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 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
The bo is one of the most popular and widely utilized kobudo implements. It's length and dynamics have made it a mainstay on the tournament circuit. However, using the bo for combative purposes is a unique challenge and much of the flair used in forms gets abandoned in a hurry.
Odo Seikichi Sensei with Dennis Branchaud
There's a reason almost every ancient culture developed a polearm style weapon: it's simple and effective. The long range allows the user to stay at a relatively safe distance while impacting the opponent. The dual wooden ends allow for devastating combinations of blows, blocks, and sweeps.
Of course, as with any weapon, the inherent strengths of the bo provide gaps for weakness. At close range the bo becomes unwieldy and loses it's primary arc of power. The lack of a cutting edge, while allowing for lighter weight, also reduces the ability to cut through clothing, armor, and flesh.
One of the real "secrets" to learning how to use the bo effectively (ie maximizing strength while minimizing weakness) is to find balance in mobility.
Depending on who you watch the bo can be a very linear and poky weapon or a sweeping, twirling, arcing weapon. Too much of either is a bad thing and provides the opponent with obvious "suki", or gaps in mindset and posture.
Let's look closer at the two imbalanced extremes of bo usage.
The bo can be a dazzling, elegant instrument of artistic expression. It can spin so fast that the eye can no longer trace the ends. Some mythology states that the bo could be spun so fast that it could block arrows. In a static environment with careful planning….that might be true. But in a combative environment such excess motion and dependence on fine motor skills would tire the user and put them at risk.
Wasted motion is an indulgance that bo combatants can't afford. Extreme spinning of the bo or transitioning from end to end may feel productive, but in actuality it provides a large series of gaps for skilled opponents to capitalize on.
Think about it this way: when sparring, bouncing lightly on your toes makes you feel lighter and more mobile. However, it also allows a skilled opponent to gauge your timing and maneuverability. You might not automatically lose because of it, but you certainly don't give yourself an advantage.
Excessive bo spinning and manipulating is the same way. When spinning, the hands are committed to a certain pattern. The pace and pattern of that movement can act as a predictable cue. While it's true that some spinning can leave the opponent guessing as to where an attack might come from, there are far more drawbacks than gains when relying too much upon it.
In my experience, bo "spinners" tend to spin just until the action gap gets close. They then regrasp the bo and assume a more predictable posture. The moment in between spinning and regaining posture is a highly exploitable gap. Even if they don't conclude the spinning, the rhythm of the spin is easily disturbed, and thus once again provides an opening.
The opposite of wasted motion is just as dangerous. Static immobility manifests in styles that are overly dependent on linear movement. In these situations bo thrusting and strikes are often accompanied by long stances with emphasis on power in each strike. The problem with this method is that the inherent liveliness of the bo, that unpredictable nature, is lost.
Taking advantage of the bo's full length and dual edges requires smooth, consistent action without a lot of starting and stopping. Striking with the front end, stepping, and then striking with the back end is far too lengthy a process when it comes to weapons combat. Furthermore, keeping the bo in an immovable posture is a great way to get a piece of it cut off against an edged weapon or struck out of your grasping front hand.
Static users often need to shorten their stance and lighten their grip. Too frequently these individuals clamp onto the weapon the way they might grasp the safety bar on a roller coaster, holding on for dear life. The bo should be held firmly but gently. Sword practitioners will be familiar with this advice.
Striking a Balance
The methods described above probably seem diametrically opposite, leaving little room for actual success with the weapon. In truth, a little bit of both when used in the right context can maximize effectiveness.
A few fundamental factors need to be in place at all times:
- The feet should be available, light, and naturally spaced to enhance mobility. This means avoiding deep, static stances except during moments of hard impact when the whole body is transmitting force, but then quickly returning to natural stance.
- Awareness of centerline control should be maintained no matter which posture the bo is in.
- Distance should be maintained as much as possible to stay within the ideal striking range of the bo while minimizing the opponent's effective striking range.
By using proper fundamentals the bo can strike, retract, swing, retract, extend, pull back, all in a continuous arc while the feet make slight distance adjustments. In a moment's notice the bo can snap into a centerline posture and create linear techniques to overwhelm an unsuspecting opponent, and at will revert back into fluid strikes from unpredictable angles.
The great thing about working with the bo in a combative manner is that frivolous and unwieldy techniques will be quickly revealed as dangerously ineffective.
I recommend finding someone who is skilled with a shinai and allowing him/her to strike at you with speed and freedom. You'll quickly learn the sensation of failure as fancy tactics turn into desperate backpeddling while bamboo whips passed your head.
Should you waste too much motion you'll rarely find yourself in prime position to capitalize on openings. Should you be too static you'll find your bo quickly knocked off centerline and your distance encroached upon.
Aim for smooth, consistent balance and your opponents will start to wonder if perhaps they should study the bo as well!