Saturday, February 18, 2012

Where Does A Martial Artist Get His Power From?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved

Most of the articles that I write stem from conversations that I’ve had with friends or students. The idea to write this one came from a conversation I had with a friend the other day about bodybuilding. The comment came up that people who study martial arts today are better than those that studied in times past because today a lot of martial artists are weight lifters and, according to pictures he’s seen, the old masters were frail old men.

While this certainly wasn’t true, it did give me the idea to write an article on the various sources of power the martial arts use. So here I will discuss the various sources, their uses, and at what stage they’re learned. It should be stated that each style is different and some styles teach the different sources at different times and many only teach the first two.

The Beginner: When someone first begins martial arts they will get all of their power from their muscles. They will try to muscle each and everything they do and this can lead to premature exhaustion as well as injury. Most people use muscle strength as their sole source of power until they get near attaining their black belt.

Pre and Post Black Belt: About the time someone gets ready to test for their black belt they get proficient enough in their techniques that they are able to get most of their power from proper technique and leverage alone. Once someone gains the technical ability to allow their power to come from technique they are able really appreciate the martial arts and see how well thought out they are.

The problem with this stage is that there are a lot of martial arts that stop here and never progress to hirer levels. I’ve seen people that are 7th or 8th degree black belts and they’re still relying on their technique for all their power. If they got injured or were loaded down with packages and were not able to execute prefect technique they would find that their strikes and blocks would suddenly become far less effective.

The Mid-Level Black Belt:
While I’ve seen this taught at many different ranks and ability levels, from my experience somewhere in the neighborhood of 3rd to around 5th degree black belt the practitioner is taught one of the great secrets of the martial arts: rotation. When I say rotation I’m not talking about just rotating your hips into your techniques, I’m talking about rotating your entire body left and right and using that to power your movements.

Getting power and leverage from rotating your body has been a well-kept secret in the martial arts and it was revealed as the secret of the Gojo-Ryu Karate system practiced by the Miyagi family in “The Karate Kid: Part II”. Most people I know didn’t catch that in the movie but that is what they were getting at with that toy drum.

The reason that rotation was kept as a secret by many of the masters is because it gives you a lot of advantages they would rather keep to themselves. Here are some of the key benefits from rotation.

1.) It gets you off the line of attack. By simply rotating your body you can move out of the path or a punch, kick, or even a bullet. To be best used one should combine the rotation with a step in the opposite way you’re rotating your body.

2.) You can use it in tight spaces. If you’re going to throw a traditional reverse punch you’re going to need a bit of room, but what happens if your back is against a wall and your aggressor is standing a foot in front of you? You don’t have the room to do a traditional punch, but you can chamber your punch, rotate your body towards your target as hard as you can, and allow your torso to “throw” the punch at the target. By simply rotating your body you can get force and leverage in tight and confined spaces.

3.) It will allow you to throw multiple strikes very quickly. If you turn your hips all the way to the left and then turn your torso all the way to the left as well it will be like a compressed spring, full of energy that can be released when you rotate back the other way. When you rotate your body back all the way to the right you can easily throw a right knife-hand strike, left punch, and either a left roundhouse kick or front kick. I scored all the time with that combination during classroom sparring when I did Taekwondo.

4.) It will allow you to hide your strikes. Most people hold their arms up like a boxer so their aggressor can see their hands in full view, but when you rely on rotation your entire body is moving all at once and it is hard to see an individual strike in time to block or evade it. Another nice thing is that each strike will hide the one behind it. In the example I gave above the rotation will partially hide the knife-hand strike, the knife-hand strike will nearly entirely hide the left punch, and the left punch will nearly entirely hide the left roundhouse kick.

5.) It adds power to your strikes by increasing their acceleration. The faster you can move your fist the more force you can deliver in your punch. By rotating your body first and then throwing your punch about halfway through you can move your fist a far greater distance and greatly increase its acceleration. In karate this is called by many names, I learned it as the “double whip principal”.

6.) It will get you out of a lot of holds and grabs. Almost all grabs and quite a few holds can be escaped from by simply rotating your body one way or the other.

The Upper-Black Belt and/or Master:
Very few people today really learn about rotation and even fewer learn about one of the most closely guarded secrets in the martial arts. Did you ever see an old skinny Chinese master give a martial arts demonstration and he seemingly just touches his partner and they lift up in the air or are thrown across the room? The way they do that is not by using the mystical “chi” or anything like that, but by using…their bodyweight! Transferring your bodyweight into someone is one of the most closely guarded secrets because it is the most powerful. Using your bodyweight allows you to make a fairly small movement and get a huge reaction from it. The secret is not really using your bodyweight as much as how to transfer that bodyweight into your target.

Transferring your bodyweight is so powerful because it is deceptive and hard to see and also its fatigue proof. Even if you’re sick and feeling weak and frail and you can’t deliver a decent punch you still weigh the same. Even if your arms are full of groceries you can still use your bodyweight to strike with, and in fact the added weight of the groceries will increase your weight allowing you to strike harder.

Using bodyweight also allows you to conserve your energy because you can defend yourself by making very small movements that get very big results. Your bodyweight is the ultimate source of power and once mastered you can easily end an altercation in one blow.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How To Read Your Attacker or Opponent

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Several years ago I was showing a martial arts technique to a friend who studied a different style. In the technique I came at him with my left hand followed by my right and concluded with a takedown. This particular friend was a 3rd degree black belt in a Korean martial art and I respected his opinion greatly, but when he saw me demonstrate that technique his response was, "That will never work. If I saw your hand coming at me like that I'd counter with ____." He went on to tell me how flawed the technique was because it started with a large movement and he thought you could easily see it coming. I replied, "Ok, I'll come at you again and let's find out."

I came at him again using the same technique and he showed me the counter he thought he might use, and he went on to very precisely explain what he was doing and how it was the perfect counter. Being a very skilled martial artist and instructor he made some very good points and I enjoyed getting his input. After he was finished we spent about 10 minutes working on his counter and discussing its merits, all in all we probably did this counter 20 times each. Then I said, "That's pretty good. I'll come at you one more time, I want to show you something."

This time, however, instead of coming at him with that same technique I kicked him in the shin, grabbed his wrist, and threw him on to the mat. He jumped up and with big eyes and he said, "What the hell was that?"

"Reality," I replied, "Although you made some great points, if you know what I'm going to do beforehand then you can counter any technique, but in a real violent situation you never know what someone’s going to do."

The simple truth is that if someone is standing there challenging you or attacking you, you never really know what that person is going to do. They could punch with either of their hands, grab, push, kick with either leg, pull a weapon, there are a myriad of possibilities and no way to predict with 100% certainty. However, this is a way we can get a fairly good idea and at least tell which limb they're coming at us with. The way that we do that is by knowing how to use your eyes...and by completely ignoring Mr. Miyagi.

Mr. Miyagi told his pupil Daniel, "Look eye...always look eye!" His advice (although common in many martial arts) is flawed because it lacks an understanding of how your eyes detect movement. You have two basic types of vision, Focus Vision (FV) which is your direct line of sight, and Peripheral Vision (PV) which is along-side of your direct line of sight. Both of these types of vision have their uses, for example FV is used to examine an object and identify what it is but it is not designed to detect and measure movement; PV is used to detect and measure movement but it is not designed to examine and identify objects. So, if we want to look at something that is standing still and determine what it is we should use our FV and look directly at it, but if we want to detect when something is moving and measure its direction and speed we should look next to it and allow our PV to work.

So we know that we want to use our PV but how do we do that? To answer that let's look at how the body moves by examining an attack with a knife. Let's pretend that someone is standing in front of you with a knife if their right hand and they step forwards with their right foot and thrust that knife at your chest. In this scenario most people would look at the knife and that makes sense since it is the knife that is going to impale you. However, that is not ideal, in fact, the Japanese have a saying: “You see the sword that kills you." What this means is that you should never look at an attacker's weapon. The reason for this is that if you look at their weapons then you're using your FV to detect movement and it is not designed for that. Have you ever seen something come at you and for some reason you just stood there and watched it hit you? A lot of people have (myself included) and the reason for this is that when you focus your vision on something that is moving your eyes aren't able to give your brain the necessary information it needs to judge its speed and direction and you often are left standing there almost in a trace while you try to figure it out. So looking at the knife is out, and that also means that you shouldn't look at someone’s hands or feet to see when they are going to punch or kick you.

With the knife being out lets go up the arm to the elbow. If you watch his elbow you will see the thrust seem to slow down a little bit. The reason the thrust seems a little slower is that in most cases the elbow has to move before the hand does so you get a little tip off when the thrust is starting. Add to that that the elbow moves 4 times slower than the hand and it becomes obvious that if you had to get out of the way of that thrust then by watching their elbow you've have a much easier time then by watching their hand or the knife itself.

Let's not stop there though, let's travel up the arm and take the advice of boxers by watching the shoulder. The shoulder generally moves even before the elbow and it moves about 20 times slower than the hand. In boxing you're taught to watch your opponent's shoulders and when you see one raise, drop, or move forward that means that arm is about to throw a punch. This is very sound advice but we can do even better by looking at the center of their chest. Look at the center of their chest and suddenly getting out of the way of that knife thrust is easy.

The reason it is so easy to see that thrust coming towards you by looking at the center of their chest is twofold. First, most all movements the body makes starts with the very center of the body moving and most of the time the very first muscles to move are the ones connected to the spine. So if they are going to thrust at you with their knife the very first thing that will move is the very center of their body which, because it’s connected, will make the right side of their chest move. Next, the entire right side of their body rotates towards you, followed by the shoulder moving, then the elbow, and then the hand. By looking at the center of the body you're actually seeing the attack build up and you can start to move while the attack is just starting. Second, by focusing your vision at the center of their chest you're putting their chest and shoulders in your PV so your eyes can detect as soon as they move.

Now, while all of this is great for dealing with people that might punch, stab, push, grab, or just use their arms to attack you in any way...but it doesn't help you with kicks. The same things that are true with the arm are true with the legs in that the feet move fast, the knees move must slower, and the hips moves even slower still. The hips and the shoulders are the two great fulcrums of the body and pretty much every large movement the body makes can be detected first by watching these areas. If we take everything we've just gone over we can see that the most advantageous place to look is actually right about their solar plexus. The solar plexus area is right in between their hips and shoulders in the center of the body and by watching this area you will have their hips and shoulders all in your PV.

The answer of where you want to look to be able to detect someone’s attack is the solar plexus area, but HOW do you look? This might seem like an odd question but if I focus right on their solar plexus I'm making my FV dominant when my PV should be. Instead of looking AT the solar plexus area you should look THROUGH the solar plexus area to focus your vision about 2 to 3 feet behind them. This will direct your vision at the very center of their body but put the entire thing in your PV. Practice this a little bit and you'll soon be able to see as soon as they move and you'll be able to tell which limb they are coming at you with.