The Balancing Act
Short of perhaps Curling at the Winter Olympics, every sport requires a good sense of balance. This is especially crucial in contact sports where you need to stay balanced even when engaged with an opponent to succeed. Balance is essentially the foundation that any aspect of a skill or technique is based upon. Without balance you would not be able to effectively strike, counter, or defend against attacks and take downs, essentially rendering you useless.
Keys To Balance
Balance stems from having strong core muscles. However a major factor in having good balance is having a good stance. Different martial arts focus on different stances that provide different benefits to the fighter. There are some concepts that are pretty general to stay balanced though. Bent knees, wide stance, and a centered straight torso are starting points for having a balanced stance.
There are also martial arts that very specifically go into teaching about different stances. Different stances change your center of gravity and your ability to move and react effectively. Muay Thai teaches different stances but has a focus on keeping weight forward to facilitate muay thai’s devastating offensive striking. While at the same time Karate stances tend to have their weight back more with a wider stance. This is because karate stances provide a more defensive approach which requires a steady base from which to counter from.
The Physics of Balance
Balance is really a matter of physics. An object with a lower center of gravity is generally more stable than one with a higher center of gravity. This is where the concept of keeping your knees bent comes from; that and you can’t really move around stiff legged. Anyone that has played football should have also heard the phrase, “Low man wins.” When it comes to takedowns, by coming in low you can your opponent off balance, because his center of gravity is higher than yours. Then since his legs aren’t under his center of gravity they can be easily kicked out or thrown out of the way to complete the takedown.
Being able to manipulate your center of gravity is key to keeping your balance in any situation. To manipulate your center of gravity you need strong core muscles to shift your upper body and keep your base firm. By keeping your center of gravity between your base (your torso in between your legs) you can maintain a pretty good center of balance. Also a strong core prevents outside forces from knocking either your torso outside your base or your legs from under your torso, but strong legs help with that too.
Whats The Secret
You could sit in a squatting position with a very low center of gravity and sold base and almost never get knocked over; but i also challenge you to win a fight from that position. Being light of your feet and moving around and punching and kicking while keeping your balance is the key to being effective. Whats difficult about developing balance is that there are so many tiny muscles that need to be strengthened in order to become great at balancing. It is easy to talk and read about how to keep your balance more effectively but to really learn to do it. Practice makes Perfect.
For some simple exercises to build balance click here. I don’t think anyone has more time to practice and train than a monk. Therefor, the secrets of balancing can best be seen in a personal favorite of mine, the shaolin martial art of Drunken Fist.