tai Chi.