Many modern reality-based self-defense systems, including certain styles and schools of Krav Maga, are guilty of reinventing the wheel rather than drawing from and using ideas, concepts, and principles that have already been developed and proven. The traditional martial arts (Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, etc.) have already worked out many areas of combat that simply don’t require a great deal of re-examination.

One of these areas is power generation when striking. Quite simply, Boxers – I consider Boxing a traditional martial art – Karateka, Muay Thai practitioners, Taekwondo artists, etc. have answered every question there is regarding how to strike with power and how to generate different types of striking power (e.g. it requires a different type of power to break a board than to cause a concussion).

In this article, I want to look at three common principles, ideas, and lessons around power generation that these martial arts teach us, so that we can apply them to our own practice, regardless of the style or system that we practice or teach. As Bruce Lee said, we should “absorb what is useful”, and the traditional martial arts contain a lot of useful stuff where power punching and striking are concerned.

3 Principles in Traditional Martial Arts

Principle 1 – Using the entire body to strike with.

traditional martial arts principles

A punch or a kick, should be thrown not just with the limb that is striking (the delivery system) but with every part of the body. In fact, striking should be synergistic, where the sum of all the parts combined is greater than the whole. If a punch can encompass the power of the legs, hips, back, and shoulders, as well as the arm itself, it’s going to contain a lot more total power than each of these individual muscle groups in isolation.

If we can “chain” these muscles together into one combined movement, the power generated will be quite frightening. A punch should start from the floor, with the calf muscles pushing off it (this is the same with kicks) to drive the hip forward; the back muscles should pull and turn the shoulder and arm towards the target. Weight should be delivered forward as a consequence of this movement, and the arm should simply extend and rotate to drive the fist into whatever body part you’re intending to strike. This is how the whole body can be utilized to generate power.

You should also look to utilize the movement of a previous strike where possible, so that you are using both sides of the body to punch with. If you throw a strike with your forward hand, you should be pushing the same side hip forward, and pulling the opposite shoulder back, to turn the body and deliver maximum force to your punch. When you go to throw a strike with the opposite hand, you will need to “undo” this movement (e.g. you will need to pull back your hand, arm, and hip as you push your other hip, shoulder, and arm forward). This “pull back” motion should be active; you should be pulling one side of your body back as you drive the other one forward.

This way, the entire body, and not just half of it, is contained in the punch. If you are wanting to drive through your target with as much force as your body can muster, this is the way to do it.

Principle 2 – Sinking your hips and dropping your weight.

traditional martial arts principles

The more solid your striking platform is, the more power you will be able to generate. This can seem counter-intuitive at first, because it would seem that all of your weight should move forward into the target. However, people who overextend when striking lose some of the driving force with their strikes, because they don’t have a solid foundation to push and punch off of. Sinking the hips, so that they feel heavy when striking, will help you generate more power.

It is important when you do this to keep your feet “light”; the weight should center and drop into your hips rather than your feet and the floor. A simple way to do this when striking with the rear hand is to drop the rear knee towards the ground, making sure to keep 30-35% of your weight distributed on it. If you do this whilst keeping the back relaxed when you strike (Makiwara training or similar is a good way to train yourself to relax the back), you will see a significant increase in the power you can generate.

Principle 3 – Posture and Relaxation.

traditional martial arts principles

One of the greatest lessons that the traditional martial arts teach us is the importance of good posture. Watch a Kung Fu practitioner practicing a form or a Karateka a kata – the first thing that you will notice is how well their body is aligned. To strike with power, the head must be over the shoulders and the hips.

If we want all of our muscles to chain together to create the perfect punch and strike, they must be in a position to pull (contract) or push (extend) to their maximum ability. They can only do this when the body is upright, open, and relaxed (e.g. if you are hunched over, you will be tensing your back muscles and restricting and contracting the length of the fibers, which will limit the amount you can turn your torso and consequently take away power from your strike).

A common postural mistake I see when people are striking is lifting up and hunching the shoulders. When we shrug our shoulders, we tense up the muscles of the upper back (the trapezius muscles). Power is a result of speed, and a tightened muscle can’t move as quickly as a loose and relaxed one. When we power punch, our shoulders should be lowered into their sockets and the back muscles relaxed.

In a real-life conflict, this is something you will need to focus on, as under adrenaline when stressed and fearful, you will naturally shrug your shoulders to protect your neck and chin.

Everyone Can Learn Striking from Traditional Martail Arts

The traditional martial arts have made a science out of striking that everyone can learn from. If we are looking to punch or kick, we should be looking to do so with as much power as we can. By making sure our striking adheres to these three common principles, we can add power and focus to our striking, regardless of what martial art or self-defense system we practice.

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