Chi-Power Golf Part 4 - Tai Chi based golf coaching
'Drive for show, putt for dough.' How often have you heard it said? And while it may well be true to a large extent, there's no doubting the fact that we all just love hitting long, straight shots, whether off the tee or from the fairway into the heart of a green. This issue, I'm going to introduce you to martial power of Fa Jing - which literally means to explode or issue energy - and explain how developing the source of that power can help you to hit the ball more solidly. Not only will this impress those who may be watching next time you play, but it will make you realise just how quickly and easily seemingly extraordinary and elusive quality can be developed by getting in touch with three simple things: rooting, posture and relaxation.
Let's look at these things one at a time in detail, and then put them all together to give you the formula for explosive power!
Rooting is a fundamental skill practised by all martial artists way before they start working on forms or kata's i.e. patterns of movement.
We've talked in previous issues about the practice of Standing Meditation, made famous by one of the greatest martial artists of all time, Wang Xiang Zhai, who advocated the development of stillness as a way to master motion.
Standing motionless for increasing periods of time, in specific postures to aid correct skeletal alignment, helps to empty the upper body of tension and sink energy and awareness down into the legs and feet, developing more ground-force energy, and with it the power necessary to hit longer and straighter golf shots.
Ground-force energy is the amount of force you can create downwards into the earth. The more you can root yourself before hitting the ball, the more energy you'll have available to generate power in the golf swing [a point made both by Denis Pugh and Jonathan Yarwood elsewhere in this issue]. If you doubt the validity of this statement, think about how you'd fair setting up the ball standing on an ice rink. The lack of lower-body stability will make the shot almost impossible.
So rooting is the first skill you need to develop if you want to be able to wind and unwind your body effectively and explode through the ball. And there are no quick and easy ways to do this - you have to work at it.
Next comes awareness of postural alignment. You need to have a straight back because spinal alignment helps develop central equilibrium. Also, the straighter your spine, the more rotational force/torque it can both withstand and also emit, driving more energy down into the clubhead and - ultimately - the ball.
In order to straighten the spine, we work both ends of it, first the top, then the bottom. Here's how:
• Before getting ready to address the ball, stand up straight and spend a few moments allowing yourself to breathe deeply into the body by focusing your attention at your navel.
• Begin your postural work by imagining the crown of your head is hanging from the sky by a thread. The point where you imagine the thread to be attached is deep within the brain, created by the intersection of (1) the line between the ears and (2) the line from the point between the eyes to the back of the head.
• To draw this line correctly, and to create a straight spine, you must lightly pull back the ears and tuck the chin under. If the chin is not tucked in, the head and spine (body) will not be integrated and it will be difficult for you to stay strong yet fluid throughout your swing.
• Looking now at the lower part of the spine and its integration with the upper part, when the upper part is being pulled up, you must think of the lower part as sinking, as being pulled down by gravity. In T'ai Chi, this is referred to as sinking the chi into the t'an tien or lower abdominal area.
• This sinking feeling is facilitated by the use of the pelvic tilt, much advocated by coaches coming through the David Leadbetter Academy, who suggest you pull the pelvic floor forward and upward in order to create a strong and stable lower back, less prone to injury and more capable of sustaining high levels of rotational energy. This action serves to get rid of the lumbar curve, straightening it and thereby effectively integrating upper and lower torso.
To begin with it may well take ou several minutes to run through this sequence, but with practise it will become second nature. Only when you have fully integrated upper and lower body and spine should you tilt forward from the hips and set-up to the ball.
Relaxation is the final key to creating Fa Jing, or explosive power, and true relaxation can only occur over the top of correct posture, which will allow your muscles to relax and also help you root your energy down into the ground.
In order to relax completely try hollowing or emptying the chest by exhaling fully and completely and take a few deep breaths keeping your attention at the navel. You can do this once you've run through the key points above for creating postural alignment and integration of the upper and lower spine.
Hollowing the chest and keeping the mind at the navel, rid the upper body of tension and again allow you to root yourself into the ground, developing that all important ground-force energy.
So, putting it all together, the secret to Fa Jing is to move from extreme relaxation to extreme tension and focus. You can imagine this or even try it out yourself if you have access to a punch-bag at the gym. Take up a fighting stance and close your fists, but keep them loose and relaxed, as if you were holding an egg that you didn't want to crush. Step up to and punch the bag, keeping your fist relaxed right up until the moment of impact, when you'll tighten your fist into a ball and use the power of your mind to imagine driving your fist right through the bag. Then immediately relax and try again with the other fist. You want to start from stillness and deep relaxation and move to extreme tension and mental focus, just at the moment your fist hits the bag, then relax again.
This is exactly the same awareness needed in your swing, moving from extreme relaxation to the top of the backswing and then using extreme tension and focus as you power through the ball. The more you can develop a good set-up posture and root into the ground, the more you can relax to the top of the backswing and then explode through the ball - demonstrated perfectly by Ernie Els.
Remember to use your breath to help you, by breathing in for the first part of the swing and breathing out as you power through the ball.We looked at this drill in the last issue. At the moment of impact you want your posture to literally become the embodiment of the mental intention that created it and then you can relax again to your follow-through.