Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Typically when absorbed in discussion, we may listen to what we are being asked although we don’t always actually hear what the person is saying. Listening and hearing are two very different things. I had my own experience of this recently when in a session I was asked a question that momentarily made me pause and think before I responded however it was only on the journey home that my entire conscious thought became immersed in it. Buddhists have an approach called ‘The Shoshin’ which refers to the beginners mind. The Shoshin allows every human to approach a task as a beginner would do and see great opportunity in everything we do where as an expert would see only a few opportunities. This philosophy was evoked in my mind as for some unexplainable reason I saw great opportunity in exploring this question further with such enthusiasm and opportunity, perhaps The Shoshin. The question asked was by a coach who when describing how a player moved stated they had ‘great balance’. Now, this may appear to some as a relatively unadventurous and unremarkable question however it provoked much thought for me as to what balance really is. Why was this? I’m actually not sure. Therefore let’s discuss this more as the word balance for me can be both helpful and unhelpful.
Golf has inherited many words and definitions that used elsewhere in life can have a completely different meaning. If we pause and apply thought to the words we use within golf coaching we may question why such words have become so embedded into golf linguistics, for example if we re-oriented both our ribcage and club face to both aim right of the target line this can be defined as closed with the ribcage however open with the club face despite both aiming in the same direction as the reference they are being related to. One is now defined as open and the other defined as closed however they both aim to the same place? I’m sure there are many more examples we could use...
Ok, back to the main question we’re discussing and let’s look at what balance is within human movement? In short it’s simply how humans interact and communicate with gravity. What makes this of such intrigue is every single movement we make in life from making a golf swing to cleaning our teeth is simply how we interact and move with gravity in our attempt to complete the task. However, humans can’t see gravity a little like fishes can’t see water therefore what we are being influenced by and having to communicate with both surrounds and guides us perhaps more than we are aware of. The basis of human movement is something humans are still actually unable to answer. Why we move the way we do, why joints have become configured in the way they have, why we have evolved the way we have from the early days of fish to the current evolved human is something anthropologists have explored by for centuries. What we do know to some level of acceptance is that human movement is controlled mainly by action and task, to be more precise how we control our postures as we move through time, space and gravity. When applying this to golf, is postural control a more accurate explanation of what we’re producing rather than attempting to have good balance? By definition, if we do not fall over whilst hitting a golf ball then how can we ever be out of balance? To consciously control movement and not fall over is often defined by some as being in balance, although for this to happen requires active thought, however active thought is cognitively more exhaustive with the result being humans move slower, therefore if you would like to lose distance and club speed in short, think about controlling how you move. Intuitive control? You can’t have one and also expect the other. People that have attained mastery of their chosen subject are some of the least balanced people on the planet as for them being balanced is problematic, their imbalances and motivations are equally what makes them a master of what they do which some people perceive as being obsessive. One could argue we can have balanced obsessions however most masters often state that you should find something you love and allow it to kill you, hardly society’s definition of balance.
Applying this to golf and movement, we are only never actually not in balance when we are falling over/down, therefore regardless what position we are in during life, if we are not falling this is actually balance as it’s how the human is interacting with gravity whilst in their positions in time. The most realistic posture we have is the one we are unaware of as it’s the one that best represents how at this moment in time we are interacting with gravity. Golf coaches often refer to players being out of balance or having broken/dysfunction moves, however the human system is never broken as it will always do the best it can with what is has available, therefore a more accurate word is we are adaptive movers not dysfunctional ones. As an example within movement pain happens because joints can’t move not because they can. When exploring our movement vocabulary if anyone tells you not to move that way then that’s even more reason to. Why? There’s not a human on the planet that knows your body better than gravity and what may be a very demanding and unadvisable move for one human may be an extremely exploratory and expansive move for another. I frequently see parents tell their children when playing ‘not to move this way’ as they perceive the movements they’re making as painful and harmful, what’s harmful and painful is when you can’t do what we are designed to do rather than when we can. A little like health and safety rules as often these constraints actually make us less healthy and less safe. Why? Many people of an age hurt themselves through falling because they don’t know how to fall and when they do, their bodies have become desensitised to falling.
Joints like end range elasticity with almost every powerful move we make in golf being achieved when we’re at or approaching end range and as perceived by some, in poor alignment. The reality of life is we’re never in ‘good alignment’ however this is often how many people train. The Lunge (Split squat) is described by some as ‘functional move’ with ankle, knee, hip all in wonderful alignment as we bend flex through the hip/knee/ankle then extend through these joint to ascend. However, can we think of any movement in life where we ever move this way therefore how was this decided to be a functional move as I can’t recall ever seeing a baby or young child move this way as they are still the most intuitive movers we know, well certainly until they reach school age!
When exploring our own movements and in essence ‘learning to be...’ the attitude we could take is the washing machine approach - throw everything in, all colours, materials, garment etc. and then see what comes out. This is still our most playful and often serendipitous approach to new discoveries. The words we use reflect our beliefs and equally, our beliefs reflect our movements. Rigid thinkers - rigid movers, precise thinkers - precise movers, powerful thinkers - powerful movers... I know which one I would like to aspire to be. However for some this can be too powerful a concept which is reflected in how automated and comfortable life as become for many, however the reality is humans are now being killed by comfort. Therefore when exploring your training and current movement options, training is about being happy moving away from neutral and the middle as people that often experience pain are used to training in mid-range however most pain occurs at end range, for example in golf at top of backswing or end range in through swing. Similar in some ways to people who are trying to stand still and be controlled before they hit a ball, however they forget they are stood on a moving planet therefore even when you are ‘standing still’ you are still moving and interacting with gravity.
Great movers are like mechanical springs, the golf swing is one of the most wonderful examples of a powerful, spiralled, elastic movement that regardless of what way the spring is pulled, it always recoils back and regains it shape. Therefore it’s never out of balance. In this automated virtual world where gravity is now having an evident effect as we spend more time sat down and compressed with our brains becoming more internally aware and less externally aware of the world around us, many people want things instantaneous and expect immediate validation of the approach they take, however the reality of human movement is if you want something done well, invariably it won’t be cheap or will it happen quick, however if you want something done quick it won’t be done well and will be done cheap and if you want something done cheap it won’t be done well and it will be done quick.