In Jiu-jitsu, as in many martial arts, the goal is to develop great technique so as to use one’s energy with the greatest level of efficiency for maximum effect. Jiu-jitsu literally translates to mean “the art of pliancy or flexibility.” When students get stuck on a technique though, sometimes they will try to use power to force it to work. This not a good approach if your goal is to become a better martial artist. Water is often used as analogy of how we should train in the martial arts. It finds the path of least resistance and flows around its obstacles. Bruce Lee himself said: “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it.”
There are a variety of practical reasons for not trying to force your way through martial arts techniques. Here are 6 examples from my own experience:
1. It can lead to your partner’s injury. Sometimes a joint lock isn’t working because you don’t have the right position. If you use force to “make it work” and then suddenly you slip into the correct position, then all that force goes into the joint before your unfortunate partner has time to tap out of it.
2. It can lead to your own injury. Sometimes a particular technique may not be appropriate for you. It’s due to your physical conditioning or maybe your size relative to your training partner. If you can’t do a particular kick due to lack of flexibility, for example, and you use force to try and “get it” you could strain your muscles. A better approach is to get your instructor to help you with it. They will likely give you a modified version of the kick to work on while you continue to work on your flexibility. Or say you’re doing a ground sweep or a throw that isn’t working for you because the person is so much bigger. If you try to force it, you could strain a joint or muscle. Ask for instructor feedback. They may be able to help you improve your technique to make it work more effortlessly, or they might give you a different technique that’s more practical for your particular situation.
3. You’ll conserve more energy. When you’re doing a belt test or a competition, energy is at a premium. If you’re use to using power to make things work, you may find yourself running out of steam, unable to give an ideal performance. If you rid yourself of the habit of using force to make things work, you’ll find yourself able to hold up over longer periods of time.
4. You’ll improve your martial arts skills. There are so many wonderful details expressed in the martial arts that make it seem magical. Balance breaking, body mechanics, distance, timing, targeting, re-direction of energy, etc, all contribute to your effective technique. But when you use force to try and make something work when you’re having trouble, all you do is train muscle strength. You don’t tap into all the subtleties that make the martial arts great.
5. You’ll improve your body awareness. Training in a martial art isn’t just about getting a good workout. When we train, the use of body mechanics is emphasized, which over the long term, gives us a better understanding of how the body moves. The efficiency that we learn through training often transfers over into other realms of life, whether it’s tennis, snowboarding, hockey, or even just random chores around the house. When you use focus more on force than on technique to punch, kick, throw, do joint manipulations, etc, you are missing out on what makes the martial arts so great.
6. You’ll maintain your sanity. There are few things that make you feel more helpless than “giving it your all” with a burst of power on a technique then have it not work. Some students become demoralized and give into self-doubt, thinking “Maybe this martial arts stuff just isn’t for me.” Don’t set yourself up for this fall by using an all-out strength approach to get things to work. Learn the technique that is required to do it properly. This principle is true in personal relationships too. Some things can’t be forced and you just have to find a better way to make things work.
There are lots of good reasons for not using force to make martial arts techniques work when training. That is not to say there isn’t a time and a place for using power though. In a self-defense or a competitive context, you may need to use a burst of power to capitalize on an opportunity that allows you to escape or win the bout. You may also want to train with controlled power combined with good technique so you are comfortable using your strength when needed. In general though, technique should receive greater emphasis than power when training.
Do you have any other reasons for not trying to force things when doing martial arts training? Please feel free to share in the comments. 🙂