CREATIVE TENSION – the weapon of protest and performance

In the background Gene Ammons is playing his tenor sax in that haunting, honking, masculine, full body  style of his.  He is teamed up with Richard “Groove” Holmes on the Hammond B-3 organ, with Ray Barreto laying down those heavy handed,  syncopated Latin accents on congas. Gene is from Chicago and the son of the famous 1930’s/1940’s stride pianist, Albert Ammons. Gene’s playing is essential and quintessential Chicago. He is  very big,  basic and “broad shouldered” .

It was in Chicago on a very hot and muggy summer day in 1963, with sweat  dripping  and tickling down the crease of my back  . I was sitting at the absolute rear of a small store front church on the West Side when the term “CREATIVE TENSION” was first introduced to me. I was shaken out of a small and shallow revelry of trying to understand how a city that a mere six months earlier had been through ten days of 10 degrees below zero or lower, could possibly be this hot. Then I heard it.

“What Dr King wants us to do is to generate a situation of  ” Creative Tension”. That means passive, non-violent action and reaction,… matter what happens ! That means we should go about exercising our civil rights and civil duties in a respectful and dignified manner. This will bring about sharp contrast between our conduct and the conduct and of the people who will resist our efforts. This contrast will be clearly shown and highlighted on television and it will be easy for everyone to see the who the “Children of Darkness are, versus the Children of Lightness”.  This is “Creative Tension” and one of the underlying weapons we have against these oppressors .”.  If I thought it was hot in Chicago, it paled by the heat I experienced a scant few days later in Mississippi.

What is about to follow is the promised follow up effort from the piece criticizing the pathetic proliferation of medical and massage personnel and hucksters at major meets of a week ago. What is about to follow is based upon the idea and concept that a totally relaxed muscle can not fire as effectively as a muscle already “on load” or, in other words, in some form or degree of tetanus.  There are several persuasive examples of the need for muscle tension prior to the intended  maximum performance contraction. There is a term for it” “POST ( after ) TETANUS ( contraction ) POTENCY ( potential )”. It basically means that after a muscle has already been contracted and is in a state of “creative tension”, it has greater potential for a stronger contraction than a muscle that is totally relaxed. We see this practiced when jumpers undertake several active and dynamic bounds at the beginning of their approach in order to “load” the strategic muscles for a bigger contraction later at take-off. It has been reported that some throwers undergo lifting sessions on the day of their event, again to get a pre-event “load”.  To the extent athletes  get “attention” ( massage, stretching, etc. ) that by its very nature “relaxes” them beyond the point of “creative tension”  then they are less prepared to give their maximum effort because some of that potential has been squeezed out of them and left on the “treatment” table. Psychologically, the athlete might feel “better” because they are more “relaxed” but there is the very distinct possibility that they have  traded maximum comfort for maximum performance. The secret in all this pre-meet attention is to have the person working on the athletes knowing exactly where the “creative tension” zone for that athlete and for that athlete’s body parts happens to be. Since most do not know this, then we are left with a serendipitous and seriously flawed process.

One of the real dangers of  of athletes who leave college and successfully go “pro” is the fact that once they start to make money, they can now afford massages on a more than weekly basis. Given the fact that massage makes them “feel good” and the massage therapist is confident they are “doing the right thing”, we have reciprocal and mutual enthusiasm for the “treatment/therapy”. It is my thesis that there is a very high probability that getting massage therapy on a weekly basis, or more, often is a counter indication to the training process itself.

As long as the body and mind are under no stress or duress, very little, if any, overcompensation or stress management takes place. Increasing an athlete’s fitness is all about increasing stress loads in increments that the central nervous system can adapt to and stimulate the body and mind to overcompensate to a level above and greater than was previously present. Getting fit is all about stimulation, stress management and overcompensation. Maximizing the fitness process requires stress and stimulation in maximum amounts to which the body and mind can react in the desired manner, namely, increase the tolerance level of stress. Too much stress can cause a breakdown and undermine the whole training process. Conversely, too little stress does not allow for maximizing the benefits to be gained from training either. In a very simple form, I visualize the process as follows:

The body and mind are subjected to extra work, stress, and discomfort

The Central Nervous System reacts to repair the damage and create a stronger resistance threshold for protection against future/further abuse

This is triggered by the micro-tears and change in chemistry around the muscles being stressed. There are signals sent to the CNS that say ” fix this so I will not have to suffer through this again !”. Best case scenario, the CNS causes the body to heal the tears and brings the muscle fibers up to an even higher level of strength and stamina.  If through massage or some other mode, this process is lessened, then the required and desired reaction and overcompensation cycle is mitigated, perhaps even negated.

The point that is being made here is that there is a natural process, that if not properly balanced, falls out of sync with what is termed “creative tension”. That is getting things that seem positive, and those that seem negative in a proper position so  as to generate a bigger and better result.   Once one aspect is over emphasized, then the synergy needed to improve or get better is to some extent sabotaged . In working with the athletes, I encourage them to allow the soreness and stiffness from training to remain with them a while and allow the body to use its natural overcompensation processes to work their training magic toward a higher level of fitness. However, there are times when the training is such that the “creative tension” phenomena are out of alignment and the body may need an outside boost, but that is rarer than most of us would like to accept.

Just like in social and political arenas, in athletics,  there are opportunities to use what we perceive as negatives to our advantage  and advancement, but also keep in mind that  perceived  positives can, and some times do, totally undermine the good we are seeking.  The answer, of course, is finding the proper use of reason and resources that results in “creative tension”.

Brooks T. Johnson

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