Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ubiquitous Forces and All Martial Arts Methods - Summary

The past couple of blogs have been associated with the ubiquitous nature of forces within the physical techniques taught within the martial arts and used in violence generally. Admittedly, these blogs have not been as focused as they could be. This is a reflection of the process I go through when writing about a particular subject. It starts out lengthy, often over quoting resources, and is not focused. As I rework the work, and my understanding increases and the application of the theory to understand and study the methods of the martial arts crystallises, the focus sharpens. I've deleted the last two blogs on this subject and now present the following that the majority of the repertoire of techniques taught within the martial arts. The theory is equally applicable to armed and unarmed techniques.

Forces are ubiquitous within the martial arts and physical violence. Forces are involved in every physical method taught within every martial art and used in violence generally. They are the principle driving force behind the development of all the physical methods taught within every martial art.

Forces are the universal theory of martial arts methods that applies at all times in every situation that Jigoro Kano was searching for with respect to jujutsu techniques.

The effects of forces is to cause a change in motion or change in shape (deformation) of something to which forces have been applied. Think about all the physical techniques taught within the martial arts and you'll see forces are involved.

Balance. Applegate suggests that balance is the most basic fundamental principle of all in hand-to-hand combat. He advises that 'physical balance must be retained by the attacker and destroyed in the opponent.'

Carr (Sport Mechanic for Coaches) explains that athletes with great balance are able to neutralise those forces that would otherwise disrupt their performances. In this case the athlete is the combatant and the performance is the execution of effective offensive and defensive techniques. The forces to which Carr refers is any external force: gravity, friction, and forces applied by an opponent. Ways and means have been developed to neutralise those forces that threaten an exponent's balance. Ways and means have been developed within the martial arts to utilise the forces that threaten an opponent's balance so balance is destroyed in the opponent.

Stance. Okazaki and Stricevic (The Textbook of Karate) explain that stances are unique body positions taken to provide stability, balance, or mobility. Knudson (Fundamentals of Biomechanics) defines balance as the 'control of stability and the ability to move.' The ability to move is the definition of mobility. So, balance is the control of stability and mobility.

Carr describes stability as specifically referring to how much resistance a person puts up against having their balance disturbed. The more stable a person, the more resistance that person puts up to having their balance disturbed. Knudson explains that 'highly stable postures allow a person to resist changes in position, while the initiation of movement (mobility) is facilitated by the adoption of a less stable posture.' Highly stable postures provide more resistance to having a person's balance disturbed by external forces. Kreighbaum and Barthels (Biomechanics: A Qualitative Approach for Studying Human Movement) explain that 'forces account for the motion and changes of motion of all things in the environment.' Movement is facilitated by adopting a less stable posture which provides less resistance to the forces that cause a change in motion. This latter capacity is sometimes referred to as mobility.

Stability and mobility are inversely related. The more stable a person is, the less mobile they are, and vice versa. The less mobile a person, the less resistance that person puts up to having their balance disturbed by external forces, and vice versa. This inverse relationship can be envisioned as a stability-mobility continuum.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The disruptive forces applied by an opponent refer to both action and reaction forces. Action forces are forces applied directly by an opponent. Reaction forces are those generated when action forces are applied to an opponent when executing a technique on them. For instance, Watkins (An Introduction to Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise) suggests 'the boxer needs to ensure that he has adequate stability so that he can apply a large force without losing his balance as a result of the equal and opposite force exerted on his fist.' Stances are developed to deal with both action and reaction forces applied by an opponent.

Stances are designed to provide more or less resistance to forces depending on the tactical imperative. Many martial arts teach one stance (e.g. standard boxer's stance) that is a compromise between stability and mobility. Nakayama (Dynamic Karate) is unique in teaching different forms of a particular stance during the three stages in the execution of a technique. His stages can be made more generic in referring to contact with the opponent rather than executing a technique. Forces are applied to or by an opponent when contact is made, which requires stability to neutralise their disruptive potential. Before and after contact is made with an opponent, mobility is the imperative to evade an attack by an opponent and/or to move into position to attack the opponent. Of course we should not neglect the strategy of retreating which avoids the ever present risks associated with violence. Retreating emphasises mobility.

(How many types of stances are there? All stances when standing taught within the martial arts can be classified as either one-legged or two-legged stances. The two-legged stances can then be subdivided into parallel or staggered stances. All stances taught within the marital arts fit within this simple classification system, despite the often convoluted explanations associated with stances.)

Friction. Friction is a force that can potentially disrupt balance. The stances of some styles of pencak silat (Indonesian fighting art) emphasise stability during all three stages of contact with an opponent due to the slippery, muddy, low friction terrain. This then influences the 'footwork' or methods of moving, and the tactics and techniques taught by these styles because of the constant emphasis on stability within their stances.

Footwork or Methods of Moving. Walking has been described as a series of falls or series of falls and catches. Walking involves shifting from a stable to an unstable position (fall)when taking a step before shifting back to a stable position (catch) when the swinging foot makes contact with the ground again. The martial arts have developed ways of moving that reduce or eliminate the unstable/falling periods.

There are two basic ways of moving - shuffling or stepping. Carr explains that 'shuffling steps increase stability because they limit time spent on one foot.'

With regards to stepping, karate teaches a method of moving that shifts a person's centre of gravity over a platform foot before lifting their nonweight-bearing foot of the ground. This foot is then drawn close toward the platform foot in a 'C' movement before the centre of gravity and moving leg is 'propelled' forward (Nakayama). In this way the unstable phase of walking is reduced by half as the centre of gravity is located over a base of support until the propulsion forward. Tai chi, because of its very slow movements, teaches ways of moving whereby the centre of gravity is always located over a base of support, completely eliminating the unstable phase where the forces of gravity could disrupt their performance. The abovementioned styles of pencak silat also teach this type of movement due to the low friction provided by the terrain.

Unbalancing. Jujutsu and its derivative martial arts of judo and aikido teach unbalancing methods called kuzushi. Recall from above that Carr included forces applied by an opponent as being a cause of the disruption of a person's balance. In this case, the forces applied to an opponent are designed to disrupt their balance. In fact, Kano describes kuzushi in terms of forces. Adrian and Cooper (Biomechanics of Human Movement), in their chapter dedicated to the biomechanics of combatives, refer to the combinations of forces that Kano referred to as 'force-application patterns'.

Principles of Nonresistance. The principles of ju and ai in jujutsu and judo, and aikido respectively are based on nonresistance to forces being applied or attempted to be applied by an opponent. What is little appreciated is that in order to unbalance and control the opponent using their own force after their force has not been resisted necessitates forces being applied to the opponent.

Throwing Techniques. Adrian and Cooper explain that 'since judo throws are rotational, they rely on the development of torque.' Torque is the turning effect produced by a force. Sacripanti (Advances in Judo Biomechanics Research) provides a classification of judo throwing techniques based on torque. This classification is based on objective biomechanical principles and remedies the deficiencies inherent in the classification provided by Kano and others.

Takedown Techniques. Throwing techniques and takedown techniques are different types of techniques. A fact that is not generally understood even though both terms are used extensively in the martial arts. Both types of techniques cause a person to fall to the ground, but the forces applied to achieve that result are different. I explain the difference between these two types of techniques based on mechanical principles, including forces, in my draft Throwing Techniques and Takedown Techniques of ALL Martial Arts. I also develop a classification of takedown techniques for the very first time that is based on biomechanical principles, including forces.

Percussion Techniques. In addition to causing changes in motion, forces also cause deformation or changes in shape. Deformation of tissues beyond their limits is the definition of injury. Forces are applied to deform tissues when percussion techniques are executed. If the forces applied exceed the tissues tolerance levels, injury results. However, if the forces applied approach the tolerance levels, pain is often experienced without an injury being inflicted. Either way, percussion techniques involve the application of forces.

Blocking Techniques. Blocking techniques are designed to stop or deflect an opponent's percussion techniques. As stated above, forces cause changes in motion which includes stopping or changing the direction of something, in this case the opponent's attack.

Joint-locking Techniques. Jan de Jong would ask questions like, 'What are the forces involved in a straight arm lock?', in his black belt theory gradings. Unbeknown to De Jong himself, he was applying forces to understand, study, and explain joint-locking techniques. The discussion regarding injury and pain above apply equally to joint-locking techniques, and involves the application of forces. The answer's to De Jong's questions would have been far more succinct, focused, and accurate if the mechancial concept of force was understood and applied.

Strangulation Techniques. Strangles involve the application of a compressive force to the structures of the neck. Shime waza are techniques taught within jujutsu and its derivative arts that are designed to compress the structures of the neck using the exponent's arms or the opponent's clothing. Forces are applied to the opponent's neck by the exponent's arms or opponent's clothing. In the latter case, forces are applied by the exponent to the opponent's clothing which in turn applies forces to the opponent's neck.

Visualisation of Forces - A Necessary Skill. Kreighbaum and Barthels suggest that 'because forces account for the motion and changes of motion of all things in the environment, including the body and the body segments, it is important for the movement specialist to understand what forces are and how we can picture them as they are applied to or by a body.' They suggest the visualisation of forces is a necessary skill for, among others, teaches and coaches. Because forces account for changes in motion and changes in shape (deformation) of all things in the environment (don't forget that injury and pain results from deformation of bodily tissues) an understanding of what forces are and how we can picture then as they are applied to or by a body is a very useful skill for teachers and students of the martial arts. It provides the opportunity of understanding and studying all the techniques based on what actually makes them work. It focuses the explanation and attention to the factors that make them work, and provides the opportunity of clarifying the often convoluted explanations of these techniques.

And the beauty of it all is that the concept of forces is relative uncomplicated and easy to understand. I'll demonstrate this in the next blog.


  1. John, this is a really well researched and well thought out article - very interesting and informative. Well done.

  2. SueC, thank you for the feedback and the support your feedback provides. I have to confess the information becomes more refined as I redraft so hopefully the information contained in the book will be of far higher quality in terms of content and style.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.