On Your Own Part 9

By Mark Brosten
Published on Aug 18th, 2014

When training in different environments, if you stay alert for it, you may become aware of principles of motion popping up all over the place. For example, splitting firewood has become a great way for me to train my martial arts principles. If you don’t need firewood to keep warm in the winter, you can achieve the same results using a set of old tires and sledgehammer.

This all starts with a “deck” or stack of trees with the limbs and tops removed. The wood is cut into blocks to form the deck. For my convenience, they are 18 - 20 inches long by 8 -24 inches in diameter. Splitting maul sizes, designs, and weights vary from 4 lbs. up to even 18 lbs. Today, I use an 8lb splitting maul. If you are just starting out I would definitely recommend going lighter. It’s amazing the difference a few pounds makes especially after splitting your third cord of wood.
Most wood cutters will pull a block out of the deck, setting it up on end to split it. Then they’ll put the split pieces on end and split them again. This is a good way to start out. Some of the basic principles of good martial arts technique are revealed here; standing in a horse stance, knees bent, hips under you, this emphasizes good posture and helps “the student” develop a solid understanding of gravitational marriage with the maul. Inevitably, although you’re training posture, anchored elbows, and body alignment, you will get tired of picking up the block and setting it on end.
The need for variety may lead you into taking a horizontal swing at the block. You experience that you can change the angle of the swing and still split the wood. Soon you begin to maneuver to the block instead of bringing the block to you. At this point your horse stance isn’t flexible enough; you begin to work out of a neutral bow.
As you gain chopping experience and your aim improves, you experience that using a neutral bow allows for greater versatility and angle changes in your swing. Now the pile of wood blocks is just that, a pile the blocks all at different angles. You understand you don’t need to put the block on end to split it. As you swing you evaluate the angle of the block. Is the block vertical horizontal or something in between? Hitting the center of the block, no matter what the angle, becomes an exercise in hand eye coordination. Since you need to be at one end of the stack or the other to split the block, your foot maneuvers become more important. First you maneuver into position then, solidify your base, transitionally establishing a good base, from which, to swing the splitting mall. Foot maneuvers naturally become more sophisticated as more wood is split one piece becomes four pieces, the pile of wood becomes deeper as the surface area expands, giving you more of a challenge to maneuver around changing altering your stances and tailoring your splitting base to fit each situation.
As you further refine your motion stopping to re-position for the next swing becomes unnecessary. As the splitting mall exits one block it is possible to continue the circle and use the momentum to position yourself for the next swing. Splitting several blocks at once with the same swing becomes common at this level. I was amazed at the amount of martial arts principles that I experienced in the simple act of splitting wood.
The more principles I applied the more sophisticated the exercise became, and the fun increased. By focusing on my principles, I didn’t feel tired until the job was done. This idea can be applied to any manual labor task that has repetition. Start by identifying a single basic principle of motion and go from there. As you add principles, the task becomes more efficient and more fun. While splitting wood, I was able to identify and experience movements similar to parts of forms and sets, multiple drills, basic fitness exercises, even, freestyle and bag work.
The more you employ this idea to your everyday tasks, the easier it becomes to use, and every day experiences become training opportunities.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Mark Brosten

Mark Brosten began his Martial Arts teaching career as an associate instructor in Missoula, Montana. After Serving with the Military Police in Kuwait and Iraq during the first Gulf War, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, to continue his training. Mark was promoted to 1st Degree Black Belt by a Board of Examiners for the International Kenpo Karate Association. While in New Orleans, Mr. Brosten continued teaching, working with a diverse group of students from artists and architects to law enforcement and military personnel. Mark also developed a summer program for children, ages 4 to 5, for the Isadore Newman School in New Orleans.

An exceptional athlete, Mark is committed to training and competition. He competes in Martial Arts events throughout the United States and has placed within the top three, each time he's competed internationally. Since his return to Montana, Mark regularly teaches seminars at various martial art studios. Mr. Brosten successfully tested for advanced Black Belt rank in October of 2007. In 2008, Mark taught his first international seminar at The World Kenpo Karate Championships in Jersey, Channel Islands U.K. His practical experience and no nonsense approach to Kenpo have served him as a student, competitor, and teacher for nearly 25 years.

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