The Difference Between Fine & Gross Motor Striking Skills – Part 2

It’s not that hard to learn how to learn the basic mechanics of a strike, whether it’s a punch, elbow strike or knee kick. (I’ll leave out kicks like side kick, roundhouse, and any other kick that requires you to develop a good sense of balance for them to be effective.)

That is why strikes are emphasized in the core curriculum of my style of Jiu-jitsu. Many of them can be learned and applied quickly because the basic mechanics of most of our strikes only require gross motor skills to apply them.

That being said, fine motor skills can be learned and applied to strikes to improve their effectiveness for long term development in the martial arts. In my last post, I talked about strike targeting (in relation to nerve motor/ pressure points) as a fine motor skill. In this post, I’ll discuss “snap” as a fine motor striking skill that also improves strike effectiveness.

Many moons ago, I trained in Shotokan Karate. I trained in it for a few years, long enough to earn my brown belt. While Karate is not as complementary to my style of Jiu-jitsu as a striking art as say boxing, I did none the less take away some very useful concepts that I still apply to my training now. One of these is the concept of snap.

To use “snap”, you keep your body relaxed throughout range of motion of a strike, then tensing your body and/or twisting your striking surface right at the moment of impact. This can greatly increase the power of your strikes.

Think of your body like a whip. Your striking surface, whichever one you’re using, is the end of the whip, your hips & legs are the handle, and your rest of your body in between is the length. You start your movement from the handle and, because the length of the whip is supple, the energy transfers all the way down the length as the handle continues its movement. Then, at the decisive moment, the handle sharply changes direction, an additional burst of energy shoots through the whip culminating at the end, resulting in a powerful “crack.”

Here’s a video showing whip cracking to help illustrate:

With the case of a punch, for example, you initiate the strike from the legs and hips (the handle), thrusting your fist out toward your target. You keep the rest of your body relaxed (the length of the whip) and then at the moment of impact, you twist your fist (the end of the whip) into the target while you tense your body. This takes the kinetic energy you have generated from your relaxed body and localizes it into your strike.

Here’s a good visual explanation on these mechanics that was provided on the TV series, the Human Weapon:

By focusing doing additional focus on fine motor striking skills like targeting and snap, you can vastly improve the effectiveness of your strikes over the long term (and this can be a very long term indeed!). But, of course, the long term development of the martial arts is what makes it so interesting. Or at least it does for me anyway. Plus, being a smaller person, I need every advantage I can get should I need to actually put strikes into practice in a self-defense siuation.

Comments (10)

10 thoughts on “The Difference Between Fine & Gross Motor Striking Skills – Part 2

  1. Take your time,it almost feels like I'm chasing you with a whip 😉 Although I learned this principle years ago I liked your explanation of the snap and the analogy with using a whip. Analogies and comparisons can clarify alot, I suspect your students appreciate this in your teaching.

    Enjoy the holidays.

  2. I know this is not really related to the subject of this post but what do you think of the karate way of punching as shown in the video? I have a number of problems with it but perhaps you as a brown belt in karate could shine your light upon the matter.

  3. Karate style stances and striking methods are not the most practical for self-defense purposes simply because it leaves you more open than say a boxing stance due to the low position of the arms in the guard. That being said, much like Aikido, it's not impossible to use in a practical context if you're really, really good at it.

    Take Lyoto Machida, the MMA fighter for example. He has the technique of evasion and counter-striking down to a fine art, using it successfully in the ring to down the likes of Rashad Evans.

    Like Aikido, it requires a longer commitment to develop a high enough level of skill with it before it becomes practical in a self-defense context. But, because of the focus on making every block a disabling strike and every strike a killing blow (according to the original philosophy behind the art, 'Ikken, Issatusu', in English 'To kill with one blow.'), there is a lot any martial artist can take away from the art in terms of developing striking power through body mechanics among other things.

  4. I fully agree on the lack of protection, in almost any art I’ve ever trained in I was told to keep my hands up at all times which is common-sense of course but apparently karateka don’t bother. If you’re going to fight with your hands down you’d better be able to down your opponent with your first blow or you will be sorry, while it’s obvious a knockout with only strike is very possible I seriously doubt you could actually kill a man with it (not unless you got lucky). Who’d want to kill someone anyway? While I’d like to keep my nose intact and my wallet in my possession I’m not prepared to take a life for it. For defense I prefer light, quick parries and evasion (bobbing, weaving, ducking, slipping) over hard blocks: for one you’re quicker and you’ll be in a better position to counterstrike since you don’t need to involve your whole body in the block. Besides that hard blocks leave you open to further strikes if he fakes the first one, again with a hard block you need to commit the entire body and it doesn’t leave much room for error. As to hard blocks being used to disable: I don’t buy it, not unless you’re very strong or he’s very weak. Clashing forearms into each other is likely to injure you at least as much as him, even if you manage to damage him a bruise and some pain isn’t going to take someone out of a fight once they’re committed to it.

    About Machida: while he’s clearly a great fighter to me his victories don’t prove karate is a viable fighting art or very biomechanically efficient. For one he clearly modernized his techniques and mixed it with elements from other styles and b) one swallow doesn’t mean it’s spring: what applies to an exceptionally gifted individual doesn’t necessarily apply to the average Joe training in a karate strip mall. To me this is hardly proof of karate’s effectiveness, especially the more traditional forms. The mere fact that almost everyone in the UFC uses some kind of non-traditional kickboxing (as far as striking is concerned) is fare more convincing when it comes to the usefulness and effectiveness of boxing as the primary means of using the hands than one individual whose supposed principal style is karate. If karate was truly effective regardless of special circumstances or individual skills far more people would adopt it which they clearly don’t now. The great majority of professional fighters simply discard karate (even when they were originally trained in it like Bas Rutten) while it is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, worldwide. I guess this is illustrates the differences between amateurs and professionals although I do not dispute there are other possible reasons and explanations for this phenomenon (tradition, history, personal development…). …

  5. In fighting I value speed, fluidity and mobility: in sparring I rely on this more than anything else and as far as I can see karate is seriously lacking in all three areas. What I dislike most about karate is the mechanical, saw-action type of punching: in combat you should flow and constantly throw feints and attacks in combinations, not go charging through the opponent like a wild bull hoping he won’t just side-step. If you don’t have mobility and fluidity (which white crane kung-fu does have, funny it’s the ancestor of okinawan karate) and your opponent does he’ll have a huge advantage, I seriously don’t get why people still put up with clearly outdated techniques and ineffective training methods. Training in karate might give you an advantage against a totally untrained person but against a skilled opponent you’ll suffer, no wonder karateka adopted boxing when they started fighting in the ring with full-contact (the birth of American kickboxing). Honestly: all due respect to style and tradition but there are more effective alternatives to certain traditional techniques. Evolution theory teaches us that every species that doesn’t evolve will die out sooner or later, why shouldn’t the same apply to martial arts and styles? I’m not an MMA fanatic but at least they made an attempt at separating truth from fiction, as did Bruce Lee and Imi Lichtenfeld. In the old days the effectiveness of style and technique was simply tested on the battlefield, duels or other types of life-and-death struggles: the most effective fighter lived to teach others and this knowledge got passed on and was refined. This is how styles were born but as with everything fighting changes and what was effective in centuries past may not be so effective today.

    I know others will disagree but to me practicality really should be the basis of the MA: granted there are other things that are important as well and it’s not about being the world’s greatest fighter or warrior (if you play your cards right the chance of getting involved in a serious fight are pretty slim) but seeing something can be improved upon and still sticking with the old out of laziness or misguided respect for teachers or founders to me is idiocy and a disservice to both yourself and those that came before you.
    As Bruce Lee said a style or form is merely an hypothesis and not an irrevocable truth: one individual came up with a certain technique or tactic which seemed to work at the time and that’s great but it’s not the be all and end all to every imaginable situation. I don’t know where I read this but this is great advice: “Don’t just do what the masters did, seek out what they sought and become a master yourself.” The MA really should be about the individual and personal development, tradition and art are only secondary to that. The art is not important, the individual is since he or she is alive while the art only lives through individuals but if it does not evolve it’ll stagnate and die just like everything else.

  6. Take my words for what they are. I never suggested that Machida was proof that Karate was an effective martial art as a whole. No one person can ever be proof of the effectiveness of an art, not even Bruce Lee. All I was saying was that he applied one specific aspect of his art very well in the MMA arena.

    While some of the more traditional arts aren't necessarily as practical, as martial artists, we should want their existence to continue and to have masters take them to their highest heights. Just because they might not be as practical as a whole does not mean that there aren't aspects within those arts that can be applied practically with certain modifications, like the aspects I focused on in my post.

    The reason why the original Karateka in Okinawa had the philosophy of trying to "kill with one blow" is because they were unarmed peasants fighting against fully armed Samurai. It's not that they were delusional and thought that "killing with one blow" was always possible. The goal was to try and end the fight as quickly as possible because if they didn't, the Samurai was likely to draw his sword and kill him in one attack of his katana.

    As a result, they tried to refine striking power to its maximum effectiveness. And there are masters out their who strive to keep this refinement alive. If these types of arts simply die off, we may lose what they have to offer.

    MMA is hardly a proving ground for street effective martial arts, or any other type of sport martial art for that matter. And yet, the sporting arena, with MMA being one of the most popular ones by far, is the biggest influence on the popularity of the martial arts today. But what do sports teach of defending against weapon attacks, or multiple attackers, or in situations where there are extreme size and weight differences (say like a small woman against a 220 lb man)?

    Society in general can't seem to look past what they see on TV, which means the popularity of a martial art is by no means indicative of what arts are most street effective. If anything, what the police and military use holds more weight as to evolving martial art effectiveness.

    Something to think about anyway.

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