What is and what is not natural movement?

In a great deal of schools you can hear the words “we will teach you what comes naturally” So the question to your instructor should be; what is natural movement and how do we know it’s natural?

Observe a new-born child a few days old, when a loving parent places their finger onto the babies palm, you see the baby grasp the finger. As soon as the new-born is able to stand, we see the beginnings of their attempt to walk! None of this is taught, it’s simply natural movement, this is the starting point for what I call Neuromuscular Programming (NMP). Over the remainder of our lives we will use NMP every day to perform our natural movement. A connection is built over time and is continually reinforced every time we perform the action, our mind recognises the postures and muscle firing sequences that tell it what action is intended by the body. The real trick is to create links from NMP to Martial Art movement and that’s what I will start to explore a little later, but first we need to get appreciation of what the body can learn that is not natural, this is learned bad behaviour.

Learned Bad behaviour

As humans we have the ability to learn and move in a wide variety of ways, some of which is unnatural. For example break dancing or even something as simple as walking in a straight line, analyse your own walking gait! how many of you walk with your feet facing outwards? over time what has happened here is that the major muscles of the leg have become lazy and allowed the feet to fall outwards, this then transfers to the feet and subsequently your own walking gait.

Which moves within the martial arts do you think our natural and which ones are learned bad behaviour?

What about, a hand-sword, a punch, a step, a kick or a block? Is it natural for us to fight at all?

From our early beginnings the one thing man has been doing is fighting, its part of our make up, back when we first walked the earth, the likelihood is that we never had complicated fighting systems, they came along much later. At a very base the level the natural weapons that we have are out teeth, fingers and nails. Over all the years that the Martial arts have been around different cultures and influences have changed the way we look at forming our natural weapons. The point here is that we developed weapons to fight with, we then termed our own body parts as natural weapons, to make a clear distinction between man-made and weapons that could be formed using our body. From this grew a great many variations of different weapons and the way they can be used. Some of these are simply not natural in any way. The weapon is not and the way it’s delivered is not either, this does not mean the weapon is not effective, it is, it’s just not natural. An example of a non-natural weapon is the top of the foot or the Metatarsals. They are part of our body, yes, just not a good natural weapon.

let’s look at one very specific weapon and try to discover its effectiveness. Remember nothing is right or wrong! It’s either not effective, effective, more effective or most effective. The traditional Handsword is a good place to start. This weapon is usually formed by touching the fingers together and straightening the fingers and the hand, so that it looks like a sword, hence the name Handsword right! Choose a target or something that you can hit, and try not to damage your hand. It’s not about what others feel it’s about what you feel that matters. Handsword the target a few times with the hand formed as described above. Now spread your metacarpus, the ones on the back of your hand, the thumb also needs to be pulled away from the hand, this is a complete reverse of the first posture, try hitting your target with this weapon. Hopefully you will discover that the hand has more structure to it. The posture in more in line with taking impact than before, you could say its more NATURAL!

Natural Movement

We all move completely naturally in our everyday lives, it’s just what we do, why then is it that when we enter a Martial Arts school we are taught to move in ways that we have never done before? Movement is so natural most of us take it for granted. Just walking down the street is an example of natural movement, nobody teaches us how to walk! however when we observe people walking we soon learn that not all of us walk the same. Compare a natural walk with a sliding step often found within a Martial Art. We have never walked this way before and are now being told to slid the foot close to the floor! If we happen to ask why the answer may be, it teaches you to feel the floor in case something is there, it puts you in touch with the ground! Yep that’s right we never do it in our daily lives but because some high-ranking black belt tells you then it has to be right! No it’s not. Why? well that’s for later.

Look at the way you walk, do your feet point out to the side when you walk naturally? or do you walk with your feet straight, of maybe even with your toes in? each of the above have varying degrees of angles. We are all made to walk in a straight line and usually we place our heel to the floor first then the ball of the foot and transition through the toes as we lift our foot again. Walking naturally requires the foot to maintain an alignment through the ankle, knee, and hip joints, when we observe a person walking with their feet pointing out to the side, what we see is a relaxing of the aductor Longus, and the Couturier muscle’s.

This relaxing of the legs allows the feet to point outwards and with it the knees and the legs in general, effectively we walk on the out side of the foot, this is what I call bad learned behaviour, we walk in a manner that is not structurally correct. Over time this will have a detrimental affect on our pelvic structure and the lower joints of the leg. We should pay attention to this and make an effort to get our lower platform and legs working with the correct alignment. All of this will ultimately effect the way we move, making it more efficient, it will also help greatly with a Martial application.

While you execute a forward or straight front kick pay attention to the positioning of the supporting foot and the direction of execution, with the above in mind try to maintain structural alignment.

Let me know what you think.


  1. #1 by StephenC on May 18, 2012 - 12:09

    As ever thought provoking ideas from Kevin. Great to see fact based analysis and learning. Looking forward to upcoming articles.

  2. #2 by John Thomas on May 23, 2012 - 15:09

    Excellent points! I particularly like those about the ‘handsword’. It has made me think about other moves that I make – are they natural? Could I find a more effective way, despite so many years training techniques?

    • #3 by Kevin Mills Martial Arts Expert on May 24, 2012 - 08:18

      Hi John, thanks for the feedback, it’s always great to hear that my writing has given someone an idea and a different look at something, that’s part of the whole reason for doing the Blog. If we think along the lines of bio-mechanics and what’s natural a great many moves can be adapted to become more efficient.

  3. #4 by Champion Karate West on July 19, 2012 - 23:13

    Natural movements are very good for exercising your body correctly. There are natural movements you can do that will help you be able to use all of your body parts for life.

  4. #5 by Scot Conway on November 26, 2012 - 22:59

    I imagine what I once called “functional movement” (which has been adopted for other purposes) might fit your definition of “natural” or “structural movement.” I think I’ll start using that term. I’m a big believer in using the body according to design. The more we use our body outside the design parameters, the more we wear our body down. The more we put structural stress on our body, the stronger we become and the stronger we remain. I’m 47, and I am astonished that I’m supposed to be in “old person’s division” at tournaments, since I’m better now than I was before I was 35. But, then again, my body could put up with more unnatural movement and unstructural stress back then.

    Loved the article.

    • #6 by Kevin Mills Martial Arts Expert on November 28, 2012 - 09:02

      Thanks for your feedback Scot.

      I am a little older in the tooth now and find efficient movement helps a great deal.


  5. #7 by Steve Langbridge on December 7, 2012 - 12:02

    It becomes very difficult to unlearn ways that have been practiced over many years. Training in Traditional Japanese Karate, and the more modern Kenpo provides many challenges.
    A classic example for me is the Japanese Hip rotation while punching (Koshi Mararu) as opposed to the Kenpo Slap check isolation.
    I have no problem accepting either, but my body muscle memory causes the conflict here.
    This is why it is SO important to teach beginners correct movement from their early training.

    Thanks Kevin for a thought inspiring article.

    Steve Langbridge

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