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More about power


More elements of power.


  • Power production. Power is increased when we
  • Move the entire body as a unit.
  • Focus all the force into one area.
  • Use stable stances.
  • Use the lever action of the joints.
  • Create a reaction force through coupled movements.
  • Key to power. Do not forcibly try to punch or kick with power; concentrate on proper technique and power will come. The harder you try; the less power is generated. I have seen students at rank testing fail to break their boards on the first try. Then to try to kick or punch harder, they bear down and forcibly kick or punch again. When that fails, they tense up and forcibly try to kick or punch even harder, which usually results in a failure to break the boards. I have also seen students fail to break on the first or second try, then stop, take deep breaths, relax, kick or punch smoothly and precisely, and break the boards easily on the next try.
  • Backup mass. The martial arts use the entire body (the backup mass) to reinforce blocks, kicks, and strikes. The backup mass must be directly behind the technique to achieve maximum power. For example, a battering ram that is placed on the front-center of a vehicle is more effective than one placed off-center. If the battering ram is in the front-center and it connects with an object, the vehicle’s mass will be directly behind the ram and will be added to the striking force. However, if the ram is off-center, the mass of the vehicle will twist the ram and lessen its striking force.
  • Rhythm. Rhythm is a timed pattern of movement marked by the regular recurrence of related elements. Why is rhythm related to power? Martial arts movements must be rhythmic and flow naturally or the sequential application of forces will not occur. One must be in sync with the movements of the opponent to be able to strike the intended target with power.
  • Strength. More strength is required initially to move a fist and then quickly increase its acceleration. Thus, increasing muscular strength will increase the quickness and power of a punch. Since it also takes strength to stop the motion of a punch, increasing muscular strength also increases the control of a punch.
  • Time of contact. When a punch contacts the opponent, forces are transferred to the opponent’s body. Since the body is composed mostly of water, which cannot be compressed, these forces are transferred through the opponent’s body to its base and to the ground. Since the ground cannot be compressed, these forces rebound back through the opponent’s body to the point of impact.

    If the striking surface is still in contact with the opponent, some of these forces are transferred back into the puncher's body. If the striking surface is no longer in contact with the opponent’s body, the reflected forces stay within the opponent’s body again where they may do greater damage. Therefore, to achieve maximum power transfer, the striking surface’s time of contact with the opponent must be as brief as possible. Upon contact and penetration, punches are immediately withdrawn so maximum power is transferred to the opponent.
  • Duration of force. As the distance a punch must travel to reach its target increases, the longer it takes for the punch to reach its target. This means it will have a greater striking force since it has more time to accelerate, but it also gives the opponent more time to block or avoid the punch. Therefore, there is a trade-off between power and quickness. While sparring, one must constantly make split-second choices as to what level of power or quickness is required at a given point in time. 
  • Leverage. Arms generate more power when they are held close to the body. For example, when twisting a jar cap open, hold the jar in close to your body so you can apply more force to the cap. You don’t hold the jar at an arm’s length when opening the jar. Another example, when pulling a rope, you generate more power if you keep your arms bent with the hands held close to the body. If your arms are outstretched, you are much weaker. If you are pulling an opponent, the closer you are to the opponent the greater your pulling force. When twisting an attacker's wrist, you can apply more force if you hold the wrist close to your body.
  • Constant motion. As stated in Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest tends to remain at rest and an object in motion tends to remain in motion. This means it takes more strength to move a stationary fist than it does to keep it in motion. Conversely, it also takes more strength to stop the motion than it does to maintain the motion. So, keep your hands moving, not stationary. They will react more quickly if they are moving. The same principle applies to keeping the body in constant motion.
  • Flexibility. Flexibility permits muscular strength to be applied fully and safely to the execution of a punch. Increasing flexibility of the entire body permits arms and legs to extend further and increases their range of motion, thus, increasing their power. Increased flexibility also reduces the chances of injury by increasing the range of motion of muscles and ligaments, thus reducing the chance of them exceeding their limits of motion.
  • Breath control. To generate maximum power in a technique, you must use proper breath control. A kiai (yell) is used during the execution of any technique to control the breath and focus your concentration and power.

    Dercks, Lässig, and Ebert, at the Carl-Ludwig-Institute of Physiology, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany conducted a study on the acceleration and timing of a karate punch inside the breathing cycle. Subjects performed a punch during four phases of breathing: during inspiration, after inspiration, during expiration, and after expiration. The peak value of breath flow was found after the maximum velocity of the punch. The highest amount of acceleration of a punch appeared during the expiration of a breath. A well-performed karate punch seems to have a fixed relation to breathing. 
  • Calm mind. To execute a powerful technique that strikes its intended target before the opponent can react, the mind must remain calm and relaxed, while also achieving maximum concentration. Concentration does not mean you must be tense. On the contrary, to concentrate on the movements of an adversary, the mind must be calm so it may react quickly to any attack. Calmness in the midst of turmoil can be achieved through the practice of meditation and through hours and hours of free-sparring. With a calm mind, you are not distracted by internal negative thoughts, the opponent, or by any other external distractions.
  • Leverage. The angle of a limb joint at impact affects the power delivered by the limb. When a limb is at full extension (180º), it has no power left in it. If the limb has some bend in it (<180º) at impact, it still has some power left in it that may be used if the target range was misjudged and more extension is required.
  • Mass transfer. Straightening the rear leg and lowering the hips at impact adds body mass to the strike. Drop vertically or at a forward oblique, keep the body erect, do not lean. Mass transfer requires the moment of impact of a punch to be simultaneous with the planting of the stepping foot. Holding the center of mass slightly higher in anticipation of executing an attack will allow you to transfer more mass into the attack. Holding the center of mass slightly lower in anticipation of receiving an attack will allow you to brace yourself against the attacking force.
  • Hand twist. Punches and many other hand techniques use hand twist. As the technique is executed, the hand rotates and "snaps" into the impact, like the way Mohamed Ali jabbed. The retracting hand untwists and is reset so it may then twist into another technique. When punching, align the elbow, arm, and shoulder behind the fist so they transfer all their power to the fist. The twist occurs a split second before impact so that maximum force is transferred to the opponent.
  • Extraneous movement. When a fist or foot moves directly at an opponent, it is difficult for the opponent to detect the movement. The eye perceives the fist as getting larger as it gets closer, but there are few other visual cues to alert the opponent of its movement. It the fist swings out to the side, as in a hook, it may alert the opponent to the attack. 
  • Linear/circular motion. Power may be applied in a linear or a circular motion. A punch may be executed as a straight jab or as a hook. Each generates power in a different way. The jab has the mass of the body directly behind it and it may be executed quickly, but it only has a short distance in which to generate its power. The hook has more of the twisting force of the body and hips behind it and has a greater distance over which to generate its power, but since it moves over a greater distance, it is slower than the jab. The choice between a linear attack and a circular attack depends on the situation, the opponent’s skill, size, quickness, etc. and on your skill, size, quickness, etc. 
  • Focus. Focus is the coordinated use of all the above principles to concentrate all the forces the body may generate into one technique to a specific target at a specific instant. Development of focus requires strong character, determination, perseverance, and firm will. Focus develops slowly through hours and hours of dedicated training.
  • Conservation of energy. When a technique is executed in proper form with power and speed, it is the most efficient use of energy. Maximum efficiency is the attainment of maximum power with minimum energy expended. Techniques performed with maximum efficiency conserve the most energy. This means one will have the energy reserves to fight longer and with more power.
  • Combination of forces. Power can be increased by combining forces. Two forces may be combined to make a much larger force. If you push back against a pushing opponent, the forces compete and the person with the greater push will win. If you pull back against a pulling opponent, the forces compete and the person with the greater pull will win. However, you pull a pushing opponent or push a pulling opponent, the forces combine and the opponent will fall.
  • Redirection of the attacking force. Redirect your opponent’s power by:
  • Using the minimum force needed to deflect the attacking force.
  • Using circular motions, to deflect the attacking force.
  • Moving like rushing water; never stop, just change direction and keep moving in the intended direction.
  • Stretch reflex. If a muscle is stretched and relaxed, and then immediately contracted and used, it will create more force than if it had just been contracted without being pre-stretched. As applied to kicks, you should first bend the kicking knee completely (chamber). This pre-stretches the muscles on the front of the thigh (quadriceps), the ones that contract during the kick. Hand techniques work essentially the same way. With the arms are in a guard position, the muscles (anterior deltoid, pectoral, and triceps) are stretched and relaxed, ready to contract and attack.

    Terminology concerning muscles and joints can be confusing. When the knee joint is bent it is flexed and, the quadriceps muscles are stretched. When the knee joint is almost straightened (never lock out a joint), it is extended, and the quadriceps are contracted. Think of the joint, and the muscles that move it, as separate things.
  • Sequential application of forces. Do not unleash all your power at the beginning of a technique. Muscles must act sequentially to coordinate their power to culminate at the movement of impact. The larger slower muscles must contract first with the smaller, quicker muscles acting near the end of the technique.

    As an example of the sequential application of forces, I like to use the Curl-up, a centipede-like creature created by the graphic artist M. C. Escher. When the Curl-up runs, while in its extended position, no matter how fast its legs move it just cannot generate much speed. However, when it curls its back up and into a circle so all the legs are on the outside of the circumference, each set of legs sequentially pushes the Curl-up forward, which allows it to achieve a high speed. When performing a martial arts technique, if individual muscles sequentially apply their forces to the technique, much more power may be generated than if they applied their forces in unison. 

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