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What Is Proprioception? And Why Do We Need It?

Let me tell you a little story…

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Steph was down in Sensei’s basement dojo, working with her partner, Justin. They were trying out the new technique Sensei just showed them. As Justin applied pressure and motion, Steph found herself falling. But, wait. This technique doesn’t include a fall! And just like that, she realized if she didn’t twist her body to fall correctly, she’d end up slamming into Sensei’s washing machine. Thankfully, she turned just so and managed to miss the washing machine in time.

What did Steph do?

She realized what was happening.

She perceived her proximity to the washing machine. 

She pivoted and landed safely.

What she put into practice that night, as Sensei chuckled at the fact they added a fall to the technique in the first place, was proprioception.

Nice word; it flows well. But what does it mean? I’m glad you asked! So let’s dig in, shall we?

A Definition And A Little Science

Here’s a helpful definition to get us started. Web MD states, “Proprioception, known as kinesthesia, is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location. It’s present in every muscle movement you have.” While that’s a good start, there’s more to it than that. Kinesthesia isn’t quite the same as proprioception, though the two are connected. The fundamental difference between proprioception and kinesthesia is that proprioception includes our sense of balance. It’s the subconscious knowledge of where our body is in space.

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Here’s how it works: inside our muscles are stretchy muscle receptors (spindles). They send signals into our spinal cords and up to our brains, letting us know our position at all times. There are also receptors in our tendons and skin, and they all create a continuous feedback loop between our nervous system and our bodies.

Another fascinating aspect of proprioception includes the feeling of clothes on our body, the feel of the floor beneath our feet, the chair under us, the feeling of a breeze on our skin, and any aches or pains. 

It’s why we can walk in the dark and not have to think about where our legs are or how our arms are moving. It’s why we can close our eyes and touch our noses without searching for them. It’s a fascinating concept, to be sure. 

Honing our proprioceptive skills begins with self-awareness. From there, we learn to perceive what our body’s doing and how far away objects and people are from us. So how can we use proprioception to our advantage in a self-defense situation? Good question!  Let’s explore it next. 

What’s It Got To Do With Self-Defense?

Let’s review the concept of self-awareness, which leads us naturally to proprioception. In “Who Are You? Self-Awareness is Self-Defense” we learned self-awareness is self-defense because we need to know who we are and why we’re worth protecting. This, as we discovered, leads to self-confidence based on knowing what we can and can’t do and a continual evolution into becoming ever better able to defend ourselves. 

Once this foundation is solidly built, we can add proprioception. Here’s where awareness of our bodies and using various aspects of body placement come in.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say a guy is coming in to tackle you. He wants to grab you around the waist and throw you to the ground. You leap back and hook your arms under his armpits, pulling him to the ground. You jump onto his back and hook your arm under his neck for a rear naked choke, telling onlookers to call 9-1-1.

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Let’s see how knowing what your body’s doing, and how knowing where you are in relation to your attacker, informs your response. As you see him bend down and come at you, you notice his shoulders are down where you can hook your arms over his shoulders and use his own momentum to pull him across and down, like pulling him down a slide. As he’s falling to the ground you see his proximity to your body and leap onto his back, planting yourself on his mid-back. You feel his back under your belly and pivot around, feeling where you need to stop to keep him pinned to the floor as you scoop your arm under his neck. 

You don’t want to crush his trachea, so feel where the front of his neck is so you can put the crook of your elbow there. Grab palm to palm and pull the lower arm across your ribs as you flex your other bicep. Feel his neck constrict, enough to subdue him but not enough to make him pass out unless necessary. Feel if he is struggling or calming down. Stay on his back until help arrives. Make any adjustments if and when he moves. Feel where his body is and how your body is positioned on top of it. Do you need to shift one way or the other? What are your options if he succeeds in throwing you off? Who is around, and how close are they? Can they hear you yelling for them to call 9-1-1?

A lot is happening there, but it’s all rooted in proprioception. Where am I? Where is the person about me? Do I need to angle my body differently or shift my position?  

As we understand the answers to these questions in our situation, we can strategize our response. We can shove a bench between the attacker and us. We can run into a building if it’s close enough. We can ensure our kids are safe by getting between them and the guy coming after them. You get the idea.

Honing our proprioceptive skills begins with self-awareness.

How We Teach It

Proprioception is a foundational aspect of every technique we teach. So we take the time to determine the best angles and distancing and the how, when, and where of specific stances and strikes. 

And it all begins with becoming aware of where we are in the room. Then we tune in to our bodies and notice several things:

  • How do our clothes feel on our bodies? Soft? Tight? Smooth? 
  • How do our bodies feel – do we feel pain anywhere? 
  • How are we positioned in the room about others? Could we reach out and touch them, or are they farther away? How far away are they?

We often teach proprioception, beginning with a slow body scan, head to toe, sometimes standing, sometimes lying down. We flex and relax our muscles. We feel the air on our skin and the sensation of taking a deep breath. 

As we execute various self-defense techniques in class, we explore body positioning. For example, where are my hips in relation to my training partner? If I’m going to perform a back throw, for instance, I’d better make sure I’ve tucked my hips securely into my partner’s, or I’m going to injure my back. 

Throwing a punch has many proprioceptive elements as well. As I’m delivering a reverse punch, for example, I feel the power come through my back foot, pivot my hips just so, and make sure my fist is tight, and all the power is aimed right through the pointer and middle fingers in that area beneath the knuckles. The hand is dipped slightly so the arm is fused from fist to shoulder and I don’t injure myself. And I feel my body push it through, shoulder through fists, past the pad, into the area behind my training partner. 

And in every technique, there’s distancing. If I’m too close to my partner – or the perp – I won’t be able to throw as good a punch if that’s my goal. Or if I’m too far away, my strike is weakened, and I won’t be able to push it through. 

In-class training teaches us how close or far away to position ourselves. And depending on the technique, I need to shift back at a 45-degree angle to deflect an incoming strike and then close the distance by pushing through using whatever strike works best.

If I’m sparring, are my knees at least slightly bent? Are my muscles relaxed or tense? So many of our strikes involve various body parts working correctly together. Are they? We take time to notice if all the body parts are working together as they should to make sure we’re doing the technique correctly. And if we are, we’re much more likely to get the desired results.

We start with self-awareness and on into proprioception from there, with self-confidence buoying us along.

But… Do I Need This?

Pretty much everyone develops proprioception, which grows as we become aware of our bodies and how we relate to the world around us. But at some point, we stop paying attention. We get used to navigating in predictable patterns, and don’t really develop it much beyond not hitting our head on low doorways or (hopefully) noticing the cat before we trip over her. 

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing. We live in an increasingly unpredictable world, where we can quickly get confused and disoriented if something comes at us seemingly out of nowhere. If we misjudge how close that car is, whether we can escape the guy coming at us, or whatever situation could conceivably arise in this crazy world – we could end up seriously injured. Or worse. 

The reason we started Tigress’ Roar is multifaceted, but at the core is a passionate desire to see women like you become strong, skilled, and fearless. To partner with you as you rise from where you are into the powerful woman you were made to be, your fellow travelers on this journey cheering you on. 

By setting aside a couple hours a week to increase your proprioception, you’ll be able to better navigate daily life and become fully ready and able to take on whatever comes. And there’s so much more to learn and so many ways to grow. We can help you get there.

We’ll meet you right where you are, and together we’ll grow into the warriors we were made to be.

You’re welcome here.

Join us!



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