Power is essential in martial arts. For those of you who might read this statement and think developing more powerful kicks, more powerful punches, or even more powerful throws is something you can’t live without, let me just say that I like how you think.
Typically, we think of heavyweights as being the guys with real power. Their ability to develop bone–crushing punches and earth-shattering kicks or even powerful throws that end in a ground-shaking tremor is nothing short of spectacular. It isn’t always about size, contrary to popular belief. It really is about body mechanics and physics.
It is a bit of a misnomer to discuss punching power when we really mean force as defined in physics. I’m not going to get into a scientific lecture, but I will say that if I interchangeably use power and force, it is just for the sake of discussing these things in layman’s terms.
Great martial artists like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris we’re able to develop substantial striking force using good body mechanics. Great boxers like Oscar de la Hoya and Manny Pacquiao are two of my favorite power punchers with smaller frames. The real question is, how do they do it?
As a lifelong martial artist and an older trainer, I just “see it.” I see how the individual recruits all of the available muscles, align their frame in posture and then develops torque with proper footwork and hip engagement. There are a few of you who will know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll break it down for those who might not have the same eye for this sort of thing but who can still understand what they need to do to develop that in their own technique.
Muscle recruitment is simply using all of the available muscles for one purpose. If you have ever seen a young athlete bench press or squat heavyweight for the first time, you might notice how the body wobbles or shakes under the stress. A few years later, that same athlete will easily push far greater weight, with near-perfect stability, due to muscle recruitment. In punching, kicking, and throwing, we want all of the supporting and auxiliary muscles contributing to the primary muscles doing the work. That might seem almost magical when we see it for the first time, but after a few years, or for some decades, it becomes very apparent. Again, we “see it,” so to speak.
Posture and body alignment are two things that an individual has difficulty seeing without a mirror or a coach. Taking video is probably the easiest way to observe proper posture and body alignment. In simple terms, do you project power forward, with knees slightly bent, hips slightly angled, back straight, and ultimately resemble a predator ready to pounce? Are you careful not to overextend or underextend on punches and kicks? Do you coil the hips and torso, enabling a force–multiplying amount of torque when you strike and throw? Lastly, is the striking surface for kicks and punches properly aligned to avoid loss of power? If so, then your posture and body alignment are probably well coordinated.
Balance and footwork go hand in hand. It is quite common to see great fighters duck, dodge, and evade as if they were in the Matrix or had Spider Man’s spider-sense. The trick here is ensuring that footwork can take place given balance. Failure to manage balance oftentimes leaves us on our heels and susceptible to a follow–up attack. It might also be a problem if we overcommit or over evade, which leaves balance out of place and footwork slow to respond. Readers might wonder what footwork and balance in a defensive scenario have to do with power. In a pure sense, the answer would be not much. However, if you’re looking at power coming afterward in a counterpunch or a counter kick, then footwork and balance are absolutely required. Every great fighter knows he or she must be able to produce power to regain the initiative after defending. Individual fighters will have difficulty seeing this in their own technique without help from a coach or video.
Here are a few tips for developing your own mastery of power.
Punching and kicking the heavy bag is an easy way to develop power. Observing the heavy bag’s swing can give us a good indication of how hard we are hitting. We want to avoid pushing the bag rather than punching the bag when we make contact. There should be a shockwave that goes through the striking surface and into the core each time we hit. For those who prefer a water-based bag or a body opponent “Bob” bag, you can also listen for the sound produced when we hit with power. Again, my recommendation is to have a coach or video while you’re hitting the heavy bag.
Another great tip is to spend plenty of time sparring. We have to be careful not to injure our sparring partners. If we break our favorite toy (partners), we have nothing left to play with. Body strikes reveal a lot about power. Sure, everyone wants to punch to the head, but the hallmark of a great power puncher is ending a fight with a body shot. This goes double for kickboxers attacking the legs and midsection. As an aside, I think it is fine to throw snap kicks and short punches, which can wear down an opponent and create opportunities for other powerful punches, but when we are talking about power, those techniques fall into a slightly different category. In fact, only George Foreman knocks people out with a powerful jab.
I mentioned powerful throws in the beginning, but I didn’t get into throwing until now. The ability to enter with footwork, accomplish the proper grip, brake balance, and then execute a proper throw or takedown is a beautiful thing to behold. I’ve studied Judo and Jiu-Jitsu extensively. They have these elements in their throws, but there can be no doubt that collegiate wrestlers understand powerful throws better than most. It requires a huge amount of speed, posture, and a low center of gravity to enter successfully. The low center of gravity and posture enable a throwing expert the ability to break down his or her opponent’s defense. In Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, this is called destroying bass. Again, when looking at blasting in for a lifting throw or even shooting in for a double–leg takedown, power comes from the ground up. Muscle recruitment, posture, body mechanics, and proper technique make for a powerful lift and throw.
It is probably easier to explain a bad throw than really walk through the elements in succession of a great throw. Haven’t we all seen poorly executed throws where balance could not be broken in the opponent? Haven’t we seen a weak throw where poor posture resulted in a loss of power? Haven’t we all seen poor footwork, improper distance, and bad timing that resulted in late execution or a premature execution and a failed throw? Powerful throws require an understanding of how to overcome each of these obstacles. Good analysis from your instructor is essential.
Ultimately, we all want to perform better. When it comes to developing power, we have to understand each element described above, and then sequentially put those pieces together to get the desired result. At Conway Toe2Toe, we help clients understand what elements increase power. We train on building power second and then master power in each technique last. Join us and experience firsthand how you can become a great fighter with powerful punches, kicks, and throws at our Conway, Arkansas, location or call for details at 501-515-4788.
Toe2Toe—Changing lives through martial arts.
Curtiss Robinson, MA, NSCA-CPT