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Generating Power in Martial Arts

January 3, 2003 04:31 PM

Well, first of all I would very much like to assist my fellow comrades in putting together programs for enhancing their functional power. For now, let us talk about specifics of the strength and power game. Despite the ramblings of the masses, the only things that affect your power output are 1.) your limit strength and explosive strength level and 2.) the quality of your kinematic chain(s).

I've heard so many people rant on and on about physics equations for power output, "force equals mass times velocity squared over 2" and the physics equations are of course valid, but too many people talk about it as if you could apply a simple equation to the human body the same way you would a free flying object like a bullet or a boulder rolling down a hill; the truth is that it's how efficiently you use kinematic chains, i.e., the body's joints and levers, that determines your final velocity for impact purposes, and it's how much strength, limit and explosive, you have that helps determine this as well. Also, your bodyweight isn't the single biggest factor in how much "mass" you get into the equation; it's how forward committed and well grounded the attack is. That is, upon impact, there should be no "give" on your side of the equation. Your body and joint angles are so strong through the impact that the target has to absorb all the force. And if it can't move fast enough do that, it will break. That is the desirable situation. More on this later?

Just hearing an equation repeated ad nauseam does not convey any sense of how to actually do it.

Let us use advanced definitions for "strength" and "power": physicists have long since made the distinction between "speed" and "velocity." (simplified here for your convenience) "Speed" is a measurement of how fast an object moves. "Velocity" is a measurement of how fast an object moves IN A GIVEN DIRECTION. There is a big difference there. So here's what I propose for our purposes, as definitions for "strength" and "power":

Let us therefore define strength as "a given body's potential to exert force." "Power" will be defined as "a given body's ability to exert force IN A DESIRED DIRECTION." Again, a huge difference; only with all the power going in the desired direction will it truly be realized (NO wasted movement).

That is why some of the most massive or athletic guys sometimes still don't hit with significant force, despite massive squats and bench presses, huge vertical jumps and so on. It is simply more complicated and twitching a big limb in the direction of what you want to hit.

The reason for this is simple: strength depends primarily on training the nervous system to increase the activation of the musculature, and thus gives rise to power. Power relies on leverage and strength as well as a sound mechanical structure with NO wasted movement whatsoever.

Wasted movement sends power away from the desired direction in wacky directions. For example, swinging the hand excessively backward, windmilling punches, rotating in the middle instead of shifting and rotating on the lead axis (explanation coming) etc.

Power is best manifested through the intelligent use of kinematic chains. A kinematic chain is simply the mechanical (muscle - joint) structure of a given movement; for example, a good straight right involves the hips, glutes, waist, alignment of the psoas and spine, full body rotation on a left axis (NOT the central axis, as some people use, since this would be sending some power out the back) and a full weight shift from the rear (right foot) to the forward (left foot) WITHOUT letting any of the shifting weight move off to either the right or left sides. As you rotate, you think of rotating PAST the target and hitting THROUGH it, and the launch of the arm is being done by the scapula and rotated using the subscapularis. You will notice that there is no "give" on your side of the equation upon impact, and you will feel the jolt in your armpit and sides, perhaps in your glute on that side as well. Now, the other part of power is building the limit and explosive strength, the "fast twitch" ability we'll talk about later, but for now let's talk about the kinematic chains.

That sounds very complicated, but in truth, anyone can learn how.

Most people would just "twitch" their muscles to throw their hand towards the target, and thus would never know what great power they could have.

Realize that it is the delivery system of the hips, waist, and spine that will give you the greatest power output, whether you are hitting with a fist, an elbow, or anything else. I'll cover two target types and the principles that power the techniques, one for hitting a target below you, and one for hitting a target in front of you.

While most of my experience comes from Boxing and Powerlifting, I have learned some practical aspects of martial arts that have enhanced my performance, and if something works well I use it. One of the things I use is Iron Palm. Hear me out?

Now, I've heard a lot of modernist naysayers tell me that IP isn't useful on the ground, etc. etc. but in my experience, ground and pound is a perfectly legit use for it. Consider that a lot of g n p punching is really awkward hammer fists. You can use the same technique to hit with the bottom of your fist too, but it may be better just to use the bottom of your palm heel since there's no chance of impacting your pinkie area on someone's head as they try to cover up. Now granted it's not going to look exactly the same as if you set up a patio block and had all the time in the world to nail it perfectly straight on, but if you practice with a little creativity, you can get quickly down to the ground and hit the thing right away, and you don't have to set up or think about it at all. The other option for g n p is to use lots of elbows from the mount but these are banned in most competitions for obvious reasons. Practicing on a bag on the ground is a good idea.

Here we go:

For a target that is below you: Such as hitting a mounted opponent or breaking a patio block, the IP way:

The hammer principle: If you were going to hit an object with a hammer, you would not tense up and try to push it through the object. Rather, you would use a relaxed swing and let the hammer do the work; Strength would be applied closer to your core (if you were holding the hammer, it would use the arm and shoulder, with the wrist relaxed; for swinging your hand as the "Hammer" you would use the inside of your shoulder socket, explained later, and the inside of your hips, with a power stretched body connecting them. The elbow and deltoids will relax as you "swing" your forearm like a hammer).

Here are the key points:

- Hips and shoulders "roll"; these are the "swing" joints
- Elbows are relaxed like a hammer; these are the "hammer" joints
- Tension (stretch) is felt in the front of the body; the front of the body holds 120 degrees.
- Feel the power stretching pull the arm (and the hand) in an arc, up and back, and then down and forwards. The shoulder "rolls" in its socket like a wheel or a gear. The hand moves in a straight arc up and down, that looks like a wave. There is no tension in the lower arm, perhaps minimal tension in the upper arm.
- Fold at the front of the hips. The hips are going to load back and down, not straight down. Power stretching is felt in the front of the legs, or if the stance is really close, in the hamstrings as well. Most people who hit downed opponents do so with a wide base, so practice that. You can do this from the mount easily. In fact, a lot of people who practice this do so from the knees. There are all kinds of variations, standing, kneeling, wide base, etc.

Explanation of how to use the "Hammer" Principle:

-The shoulders and hips have an "open" and "closed" position. When they are down, and the palm is resting on the surface of the object to be broken, the tension/fold will be felt in the front of the hips and under the shoulder joint in the armpits in front of the lats (subscapularis). This is the "closed" position.

When "open", the hips "roll" and will "close" in the back, thus forcefully opening the front (with as much force as possible). The shoulders will roll and do the same, but the forearm should go only as high as vertical, never behind the head. Thus, the shoulder opens and then closes with as much force as possible, also with the hips closing with as much force as possible right before the shoulders, whipping the upper body into the strike, and a split second later, the shoulder, closing connected with the body and hips, whips the still relaxed arm down into the target and through it.

Now, don't open so far that you begin to fall backwards, but you need to understand how to elastically open and close to sledge power into the target without stiffness.

The "Hammer" joints are the elbows in the IP technique. Think of this analogy: when you swing a hammer into a board, you don't stiffen your wrist and try to "push" the hammer into the nail. You just swing from the elbow and let the wrist swing freely, let the hammer do the work and bounce off the surface. Well, when you hit with your hand, you move the joint roles back one; now the elbows swings freely, the forearm and hand are your "hammer." And your shoulder is going to be rolling, doing the "swing" role. The hips are doing a lot of power generation, essentially the same thing, swinging your whole upper body down into it, and your shoulders are not working alone. You can get a lot of whip like power this way, keep your spine lively, and don't let it hump over. I've heard the hip/spine motion described as the "wave" and the shoulder/arm motion described as the "whip."

It does help to think of the "wave" and the "whip" but that doesn't really explain anything until you've actually done it and seen it, therefore I like the hammer analogy better to start off with, it explains a lot more.

The forearm and the hand stay relaxed, and are swung like a hammer into the target. They should stay relaxed through the impact, with only enough tension in the hand to keep a flat surface in the palm and the arm on track, within the arc. This should happen automatically when training on the rock bag, and by the time real patio blocks are broken, it will be automatic.

- The hand should be allowed to "bounce" off of the rock bag in training, and whatever you hit when striking with it. Hitting with this Iron Palm technique is the most powerful attack possible with the Iron Palm slap and its core concepts.

Iron Palm (slapping): an open palm, hit with the center of the palm.
Iron Palm (stamping): like the slap, but hitting with the palm heel at the base of the wrist (use on head).
Iron Palm (cutting): like a knife hand, but uses more surface area.
Iron Palm (throwing): This is a backhand that I personally don't use, but conditioning this part of the hand may be good for when you make a fist.

What to do for toughening hands: 30 hits, shake and flex, 20 hits, shake and flex.

Fist: Hands thrust into sand: Thrust in fingers, squeeze and grip, thrust in fist.

The hand conditioning is secondary. The technique is where the power comes from. If you don't understand the principles it won't matter if you have a hand that you can straighten rebar with. The purpose of the conditioning is not to give you a club for a hand, but to strengthen the fascia and tissues of the hand so that you don't easily bruise and hurt yourself when you hit an object. Peter Consterdine ko's people with a palm and he doesn't condition it so far as I can tell, but still, it's better to go all out and get as much benefit as you can. Also, John Brookfield wrote about conditioning the hands this way in his book "Mastery of Hand Strength" and that's what initially got me interested in it years ago. So it's good for your grip too.

For a horizontal target: The Elbow (specific punches I will post later) - This is much more powerful than anything you can do with a closed fist.

This is harder to put into words, but I will try:

The Full Contact Twist is essential for developing the kind of power that you want (the only place you will find this movement demonstrated is on the Bulletproof Abs video), and the Sumo Deadlift is the only version of the deadlift that I train all the time. The hips and glutes provide more power for your attacks. You are essentially propelling yourself through the target. The cv or conventional deadlift utilizes more of the low back, according to Dr. Fred Hatfield, PhD., or "Dr. Squat" as he is known. You need your low back to be lively, not humped and not stiff.

The exercises that directly increase your hitting power are the Sumo Deadlift and the Full Contact Twist. The psoas alignment and internal and external hip alignment and connection are the most important elements. The most powerful hitting technique that you can use from a standing position on a target in front of you. Awareness of how the joints work is essential. Once you experience how the hips work through Sumo Deadlifting and Full Contact Twists, and you can take all the "slack" OUT of the body when doing them, you will have an idea of what it feels like to have connection AND to "drill the legs into the ground."

Bench pressing and dumbbell rowing are great for training the internal rotators and lats, but you don't punch the same way you bench of course.

You will begin this movement in your on-guard boxing stance, hands up, with the feeling of having newspapers under each arm and your lats and psoas tight. When I say tight I don't mean tensing as hard as possible, of course, but tight, you know, ready for action. Think more of "loaded" than squeezed.

You can have open hands or relaxed fists (I will post how to make a relaxed yet solid "square fist" later). You will have your feet pointing the same direction, and your body is facing at an angle away from the target, from about 60 degrees. Now, your feet are not horizontal to the target, but angled of course. I am not saying to stand square with your feet side by side. Just that if you were to turn

Next, you will load your hips by folding in the front. Just pull the psoas tight and tuck your hip in the pelvic tilt. Now, you will begin by shifting your center of gravity, which in this position will be right about where you feel the psoas alignment pulling (at the 1st angle of the ribs behind the solar plexus) and driving this part towards your target explosively and suddenly.

You are not tensing it, you are letting it begin to "fall" towards your target; this will cause your body to naturally shift towards your target, and you will roll from the back of the balls of your feet near the arch to the front of the balls right behind the toes areas.

Gravity has started your attack for you, and you still have all of your potential energy to devote to the "swing"; If you start by pushing up instead of shifting, you will create a small delay and also you won't be as explosive. You are next going to drive your hips through while rotating on the balls of both feet and driving your whole body through the target. The weight will shift from rear weighted to front weighted, and there is a "deliberate force" principle that applies here; when you are shifting weight, you will deliberately apply force with the other foot to the ground, so that you have the feeling of having even "weight" on both feet, even though you will be forward weighted. This allows you the feeling and power of a "horizontal jump" through the target.

You are not actually "jumping" as in vertical, rather, you are swinging all your body and power forward on a lead-side axis; there is NO central axis in power punching, the axis shifts from one side to the other and will always be opposite the side that you are delivering the attack with. So, if you were going to hit with your right elbow, your axis shifts to your left, through the hip and the point of contact with the ground (ball of the forward foot). This is going to pivot, while your hips drive your body through the target.

Some people like traditional tkd players teach that the axis is right down the middle, but when you rotate in the middle of the body you get no power. Half of your rotation is going backwards (lead hand pulling back) and at best you don't go forward, at worst you could get driven backward. So don't do that at all.

Drive your hips through, and you should have a feeling of unfolding as you apply this kind of vicious waist twist. Now, you don't let your hips move out to the side; as they you drive your upper body into it through the use of your hips, what you're really doing is drilling your legs into the ground, and your hips are staying under you and behind you at the end.

Again, your core must be tight and your abs must be pushed out and locked for this impact to always have the most power. This does not require you to be tense during your movement, as that would defeat the purpose; you have to be relaxed somewhat but not limp, and then surge through at the end, through the target. This is accompanied by the strong exhale, and the drilling of the legs into the ground, etc. However, the old advice of "tensing before impact" is bad. You surge through at the end, and yes your muscles in your waist and legs etc. will be hard, but your shoulder still has to "pop" forward at the end and you don't want a tense arm.

The point of impact is before extension of the arm, or the point at which your joints lock out at the end. Your hips, waist and legs should be blasting your upper body into the target and your rotation should carry you through, and your shoulder should "pop" up forward in the socket and when you hit with a punch like a straight right, you make contact well before your arm "locks out". If you were to take a freeze frame shot of the impact, you'd see that your arm is still bent at the elbow. If you lock out before the impact you won't connect at the optimum point, and you might jar your elbow or otherwise hurt yourself.

When you started, you could draw a line between the balls of both feet horizontally (even though your feet would be diagonal to someone looking square at you, if you were to stand to the side of someone in a crouch fighter's stance, you'd be able to draw a horizontal at some point); now, your rear leg should be straight to your hip, which is stretched in front, and your front leg should feel as if you are carrying all the rest of your momentum into the target. The lead knee is straight with the path of the body; you are on the balls of both feet, more so on the rear foot, with the rear ankle "open." ALL of your force and power is moving FORWARD, there is NO upward movement (perhaps a very little bit, but it is NEVER deliberate; focus on FORWARD.)

The low back locks at the end of the movement in a hollow back finishing position. The upper body from the hip has a forward inclination, it's not straight up and down and it certainly is not "shoulders back" the way some people do it.

The movement at the shoulder is within the socket; the shoulder begins seated in the socket, in a down position, and then you pop it forward. When seated, you should feel a loaded feeling in your armpit and lats, now this isn't the same as flexing them hard, try to imagine holding newspapers under each arm.

The psoas alignment should feel tight. The armpit and lats should feel loaded and the shoulder will be sunk down into its socket; move from the scapula and snap your elbow around a natural elastic feeling that you should get from letting it "ride" the body during the horizontal jump/folding waist twist sensation. Hit THROUGH the target and visualize your attacking limb as being heavy at the point of the elbow and slingshot through the target. You should "pop" your shoulder forward in its socket at the end while turning the arm over (DON'T swing your elbow out to the side). Just let it ride and turn it over at the end, and "pop" it. To get even more follow through (hitting through the target) use a strong exhale. Not everyone believes in the shout, but I do (and so do some of the top lifters in the world, apparently), so force the air out sharply at the end as if you are vomiting it out (use the respiratory muscles) just PRIOR to impact, and surge on through.

You should have the feeling that your legs are drilling into the ground, and there is NO skipping forward during the movement. Your body will be at a 120 degree angle to the ground and you will feel it in your sides and armpits when you connect. There will be NO "give" on your side of the equation when you make impact. Therefore, you can expect the bag to fold where you hit it and jump quite a bit. If you want the bag to break at the bottom, let it settle and hit it closer to the bottom than the mid section. You may have to hang it higher. This also lets you progressively hit a harder surface.

The goal is to get the bag to "break", or fold where you hit it, not to make it swing. There is a whip like effect, and you turn your elbow over and snap it into the bag. Start by hanging it at a height where you can hit it near the middle, and increase the height by a few inches when it is easy for you to break it at that point. Eventually, you will be hitting the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the bag, and it will fold, compressing the material into the bottom. When you have enough power, you can hit it so hard and so sharply that it will split the material. It is much harder to fold the bag near the bottom than it is to do that near the top.

Here is how it works: Take a piece of paper and flick it with your finger as sharply as possible. The paper "snaps" and folds, because it did not have time to move and absorb all that kinetic energy. Now, this is essentially what is happening when the heavy bag jumps and folds in the middle. This is referred to as "hitting with shock." When you get it to where you can make it fold near the bottom, eventually it will split if you hit it hard enough and sharply enough. Now people's bodies aren't usually as solid as a settled 100# heavy bag, so even hitting someone in the chest or back like that can seriously hurt them. If you do have to defend yourself with this, do it explosively, over and over. You'll see how you can follow one up with another and another, it isn't pretty but it does a lot of damage in a hurry.

You could use it in the NHB ring but be careful of becoming a "one trick pony" i.e., don't forget your other tools, there's more to strategic fighting then just blasting an opponent over and over with the same thing. On the upside, this will hurt someone a lot even if they cover and try to block it, and even if you get them high on the head with it, and elbows open big cuts easily. Those with a tendency to charge ahead and "clash" will run right into it. Guys who have a tendency to "windmill" punches would be better off just using elbows once they get within range.

Now, nothing is unbeatable, but remember Bobby Hoffman ko'ed that huge south African wrestler, Mark Hall Robinson, with an elbow at the end of the match, and all he had behind it was arm and shoulder power, and it still dropped a 300lbs. huge wrestler to the ground, down and out. Getting elbowed is like getting hit with a bat.

Another good tactic is holding and hitting, especially grabbing hair or the collar of a gi or coat, or a handful of material? this is a very good technique both in and outside of the ring. Now you don't necessarily have a whole lot of room to load and launch, but with practice you can do it without any excess movement and in fact it telegraphs a lot less than a punch. One way I recommend learning this double shift rotation if you still don't understand is to order Peter Consterdine's "Powerstrike" video, I've seen it and he does a good job of conveying the mechanics of just the hip. That's a very good place to start.

Now granted, the technique I've described has a lot more joint and muscle actions involved, but the way Peter Consterdine teaches it, it's more of a sudden non telegraphic attack to use when someone's in your face intent on doing you harm, and the way I'm describing it it's more for a match fight and/or for a drag out knock down brawl where both parties are already in full melee.

This technique is very powerful, so be aware of that if you do decide to use it in some situation. Use a heavy bag as a gauge of how well you're doing it; get it to "break" as earlier described. The bag I broke was a 100# everlast heavy bag. I broke it with a straight right elbow strike delivered with a double shift. If you use a straight right, the body won't be quite so far inclined forward, but still more than you see most people doing. The point of impact will be before full extension, and again don't tense the arm. Snap it forward through the target, and don't fear the impact.

Horizontal POWER Hit (Elbow)

-Use explosive power. Form the strongest kinematic chain ( refer to description description) for the most power possible. Always keep the body totally connected for the smoothest kinetic energy transfer. Always use the relaxed launch and surge through the impact, horizontal jump/drive with the folding waist twist, and the hammer principle (smooth joint rotations/actions).
-Keep Your spine lively, let scapulae rotate and snap shoulder around in the joint. Pop your shoulder at the end and apply strength on the "swing" just like the hammer method of Iron Palm.
_Legs drill into the ground, swing on feet and hips twist, going forwards (horizontal jump); body comes around and snaps forward into place, swings from the hips (first rear, then forward) folding is done at the front of the hips (folding waist twist); Arm swings in from the scapulae, and is swung as a unit, shoulder leading the fist until fist "outraces" it at point of contact, continue to follow through (pop the shoulder).
-Rotate on rear leg, then as weight shifts rotate on front leg, throw all weight forward and snap rear leg into place with hip carriage facing square horizontally.
-Hips rotate into their sockets as if drilling the whole leg into the ground. Lead knee continues to carry the weight into the target as body slingshots through (folding waist twist).
-Shoulder pops forward in the joint so that it is square in front of the body for elbow attack. Close the shoulder in the front, applying strength only on the swing.
-ALWAYS hit through the target and keep the limb that hits relaxed as if a hammer (for example, the forearm and hand, from the elbow down.)
-ALWAYS rotate the body explosively forward, NOT up. The body locks out in a forward position, grounded with both lower legs holding the same angle. Rear leg replacement steps after contact. Now, a little diagonal upward movement is likely going to happen, but you're not trying to go "up"; you're thinking FORWARD, and that's where your intent is.

Now I realize that no amount of simple written word is going to be enough to get you to a high level, but with practice and some practical instruction you can do it. You don't even need "years" to get it good, just once you understand it, practice it, get rid of wasted movement and stiffness, and get lively and explosive. Once you have a fluid and snappy explosive attack, you can start doing things with it.

Now, there's another way to check your form and learn a bit from impact joint angles, and that's using a wall to gauge where you're power is going. Go through the motions of the elbow or straight right, against a wall (don't actually hit the wall) but at the end, lean against it, now you should be at your "end phase" position, just before extension, and leaning power into the wall. Does your body structure give? Do you have to move your feel a lot to keep from falling to the side? Let your weight and alignment go forward into the wall, notice how you can be forward committed and going straight. Now, let your weight go a little to one side or the other, notice how all the power drops away? That is a huge difference. If you find yourself bouncing off the heavy bag instead of folding and breaking it, check your alignment. You might be surprised if you do. Mounting a sandbag on the wall might be better since it won't be such a hard smooth surface, but either way is good.

The four phase lifting cycle that I posted a while back is good to use for the strengthening, lots of sumos and full contact twists, high pulls and presses.

Well, that's it for now Comrades, I'll see about writing a follow up article to this one later.