Since I first stated
that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.
Unfortunately trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.
Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.
Ever heard of Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of physics? That’s the one that states “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Well the principle of Reflex Action basically means the same thing.
However, a more accurate definition of what a Reflex Actions is would be, for every action (stimulus) there is an equal normally instinctual reaction that produces a specific predictable result. Clearly, when protecting your life the last thing you want is an equal opposite reaction directed towards you.
Basically, Reflex Actions are the reactions one obtains by stimulating various receptors located throughout the body. For example, one of the most commonly known of these reflex actions is the Patellar Reflex (knee jerk). That’s the one where the doctor taps the Patella ligament located just below the patella, causing your lower leg to kick/jerk forward.
Unless you have some medical issue, this reflex is innate, predictable, repeatable, and an example of the Monosynaptic Reflex Arc.
The medical definition of a “reflex” is an action that results from a nerve impulse passing over a reflex arc. This response can be either innate or conscious.
These reflexes are predictable and purposeful. They are intended to either inhibit or reinforce a specific action, such as protecting the body from injury. For example, the corneal reflex protects the eye by closing the lid when a foreign object approaches it.
Reflexes are identified or named in various ways:
- According to the type of receptor stimulated to evoke a response
- Exteroceptive – receptors located in surface membranes. They are sensitive to heat, cold, touch, and pain.
- Intteroceptive – receptors located in viscera (the soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities).
- Proprioceptive – receptors located in muscles and tendons and the labyrinth of the ear. These reflexes are known as myotic (tendon) or stretch reflexes because of the way in which they are evoked; stretching a muscle, or even slightly tapping a tendon.
- According to the type of muscle response (flexor, extensor, convulsive, and coordinated reflexes).
- According to what part of the body is responding, (knee jerk, ankle jerk, papillary reflex, etc.).
- According to whether the response is natural or conditioned—natural being innate and unconditional; learnt being acquired, such as the voluntary control over one’s bladder.
Of course none of these reflexes would be possible without sense organs. The sense organs of the body are the millions of receptors of the nervous system. Some of these receptors are highly specialized structures, while others are simple, naked nerve bundles.
Stimulation of receptors gives rise to many different sensations, not just to the “five senses” most of us are familiar with. At least eleven distinct sensations are recognized: vision, hearing, taste, smell, equilibrium, touch-pressure, warmth, cold, pain, proprioception (sense of position and movement), and visceral sensations.
For the martial artists we are mainly interested in the function of the following types or receptors:
|Exteroceptors||Skin and mucosa||Immediate environment||Variety – touch, taste, heat, cold, PAIN, etc.|
|Proprioceptors||Muscles, tendons, joints, and semicircular canals||The sense of position and movement|
|Tangoreceptors||Skin and mucosa||Pressure and touch||Touch, pressure, and tickling|
|Nociceptors||Throughout the body||Harmful stimuli||PAIN !|
a lot of anatomical and physiological information ahead.
The nervous system coordinates several activities that bring about a response to a stimulus. The first activity is reception, a process in which information is gathered from the external environment. The next activity is transmission, in which information is delivered by sensory neurons to the central nervous system. Then comes another activity called integration, in which an appropriate response is determined. The final activity is response. In response, a nerve impulse is dispatched via motor neurons to skeletal muscles or glands that will regenerate a response to the stimulus. Muscles and glands are the body's primary effectors.
During nerve activity, nerve impulses travel over a sequence of neurons. The sensory neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons are generally involved. These neurons are organized into circuits called neural circuits. In a neural circuit, neurons are arranged so that the axon of one neuron comes close to but does not join directly with the dendrite of the next neuron in the circuit. The junction between two close neurons is called the synapse.
The reflex arc is the simplest unit of nerve activity. It is typified by the knee-jerk reflex, and by the pain withdrawal reflex.
A reflex arc begins when stimulation is detected in the receptor portion at the end of a sensory neuron. A nerve impulse is generated, and the impulse travels over the sensory neuron to interneurons in the central nervous system serving as a processing center. The interneurons communicate with motor neurons, and an impulse is generated for transmission to an effector muscle or gland that will make an appropriate response. In the withdrawal reflex, for example, when you poke your finger on a pin the finger is pulled away from the pain as the muscles contract.
The reflex arc is automatic and unconscious; it does not involve the brain or any mental activity. It helps maintain homeostasis in the body, and it represents the simplest act that the nervous system can perform.The components of the Reflex arc
|Receptor||The receptor end of a dendrite or a specialized receptor cell in a sensory organ||Sensitive to an internal or external change|
|Sensory neuron||Dendrite, cell body, and axon of a sensory (afferent) neuron||Transmits nerve impulse from the receptor to the brain or spinal cord|
|Interneuron||Dendrite, cell body, and axon of a neuron within the brain or spinal cord||Serves as processing center; conducts nerve impulse from the sensory neuron to a motor neuron|
|Motor neuron||Dendrite, cell body, and axon of a motor (efferent) neuron||Transmits nerve impulse from the brain or spinal cord to an effector|
|Effector||A muscle or gland outside the nervous system||Responds to simulation by the motor neuron and produces the reflex behavioral action.|
The Nervous System: Basic Structure and Function
The nervous system is responsible for directing the complex processes taking place in the body's internal environment, as well as linking the body to the external world. Without the nervous system our bodies would not be able to function and there would be chaos. For example, muscles would not contract in any organized fashion, the body’s temperature would not be regulated, and blood would not be distributed according to tissue needs. Even our emotions and thinking abilities would be impaired, if they occurred at all.
The nervous system is divided into two principal divisions: the central nervous system (consists of the brain and spinal column and serves as a control center for the entire body), and the peripheral nervous system (composed of receptors in the sense organs and nerves that communicate between the central nervous system and the sense organs)
The Central Nervous System
The central nervous system is the main interpretation center for the human body. It is made up of the brain and the spinal cord.The Brain
The brain is the organizing and processing center of the nervous system. It intakes information from various nerve impulses it receives, and transmits appropriate responses.The Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is a white cord of nerve tissue approximately 18 inches in length (in an average adult). It passes downward from the brain and extends through the bony tunnel formed by the vertebrae.
The spinal cord has two major functions in nerve coordination. First of all, it serves as a coordinating center for the reflex arch. Secondly it also serves as a connecting network between the peripheral nervous system and the brain.
The Peripheral Nervous System
The brain and spinal cord are connected to every other part of the body and to the environment by a collection of nerves and cell bodies called the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is composed of all the nervous tissue outside the brain and spinal cord. It is composed primarily of the peripheral nerves, the ganglia associated with them, and the sensory receptors.
The nerve fibers of the peripheral nervous system may be afferent (conduct nerve impulses towards the nervous system) or efferent (conduct nerve impulses away from the nervous system).
Nearly all peripheral nerves are mixed nerves containing both kinds of the above fibers. The afferent nerve fibers (sensory) arise in the senses. The efferent (motor nerves) arise in the central nervous system and include the somatic nerve fibers (fibers that innervate skeletal muscles) and autonomic nerve fibers (fibers that innervate smooth and cardiac muscles and glands).
The peripheral nervous system is subdivided into the autonomic system and the sensory somatic system.
The autonomic systems operates on an involuntary basis, and functions without conscious control. This system coordinates the functions of the visceral organs such as the cardiac muscle, visceral glands, and smooth muscles (muscle consisting of non-banded muscle cells normally found in visceral organs).
The autonomic system is subdivided into the sympathetic division and the parasympathetic division.
It is the sympathetic division that is responsible for preparing the body for an emergency. In a time of crises, sympathetic impulses duplicate the action of epinephrine, increase the heartbeat, constrict the arteries, dilate the pupils, and prepare the body to deal with the situation (see blog entry for the principle titled “Avoidance Tendencies;” “fight or flight response”).
The parasympathetic division is responsible for returning the body to a state of homeostasis.
Sensory Somatic System
The sensory somatic system carries nerve impulses from the senses to the central nervous system for interpretation. The system also carries impulses away from the central nervous system to the skeletal muscles and glands if a response is indicated. The system permits one to be aware of the external environment and to react to it. The awareness and the reactions occur on a voluntary basis.
* * *
By now you may be wondering why I’ve taken so much to explain the anatomical and physiological aspects of the nervous system. I mean, after all, what does all this information have to do with understanding the principle of Reflex Action?
How the nervous systems works explains why this principle even exists. It is the “how it works” portion of the equation. Now to explain how the principle of Reflex Action is used.
The most common “Reflexes” used in the martial arts are: Accommodation Reflex, Tendon Reflex, Stretch Reflex, Pain Withdrawal Reflex (nociceptive withdrawal reflex), Crossed Extensor Reflex, and the Righting Reflex.
The accommodation reflex is a reflex action related to the eyes. It is a reflex associated with how the eyes change focus from a close object to one far away and vice versa.
While the actual reflex has no martial context, using the eyes inability to quickly reflex in this manner does. In other words, if one attacks the eyes quickly enough, such that the eyes are unable to maintain focus, two things can occur:
The first possible reaction is the head pulls back in order to place more distance between the eyes and the oncoming object in order to focus in on it. If the head moves back off its base, the entire body starts to become unstable. Further more, with the head pulled backwards the throat becomes exposed.
The second possible reaction is the eyelids close (corneal reflex). This innate reflex is designed to protect the eyes from damage by a foreign body. Clearly if your opponent can’t see he is at a disadvantage.
Another more advanced way of using the accommodation reflex against others occurs when one does “soft blocks”—blocking motions that use no physical contact, yet push the opponent off course from their intended target. In these cases the attacker's eyes focus on a specific movement the defender makes; the attacking limb then tracks that movement. Of course it’s a little more complex than that, but that’s the basic reason why and how soft blocks work.
Tendon Reflex / Stretch Reflex
Okay, this gets a little difficult...
Basically the tendon reflex, or inverse stretch reflex, is a mechanism designed to control muscle tension. It is an innate reflex designed to relax the muscles before muscle force becomes so great that the tendons get injured. When the muscles relax, they extend.
The stretch reflex on the other hand does the opposite. It is a reflex designed to control muscle length by causing muscles to contract, become shorter. This contraction is an innate mechanism geared towards the “flight” response, and helps to reduce the chance of muscle tearing though strain.
Basically the tendon reflex and the strength reflex keep each other in check.
For martial artist we are primarily interested in stimulating the tendon reflex, though the stretch reflex is used occasionally.
In the technique Gokyu
(5th immobilization), there is a moment in the technique were pressure is applied to a point directly above the elbow. This is a specific point on the arm where there are numerous receptors; one in particular is called the Golgi tendon organ.
Basically, the technique works because when muscles contract they produce tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon. The Golgi tendon organ is located at such a point. The Golgi tendon organ registers the change in tension, and the rate of change of the tension, and sends signals to the spine to convey this information. When this tension exceeds a certain threshold, it triggers the stretch reflex (lengthening reaction), which inhibits the muscles from contracting, causing them to relax.
However, because of the position of the arm in the technique, the arm cannot relax fully, and the only way the body can neutralize the threat is by falling forward or downward away from the point of the stimulus.
Because the basic function of the Golgi tendon organ is to help protect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from injury, and the reaction is innate, gokyu
and other similar techniques can be practiced over and over. It can work every time, even if one’s uke
is aware of what is about to happen and tries to counter the technique. As long as the stimulus is applied properly to the Golgi tendon the body’s command to fall will override their conscious will not to fall.
This technique is a clear example of the reflex arc.
I should mention that one reason gokyu
often doesn’t work is that people will pull the uke’s arm too rapidly, resulting in stimulating the stretch reflex. In this case, the arm contracts, raising the arm at the joint, and changing the alignment between the two bodies. This is another example why hands should never pull. (See forthcoming article on the principle “Hands Always Push.”)
Pain Withdrawal (Nociceptive Withdrawl Reflex / Flexor Reflex)
This is one of the classics, and the easiest to utilize for martial artists. Simply put, when pain is sensed the body moves away/pulls away from the point of the painful stimulus.
The pain withdrawal reflex is triggered by a variety of receptors, primary of which are the nociceptors collectively called flexor reflex afferents. Activity in these receptors results in the activation of all the flexor muscles in the limb, which causes the point of stimulus to move away from the threat.
As the uke’s
(man in grey) foot is stomped (picture #3) receptors in the foot sense pain. Messages are sent via the reflex arc and the uke raises his foot off the ground (picture #4).
In actuality there is no reason for the uke
to raise his foot off the ground since the threat no longer exists by the time he does it. However, to keep his foot on the ground would require conscious thought, which is not an element of the reflex arc. Clearly, once he “consciously” becomes aware that the threat is no longer present the foot will return to the ground.
Cross Extensor Reflex
The cross extensor reflex is very similar to the pain withdrawal reflex, expect in this variation not only does the body pull away from the point of painful stimulus, the opposite limb pushes towards it.
In other words, the painful stimulation causes an equal and opposite reaction.
Understanding how and why this reaction works is very important since it can be used to set up the body for follow up attacks in a predictable manner.
You stick a pin in the first finger of the right hand. Instantly your right hand pulls away from the point of the needle (pain withdrawal reflex). At the very same time your left hand moves towards the needle and where the pain occurred.
The reason why the left hand moves forward is not perfectly clear, and there are many applicable answers. The first explanation may be to create stability. Due to the sudden movement in one direction the other limb may need to move equally as fast in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Correct balance, allows for quicker acceleration away from the point of pain.
Another explanation could be the other limb comes forward to help push away from the point of pain, or to protect the other limb from further pain.
is struck on a vital point located above on the arm. As the sensation of pain is felt, the arm that was hit moves away from the tori
(person doing the technique) as the other arm moves towards the tori
Note, in addition to the attacked arm’s movement, the hips have also been pulled back, the left leg has stepped backwards, and the uke
has rotated to the left, essentially disabling the uke’s
stability. Based on body geometry, the arm moving forward is clearly doing so in order to compensate for the sudden changes in the center of gravity.
Clearly, while the uke
is in a state of instability such as this he is in no position to launch a counter attack, and a multitude of follow-up techniques can be applied by the tori
One of the most interesting techniques I have ever witnessed using the cross extensor reflex was done by Professor Rick Clark, Ao Denkou Jitsu
, during a vital point striking seminar.
In his example of this principle he had two people stand side by side. Prof. Clark then struck subject one’s arm at a specific point. In an instant the struck arm came forward while the other arm swung backwards hitting the second subject in the groin.
Talk about a great way to take to bad guys out at once.
At first I thought it was a chance occurrence, but I have witnessed this techniques several times, done in the same manner, always with the same results. It is an excellent example of the cross extensor reflex, as well as the reflex arch, and the righting reflex.
Here is another gem for the martial artist: in fact this one works so well that most martial art s practitioners, especially those that do arts with a multitude of joint locks, already utilize this reflex all the time.
The righting reflex, or static reflex, describes any of the various reflexes that tend to bring the body into a normal position in space and resist forces acting to displace it out of that normal position.
The best and easiest example to describe the righting reflex can be found in cats, which have the ability to orient themselves while falling so they "always land on their feet".
However, the martial artist is more interested in how the righting reflex reacts in relation to applied forces. Or in other words, how the body seeks out the path or least resistance when placed in a position that causes pain/discomfort.
Take the technique called Kote Mawashi
(wrist in-turn) (Nikyu
In this technique the wrist is rotated towards the head, locking up the skeletal frame. While pain is not necessary to make this technique effective, it is often a byproduct produced by the rotation, or the contracting muscles.
When kote mawashi
is applied correctly the person receiving the technique will fall to the ground.
The first reason the person falls to the ground is because the skeletal frame is locked up and there is nowhere else it can go. The second reason is that the body is trying to escape the point of discomfort, which is usually above the waistline. The body is seeking the quickest, and what it perceives to be the safest way to move away and “right” things.
Since the forces used to generate kote mawashi
are above the midline in this example, the body goes downward. If the forces are directed upwards, a variation of kote mawashi
, the body will rise since this now becomes the apparent path to neutralize the force.
* * *
I realize this has been a rather long explanation of the principle of Reflex Action. However it is one of the most important principles to know and understand in order to make one’s martial techniques effortless and efficient.
Of course as long as this is already I would be remiss if I didn’t cover two more aspect of this reflex.
The first is the reflex action that results when a person is “knocked out.” In this case the lack of consciousness, to whatever degree, is the reflex to the stimulus.
I don’t think discussing the various types of knockouts, and the way to cause them is necessary.
The other type or reflex action is a little more esoteric, and involves techniques within the art of vital point striking.
Whether you believe pressure points exist or in the art of Dim Mak (poison hands) is irrelevant. That’s a topic for another discussion. The fact of the matter is there are certain places on the body that when struck, poked, or pressed can produce severe reflex actions, some which can in fact cause death.
Since I don’t want to make this “blog” entry too much longer I will only describe one. This is a point that has a lot of scientific research to explain it.
Cartoid Sinus Reflex
In the art of vital point striking this point is often referred to as Stomach 9. Stomach 9 is located on the side of the neck along the carotid artery, and beside the laryngeal protuberance. It is where the pulsation of the common carotid artery is palpable.
When struck properly it can cause an instance knockout and/or death. It is not a point to strike in practice. DON”T DO IT! Even a light strike has the potential for lethality, and the long-term possible health risks of hitting this point for those who don’t die is unknown.
Stomach 9 is a lethal strike since the point is located on a baroreceptor, which when stimulated triggers the carotid sinus reflex. Baroreceptors in the human body are designed to detect the pressure of the blood flowing through them, and send messages to the central nervous system in order to either increase or decrease peripheral resistance (mean arterial pressure) and cardiac output.
By striking this specific point the body is fooled into believing there has been a change in blood pressure. Basically it thinks that blood pressure is too high. In order to protect the itself, bradycardia (a resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute) occurs, and the body’s blood pressure drops.
This sudden drop in blood pressure is what causes the body to become unconscious, or in some cases to die.
Okay, by this point I’ve most probably said more about the principle of Reflex Action than anyone wanted to know. In a nutshell most reflex actions are a result of the way our nervous systems reacts to stimuli.
If for any reason you need more information I suggest you either take an anatomy class at your local college, or start reading a lot of books that explain the way the body works.
Labels: Essays, Principles, Technical