Judo, Feldenkrais and the Somatic Method.

Today I have a guest post for you.

Every now and again you hear me talk about a woman named Anne Dempsey, the lady that teaches Yoga and Somatic movement at Wild Geese.

Well, last week she was helping me out with an old injury of mine and happened to mention that Somatics has its roots in the martial arts. Of course my ears pricked up and I wanted to know more, so with a bit of badgering I got Anne to write me little on the history and background of the method she teaches.

So, I’ll shut up and hand it over…..


Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904 to 1984) was an engineer, a physicist, an inventor and martial artist. He trained in ju jitsu and through this he came into contact with Professor Kano who developed judo. He taught Ju jitsu and judo, working his way up to a second degree black belt in Judo.
Feldenkrais wrote several books on martial arts, “Defense Against Aggression” in 1935, “ABC of Judo” in 1938, “Practical Unarmed Combat” in 1942 and “Higher Judo” in 1952.
He also sat on the international Judo Committee and used his scientific side to analyse Judo principles.

Moshe Feldenkrais

Moshe Feldenkrais

It was injuries that he received that motivated him to find a way to heal and prevent further injuries. His greatest motivation was when he was told that he would have to have knee surgery and that the outcome would be uncertain. His system became known as Functional Integration and later the Feldenkrais technique.

(DH: here’s  a pretty cool post giving more on Feldenkrais’ background)

FM Alexander was an actor who was dogged by laryngitis and a reason for this could not be found. Alexander decided that it must be to mis-use or over use of certain muscles. He came to believe that bad patterns of movement and poor posture were the cause of most health problems. He spent years working on himself until he cured his problem and made his mark as an Actor.
He further went on to develop and refine his system which became known as the Alexander Technique.


Thomas Hanna (1928 to 1990) coined the term Somatics in 1970. It means a whole mind and body experience.
Hanna was a philosopher and was greatly troubled by peoples’ physical suffering. He coined the term sensory motor amnesia which means that the body has actually forgotten how to release muscles to their resting length. Muscles can remain contracted even when sleeping and this will contribute to fatigue. The act of contracting and then lengthening is called pandiculation. It resets muscle function, length and tonus.

Thomas Hanna

Thomas Hanna

Think of the fluid movements of an animal and that is what we aspire to. It is about changing patterns in the brain as well as the body. This is not a quick fix and the therapist will not “cure” anyone. The person being treated has to take responsibility for their own health by undertaking to do ten minutes of reinforcement work every day or better still twice a day. Hanna wrote “Somatics – Reawaking the Mind’s Control of Movement”, “Flexibility and Health”, “the Body of Life”, and “The End of Tyranny.”

Alexander, Feldenkrais and Hanna were colleagues.
Thomas Hanna was a Functional Integration practitioner and taught the first course for Feldenkrais in America. However the three went their separate ways each developing their own systems.
Hanna only taught one course of Somatic training before being killed in a car accident. His wife and business partner has continued his training.

Anne Dempsey

We brought Anne on board to provide a balance for all the hard training, the training that creates tension in the body. I see first hand the issues people develop as they specialise into their chosen sports and martial arts, the amount of shoulder issues I see due to the combat posture and “traditional” training techniques employed by the boxers and wrestlers.
I have endurance athletes coming to me with hamstrings that are like violin strings.
And don’t get me started on the bloody hip flexors!

Fortunately Anne loves all this stuff, maybe it’s her background as Nurse or maybe she genuinely likes helping people, but I for one can’t speak more highly of her methods. And now I know that the methods she teaches have their origins in the martial arts, well, I’m a fan!

Anne teaches every Saturday at WG. Currently the class starts at 4pm, but this will be moving to an earlier time slot of 10.45am as of May.
She is also available for private sessions where she will give you the exact exercises you need to relieve your specific symptoms.




Training The Other Side Of The Coin



A coin has two sides, a head and a tail.


You can’t have one without the other, they are two parts of the same thing. They are symbiotic.

If you’re familiar with the WG-Fit logo, you’ll spot the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol.


This symbol famously depicts the balance between the light and the dark, the hard and the soft, the dichotomy of living a full life.
The symbol demonstrates that as one aspect weakens the other strengthens, but the dot of the contrasting colour in the strongest part of each side tells us that no matter how strong an attribute becomes, its opposite number is always present.

This is part of what I was talking about in my post about elbow pain in boxers.
In that post I gave the metaphor of a race car. We said how one of the best methods of making the car faster around the track is to improve the brakes.

racecar brakes 1
But, surely brakes are for slowing down, not for going faster?
Well yes, but with better brakes, we can brake later, from higher speeds and therefore carry a greater average speed around the track. The brakes are the yin to the accelerators yang, they are the opposite side of the coin.

So in our world of strength & conditioning, fitness and performance, what are the sides of the coin?

Obviously strength is one side. Strength is a result of muscular contraction, so whether you need the maximal strength of a powerlifter, the explosive strength of an olympic lifter, the strength/power endurance of a kettlebell lifter or the strength endurance of a triathlete, you need strength.
Every distance runner and triathlete that ever came to me always, without fail, improved their times by getting stronger.

Some Gold Medal winning legs

Some Gold Medal winning legs

On the other side of the coin is relaxation. As we train, we are tensing, we are contracting the muscles, compressing the body. Depending on our sport, we may be working certain movements/actions more than others, which can lead to problems. A prime example are our Brazilian Ju Jitsu guys.
BJJ players spend most of their training time in a rounded position, their shoulders are rounded forwards, their spines are flexed forwards and the hips is most often held in a flexed position. And while this maybe ideal for holding your opponent in your guard, or gaining a good side control from the top, it can be detrimental to overall health and longevity if that posture transfers away from the training floor and into day to day living.

A room full of flexed spines

A room full of flexed spines

It’s not just the BJJ lads either, think about your boxing stance or your posture as you sit at your desk. Sunken chest? forward head? Rounded shoulders? Flexed hip?


A different room fulf flexed spines

A different room fulf flexed spines

So, while we need to strengthen all the areas we use to dominate our sport, we need to spend more time strengthening the muscles that are stretched and held slack in our sports.
For most this means doing a shed load of deadlifts, kettlebell swings, bridges, rows and pull ups.
But it also means stretching and relaxing our primary sports muscles, our hip flexors, pecs, lats and quads.
Very few that come through my door have optimal length in their pec minor, which puts their rotator cuff in trouble. Or their hip flexor chain, which causes problems for their glutes, knees and low back.
This is where they need to spend time on the other side of the coin. Relaxing and lengthening.

Due to reciprocal inhibition, it can very tough getting loose and inactive muscles firing if their opposite numbers are over tight. So that leaves you with two options:
1 – Get yourself to a good physio. I use John over at the Dublin Performance Institute
2 – Learn to do your own compensatory work.

Of the two, the second option is obviously preferable.
And the best compensatory practices can be learned from our resident Yoga/Somatic teacher, Anne Dempsey.

Anne Dempsey, she WILL give you the skills to ward of injury before it happens

Anne Dempsey, she WILL give you the skills to ward of injury before it happens

As hardcore as we like to think we all are, tough nuts, impervious to damage and injury, we are all building up an injury debt that will need to be repaid. I’m 36 and have built up a massive debt, essentially I’ve spent much of the last 10 years in pain. Anne has given me several tools with which to manage that pain, to help the body relax and recuperate more efficiently so that I can continue training, I can continue leading from the front and I can continue to jump, roll and play being a power ranger with my kids.

Anne teaches every Saturday at Wild Geese, currently at 4pm, straight after the Muay Thai and JuJitsu classes. We may be moving her to an earlier time slot in the near future, but be sure to get in for 4pm and learn to do your own maintenance work.



Standing Tall, Building the “Anti” Muscles

The “Anti” muscles?
Has Dave finally lost the plot?

No my friends I mean the anti-gravity muscles, the anti-aging and anti-injury muscles.
The muscles we should be spending time training yet few do. The muscles that may not make us look cool on the beach right now, but in 30 years time will separate us from the masses.
The muscles the make us move efficiently, powerfully and smoothly.

So which muscles are these?
To keep things brief, they’re the ones mostly found on the rear of the body, from the shoulder blades down. This takes in but is not limited to:
Calves, hamstrings, glutes, last, lower traps and rhomboids. Special mention needs to be given to the core musculature as a unit and also the quadriceps with an emphasis on the VMO.

Fortunately the list of training exercises needed to cover all this is a lot shorter.
Just so long as we stick to the big guns and use progressive overloading, we should be able to enhance the strength, coordination and power of these vital areas with just a few movements.
Movements such as:

Deep squats – goblet squats, front squats, Hindu squats (particularly good for the VMO region)

Pulls from below the hip – deadlifts, Kettlebell swings, Kettlebell and dumbbell snatch, all manner of cleans. Barbell Hip thrusts also count here.

Marianne Kane demo's the single leg deadlift, a top drill for all sorts of reasons

Marianne Kane demo’s the single leg deadlift, a top drill for all sorts of reasons

Rowing – bent over rows, dumbbell rows, inverted rows etc. Pull Ups count IF you can do them right and retract the scapula fully, as illustrated here:


Thats it. Three movement patterns:

Lower body push / Knee Dominant
Straight Arm Pull / Hip Dominant
Bent Arm Pull / Horizontal Upper Body Pull

Get these into your training program, hit them hard and hit them frequently and you will reap the benefits.

They WILL keep you more resistant to injury.
They WILL have you hitting harder and faster.
They WILL make your opponents blows bounce with barely a nod.
They WILL keep you standing tall and moving smoothly as you age disgracefully.

Hit a variety of rep ranges at a variety of intensities.
Do both Unilateral and Bilateral variations.

But whatever you do, prioritise them over all other training drills.




Kettlebell Hack Squats for Monster Quads

Strong legs are a vital requirement for, not only athleticism, but also a happy and healthy life.
As most of you reading this blog will be aware, here at WG-Fit, we train largely using kettlebells. The majority of Kettlebell work involves the posterior chain, the hamstrings, glutes and back.
We swing, we clean, we snatch. We do these with a variety of loads for a variety of rep range. From very heavy double kettlebell work for low reps to lighter single bell work for literally hundreds of reps. Our backsides are pretty well trained.

it’s no secret that for most athletic pursuits, the posterior chain is the key to power generation. we know that for those who spend their days sat behind a desk, it is o the utmost importance that the posterior chain be brought up to scratch. And for these, the kettlebell lifts are an almost foolproof way to go.

But, that leaves a huge chink in the armour. Yes, the posterior chain is vital, yes developing the glutes and hamstrings will increase power output and ward off injury, but we’re missing out one vital aspect of the leg function, knee extension.

So we squat.

But, with kettlebells it can be tricky to get adequate load for the quads. The goblet squat has become something of legend, but let’s be fair, the biggest challenge when the load goes up is holding the damn thing in place. Same with the double kettlebell front squat, we may be able to get rock bottom, but it’s rarely the legs that prevent us coming out of it, it’s the core and upper back that invariably forms the weak point.

So unless we turn to the party trick that is the pistol squat, how do we load the squat and develop the strength of the legs at full flexion?

Well, we have an answer. It’s called the Hack Squat and it is one of the few ways to really max out at full range.
Do we need to max out? well, that’s a loaded question.

I’ll grant you that the Hack Squat can be a Kill or Cure manoeuvre if you have dodgy knees, so exercise common sense before going at it. but if you are involved in the fight game, if you are a BJJ player, Judo-ka, MMA fighter or a martial artists of any ilk, you will need strength in every joint angle, from full flexion to full extension. The chances are, in a bout, even in hard sparring, your body will be put into compromised positions. Positions of extreme mechanical disadvantage. It’s simply the nature of the game.

So if you aren’t looking to develop end range strength, you’re inviting trouble.
The VMO muscles that offer strength and stability to the knee joint are only really stimulated at end range positions. positions that traditional squatting patterns are unlikely to take you without huge stress on the low back, unless of course you have the mobility of a Yogi.

I for one have to be very careful with deep squats due to previous hip and lumbar injuries.

So if we are to develop real strength and stability in our knee joint we need:

  1. Glute Strength
  2. Hamstring Strength
  3. VMO Strength
  4. Adequate mobility in the hip joint.

I’ve covered 1, 2 and 4 several times, I’ll be looking a 4 again later this week, but the following video is directly aimed at no. 3.

Remember, this isn’t for everyone, if you have dodgy knees, find out why and get them sorted before attempting the Hack Squat. If your knees are good, fire away, but ALWAYS pause at the bottom of the rep, ALWAYS.

Or else.




Stabilise the foot for maximal power generation and athleticism

How’s your foot?

Is it being all it can be?

Serious question. Is it?

Why do I ask? Why is this important?

Well, lets go to an analogy. Lets talk about cars for a while.

The part of the car that makes contact with the road is the tyre, the wheel, this all backed up by the suspension.
It’s be a poor racing driver that neglected the tyre choice, tyre pressure and suspension set up of his vehicle. He could tune up the engine, add turbo’s, change the fuel mix adjust the gear ratios and exhausts all he wants, but if the part of the vehicle that contacts the ground isn’t in perfect working order, only a portion of the power will reach the tarmac, and god help him when he hits a corner!

Our feet are the part of our body that make contact with the ground, it’s through our feet that we actually express power. We essentially wedge ourselves against the ground as we throw a ball, a kick or a punch. We press our feet hard into the deck every time we propel ourselves forwards or try to change direction.
We constantly adjust our balance and posture according to feedback from our feet. Ever wonder how your feet just seem to find the right place to land when walking or running over rough ground? It’s called proprioception and it’s something many are loosing track of these days.

These two videos are a few drills I like to use with my guys, especially those with collapsing arches, knee & low back pain.
These drills do two things:

  1. Ask the body to create stability by challenging the balance
  2. Retrain the neural connections from the foot to the brain, kinda like defragmenting the hard drive on the computer.

The first clip is about stability and proprioception.
Perform this bare foot (actually barefoot, “barefoot shoes” are still shoes) and on a solid floor.
Move the floating leg real slow, it doesn’t matter how far it goes, only that it is disturbing your centre of gravity.
Do your utmost to eliminate any wobble from the standing leg, until this happens, don;t move to the next progression. Here’s the clip:

This next clip is more about “defragmenting the drive” We’re going to walk forwards and back with the feet held in 6 different positions. I’ve no answer as to why this works, I came across the sequence in an online article several years ago. Just trust me that it does.
Again, bare foot on a solid floor (you can wear shoes for the heel walking if you wish), take your time and do these regular.
I’ve had guys come away with reduced knee pain, reduced back pain after a single set of these. I’ve another guys who increased his punching power by around 25% after a single set of these! They work.
Here’s the video:

Play with these drills, do them during your normal day as well as in your warm up and/or between training sets.
Re-establishing a relationship with the ground will change everything you do.

Once you are stable on your feet, your mobility will take a leap forwards as will your ability to  express your power.




How Can I Use My Kettlebell for Bicep Curls?

I received an email from an old friend the other day.

He’s an ex military bloke now working in private security, every time he emails me he’s in a different yet equally remote corner of the globe. In fact the time before this he had narrowly escaped the disastrous earthquakes that destroyed most of Haiti a while back. He said he felt the early shocks and made a quick decision to exit the building through the window and get to open ground. Lucky he did!

Currently he’s living in the middle of some jungle, I’ll not give details, but says he has managed to get himself a 16kg kettle which he uses to complement his training program of Hill Sprints, Push Ups and Pull Ups.

In the email he wanted to know about bicep curls and how to use the kettle to achieve these.

Bicep curls?

Yes, bicep curls.


Well, in a previous post (here) I spoke about the way i use them with our kickboxers to keep their elbows healthy. Too much emphasis on extending the elbow through push ups and punches, especially the jarring of a missed punch, can lead to imbalance across the elbow joint. I use reverse curls with a towel threaded through a kettle for fix this.

But for a tactical type of guy, what use are curls? Aside from vanity of course….

Here’s a question. Have you ever carried a fully loaded assault rifle, or stood on stag rifle ready to go at any second?
For the first while it’s grand but after a while that rifle starts to weigh and if you’re tiring, can you guarantee you’ll be able to get it up quick enough?

So here we have an argument for curls. Our boy is already doing pull ups, now he’s a military boy so he;ll be doing them with the palms out, this prevents the biceps from assisting in the move forcing the back to take the strain. So while pulls do have some bicep work, supplementing with curls (or switching to chins) isn’t a bad idea.

So have a look at this video and see how we use the kettle for curls:



Workshops & Seminars

This Sunday I’m running the Level 1 Kettlebell Lifting Workshop from 11am at Wild Geese HQ.
There are a couple of spots left open if you wish to attend.
Price is €35 and includes a copy of the Level 1 PDF Manual.

These workshops are highly detailed, so it is recommended you bring a pen and paper, even though all the info is in the Manual. Nothing beats your own notes taken at the time.

In September we have just confirmed our guest presenters for an Injury Prevention and Strength Training for MMA seminar.
We have four presenters, each with unique expertise in their particular fields:

  • Paul Cox – Strength & Mobility using the Kettlebell
  • Dave Hedges – Program design and Bodyweight Training
  • Mark Sexton – Injuries, how to manage, prevent and rehabilitate them.
  • Anne Dempsey – Yoga & Somatic stretching for flexibility and mental focus.
The provisional date is Saturday 24th September.
Places will be limited, so let me know asap if your interested.
That’s all for today,  I’ve got all my computer and internet bugs sorted out so will be updating this blog on a regular basis once more.