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.