“…to move with the power and precision of an adult.”
What do we mean with this precision? To be accurate, or efficient, or both, and in what ways?
Precision is a quality of a movement. It is connected to the intent, the aim, and execution of the movement. Precision is a result of a tuning the body, with its perception and action systems the environment.
Precision is something that develops over time through many attempts. In the beginning, when a child is first confronted with gravity, its nervous system is not at all well tuned to its new environment. It cannot see or move very well and is vulnerable for a long time compared to most other animals. For example, in an attempt to reach with an arm to a desired position, all sorts of varied paths may be taken that can be far from the desired action.
Here, there is an important point. In order for that precision to develop, the desire is necessary. It is that desire to reach the destination that is the attractor that makes more stable patterns emerge out of chaotic variation. It is that aim that grows sustained attention and the fulfillment of that aim being reached that calibrates the developing nervous system to its surroundings and allows for more voluntary actions. In Esther Thelen’s work studying infants, there is in reaching for an object a clear progression in development similar to Feldenkrais his three phases. First, a child is not succesful in reaching for a toy. Movements may happen but the target is not reached, despite the intense engagement. Next, a child is succesful at reaching the toy, but the path is long and winding, overdoing and underdoing. At last, the target is reached with a more efficient path, after which reaching can be turned into an elegant art.
“As a thought experiment; without this desire to reach the next step, how would we progress, would we be moving at all?”
As the capacity for (precise) movements increases, so does the ability to perceive the world and choose new aims. A child that can reliably stand up will perceive more of the world and with a different perspective than a child that is staring at the ceiling. More possibilities for action will be noticed, and aimed at.
Precision is an outcome of intent and coordinated action. You can probably hit a lightswitch with your hand, but with your foot, or a tennis ball, it may be more difficult. This is precision in space. It is the coordination that brings a part of you to a desired location. Like hitting a mark in archery. Another viewpoint is precision in time. This refers to rythm, like moving to a beat. Like dance. Of course, these two elements often combine, for instance in throwing or catching
Walking is an incredibly precise action that we very often take for granted. It is both precise in time and space. Imagine every step would vary wildly in the time it took and where it would land!
A danger in movement trends of today, with the desire of people to become more flexible, mobile or ‘open’ they can trade precision and control for range of motion . They may move in wider arcs, but the movement within that arc becomes less coordinated. Timing and accuracy go down and risk of injury goes up.
As you may have noticed trying to open a door with your foot or hitting a lightswitch; balance and support are essential for precision. That is why in educating people on achieving precision it is quite effective to pay more attention to the supporting platform from which the desired action is to take place.
Try this exercise for a new perspective on movement: instead of looking at only the surface of movement, can you see a person as moving in between two points; the aim and the support? Are you aware of this in yourself?
In order to improve the way we move, the externally visible movement, the shape of the body and its path through space and time may not be enough. What we need to get a more complete picture is our own sense of effort. Being precise in your effort is a major challenge that many sports and exercise regimes pay little attention to. The focus is either on brute effectiveness, or aesthetics. Economy of movement, of doing, if you will, may be something worth investing in. To improve the quality of movement, and with it the quality of life, or for the less ambitious, it might just help you avoid burning yourself out.