Tuesday, December 30, 2008

MMA vs. Reality

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

First off, I am absolutely 100% sick and tired of talking and/or writing about MMA. In nearly any conversation I have about martial arts or self-defense with people, and in nearly every single training class I give, someone brings up MMA in some fashion and I’m forced to relate MMA to what we’re doing and visa versa.

Today even Tai Chi instructors have to talk about MMA. I was at a Tai Chi class the other day and some knucklehead brought it up. What the hell does Tai Chi have to do with a competitive sport where people roll around on the ground simulating gay sex? For some asinine reason that I fail to understand, everyone seems to confuse MMA with anything close to reality. I cannot begin to communicate the depths of to which I am sick of talking about MMA.

Having said that…the other day I was getting ready to leave the house to go work out with my senior instructor in a private class, when he called me up and told me that a co-worker of his wanted to come workout with us. His co-worker, we’ll call him Ted, had little to no martial arts training but he was big into MMA, he had 6 amateur fights so far, and we was interested in learning a little bit about what we do. Normally I would have said “no”, after all dealing with another MMA person is not what I need, but I figured it couldn’t hurt, after all we could always use another warm body to throw around.

Ted seemed like a nice guy and he had some skill but it was obvious right off the bat that we were coming from different worlds. We talked a lot about causing various injuries to people and I could tell that made him quite uncomfortable. I wanted to make the class interesting for him so we went over things that pertained to MMA, like how to get out of a rear naked choke and other various holds.

The first thing I noticed is that he had little to no actual martial arts training what-so-ever. Getting out of a rear forearm choke, or a rear naked choke, is something I consider to be a white belt technique but hardly anyone knows how simple it is. We went over quite a few basic things that I think everyone should learn within their first 2 or 3 belts and each and every time he stated that not only did he not know what I was showing him but he’d never seen anyone in the MMA community doing it either. This just goes to show that MMA people are not actually martial artists and they really have little to no actual training.

The second thing I noticed is that in each technique we did he changed the context back to sport fighting and he also changed the end result. To get out of a forearm choke I taught him how to rip his attacker’s shoulder and that freaked him out a little. He said, “Oh, I don’t want to really do that to someone” and he turn the technique into a takedown or choke.

The running theme of the workout was, “Oh, I don’t want to really do that to someone”. Although he really liked what I taught he was very uncomfortable with it as a whole and the discussion of injury made him scrunch up his face a little.

As he left I told him, “If you come back sometime I’ll show you a great technique for when you’re on the ground and you have some guy on top of you. If someone is sitting on you, punching you, you can actually just rip the guy’s knee and flip him off of you in one movement. It’s really easy and very applicable to your sport”. He gave me a half smile, half grimace and walked away.

What I’m really trying to get at here is that MMA and martial arts come from two totally different contexts. In the martial arts, because we don’t go looking for fights, when someone attacks us it generally an act of criminal violence and therefore could easily end up with our serious injury of death. Therefore, our goal when attacked is to cause serious and disabling injuries to our attacker because anything else won’t change the situation in our favor.

However, in MMA the situation is totally different. MMA guys are not martial artists and do not engage in combat. They’re athletes, nothing more. Their goal when they step into the ring is to best their opponent WITHOUT causing injuries to them. MMA people really don’t want to hurt their opponents because they’re all just athletes and they don’t want to screw the guy up and mess with their career. Ted was very interested in learning how to flip someone off of him when he was on the ground, but the second I mentioned ripping the guy’s knee he didn’t want any part of that.

Ripping a guy’s knee is reality, it’s what violence really is, and it’s what defending yourself will really take. MMA is not reality, it’s fighting without injury and fighting without injury is just two guys playing grab-ass.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Shaolin vs. Wudang vs. History

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

I have received a few emails about my article “Philosophy and the Martial Arts” that took issue with my assertion that the martial arts were not invented in the Shaolin Monastery. I’m sorry to burst your bubble but historical evidence clearly shows that they weren’t, although people work hard to prove and assert otherwise because it benefits them and makes the martial arts “special”.

Truth be told, I kind of wish that the old stories were true because it makes the martial arts sound more noble than they are. My main art is Kenpo and years ago I spent months writing a historical paper tracing my branch of the art back to Shaolin Monks and the Shaolin Monastery in Fujian, China. I was quite delighted to make a family tree that traced my art from me, back through my instructors, and then all the way back to Shaolin, and I displayed that document proudly in my school…that is until I heard of the Chinese martial arts historian Tang Hao (1897-1959 A.D.) and the work he did uncovering “the Shaolin Myth” and other martial arts myths.
To really understand the whole Shaolin/Wudang/martial arts thing you need to put it into proper context, so that is what I will attempt to do here.

First we need to talk about some of the dynasties in China. China began as a group of warring kingdoms until the warlord king Qin Shi Huang conquered the other kingdoms and unified them as one; thus he united China, became the first emperor, and started a long tradition of imperial rule. The unification of China is dated 221 BC and marks the beginning of the reign of China’s first emperor and the start of the Qin Dynasty.

China remained a unified kingdom under the rule of a Chinese Emperor until the Yuan Dynasty. In 1217 China was invaded by Mongolia and the Chinese emperor was replaced by a Mongol one. The new Mongol emperor was named Kublai Khan and his dynasty ruled from 1271 to 1368. These nearly 100 years of the Yuan Dynasty were turbulent times in China because the Chinese deeply resented being under foreign rule. Even today many Chinese do not consider the Yuan Dynasty (and the later Qing) to be legitimate dynasties because they were periods of foreign occupation.

During the 100 years of Mongolian rule there were uprisings, civil unrest, plots to overthrow the emperor, and even famine. The Mongolians ended up losing influence in their homeland and then in China, and finally they were ousted by rebellion. A man named Zhu Yuanzhang was one of the key leaders of this rebellion and afterwards he claimed the throne and became Emperor Hongwu and thus Mongolian occupation of China was ended, a Chinese Emperor restored, and the Ming Dynasty began.

The Chinese Ming Dynasty was from 1368 to 1644 and was really considered the golden age of martial arts in China. The Ming Dynasty was also a great source of pride for the Chinese people because it marked the return of their sovereignty. While the Ming Dynasty had its problems, here the country grew strong, the population exploded from 60 million at the start of the dynasty to 150 million by the end, and China was able to successfully fight off every attack by foreign powers.

During this dynasty there was a great sense of nationalism and the need to become strong so China could remain free. Thus martial arts were encouraged and widely practiced and developed. The Ming Dynasty was truly a time of advancement for the combative arts.

While the martial arts spread and flourished the country again saw unrest. This time was marked by widespread political corruption and further attacks from countries such as Manchuria. In the end China could not withstand constant attacks from both without and within and in 1644 China fell to Manchuria and the Qing Dynasty was born (1644-1911).

The first Manchu emperor of this dynasty, Emperor Kangxi, began his rule by sending out a large military campaign to exterminate rebels and supporters of the former Ming government throughout China. This campaign was widespread and anyone known to support the former Ming Dynasty, or seen as a threat to the new dynasty, was hunted and killed.

Secondly, he set up a segregated class system where Manchu’s were above everyone else and held all the high positions in government and the Chinese were only allowed to hold the lowest governmental positions. The Manchu’s and Chinese were even required to dress differently. An example of this was hairstyle you see in period martial arts movies where the front half of the head is shaved and the rear half is pulled back into a ponytail. It is said that this was to make the Chinese people resemble the ass of a horse. The Chinese became second class citizens in their own country and this created massive anger and resulted in the formation of many groups dedicated to the overthrow of the Qing.

The Qing Dynasty existed until both civil unrest and western influence forced a change that occurred in 1911 when the communists took over.

The thing that I want to focus on here is that the Qing Dynasty, which lasted 267 years from 1644 to 1911, was again a time or foreign occupation, resentment from the Chinese, and a time of rebellion. Organizations such as the Tongs and Black Dragon Society dedicated their existence to subverting the Qing’s power and restoring Chinese rule.

While the Chinese populace opposed the foreign rule they had to be very careful about how they did it because if they drew too much attention both themselves and their families could be killed. Therefore, when people talked about opposing the Qing they did so in roundabout ways. A common method of was to talk in terms of Taoism and Buddhism. Religion was widely practiced and often talked about so this manner of discussion was seen as somewhat safe.

How this worked was that Taoism was a religion that was native to China, so when people talked of Taoism often they were talking about loyalty to the Ming Dynasty. Also, the government of the Ming Dynasty had a close association with Taoist priests and used them for prophesy. The Ming Dynasty Emperor Chengzu (1423-1404) spent considerable funds constructing and rebuilding Taoist Monasteries on Wudang Mountain, which was a holy site in the Taoist religion. In many ways Taoism was seen as the official religion of Ming Dynasty emperors.

Buddhism, however, was a foreign religion so when people talked about Buddhism often they were talking about the foreign Qing rule. While the Chinese people accepted the wisdom contained in both religions, often the discussion of one or the other were code.

Books and other texts were written and passed around that spoke of the wisdom of Taoism and the shortfalls of Buddhism, and these manuscripts were really coded and to the trained eye they spoke of rebellion and Chinese nationalism, and tried to bring people into the fold of rebel groups. What this really was, was political defiance through literature.

In retaliation, the Qing Government was very pro-Buddhist and attempted use Buddhism to sway people to a pro-Qing stance.

This extended to the martial arts also. Traditional, or at this period what was considered to be traditional, Chinese martial arts were what we would today consider “soft” or “internal”. Native Chinese martial arts were softer and relied on “chi” or sudden bursts of explosive kinetic energy (kE) for power. As a manner of nationalism people tried to tie the native Chinese arts with Taoism and the Wudang Mountain. Thus if you said something was a Taoist art what you were really saying is that it was an art that was native to China.

Arts that originated, or had strong elements that originated, outside of China was referred to as Buddhist by some rebel groups. One of the best known Buddhist Monasteries in China was called Shaolin Monastery and this monastery was known for its scholarly works. Shaolin Monastery was famous all over China for translating Buddhist manuscripts from Sanskrit to Chinese. If you were reading a Buddhist Sutra chances are that the translation was done at Shaolin. In this period if you said that something was a Buddhist or Shaolin art there was a good chance that what you were really saying is that it was foreign, or at the very least not really Chinese.

It is true that martial arts were practiced at Shaolin but martial arts were not actually practiced by the monks; the monks probably practiced some type of calisthenics or yoga but the combative arts were practiced by the Shaolin Militia. In China every landowner had it’s own army/militia/security force and monasteries were large landowners. The official army could not be counted on to respond to defend the people, so all landowners and villages maintained and trained their own military forces.

Like all monasteries, the Shaolin Monastery had its own army. Even the writings from the Monastery say that there were two kinds of people there: monks and “warrior monks”. What this means is that at Shaolin, and every other monastery, there were Buddhist monks and a military force. The Shaolin Monastery’s military force trained in martial arts, maintained an armory, did perimeter checks, and spent a great deal of time doing military drills like marching and standing in formation. Also, like all private militaries in China they could be called upon to fight along side of the regular army and even to fight in their stead.

In a sense, during the Qing Dynasty practicing “Shaolin styles”, “Buddhist styles”, or “external styles” was a way of supporting the Qing government, and practicing “Wudang styles”, “Taoist styles”, or “internal styles” were a way of thumbing your nose at the Qing government. The "external" school and Shaolin Monastery represented foreign Buddhism, which symbolized the Manchu aggressors, while the "internal" school represented indigenous Taoism, which symbolized the Chinese, who would overcome their oppressors.

It should be noted that this was not so all over China. The whole Buddhist/Taoist, Shaolin/Wudang, internal/external thing was only a known code for the small group of people in the “know”. Only the hardcore supporters of either dynasty even knew that such a distinction existed. To the average person there were just the martial arts, and the thought of an art being tied to either location or religion was ridiculous.

The harder the rebels pushed the Taoist/Wudang symbolism the harder the government pushed the Buddhist/Shaolin symbolism. The Chinese rebels who practice more traditional “internal” arts tried to push their native roots by connecting them with Taoism and Taoist’s holy Wudang Mountain. The Manchu’s who practiced a harder form of martial arts that was more native in style to their homeland in turn tried to tie it to Buddhism and to the Shaolin Monastery (It should be noted that any real mention of the Shaolin Monastery being a significant site in terms of martial arts didn’t appear until around 1900 or so).

It should also be mentioned that the classifications of internal and external martial arts is a fairly new thing. External martial arts tend to generate force from muscle tissue while internal marital arts tend to generate force by using bodyweight to transfer kinetic energy. That really is just about the only difference. “Internal” arts still have punches, kicks, throws, leverages, eye gouges, and everything else that “external” arts have.

This is how the classifications of internal/external, Shaolin/Wudang, Buddhist/Taoist martial arts came about. It all started as rebel symbolism and code in the Qing Dynasty and grew from there. Ever since, martial arts styles have been arbitrarily labeled as being either of the Shaolin or "external" school, or the Wudang or "internal" school. Today many people take it literally but historians are quick to point out that there is no credible evidence whatsoever that martial arts came from the Shaolin or Wudang Monasteries or had any real connection with religion at all prior to around 1915-1920.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Philosophy And The Martial Arts

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

In nearly every single martial art or fighting system some type of philosophy exists. The predominate fighting systems in existence are Asian in origin and therefore they come with an Asian philosophy, and that philosophy is either Buddhist or predominately Buddhist. While it is beyond the scope of this text to go into the history, dogma, and various teachings of Buddhism, I will mention that since Buddhism is a philosophy that teaches non-violence, martial arts that preach this philosophy are also non-violent in nature. Now, I am not saying that these fighting systems can not be violent or used in a violent manner, I'm saying that people that learn them are taught to both practice and use them in a non-violent manner.

There is a huge problem in adopting a philosophy of non-violence in a fighting system and that is that since fighting in its very nature is violent, non-violent violence is a recipe for making nothing happen. The goal of fighting is to cause injures and to cause the necessary injuries in another person it requires a measure of violence; however, if you are taught not to be violent, if you train to not be or use violence then it is very unlikely that you would have the necessary ability to cause the necessary injuries when you are faced with violence. In other words, if causing injuries to another person is necessary and doing so requires a measure of violence and you are trained to be "non-violent" you have a small chance of accomplishing what needs to be done.

Consider also that even though you may have adopted a certain philosophy it doesn't mean that an aggressor has adopted it too. If you have adopted a traditional martial arts philosophy of non-violence and some 19 year old gang-banger shoves a knife against your throat then there is a little bit of a disparity there. The fact that you have chosen to adopt certain rules doesn't mean that the gang-banger has done the same, and if he is trying to take your life then he doesn't share your philosophy and you are at a huge disadvantage. The fact that you have rules doesn't change the world, it just restricts your behavior.

Violence in and of itself is just a thing, it is not good nor bad, it just exists. Violence is kind of like yelling in that there are situations where it is appropriate and situations where it is not appropriate, and using it in situations where it is not appropriate yields undesirable results. While sport fighting is about besting someone with speed, size, strength, and skill, real fighting, which is surviving real acts of violence, is all about causing serious injury to your aggressor. If someone is dead set on seriously injuring or killing you, the only thing that will really change anything is injury. If they injure you then the situation changes in their favor, and if you injure them then the situation changes in your favor.

Bottom line: fighting IS violence and injury. Departing from that simple fact may make us feel better about ourselves but it does nothing other than hurt your effectiveness and chances for survival.

You can adopt all the non-violent philosophies you want but it will not change the facts of violence and injury. In a violent situation the one that survives is the one that is doing the violence. If you don't mentally prepare yourself to use violence then you'll be inhibited and most likely non-effective in a violent situation. If you don't train to use violence in your martial arts training then what you're actually doing is training in non-violence and then your chances of surviving a violent situation are lessoned.

To put things in perspective, while violence is only an appropriate response in an incredibly small percentage of situations, in a truly violent situation where your life is on the line then violence is the only appropriate response. If someone is trying to take your life than the situation IS violent and violence is the only response that will mean anything. Anything other than being violent and causing injuries is something that will not change things in your favor.

Violence is not good or bad, it simply exists. While using violence is rarely appropriate, in the times when you're faced with violence using violence is the only thing that will save your life.

So, how did moral philosophies get in fighting systems in the first place and why are they there?

Most of what people know about martial arts history is actually false, and historical investigation bares this out. There have been many people who have devoted their lives to researching the histories of martial arts and exposing the myths and frauds. One of the most famous was the legendary author Tang Hao (1897-1959 A.D.). Tang Hao was an author, historian, and martial artist who lived in China in the late 1800' and early 1900's. Like any serious martial artist, Tang Hao took the marital arts very seriously and he was distressed to see them become circus acts full of magic tricks and wild claims, so he and others spend years doing serious research, writing books, and trying to expose the truths and realities of the martial arts.

What Tang Hao and others discovered was that originally fighting systems had nothing to do with any philosophies or religions. If you went back in time a couple hundred years and asked a "master" about martial arts philosophy they'd look at you like you were crazy. The idea that using punches, kicks, throws, and leverages to injure someone would have a moral philosophical aspect was ridiculous. The martial arts were considered just a military practice and people looked to them and practiced them solely for combative purposes. Contrary to the story we have been told of wise Buddhist monks inventing martial arts and combining it with religion, the reality is that the wise, scholarly, and moral martial arts master that we fantasized about either didn't exist at all or was incredibly rare.

Without getting too much into history (you can look it up yourselves, read Tang Hao's books if you can find them, or read my article "The Shaolin Temple Myth") what happened is that around the mid 1800's China was invaded more and more by the west resulting in a drastic change in the economy and a change in social order with the wide availability of firearms. By 1880 colt pistols could be commonly found and less and less people were turning to martial arts for self-protection. The martial arts were losing their credibility in the new westernized China and martial arts instructors were losing students, their livelihoods, and their elevated social status.

The only way for the martial arts to survive and for "masters" to get their social status back was to reinvent the martial arts and make them attractive for the wealthy and the significantly more educated westerners. As it so happened there were a lot of extremely popular martial arts books circulating around that were the equivalent of dime store romance novels. These books were really propaganda put out by various rebel groups to sway people to them and their cause. They described warrior scholars, that of course belonged to their group, that were righteous, moral, wise, capable of seemingly impossible feats, and almost undefeatable in combat. These books were extremely popular and people really feel in love with the images they portrayed so the martial arts community decided to "just go with it".
"Masters" reinvented themselves as wise and righteous and began advertising that anyone studying under them could gain powers like those talked about in the books.

They started spouting Buddhism and quasi-Buddhism and trying to make studying martial arts special and magical. Often they used common magic tricks to make people think they had special "chi powers" and really they just put on a huge show. To get upper class students to enroll schools would lie, overstate, and bastardize their arts and instructors would lie about their arts history and lineage to make it more appealing. Most techniques were changed to make them large, flashy, and pretty and thus they lost most of their combat effectiveness. The result...it worked. The rich started practicing marital arts for the novelty, the chance to gain powers, and as a means to enlightenment. Even some westerners picked them up, although primarily for novelty reasons.

By 1900 more people in China practiced the martial arts for recreation than any other purpose. People didn't even practice the martial arts for health reasons until around 1915 when it was made popular through widely published martial art books. Any claim of morality or the developing of a person's character did not come about until the 1920's.

Before 1850 or so the marital arts had nothing to do with any moral philosophy or religion, then between 1850 to around 1920 the martial arts had to change purely for marketing reasons, and around 1920 they emerged as moral, wise, and mystical.
That's how moral philosophies got into martial arts but why are they still there? They're still there for many reasons, including the fact that we don't know any better. Very few people take the time to investigate the history of martial arts and the masses are quite happy to just take everything at face value. However, the two big reasons that they're there is because they give us prestige and allow us a degree of separation.

By claiming that fighting systems are righteous and moral and that by learning them you're learning something more valuable than self-defense elevates the practitioner and gives them status. It's a big deal to be a black belt and a huge deal to be a 4th, 5th, or 6th degree black belt, but if martial arts were just methods of using violence to cause injury then practitioners would be looked at more like soldiers instead of "masters" and potential "masters".

The other reason is that by adding a moral philosophy to the marital arts it allows us a degree of separation from the realities of violence and injury. Humans want to separate themselves from anything that they see as unpleasant and few things are more unpleasant than the thought, or action, of seriously injuring or killing another human being. If we say that we're going to go into a room and train to seriously injure or kill someone then that is incredibly unpleasant and socially unacceptable; but if we say that we're going to go into a room and train in the honorable and righteous martial arts and build our character then that's very pleasant and society gives us a pat on the back.

By giving violence and injury a moral philosophical component we separate and protect ourselves from its realities and that is far easier on our fragile minds, as well as our standing in society.

If you look at martial arts classes and how martial art techniques are done today you probably won't see actual violence anywhere and the intent to cause injury is almost totally absent. Go to a typical karate class and look at the way people throw punches and kicks, the intent to cause injury is generally nowhere to be seen. Talk to people about the realities of what will happen when that punch or kicks lands and you'll see them cringe and then change the subject to something more socially acceptable.

Since we are good upstanding moral people we want that barrier of protection between us and the blood and guts of violence and we work hard to keep it there. However, having it there and separating ourselves from the reality can detract from our ability to function in a violent situation and use violence to cause injury and save our lives.

So where does a moral philosophy appropriately fit into violence and injury?

The simple answer is before and after. You can have any moral philosophy you want to have before the violent situation begins. When the situation begins, and before people start attacking each other, you can try to deal with it in any socially acceptable manner you want, and with any moral philosophy you have. After the situation gets over with you can deal with it in accordance to whatever moral philosophy you have. However, the second physical violence begins you need to take whatever moral philosophy you have and put it on hold. When physical violence starts you need to realize that at that moment the only thing that matters is causing injuries...period.

If you think that a certain moral philosophy or dogma will save your soul than that's fine, but that is beyond the scope of this text and this method of training. What we're dealing with here is saving your ass, and the only way to save you ass is to solely focus on causing injuries now, and then let your morals deal with the feelings that come later.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Most Overrated Martial Arts Technique

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

When it comes to martial art techniques one stands out as the quintessential martial arts technique, and that is the roundhouse kick. Now, some may say that the quintessential technique is a spin kick or some fancy jump kick (when I was a kid I thought it was flipping someone over your back) but go to any dojo or gym and watch people work out, see any movie, or watch any quasi martial arts competition and you'll see that for every fancy spin or jump kick you'll probably see 5 or 10 roundhouse kicks.

In fact, the roundhouse kick has become nearly mythical in some senses, it seems to be to "go to" martial arts/self-defense for people, women especially. I know several women who learned to throw a roundhouse kick and now they think that they're totally prepared as far as self-defense is concerned. I've seen women working out on the heavy bag in the gym and as soon as they see people watching them or they see someone that they want to impress or intimidate they go right into slapping the bag with a few roundhouse kicks. In competitions from point fighting to the UFC, roundhouse kicks are by far the most commonly used kicking techniques.

Roundhouse kicks are certainly one of the most commonly used kicks, but they are, in my opinion, one of the most overrated. I want to be clear, roundhouse kicks do have their uses and used right can be effective but in the manner in which they are commonly used today makes them pointless and very dangerous to the person doing them. Here I will describe my problems with the roundhouse kicks and some finer points of utilizing martial arts techniques in general.

Problem #1: Lack of penetration

The way that people throw roundhouse kicks today is utterly laughable and truthfully I find it hard to determine what they're trying to accomplish with them. The thing is, in order to understand something you have to put everything into proper context, after all, yes, the sky is blue but only in one context; taking context into consideration they sky can be any color you want it to be.

Why would you throw a punch or kick at someone to begin with? The simple answer is that you're trying to break or destroy something. The martial arts have a very simple context: someone is trying to seriously injure or kill you and you're attempting to protect yourself by seriously injuring or killing them first. For most people the martial arts are a sport but turing the martial arts into a sport is like using a loaded gun to level out a table. When I punch somebody my goal is injure him; to break, rupture, or in some way make non-functional some part of body that will cause him to be unable to pose a threat to me. When I punch someone I'm not punching their skin, or their muscle, or their bone, I'm punching something inside their body, for example, their liver. I'm attempting to put as much force as I can into their liver because I know that a traumatized liver will start to shut down the body and that's what I want; I couldn't care less whether my punch "hurt" or not because causing my attacker pain is not something that will stop him, but a traumatized or ruptured liver will (at least for a period of time that will enable me to flee or cause another injury).

The point I'm driving at is that when we strike an opponent we're not striking at their surface, rather we're attempting to get inside them and cause injury to their internal organs, arteries, air passages, nerves, bones, or the connective tissue in their joints. All the good stuff is deep inside them so if we are not penetrating with our blows we're not really doing much of anything at all. When most people throw a punch or kick they stop their blow at their opponent's surface. If the average martial artist was told to punch an attacker in the liver they would throw a punch and basically just slap them...that is it would hit their skin, push into their muscle, and then stop. Yes, the punch would probably hurt quite a bit but so what. If I punch someone in the liver I want, as a minimum, the knuckles of my fist to touch the back of the liver. Preferably the knuckles of my fist would pass through the liver and come out their back. If I want to cause an injury that will stop someone who is threatening my life I want that much penetration because that will insure that that I've gotten the force where I want it.

Let's talk about force for a second, if I swing my fist towards a target my fist, by virtue of it having mass and accelerating, will generate force and when it collides with another object it will transfer a portion of that force into it. People seem to think that all of the force of a strike goes into a target and that just isn't the case. There's a lot of "micky mouse" science around about the forces that occur while punching or kicking but luckily there is an entire discipline of science, called "impact science”, which studies what happens to force when objects collide and every martial artist should have a fundamental knowledge of this science.

If people want to determine how much force occurs in a punch or kick generally what they do go and get various force gauges and put them on a heavy bag, then they have someone hit them and they watch the readout on the monitor. The problem is that the results have no functional meaning! Let's say that I take the pressure plate and put it on the bag and then hit it and the readout tells me that I hit with 1000 lbs of force; all that means is that 1000 lbs of force existed at that point in space, but again, I don't care about that point in space because I'm not hitting the surface of my target, I want to drive my force into the target! In other words, I only care about what happens deep inside the target, not on it's surface. Now if I put a pressure plate on a punching bag and then I put two or three focus pads on top of it and then hit it, and despite the padding it still reads 1000 lbs of pressure then I'm happy.

One of the basic things that people need to understand about force is that force can be directed in a certain direction but still what it does is radiate out in waves just like dropping a stone in a pond and watching the ripples emerge in all directions from the center. Let's say that I punch someone in the chest and at the point of impact 1000 lbs of force is present, what happens next is that force radiates out in all directions. Some of that force will be transferred into sound, some will be transferred into heat, some will come back towards me, some will go off into the air, and a portion will go into my opponent. Of the force that goes into my opponent, some will be absorbed or dissipated by clothing, some will be absorbed or dissipated by the skin, some will be absorbed or dissipated by fatty tissue and other soft tissue, some will be absorbed or dissipated by muscle tissue, some will be absorbed or dissipated by bone, and what's left MIGHT go into an organ. Out of my 1000 lbs of force that appeared on impact only 5 or 10 lbs of force may reach the interior of my opponent which is where it's important.

At this point the question is how do you get more force into the body and how do you put it where you want it? The answer to this question has three parts: 1.) Force vector, 2.) length of contact during impact, 3.) follow through and penetration to "guide" the force.

Force vector is just a fancy term for the direction that the force is traveling and the exact path it is traveling on. If you want to send force into the liver then you need to make sure that the force vector intersects the liver. You need to make sure that you're actually hitting the liver instead of just a random place on the body; if you punch someone in the center of the chest then a meaningful amount of force simply won't find it's way to the liver. On impact force does radiate out in all directions but it still wants to travel in a straight line. When you throw a punch the force wants to leave your fist and continue straight forwards on the path you set it on, so the straighter the path your first takes from your body to the liver the more force will end up in the liver. If you want to make sure that as much force gets to the liver as possible you want to make sure that your fist travels directly from your body to the liver in the straightest path possible.

Next you have to take into consideration the length of time that your fist is in contact with the target. This is one of the areas where the martial arts really fail, in that martial artists often act on tradition rather than science. In the martial arts people are taught to throw their punch out and then pull it back in a rapid manner, which leaves the fist in contact with the target for a second or less. The reason that they do this is because they want to retract it quickly so they can throw another technique and so that their opponent can't use their arm to deliver a counter attack. In doing this, however, they are drastically taking force away from their strike.

Simply put, the longer your fist is in contact with your target the more force is transferred from your fist to your target. You can see this yourself by slapping your arm. Take the palm of one hand and quickly slap the back of your other forearm and then rapidly pull it off, so that your palm only rests on your arm for a fraction of a second. You'll notice a sting. Next, repeat this but when you slap your forearm leave your palm there. You'll notice that this hurts not just a little bit more but a LOT more. You'll also notice that when you leave your hand there the force radiates through your arm and you may even feel your arm tingle on the opposite side. When your hand moves it generates force and when it collides with your arm it transfers some of that force into your arm; if your palm and arm are only in contact for a fraction of a second then only a small fraction of the force will transfer. Since we want to get as much force as possible to transfer from our fist to the liver we want to make sure that they're in contact for as long as possible. When you drive your fist into the liver don't hit and then jerk it off quickly, rather hit, leave it there, and then let the liver go away from your fist instead of the other way around.

This one little thing will drastically increase the amount of force that you transfer into your target. After all, the only force that matters is the force that you actually transfer into your target. There are a lot of people out there with big muscles that can throw a hell of a punch, but that doesn't impress me. They can generate a lot of force but because their technique sucks (a lot of people have their elbow sticking out during a punch, their shoulders raised, or their heels off the ground) they are only capable of transferring a small amount of force into the target.

Now that you have sent your force in a straight line from your body to the target and you are leaving your fist on the target and letting your target move away from your fist instead of the other way around, you need to add "follow through" to guide your force to where you want it. If all you do it hit and leave your fist there then you will transfer more force into your target but the force will want to still spread out in all directions. If you hit, don't retract your fist, and then push until your arm is nearly fully extended you will direct that force straight forwards.

Most people hit their target and at the time of impact their arm is nearly straight, but if you do this you'll get minimal penetration and you won't have very much say in where the force goes once it leaves your fist. If, however, you step in and get closer and when you hit your target your arm still has 5 or 6 inches left to straighten, then you can push through your target by straightening your arm and rotating your body into the strike. Once you hit your target you want to be able to push through about 6-12 inches. If you can do that you will transfer nearly all of your force into your target and your follow through will direct it to wherever you want it to go.

So you need lots of penetration, lots of follow through, and to keep your fist on your target after you hit it; this is true in any strike including the roundhouse kick. In terms of the roundhouse kick, what determines the amount of penetration and force transfer can be seen in the alignment of the kick. There are four main points in the kick, 1.) the hip, 2.) the knee, 3) the foot, and 4.) the target. To illustrate that let's look at a few illustrations to better describe how to properly use that technique.

In illustration #1 you see how most people use the technique. They throw the kick out and the leg comes to full extension even before their foot hits their target. Usually their kick comes to completion and it's just one of the knuckles of their foot that makes contact. Nearly every single roundhouse kick I've ever seen, including hitting pads during karate classes, point fighting sessions, full-contact karate matches, and mma matches, ends with the leg straightening before the target is reached and only a small part of the foot hitting. Here there is no penetration, extremely brief contact, and no follow through.

In illustration #2 you see an example of "good" roundhouse kicks. When I say "good" I mean that when someone happens to, almost always by accident, throw a roundhouse kick gets a reaction from the target this is what they do. Here their kick comes to full extension as their foot hits the target leading to a greater force transfer. This is better than the kick demonstrated in the first illustration but it is still far from perfect. Basically the result is a very firm "slap" more than anything else.

In illustration #3 you see the kick the way is should be done, with maximum penetration. In illustration #1, the hip, knee, and foot come to a straight line a distance away from the target; in illustration #2 the hip, knee, and foot come to a straight line at the target; but in illustration #3 the hip, knee, and foot come to a straight line on the other side of the target. If I'm going to kick somebody in the left ribs with a right roundhouse kick, when I throw the kick I want to follow all the way through so that my right hip is pointed at the other side of his body. Just like they say that if you want to punch someone in the face you should aim for the back of their head, if you are going to roundhouse kick someone you want to follow through with your hip to the other side of their body. Do this and when you kick someone they won't say "Oww", instead they'll make a "thud" when they hit the ground.

A question always come us about how you follow through like that because a lot of people have difficulty. Almost always the difficulty that they're having is with their base foot. If the toes of your base foot are pointed at your target then your body won't be able to rotate fully through the target and if you try to could injure your ACL or other ligament in your base knee. You want to turn your base foot out around 90 degrees from your target so you can bring your body all the way around.

Another thing that I like to do with a roundhouse kick is to step into it. If I'm going to throw a left roundhouse kick I'll step out with my right foot toward the target in about a 45 degree angle, turning my right foot out about 90 degrees. Then, while I throw the left kick I follow through with my hip and bring my body over my right foot which brings an enormous amount of my bodyweight into the kick. Done this way you have little problem knocking someone out of their shoes.

Problem #2: Hitting with the instep

There are two ways you can hit with the roundhouse kick, with the instep or with the ball of the foot. Nowadays almost no one hits with the ball of the foot because when you hit with the ball of your foot it is kind of hard not to break what you're hitting. Hitting with the ball of your foot concentrates your force and its like hitting with a ball-peen hammer, it's incredibly effective and potentially lethal.

The reason people hit with the instep is because today martial arts are just sports; no one really wants to take the techniques seriously or really even think about the possibility of injuring someone. People today just want to dick around with the martial arts and they are surprised as hell when they hurt someone. Hitting with the instep in "safe" because it's very ineffective and if someone gets hurt 9 times out of 10 its the person that threw the kick.

Firstly, the instep is a broad flat area and when you hit the impact is spread out and the result is more of a slap than anything else. Hitting with the instep is the "safe" way to hit so why would you want to hit that way?

Secondly, the instep is a horrible impact point because the bones of the instep are easily broken. You can drop a can of soup on your foot and break one of those bones so why would you kick with those?

Thirdly, hitting with the instep is asking to sprain or break your ankle. Let's think about this for a minute: the way to break a joint is to first take the joint through it's range of motion until it reaches it pathological limit, and then aggressively force it past to tear the ligaments. If you point your foot in the manner that you do when you throw a roundhouse kick you just put your ankle at it's pathological limit...an now you're going to hit it? I've seen more than one person hit a heavy bag with a roundhouse kick and then wind up with a broken ankle.

One of my instructors told me a story about one of his students who got into a big bar fight one day. It was huge fight and lots of people were going at it, and this guy came at him so he punched him in the face and knocked him back and then he kicked him in the back of his left knee with a right roundhouse kick. He kicked him and followed all the way through so he lifted the guy's leg up and dumped him on the back of his head. Then he saw another guy coming at him so he put his foot down...and then fell on his ass. His ankle was sprained and couldn't take his weight. He had to get on his three good limbs and crawl out of there before he got seriously hurt. I don't know about you but I don't want to risk spraining or breaking my ankle in a situation like that.

Problem #3: People target the leg

Probably the number one thing people do with the roundhouse kick is they kick to the outside of the upper leg. There is a nerve there, the common peroneal nerve, and if you hit that nerve you make the leg go numb. The problem with this is that it is a fairly ineffective technique.

Firstly, again you have to follow through all the way with your hip to get the proper amount of penetration. When you're jumping around in your little fighting stance, which most people do, chances are because of all that movement you won't follow through enough and you'll end up just slapping them.

Secondly, kicking someone in the leg and "killing it" works very well if they're just standing there because their leg is straight and their upper leg muscles are not flexed. When you get in a fighting stance your upper leg muscles are more flexed and in doing so they protect the nerves so you have to hit the leg a little harder. Also, when someone gets into a fighting stance they bend their knees and their femur is at an angle that will deflect your blow.

Think of the high block. You put your arm up above your head to protect from an overhead attack and you don't keep your arm level, you angle your arm so that when someone hits your arm their force will be deflected and their arm will skid off your arm. It is essentially the same thing with kicking someone in the leg while they are in a fighting stance. If their leg is bent then your force will be dissipated and your kick will skid off. If you want to get the ideal reaction of totally killing the leg you have to have your opponent standing naturally and you have to follow through all the way with your hip. If you have someone move around in a fighting stance and you throw roundhouse kicks at their leg I can virtually guarantee you that all you'll do is bruise their leg, expose your balance, and piss them off. Sure, if you kick the same spot 5 or 6 times then they'll start to favor the leg and maybe limp a little, but who the hell cares? Violence is about injuring people, not trying to bruise their leg so you can set them up for something else.

Problem #4: Exposing your balance

The roundhouse kick is not a direct technique, meaning that it comes around your body in an arc instead of moving in a straight line. Since it moves in a large arc it seriously exposes your balance and leaves you very vulnerable.

All you have to do to neutralize a roundhouse kick is to just step in. Just like you watch someone's shoulders to see when they'll throw a punch, you watch someone's hips to see when they'll throw a kick. If you see someone's hips swing around to throw a roundhouse kick all you need to do it to take a big step in and get inside them and you'll knock them on their ass. Even better, take a big step in and throw an open handed strike to their throat.

In my opinion exposing your balance like that is just too risky. The only time I'd consider throwing a big technique like a roundhouse kick would be if my attacker is already injured. If I stepped in and slammed my forearm into the side their neck and knocked them backwards and started the process of them going unconscious, then and only then, with them in that state of helplessness, would I do something that exposes my balance so severely.

Done in the manner in which I have described here the roundhouse kick can be done very effectively and be used to cause serious injury to the human body. Executed in the manner that most people do today the roundhouse kick is just a sporting tool to be used for entertainment purposes and if used in any other manner it will often injure the person that threw it. Done correctly the roundhouse kick can be a very effective tool for engaging in combat, done incorrectly it is greatly overrated and arguably useless.