I train in multiple Martial Arts disciplines and frequently find myself comparing and contrasting the differences in striking techniques and hypothesizing why different arts perform their techniques as they do. A few questions continue coming to my mind: Do the strikes have practical application? How do we generate enough power with each hit to ensure they are effective? Is this variation ideal for my body type or someone I’m training?
As I work through these questions, evaluating the execution of strikes in the different arts, I have learned to think through these questions in with scientific approach learned through my years of Kenpo training. In Kenpo, we talk at length about power creation in terms of “height,” “width,” and “depth.” Each term refers to how a practitioner’s body moves through space.
When considering “height,” we generate power by quickly lowering the body. In Kenpo terminology, this is called “marriage of gravity” where power is derived from the weight of the body dropping. This can be seen in the dojo, dojang, or studio when a practitioner breaks a brick placed across two cinderblocks with a downward hammer fist. As the practitioner swings his fist towards the brick, he rapidly drops his bodyweight and, through “marriage of gravity,” places the full power of his dropping bodyweight from high to low into the fist, thus breaking the brick.
Moving on to “width,” which may be the hardest to understand, we are referring mostly to rotation of the practitioner’s body. In Kenpo terms, this is referred to as “rotational torque.” How does rotation lead to “width,” as previously mentioned? Well, width can be defined as movement of a part of the body from left to right or right to left, as it relates to the trunk of the martial artist. This movement L-R or R-L results from the trunk’s rotation and can result in a whip-like action of the limb. As an example of expressing power via “rotational torque” in the “width” realm, think of hitting a heavy bag with a ridge-hand. Your trunk is not moving up, down, forward, or backward. You are simply rotating in place, causing the shoulder to move left to right or vice versa and throwing the extended arm along the horizontal plane as a whip creating power.
Rotational torque may also be used to propel a limb linearly towards a target. For example, this is observed when throwing a ball kick with the rear foot or a cross punch with the back hand. As the back hip rotates forward in a rotational manner, the rear leg or hand is then shot forward thus creating a linear power derived from the circular movement of the hip or trunk, respectively.
Now, let’s tackle “depth.” “Depth” refers to moving our body towards or away from a target. We move our body towards a target to increase power upon impact. In Kenpo terms we call this “back-up mass.” By thrusting our entire bodyweight at the target in conjunction with striking using our limb, we are adding the momentum of the entire mass of our body to the power of the blow. An example of this would be stepping towards an adversary with a stiff jab or stepping forward and pushing the hips forward as we throw a front kick generating power beyond that created by just extending the leg at the knee.
At this point, you may be thinking, “This is all great in theory, but while fighting we never move in a singular plane (height, width, or depth).” I can’t argue with you on that. However, different fighting arts do put more emphasis on using some dimensions of power creation over others. In Part 2 we will dive into specific tendencies of a few systems to help you more thoroughly understand the movement tendencies of your art and perhaps even glean some useful tools from other styles to enhance your growth within your training.
Before departing, I would like to whet your appetite for what’s to come next week. If you didn’t already know before reading this article, now you better understand height, width, and depth and how they are used to generate power. Now, I challenge you to take a moment and consider the ever-popular roundhouse kick. Different arts have their variations on how to throw it effectively. I would like for you to explore, “How can you execute a roundhouse kick and derive power from movement through all three planes of action?” Until next time…