One of the immutable truths of martial arts training is that it requires hard work. Time, sweat, and pain are the primary currencies for martial growth. However, I’ve never believed in the concept of training without thought. “Shut Up and Train” may be a great way to kick yourself (or others) into gear, but a career spent “shutting up and training” fails the true potential of martial arts, by my estimation.
Let me explain in the context of exercise, and walking around the neighborhood.
What is a Walk?
Sometimes when I am taking a stroll around my neighborhood I wonder what passersby must think of me. As they push forward to make pace on their run, mind the behavior of their dogs, or chat with their jogging buddies, they see me doing none of those things. In fact, I am walking at death row pace and looking around like I’m lost. They might very well think me a vagrant…or so high I forgot how I got there.
In truth I use those walks to untether my mind from the day’s grind. I try my best to appreciate small things I never noticed before, or wrestle with problems that I haven’t yet come to terms with.
While I walk I wonder of those passing me, must everything be so…regimented?
The Trap of Pure Exercise in the Dojo
There are limitations in my story above. For example, I hardly know what other people are thinking or what their intentions are…and I certainly don’t think people need to do things the way I do them. In fact, many people state that they achieve a relaxed mental state and calmness through hard physical activity (like hitting a bag) or repetitive activity (like running). But that is the subtlety here – I am not referring to a peaceful mind, but instead of mindfulness.
In his book “My Journey With the Grandmaster” Bill Hayes Sensei discusses the results of training Sanchin kata over and over again. He pushed his mind and body to a point where normal aches and pains washed away in the rhythm of the kata. By the end, his attitude and perspective had changed and he felt a great happiness. This is the potential benefit of prolonged exercise. However, it was not on that same day that Hayes Sensei gained his massive insight into the fundamental operations of that kata and how it could be applied throughout his entire karate paradigm. He did that slowly and thoughtfully on different days, observing himself and others and finding the important questions to ponder.
If, every day, an individual arrives at the dojo and commits fantastic effort into their training they have a chance at receiving the same kind of benefits Hayes Sensei experienced. But if that’s all they do, they could be forever limited.
Mindfulness in the dojo should not be confused with discussing technique or bunkai drilling as both of those matters have distinct purpose. Instead, mindfulness is taking the time to step outside yourself and “watch” with patience as you execute the art. You, as the observer and the executer, have the opportunity to poke around and ask why, how, and to whom. As such, the observations made will likely begin technical and expand beyond it.
A mindful observation of form and function should consider physical technique as well as emotional content (we all remember the finger pointing to the moon right?) and presence of character. Some questions that might arise include: who are you? Why are you moving in such a way? What change in emotional state does this bring? Are you feeling focus…or anger? How does this relate to the bigger picture of the art? Are you being wasteful? Does the dignity of this kata walk with you when you leave the dojo?
One of the least tangible but most critical qualities of true martial arts masters is Hinkaku, a possession of quiet dignity. When around those rare individuals who embody Hinkaku one tends to feel at ease, and wishes the individual would speak more as everything they say and do has weight. In some manner, the dignified individual both exemplifies the simplicity of training for trainings-sake and the discovery of mindful introspection.
Of course, a person of Hinkaku has something else that can’t be written about or photographed or recorded. But that once again is the purpose of mindfulness, as everyone’s something is entirely unique and embodying it is paramount to the martial way.
In tennis there is a concept known as “forced errors and unforced errors”. A forced error is when one player demonstrates superior technique and strategy, pushing the opponent into a situation where they cannot respond effectively. Essentially, any time you see a player outright win a point, he is forcing the other player to be out of position or to hit a sub-optimal shot.
An unforced error, on the other hand, is when a player makes a mistake through no direct influence of their opponent. If you see someone serve into the net, or hit a ball wide, those are unforced errors.
That being said, I’d like to share a story about how I came to understand this concept and how it can apply to your martial arts training.
Story Time – The Trashman
In high school I was a tennis player, although not a very good one. I enjoyed playing, but martial arts got most of my time and attention. As such, I generally played down in the Junior Varsity leagues, scrumming around and having a fun time. Something weird happened my senior year though – I managed to place as the #2 seed on our starting team.
I was getting a little better year by year, but not to the point where I was actually good. My senior year “rank boost” happened because I figured something out – tennis players are neurotic. Much like golf, tennis is a very individualized sport where players spend a lot of time in their own head. As a result, the biggest opponent on the court is often “oneself”.
With that in mind, I developed a strategy whereupon my only real goal was to get the ball back over the net. I wasn’t trying to hit down-the-line winners or blitz serves at 80mph. I hit sloppy, medium paced shots that managed to make it back to my opponent time after time. My instructor affectionately nicknamed me “the trashman”, since I was routinely putting up garbage.
Something that frustrates tennis players is when they KNOW they are better than their opponent, yet aren’t getting ahead. As their self talk spins further and further out of control, they begin committing unforced errors as they lose patience and try to press too hard. Before they know it they are losing to an inferior opponent…which is generally when the cursing and racquet breaking begins.
I was never good at tennis, but I did come to understand the psychology of forced errors vs unforced errors.
Forced and Unforced: Your Opponent
It’s quite possible you don’t care about tennis, nor have any desire to get better at playing it. That’s ok! These concepts apply just as well to the martial arts.
When thinking of sparring and fighting, we generally conceptualize methods in which we will force our opponent into suboptimal situations. For example, if we punch them in the face we can then kick them in the groin and throw them to the ground. Straight forward and effective. However, forcing errors can go a little deeper than that.
If you think about distancing and body positioning during a combative engagement, the opponent MUST use the information you provide to make an informed decision about what he/she will do next. If you are close, they cannot use high kicks. If you are far away, they cannot grapple (unless they close the distance). As a result, you can use the knowledge of the situation to force your opponent into moving in particular ways. For example, if you are standing at a distance with your hands dropped low, what is the likelihood that the opponent will attempt a high, long ranged technique? Furthermore, he/she knows that a high technique is the obvious choice, so they will likely attempt a feint high in order to open up a low technique, which is their real intention.
You can never know exactly what the opponent will do, but you can refine their options which will make them more predictable, reducing the needed response options on your part and increasing the chance of your own effectiveness (the end goal of any combative engagement).
As for unforced errors…
An opponent’s unforced error may seem obvious at first – bad technique or decisions that leave huge openings. This is indeed part of unforced error capitalization. But we can go a step further. In tennis I used a calm persistence to disrupt the psychology of the opponent. Do we not have that same opportunity in fighting? Of course, conflict never lasts as long as a tennis match, but we can utilize the idea of gaining a psychological advantage (and implanting suggestion) even before a single strike is thrown as well as during the engagement itself.
Forced and Unforced: You!
If you’ve ever sparred you know what it’s like to get pushed around the dojo floor from time to time. You also know the frustrating repercussions of trying something stupid that is immediately shut down and punished. If you want to learn more about forced and unforced errors, take an honest look at your losses. Take it one step further and ask the individuals who beat you what they saw and how they were able to exploit it.
Let’s step out of the combative ring for a moment though. Unforced errors play more of a role in training than most people realize. Think of all the solo activity that goes along with martial arts training – kata, demonstrations, testing, etc etc. During all of those events it’s just you, the open floor space, and maybe some watchful eyes. There is nothing standing between you and success…which can be a debilitating problem for many individuals.
Unforced errors (aka wrinkles in personal psychology) appear all the time in martial arts training and can be so smothering that they cause many individuals to quit altogether. Anxiety during a testing, cold sweat as people watch you…these are purely internal matters and can only be rectified by one person (you).
I have found that identifying and placing a name on this kind of anxiety helps to overcome it. If you feel an overwhelming sense of dread or tension during solo performances, just remember that nothing can stop you except for you. Don’t “throw away the match” by riding the psychological tailspin of unforced errors. Recognize it, put it away, and do what it is you’ve trained to do!
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