How martial artists generate power

I’ve made no secret of my love for all things martial arts. I’ve been practicing Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, for fourteen years. In that time, I’ve earned a second-degree black belt and now hope to teach students, through after-school extra-curricular activities, or privately in the evenings.

I’ve also been lucky enough to take part in lessons over Lockdown from the comfort of my own home, over Zoom (click here to read about what else I got up to throughout Lockdown). By training alone, instead of as part of a wider class in a dojang, the Taekwondo training hall, I’ve focused much more exclusively on the mechanics that go into generating power.

Here’s my detailed breakdown of what I’ve learned over Lockdown, and over the years, that will keep you safe on the streets and garner the examiner’s attention during your next grading.

“Shout, shout; let it all out”

Martial artists are loud. Really loud. It’s our defining trait, but we’re not doing it just because it may intimidate our opponent or to show off in class. In reality, we shout for breath control. By exhaling at the right time, at the exact moment our fist makes contact with somebody’s face, for instance, we help our muscles to contract and tighten at the point of contact.

Don’t just take my word for it; it’s for the same reason that bodybuilders and tennis players grunt while they play or lift weights.

So the next time that you’re practicing patterns or performing line work, give a loud yelp of ‘Sir!’ or a ‘Kiai!’ and commit to generating some serious power.

Body positioning is key

You won’t be able to break boards at any black belt gradings if your body isn’t perfectly positioned. Remember: your stance is key. If you’re in Walking Stance, nearly all of your weight is on your front leg. An L-Stance requires a weight distribution of 70%:30% on your back:front legs. Without the correct stances, your body won’t be set up to deliver maximum power.

Next, consider the positioning of your active/doing and passive/reaction hands. Let’s look at your active hand first: do not tuck your thumb under any fingers; position it across them. Any other positioning will result in a broken thumb. Your reaction hand, in the case of a punching technique, should rest firmly on your hip, closed into a fist and ready to act against an advancing opponent. Dangling your hand by your side will leave you vulnerable because of how much it slows your reaction time. Likewise, having a strong reaction arm will make your stance as a whole feel stronger, strengthening your techniques in turn.

Finally, you might find it difficult to pull off Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch, so gauge the proximity to your opponent correctly. This will vary for each situation but, generally, giving yourself room to move into a strong technique is never a bad thing. Now, this isn’t always possible, especially when outside the dojang, such as in a nightclub or bar. In these cases, executing techniques correctly becomes more important than ever, which the next section will focus on (you’ll be punching like Bruce Lee in no-time!)

Good technique = good results

If I broke down every single technique performed in Taekwondo, we’d be here all day (but let me know in the comments if that’s something that you’d be interested in, as I’d much rather milk this content for all the blog posts it’s worth). I can tell you, however, that there are three general principles that you should incorporate into producing any excellent technique: hip, leg and shoulder twists.

The hips will be where a lot of your power comes from. Think of yourself like a screw: the tighter your hips are wound up before releasing, the stronger your movement. Wind those hips up and then drive them into position as your fist, arm, or whatever else, makes contact. It won’t matter how hard you punch if you can’t get this right.

The hips are supported by the legs, which dictate where your body weight sits. If you’re in a walking stance, your weight will likely be flying forward into a strike. For an L-stance, because most of your weight is on the back leg, you can easily pick up your front leg and flick it into an opponent’s face with a quick kick. When moving into each stance, your legs should be twisting at the same as your hips.

Finally, to maximise your power output, you need to be untwisting your screw-like self through your shoulders, too. Your power will carry itself up the legs, through the hips and out through your shoulders to travel down, through your fists. By unwinding your shoulders last, your body will be positioned to maximise damage to an attacker.

By following these principles, Bruce Lee was able to deliver a damaging punch from one inch away. It wasn’t his raw strength; it was by following proper techniques and bodily positioning that Lee unleashed such a devastating blow. Apply my tips and tricks to your practice and you’ll be a master martial artist in no-time.

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