By Bryan Martin
Coming from 7 years of gymnastics, I didnít think I would have much of
a problem with balance. Even after 7 years of doing nothing but pushing
buttons, I figured I would be just a little rusty. At first I was fine.
I felt where I was off a bit and got it back pretty quickly. But as I trained
and learned proper posture and stances, I found I was having more problems
then I thought I ought to. So being an analytical kind of guy, I decided
to look into the issue.
Just brainstorming, I quickly realized that the balance required for
gymnastics is different then the balance required for martial arts. In
gymnastics, most everything is inline. A round off back handspring back
tuck only needs a path 1 foot wide (the girls do it on a 4Ē beam!) The
hands, feet, torso and momentum, is all in a straight line, on the balls
of your feet (the heel is used mostly for a spring), with all turns and
twists done around the center of the body. In Kenpo, one of the first things
you learn is to get off the line. Feet are no longer side by side, but
in a fighting stance, shoulder width apart, heels rooted to the ground.
Body posture erect and ready to go in any direction. All very foreign to
Another thought that came to me was my glasses. When I was in high school,
I had glasses but never wore them. Stigmatism and the near sidedness werenít
bad enough to out weigh the pain in the butt glasses were. Now that Iíve
been wearing them for awhile, Iíve gotten used to them. I take them off
when I train, and I was wondering how much that may be affecting my balance.
Did some research and this is what I found:
"Stand on one foot for 15 seconds with your
If you're over 40 you probably
couldn't do it. If you're between 25 and 40 you may have had problems,
because after 25 your sense of balance begins to decline.
Vision tends to dominate and override
all other senses including our sense of balance. You can test how much
vision influences your balance by first standing on one foot with your
eyes open, and then with the eyes closed. Most people will begin to lose
their balance with their eyes closed. However, vision is not essential
to balance and in certain situations, its input is detrimental to performing
complex physical movements. Gymnasts, acrobats, high platform divers, and
martial artists must train their nervous system not to rely on the eyes
for balance. I got to 15 seconds but after that I was pretty
wobbly. As soon as I opened my eyes, I straightened right up. Told me my
vision was a big part, and my astigmatism wasnít helping. When
light rays strike your eyes, the nerve fibers send impulses to your brain
that provide your brain with visual clues that aid in balance. For example,
when you are outside, buildings are aligned straight up and down, or sidewalks
are straight out in front of you. With astigmatism those
straight lines arenít always straight, as the picture shows. Mines not
nearly this bad but
Iím going to have to learn to deal with it until I can get contacts.
Or better yet, lasics!
So, back to that part about ďtraining my nervous system not to rely
on eyes for balanceĒ. I thought that meant the inner ear, also called the
vestibular apparatus. On each side of the head, it is composed of three
semicircular canals and a utricle and saccule, yada yada yada. I searched
for some exercises and found something very interesting: Balance
exercises primarily challenge the proprioceptor system. The term proprioception
refers to a sense of joint position. Iíve always had a good
sense of body position from gymnastics, but how does knowing were your
leg is related to the inner ear and balance?
Your ability to maintain your balance
depends on information that your brain receives from three different sources
-- your eyes, the muscles and joints of your body, and your inner ears.
Especially important are the impulses
that come from your neck, which indicate the direction in which your head
is turned, and the impulses that come from your ankles, which indicate
the movement or sway of your body in relation to the floor when you are
standing. This kind of input provides your brain with information about
the surface you are standing on -- whether it is hard or soft, bumpy or
Wow, I did not know that. And with this bit of info, it dawned on me.
The worst place Iím having balance problems is towards the end of Long
2 with the 3 twist stances at a 45. With the head facing the direction
of travel, but moving 180º three times, the legs in forward bows,
heel rooted, dropping into twist stances with the legs and ankles all bent
out of shape, and my glasses on the dash of my car. Iím surprised I was
able to stand at all!
This got me curious as to what else was involved in balance that I didnít
know about. More research!
When you are healthy and both sides
of your vestibular system are functioning properly, the two sides of the
vestibular system send symmetrical impulses to the brain. That is, the
impulses coming from the right side conform to the impulses coming from
the left side.
All of the sensory input concerning
balance, from the eyes, from the muscles and joints, and from the two sides
of the vestibular system, is sent to a central area in the brain, called
the brain stem, where it will be sorted out and integrated.
The brain stem also receives input
from two other areas of the brain -- the cerebellum, which is your coordination
center, and the cerebral cortex, which functions in thinking and memory.
As the brain stem is integrating all the input it receives concerning balance,
the cerebellum may contribute information about automatic movements that
have been learned through constant practice, e.g. adjustments in balance
needed to serve a tennis ball.
The cerebral cortex contributes
previously learned information. For example, you have learned that icy
sidewalks are slippery and that you have to step on them in a different
way in order to keep your balance.
Some of the impulses that leave
your brain stem go back to the cerebral cortex, carrying information to
your thinking centers that tell you its okay to see trees whirling in circles
as you turn cartwheels. As you practice these and similar new activities,
your brain learns to "read" different kinds of sensory input as normal.
The impulses from the sensory receptors
to the brain stem and out to the muscles form a pathway. With repetition,
it becomes easier for the impulses to travel over the same network or pathway,
until many activities of keeping your balance become automatic. Physiologists
say that these nerve pathways become "facilitated." This is the reason
why dancers and athletes practice their activities over and over again.
Even very complex movements become almost automatic over a period of time.
Anyone who has learned to ride a bicycle, swim, or ski can relate to this
Itís amazing what the brain can do! I had no idea it was such an intricate
mesh of going onís. I now see how much visualizing (roots coming out of
you feet into the ground) and focus can have on your balance. Combined
that with the balancing exercise, and practice, practice, practice, I will
be able to work through my balance issues.
Much of the info in my thesis was found in an article
Mary Ann Watson, M.A. Vestibular Disorders Association
Balance Awareness Week each year for the third full week
of September http://www.vestibular.org/sixth.html
2 Balance Exercises:
1. Stand near a support, rise to your tiptoes 10 times. (Repeat
with your eyes closed)
2. Stand on one leg, flexing the other leg slightly. Repeat 10 times.
(Repeat with your eyes closed)
3. Repeat exercise #2, but lift your leg to the side. Repeat with the
4. Stand in a heel-toe position (right foot ahead of left foot, with
toes touching heel)
(Now try it with your eyes closed)
5. Practice walking heel to toe across the room. (Like walking a "tightrope")
6. Repeat exercise #5 with your eyes closed. (Now try it again backwards)
7. Stand on one foot and lean forward to touch the ground with your
hand, without the other foot touching the ground.
1. Assume a standing horse stance, with arms held at your sides, with
the option of moving them out to retain balance during the drill.
2. Starting with the right leg, front kick and set down.
3. Still with the right leg, side kick, then set down.
4. Again with the right leg, back kick, then set down.
5. Repeat with the left leg.
-When you think you're ready, do the kicks (front, side, back) without
setting the leg down after the first front kick. Obviously, you need to
set it down when switching to the left leg.
-Remember to maintain your systems kick chambering form. Experiment
with lower horse stances as balance and leg strength increases.
-This drill should help with balance while kicking, leg strength, multiple
kicks, and multiple kicks to different targets.