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?"
Mr. Miyagi: "Don't know Daniel-San, never been attacked by tree."

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."
- Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon

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.

In Master Gichin Funakoshi's semi-autobiographical book "Karate-Do Nyumon," Master Funakoshi relates his experiences studying under the legendary Okinawa-Te master, Master Itosu. Master Funakoshi states that after a night out on the town drinking sake, they came upon an inn which they wanted to enter. However, the inn was closed and the door was secured from the inside with a heavy metal bolt.

With a palm strike to the area where the bolt ran across, Master Itosu broke through the door, which was a 3-inch-thick oak door. However, Master Funakoshi was quick to point out that while he was a witness to this, he believed it was based upon a natural ability that Master Itosu had, rather than some "mystical power" he developed through years of practice. The point of his story is that the martial arts are about much more than breaking boards and other such feats and that such abilities, while impressive, have little to do with real fighting. As Master Funakoshi goes on to state,

"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?

How can a person who can break bricks with his fists lack knockout power in a real fight? How is it that there are people who can break bats with their shins yet can't trade kicks on the street?

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.

For example, take punching someone in the stomach. Because the stomach, when relaxed, is soft, the fist generally works well as a striking tool. However, the same strike to the forehead in a real fight could possibly result in a broken hand. In contrast, a chop or palm heel strike to almost any part of the body is effective, and if applied above the neck, can be fatal. The point is that all things have their own dynamics, and the dynamics for hitting people bare-handed, versus breaking boards or punching with a glove while wearing wrist wraps, are different. This is one reason why sportive fighting techniques often fail in real fights. 

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.

For those who subscribe to the sportive philosophy, I'm sorry, but you need to understand that we're not taking about the same thing!

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

PRINCIPLES - These are the basic principles that drive the art, such as balance, looseness, sensitivity, body unity and freedom of action.

TECHNIQUES - While we don't advocate "forms" or "katas," there is a small group of techniques within the art such as entry and preemptive striking techniques and finishing moves which form the basis of the Close Combat Karate training program. 

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.

From this point on, I will focus exclusively on the development of the tools as they relate to real fighting.

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.

When striking, you must intuitively feel your body position through the tool in relation to your root in order to strike effectively. Also, and this is very important, you must feel the relationship between your weapon and the surface of the person's body that you are striking. Remember that when you hit people, you have to touch them and when you touch them, you have to use your sensitivity or kinesthetic awareness to do so effectively. In short, hitting is a part of sensitivity and cannot be separated from it. As the fight progresses, you must be able to continually align your body, to the best of your abilities, to a better position in order for your tools to work as efficiently as possible.

Now you understand why the Guided Chaos free-form contact flow training at slow speed, including the "ultra-slow" speed, is vital to your ability to develop striking skill. If you're just flailing with your arms, there is no way you can develop your proprioception and touch when striking for maximum effectiveness.

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:

1. A sense of position

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 strike him.

2. A sense of movement

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").

3. A sense of force

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").

Developing Your Sense of Touch When Strriking

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.

When a carpenter wants to hammer a nail into a board, there is a certain touch that he must have with the hammer. If he hammers too hard or without focus, he could bend the nail or damage the wood. Too light, and the nail will not go in. Because the hammer is already designed for hammering, the carpenter doesn't have to get fancy in order to make it work. He just hammers.

Now I'm going to take this concept further, so here I go again with another set of sports analogies. If you've ever fished before, then you know that in the beginning, when the pole is in the water, everything that touches the line feels the same. But over time, you begin to learn the difference in feel between a "hit" from a fish biting the lure versus getting caught on a branch. You also learn over time how to "set" the hook, for if you yank on the pole too hard it will pull through the fish's mouth, and if you pull too slowly the fish will spit it out. You have to learn to pull on the pole with the proper amount of force and the right amount of speed, all based on feel.

The same is true when hitting a baseball or golf ball. There is a certain touch you have to develop in order to become good at it. After

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.

When striking a baseball or golf ball correctly with the proper body unity, the movement becomes nearly effortless. The energy output is minimal, but it achieves maximal results. This is what is referred to in Tai Chi as "the ability to move 1,000 pounds with an ounce of effort." This is the reason why when a Drop Strike is properly applied, often little or no movement by the person performing the strike is apparent. It is also the reason why until people feel it for themselves, no one believes it is for real because they just can't see it. There is no winding up or excessive force applied. It is pure efficiency and physics and economy of movement at its best. 

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.

I was once told by a student that in a previous art he practiced, students were instructed to, I kid you not, break their large knuckles so

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.

Following on my "carpenter" theme, if you were going to be in a fight and you had a hammer in hand, how good would you have to be to cause serious injury to someone? You wouldn't have to be that good at all because no matter where you hit them, it's going to hurt because it's still a hammer. You want to develop your tools so that as long as you strike with the proper surface, you are able to inflict maximum damage without injuring yourself. In other words, you want to turn your hands into hammers and your feet into sledge hammers.

In many older Kung Fu manuals, the surface that makes contact when fighting is called a "ridge." The ridge is pretty much any surface you choose to strike with. Some ridges are natural weapons such as the palm heel and side of the hand, forehead, elbows, knees, toes (of boots) and heels. There are other, more esoteric ridges such as the back of the hand, the fingers, and the instep of the foot or shoe. But the ones that I've mentioned above are the most effective because they rely more on physics and proper body unity than on speed and power in the form of muscular strength.

When striking, you want to feel the ridge of the weapon, whatever it is, and feel the relationship between your body and the strike. Whether moving slowly or quickly, ensure that your body is properly aligned behind the strike. Ensure that the position of the weapon is always the proper position to ensure the strike will work. For example, if striking with the side of the hand, ensure that the thumb is fully extended, fingers are together and that you strike with the side of the palm and not the fingers, because the fingers generally lack to bone structure to be an effective strike from this angle. If executing a side kick, ensure that you are aiming with the heel, with the sole of the shoe as flat to the target as possible. Do not crescent or blade your foot as they do in the fantasy fighting schools. Would you want to stomp hard on the ground with your ankle turned sideways? It is simply unnatural.

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. 

Touch Drill  

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.

The same methodology applies when performing contact flow with your training partner. Practice developing the striking ridges, whether striking with a little force or just touching as lightly as a feather, by aligning your body to the best of your ability. The body alignment should remain the same as when striking the bag and mitts, with the only difference being the amount of speed and penetration applied.

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. 

Leg Development  

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.

Striking A Swinging Bag Or Fighting Man Dummy  

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.

Finally, you want to mix up your strikes, moving from side to side on the bag and progressing to moving around the bag, striking fluidly with any weapon of your choice, adding knee strikes to the mix.