If you ever saw the movie, "The Karate Kid II," you may recall the exchange below:
Daniel: "Hey, Mr. Miyagi, can you break a log like that?"
Granted the movie is no "Yojimbo," and let's be honest: with arms that would make "Olive Oil" blush, given the techniques championed in the movie, I highly doubt that Ralph Macchio could beat the woman who played his mother in the first movie. The point is, while they are campy feel-good martial arts movies, the "Karate Kid" films contain a lot of philosophical truths that are often overlooked by many "real" martial artists.
"Boards don't hit back."
When you talk to people about martial arts training, one of the first questions that usually comes up is the issue of striking power. We've all seen demonstrations of various feats of power, the cracking of boards or bricks, all done as a demonstration of one's mastery of power delivery and focus while striking. In all fairness, these demonstrations are impressive to watch and do require a degree of skill and talent.
We all know that the martial arts are full of legendary stories of
almost superhuman feats of strength. In fact, whole books could be
written about them. Stories such as mystical chi powers, death touches
and flying through the air proliferate. In the book "Comprehensive
Asian Fighting Arts," Draeger and Smith clearly point out that while
some of the legendary feats in the martial arts may be rooted in some
degree of fact, over the years, due to that all too human talent of
embellishment, they have grown to outlandish proportions well beyond
reality. This has had a detrimental effect on how people perceive the
martial arts, especially in the West.
"Those who think that the martial arts are about plucking out ribs and the like are fooling around in the leaves and branches of a great tree without any conception of its trunk."
Those who are familiar with our thoughts on this have heard us state
numerous times that when many of these "break artists" strike people,
rarely if ever are they able to deliver their strikes effectively. But
how can that be?
The Twain Shall Never Meet
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus on the
importance of developing what I refer to as the "Tools of Combat". I
just feel the need to point out the obvious before continuing on:
Hitting people and breaking objects are not the same thing. Breaking
boards is like driving a nail with a hammer, whereas hitting people is
like trying to hit a nail that is constantly moving on you. The human
body is not uniform in consistency. Some spots are hard, most are
spongy and some feel, well, soft.
In the vast majority of martial arts systems, most of the emphasis in training is given to forms and the development of tools (i.e., kicks, punches, blocks, etc.). But often, even in their tool development, they fail to answer the mail because their methodology is not based on developing the strike for reality, but for show or sport.
I'm not talking about the physically gifted individuals who could
probably make anything work for them, but the average Joe or Jane who
has to fight for his or her life in the parking lot of the 7-11.
Remember that the type of violence that visits people every day on our
streets, and what happens in the world of controlled sportive fighting,
are two different things.
A Little Clarity
Those who normally attend our classes know that we place a premium
on "blows over throws." Surprisingly, however, we do not spend a lot of
time working on various strikes. Instead, the majority of time is spent
developing the delivery system to make all strikes work. The art of
Guided Chaos can be broken up into the following general area
TOOLS - These are the actual striking weapons that are employed, such as chops, kicks, knees, elbows, etc. Understand that within Guided Chaos, our tools are not just the chop or the elbow but also the relationship of the body and the tool. In other words for that spilt second of contact upon striking, the entire body becomes the tool.
Once again, the old internal arts masters had it right. Because we
bring the whole house when we fight, we can hit with maximum power from
multiple positions seemingly at once. A chop is not just a chop but a
"bullet" shot from the whole body's explosion into the strike.
If you will recall in my article, " Building True Self Defense Power
- Train Slower To Move Faster" I discussed the importance of
proprioception to our ability to develop our bodies to move with power
at high speed. In order to develop your proprioception, you must start
off extremely and "painfully" slow, then gradually pick up speed. You
need to do the same thing with your striking in order to develop what
is referred to as your "touch" with your tools.
Body unity or alignment as it relates to your ability to strike is
referred to in Tai Chi as "Threading the Nine Pearls". By properly
aligning your joints (foot, ankle, knee, hip, spine, shoulder, elbow,
wrist and hand - the "Nine Pearls"), you are able to move and strike,
and if necessary instantly change direction, with greater efficiency,
power and speed. By developing our proprioception and kinesthetic
awareness when striking, we can gain an appreciation of the following:
We can feel the alignment of our body in relation to the tool we are
striking with. We can also feel the relationship between our body, the
surface we are striking with, and the enemy's body, and how it feels to
We can accurately feel the speed and direction of the movement of
our limbs. This allows us to coordinate our limbs in relation to our
body and sense of balance as we strike in alignment with our root
through our center of gravity ("Threading the Nine Pearls").
This is the amount of effort and subtle muscle control needed to
ensure we are striking with the proper amount of force when bouncing
people away or penetrating them with strikes (developing the "touch").
The reason why you have to develop a sense of touch when you strike
people is because unlike a board or even a heavy bag, the human body is
mostly water (roughly 75% - 80%), and is flexible. So when you strike a
person, you must "splash" the tissue, because even the most rigid
person's body has some give to it.
developing this touch, when you strike the ball you intuitively know
when you have hit the ball correctly. The same is true for shooting
pool, and for pretty much any activity that requires you to be in
physical contact with another object, including striking people.
Developing The Striking Ridge
Before getting into all of this, I want to note that many people
think that in order to develop your hands to strike with great power,
your need to engage in some form of psychotic tool development methods.
We all know what I'm talking about: the knuckle push-ups on concrete,
kicking banana trees until our shins bleed, Makiwara training against
an immovable oak board, and on and on. Many of these methods cause
excessive calluses, calcium deposits, bone spurs, arthritis, blood
clots and permanent nerve damage. One thing they will NOT cause is your
becoming a better fighter.
that when they healed, they would become harder. Thank God he didn't
do it, and he left the school shortly thereafter. This type of thinking
is just plain nuts! I don't know what kind of pipe this sensei was
smoking, but I broke my ankle playing football and it still bothers me
from time to time. It sure didn't get any stronger! The point is you do
not have to destroy your body to develop lethal striking power.
Besides, what good is it to wreck your body so that it will not be of
any use to you in a real fight, or even in daily life? Just my opinion.
Key Points For Strike Development
Remember to strike only within your Sphere of Influence and no further, because no matter how powerful the strike, sending anything beyond your Sphere will cause you to become overextended, off-balance, and thus out of position when striking. Stay on balance and maintain your body unity, and as always start off performing all of the movements at ultra-slow speed. Progress to half-speed, build to three-quarters speed, and finally full speed. Start with very light contact (just a touch), and progress to full drop hitting against a heavy bag. When striking, focus on penetrating and denting the bag as opposed to making it swing. This ensures that you will be splashing the tissue when striking an actual person, as opposed to just pushing him away with your strikes.
Perform the "Touch Drill" on the heavy bag or with focus mitts if
you have a training partner. Begin by literally touching the bag or
focus mitt with the ridge that you want to strike with, feeling the
alignment of your body. From there, begin to add power and strike the
pads or bag, starting with single strikes and working up to multiple
hits of the same strike. Add speed and power gradually, maintaining the
focus on how the strike feels in relation to your body unity just as
you did when you touched the bag lightly. Do this with every Close
Combat strike and kick. Remember that the best strike is not the one
that feels the most effortful, but the one that achieves the greatest
effect on target due to your alignment and sensitivity.
Hitting A Moving Target
This is a tough drill and is harder than it looks, unless you're the guy running away with the pad or focus mitts. Strike the focus mitt while the holder is moving away from you. As in the previous drill, begin by literally just touching the focus mitt with the ridge that you want to strike with, feeling the alignment of your body. From there, have your partner begin to move away from you. As you strike, be sure to maintain your balance and do not allow yourself to become overextended. Begin to add speed and penetration, maintaining the focus on how the strike feels in relation to your body unity as you gradually build up power.
To develop your kicks, you'll want to do the same drills, only
you'll need a partner when it comes time to chase the bag. Place the
heavy bag on the ground vertically and begin to kick it, starting in
the same fashion as you did in the other drills. Have your partner move
the bag away from you as you step forward or diagonally on a 45-degree
angle, kicking the bag with the toe of your boot. Build up to where you
explode into the kick like a field goal kicker or like a soccer player
kicking a goal. For knee strikes, start slowly with the bag hanging.
First, drive into the bag head-on, then move side-to-side, striking
with the knees.
Now you want to take this to the next level by performing all of
your strikes against a heavy bag or the I&I Fighting Man Dummy.
Start off slowly, lightly touching the bag, then gradually increase the
amount of striking force.