I watched a Tai Chi demo at the Chinese Cultural Festival last weekend and it reminded me of something I often mention in my classes. The Tai Chi instructor was explaining how stance, posture and body mechanics affect strength when moving an opponent. These basic concepts determine our efficiency and ability to use our strength even in everyday tasks but Iíd like to focus on things that directly apply to martial arts.
I cannot speak for all martial arts because Iíve only studied a handful of styles but I think a fast and/or powerful response is better than a slow and/or weak response no matter what the style. Saying ďand/orĒ is important because an effective movement can be slow and powerful such as a joint lock or it can be fast and weak like a finger poke in the eye.
The most common western empty hand martial art is probably boxing so I like to use it as an example of body mechanics for punching and pushing since Hakkoryu uses more pushes than punches. A straight punch can be viewed as a really fast push, whether youíre locking a joint or simply trying to push your opponent off balance. If it is strong it comes from a position of good balance. Yes, you can jump and punch but your force is limited to body inertia. A punch when your body is disconnected from the ground is wholly dependent on speed and either inertia or momentum. When pushing something heavy such as a car or a big door, we point our feet forward with one further back than the other. This is basically the same stance as a boxer delivering a straight punch. Again, simple physics and geometry determine the best location of the feet when you attempt to apply force.
Another universal truth is movement with big muscles is more powerful than using small muscles. It is obvious but students will often try and push or pull with their arms instead of their legs and torso. The natural tendency is to grip something with your hand and use your arm to move light objects but when you need power for heavy moving it is much more effective to put your arm in a position of strength and move your body. To move your body, your feet must be positioned correctly relative to the direction of travel. Try to push something or someone with your feet parallel to the direction of the push and then repeat with one foot forward.
Lifting with the legs and not the back is a good example of proper body mechanics. Lifting with the back means the legs are relatively straight and our center of gravity is forward. Bending the legs gets our body in alignment and lets us use the powerful glutes and quads of the legs instead of the weaker erectors in the back. The same big leg muscles are used for lifting during a Judo hip throw.
Again, many universal truths in martial arts are dictated by physics and body mechanics. Maybe next time Iíll talk about the mind being the most important weapon in your arsenal.