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In the martial arts, the term control refers to the precise control used in controlling the force of an offensive or defensive technique. Control is one characteristic of traditional taekwondo and karate that sets them apart from other martial arts. Many fighting arts teach and train to strike with full force in every attack while control requires the martial artist to precisely control the depth an attack penetrates the target depending on the intent of the attacker, the physical size and strength of the attacker, and the circumstances of the attack. This type or control requires many years of training.

How to control techniques

Control is the ability to focus a full-power technique to a predetermined point in space. With proper control, a martial artist may execute a full-power punch that breaks through a stack of boards or execute a full-power punch that just barely touches the tip of a young student's nose. With proper control, you may aggressively spar an opponent using full-power techniques and not injure the opponent, even if he or she never blocks any of the techniques. The mark of true martial artists is their precise control of full-power, fully-extended techniques.

Control comes from the proper use of range. The only difference between a full-power technique that kills and a full-power technique that merely touches is range. The distance between you and the target. This difference in range between no-contact and full-contact is only 1-3 inches. This does not mean that during sparring sessions you stop your techniques one inch short—since all techniques are executed full-power and full-extension—it means you adjust your range (distance between you and your opponent) by one inch. Control requires one to develop an instinctive feeling of range through training. Just as your brain has been trained to make involuntary adjustments of your body to maintain balance while walking, control training trains the brain to make constant involuntary adjustments to range while sparring.

Regrettably, control is not stressed in martial arts training as much as it was before the advent of protective sparring equipment. In the past, to score a point, the technique had to be full-power, full-extension and within an inch of the target without hitting the opponent. Now, with protective sparring equipment taking most of the danger from accidental strikes, control is not considered as important. However, if a trained martial artist ever strikes another person in the real world, even if in self-defense, and kills the person, the martial artist may be charged with murder. The courts assume a trained martial artist has full control of his or her strikes, so, if a strike kills, the courts may assume the martial artist must have intended to kill.

In a case a few years ago, after a martial arts demonstration at a shopping mall, a black belt was signing autographs for some young women. A boyfriend of one of the women got jealous and attacked the black belt who punched the attacker. The attacker fell backward to the floor and died. The black belt was subsequently convicted of voluntary manslaughter, instead of involuntary manslaughter or justifiable homicide because the jury assumed that since the black belt was trained in killing techniques and to control his power he must have intended to strike the man hard enough to kill him.

What if the range changes after execution

What if your opponent suddenly changes the range after you have fired a technique? If your opponent increases the range, you are in no danger of hitting him or her but you may be tempted to extend your technique further than originally intended and reach in an attempt to "catch-up" to your opponent. Remember, the target for all techniques is a point in space. That point may be on the surface of your opponent's protective helmet.

If the helmet moves away from you, your target point does not move with it. Therefore, do not reach after the opponent and expose yourself to a counterattack, you just complete the technique to the original point in space, and then fire another technique to a point at the new location.
If your opponent decreases the range, you have a few options:
  • Slow or stop the technique before it makes contact. Slowing or stopping a technique requires applying negative forces to the technique to slow or stop the technique. In effect, you "slam on the brakes" and hope the technique will stop or at least slow enough not to injure the opponent.
  • Another way to stop a technique is to totally relax and remove all muscle tension in the attacking limb. In a living person, the body is constantly under involuntary muscle tension, even when unconscious. When a person dies, the muscle tension instantly ceases.

    If a person faints or is knocked out, voluntary and involuntary muscular control is interrupted, and the person falls. However, since involuntary muscle tension is still in effect, the person falls in some direction. If a person is instantly killed, such as by a suicide gunshot to the brain, muscle tension immediately ceases and the person collapses in an instant. At one instant, the person is standing normally with a gun to his or head, then the trigger is pulled and, in an instant, the person is in a pile on the floor. The person does not fall over, he or she just collapses to the floor in an instant. With no muscle tension in the body, it collapses like a wet rag.

    If you need to stop a punch that is about to strike an opponent, and, if you can consciously reduce muscle tension in your punching arm, the arm will be like a wet noodle and will harmlessly bounce off the opponent. Have you ever awoke after lying on your arm to find the arm feels "dead." Not only does it not have any feeling, it just hangs uselessly, like a wet noodle. If you were to spin your body so the arm could hit someone, it would not cause any serious injury.

    Practice stopping a technique by instantly reducing muscle tension in the arm and relaxing it so it becomes limp. Since you cannot "slam on the brakes" or redirect a technique without a great amount of muscle tension, you cannot use this relaxing method at the same time you are using these methods.
  • Redirect the technique to a target where less harm will occur. For example, a punch toward the chin may be redirected toward a shoulder so the impact will not cause serious injury.
  • Strike the opponent and possibility cause injury. This is not a good option, but sometimes it happens to the best of us.

Critics of control

Some martial arts, such as A. S. P. (American Self Protection), believe that teaching beginning students to focus is not only unnecessary but also dangerous. They argue that any attempt to control an attack may result in an ineffective attack or an unnecessarily damaging attack (actually, this would be the result of not using proper control). These critics believe that, when students train to deliver attacks using light-contact, they won’t know how to use full-contact if the situation calls for it. Hogwash! That’s what training in control does; it trains you to use no, light, and full-contact techniques and when it is appropriate to use each. Again, the only difference between no-contact and full-contact is range. To use full contact, you just stand an inch closer to the opponent.

If you master control, you will impress spectators more than a person who performs spectacular breaking techniques. Almost anyone off the street can break a board with raw power, but only a highly-trained martial artist can execute a technique with precise control.

Control of techniques

It is easy to control linear attacks, such as a side kick or a jab, in a non-contact sparring match. Since you know how long your leg and arm is, all you have to do is adjust your range to the target. Rarely does a linear technique make contact or hit any harder than originally indented. However, it is more difficult to control angular or circular techniques.

In an angular technique, such as a round kick or an overhand punch, control is more difficult but still manageable. In the round kick, the body and upper leg rotate while the weight is centered over the rotating base foot. If you stop the rotation at exactly 180 degrees so the knee is pointed at the target, when the kick fires, you know exactly where it will impact, since the last motion of the kick is only from the knee to the foot and ends with a straight leg. The lower leg has very little mass so it is relatively easy to stop its motion if necessary. In an overhand punch (a punch that moves up and over the opponent’s guard and then down to the target), if there is a problem, the arm’s motion must be stopped or redirected. Since the arm has little mass and the shoulder muscles are so strong, this is relatively easy to do. Angular techniques occasionally make contact, but when they do, the contact is still relatively light.

Circular techniques, such as a circular style crescent kick, a heel kick, or a hook punch, are very difficult to control. If not avoided or blocked, circular techniques will make contact and will probably make hard contact, so most injuries in no or light-contact sparring come from circular techniques.
In each of the kicks, since the leg is straight during the kick, to stop the kick, the entire mass of the leg must be stopped. Since the mass is so great and the hip muscles are not strong enough to stop it when it is in motion, it is difficult, if not impossible, to stop the kick, so the best thing to do is to try to drop the kick straight down to the floor.

Since the arm mass is so light, it can be relatively easy to stop or redirect a hook punch. The problem is that most people only train in performing a hook punch with a full range of motion, so when control is needed, they don’t do so well.

To help control circular techniques, students need to practice using control. Instead of a circular crescent kick, a snap crescent kick (like a front snap kick that strikes with the side of the foot against the side of the opponent) may be used. Snap kicks are easier to control.

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