This is the fifth article in Reader Week II. Author Adam Cave is a nidan in Taekwondo and sandan in RyuTe. He is the lead instructor at Raleigh RyuTe Karate and authors a blog called Solo Keiko. In this article Adam discusses the potential hazards with constantly collecting more material, and how specialization can lead to more effective technique.
Freedom From Choice: The Dangers of “More” in Martial Arts
I recently watched a TED Talk lecture on youtube by Barry Schwartz. In his book “The Paradox of Choice,” the author takes on the concept of freedom in Western Civilization. According to Schwartz, we define freedom as having unlimited personal choices. The paradox is that the vast numbers of choices we now face every day have a tendency to cause self-paralysis and limit both our freedom and our happiness.
These are big ideas and the video is well worth watching. But what does it all have to do with martial arts? To my mind, everything. Start with the thousands of martial arts styles being practiced today world wide (hundreds, possibly, in your own community). From the hugely popular to the esoteric, from classical to traditional to modern and hybrids, there is no shortage of ways to defend ourselves. Internal, external, hard, soft, Eastern, Western: the list keeps growing; a clear case of globalization at work.
Now consider the hundreds of techniques found in every methodology. There are innumerable kata, training exercises, and drills to help us learn. Each style has multiple instructors who focus on differing aspects of their art. With this many choices and this much material, where do you begin? To make matters worse, as a peaceful member of society, not seeking out conflict, you may never know if you chose right. At least you won’t know until it is far too late to change (This article assumes that you, like me, want your martial arts to provide you with at least some improved self-defense skills).
It is high time we start questioning whether all this choice and all this material is making us better or worse martial artists. The cynic in me sees it all as marketing strategies to gain and keep dojos full. Business-minded instructors, lacking depth of knowledge, go out and “acquire” new material that their students have not yet seen. But I am sure there are also many teachers who truly believe that real self-defense requires a broad base of knowledge.
One of the most common mantras in martial arts is that techniques have to be practiced repeatedly until they can be done without thinking or they will never work in real life. I completely agree. But, to train any movement that much, requires a great deal of time and, if you are constantly learning new material, you will never have enough. Each technique becomes part of a long list that can be recalled but rarely can be done well without thinking about it first.
Although this may be a harder sell, the better option is, literally, less options.
Advice on Getting Less
Begin by choosing one art to study. Commit yourself to the strategies and techniques of that art. This may still be a mountain of material but at least it all falls under the same umbrella. To make matters simpler, continuously look for one, overriding logic in every move you do. This will help you see the similarities between movements and techniques that otherwise, might appear quite different. In a fully developed art, the movement of the hands, body, and feet should all be coordinated and flow easily together. If you train to make a core set of fundamental skills second nature, you will actually be able to use a broader range of techniques as long as they are all built on those same fundamentals. Eventually, what to others may appear as many differing techniques, to you should all seem like subtle variations on the same thing. This is the type of skill set that you can count on in a fight because you won’t have to think about it. Instead of being paralyzed by too many choices, you will move freely and instinctively using techniques that you have real confidence in.
As an avid lover of all martial arts, I don’t want to kill anyone’s enthusiasm for learning new things. Some amount of variety is necessary to keep us motivated. The key will always be how well we can integrate that material into our core discipline.
In the end, what we do to protect ourselves is deeply personal and it will not matter how it looks or who it impresses as long as it works. The thousands of martial arts represent the work of thousands of individual people, each developing personal methods of self-defense that worked for them. Ironically, they all had the same threat in mind; a fellow human with two arms and two legs and possibly a weapon held in one of two hands. More choices will not help you beat this opponent. Deeper knowledge, of even a few techniques, will be a much stronger asset.
This is the fourth article in Reader Week II. Author Mark Anthony Ly is the owner of the Combat Tactic Group and is a kinesiology specialist. In this post, Mark discusses the idea of understanding the relationship between magnitude and power and how martial artists can use them to increase their striking effectiveness.
Martial Arts Tools of Impact: Magnitude And Power
What can magnitude and power help you with? The ability to classify whatever actions you take to either effectively take out the opponent or subdue them. Actions are usually classified under two terminologies; magnitude and power.
The formula to effectively take out your opponent is: magnitude x power.
The medial line is the central axis of a figure, dividing the body vertically into equal right and left halves. In medical terminology, it is referred to as the midsagittal plane.
The centerline theory helps illustrate magnitude much more efficiently. Any strikes in the centerline theory would effectively take out your opponent with the least amount of power and that is the ultimate goal for any streetfighter. To put things in perspective striking the eyes does not require much power at all. Nor does striking the groin and sternum.
Magnitude is the principle of understanding where to effectively hit to yield the greatest amount of pain on the opponent with the least amount of effort.
Although it may frustrate many trained martial artist that a single aspect like striking the groin can ultimately bring any man down, these are universal laws that we all have to adhere to.
However, to say that a untrained person in the state of ignorance can inflict a sub-sequential amount of damage to that of a trained person is to say that a inexperienced driver can outrace a seasoned F1 driver.
We will observe that this is simply not always the case.
Understand that the F1 driver is better in all aspects than the inexperienced driver, we can all agree on that. However, the F1 driver adheres to the same principles that the inexperienced driver does too. They both need gas for their car. They both need power steering fluid, brake fluid, and tire pressures at optimal level, etc. And it is exactly these principles of magnitude that we are hacking.
The inexperienced driver cannot match the F1 driver in an professional competition because surely he will lose. However, in a streetrace, there are no rules. Everything is fair game. And the way many people see it, when it comes to any encounter outside of rules, they believe that the opponent are following the same set of rules as they are. This is simply not the case.
Take this scenario for example. Two people take to the ground in a streetfight, one of them is a BJJ expert trying to secure the arm for an armbar, meanwhile the other just doesn’t give a shit and just securely locks onto the BJJ expert making sure he can’t escape and gnaws away at him until he has a piece of flesh in his mouth like he’s chewing steak. Who do you think is winning that fight?
It becomes a game-changer when the opponent does things completely unorthodox than what we’re use to. Therefore, we must prepare for these things.
HOWEVER, without the proper preparation, the inexperienced individual cannot and will not be able to successfully utilize the laws of magnitude in their favor.
It is simply unreasonable for me to say that an individual with no martial arts experience at all can successfully win against an average professional in the ring.
However, it is perfectly reasonable for me to say that an individual with 20% of the right training by utilizing and effectively executing the laws of magnitude, can and will take out the average professional in a streetfight.
This is not to say that the 20% of the work is easily achieved. It most definitely is not.
In essence however, the laws of magnitude go hand in hand with Pareto’s Law, where 20% of the work yields 80% of the results.
WHAT ARE THE 20% OF THINGS THAT I SPEAK OF?
Even though 20% of the work can yield 80% of the results, it is not suffice to say that 20% of the work is achieved over night. If we take a look at Bruce Lee’s notes in the Tao Of Jeet Kune Do, even he mentions the two targets that he would go for in a streetfight, the eyes and the groin. The 20% of the work that is addressed here will take time, possibly months under the right supervision, perhaps even years. It is not an overnight thing that you can simply learn.
We must hack away the unessentials to produce the 20% of work that we truly need. However, magnitude has a very defined set of targets already. Straight down the anterior view (front view of the body) of the centerline theory we have the:
Mental Protuberance (Chin)
Larynx (Adam’s Apple)
Jugular (Suprasternal) Notch
Now, on the posterior view (back view of the body) of the centerline theory we have the:
Cervical Vertebra (C1 & C2 to C7)
Thoracic Vertebrae (T1 to T12)
Lumbar Vertebrae (L1 to L5)
As you can imagine, target points such as these require very little if any power to execute to effectively take out your opponent. These are nerve destructing, immobilizing, and even paralyzing target points where power and strength are not required and are not necessary. And because every human body adheres to the laws of magnitude, means that no matter the size, height, and width of the opponent, they will feel pain. If not, damage can increase until they are injured. Magnitude effectively inflicts the most amount of damage with the least amount of force. This allows smaller sized individuals to take out bigger sized individuals in a streetfight where there are no rules. If you think of Pareto’s law, the 80% of the damage, is inflicted by 20% of the effort.
The law of physics states that power is equal to Force times Velocity; P=Fv. In this second part, power is the other way of inflicting blind numbing pain to your opponent.
A person that can punch powerfully could and will hurt you. But consistently powerful strikes aren’t always quite ideal.
Consistently hitting powerfully in every single strike will quickly tire you out. And in a streetfight, this is not good. Don’t get me wrong though, hitting powerfully does have it’s benefits.
Imagine a viciously strong roundhouse kick to your thighs, I can bet after the adrenal glands are done pumping the adrenaline, you’ll be feeling your muscle tissues the entire week.
Now with all of this in mind and adhering to the formula of magnitude x power. We can still effectively do damage if all we have is power and no magnitude and vice versa. For example, if a 250lb male swung with all his force and struck your Cephalic vein (the vein that runs down your shoulders to biceps) like a gunt from several Filipino systems, you can bet your ass that you won’t be using that arm to punch anytime soon.
To understand this a bit more thoroughly, you can still take out your opponent if all you have on the equation is power.
However the most ideal, effective, and efficient way to take out, immobilize, and end any opponent is through the use of Magnitude AND Power.
How To Hit And Kick Stronger, Faster, and Better
This idea that we must work our muscles in order to hit stronger and faster is not necessarily true.
Muscles themselves have no proper guide to follow through for power. However, the manner in which they are utilized and used for effectiveness comes from our nervous system.
Knowing this, each time you perform a somewhat shitty ‘move’ or feel uncoordinated when you punch or kick, it’s mos tlikely that your nervous system is not yet tuned in to the motion of the punch and or kick.
Athletes that complain their punches and kicks are slow suffer from the nervous system essentially sending the wrong impulses to the wrong muscles. More often than not, the nervous system sends it either a bit too early, or a bit too late. Other times, the nervous system sends an improper set of orders.
A well executed punch and kick is a direct result of a coordinated and trained nervous system to the point where one can instinctually do it without a thought. Think of it as second nature. You can easily brush your teeth without looking because your nervous system has already cultivated the motion of your hands. If done on a religious-like cycle, it not only registers the motion in your system but allows you to do it faster the next time.
The movement in the punch and kick has been trained to the point where the nervous system sends impulses to the muscles to contract at the exact second it is needed, and stops the second it is not. By training our nervous systems to undergo the motions, the muscles are able to recruit, contract, and uncontract at the exact milliseconds that it is needed to enable proper use of speed and force. This is scientifically supported here:
“An initial [contraction] was timed with the initiation of motion presumably to enhance stiffness and stability through the body before motion. This appeared to create an inertial mass in the large “core” for limb muscles to “pry” against to initiate limb motion. Then, some muscles underwent a relaxation phase as speed of limb motion increased. A second peak was observed upon contact with the opponent … this would increase stiffness through the body linkage, resulting in a higher effective mass behind the strike and likely a higher strike force.” Read more of cited here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20072065
Alright, our nervous system is important, how am I suppose to train that?
Through series of training, smarter not harder, you can increase the strength, power, and speed of your punches and kicks.
Isokinetic muscle contractions (IMC) have been used by peak-leveled athletes all around the world (including Bruce Lee) for increase speed, power, and recovery. IMC allows the nervous system to run through the full range of motions in the delivery of punches/kicks and register each exact muscular contraction and uncontraction. The benefits of IMC is the vast amounts of nerves being registered throughout the entire full range of motion in the punches and kicks; allowing muscle strength and contractions to speed up and get stronger.
“10 repetitions of either low or high velocity isokinetic contractions [. . .] resulted in full recovery or potentiation of most measures [. . .] The potentiation effect predominantly occurred following the [workout stimulus] which might be attributed to a greater agonist-antagonist torque balance and less metabolic stress associated with the shorter duration higher velocity contractions.” Read more of cited here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21467597?report=abstract
“Results reveal that [isokinetic muscular contractions] significantly increased participants’ vertical jump, drop jump, 30-m sprint performance, instantaneous force, peak power, and SSC efficiency (p < 0.05). Additionally, their change rate abilities were substantially superior to those of traditional resistance training (p < 0.05) [. . .] The findings suggest that jump performance, speed, and muscle power significantly improved after 10 weeks of [isokinetic muscle contractions] at high movement frequency.” Read more of cited here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22890495
“Acute or chronic increases in physical activity result in structural, metabolic, hormonal, neural, and molecular adaptations that increase the level of force or power that can be sustained by a muscle. These adaptations depend on the type, intensity, and volume of the exercise stimulus, but recent studies have highlighted the role of high intensity, short-duration exercise as a time-efficient method to achieve both anaerobic and aerobic/endurance type adaptations. The factors that determine the fatigue profile of a muscle during intense exercise include muscle fiber composition, neuromuscular characteristics, high energy metabolite stores, buffering capacity, ionic regulation, capillarization, and mitochondrial density. Muscle fiber-type transformation during exercise training is usually toward the intermediate type IIA at the expense of both type I and IIx myosin heavy-chain isoforms. High-intensity training results in increases of both glycolytic and oxidative enzymes, muscle capillarization, improved phosphocreatine resynthesis and regulation of K(+), H(+), and lactate ions.” Read more of cited here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22629249
This is the third article in Reader Week II. In this somber post, author Helen Cawley examines the state of her martial arts after losing not just one but two Sensei. These influential men led their style (Ryute) and passed away in close succession. Now Ms. Cawley faces the burden of honoring those instructors while trying to figure out how to carry on.
Adapting and Adjusting (How to Carry On After Losing a Sensei)
This past year, two of my teacher’s passed away, Taika Seiyu Oyata and Tasshi Jim Logue, and I have found it more difficult than just mourning the death of two people I loved dearly. The first months were about getting used to the fact that I couldn’t just pick up the phone and say “Hi”, among other things. Training was very difficult. I kept thinking, what was the point? How could I really improve with out their guidance? How would our organization stay together? Would we continue to train as a group? Who would teach us?
I always tell people that I started studying martial arts by accident. I say “I wasn’t looking where I was going and tripped and fell into a class”. I really didn’t know what it meant besides the Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris movies. What really sold it to me was seeing how I, as a small woman, could have a fighting chance against a much larger man. I wasn’t looking for a fight or MMA, or scoring points for trophies. I enjoy the empowerment I feel by knowing I can stand my ground if I need to. At some point I discovered that martial arts training becomes part of your daily life, like drinking a cup of water, and you never think about not doing it.
Then, I met Taika Oyata, and I was exposed to a level of martial arts that I had never dreamed of. I saw a grace and sophistication that was beyond any silver screen, green screen or televised fight. Small angles had dramatic effects. A slight twist of a wrist with a bend in the knee could send a six foot, 200 pound man flying across the room. And then I realized what the “art” in martial arts meant. There was no divine channel being tapped to magically slam his opponents to the ground. There was no magic wand behind a curtain. Taika was a man. He was a man who studied and thought and practiced and practiced again. It was not one month or one year or 100 repetitions that set him apart from anyone I had seen before; it was 10,000 or maybe 100,000 repetitions and an unbelievable mind. I am thankful that I was able to spend 20 years going to his seminars and learning fascinating details from him. Many of the drills and concepts he gave us could not possibly be learned in a 4 hour seminar. We usually got a study plan that he expected us to practice and show him how we improved when we saw him again in a few months. He often said that he can show us what to do, but we have to investigate each technique ourselves; we have to train our own body. We were often chided for talking too much and training too little.
He wanted us to be professional in our study, professional in our technique, and he wanted us to know his culture and his family history. This was important to him because he wanted us to know that he was passing down his art to us from his teachers and that what he learned from them was from their teachers, and their teachers before them. It is hard to have these lessons in my memory only. It is hard working with a group of people and only hear in my head that booming voice yelling “No, godamit” across the room at me. I want to be able to have that voice telling me if I am getting it right or wrong and implicitly trust that the answer is true.
And now they are gone and I am not and I can’t stop thinking about punching, blocking, adjusting, and practicing. So, where do I go from here? My only analogy that I can hold on to is that I have been given a gift; his students were all given a gift. We have been given ideas and drills and methods of study to follow. If this gift had been an ancient porcelain vase of the finest quality, how would I treat it? This I can answer: I would cherish it, feel responsible for its preservation, and share its beauty with my friends who could appreciate it. So now, how do I do that with memories and old lessons? The cherish part I can do, but preservation and sharing are more difficult. What if I remembered something incorrectly? I don’t know if I will be able to preserve, accurately what I was taught. What if I’m doing a drill and I forget a step or a block? I might start an exercise on the wrong foot and it might come out as a cheap carbon copy instead of true technique. Maybe I need to share with my friends and together our memories will be more accurate. If five people all remember the same motion the same way, it has to be right, doesn’t it? But what if we argue instead of share and we twist around the truth in a lesson we were given? What if everyone remembers something slightly different, because we are different and the right way to do a technique is relative? Who is going to tell us which one of us is more right, and if someone does, will we believe them? I guess to move on I will have to take that risk. This idea is a big adjustment for me, but I’m going to give it a try, anyway. I do feel responsible to preserve what I know I know and to pass it on. It is what Taika really wanted us to do.