A Tense Muscle is a Slow One

A tense muscle is a slow one. This is a physiological and demonstrable fact in the martial arts. Could this be true in other aspects of our lives?

In karate, the power that can be generated by a punch is primarily due to speed, not muscle. It is the snap at the end of the whip. That is why petite people can learn to break boards and bricks with their hands—it’s not really about callouses, it’s more about the ability to generate that pop at the end of the thrust.

But a tense muscle is a slow one. So the high levels of training in the martial arts are about relaxation and balance, because that allows the flexibility and response-ability required to mobilize maximum resources at maximum speed for maximum results.

If I were sparring with you, I’d like nothing better than for you to be uptight and tense and over- or under-react to me. That’s called a “fake.” If that happens, I can control you. Your kids know that. So does a business adversary. People will unconsciously find your weak spots and use them to cause you to inappropriately respond and “lose.”

Not talking about six-beers-in-front-of-the-TV kind of relaxed. Rather, the most resourceful state of mind required when four people jump you in a dark alley, or you have to have That Serious Conversation with your son, or you have to fire someone.

To cleanly and clearly focus, 100%, with all your conscious and unconscious resources available for the task or expression at hand—that is the optimal “ready state.” It produces your ability to deal with surprise—elegantly, efficiently, and effectively. It will be your competitive edge. It is powerful.

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.


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