How to Use Your Whole Body to Improve Martial Arts Technique

One of the things that is very much appreciated by students of the martial arts is how regular training not only makes you good at the martial art you’re studying, it also has a way of making people better at other physical pursuits. One aspect of this comes from the way martial arts helps you to integrate your entire body into your movements for maximum power and efficiency. Whether you’re throwing a punch, applying a joint lock, batting a baseball or throwing a football, there are three things you can do to help integrate your entire body.

1. Initiate Movement from the Hip. When you initiate any techniques with hip rotation, it allows you to coordinate the power of your lower and upper body for more efficient, more powerful movements. When throwing a punch, for example, if you initiate the punch with the rotation of your hips, it allows you to engage the muscles of your leg, core, upper back and shoulder muscles. When you start your movement from the hips, all the muscle energy of these body parts can be coordinated. The energy then travels up through the body and materializing into your punch, much like a whip. See The Difference between Fine and Gross Motor Striking Skills Part 2 for details.

2. Stay Loose. For your body to be used like a whip, it must be loose and supple. Think of how a whip works. It flexes all the way up the length of the whip so the energy can travel through and explode out the end. If there is any stiffness in the whip at any point, the energy would stop dead at that point. This is also true of the body. If you’re throwing a punch, and you’re stiff in the shoulders, for example, it won’t matter how well you use your hips. The energy would get caught up within the stiffness of the shoulders, preventing you from using your whole body. You must therefore stay relaxed and loose so the energy can travel.

3. Breathe Strategically. Your breath is a good way to both focus your movements and relax your body. By initiating your breath from deep within your core from the diaphragm or from the Hara/Tanden area, it helps you maximize the use of your core muscles. Breathing out also helps release tension in the body, allowing energy to flow freely. You can do all this by timing your breath with your punch, initiating your breath as your engage your hips and completing your breath as you make contact.

By using these 3 principles effectively, you’ll see a big difference in how much power you can generate and how much more effortless it will feel. These principles can also be used to improve joint locks, breakfalls and throws, though it’s easier to describe when it comes to strikes.

Comments (4)

4 thoughts on “How to Use Your Whole Body to Improve Martial Arts Technique

  1. I find that training has made me good at everything, from physical pursuits to academic and other pursuits. Best thing I ever did really.

    I like your description of the whip cracking, I'll have to try to apply it though because I need work

    Great post 🙂

  2. Hi Lori,
    I attended a black belt class last night where we had to defend ourselves "free style" against knife attacks, and although I have learned self-defense techniques agains knife attacks, I realised that my fear of knives got the best of me and I was innecetive! I came back to your blog to read your posts about knife psychology to help and encouragement me with this difficulty. I will be passing my second dan (kenpo karate) next fall, and I know I need much improvement with knife self defence. Thanks for your posts, they are very helpful!

  3. Sulvie, I'm glad it helped you. 🙂 If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

  4. Knives are just inanimated objects and in themselves not dangerous: in training you should focus on motion (left or right, straight or circular, up or down) and not what’s in his hand (empty hand, knife, stick, chain, bottle…). Just focus on not getting hit: he could be carrying a sword but if you have trained both body and mind to act in unison and automatically to motion you’ll always be safe (if you’re not there he will never be able to hit you). Emotions during battle are dangerous and will result in involuntary, ineffective movement and stalls in reaction-time, train to override them and be confident in your abilities. If you focus on his weapon or the possible results of getting attacked you’ll be defeated and you’ll invite the very thing you feared (getting hurt, being killed). As Ueshiba said: “don’t look at his sword or you will be defeated by his sword”. While fear may be natural it’s not productive except in drawing attention to potentially dangerous situations, if danger manifests itself suddenly there’s generally no time for fear and the body will just act. Whether or not this reaction will be effective or not depends on training and experience: a lot of car accidents are prevented by quick reaction and most people in that situation reported time slowing down and complete focus on the task at hand. This teaches us that if you have a set of automatic responses to attacking motions chances are high you’ll survive even very dangerous situations, if you don’t it’s karma and at least you did what you could. Most knife attackers are untrained and act out of rage or under the influence of some drug: these two factors actually give you a very good chance of survival since he’ll most likely be attacking in wide motions, committed to his objective and as long as you weren’t blindsighted it’s rather easy to evade or block and counter.

    The best preparation for any attack is frequent exposure (train knife defenses at least every class if you’re serious about getting competent), sparring (unscheduled, free flowing exercises mimicking reality) and quality instruction (picking only those techniques which have proven themselves effective in reality and not suicidal gestures like trying to stop a knife thrust with an x-block). If those three factors are present and you strive for excellence in your training (train hard, train smart, be critical of yourself and allow others to correct you) you don’t need to fear the knife anymore or at the very least you’ll be able to overcome the debilitating effects of fear and transform it in anger and effective, purposeful and violent action. If someone’s trying to kill you the appropriate response is anger and the will to destroy him, cowering and giving up is foolish and will greatly assist your attacker in reaching his objective. Whatever happens, always keep going and know your best chance of survival is counter-attacking and taking him out: if you damage him he’ll focus on the pain and not on hurting you, if you stay passive he’ll keep going until he hits you and especially with a knife one good attack reaching its mark is all it takes. The only way to effectively counter violence is employing even greater violence in response: whatever he does counter it quickly and violently and once you’ve broken his balance (physically and mentally) capitalize on this and finish the job. …

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