Friday, April 27, 2012

To Punch or Not to Punch

One of the first things you learn in karate is how to punch. Karate punching methods are then trained assiduously thereafter. Karate punches are traditionally trained where the karateka (karate exponent) punches a makiwara board to develop their punching ability. Most martial arts are striking based, relying on punching techniques. Wing chun exponents train their punches by punching bags mounted on a wall. Boxers, and all those martial arts following the boxing method, train their punches by punching heavy punching bags.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the martial arts have some interest in teaching a person to defend themselves. Let's assume they have some interest in teaching a person how to survive a violent encounter. What punching method would you teach that person? Let's turn to one of the forefathers of modern close combat, Colonel Rex Applegate, for his thoughts on the matter. Remember Applegate is interested in teaching soldiers to survive in a war zone.
Hand blows can be delivered by using the fists, edge of the hand, palm, or knuckle. To use the fists effectively, a knowledge of boxing is a prerequisite. Experts state that it takes up to six months to learn to deliver a knockout blow with either fist. The ability to box is desirable and the other principles boxing teaches, such as the use of body balance. However, there are other means of using the hands which the layman can learn and use more swiftly, and at times more effectively. (Kill or Get Killed 1976: 21)
I have friends who trained jujutsu who now criticise jujutsu because they consider it takes too long to learn to defend yourself. I do not disagree with them. Some of them suggest other methods are more expedient; expediency being seen as a combat imperative. I do not disagree. However, the alternatives they advocate (wing chun for instance) likewise focus on punching techniques.
Knockout blows delivered to the chin by the fist may not only be ineffective, they also present the danger of a dislocated finger or knuckle, or a cut from the opponent's bony facial structure. The use of the fist has another shortcoming; that it does not concentrate force of the blow sufficiently. ... the average individual cannot use the fist effectively enough to do great damage in a single blow. The novice should limit the use of his fists to such soft, vulnerable areas as the stomach, groin and kidneys, and rely on other types of blows for other parts of the body. (Applegate, 22)
Injury is caused by the absorption of kinetic energy in excess of the tissue's tolerance levels. When an arm is moving in a punch it possesses kinetic energy. When it stops moving upon impact with an opponent's body, that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. If the wrist or fist are not optimally positioned, the kinetic energy of the punch may be absorbed in the puncher's hand or wrist resulting in an injury rather than that kinetic energy being transferred to the opponent to cause an injury in the opponent.

While Applegate does not say it, there is another issue associated with risking your hand or wrist by punching an opponent when in combat. Injuring your hand then compromises your ability to use your hand-held weapons, e.g. your firearm.

'Top of the head, hardest part of the body' - this is what Brian Dennehy's character says in the 1992 boxing movie Gladiator when he uses the tactic of ducking his head so that his opponent hits the top of his head when punching. This tactic is designed to injure the opponent's hand by punching a hard object. When a boxer's hand is injured, their weapon is injured, and they become relatively defenceless.

What 'other types of blows' does Applegate suggest to use in place of the problematic fist? The chin jab (aka heel-palm strike), edge of the hand, and knuckles. Captain W.E. Fairbairn is another who influenced the development of modern military combatives. What 'blows' does he include in his combatives classic, Get Tough: How to Win in Hand-to-Hand: As Taught to the British Commandos and the U.S. Armed Forces? Edge-of-the-hand and chin jab (aka heel-palm strike). No punches.

We will only consider the humble heel-palm strike here. Applegate suggests 'an average man can cause a knockout with only six inches of traveling distance from the start of the blow to the point of impact' (23). A fairly bold claim it has to be said.

Bolander, Neto, and Bir compared punches and palm strikes (see Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 2009 8: 47-52). They found that the accelerations of both strikes were similar, although the force applied to the target by the palm strike was significantly greater than the punch.
It is believed that due to the rigidness of the target, force would transfer through the forearm more efficiently than the metacarpals. The high speed video collected showed that for all strikes, regardless of experience of the subjects, there was always at least a small moment occurring on the wrist. Therefore it could be argued that a palm strike would be a better way to transfer force to the target.
No wrist involved in the palm strike means no training to maintain a strong wrist, very little possibility of the kinetic energy of the punch being absorbed in the wrist rather than being transferred to the target, and significantly reduced risk of injury.
The results of this study have many applications for all populations that are interested in any sort of martial arts or self defence training. ... Additionally for martial arts teachers, it would be important to teach novice practitioners the palm strike early in training so that they may have a better chance to defend themselves in a high stress situation, or if the student is inherently weak the palm strike and be an alternative to the punch to deliver a stronger impact.This research is also applicable to soldiers and law enforcement officers that are exposed to close quarters combat on a regular basis.
I deliberately chose the wing chun image above because it advertises that self defence now has a name. Presumably that name is wing chun. If self defence is wing chun, or any other martial art for that matter, it could be quite strongly argued that they should be teaching the palm/heel-palm strike first, and train it assiduously thereafter, rather than relegating it to some sort of second tier striking technique.

I deliberately chose the above picture of a heel-palm strike being used to break a board. I was involved in teaching a six-week women's self defence course where the participants were given the opportunity of breaking a pine board with a heel-palm strike at the end of their final lesson. The course did not teach any punching techniques, and relied principally on the heel-palm strike. I never saw a woman that could not break the board after only 12 hours of lessons. of which only a small proportion was devoted to this technique. The boost in confidence when successfully breaking the board was obvious.

Are you teaching heel-palm strikes? If so, when and with what emphasis?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

ma ≠ F Clarified

I received the following comment with regards to my previous blog: F = ma, ma ≠ F.
Hey John, you lost me on this one. I am sure your article will clarify it (hopefully you will be able to post it here?). "It does not say that if you increase the mass or acceleration of that arm or leg that the force will be greater." But it does say that! It says that an object whose mass or acceleration is increased has greater force. If I punch with greater speed (all other things being equal) it will have greater striking force. I must be missing something...
One of the reasons I'm writing this blog is that it makes my writing better. Thank you for the comment because (a) it forces (pun intended) me to test my understanding, and (b) it informs me about the clarity of my argument.

Many in the martial arts literature interpret F = ma as the comment above does. Force (F) equals mass times acceleration, so if you increase mass (m) and/or acceleration (a) in a punch or kick then you increase the force of that punch or kick. A logical interpretation of F = ma, if F = ma is taken at face value.

F = ma arises out of Newton's second law of motion. It is commonly referred to as the law of acceleration. It states: 'The change of motion of an object is proportional to the force impressed, and is made in the direction of the straight line in which the force is impressed.' More simply stated, this law says that if a force is exerted on a body or object, that body or object will accelerate in the direction of the force, and its acceleration will be directly proportional to its mass. This law explains what happens if a force acts on a body or object. It does not explain what happens to a force.

F is not comprised of m and a; F makes m and a happen. Momentum (M) is calculated as the product of mass (m) and velocity (v): M = mv. M is comprised of m and v. If you increase m and/or v you increase M. Not so with F = ma.

'The action of a force causes a body's mass to accelerate' (Hall 2007: 63). F = ma does not say that in order to increase the force of a body or object you increase the mass and/or acceleration of that body or object; as so many in the martial arts literature suggest. So what biomechanical concept do we refer to in order to explain the understanding that increasing mass and/or speed of a strike or kick increases the force of that strike or kick? Now that is a question.

Recall that I have no interest in the science for science's sake. I'm only interested in the science in so far as it facilitates the understanding and study of techniques taught in the martial arts or used in violence generally in a practical way. So, the question that is raised so often by me when reading the science used to explain striking and kicking techniques in the martial arts literature is, 'So what?'

A strike or kick possesses momentum and kinetic energy. So what? If you increase mass and/or velocity in a strike or a kick you increase its momentum and kinetic energy. So what? If you apply a force over time (impulse) you transfer momentum from one body or object to another. So what? If you do the same over distance (work) you transfer kinetic energy. So what? As Carr (2004) suggests, many biomechanical (and martial arts) texts fail to relate good technique to mechanics meaningfully for coaches and athletes (and martial artists).

I need my explanations simple in order for them to help in understanding and studying technique. So, being frustrated in my search for an understanding of the science behind striking and kicking techniques, I asked the question, 'What causes an injury?' A mechanical answer to that question would provide the information I was looking for. That's when I discovered injury science; the science that studies injuries and their causes.

William Haddon, the founder of injury science, divided an injury event into three temporal phases: pre-event, event, and post-event. We can use this division to analyse striking and kicking techniques. With regards to an impact the phases are pre-impact, impact, and post-impact. Nakayama used the same division when analysing stances in Dynamic Karate. He referred to pre-execution, execution, and post-execution of a technique.

Injury science defines injury in terms of exposure to energy. So with striking and kicking techniques we are interested in kinetic energy (KE = 1/2mv^2). Forget momentum (M = mv). But KE does not cause things to change. KE is a property of a body or object. So KE can be used to understand striking and kicking in the pre-impact/pre-execution phase of a technique. What is being done in terms of mass and velocity in a strike or kick? This determines the potential for a strike or kick to apply a force and change the motion or shape (injure or damage) of a body or object. Nice and simple; only two variables to consider in order to understand and study all striking and kicking techniques taught by all martial arts or used in violence generally.

A force in mechanics is a specific thing. It involves the interaction of at least two bodies or objects. Forces cause change. Thus, forces can be used to understand and study the impact/execution phase of a technique. But F = ma only tells us that if you apply a force it can accelerate a mass. A force is applied to an arm to accelerate the mass of that arm in a punch. When the punch impacts a body or object it can cause the mass of that body or object to accelerate. So what? That might be useful when considering striking or kicking techniques that are designed to change the motion of an opponent, but what about when injury is the aim of technique?

Another comment I received was about the mechanical concept of power: 'are force and power the same thing? Or is power something you get out and force something you put in? Define power (as in 'a powerful punch')...(please)!'

Power (P) is calculated as work (U) divided by change in time (t): P = U/t (sorry, can't get the triangle change symbol to go with t). Have your eyes started to glaze over yet? Stay with me. Work is the means by which KE is transferred. KE is the potential to cause a change in motion or shape (injure) of an opponent that is realised when a force is applied. The smaller the time period (t) the same amount of KE has to be absorbed by a person's tissues, the greater the amount of KE per unit of time that has to be absorbed and the greater the potential for injury. F = ma offers very little by way of facilitating the understanding and study of striking and kicking techniques, but P = U/t would appear to offer more (despite the jargon), specifically during the impact/execution phase of a technique.

So, the power of a strike is dependent upon its KE and the time over which that KE is transferred to another body or object. More powerful strikes possess more KE and/or transfer it to an opponent or object in less time. More powerful punches apply more force because work is calculated as force applied over a distance (U = Fd) which can be inserted into the power formula: P = Fd/t.

I say 'appears to' above because I'm in the process of writing the impact/execution phase of a technique section of my article. In order to obtain mechanical concepts that could be used to understand this phase, when forces are applied, I have had to study forensic science.

In the end I hope to have a model that enables us to understand and study all striking and kicking techniques over the three phases in the execution of a striking or kicking technique using as few mechanical concepts as possible. I've already started to use this approach in teaching and which is proving successful as explained briefly in my blog concerning one-inch and three-inch punches.

Hope this clarifies things.


McGinnis, P.M. 2005. Biomechanics of sport and exercise. 2nd edn. Campaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Hall, S.J. 2007. Basic biomechanics. 5th edn. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Carr, G. 2004. Sport mechanics for coaches. 2nd edn. Campaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.

Friday, April 20, 2012

F = ma; ma ≠ F

I am writing an article on the science behind striking and kicking techniques to be published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts.

In researching the science behind striking and kicking techniques in the martial arts literature, I have come across the frequent use of the mechanical concept of force. Force (F) is calculated as the produce of mass (m) and acceleration (a): F = ma.

It is frequently explained that, based on this formula, an increase in mass and/or acceleration of a strike or kick will increase the force of that strike or kick.

Sprague, in Fighting Science: The Laws of Physics for Martial Artists (2002), suggests that the force will be greater if both mass and acceleration are large. When referring to the force formula, Sprague suggests that we can see why power seems to increase with weight and speed, and why full contact fighting, like boxing and kick boxing, utilise weight classes. Starr, in Martial Mechanics: Maximum Results With Minimum Effort in the Practice of the Martial Arts (2008), suggests that the more you have of mass and acceleration, the more force you will generate. Belonoha, in The Wing Chun Compendium, Volume 2 (2009), likewise suggests that the force formula indicates that more mass and acceleration in a wing chun punch generates more force. Central Ohio Martial Arts ( suggest that to 'increase force, either a martial artist has to increase his mass or his acceleration.'

No, no, no! The F = ma formula does not say that if you increase mass or acceleration in a strike or kick you increase the force of that strike or kick. It says that when a force is applied to a body or object it can cause the mass of that body or object to accelerate. It expresses a cause-and-effect relationship. Forces cause acceleration; and acceleration is the effect of forces. A force applied to an arm or leg (mass) causes it to accelerate towards a target. A force applied by a fist/hand or foot in a striking or kicking techniques applies a force to the other body or object causing it's mass to accelerate. It does not say that if you increase the mass or acceleration of that arm or leg that the force will be greater.

F = ma; ma ≠ F.

I state in my article that I'm not interested in the science for the sake of science. I'm only interested in the science behind striking and kicking techniques in so far as it informs practice, and only then if it facilitates the understanding and study of those techniques in a practical way. My review of the martial arts literature in this regards has to date yielded no positive results.

Does F = ma facilitate the understanding and study of striking and kicking techniques? Does the physical fact that a force applied to a body or object causes its mass to accelerate facilitate the understanding and study of striking and kicking techniques in a practical way. I'm going with 'no', until it can be demonstrated otherwise.

However, there are related concepts to force that can be used to facilitate the understanding and study of not only the striking and kicking techniques taught within your own martial art, but also those taught in other martial arts you are unfamiliar with and those used in violence generally. This is the benefit of understanding the science behind the techniques. It enables you to understand not only the techniques taught in your martial art but those taught in unfamiliar martial arts and those used in violence generally.

The purpose of this blog is two fold. First, to put paid to the misconception that increasing mass and/or acceleration in a strike or kick increases the force of that technique based on F = ma. Secondly, to ask 'So what?' whenever science is offered up to explain any techniques in the martial arts or used in violence generally. This the question I raised in virtually all explanations of striking and kicking techniques in scientific terms in the martial arts literature. This question then led me to injury science; a discipline that studies the subject at the very heart of all activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter. A discipline whose concepts and theories are applied every day in the real world in real ways. These concepts and theories have never, to the best of my knowledge, ever been applied to the tactics and techniques of the activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter - until now (in my article).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Using The One-Inch Punch to Understand All Punches

I'm currently working on an article tentatively titled: Injury Science: The Science Behind Striking and Kicking Techniques. My previous blog was in relation to a study comparing the reverse punch to the three-inch punch. Last weekend I used the one-inch punch, a sibling of the three-inch punch, to teach the science behind striking and kicking techniques. The science is common to all striking and kicking techniques and can be used to understand all of these techniques taught in any martial art or used in violence generally.

Check out YouTube for demonstrations of the one-inch punch. They usually comprise of a subject holding a thick book on their chest and the puncher executing the punch resulting in the subject staggering backwards and a lot of times falling to the ground or slumping in a chair.

I got my guys to hold a thick financial modelling text (the most interesting use that text has been put to) on their chest and one of them to punch it using a one-inch punch. A one-inch punch refers to the distance between fist and target with no withdrawal permitted.

The result of their first attempts were, to say the least, less than impressive. The conclusion could have been that the technique is ineffective.

How do you analyse the one-inch punch (or any striking and kicking technique for that matter). Firstly, divide the skill into phases. Injury science divides an injury event into three phases: pre-event, event, post-event. An injury derived from an impact can be divided into pre-impact, impact, post-impact. Uniquely, Nakayama (in Dynamic Karate 1966) divided the execution of a karate technique into phases when explaining stances: pre-execution, execution, post-execution.

Let's look at the pre-impact/pre-execution phase of a technique. What are the important things to look for in this phase? When using science to understand striking and kicking techniques, many refer to momentum and/or kinetic energy. Both concepts are quantities of motion. Every striking and kicking possesses momentum and kinetic energy. So what? To cut a long story short, you'll have to read my article to see the confusion and sometimes misdirection that authors present when attempting to use science to explain striking and kicking techniques.

Injury science, the relatively new science that studies injuries, defines injury in terms of exposure to energy in excess of the body's tolerance levels or the absence of such vital elements such as oxygen and heat. Energy = kinetic energy. No need to consider momentum. If anyone refers to momentum to explain striking and/or kicking techniques, ask 'So what?'.

Kinetic energy is a property of a moving body or object. It doesn't cause anything. Forces cause changes. Kinetic energy can be used to understand the pre-impact/pre-execution phase of a technique. Force can be used to understand the impact/execution phase of a technique. This blog will focus on the former phase.

Kinetic energy is the potential to cause injury or to cause a change in the motion of a body or object. Force actually causes the injury or change in motion. Kinetic energy (KE) is calculated as one half of the product of mass (m) and velocity (v) squared: KE = 1/2mv^2. This is all you need to look to in order to understand the potential to cause injury or a change in motion of a body (opponent) or object (breaking board). What is being done in terms of mass and/or velocity in the execution of the technique? There are many different answers provided in the many different striking and kicking methods taught by the martial arts.

How do you increase velocity? The greater the distance between the fist and target, the greater the opportunity to build velocity. The right cross is more powerful than a jab from an orthodox stance in boxing because of, among other possible things, the greater distance between fist and target. Jeet kune do often suggest the changing of the boxer's stance so that the 'strong side' is forward increases the potency of their now leading strong fist because it is faster. It is faster because it is closer the target. That means it takes less time to reach the target, but, the shorter distance means it does not have the same amount of time to build velocity and kinetic energy in its journey. Those attempting to explain the increased power of this punch need to find an alternative explanation other than it's closer to the target. So is the jab, and it is often considered a less powerful technique.

My guys quite correctly pointed out their lack of power was attributable to their inability to 'wind up' on the punch. So, how do you increase velocity when you don't have that opportunity. The use of a kinetic chain is one option. The coordinated sequencing of body parts which transfers motion and kinetic energy from one segment to another culminating in increased velocity of the distal segment, in this case the fist.

Kinetic energy involves both mass and velocity. What about mass? How can you increase mass into the one-inch punch. Lean into it. Check out anyone demonstrating a one-inch punch. They always lean into it thereby increasing the mass of the punch.

Another way is through 'focus'. Focus is 'tightening all the muscles at the moment of impact thereby locking the fist, arm, and upper body into a single unit (high mass)' (Blum 1977: Physics and the art of kicking and punching; American Journal of Physics). Neto, Magini, and Saba (2007) suggest that in addition to contributing more effective mass to the strike, 'the correct bone alignment and muscle contraction timing are responsible to turn the hand, forearm, and arm into a very firm unit,' and that it might also serve to distribute the reaction forces of a strike. The latter is referring to the impact and post-impact phases so we'll skip over that for now.

How can you increase mass? Footwork. Often footwork is described in terms of evading an attack or position to attack, but, it is also used to execute an attack. Jack Dempsey advocates taking a step forward - a falling step - in order to increase the mass behind a punch. You can take a full step forward such as with the karate lunge much. You can also subtly shift your bodyweight from the rear leg to the front leg to increase the mass behind the punch.

KE = 1/2mv^2: what should you focus on in your training? Mass or velocity? I detail in my article the various authors that refer to kinetic energy to explain striking and kicking techniques in the martial arts literature who focus on velocity. Mention kinetic energy and the discussion always focuses on velocity. Many advocate orienting the training of striking and kicking techniques to velocity. It makes sense, if you only refer to the formula for kinetic energy.

Studies overwhelmingly show that increased force in punching techniques is related to increased mass. These studies provide evidence that better trained/more experienced practitioners produce more force because they are better able to contribute more effective mass to the strike or kick. This is what Neto, Magini, and Saba found, which supported a number of other studies in different martial arts, when they studied the role of effective mass and hand speed in the performance of kung fu 'athletes' compared with nonpractitioners. They suggest that this might be one of the reasons why martial arts masters pay more attention to proper striking techniques, bone alignment, coordination, and proper timing of muscle contractions, than to hand speed.

Pre-execution of a striking or kicking technique - what is being done in terms of mass and/or velocity? Moving the body or body segments may or may not be contributing to mass behind the technique, it may be being moved as part of a kinetic chain to increase the velocity of the fist or foot. A distinction needs to be made between moving body segments to increase velocity or moving the same segments to increase the mass. After all, mass and velocity make different contributions to kinetic energy which is the potential to cause injury or the change in motion of an opponent.

I've never attempted a one-inch punch before. Must to my surprise, my first attempt resulted in a Bruce Lee-like result with the recipient staggering backwards before falling to the ground because their upper body had been accelerated faster than their legs could move to create a base of support over which their centre of gravity could located. Yes, I'm deliberately throwing in some basic science that I'm using to understand and study the tactics and techniques on the martial arts and those used in violence generally. I had an understanding of what I wanted to achieve because I was able to analyse what others were doing. I wasn't simply trying to copy them, I understood what they were doing and therefore had a better first-up understanding of what I wanted to do in terms of mass and velocity.

Mass and velocity - that is all you need to look at during the pre-execution phase of a technique.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Three-inch Punch vs Reverse Punch

I'm currently writing an article I'm planning to submit to Journal of Asian Martial Arts (JAMA): 'Injury Science: The Science Behind Striking and Kicking Techniques.'

JAMA is a semi-academic journal which means it provides serious scholarly work instead of just the 'pulp' that most martial arts magazines provide.

The article I'm writing explains the science behind striking and kicking techniques, and commences with examples of explanations that have been provided within the martial arts literature that at the very best is simply science for the sake of science, and at worst actually misdirects readers.

My research involves reading articles buried in academic journals that normally never see the light of day, unfortunately. This is the norm for most real-world activities but more so in the martial arts which is a bastion of anti-intellectualism.

One article I came across yesterday is, 'A comparison of the reverse punch and power punches in oriental martial arts' by J.K. Gulledge and J. Dapena in Journal of Sports Sciences 2008 26(2): 189-196.

The power punch is the infamous three-inch punch popularised by Bruce Lee. We also have the even more infamous one-inch punch. The idea behind these punches is that they only travel three or one inches to the target/opponent and they are 'powerful'.

The aim of the study was to compare the power punch with the reverse punch in regard to potency and to effectiveness in throwing the opponent offbalance.

The study used twelve 'expert' martial artists with six representing Chinese kungfu, three Japanese karate, and three Korean taekwondo.

The results were:
Similar impulses were exerted on the target with both punches, but the maximum amount of force exerted with the reverse punch was almost twice that exerted with the power punch. Therefore, the reverse punch was by far the more potent of the two.
The power/one-inch/three-inch punch is dead. Long live the power/one-inch/three-inch punch. The amount of nonsense that is written and taught about these types of punches is amazing; well it would be if the martial arts was not characterised by ego and gullibility.

An understanding of the science behind striking techniques would immediately suggest the power punch is significantly less powerful than a reverse punch, in fact, any other punch. An understanding that has not been provided in the martial arts literature todate despite the many attempts at using science to understand striking techniques in the martial arts literature.
Disabling the opponent through a potent impact may not be the only goal of a martial arts punch; another possible goal is to throw the opponent off balance. The effectiveness of a punch towards the achievement of this second goal may be measured best through the total impulse exerted on the opponent, and in this regard the power punch performed well. Although the reverse punch exerted a larger maximum force than the power punch, the force decreased more slowly in the power punch, and therefore the impulses exerted on the target were not very different in the two types of punch. In fact, the cumulative impulse exerted on the target during the first 0.20 s of contact was somewhat larger in the power punch than in the reverse punch. This supports the concept of the power punch as a push rather than a punch, ....
Firstly, forces can cause a change in motion or a change in shape. A change in motion can offbalance an opponent. A change in shape can injure an opponent. Secondly, relating the academic study to practice, the power punch applies a force that is more like a push rather than a potentially injurious punch. It applies forces that are more likely to change the motion of an opponent than it is to deform their tissues causing an injury.

The suggestion that striking is used to offbalance an opponent is interesting. Another study buried in another academic journals that studied the biomechanics/physics of karate suggested that 'the primary purpose in striking an opponent is to maximise the deformation damage at the area of contact, and it is only rarely that moving the opponent’s body as a whole is desired.' I'm not suggesting strikes and kicks are not used to offbalance an opponent. The taekwondo pushing kick is specifically designed to do just that. But what form of offbalancing are we referring too? The aforementioned pushing kick, and the power punch referred to in the study, physically offbalance an opponent. However in many jujutsu/aikido systems, striking is often used and referred to as 'mental unbalancing.' They are used to stun or distract in order to facilitate the execution of a finishing technique. They apply forces that are designed to deform the opponent's tissues and not to change their motion, but not deform those tissues sufficiently to cause an injury.

Return to the top of this blog and look at Bruce Lee's demonstration of his one-inch/three-inch punch. Note the punch receiver's stance. It is a parallel stance, which means it is less stable to forces applied from the front or rear - the direction of the 'power punch.' Would the same dramatic effect have resulted if the receiver had stood in a staggered stance, as in a boxer's stance or zenkutsu-dachi, which is more stable to forces applied in those directions? Note Lee's leaning forward when executing the punch. The one-inch or three-inches only refers to the starting distance between the fist and the receiver. The distance actually travelled by the fist is further because he leaned in, putting more bodyweight behind the punch which results in a greater 'pushing' force being applied to the receiver. Lee's demonstrations were contrived and designed for dramatic effect.

Lee's demonstrations always involved pushing and not injuring the receiver of his punch. How anyone can suggest the power punch can cause injury given Lee's demonstrations is beyond me. Next we'll be talking about a 'death touch'; oh wait, we do talk about a death touch in the martial arts.
Given these characteristics, several conclusions can be drawn with regard to the use of the two punches in combat or sport. The power punch will be slightly more effective than the reverse punch when the goal is to throw the opponent offbalance.
That conclusion is a bit sweeping. A reverse punch can also offbalance an opponent rather than injury them, or simply deform their tissues without injuring. However, a power punch does not possess the kinetic energy to injury in the vast majority of cases.
In addition, it may provide the advantage of surprise, since it requires less time for its execution. It is also possible that the power punch might be the most effective for the delivery of a disabling blow when only limited amounts of space and time are available for the delivery of a punch. However, when sufficient space and time are available, it is clear that the reverse punch will be the most potent.
Now they are simply contradicting themselves when suggesting the power punch could ever be a disabling blow under any circumstances. It simply does not possess the kinetic energy to cause damage.

Note I referred to kinetic energy above. Why didn't I refer to momentum like so many others do when attempting to explain the science behind striking and kicking techniques? That is a question I cover in my article.

The study used a force plate to measure the force applied by the punches. So do some other studies regarding punches and kicks. What a brilliant training aid. A training aid that is currently not used in most, if any, martial art. Can you imagine being able to quantitatively measure the force applied by a student's punch or kick. No more 'feel', now we could quantitatively measure the progress (or not) in a student's punch or kick. I'm currently sourcing a force plate and will advise in the near future.

A force plate would also provide a definitive answer to questions raised concerning the efficacy of different striking and kicking techniques, and those of different martial arts. Wing chun tends to make some pretty extravegant claims concerning the power of their punching techniques, even though they travel relatively small distances similar to a power punch. Do they apply as much force as wing chun exponents claim? If so, how, given they do not travel any large distance that is required to build kinetic energy? Considering these questions leads you to understand the essense behind the efficacy of these techniques.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Being Called a Cocksucker Isn't Personal

I caught up with a former pupil, now very good friend, last night. I raised a particular issue to which he referred to a scene from Partick Swayze's Roadhouse movie:
We've got entirely too many troubIemakers here. Too many 40-year-old adolescents, feIons, power drinkers and trustees of modern chemistry.
I would like to say welcome to the 21st century, but the movie was made in the 20th century, and unfortunately it is reflective of human nature throughout history and that of the foreseeable future.
It's going to change.

Man, that sure sounds good.

But a lot of the guys who come in here, we can't handle one-on-one. Even two-on-one.

Don't worry about it. All you have to do is follow three simple rules.

One: never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.

Two: take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absoluteIy necessary.

And three: be nice.

Come on.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. OK. Ask him to waIk, be nice. If he won't walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can't walk him, one of the others will heIp you. And you'll both be nice. I want you to remember that it's a job. It's nothing personaI.

Uh-huh. Being called a cocksucker isn't personal?

No. It's two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.

What if somebody calls my mama a whore?

Is she?


I want you to be nice ... until it's time to not be nice.
Where this came up was when I was telling my friend that I was watching the football (Australian Rules) when one player deliberately got under the skin of an opposition player who then lost control and punched him. This gave away a free kick resulting in a goal and the offending player lost composure. This is precisely what the niggling player intended.

I didn't understand how professional athletes could lose control when all the other player was doing was mouthing off, aka sledging. I was actually watching the game with another friend, and I said the same thing, to which he replied, 'But you're different to most people.'

Maybe he's right. But this is a lesson that should be numero uno in any activity associated with violence. Martial arts, self defence, security, law enforcement, military - all should be taught not to take other people's words or actions personally. They are just words or actions to elicit a prescribed response. They may be words or actions that are designed to hurt, but they can only hurt if you give them meaning and let them hurt. 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me' - sound advice we give to children through nursery rhymes but which seems to be lost as we grow up. Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me should be a priority in the martial arts, self defence, security, law enforcement, and military training.

These words or actions only become personal when we ascribe meaning to those words or actions and make it personal. Until then, they are just words or actions. An extended middle finger is only an extended middle finger until we ascribe a 'f**k you' meaning to the gesture. Until then, it's just an extended middle finger.

Another football game a couple of years ago. One player tackled another, and as they wrestled on the ground, the tackled player said to the tackling player that he'd f**ked the person who the tackling player had tattooed on his arm. That player went ballistic and had to be forcibly restrained. The tattoo was of his young daughter. So what! They are just words. Words that you know are intended to cause you to lose control. Words that only have meaning if you give them meaning. Until then they are just blah, blah, blah.

Why take these things personally? Only you can make it personal. Until you do, they are just words.

My friend from last night suggested that responding to these words is human nature. If that is true, evolution did us no favours there. Someone calls you whatever, you take it personally, words are exchanged, a fight ensues, pain, injury, death, court cases, victim impact statements saying how they now have a life sentence - they only called you a name. They were just words. Rather than assisting you to survive and reproduce, this 'trait' would appear to be maladaptive. 'It's going to change' - like many self-improvement methodologies, we have to find ways to counter human nature, counter our natural instincts to be idiots. 'Man, that sounds good.'

Provocation is often offered as a defence for why someone assaulted another. They were provoked into assaulting another person because ... they couldn't control your own emotions via the appraisal of the stimuli. The appraisal process elicits the emotion which elicits the behaviour. The defence of provocation is appealing to the lowest denominator of human behaviour. It is encouraging us not to control our emotions via the development of our appraisal process.

On the issue of the provocation defence, raise it at your peril. 'I was provoked'; so was the man that abused his partner, so was the parent that abused their child. We may not agree with the provocation, but it was provoking for those individuals, as it was for those that rely on the provocation defence in more socially acceptable situations.

We have to stand up for ourselves or others we care about. We can't let someone insult us or others we care about. We have pride. They are just words and actions that have no meaning until we give them meaning. If we appraise these words and actions as being benign, they are nothing. There is nothing attacking us or others we care about which we have to defend because we didn't appraise the words or actions as such. There is nothing insulting us or others we care about because we didn't appraise the words or actions as such. Our pride has not been threatened because we didn't appraise the words or actions as such. No feeling nor associated behavioural response was elicited because we appraised these words or actions as benign.

Rule number three - be nice. It's not about pretending to be nice. It's about actually being nice. It's not about teaching how not to respond to provocation. It's about teaching not being provoked; actually not taking things personally. It's about changing mindsets, the appraisal process. It's about changing perception so that provocations are not provocations because they are not made personal by the recipient.

I would like to go into a law enforcement recruit training lecture and say to an indigenous trainee, 'What the fuck do you black c**t think you're doing in this class. It's only for humans not you apes.' Or to a female trainee, 'Piss off b***c. This is men's work and you're too f**king useless to be of any use at all.' This is the sort of abuse they will cop throughout their career. If they let it get to them, it will compromise their effectiveness. I would explain that it's not about putting up with it. It's not about resisting the temptation to retaliate. It is about developing a mindset whereby these words don't elict any temptation to retaliate whatsoever. It is a discipline, but once internalised it no longer means you are an amoeba that simply responds to a stimuli.

Then and only then will you really know when it's time to not be nice.

In the words of Sean Connery from The Untouchables, here endeth the lesson.