The Principles of Power.

Power in martial arts is a more complex subject than it would seem on the surface. Most people think that being a being, hulking behemoth makes one more powerful. They focus on building mass and throwing hamfisted punches. These are elements of what we call "external" or "hard style" martial arts. However, it is actually possible for a smaller person to generate as much, if not more power than someone who is physically larger, and it can be proven mathematically!

F= M*V


These are the physics equations that describe the fundamentals of effective striking. Force equals Mass time Velocity (F=M*V) means that speed multiplies the amount of force you can generate based on your size. This is why "soft style" martial arts work better for smaller people. By focusing on flexibility, the development of lean muscle rather than bulk, and running speed drills we are able to generate as much, if not more power than our physically larger peers. By keeping the muscles loose using "soft structure" right up to the point of impact we are able to move much faster than those with stiff, bulky musculature.

P=F/A means Pressure equals Force over Area. This is why some of our "exotic" strikes such as single knuckle fists, "karate chops" and finger thrusts are able to do real damage. The smaller the surface area, the more pressure is exerted over that area relative to the force put into it. The simplest illustration is hitting a board with a hammer vs hitting a nail into the same board using a hammer. The hammer makes a dent, but does not penetrate because the head of the hammer covers a wider surface area. The end of the nail is a fine point, so when the same amount of force (mass of the hammer times the speed at which it is swung) is exerted over a smaller surface area (that covered by the point of the nail) pressure is increased and the nail penetrates the board. 

It takes a lot of training to execute powerful empty hand strikes. Most people do not hit as hard as they can because self-preservation kicks in and the body pulls back at the last moment out of fear from self injury. That's why we spend a lot of time conditioning our hands, feet, elbows, knees, and any other areas we may strike with.The whole concept of tameshiwari (breaking) is designed around the martial artist's drive to overcome these hurdles. Strength, proper body structure, striking the target in the correct way, with enough speed, and the mental fortitude necessary to drive through the target rather than fear it, are all demonstrated through tameshiwari. Boards may not "hit back" but they don't lie either.

Equalizers such as yawara, chizikunbo, kubaton, etc have many benefits to the novice practitioner of kyushojitsu, and can augment the abilities of experts as well. Firstly, by holding an inorganic object in the hand, the instinctive fear of self injury is instantly diminished. One is more likely to strike with full force and speed when something other than their own body is liable to take the brunt of the impact. Secondly, like our hammer and nail, the tool focuses the pressure over a smaller surface area, dramatically increasing the pain and penetration of the net force. Finally, these tools make it easier to execute a variety of techniques without the need for fine motor skills to change hand techniques/positions into more precise configurations. They are commonly sold as key chains, which makes them legal to carry and possess in most places, however, the advice to use them keys as a "mini flail" is no good, in spite of marketing. I recommend adding a quick release device between the keys and the tool so that it can be used without the keys getting in the way, not to mention keeping your keys separate means that if you happen to drop the weapon, or have it taken from you, you still have your keys as a means of escape.

Getting back to the main topic, one final principle of power I want to talk about is kinetic linking. This is a basic concept found in practically every sport, from martial arts to basketball, even golf. Essentially it involves utilizing the body like a whip- recruiting force from the larger segments of the body first, and transferring that power into smaller and smaller segments, thus concentrating and building it up to the moment of release. Now, in order to transfer the maximum amount of momentum, the muscles have to move loosely and freely. This is how "soft styles" end up producing seemingly impossible amounts of power. It may help to think of the body as a conductor for energy. Like a wire, there is a certain level of resistance as energy travels from one point to the next. If the muscles are rigid, the joints stiff, or the links "rusty" resulting in clunky movement, then power is reduced. When movement is fluid and the body is least resistant, power is maximized. Everything starts at the ground, which is why stance is so important. From there, every joint the energy passes through has the potential to add something from the preceding muscle groups. The hips tend to be most important because the legs are generally some of the strongest muscles in the body. If we stretch our legs and make them more flexible, we reduce the resistance in those muscles. Though we may never kick above our heads in a street fight, the ability to do so actually increases the potential power of our punches!

We talk of "dantien" a lot. Most refer to it only as the area between our navel and groin. There are actually three, the lower is between the navel and groin, the middle is in the solar plexus, and the upper covers the area from the neck and shoulders to crown of the head. Considered to be "mystical energy centers" similar to "chakras" in yogic teachings, they actually represent the 3 main junctions of kinetic linkage. Exercises such as qigong, which bring awareness to these energy centers and help us to move power through them in a very real way affect our martial prowess. By synchronizing our breath with flowing movements, increasing fine motor control, and making the whole ordeal into a sort of moving meditation we remove the need for excess thought or concentration. The end result is that maximum flow of power through kinetic linkage becomes completely natural and instinctual. Thus relaxed, seemingly "gentle" movements produce shockingly powerful results!

About the Author Rae Heskett

Born intersex, assigned "male" at birth, but her femininity was obvious as she developed. Ergo, Rae is both "intersex" and "transgender" in that her gender does not match that assigned at birth. She identifies as "hijra" or "kathoey" -words from Hindi and Thai languages respectively for "third gender" people. Rae is an author, holistic healer, and martial artist. She teaches and provides services professionally.

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