In the internal arts we often use the term ‘Bridging’ in relation to contacting with the partners arms. But there is another use for this term that relates to the connection of the arms to the torso and it is that connection that we will explore in this post.
The Arm or upper body bridges are the front and back connections of the arms into the torso and are one of the major development focuses for the Internal Martial Artists. They are perhaps one of the most important areas of focus for practitioners due to the common misalignment and systemic tensions from poor posture or lifestyle that can manifest in them.
These Lines are sometimes call the Superficial and Deep front and back arm lines in Myofascial work, but for the internal artist the term bridges is used in order to correctly assign the right visualization for the practitioner.
The arm bridges are involved in almost every action an IMA adept makes in combative exchange, from striking to hand controls from Chin Na to Kicking. Much of the practice time is devoted to not ‘breaking the connections’ during these exchanges. For instance, lifting the shoulder while performing hand control (pushing hands) work will break the connection to the rest of the network and the practitioner will invariably be off balanced by their partner.
Building this ability to maintain the arm bridge connections is vital for anyone interested in the combative side of these arts and as such, much time should be devoted to training the tissues of these lines so that they exhibit the desired function. So what are the front and back arm bridges as we mean them in the Internal Arts? Well broadly speaking they are the tissue lines that connect the front of the lower dan tien (Qihai) and the back of the lower dan tien (ming men) to the finger tips, via the Axis & cross body lines.
The front arm Bridge runs from the hand, more specifically the Thenar Eminence of the Thumb, along the Flexor muscles of the forearm , along the biceps into the pectoralis Minor and Major terminating at the Ribs, Clavical and Sternum. This line connects to the Superficial front line & spiral line which leads to the front point of the lower dantien.
The back arm bridge runs from the little finger and hypothenar eminence, along the common extensors of the back of the forearm, along the triceps, deltoids, infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Romboids and is closely linked to the scapular and Levator Scaula. This line links downward through the Trapeziaus and Latimus eventually connecting to the back point of the lower dantien in the Lumar Fascia known as the Ming Men.
Lets look at how the arm bridges are utilized within the Internal Power Training methods.
Transmission from the Lower Dan Tien
Lower dan tien is going to be covered comprehensively in an upcoming set of posts, however as it relates to the arm bridges, we can say that for power expressed through the arms the Lower Dan Tien is the engine. For this engine to effectively transmit it power there can be no slack in the system, any spongy or slack spots will lessen the total effective force available at the surface (the hand, forearm, elbow etc). This is why we need to develop the arm bridge tissues, they take out the slack in the system and allow instant transmission from the engine to the surface. This is equally vital in grappling, hand fighting (push hands) or striking where all require the sensitivity to change, the application of large force in a small space and the ability to transform incoming forces.
Thumb to Qi hai, Little Finger to Ming men.
One interesting aspect of the arm connection in particular, is how they relate to opening and closing actions in the torso. In this model we can think of the thumb as connecting to the front point of the LTD(qihai) and the little finger as connecting to the back point of LTD (mingmen).
With this idea in mind, the pairing action in the axis we have discussed in earlier posts now has a direct effect on the arms. If the front point is closing and the back opening the arms will move inward and visa versa. This connection is one that we utilize time and again in application, especially when working on hand controls or ‘hand fighting’ like that seen in Tai Chi’s pushing hands. This is especially useful when changing from inside to outside or outside to inside as we control the partners arms.
The power is not coming from the movement of the arm itself, but from the opening of the back while simultaneously closing the front, from the Mingmen and the Qi Hai. This produces a very large volume of power in a small amount of space, a useful trait for any Martial Artist!
The arms as ‘winding’ tools
One of the more advanced connection training methods is the act of ‘Winding’. This is the method of twisting and pulling on the tissues of the body, around the aligned frame to develop the tissue (over several years) into a spiral. This practice is the link to the ‘silk reeling’ methods and movement types we see later in the IPT system. Winding is something that we perform throughout the body, but one of the important markers and start points is the arms.
Here we can use the middle finger as the axis of rotation, the thumb and little fingers as markers for the twist, this technique of having an axis of rotation and 2 opposite markers is a method that I have seen in several different systems most notably one of the Ba Gua styles I studied briefly where making the Arms like drills was a primary concern. The drill analogy is a very good one in fact as it gives a good visualization of what we are doing with the tissues.
Imagine a drill catching some cloth; the cloth is pulled around the drill bit and tensioned. This is a great image for the two arms in methods like the ‘winding body cross’ which will pull the tissues of the torso taut and force them to adapt them to this new demand. If you do this work before the basic connection training you will simply twist the arm and the tissues will not lead deeply into the body, but once the bridges and their associated tissues have been developed this work helps to lead the spiral deep into the body.
There is so much that could be said about the importance of the arm bridges. We could talk about the ‘cog’ concept of connection where the shoulders are like cogs and work in harmony with those of the Kwa. We could talk of the importance of movement dynamics across the linear, circular and spiral motion. But it is suffice to say that if you do not develop your arm bridges you may train the body, the dan tien, the root and the kwa as much as you like, and you will still fail to produce or receive effective forces via the arms.