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.


triangleIn 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.

sumo wrestlers

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

Judo Unleashed;
Neil Ohlenkamp 2006

Martial Arts- the spiritual Dimension;
Peter Payne 1981

Secrets of the Samurai;
Oscar Ratti/Adele westbrook1973