Chris Davis - A systematic approach to developing martial body skills

I came across Chris Davis and his MartialBody method back in 2017 and got immediately impressed by how he managed to deconstruct body skills that are often talked about in martial arts and teach them online in a systematic manner.

The road to developing deep body skills can be long and austere, but also filled with mystifications and many masters with great skills have shown to be relatively poor teachers. In this interview, Chris explains how he developed his system from both a skills perspective and a learning perspective, and brings body skills back to the center of combative martial arts.


How did you start your martial arts journey?


I began training in the Martial Arts at a very young age, I think it was around 7 years old. I was a very unruly child and I think this was the motivation for my mother to send me to the local Judo Club! I instantly had the sensation that Martial Arts were for me, it is strange but I remember this distinctly even at that young age. Fate would intervene in this early experience in the martial arts however, when I got a back injury during a small competition maybe 1 or 2 years into the training. This injury was healed soon enough and I would begin to train with a friend who lived near by. We would watch Martial Arts movies, figure out the moves and then fight with them … I mean really fight, bloody noses, bruised eyes, sprained wrists were common. One of us would always be running home crying with some injury or other, but then we would be out there again the next day fighting once again.

I mention this because I believe it to be a pivotal early development in my approach to learning. This method, of investigating things and then trying to deconstruct how they work to make them effective would influence the rest of my life. Who would have thought that such an interesting concept could come from Ninja Movies or Enter the Dragon!


In my teens I dabbled in Wado Ryu Karate, Ninpo, Muay Thai and Boxing. None of these methods grabbed me in the same way that Judo had all those years before however. So, wanting to return to Grappling arts, eventually I turned up at the door of a Jujutsu school. It was to prove another turning point for me, it was a school of the famous Daito Ryu style. I studied this style, as well as Ono Ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu, Enshin Ryu Iaido  and Kukishin Ryu Bojutsu for many years to come, training every week day in classes and then for hours at home.


During one of the visits of  my teacher from Japan, we learnt the famous Aiki-no-jutsu work and the associated solo training methods. I realized very quickly that it was these exercises that made Sensei’s skill unique. This pointed me towards the importance of body method and my interest in the subject body skill as a primary concern, was born.


From this point forwards, I would research the body methods of various martial arts and other practices, eventually finding my next teacher from whom I delved deeply into the study of the Chinese internal arts, primarily Xing Yi Quan and Taiji Quan, but also some Ziranmen and Ba Gua.

The training of these style was very different to that of Daito Ryu. The focus was entirely on the development of ‘body skill’ and the techniques that would arise from a few simple body concepts were vast and wide ranging. There was no catalogue of applications, no formality even – there was simply the internal investigation of our own body and mind. This further cemented the idea that body method was an extraordinarily important part of the martial arts puzzle.

As my understanding began to grow I would travel to train with and visit a number of highly skilled martial artists from a wide range of styles, Chinese and Japanese traditions, Russian Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Indonesian and south east Asian styles and modern combat sports. It was from here that I would begin to formulate my experiences and research into a coherent system of body method development.

Along the years, you’ve met high level adepts from different martial arts. What made them stand out from the rest ?

An interesting question. I think what stood out to me is that all of them had committed almost obsessively to the investigation of their own body and skill. Without question the very best I have met have, in some way or another, deviated from the orthodoxy and forged their own approach to the problems and puzzles inherent in their individual style, and framed within the ‘flavor’ of their tradition. The goals and objectives of the varied practices remained but the depth was uncovered through innovation and personal responsibility / exploration.

For some, this ultimately meant that they were not skilled teachers in fact. They had remarkable skills and truly powerful capabilities and this invariably drew people to them to learn. But often they had forgotten what got them there, and were only able to teach through the lens of their current capabilities. This was another pivotal learning for me, that what the individual teacher can do themselves is somewhat irrelevant to our own development and growth. The teacher should be an impressive example of where the system can take someone, but they must also be able to teach. 

From a technical perspective and returning to their own personal skillset, what made them stand out was that they all seemed ‘bigger’ than their stature would suggest. What I mean by this is that they seemed to have more of whatever attribute their particular flavor of martial arts were focused on. They were able to manifest the very core of their martial art through their extremely refined body method. 

One expert might have appear to have more strength than their size, another might have extraordinary levels of agility, still another an uncanny sensitivity, in all cases it was that they had ‘more’ of whatever their ‘thing’ was. 

The cataloguing, reviewing and training of these attributes, at their very essence is the research that would eventually give rise to the MartialBody Concept and training method. 



They were able to manifest the very core of their martial art through their extremely refined body method. 

One expert might have apparently more strength than their size, another might have extraordinary levels of agility, still another an uncanny sensitivity, in all cases it was that they had ‘more’ of whatever their ‘thing’ was.

What were some of the training methods you came across and how important were they for these specific arts?

I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of individual training methods now, from various styles of training. They all have a refined system of training the body to prepare it for the rigors of their specific martial style. It would be hard to single out any one technique as this is not particularly my method of assessment. I prefer to take a top down view of individual methods and assess them by goal and objective rather than by technical detail. 

But, instead, I can say that all of the best ones would be a combination of mind training, body training and breath training. Most, if not all of the best martial systems I have encountered have some combination of training these 3 aspects. Even modern sport fighters have a combination of these factors built into their training regimen.

How are these methods different from conventional strength training?

Firstly, I think we have to assess training approaches based on goal.
The goal of an MMA fighter aiming for championship status will be different from the Aikidoka wanting to add internal power to their method.  This difference may seem trivial at first but it is vital when looking at the value or validity of a specific training protocol. So, with that said, I think that all methods have merit: conventional strength training and cardiovascular training have their place. But, there are other ways of training that aim to produce different (not better) effects for our body that cannot be achieved through those means.

 Training in the attribute approach like that found in MartialBody or other similar methods will produce a set of conditions that are not often found through conventional means. I have the pleasure of teaching a few Sport Science graduates and I have asked them previously “How would you design a training protocol to make someone feel heavier to their opponent?” … invariably blank faces result.

It is in the development of these ‘hard to train’ but extremely valuable attributes that the Internal Arts and partially related methods like MartialBody show their merit.

HeavyBody: feeling heavier to your opponent


MartialBody is built on six body attributes, based on patterns you’ve noticed in all these experts. What are they and is there a specific order to train them?

The MartialBody system is defined as a supplementary training system to develop a series of useful attributes that can enhance and augment the martial artists ability to use their specific Martial Art. It is not a martial art unto itself and should not be viewed as such.

This system is built on a deliberate progression to develop the 6 attributes which is then repeated. The 6 attributes are trained in the following order 


1) Heaviness (heavybody)
2) Stability (stablebody)
3) Connection (connectedbody)
4) Agility (elasticBody)
5) Complexity (spiralbody)
6) Fluidity (Fluidbody)



The system runs from 1 to 6 for a specific reason.

First, we start with the HeavyBody Attribute. If you think of trying to lift an unconscious person they will often feel FAR harder to lift than a conscious one – something I was able to test many times as a nightclub doorman. The reason they feel heavy is due to the depth of relaxation they possess. HeavyBody, and the appearance of ‘heaviness’ as an attribute is reliant on this release of tension. The training is designed to bring this release under our control so that we may utilize it. However, the training, by its very nature, rids our body unwanted or unconscious tension. This comes first as it is usually tension that creates postural misalignments and flaws. It would be a mistake for us to begin to build tissue over postural flaws and so releasing the bindings through which they are created comes first in the process. 

Second comes the StableBody. Here we focus our time on harmonizing the body's joints and aligning the structure of the body. This process is not easy to manage if we are still tense or tight, and hence it comes after the HeavyBody section. Here we are training our ability to align our bones, joints and posture and training to increase our  ‘proprioception’ and mapping our body in our awareness. This is a tedious process as we much constantly assess and correct our misalignments in fine detail.

Once we have the soft tissues and the well developed structure, we are able to build on top of it, and here is the realm of the ConnectedBody. In this section we stretch and pull on chains of tissue so as to link them neurologically and physically. This process is the start of the ‘building’ phase of MartialBody Training and from it a type of whole body connected power immerges. In the later stages we find an ‘internal stretch’ inside our bodies in any position which produces a fullness, or oneness. This is what Ueshiba would term, ‘removing the slack’.

Next we begin to develop ‘elasticity’ in those same tissues – this is the ElasticBody. This elasticity is the domain of agility and will give us a strong ability to move with speed. It is the equal opposite to the HeavyBody in that is an expression of the up direction. This process is similar to the famous ‘Ching Gong’ or lightness skill of traditional Chinese internal arts. We cannot develop this if we have not learnt to feel and connect the appropriate lines of the ConnectedBody, as these same lines are the ones we increase elasticity in, so it must come after this.

Now that we have a soft, stable, connected and elastic, structure, we can begin to move it with complexity. SpiralBody is the beginning of the ‘movement’ phase of MartialBody training and here we train the body to move with complexity. The process takes us from point to point movement, to linear rotation, to circling, and finally to spiral movement. The aim here is to entrain a deep twist into the body so that it will always express it, even in seemingly linear movement. This complexity will engage more tissue, will create unusual force vectors and generally be harder for an opponent to perceive or deal with.

Finally we come to the release of the mind so that it can act in accordance with the requirements of the situation. This can only happen when the body is actually capable of enacting the will of the mind and so comes last. This is where fluidity and flow states become present and is the known in the MartialBody system as  the FluidBody. I would define this as the hardest training in the MartialBody system because it is a process of, essentially, re-wiring our natural inclinations related to movement, action and re-action.

As you can see, each part of the process builds on the last. This is a clear progression and although each of the ‘Bodies’ can be extraordinarily effective on their own, they are also constituents of a complete approach.

Once the exponent runs through the process, they should return to the start – focusing on the HeavyBody – addressing deeper unwanted tensions and then moving through the cycle again. Each run through may take a years, but with each cycle… the depth of the attribute increases. 





You initially shared your research and expertise on your blog (internalpowertraining.com that is now redirecting to Chris' Tai Chi Academy), what was your ambition when creating martialbody.com?

Internal power training was an attempt to present my ideas while holding onto some notion of traditionalism. But in fact this turned out to be a hindrance more than a help. For many people ‘Internal Power’ means something that I do not do. They associate it with the charlatans of the Internal Arts, firing chi balls at compliant students. That is not what I do, and not what any of the experts I have met do, those who really had ‘internal power’ as I would call it.



The move from ‘Internal Power’ was a very deliberate one. Firstly, to distance myself from that notion of the ‘internal arts’ described above. Secondly, it was to be more appropriate to those I found myself teaching. I actually teach more people from non-internal arts backgrounds that from the internal arts and the term ‘internal’ meant nothing to them. Finally, there are many things in the MartialBody system that I would not define as traditional internal training from some of the action reaction works, to the agility training and some of the two person drills. Having a more generic framework,  like that found in MartialBody not only opens myself up to explore how to best produce the attributes we are aiming for, but also allows practitioners to do the same.

The system is not set in stone, it is a framework for developing attributes rather than a concrete system. There are foundations trainings that everyone should know of course, but then we are all free to try to develop the 6 attributes through any means. It could be that a practitioner has a technique in their style that is perfectly suited to developing heaviness, with a change of focus towards that goal. As such, that would still be ‘MartialBody’ training in its essence.



The Tai Chi Academy is a separate endeavor which I was hounded by ex-students to produce (laughs). It is my approach to Tai Chi, which I have studied extensively, and is, of course, flavored heavily by the MartialBody System.

You define your system as internal power training rather internal martial art, what is the difference?

In fact, I do not define my system that way at all anymore. You will now rarely see me talk of ‘internal power training’. But when I did, it was simply because it was not a martial art. That is also true of MartialBody.

In the same way that many martial artists will use ‘stone locks’, sandbags or Kettlebells to augment their Martial Arts Skills, a martial artist can ’use’ the MartialBody system. It is a supplement for their body method development processes and can fit into any Martial setting. I truly believe this is the great benefit of Internal Power Training, or MartialBody, its applicability as a system of development suitable for all, rather than the preserve of the Traditional Internal Martial Arts.

How did you organise training on MartialBody.com ?

The online instruction is progressive and deliberately focused on those techniques and details that can be accurately taught through that media. Initially we have the ‘Foundations’ Courses and these are precisely that. The foundational exercises that will provide the practitioner with a basic framework of training to begin to feel the development of the 6 bodies. Then we have ‘toolkit’ courses that add specific ‘common’ ideas onto the basic training for the 6 bodies. Things like Dan Tien training or using tools and objects.

I am now working on the Phase 2 training where we build on the foundational courses with more advanced skills. These will be the final online courses I produce for the online environment as they will already be enough for a lifetime of study. 

It seems that a wide variety of Martial Artists from every art you can imagine have successfully picked up this work and have felt its benefit in their regular training and competition.

Working on the Dan Tien


It’s often said that internals “have to be felt”. How do you overcome this challenge when teaching online?

I absolutely agree that the Internal Martial Arts must be felt to have the most context. Unsurprisingly, those whom I train with are those who require the least convincing of the methods. But with that said, there are absolutely clear methods and techniques that one can train on their own, with the right details. Especially when we are talking about supplementary training, rather than Martial Arts distance learning is an applicable approach.

The exercises in the foundations & Phase 2 courses are specifically designed so that they reliably produce the desired effects. If you train them … really train them… you get the results. It’s almost harder not to get the results! This has been confirmed time and again with people from every walk of life. Frankly, the hardest part is not the techniques, it is getting people to really train them. To devote your time to a method for months or years is a big ask, but if people do the work, the results come.


The harder part to train is the partner training and two person work that are present in the courses, simply because you need the right partner. Ego is something that can creep in quickly when two martial artists stand in front of each other, so maintaining healthy focus on what the practice is trying to achieve can be a challenge. With that said, again, these exercises have been selected specifically for their ability to show or develop the attributes, and many of the more complex ‘games’ that I teach are absent from the online material.

Ego is something that can creep in quickly when two martial artists stand in front of each other, so maintaining healthy focus on what the practice is trying to achieve can be a challenge.


Developing internal skills can be an austere and frustrating process, what are some of the best learning strategies you’ve identified?

I think the best way to understand how to develop internal skills is to understand clearly what you lack. In the personal training I provide we do a clear assessment of the 6 attributes and their mix, always framed within the progression of the 6 attributes. If someone has a general level in all 6 attributes then they run through them in order.

But some people may already be extremely relaxed, they may be ‘floppy’ and loose, and for them, I wouldn’t start with HeavyBody training, instead focusing them on a strict and prolonged ConnectedBody regime. Similarly some people may be stiff and strong, for them a prolonged HeavyBody training regime may be in order. Although there is a framework present as standard, we have to contextualize for our own specific needs.

With a clear understanding of what we lack, we can build a training process towards what we need, much like identifying what is missing from our diet will help us heal certain  ailments.

With that said one aspect of MartialBody training that cannot be ignored is, once again, that you actually have to train it. It seems that so many people I encounter are obsessed with information or data, they will watch a course, absorb some of the ideas intellectually and then leave it there! The people who stand out are invariably the ones who train the work. It is the simplest thing in the world, it is the most basic of advice, but it is truly the ‘Big Secret’.

I once met a Ba Gua Master from Taiwan and he said it very well. “I can give you all the information I have freely, but you will never understand it where it counts … in your body …. Unless you actually train”

What are some common mistakes to avoid when training a martial body?

I think the biggest mistake is to have ‘rigidity of mind’. This is truly an error. We get stuck in our personal beliefs about how something ‘should’ work and lose sight of how it ‘could’ work. We look at things through the lenses of our available perception, and this can cause rigidity in our approach.


Instead we should give ourselves the mental freedom to discover the reality of the methods ‘inside of ourselves’. After all, MartialBody, internal training any training is only alive when the exponent uses it.

As Musashi said “seek nothing outside of yourself.”

You are a seasoned BJJ fighter and worked as a doorman for years. How do you bring your learnings back to combatives?

Fighting and training are unquestionably different, but I can say that the development of the MartialBody gives one an advantage. In Grappling the advantage is unquestionable and significant. We need only look at the prevalence of ‘body and breath’ skills in some of the greats like Rickson Gracie to see the advantage that it can bestow on the serious competitor. It would be a long answer to explain with precision how I ‘use’ the MartialBody attributes in Grappling, but suffice to say if we were to ask those that I train with, they would likely say that I feel far ‘bigger’ than my size.

For real fighting there is a lot to consider, perhaps much of the ‘fight’ is not physical at all, it is in our posture, our pre-fight discussions, our perception of flash points, our positioning, our ability to go from nothing to something in an instant.

In fact when things get physical we forget we have a body at all, let alone a MartialBody. It is then that the training of the attributes comes into its own, as they arise spontaneously to help us save our own life. This is the truth of fighting, if you believe that you will think to do something, will think to use this body method or that, you have not been in a serious fight. The training flows from  you freely backed by the body acting as it must … So we need to make sure our body is capable of the demands placed upon it. If we have the body skill to end a fight in an instant, we have something useful.



To discover more of Chris Davis' work, visit martialbody.com or read through his blog and research



Commentaires

Nicolas a dit…
Merci beaucoup Xavier pour cette interview!

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