手動 療法 Shudo Ryoho
(Hand Change Heal Law- Manual Therapy)
Many of us were reared on the image of a warrior-sage, as adept at patching-up injuries as causing them, employing archaic knowledge that bordered on the arcane. For generations, one of the hoariest of old chestnuts has claimed that the path to becoming an exemplary practitioner of combative arts must include studying medicine as well- usually, some form of manual therapy. On the one hand, many people, myself included*, have experienced direct benefits to their ‘martial‘ practice from the inclusion of healing; on the other, the overall timbre of these discussions tend to hinge on just such anecdotes- making for a far less compelling argument. What then are some (at least slightly less) subjective reasons to study this stuff?
First, just to define terms, manual therapy comprises things like massage, bone-setting, structural integration, etc., treatment modalities which, when correctly applied, can prove beneficial for many types of soft-tissue, fascial, and osseous problems. It is not uncommon for combative arts to contain some component(s) of manual therapy as part of their transmission**. One major disclaimer: manual therapy does many things well but it is not a cure-all (and should never replace the advice of a medical professional.)
Okay, so with that out of the way, the first element of usefulness to training is a ‘no-brainer’- minor injury mitigation. Sore limbs, swollen joints, and the like can be improved, often dramatically, on-site. Particularly after tough sessions (grappling or being thrown- hard- for hours can take its toll, no matter how good your ukemi [receiving body, minimizing risk through rolling, falling, softening, etc.] is, same for striking/being struck, or, dealing with the vibrating shock of tool use*** for significant amounts of time) taking 20 or 30 minutes to trade bodywork with a training-partner can mean the difference between a next day of misery and one of mild discomfort****.
Another advantage is learning how body-structures are aligned, move, and interact. Knowing the range of motion for a joint in the abstract is quite different than having the practical experience of how far one can comfortably go (as well as how other joints can affect base ranges, and, the signs of moving to the end of/exceeding those ranges.) Also, working with bodies in a therapeutic setting can ameliorate some of the discomfort that results from being at close grappling/striking distance (where things can/do go most wrong, most easily).
The next feature of manual therapy for combatives are the diagnostic methods. While specifics vary from art to art and culture to culture, in general, they tend to include some iterations of analysis: visually (gait, morphology, posture, etc.), by asking questions (pointed or oblique), observing the sounds/smells of the body, and, through touch. Individually, these yonshin (four assessments) are great tools; in conjunction with genuine ‘martial’ training, can lead to Ninso (person reading). Ninso is sometimes thought of as a high-level skill, rather akin to magic; of course, it’s not. It is simply picking-up on mood and physical comportment to measure others through observation (no hocus-pocus needed). This perspective provided by the yonshin allows for (a subtle and eventually, almost subconscious) study of carriage and movement that evolves naturally as an outgrowth of the hands-on practice of bodywork, enhancing similar development from combative arts.
A few more traits to be gleaned by the person doing the work: increased sensitivity (to body structures and tension within our own bodies), integration of kihon (fundamentals), breath-control, improving the efficiency of contact (employing less overt strength/being better connected to one’s whole frame) through relaxation of opposing muscle groups, changing ‘quality of touch’*****, working with (rather than against) the other person, maintaining ideal ma-ai (interval, relative distance) and angles to effectively, touch, transfer power, etc. but what about for uke (the recipient)? Well, of course, getting bodywork regularly, especially stuff designed to supplement training goes back to the first point about limiting injuries, but there is a good deal more to it. As with any time one ‘receives’ a technique or form, it is not an excuse to stop paying attention, in fact, it should be very much the opposite. Being uke for treatment is an opportunity to practice being ‘present’ in one’s entire body- rather than ignoring (or narrowing focus to) the places that hurt. It allows us to provide invaluable feedback to one’s partner, both verbally (more crucially) through contact, It does bear mention that many of the list above can easily apply to uke as well, especially breath control, selective/full relaxation, learning to share space and resisting antagonism with a partner.
A final reason that might pique some interest could equally serve as a deterrent- immersion in alternate ‘mental models’ of the body. In the modern West, we have access to all sorts of imaging data that perfectly shows each major body structure; because of this, it is easy to dismiss pre-modern modes of thought across the board without investigation. While not suggesting, at all, that anyone discard modern medicine in favor of older models, there are aspects of pain management and overall flexibility, whole body/integrated power, and mobility that are demonstrably present in many of these models. It can also be extremely useful for those of us who practice traditional arts to gain a sense of the context which previous generations viewed their physical structures and how that may have informed body interaction. This context means that a bunch of words that might sound nonsensical or ‘woo’, like “fill the heart with qi/chi/ki” offers a very clear image (a spiral expansion of the ulnar aspect of the arm) and suggests what ought not happen (use of the bicep).
It is not hyperbole to say that the list of benefits to practice enumerated here is cursory. Despite boasting an embarrassment of potential upsides, for some, healing arts will never hold appeal. This is totally as it ought to be- junin to iro (ten people, ten colors- everyone has a viewpoint), as the expression goes. The goal of this piece is not to sway but to detail a few of the direct impacts that one can experience from undertaking practice of this sort. And, as with any other aspect of training, it is far richer when we can move beyond myth, fable and anecdotes.
Yours in aspiring to health,
Jigme Chobang Daniels, instructor
Aoi Koyamakan Dojo
*In my case, first by attending Shiatsu (finger pressure, Japanese acupressure massage) school, then, through exposure to the kenkojutsu (strength ease tactics, healing and measures to deal with emergencies) that is part of the tradition to which I belong.
**As seen in wrestling, fistic, and fencing/stick-fighting systems in much of Eurasia (from the British Isles to Mongolia), the Indian subcontinent, the Mediterranean, Africa, southern Pacific Islands from Hawai’i to Fiji, North, South and Central Americas, etc.
***This, thankfully, ceases to be troublesome as one diminishes reliance on external musculature and develops consistently useable structures (first through kamae [postures], then through the kihon and kata). At early stages of training though, transitioning from ‘fairly light contact’ (used to provide reaction to receptions and strikes/cuts) to ‘some power’ can leave one feeling as though someone handed us a jackhammer that’s already in motion... it is singularly awful.
****And, as with any skill meant to function, if it can’t or doesn’t, there’s a problem.
*****Another (potentially) hippy-dippy sounding descriptor. In this case, my main shiatsu instructor, an older Japanese woman, told us early on that no matter what we learn or know, how people feel when we touch them is as significant as any technique or method we might try to apply. She was quite resolute about this, reminding us frequently; it has, of course, proven helpful in seemingly unrelated contexts as well (with young or non-verbal children, frightened animals, unruly/intoxicated adults, etc.).