Martial Arts Body Mechanics & Structures Vs Fitness & Strength

Some martial art schools/associations/franchises put a lot of emphasis on fitness and strength training. A good work out gets the endorphins going and people come out feeling good and happy, stress levels reduced and a general feeling of well-being. Being fit always feels good. Sometimes the fitness may consist of doing a lot of circuit type training and/or doing everything fast all the time.

Whilst I am definitely in favour of being fit and strong, I am not in favour of emphasising these aspects over good body mechanics and body structures (which I have seen in some places).

There is a general assumption amongst many people that to defend yourself effectively, you have to be really super fit as fighting is very physically demanding and intense. Whilst there are obviously definite advantages in being really fit, it is far better to be able to hit somebody once and be sure that they’ll go down then gear your self defence training to having to hit them 10 to 20 times before they go down.

Furthermore, there is a big difference between self-protection and fighting; most notably self-protection is legal whereas fighting is not (UK law – you’ll have to check in your own country). The main difference is that fighting is consensual, you both agree to, “sort it out”! Self-protection applies when one party does not agree to a fight and the other person forces an altercation upon them.

In the self-protection scenario, if you honestly and sincerely believe that you are in imminent danger of being hurt/assaulted, you are legally entitled to strike first – though you may have to justify later why you believed you were in imminent danger (UK law). It’s a very common misconception that the best way to learn to defend yourself is to learn to fight. Fighting is what you do when everything else has failed. It’s the last thing you resort to in a good self-protection system.

But not a lot of people realise that. Even Bruce Lee who was probably the most influential person in the Western world for promoting the popularity of martial arts talked more about “fighting” than he did about self-protection, as he himself had been in a number of street fights and accepted a few challenges. No disrespect to Bruce Lee, but you just don’t do that if your main objective is simply self protection. You do it if you have a big ego and a point to prove!

Should you be in a self-protection situation where you decide to strike first, you want to be powerful enough to end the situation with one strike. You don’t want to have to hit them 10 to 20 times. There are other elements too, such as distraction, having some knowledge of vulnerable places to hit and how to position yourself to best advantage for a preemptive strike so that they don’t see it coming; but that’s outside of the remit of this post.

If you decide to commit to that preemptive strike and you want it to work on the first strike, then you really need good body mechanics to transfer as much body weight and acceleration into the target as possible so as to create maximum force on impact. You also want good body structures so that all of that force is transferred into the target rather than losing force because your wrist bends or your elbow/shoulder buckles, etc! It’s called “good technique”! It’s also important if you’re facing more than one opponent as you don’t want to be hitting 2 (or more) people 10 times each. You only want to hit them once each and have a good chance that they’ll both go down.

So to get good body mechanics and structures, part of the training has be slow so as to ensure everything is correct. It’s difficult to correct faults when everything is done full speed all the time. This is why so many traditional styles do things slowly and/or to the count so that the instructor can check everybody is moving correctly. Just firing of 50 full speed reps into a focus mitt doesn’t cut it; that’s ok for somebody with good technique looking to improve stamina, but it’s not so good for somebody learning it. And even advanced martial artists still have to do things slowly sometimes to make sure that bad habits don’t creep in and to include extra refinements.

Tai Chi is a classic example of this. They train slow, but a practitioner who trains it as a martial art can move lighting fast when they need to.

Also, if you learn good body mechanics and good structures first, it’s quite easy to add speed afterwards because everything is moving with optimum efficiency. It is however, quite difficult the other way around. If you focus on speed first, you get into bad habits; then you have break those habits and build new ones to put it right.

One of the influencing factors leading to some schools placing fitness before good technique is the growth of combat sports, especially MMA in recent years. This involves 2 athletes who should be fairly evenly matched and equally well trained, who are both going into the fight will full knowledge and consent, and fighting to a set of rules for safety. It is obviously going to be an endurance event where fitness is a huge part. That said, the best MMA competitors will work technique to a high standard too, but sport can give the impression to the inexperienced observer that it’s all about fitness.

Another influencing factor are films where hero’s and villains battle it out for an excessively long time, both absorbing more punishment then is humanly possible. This also gives the impression that it’s all about fitness.

This approach of over emphasising fitness and strength at the expense of good technique is especially prevalent with the McDojo’s. Unsuspecting students eagerly accept the fitness over good body mechanics/structures from an instructor in a flashy uniform, calling him/herself “master” and with good marketing material. Films and sport make this approach seem logical! But it’s a good way to hide poor technique. The student also finishes the class with endorphins flowing and feeling on a high, so they feel that they’ve had a good workout . . . . so it must be good . . . . right!

The ironic part is, that working with good body mechanics/structure can still be an excellent workout, great for fitness and still be very tiring as any traditional martial artist knows. But if you want to produce a fast growing franchise system and make a lot of money, it’s easier to train/produce “fit” instructors who look the part, then it is to train technically good instructors. That way your franchise grows faster and you have more money coming in from yet another school!

It’s often said that people these days don’t want to work hard for their grades and want to get given them easily, but I think this is unfair. To the uninformed student, a fit instructor with a lean body, who can move really fast; is going to look like the real deal. He/she looks like the fit lean action hero’s and sportsmen. The uninformed student will not be aware of the shortcomings of this persons technique as they don’t know what a good technique looks like. In fairness, many of these franchise instructors don’t know what a good technique looks like either as they’ve never been taught that way. But the uninformed student comes out feeling great from a good workout and has no reason to suspect that something is missing!

Internal Power Seminar With Dan Harden

In the fullness of time, I expect this to be the most life changing seminar I’ve ever attended with respect to my martial arts. It was a 2 day seminar on 21st/22nd July 2018, covering a lot of material, which for a newbie, stretched the mind as well as the body. As such, this is review is my initial impressions and I do not pretend to be an expert or have all the answers. This post is just to share my own personal experiences on this seminar, nothing more.

Now first of all, I want to address the “Internal Power” bit. This was not the usual, use your chi approach that many readers will be familiar with. This is a scientifically based approach which, as I understand it, primarily uses the networks of myofascial fabric, (sometimes called fascial meridians or anatomy trains), that runs throughout the body. Continue reading “Internal Power Seminar With Dan Harden” »

Differences Between Karate and Tang Soo Do

As usual with any such comparisons on the differences between styles, we have to accept that all comments are generalisations as there are many styles of Karate and Tang Soo Do, so it’s impossible to make comparisons which hold true for every single style of Karate and every single style of Tang Soo Do.

Also, I have to say that although I have had influences from many different martial arts I am primarily a Karateka and have not formally trained in Tang Soo Do. So my observations on Tang Soo Do come from attending multi-style course that they were teaching at, watching classes, further reading, Youtube and a trained/experienced eye. That said, I will endeavour to be fair, as I have done with similar comparisons between Karate and Tae Kwon Do, which TKD practitioners were happy with. Continue reading “Differences Between Karate and Tang Soo Do” »

How To Create More Impact In Your Martial Arts Technique?

It is often said that generating impact is mainly about applying your body-weight and moving it into the technique. I personally think that this explaination is a bit simplified and that there is a bit more to it than that. So some of what I am going say here goes against conventional wisdom, so please bear with me to end before accusing me of sacrilege!

Ok, so what is the main factor that generate impact in a technique? Continue reading “How To Create More Impact In Your Martial Arts Technique?” »

Interview With Daren Sims, 5th Dan Aikido

I first met and befriended Daren Sims, 5th Dan Aikido and 1st Dan Combat Ju Jutsu in 2010, when I was organising a multi-style martial arts festival. It was to raise funds for 2 charities that had helped my and my family through some particularly difficult times. I selected 12 different martial art schools who had about 15 minutes each to demonstrate their system. Daren was the contact point and organiser of the Aikido section. During the build up to the event, I visited most of the participating schools to have see how their preparations were going. Daren’s Aikido team where so well organised, dynamic and impressive; that I put them on first. I wanted to start on a high note and get the audience excited from the beginning. He was also very supportive of the whole event from start to finish.

Here is the demo from that day, with Daren in the middle a lot of the time throwing people all over the place: Continue reading “Interview With Daren Sims, 5th Dan Aikido” »

Correct Elbow Position For Punching

Following on from the last post on spinal alignment, here’s another video on the correct elbow position for punching and how it affects the shoulder alignment and fist position. It’s a small detail that it often overlooked, especially as the elbow is often hidden by the gi/dobok (uniform).

This is something that I’ve written about before back in 2011, but I think sometimes it’s easier with a video.

So enjoy and please leave your comments or questions below.

Technique: Spinal Alignment

In most traditional martial arts the spinal alignment is maintained in a straight upright position. But despite telling students over and over again, many of them still tend to lean forward. In the video below, I hope to provide a demonstration of why keeping the back straight and upright helps techniques to flow more easily, fluidly and efficiently! If you’re an instructor, it could be a good way to teach your own students.

Line Up For Pre-Emptive Strike

When somebody is trying to bully you and it becomes apparent that they are likely to attack you, the tactics you use at that “pre-fight” stage can put you into a position of enormous advantage without the aggressor realising what you are doing. You can line yourself up to strike them decisively on a vulnerable point without them having any idea of what you are preparing to do.

The video below demonstrates how to Continue reading “Line Up For Pre-Emptive Strike” »

Self Protection Vs Political Correctness!

I’ve always believed that boys/men should respect girls/women and that girls should be brought up to EXPECT men to treat them with respect. Women being treated with respect is not a privilege, it’s a right!

Please check out the video below. In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi where rape is rife, a programme was introduced teaching girls to defend themselves and teaching “positive masculinity” to boys. Within 6 sessions, boys attitudes change from thinking that women deserved to be raped in certain circumstances to not accepting it at all.

Rape has been reduced in areas where this is taught by 50% and boys successfully intervened when witnessing an assault 74% of the time. Continue reading “Self Protection Vs Political Correctness!” »

Practical Application For Haito Uchi: Ridge Hand Strike

A strike that is often not very well explained is the Ridge Hand Strike. The focus is usually on striking with the hand, making it of limited use under pressure as it requires quite a lot of accuracy and the small bones in the hand can be damaged if they strike the wrong target.

A simple modification to focus on striking with the forearm makes it more powerful, requires less accuracy (very useful under pressure), can be used at multiple ranges, reduces the chances of damaging yourself and can flow very easily into other applications.

Please check out the video below for a more full explanation.