FightingArts Home Connect to the FightingArts Forums! Explore the FightingArts Knowledge Base in the Reading Room Shop the FightingArts Estore
Free Newsletter
Estore Martial Arts Products

Hidden Arches: The Gateway To Mastery

By Jeff Brooks

What if your entire body could act as a super-sensitive antenna? What if you could perceive your opponent’s intention and contact everywhere on your body and respond without any reaction time at all?

As we begin martial arts training we acquire new techniques. But as we mature as practitioners we are concerned as much or more with changing the deep constitution of the body.

Whether you are a practitioner of tai chi, aikido, kendo or karate, this is a fundamental concern of advanced training and no mater how many advanced techniques you have memorized, until your body and mind transform deeply, you will not be able to deploy the skills you have learned with true mastery. Everyone can achieve this. It just takes consistent practice and an understanding of what you are going for.

As advanced practitioners we are learning to unify the body. Transforming what we experienced as beginners as the “parts” of the body into a unified system of “arches.” Like arches in architecture, experiencing the body in this way allows incoming pressure to be distributed over the entire structure of the body, from head to toe, so that the perception of the opponent’s incoming force is not localized at the point of contact, but sensed by the entire body. This allows an immediate adjustment in response, instead of a delayed reaction.

The change in the way we experience the structure of our body from beginner to advanced is similar to the change in architecture from the Greek to the Roman period. The Greeks created structures using columns for vertical support, spanning them with cross beams.

The amount of material needed to support a given load or to enclose a given amount of space was very high. The load limit of this structure – the amount of weight it could support – depended upon what is called the “compression strength” of the material the column was made of.

With a stone column it was very strong -- as long as the stress was applied from the top down. If you stress columns from the side, or from an angle, stressing the joint of the vertical and horizontal, the structure is weak and unstable.

The genius of the Roman arch (especially the hemispheric arch) was that it could support an equal amount of vertical load using much less material than the Greek method, because the arch distributes the load over the entire span of the arch. They are even more stable, too, because they can take load in many directions, not just the vertical.

As a beginning martial artist we learn to move by dividing the body into parts and analyzing what to do with each part – move the foot like this, turn that way, keep shoulders down, keep elbows in, the wrist like this, the ankle like that… etc. This is a useful and necessary stage of the process of learning to move skillfully. It is similar to learning the alphabet before learning to read. But if we get stuck in this thinking, if we take the body to be a collection of “parts,” we will never appreciate the body’s coherence and immense ability.

With regard to various versions of the horse stance, for example, we can see many practitioners use the “Greek” construction described above: two legs as the vertical supports, the pelvis spanning them, joined at the hips. If our body feels like that, it will function in a way that is inherently weaker than its potential. The limit of that stance from the vertical is in the muscles of the calves and quadriceps, and the strength of the hip, knee and ankle joints.

You can transform it into a stance that is many times stronger, however, if you know what to do. The amazing thing is you do not have to do years of muscle building to effect the transformation – you just have to think differently about what you are trying to achieve in your stance. To do this you use the “Roman” approach to the structure of the stance.

Instead of two legs as posts and the pelvis as a spanner, think of the legs – from foot up through your hara (lower abdomen) to the other foot – as a single arch. Bring the muscles into a fully arched contraction by continuing the form of the arch through the floor – make a full circle with your muscles, pulling the feet through the floor toward each other, using the pelvis like the keystone in the arch. The butt muscles, inner thigh adductors, the arches of the feet, the lower abdominals, the lower back muscles all are part of this unified contraction which creates the arch to support you in this stance.

There is no need to maintain high tension or rigidity in the body to create arches, but it helps to get the feeling when you start to discover them. Once you have the leg arch try this: extend your arms in a “square punch and chambered fist” position. (I put that in quotes because that hand position has numerous applications that have nothing to do with a square punch or a chambered fist, but it is a convenient label for the arm position.)

Arm arch

Leg and arm arches together

Now make your arms into an “arch.” Get the feeling that instead of two separate levers hanging from your shoulders you have a single unified system of energy running from fist, across your back (separate the shoulder blades drawing the shoulders forward to get this feeling) and continue the feeling of unbroken energy flow around to your other fist. That is an arm arch.

Extend your spine in an erect vertical chain, feeling the small spaces between the vertebrae, like the pulling up of a ballet dancer. That is a spine arch.

Spine arch

Three arches of the body seen together

When you start to make the body into arches, it is a conscious, labor-intensive process. Just like learning your first basic techniques when you started. But gradually it becomes natural. And instead of be a static, tight type of feeling, it becomes more and more dynamic, and whip-like. A feeling more like the resilience of bamboo than the rigidity of stone.

Myriad arches: splitting plus knee strike, from the kata Rohai

Instead of having the body divided into three arches, the entire body, little by little, is trained to perform as an integrated dynamic system of numerous arches, with flows of energy moving as necessary.

This is essential work for advanced martial artists in any style. Using push hands and a variety of our kata styles (from whipping ones to rooted ones) we are developing the ability to unify the body in space (unifying the parts of the body) and time (unifying movement sequences.)

We also unify the body and mind – deleting the time delay between perception, will and movement. Also we can in a sense unify with or at least harmonize with our opponent. As we get better at manifesting this “dynamic arches” feeling in the body we can sense the opponent’s intention and “read” his weak points and threatening points as we interact with him.

Push hands and kumite

This principle which we call arches is part of a sophisticated system of movement and knowledge of body architecture which was fundamental to pre-modern karate. The enormous speed and power it allows you to unleash is your own power. You have it now. Discovering it in yourself is not just a thrill, but for the advanced martial artist – for the 5 year practitioner who is looking for a new dimension, or for those at the 10, 15 or 20 year mark who may have hit a plateau – it marks the opening of immense potential in your practice that can lead you to the gates of mastery.

Rate This Article

Select your Rating

Your Comments:

(Please add your name or initials)

Your email address:

(Check here if you would like to
receive our newsletter)

About The Author:

Jeffrey M. Brooks holds a Go Dan Fifth Degree Black Belt in Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu, training in Okinawa, Japan and the USA with Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of the style, Takayoshi Nagamine, his successor, as well as numerous others in the Matsubayashi Ryu lineage and related Chinese traditions. His Buddhist study and practice is with Rev. Issho Fujita, resident director of Valley Zendo and Geshe Michael Roach of the Asian Classics Institute. He has an M.F.A. from NYU Film School and works as a speechwriter for public figures. He is founder and director of Northampton Karate and Northampton Zendo in Northampton, Massachusetts, offering classes daily for adults and children since 1988. ( Brooks’ column, “Zen Mirror”, and other articles regularly appear on

New! is pleased to announce its first book: “Rhinoceros Zen –Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom,” by Jeffrey Brooks, a work that portrays the dual paths and interplay between Zen and Karate-do. Fast paced and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding read for any martial artist.

(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Body mechanics, karate technique, body positioning, body alignment, karate, tai chi

Read more articles by Jeff Brooks

Return to Body Mechanics

Return to the Main Reading Room



Advertising InformationFeedback
Home Forums Reading Room Estore About Us

Copyright 2017 - 2030 a division of eCommunities LLC.
All rights reserved. Use of this website is governed by the Terms of Use .

Privacy Statement

Action Ads
1.5 Million Plus Page Views
Only $89

Self Defense
Offering stun guns, pepper spray, tasers and other self defense products not available in stores.

Pepper Spray
Online distributor of self defense supplies like videos, stun guns, Tasers and more.

Spy Cameras
Surveillance, Hidden Cameras, Nanny Cams, Digital Recorders, Spy Equipment, Pocket DVR's and more

Stun Gun
Wholesale Directlhy to the Public! Stun gun and Taser Guns and personal protection products. Keep your loved ones at home safe!


Unbreakable Unbrella