Want to look your best at your next testing? Maybe you want to be a World Champion one day? Along with the gear, the practice and the perseverance, you’ll also need balance. No matter where you are in your Songahm training, keeping tuned to your body and mastering control in the face of challenges is a skill every athlete needs.
We talked to the ever-victorious Von Schmeling family and other Songahm leaders about what it takes to learn the skills, the tip and the tricks on practicing and performing with confidence and success.
The Art of Balance in Forms
The key to mastering strong balance in forms is to find the right balance when you kick. It’s simple: if you kick too high, without proper control, your base foot will come off the ground because you moved your toes or because your body position shifted to compensate for the too-high kick.
Master Barbara Von Schmeling, 6th Degree Black Belt and multiple-time World Champion says, “In kicking, have your base foot totally flat on the ground, using your toes to control the weight distribution. Depending on the kick, the base foot needs to pivot in order to keep that foot on the ground and allow your hip to be in the proper position. Knees may be slightly bent to keep the center of gravity. Strong hip flexors and core help to maintain balance when kicking.”
Grand Master Nominee M.K. Lee says some martial artists are worried about kicking too high and they lose focus of their balance. “When you are performing a traditional form in competition, it is nice to show flexibility with your balance by kicking as high as you can,” he says. “But only if it looks good if you maintain control.”
The mechanics of the kicks are also crucial to maintaining balance. In Taekwondo, each kick has four motions: chamber, execution, re-chamber and return to starting position. Practicing these movements slowly—and perhaps with the assistance of a partner—will allow your body to start feeling the movement so balance becomes more natural.
Grand Master Nominee Lee says one of his favorite drills is holding the chamber of each kick to practice solid sole body position. These types of exercises are also great to increase power and strength.
But balance isn’t just about the feet and kicking. Proper balance includes control from your whole body. Master Von Schmeling says, “Hands should be actively moving to compensate the weight distribution when performing a kick. As martial artists, we are used to having our hands up for both balance and protection. One of the arms should move as the natural body movement, creating what is called reaction force. Just like when we run or walk, our arms move naturally in the opposite direction of the legs. Hips, shoulders and head in perfect alignment will allow balance to be maintained.”
Chief Master Von Schmeling, 8th Degree Black Belt, says when a technique involves jumping, you should “move the head up, then the shoulders and chest.” He says that in a jumping technique, this type of movement helps with momentum. Grand Master Nominee Lee agrees: “The upper body weighs a lot, so you must have the proper posture in order to maintain balance during these types of techniques,” he says.
Forms vs. Sparring Balance
Balance is crucial to having a clean form, but it also plays a role in your success in sparring. Master Von Schmeling, who has won sparring gold with Team USA, says that when you spar, you have to hit a target quickly, leaving you less time to get the proper balance as you would in forms. “If you can’t maintain your balance, you will likely miss your target and may event set them up to score a point on you,” she says.
She added that just practicing sparring and kickboxing helps “since you are constantly moving, trying to throw kicks and punches at your opponent, it makes you more aware of your body and where you need to be for the most balance.” This a great time to incorporate partner drills for counterattacking to practice balance for sparring.
The Attributes of Balance
Grand Master Nominee Lee travels the world educating ATA instructors and students using the black belt attributes. One of the things he emphasizes most is that the attributes build on top of each other. Incorporate practice on these attributes with these tips from Chief Master M.K. Lee and you’ll be as sturdy as a Songahm pine.
Hand and Body Position
When we kick or do forms, our arms and hands play just as big a role in keeping our footing sure. Tip: When kicking, it’s important for your torso not to lean. Developing strength in your core goes a long way in helping to keep your torso straight even during a high kick.
In a powerful punch or kick, the laws of physics require you to adjust yourself to maintain equilibrium and stay upright and on guard. Compensating for a punch, for example, requires one arm to move back as the other moves forward. This shift of mass prevents runaway force from knocking you off your balance. When throwing a punch, try breaking a board with just the force from the opposite arm coming back.
Control of Power
Just like controlling your kicking distance, knowing when to pull back on your force is important to keeping your body stable. Remember, every kick and punch should be accompanied with a conscious withdrawal of force to keep from overextending yourself.
A solid foot position is a necessity to keep from falling over. Don’t rely on the ball of your foot during a high kick. Instead, keep your heels on the ground. Keep the non-kicking foot solid as your source for power and balance.
Keep the knee on your non-kicking leg bent for more balance control. Try it out yourself—you’ll find your ability to balance on one foot is much better with the knee of that leg bent.
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