The Science of that kicky hitty stuff….er Karate striking!
So, I took a class from the fantastic instructor Saeki Sensei in Saskatoon Saskatchewan this past week end and it was fantastic. First off the group in Saskatoon is off the chain nice and anyone passing through that town NEEDS to contact Brad Barnes to get in a few classes with this crew. They are so nice its like finding out you have family in some town you have never been to and then just clicking when you get their…and damn if they are not great hosts.
But I digress, the point was that Sensei brought up some Physics in one of his classes, just a brief mention of the Force Equation and off my mind was reeling. And as any of you regular readers of my blogs will know…I don’t sleep much so I had TONES of time to look at the equation and really wrap my head around it. First off…I suck at math, but ideas and mechanical philosophy…that’s FUN to me. So, I started to explore it from a “how can I make someone hit ‘harder’” point of view and realized a few things.
First off for those that don’t know the equation for force generation is F=M*A. F- is the end resultant of the other two and represents the amount of force that one can generate. Think of it as “if I hit a Makiwara how much energy is actually going into the darn thing”…that’s force. But how do we get to this. Okay, you take the amount of Mass that one has to recruit (the ‘M’ in the equation obviously) and you times it by the speed or acceleration (the “A” in the equation) and that’s what the FORCE is. So, if I have an amount of mass I can recruit of say 10, meaning my bone, muscle recruitment…..note I was not saying how much muscle I had..but it is part of it, and how much tissue is involved and I throw the punch just with my arm movement like a boxer and say the acceleration represents 10 again….well I have a equation of F=10*10 or F=100. In this case the outcome is in a unit called a Newton…as in Sir Isaac Newton.
Great, cool! What the hell does that mean to me…and well….so what right! Well, to really dig deeper we would need to learn more about kinetic energy, power, Torque, Rotational power, Work energy and Efficiency, Impulse momentum, lines of force, efficiency, momentum, and velocity to name a few….Oh, Did I mention I totally GEEK out from time to time….but we don’t have time for all that so I am going to just show you what I was thinking using the old F=M*A equation as a fall back. And yes, I know its not 100% but lets face it we are learning to punch someone in the face…its not rocket science…well you know what I mean.
First off let me say that this simple view will be based on how to improve someone’s force, it wont make them “better at Karate” in general, its just a point of view on force development in a single technique. I will be using Gyaku zuki, my favorite technique, to explain this theory of how to improve your power/Force. As an instructor I see so many mistakes and also find little answers when teaching people. We are intrinsically all genius level athletes at the core of our being, we just let things like life, work and such get in the way of our development in this regard. When we are born our body has an unlimited amount of potential to do anything and over time we tend to let things go, we work in one direction and away from our inner athlete and develop skills in other fields.
Each human has a potential mark when talking about applying force. We have what I like to call a terminal velocity point for power generation and a terminal mass point as well, which means we have a terminal force point as well. What that means is we can only recruit so much mass and strength and move so fast so we can never out ‘power’ our own potential ‘power’ point. However I also think that 99.9% of Karate people tend to strike way way way below their terminal point. What I means is that big bad Sandan wacking away at that Makiwara is missing something that would make him really bend the wood back or even snap it…and he does not know it! They strike away impressed with the ‘thwack’ it makes and forget that they could be devastatingly better.
Many years ago a university did a study on force production by using a sensor pad and having a famous boxer (heavy weight) come in and strike it on a heavy bag and a famous Karate guy do the same. The boxer was ten years younger and a great deal bigger than the Karate expert and everyone thought it was not fair to have this be the corner stone of the study….except the Karate people…they felt bad for the champion boxer. The boxer struck the machine 8 times and his average was about 800N per strike, about enough to give you a major concussion and knock you out easily. This is actually very impressive as most Karate students up to Nidan average about 600N.
The Karate instructor stepped up and hit the pad one time. He then walked over and picked up his jacket and put on his glasses and bowed to the scientists and left. His strike measured 1200N…enough to bread your skull and kill you. The reason was not he was stronger! The Heavy weight fighter was probably strong enough to really hurt the Karate instructor if it was a wrestling match….the reason…he was more efficient and had a much faster punch…the acceleration was off the scale.
So, how do we as Karate-ka and Instructors help ourselves and others increase our force or power in our strikes. Well essentially you need to increase your mass or your acceleration…so get stronger and bigger or faster.
Before we dig a bit deeper into this very shallow representation I want to make one thing clear, if you don’t have efficiency and technical form none of this will work! If your technique is off or you don’t have efficiency in your movements then not only will you lack the increase in power you want but you are more likely to hurt yourself and not generate any power really. In fact it may be that this is the most important part of being able to increase your striking power. The two people I mentioned were real, one was a boxer that threw punches with his trunk and arms only the other a Karate master that used his stance, trunk and arm to create power…this made it much easier.
So, one way to increase “power” or “force” is to increase mass. This, in our terms, means the ability to recruit more muscle for movement and or strength. However, this is counter productive. First off most tools we have to increase mass include things like weight training and this means increased slow twitch muscle that puts a strain on the ratio between fast twitch and slow twitch muscle. Guys bulk up all the time to get stronger, lifting heavy weights and getting HUGE….but slow as hell. They push when they hit because they cant snap out a technique at all.
It sounds like I am down on weight training, Im not. However if it is used to condition muscles to guard against injury and also to help with muscle recruitment then it is a good thing. However most people get sucked into the “bigger is better” ideal and they go nutty and get big. They forget form and start doing Karate like a weight lifter…they get slow and they are inefficient in their movements as they are working to “flex” the muscles improperly. Again, weight training and body weight exercises are FANTASTIC as an adjacent training component, but in my opinion an inefficient and counterproductive method for increased power in your movements.
If you use only power lifting and conditioning to increase your force the equation would be look something like F=10*10 > F=20*7…due to the decrease in acceleration potential and the increase in mass…the first equation equals 100N and the second 140N. That’s a whole lot of work for 40N!
Now lets look at the other side of the coin, increasing speed/acceleration. To do this you need to include one other component that will help even more…..repetition. To increase speed you need to recruit muscle fibers faster and cause mechanical improvements to get your speed up, so as in the case of Gyaku zuki you will need better trunk rotation, better rotation of the shoulders/hips and a better rear leg connection to the floor….then you need to do it faster!
So, to increase speed you need to have better form….to me this is the GOLDEN items that will make your Karate better! Why get bigger and slower when you can maintain your current mass and just get faster? Well its not that easy to get faster. We all have a simple maximum speed we can get to and no amount of training will increase this potential point…but the nice thing is most of us are not as fast as we could be and we can overcome a bit more of that maximum with efficiency in movement and repetition of movement to make them automatic and correct.
Keeping in mind that there are several intangibles that are not being really looked at, of which I mentioned previously, let’s look at increase speed/acceleration and why it’s better than building mass. If you can learn to recruit the proper muscles and use better form, then do it faster by repetition and basically better mechanics as well as building better speed you will have a more positive resultant than just mass. Why? Because you don’t limit your speed and you maintain your mass. So your equation looks more like F=10*10 > F=10 *15 for a total increase from 100N to 150N or more.
One of the missing points as well is if you have bad form it brings down the total of acceleration and mass as well so by increasing your speed and improving your technique and Keeping mass about the same you end up with a formula that looks something like F=10*10 > F=13*15. So a total of 195N a 95N increase for just keeping fit and improving your speed and form a bit. That’s a great trade off!
So after all of this, what does it mean for a coach/Sensei/Instructor? Or even as a student? Well it means that when you are teaching Karate it is far more effective to teach proper form, good functional movement and recruitment of the proper muscles than it is to have them doing extra weight training and calisthenics. Its great to stay in shape but if you have poor form you will still hit like a marshmallow and you wont be able to affect great power transfer to the target. When teaching look at form, functional transference and then focus on speed when looking for more power in the techniques.
Power and speed have many variants that affect them and the way that power is created and transferred, but it has been my experience that when people say they want to hit harder they don’t pay attention to the second part of the equation and focus on building strength and mass…and this inevitably ends up slowing them down and killing their power. Train for speed and form and you will get more out of the whole process in the way of results than if you were to go lift weights and not pay attention to the other more important ways to get ahead of the power game.