So, how best to generate force?
For a variety of reasons beginning at the cellular level and extending to the whole body in relation to its environment, our energy flows most effectively from the center out:
1) Although it may seem contradictory, the cellular mechanism which contracts muscle fibers determines that shorter, slower-contracting muscles like those connected to the hip, actually generate more force, more economically, than longer, faster-contracting muscles like those of our arms and legs. (Compare power and quickness in a cat and a dog of the same size. Or, consider how the most muscle-bulging human cannot pull himself through the trees with as little effort as a monkey of the same size - it is not just the size of the muscle which determines strength, but also the type of muscle being used.)
2) The slower-contracting muscles use an energy metabolizing pathway which naturally gives them more stamina than the faster-contracting anaerobic muscles.
3) Activating muscles from the center of the body outwards tenses the various deep fasciae (sheets of connective tissue) which help to increase the muscular action of the overlying muscles, as well as stabilize the joints for maximum load-carrying ability (important for maintaining healthy knees, shoulders and elbows).
4) Making our center the foundation of all techniques gives the shortest average path to all tools for quickness of response.
5) Awareness of the center helps maintain balance (crucial for maximum effort as will be discussed later).
6) Beginning the force from the center of the body does not depend on footing, or the lack of it (unreliable surfaces or while airborne in a jump).
7) Starting at the hips maximizes the mass that the reaction force of the tool works against, thereby maximizing the speed of the tool. (more about this later also)
8) And finally, starting the force at the center leaves the limbs relaxed which allows them to be moved faster than when they are tense from working, or from expecting to work.
EXPERIMENT 3: To experience the difference between inside-to-outside and outside-to-inside focusing of power try this experiment: Find an open-backed chair which is not too heavy and stand behind it. Extend your arm out and lift the chair by hooking your hand underneath its back. Notice how much effort it took and put it down. Now this time first grip the back of the chair strongly, then tighten your arm muscles and then use your shoulder muscles to lift the chair. Now try it the first way again.
Extending our energy out from our center to lift the chair allows the more powerful and efficient muscles to do as much work as is needed before requiring the quicker, but less efficient, muscles to participate.
This moving from the center out also greatly reduces the possibility of pulled backs: since the center foundation (abdomen and lower back) is already working before any outside stress is imposed on it from lifting, pushing or pulling, there is little chance that it will over-react trying to suddenly counteract an unbalancing force coming from the limbs.
Gripping the chair back with the hand first, however, and tightening backwards to the shoulder “blocks” much of the energy used from getting to the job due to Reasons #1 and #3 above. This same “blockage” and energy wasting happens in our techniques, for example, when punches start in the arms and kicks start with the legs - this improperly focused effort uses more energy to produce less final power. To achieve the most effect for the least effort, all techniques need to start from the center. Now focus on this idea and go back and retry the punching, side-kicking and knife-hand striking against resistance described in EXPERIMENT 2.
Mass vs. weight
For techniques performed while standing, high stances tend to unfortunately focus a beginner’s attention on the chest as the starting point. Lower stances, however, drop the focus of attention to the hips with the added benefits of improving leg strength and flexibility and of forming a more stable connection to the floor, which is often used in the early stages of training as the foundation of techniques.
This might be a good place to note that being in a low position increases stability because of the greater resistance to being tilted over. The act of dropping into a low position does not increase stability (nor increase power with most techniques, as we have seen earlier from the vector analyses). If it did help, then football linemen would be dropping when the football was snapped, baseball batters would drop as they were swinging at the ball and boxers would drop as they punch, instead of beginning their power move from an already low position.
EXPERIMENT 4: Go back and retry the partner-pushing EXPERIMENT 1 described in the “inertia” section at the beginning of the paper, but now try pushing as you drop and pushing from an already low stance.
Anybody who has ever taken an elevator down knows that as it starts to drop you feel lighter. That is because the dropping elevator is canceling some of gravity’s acceleration of our mass. In fact, if the elevator’s brakes were to fail or its cable were cut it would go into free fall and we would feel completely weightless as we drop. It is gravity pulling our mass against the ground or floor which we feel as weight. Our mass always stays the same, unless we are moving at speeds close to the speed of light - not likely for any of us humans.
Our apparent weight does increase at the moment of stopping the drop, but that added weight requires more energy and time to overcome in order to move from that dropped position - not a worthwhile trade where speed and agility are needed.
EXPERIMENT 5: Try dodging to the side or jumping up just as the elevator decelerates to a stop and increases your weight.
The idea of dropping while executing techniques probably has its origin in the fact that the motion of doing this often focuses part of the person’s energy into their center, or hips, which, as we have seen above, is a good place for it to be concentrated. It is the dropping into one’s center which is the important part, however, not the dropping to the floor with its disadvantages for subsequent movements
While punches done from the shoulders have a short path and so could finish quickly, they are significantly weaker because they miss taking advantage of the greater strength of the hips and the greater resistance to unbalancing the body which is offered by the hips’ greater mass.
While starting arm techniques from the feet does give a longer path and therefore seemingly more opportunity for acceleration, it takes too long (try doing multiple punches all starting from the feet), often results in unbalancing the student (from lunging, etc.), and it has no application in other positions (in the air, on your back, while sitting, etc., or even while backing up, standing on one leg or sliding in as often occurs in sparring). EXPERIMENT 6: Try various arm techniques starting from the feet while doing the various activities just described.) Because of its central location, strong attached muscles and large mass, the center is the most useful starting point. But just moving the hips is not enough. Your center must be connected to the tool, and it must be connected with the proper sequence and timing.
Accelerating rockets . . .
An analogy to space rockets can be used to describe the focusing of power from larger, slower muscle groups to smaller and smaller (and quicker and quicker) muscle groups. Using the punch as an example, your center is the large first stage which gives all it can give; then the muscles of the trunk and chest contribute their boost, followed by the third, and even quicker, stage of the arm delivering the fist to the target.
Some students, knowing that they should be increasing their speed from the beginning to the end of the technique, think it is necessary to start slowly so they can speed up the technique later. This is a power robbing practice for two reasons. Given the same maximum force available, the hips cannot be accelerated as quickly as the hand since more mass is involved, so the hips will naturally be slower (force = mass x acceleration). (Similarly, if we try to twist the whole torso together at once it will slow the punch even more.) Additionally, the hips do not have as far to travel as the hand or foot, so if we wait too long after the hips begin their twist to start our tool on its way, the hips will finish before the tool arrives, or we will unconsciously slow up the hip movement so that it doesn’t arrive too early. Both of these approaches greatly reduce the amount of possible power. If the center begins under its maximum acceleration and each quicker “stage” is added in proper sequence at its maximum acceleration, all stages can finish together at impact.
EXPERIMENT 7: Punch hard continuously for two or three minutes. Stop and check how you feel all over. If the arms or shoulders are noticeably tired, then too much of the effort was concentrated there. If your center is not equally tired then it wasn’t doing as much as it could have - resulting in a significant loss of potential force due to the size of the muscles involved there compared to those of the arm. If all parts participated equally relative to their ability, all parts should be equally tired. To improve the final speed, more effort needs to be spent training the participation of the part that is not working enough.
Jumping techniques offer an opportunity to add another “stage” to the force development. Many people, however, just use the jump to get airborne and then start the kick or punch. By the time the technique nears completion, gravity has already canceled most, or all, of the jump velocity. (Try adding the vectors, tip to tail as done before, for a rising leg and a dropping body to see the resultant magnitude and direction of the kicking force.) Starting the technique sooner can add the vertical and/or horizontal (depending on the direction of the technique) energy of the jump to the impact rather than having it used just to change the location of the body. Timing is critical to focus the total effect of all these individual movements.
Something else to consider with jumping techniques is if after executing a flying side kick, for example, we land still going forward, this means we failed to transfer all of our forward momentum into the kick. (How this is done will be covered in the next section.) Landing in an uncentered manner like this means you have no choice of which direction to go - against an opponent you will be an easy target, unable to dodge until your second step.
… with accumulating stages . . .
We know we can control acceleration, so it becomes an important element to develop in our training. Mass is the other element making up force, but unless there is some way to control it, there is no reason to consider it an element to train. We could walk around with rolls of pennies clenched in our fists, or weights fastened to our feet to give our tools more mass when they hit, but it would also be slower to get them moving, cumbersome when we didn’t need them, and rather harmful to our joints in the long term. If that’s all we could do to effect our tools’ mass, we would just have to consider mass a given which cannot be effected by training. Fortunately for our effectiveness, however, there is a way to control our working mass.
We are the size we are and we can’t suddenly grow bigger when needed. It is the attraction between our mass and the earth by the specific force of gravity which is our weight: fgravity = mass x acceleration(32 ft/sec2) = pounds. We cannot increase our weight unless we add more mass (eat too much) or unless gravity’s acceleration here increases, neither of which happens quickly enough to be useful for our performance effectiveness. In fact, our weight is not that important to our opponent unless we are standing or sitting on them. What is important is the mass of our tool. And, unlike the stages of a rocket, all of the “stages” of our mass can stay connected and all can keep working to the end. This is very important, because in this way the effective mass of our tool, as well as its speed, accumulates. So, kicks are not just leg techniques, and punches and strikes are not just arm techniques. All techniques are body techniques. The knuckles (or elbow or footsword, etc.) are merely the surface point of our body’s mass which impacts the target. The whole body should participate in, and contribute to, the mass of impact.
For instance, when just the mass of a beginner’s fist hits a wall-mounted pad, it often bounces off, because its mass is small compared to that of the pad and wall. But if that student were told that four boards were about to be broken against their already extended fist, their whole body would automatically “lock on” to the fist to help it survive. Since four boards hitting an unmoving fist like this is actually the same impact that the fist would feel if the fist were trying to actively punch four stationary boards, the body needs to work in the same way - as a unified mass.
Our total mass can’t be quickly changed, and the mass of our tool itself can’t be changed, but by learning to unify our mass we can learn how to change the effective mass of our tool. Although an increase in speed increases energy rapidly because of its squaring factor (as seen earlier), working on learning to increase our effective tool mass can be seen as definitely worthwhile when the mass of our hand or foot alone is compared to the mass of our whole body.
The present level of scientific understanding will say that it is not possible for cats to land on their feet when they are dropped upside down, yet they do. “Soft”, flexible bodies are too complex to be modeled accurately by computers or mathematics at the present time, but on a practical level it is quite possible to understand and exploit the possibilities presented by them. Our bodies are actually a collection of masses connected together by joints, which can be loosely or tightly connected at any instant by muscle control. Complete connections must occur at, or just very slightly before, the impact in order to maximize the mass at impact. If rigid connections are made too soon in the sequence of motion, acceleration will be lost. If the connections are held too long after impact, it will delay the ability to respond to the next situation (perhaps a needed block or an opportunity for a follow-up technique in sparring). Poor timing in disconnecting and connecting the masses of our various parts will result in energy being used up without it ever actually contributing to the final purpose. Connecting and disconnecting our various masses must be well practiced so that they can occur as quickly as possible, and in the proper sequence.
EXPERIMENT 8: One way of checking “connectiveness” is to have someone perform a front walking stance punch and immediately push against the fist knuckles. If the wrist bends against the push, then essentially the punch was the mass of the fist. If the elbow bends, then essentially just the mass of the forearm unit was punching. If the shoulder pivots backward, then it was mainly the whole arm mass which was punching. If the person bends backwards at the waist, then their torso was punching. If the whole person is moved back by pushing against the fist, then the mass of the whole body was participating in the punch.
Similarly, pulling on the extended fist may pull the shoulder forward, pull the person forward at the waist, or pull the whole person, in their upright posture, forward along the floor, depending upon the body’s level of connection to the fist. If the person can be pulled forward at the waist in such a maneuver they are an easy target to be thrown by an opponent. A person punching unified to their center contributes the most mass possible to their punch and also presents no opportunity to be thrown, thus maximizing their offense as well as their defense.
Also, by having each “stage” working and solid in the proper sequence, a solid foundation is given for each subsequent stage to accelerate from, rather than having part of its energy going to the reaction force of pushing back the previous stage, or stages. Try pushing something heavy without first having a solid foot position and part of the energy of the push will move you backward and only part of the energy will go into the object. By having a solid foundation, all the movement of the push goes forward.
While kicking and striking, however, it is best ultimately if that solid foundation is not the floor, but our whole body unified. Having ourselves as the center, removes the possibility of throwing ourselves away by depending on something which may be unreliable: the floor with a slippery spot, loose gravel or sand, ice, or even a foundation which isn’t there - such as the air during jumping techniques. Since very little of the active application of our techniques is done with both feet rooted in place, but more usually in an active state of moving forward, backward, sideways, while on one foot, or while jumping, it will be the most useful for us if we take our foundation with us at all times. The only way to do that is to make ourselves the foundation. Trying to keep our feet anchored to the floor while punching or kicking allows us to be pulled off balance. If we anchor our punches and kicks to our center we cannot be unbalanced. When that skill is sufficiently mastered it doesn’t matter if we are standing, sitting, lying down, or in the air, or if the target is below, in front, or above us - we can apply the same mass against it.
. . .and Whips
Another difference of this rocket comparison for martial artists is that the stages are less distinct than for a rocket. In this respect, comparison to a whip is more appropriate. Here the transfer is smooth and continually accelerating from the thicker handle end to the thinner and more supple tip. Stiffness (tenseness) anywhere along the whip will reduce the power pulse. This idea of looseness (relaxed state) is extremely important for power transfer, and any factor which slows this transfer needs to be eliminated in order to improve effectiveness.
Counter Force and Reaction Force
Earlier, we saw how some of our other forces could help or, more usually, detract from our tool’s impact force. Here we will see how we can improve our impact force, speed, agility, and stamina by intentionally using other available forces.
Forces can only act between objects, either attracting (gravity, magnets, stretched springs, etc.)or repelling (compressed springs, opposing magnets, explosions, etc.)each other. Because of our mind-set, however, we usually think our force pushes our fist away from us when we punch. Actually, our force moves the fist and body away from each other and both feel the same force. This is the third law of classical mechanics: action and reaction - forces always appear as equal and opposite pairs.
EXPERIMENT 9: A) To demonstrate this, try standing sideways in a doorway with your feet together and your back about an inch or so away from one side of it. Now punch your fist out hard from in front of your shoulder (holding on to a small weight will accentuate the effect). Unless you are consciously compensating, your back will smack the doorway - the force of that smack is the reaction force of your fist going forward. While the force separating the fist and the body from each other is the same, the effects are different for each because of the large differences in mass (remember: force = mass x acceleration). The smaller mass of the fist will be accelerated more quickly than the larger mass of the torso. This demonstrates the advantage of being able to “unify” the body’s total mass at will, as mentioned above: the greater the mass which will oppose the fist, the less will be the effect on the body and the greater the forward speed of the fist. B) Now try the back-in-a-doorway experiment just described again, but this time punch your fist hard from your hip and notice the difference in the impact your back makes against the doorway. The greater mass centered at your hips will react less to the punch than the smaller mass centered at your shoulders - one of several good reasons to start a punch from the hip whenever possible.
Reaction force occurs whether we want it to or not - we cannot increase it or decrease it at will. This is a law of physics, as mentioned above. We cannot move without there being reaction force. In fact, which half of the force pair is “reaction force” and which one is the “working force”, so to speak, really depends on our perception of the intention of the movement. For instance, when punching we see the fist’s motion as being what we want and the force on the body being a side effect, at best. Yet when we try to walk on top of a fence we automatically move our lighter arms around to purposely move our heavier body back into a balanced position: we are intentionally making an action to take advantage of the reaction. Action/reaction is perhaps another instance of um(yin) and yang: we can’t have the one without the other, and, there is nothing we can do to control it.
Just because we cannot directly control reaction force, however, does not mean we can afford to ignore it. For our training being able to control the effects of the reaction force of a technique is very important because it saves energy and time. Since the body does not have to use energy fighting its unbalancing effects more energy is available to put in a technique, and the body stays relaxed and is able to respond quickly in any direction needed.
We control the effects of reaction force by applying what is actually a counter force - a force equal and opposite to the “working” force for the purpose of keeping the system in balance. This counter force naturally has its own reaction force also, but it is canceled by the reaction force of the working force. (This approach is often used in engine designs where counterweights and counter-rotating shafts are used to counteract the unbalancing effects of the working parts.)
Applying this concept to our techniques works like this: When a punch (or any technique) is “thrown”, natural reaction force pushes the trunk of the body in the opposite direction from the tool. Not wanting to lose its state of balance, the trunk will automatically tighten to counteract this offsetting force. This tightening will hinder speed and restrict breathing. However, when a punch is executed and the opposite arm properly and simultaneously drawn back, the trunk itself does not feel the punch’s reaction force since its been “canceled” (drawing vectors for this as we did earlier will make this visually clear), and the trunk can remain relaxed to finish contributing its full effort, to be ready to participate fully and immediately in the next move, and to permit breathing to continue unrestricted. Doing this counter-motion does not reduce the force of the punch, it just reduces the off-balancing effect of the punch on the body. In fact, the force of the punch will be increased since, with the reaction force “canceled” and the torso not fighting itself, more force will be available to move the fist.
It probably seems contradictory that by doubling the forces you can be more relaxed, and that by going backward you can have more force forward, but the laws of classical mechanics and some simple experiments can confirm this paradox.
EXPERIMENT 10: A) While standing on one leg or sitting cross-legged, try doing several “one-sided” punches, side blocks, knife-hand strikes, rising blocks, and low forearm blocks hard, keeping your other arm next to you or in your lap. Notice how your body fights to keep its posture. B) Now try doing these same techniques while using the opposite arm appropriately as an opposing counter force. The better we can learn to use counter force, the more relaxed and balanced our torso will be and the more speed our tool will have.
For the beginning student, arm techniques are particularly helped by the use of counter force because these techniques strongly unbalance the body in several directions. Beside the overall backward thrust of the reaction force against the torso as already discussed, the arms’ off-center connection above and to the side of the center of mass causes a tilt backward from the hips and a twist around the central axis (seen by the shoulder throwing forward as the body turns) .
When properly performed, counter forces will cancel, or at least greatly reduce, all three of these forces. In fact, it is the off-center connection of the arms and legs to the hips which allows the twisting hips to impart energy into these tools: centripetal force is being converted into linear motion - as in the old-fashioned slingshot of David and Goliath fame. Examining this more closely would lead to a more complicated analysis than we need for the present discussion, but it will be useful to think of our hips as the slingshot, then we can apply the knowledge that the faster the turn, the faster the stone (or tool) will go. Note also that both sides of our hip must turn equally for the center to be maintained externally like this. With appropriate training, counterforce can be applied internally, as it must be with leg techniques.
EXPERIMENT 11: A good device for understanding the difference between reaction force and counter force, and for checking their use in our training is a platform turntable. Performing a “one-sided” knifehand strike while standing in the middle of the turntable will cause the turntable to turn in the opposite direction due to the reaction force of the striking force. The better one is able to pull the opposite arm back appropriately to create a counter force for the strike’s reaction force, the less the turntable will move. The less the turntable moves means the less energy you will be spending in countering imbalances and the more energy you can put into the technique. This checking method is useful for a wide variety of techniques.
[Don’t be surprised, however, if you can’t seem to get a punch to cancel out rotation of the turntable. The opposite pulling arm does cancel the backward reaction thrust of the forward punch (which you might be able to see if you can stand off-center), but it also adds to the torque of the punch - good for the effect of the punch, but a bit more complicated to learn how to counteract.]
Rising kicks while pulling the hands down and side kicks while pulling the fists back are some obvious applications of counter force to foot techniques. Most use of counter force in kicking, however, is less obvious than this since the hip and portions of the trunk are usually what is used as the mass of the counter force. (In fact, with increased mastery, these parts will also begin to be used as counter force for arm techniques.)
Center vs. Balance
To use counter force well, we must have a strong sense of center, so that whatever is going on somewhere in the body can be balanced out elsewhere. Our “center of gravity” is used to define the relationship of our mass to that of the earth’s, and a sense of it is needed for good balance. As long as we position our center of gravity anywhere over an imaginary line between our two feet when both are on the ground, or above our standing foot in a one-legged stance, we will be in stationary balance. But, not all the many body positions we could use to achieve this balance will align our bodies properly for efficient movement and for generating force from the center outward. Body alignment, not just balance, is the reason certain postures are better than others. (How body alignment works is a topic for another discussion.)
While a sense of our “center of gravity” is quite necessary for stationary balance in our stances, by itself it is insufficient to determine balance for a three-dimensional body in motion. Gravity is one-directional, dealing only with our vertical relationship with the earth/floor. In a dynamic situation, this vertical sense of balance needs to be accompanied with a sense of tilt and rotational balance (which is why satellites need three gyroscopes to keep in balance - if one fails the satellite’s position cannot be controlled). When all three directions (vertical, front-to-back, and side-to-side) are considered in relation to our mass, the point where they cross is the “center of mass”. When a force is applied at an object’s center of mass it may move location, but it will not change its orientation, i.e. it will not tilt or turn. For this reason, the force for all of our movements, whether to move our body to a different location or to execute a technique, needs to be applied through our center of mass. A sense of our center of gravity helps us from falling over, but having a sense of our center of mass, by reducing unwanted twisting and tilting motions, helps us to keep our bodies relaxed and aligned for maximum effect.
For the most effective movement we need to feel our body as being positioned around this center of mass. Our feet should not be acting as anchors or attachment points to the ground, since rotating around one foot or the other will not keep us in 3-dimensional balance, but moving around our center will. Our feet should be free to move to wherever needed to balance the force of our moving body through our center of mass. A sense of center of mass covers more situations than a sense of a center of gravity.
Our center of mass determines where our supporting feet should be placed, not the other way around. Try walking while putting your feet directly under yourself - you either won’t be able to walk, or you will fall over. It is our sense of our moving center of mass which tells us how far in front and to the side of ourselves to step, depending on speed, direction and incline. If we are standing still, a sense of our center of gravity is enough. But in Taekwon-do, we are usually moving - forward, backward, up, down, and sideways - and we need a well-developed sense of our center of mass in order to be able to always keep our body relaxed and aligned for maximum power and agility.
Martial arts like Judo, Aikido and Hapkido exploit opponents being unbalanced. A strong sense of center, however, will make it both more difficult for you to be unbalanced and taken advantage of, and will make it possible for you to return to balance more easily and quickly when you do lose your equilibrium.
EXPERIMENT 12: Practicing in shoulder-deep water (where we are almost weightless, but definitely not massless), or on ice, so that our feet don’t have enough grip to correct imbalances (or while standing on one leg or sitting, as mentioned above) are all good ways of improving our sense of center and of learning how to work from it.
Not having enough awareness and training of our breathing can lead us into difficult situations of too much or too little oxygen and the resulting stamina and reduced power and focus problems which come with them. The answer is not to try to impose an outside system of control over our breathing, but to learn how to integrate our breathing with our other efforts so that they all naturally reinforce each other to maximize the total effect. For the beginning and intermediate student learning integrated breathing can be a very important factor in unifying the body’s efforts, and for coordinating it with the mental state. A properly performed exhale will unify and stabilize the body, release tension, and focus energy.
Studies have demonstrated that yelling can increase power by approximately 25%. This is usually discovered early in life through everyday experience by most people. In fact, it is difficult to find any activity being done to its maximum, whether swinging a tennis racket, lifting something very heavy or trying to unscrew a stuck jar lid, which isn’t done with a grunt or a yell. But it is not practical to yell with every movement, nor do we need to. What happens in our bodies when we yell can also be harnessed without the sound.
The most productive exhaling is done with the lower abdomen (not with the chest), and is often performed against a feedback pressure provided by the throat and mouth: exhale as if you were yelling, not as if you were blowing out a candle. Exhaling with no resistance ends too quickly and does not pressurize the torso which is needed for generating power and for receiving impacts.
Starting the motion at the same time as the exhale, however, often results in the whole body tensing at once. Instead, try beginning the exhale in the lower abdomen just before the movement is to start. Doing this will focus the effort to begin from your center and relax the rest of your body so that its various parts can give their maximum effort when timing calls for them to act. Just as the exhale leads the beginning of the motion, it should also accelerate and lead the acceleration of the technique. The central foundation and role provided by the activity of the lower abdomen is the crucial element in all motion and movement. This is so important it is probably impossible to emphasize it too much.
EXPERIMENT 13: Once again try the partner-pushing EXPERIMENT 1 described in the inertia section at the beginning of the paper, or better yet “dropped” version of it in EXPERIMENT 4. Now do the pushing: 1) as you would normally breath, 2) with a yell/exhale beginning at the same time as the push, and 3) as an accelerating exhale/yell which begins first in the lower abdomen and immediately leads into the push. Feel what your body does under the different conditions: Which way does the arm and shoulder feel the least tensed? Which way do you feel the most centered/stable? Which way gives you the most power? Which way has the greatest effect for the least effort?
Conscious and deliberate effort may be needed initially to untrain unhelpful breathing habits, but just as with kicking and punching, the more that integrated breathing is practiced the more it will become automatic and just as much a part of any technique as the appropriate posture and arm position.
Because of the wide variety and number of muscles used in even our simplest techniques, improper focus and timing can greatly reduce the power delivered for the energy used. The more complex the movement, the greater the potential for wasting energy. Only extensive repetition can refine the mental and neuromuscular coordination needed to maximize the force created and the power delivered for a given amount of energy.
Controlling our mass by being able to quickly adjust the degree of connectedness of our various body parts from fully relaxed to totally unified, and knowing how much and when are extremely important skills for us. Having good internal body awareness, reinforced through breathing, center, focus and counter force training, is extremely important for our performance and our long-term health. These are the “internal” skills which guide and empower the “external” skills of technique. Being less visible than technique they are often overlooked or neglected, but at a high cost of reduced effectiveness. An artist with no sense of color, or a musician who is tone-deaf must try to rely on technique alone, but art, like ourselves, can only be fully realized when the internal and external contributions are in balance.
Moving and maintaining the body in balanced harmony is often seen as characteristic of “soft” style martial arts like Tai Chi and not usually associated with the “hard” styles of Taekwon-do and Karate, but to ignore this fundamental principle in any dynamic situation is to reduce the effectiveness of our efforts. It is a common contradiction for people on the one hand to recognize that there cannot be hard without soft, external without internal and yet then concentrate their training on only one part. There can be no wholeness or balance unless both halves are trained proportionately.
The idea of controlling our mass by controlling the degree of our connectedness applies to areas of our lives outside of our bodies too. Being unable to connect with other people limits our effectiveness. Only so much can be accomplished by working alone. To have more and more effect often a larger and larger mass of people is needed. On the other hand, being unable to disconnect at the proper time can also reduce effectiveness, since certain things are accomplished quicker when the rest of the mass doesn’t have to be pulled along or convinced to change direction.
Acceleration also applies in our lives. Certain ideas and movements have to “gather enough speed” before their effect is felt. Faster is not always better though. Knowing when, if and how quickly to respond and act can strongly influence the effectiveness of our efforts.
The concept of integrated breathing can be used to influence our state of mind. A woman said that once she learned about this concept whenever stress starts coming her way she just starts a slow rhythmic breathing and that stops the usual disturbing emotional and physical reactions to it, and then she can just respond to the situation rather than to her reaction to it.
A well-developed sense of center is a necessity to keep a dynamic system in balance and that concept is also very important for our development and achievement in other ways too. The concept of center is not meant just in the physical sense, but in the sense that strength must be balanced with skill, quantity must be balanced by quality, and outside awareness must be balanced with internal awareness. We need to keep our physical selves in balance with our mental and emotional selves. We need to keep our family life in balance with our business and recreational lives. Also, by having a center purpose in our lives we have a reference point against which we can check the usefulness of our short-term activities and a perspective to balance any catastrophes which may come our way. And perspective is a necessary ingredient for wisdom to flourish.
The principle we use in helping to maintain center is counter force: the use of force in one direction to counter-act an un-centering force in the opposite direction. If we are in control of our lives, as well as our bodies, then we will be using this principle also to maintain center in them. Too much time spent sitting, then it’s time to move around. Too much time spent working, then it’s time to recreate. Too much time spent alone, then it’s time for family and friends. Too much time spent thinking, then it’s time for doing. Our actions often cause reactions which we cannot control, but if we are aware enough we can counter-act any unwanted reactions so that the situation, or our life, does not go in an unwanted direction.
Focus is a principle that has occurred throughout this discussion. Focus, as meaning direction, is a necessary principle of force, since it is impossible to have a force that does not have a direction, and the more finely it is focused the more effective it will be. Focus is also a necessary principle of creating force in our bodies, since energy must be focused from the center out to create force effectively. Focus is also a necessary mental principle, as well as a physical one, in achieving any of this. If our lives are going to be effective forces in the world, then our lives too must have a focus, and not just be undirected energy.
These six interacting principles: control of mass, acceleration, focus, center, counter force and integrated breathing comprise the Principles of Force which govern our physical and mental lives. Each of these emphasize a process, or the doing of something. Integrated breathing is obviously a process. Acceleration is the process which controls speed. Counter force is a process which controls the effects of reaction force and other off-centering forces. The control of mass achieved by the ability to connect and disconnect the masses of our various parts gives us the ability to improve acceleration and to increase the effective mass of our tools. If nothing ever changed, focus and center would continue as the result of an initial setting. But in life there are constantly forces acting on us, and maintaining our focus and center is a constant process which has to be learned and developed.
Objects in motion have energy, as discussed at the beginning of this article. And martial arts practitioners, by having moving arms and feet, are in possession of tools with energy, but the tools themselves are not the important part. It is the size and direction of the force which moves those tools which is important. In fact, even the energy in the tools is not as important as what is done with that energy. The more efficient, unhindered and well-focused the effort is, then the more force will be created with a given amount of energy, more power will be available, and more will be achieved. The force that does this best is the whole person unified, relaxed, and responding to the present.
Application is an important teaching principle of Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo’s method: we must be able to apply the force we have, there must be an application for the techniques we practice, and what we are learning must apply in some way to our whole lives in order for it to be an art and not just a sport. Taekwon-do can be viewed and taught as the “ways” of the hands and the feet, but it has so much more effect when it is taught and learned as the way, or path, as discovered through the use of the hands and the feet. As an “art” it is intended to deepen and broaden all one’s life. For tennis a good backhand is a good backhand, but in learning kicking and punching, we can learn about being a force, with strength and direction, in life.
Paul Y. Irvin copyright 2000
This article also serves as the foundation for other articles: “Power Robbers” which explains the various factors which reduce maximum generation and maximum delivery of force for its intended purpose whether in Taekwondo, other martial arts, or any activity, and “Principles of Teaching” which explains Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo’s methods and techniques used in developing students of all ages and abilities.
Acknowledgments: Thank you first of all to Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo for guiding me for twenty-four years so far along “the way” , and for being such a model example of both a teacher and a student. Thank you to Mr. Earl Weiss VI Dan ITF for his suggestions how to make a very early version of this article more useful to more people. Thank you to fellow co-President of the Universal Taekwon-do Federation, Master Dr. James Langlas, and to Mr. Bruce Helman V Dan UTF and Dr. George Luther, Northwestern University, for their reading, input and suggestions as this paper grew.
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