This is the seventh and final article of Reader Week II. Author Michael Pepe is a student of Shorin Ryu Karate and diligent martial arts researcher and conceptual thinker. In this article, Michael explores how thoughtful martial artists can use basic principles of reality and physics to reorganize the way they see combat.
This article hopes to shed some light on the mindset of a cerebral fighter. One who understands the laws of motion and balance and uses them effectively during a fighting situation.
Essential Principles of Combat
As two antagonists lock together in mutual combat, each has the expressed physical intention of forcing the other to surrender to their dominance. While we as spectators watch, our primal instincts take over as we accept facial cuts and injuries as primary factors in deciding who dominated whom. However, other dynamics come into play providing a clear assessment as to who controlled the other and thereby dominated the fight.
As their bodies collide, the combatants bring forth a myriad of principles. Motion, balance, and leverage are but some of the formulas the winning fighter must harness in order to seize the day.
Initially, the combatants might grab each other and like two bulls locking horns, attempt to drive one another backward in an attempt to impose their dominance with shear physical strength.
In order to unbalance an opponent, our intelligent fighter must understand the structure of a well-balanced individual. To do this, visualize an isosceles triangle whose base runs from ankle to ankle and whose sides travel from there, to the person’s natural center of gravity within the pelvis. This center point is found slightly below the bellybutton, and is seated approximately two-thirds inward toward the spine. This “structure” is very stable until one of two actions occurs.
First, if a person wishes to move or step he must lean forward, move the hips (the center point of the body) passed the base at the feet. As he starts to lose his balance, he must move his leg forward and establish a “new” triangle slightly ahead of the last and if left unobstructed, regains his balance.
Second, if an outside force pulls this same person, his center of gravity has once again moved and he must re-adjust his base by moving his foot forward.
Controlling an Opponent’s Balance Using Math and Science
Let us assume that “Joe” is larger than “Dave” is. We could then say that “Joe” is more rooted or stable, merely due to gravity pulling his larger mass into the earth, causing increased friction between his feet and the ground. In order to create motion and gain a small advantage against the larger opponent, Dave, who is lighter, cannot push against his larger opponent and expect to win. If both are aggressively pushing, the larger of the two will always win. Therefore, Dave, who is smaller, must yield to the larger by pulling, the precise moment the larger pushes. The theory can be clearly seen in this way; If the larger person pushes using seven units of force and the smaller were to pull using only three units of force, he harnesses the combined force of both bodies, ten units, and can easily topple the much larger opponent.
When the heaver fighter pushes, he uses weight and motion creating momentum. However, momentum can become a problem for the larger person if used against him. First, the larger person has more difficulty stopping once he has gained momentum and he falls faster once momentum is introduced. He also depletes more energy trying to reestablish a stable posture than would a smaller sized person.
Causing One to Fall by Interrupting Balance
As the combatants tussle and the smaller gains control of the other’s movement and balance through good strategy, he need only to block or sweep the hip or leg to send his opponent to the mat. When a leg is blocked or swept as it attempts to regain a base, the brain tells the body to readjust. However, due to the precision of the block, the body cannot respond in time. Once movement occurs between the two, the ideal moment, that causes one to tumble, evolves until it peaks, and once past, the moment is lost and a new opportunity must be cultivated. There is one and only one moment that causes the opponent to fall with the thrower using minimal effort. Any attempted throw on either side of this “peak moment” demands the use of added muscular effort, compounded by the time past the peak. It is not impossible to accomplish the throw but it becomes more difficult if the moment is not used and the opponent regains any stability.
Seizing the Moment
Where was the man when he jumped off the bridge? Not on the bridge, that was before he jumped. Not in the air, that was after he jumped. The thought process used in answering this question can be used again in finding the solution to the question, “When is the right moment to throw an opponent?”
The moment of time, when it is best to sweep or block the leg, leading to a successful throw, is born when the opponent begins to place his foot on the mat in an attempt to regain balance, the moment peaks when he has placed half his weight on the advancing foot and has past the instant after. When his foot is not on the mat, is not the moment and when his foot rests firmly on the mat the peak moment has also past. The intelligent competitor must master this moment in time in order to use minimal effort, in toppling a lager opponent.
The Use of Levers and Fulcrums
Greek philosopher Archimedes once declared, “Give me a firm place on which to stand, and with a lever I can lift the world”. Not only would our friend Archimedes need a firm place to stand, he would also need a solid lever that would not snap!
A lever is a something used to lift an object. Placing an object under our lever helps gain lift. This object forms a fulcrum at the point where it meets the lever. The closer the fulcrum is to the weight, the easier it is to lift.
The two combatants have now landed on the ground and have entered the final stage of the battle. The knowledgeable fighter must now think like a master of applied science. With two different sized, three-dimensional bodies, there are an infinite number of ways to apply principles of leverage, but our smart fighter has chosen juji-gatame or cross arm lock as it might be called in Judo. Older schools of Jiu-jitsu called it ude nate, arm break, nonetheless, attacking the arm.
With the larger man now on his back the smaller of the two sits beside, facing him and places both his legs across the chest and neck, the larger man’s arm now stuck between them. Pressing the backs of both legs to the mat the smaller man now pins the larger and at the same time, squeezes his knees together, trapping the arm. It is not impossible to escape the arm but it becomes more difficult. The big man’s arm now becomes our lever, the smaller man’s hips, and the fulcrum. In getting the hips as close as possible to the heavy man’s body, we make it easier to lift. Grasping the end of the “lever” (the man’s wrist) the smaller man now leans back straightening the arm and locking it into this extended position. Since our intention is not really to lift the weight of our opponent’s body, our legs hold downward pressure, then, by applying pressure under the arm and lifting the hips we hyperextend the arm breaking it at the weakest point, the elbow.
If a fighter uses only brawn to overcome an adversary, he may or may not win. If the fighter knows nothing of the principles of combat he can push, pull, and shove, but these tactics will be random and therefore be very ineffective.
However, one, who understands the laws that govern movement and balance then puts to use these essential principles of combat, has the knowledge and tools to use in their quest to control a larger opponent, and with minimal effort thereby defeat him.
For further information:
The secrets of Judo; A text for instructors and students
Jiichi Watanabe and Lindy Avakian
Neil Ohlenkamp 2006
Martial Arts- the spiritual Dimension;
Peter Payne 1981
Secrets of the Samurai;
Oscar Ratti/Adele westbrook1973
This is the sixth article in Reader Week II. Author Jeffrey Riggs describes the experience of organizing and participating in a gathering of Okinawa Kenpo practitioners.
On June 7th, 8th, and 9th, Iwatana Karate of Rockledge Florida hosted the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Friendship Conference with an open invitation to all Karate practitioners with ties to Nakamura Shigeru, the founder of Okinawa Kenpo Karate, and ties to his lineage.
The Friday Meet and Greet started off with people showing up early, eagerly anticipating an evening of social activity and it was well underway in the hall prior to the buffet even being ready and the doors open. The hall was a beehive of activity and once the doors opened everyone was so engaged that nobody even noticed.
In predominant attendance were members of two lineages of Okinawa Kenpo, the Odo, Seikichi and the Nakayama, Hideka lineages were represented. As is usually the case, the higher ranked dan and sensei and the other students of the art gravitated towards their contemporaries and it was soon discovered that the opinion of all present was that everyone was connected in a familial manner with the word “cousin” generously uttered. It became apparent among the ranking sensei that they were looking forward to seeing and evaluating how the “art” of the two lineages compared. All of the emphasis was on the benefit of diversity and there was no mention or discussion of the negativity of right and wrong. Old friends and acquaintances reminisced and new ones created while the exchange of war stories of younger days were exchanged, no doubt exaggerated or embellished for effect.
One such story, related by Pat McGale Sensei was about when he was instructed by Odo Sensei at around the age of 12, to teach a young Marine Wansu Kata. He related that while he well knew the moves, he still had yet to learn the nuances. But, he knew enough to get this young Marine started on learning the kata. Once this Marine learned the movements, the young McGale then told him that when he got Wonsu down, he would teach him Twosu. Upon hearing this, Odo Sensei apparently went into “Father” mode and “Corrected” young Mr. McGale, quite emphatically.
Saturday training started exactly at 8:00 AM as promised. The banquet room was turned into a dojo with two large rooms separated by a moving wall.
An opening was located on the north side to facilitate movement back and forth. The West room had a tasteful “Spirit Seat” on an alter table with the picture of Nakamura Sensei, and the logo of Iwatana-do. These were separated by a “Tori Gate Frame of the kanji for Okinawa Kenpo Karate. This room also served as the “Mat Room” as mats were laid out for training as well as making seiza more
comfortable. The east room was left mat-less and was used for kata and kumite.
The Okinawa Kenpo Friendship Conference was by almost any definition a huge success. New friends were made, invitations for visits exchanged and mutual endorsements were freely given with a spoken desire to continue down the path of acceptance and sharing knowledge and perspectives. Older friends and acquaintances reconnected and reminisced. New friends were introduced and history as well as war stories were exchanged. Knowledge was shared, both graciously given and received.
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.