Well, physicists explain it in a simple mathematical formula: Energy equals mass times acceleration. This means that in order to generate power, we need to move as much mass as possible, as quickly as we can. For those physicists or science efficionados among you (of which I am neither, so forgive my crude explanations), I’ll return to this later.
Dr Schneider, in mind of this formula, highlights important principles that allow us to generate power in our strikes. These are universal principles and are not system-specific, but rather discuss biomechanical principles. I emphasise this once more - these principles relate to generating power, which is only a one component of effective striking.
1. Focus – this refers to our aim, in the context of the strike’s penetration depth. Simply put, in order to generate power, we should be able to punch through, rather than at, the target. This will allow us to transfer as much weight as possible.
2. Kinetic Chaining/Interfusion – This is often referred to as ‘punching your weight’. This principle relates to using one’s entire body to generate power, rather than just the striking limb. By using the ground as a base to generate power and rotating the hips we activate the muscles in our legs, hips, and upper body. As the energy travels through the larger muscles groups it increases and allows us to move more mass quicker.
3. Posture/alignment – Head above shoulders above hips above knees above feet. Our bodies are meant to function with good alignment and posture. This can be thought of os the platform from which we fire. Breaking that structure means the platform off of which you are trying to generate energy is not stable, which means you will not be able to do so efficiently, in addition to affecting other things such as aim, speed, etc.
4. Combinations – When we throw a combination of strikes, we shift our weight from side to side; this means that after the first strike, we have more weight to shift and should therefore hit harder on the second strike, all other things being equal. Let’s look at an example: if we start with a weight distribution of 50-50 and shift to 60-40 when we strike a single blow, we have shifted 10% of our weight. If we then strike using the opposite side, we shift from 60-40 to 40-60 and have now transferred 20% of our weight. More weight shifted means more power.
5. Dropping your weight - Generally speaking, a lower centre of gravity allows for more power. It allows us a more stable platform from which to fire the shot, and often forces us to engage the hips more, as well as using gravity to help us increase the acceleration of the strike. Boxers are masters at dropping their weight every-so-slightly a fraction of a second before impact. Traditional martial arts forms, or kata, often emphaise keeping a low centre of gravity and maintaining it through movement, partly for that reason.
6. Contact surface area – The larger the surface area with which you make contact, the less focused and more dispersed the energy. This means that in order to generate power, we need to minimize the contact surface area. When punching, for example, one can generate much more power by only making contact with the knuckles than with the entire fist.
7. Relaxation – Tension makes us rigid, which makes us slow. In order to accelerate quickly, one must be relaxed. Think of this as an equivalent of trying to accelerate your car with the handbrake still engaged. That being said, upon contact you must have enough structural support to allow you to make contact without breaking form (for example, the wrist bending upon contact when punching). This means that while we want to be relaxed through the process of striking, the muscles must be activated on contact (think of this as ‘relaxed tension’ perhaps?) to ensure a safe structure.
8. Eliminate negative energy – When delivering a strike, all of your body must work in sync in order to generate real power. This means that if we try and strike in a particular direction, our whole body has to align not only to allow but also to support the movement. For example, it is harder to generate power when moving backwards as opposed to forward. Another good example is throwing head kicks when one is not flexible enough to do so; Inevitably we compensate by leaning the top of the body back to allow for the range of movement, which means we are accelerating some weight forward and some back, thus reducing the power of the kick. Yet another example is body rotation. In order to throw a good right cross, you must rotate your body to the left to accelerate the right hand forward. Try doing this the other way around! In other words, if our sole focus is power generation we want to ensure we eliminate all negative energy and ensure all of the energy travels in the direction we intend to strike.
9. Breathing – nothing is possible without breathing! On a rational level we all understand this, yet a common mistake with beginners is to hold the breath. If you want to hit hard, you have to breathe!
If you remember, I said I’ll get back to the formula at the beginning - force equals mass times acceleration. Distance is also a part of that equation. If I don’t have a lot of distance, my ability to generate power is limited by the lack of space, resulting in less power; on the flip side of that, if I have too much space I may fatigue (such as running after someone to punch), or miss the apex of the strike, which again reduces power.
I say this again – the focus of this blog is solely power generation, but this is certainly not the only important aspect of striking, nor is this an exhaustive guide to power striking. After all, being able to generate power is fantastic but doesn’t matter at all if you don’t know how to make the strike land! Furthermore, this becomes infinitely more complicated when the dynamic nature of combat is taken into account and we are moving rather than hitting hard from a static position.
More on the topic of striking to come in the following weeks.
Stay safe, stay tuned.