When it comes to having powerful punches, a whole lot of what you know ‘ain’t so.’ Or to be more precise, odds are you’re trying to fly a one-winged airplane.
Quite frankly most people need to be less concerned with generating more power than they need to focus on losing less of what they already have. Getting more power is one wing of the plane. Not losing it is the other. You need both to get off the ground.
If you have a vivid imagination, picture how effective would be trying to bail out a sinking boat with a spaghetti strainer. If the water is your power, then there’s a whole lot of it going where won’t do you any good. Unfortunately, folks who are looking to solve their problems by only increasing their power is a lot like trying to find a bigger spaghetti strainer.
“Why of course having a bigger spaghetti strainer will work better at bailing out the boat.”
Tell you what, let’s first try looking at filling in the holes where you’re losing power instead…
Triangle of Power
In firefighting there is an old model called the Fire Triangle. This model represents the three things that a fire needs to burn. Each side represents a key element that must be present. In this model it’s heat, oxygen and fuel. If you take away any one element the triangle collapses and the fire will go out (1) This idea revolutionized firefighting tactics.
In the same vein, we can imagine a triangle of power for correct martial movement. These three elements must be present in order to deliver power. If an element is missing, the triangle collapses and we lose power. The three main elements are Body Movement. Range and Structure.
We use the analogy of you being a farmer. To be successful you need three things — crops, a truck and market. You have crops (body movement) to sell, a market (range) where you to need to get them to and a truck (structure) to deliver your crops to that market. This is a winning combination.
However, if you take away any one of these aspects, the whole structure collapses. Without Body Movement (power) you have no crops to sell. So it doesn’t matter if you have a place to sell or means to get the non-existent crops to market. Without Range (mai-ai/positioning/targeting) there’s no market to sell them at, therefore having crops or a truck does you no good. Structure (proper pose/body mechanics) is the truck that will get your crops to market … and if that truck breaks down, then you are in a world of trouble. It doesn’t matter how big of a shipment of crops (how much power you generate) you have, they ain’t getting there.
We will explain the exact details of each in a bit. But what we can tell you right now is that all too often mistakes (or outright lack) in one will affect others. For example, let’s say you are in the wrong range for a move. For the purpose of illustration we’ll say you are too far out. You will have to sacrifice structure to compensate for bad range. In order to still reach your target you will have to twist your body in a manner that it cannot deliver or withstand the delivery of that force. So now instead of jabbing him with a 2×4 you’re poking him with a spring. Furthermore, because you have twisted your body or are leaning forward, you are also interjecting elements of bodymovement that should not be in that move. Who knows where your force is heading off now. These extra types of bodymovement are more likely to rob you of power, than generate.
Unfortunately, this is how most people try to fight because they were never taught the fundamentals of fighting. And this statement includes most teachers. You can’t teach what you don’t know.
Now many so-called “experts” will look at this model and immediately start arguing that there are many more elements involved, such as speed, timing, power, yada, yada, yada. It’s true, these other elements are indeed involved. However another way of looking at this triangle is as if it is a three-sided corral. These three elements are what keep the “horses” of timing, speed, power, etc., inside. It is in that corral where you want them so they are useful to you.
Quite frankly, many of the errors made in power delivery come from losing one of these “corral” elements and trying to fix the hole in the fence by trying to use a “horse” as a part of the corral fence. We cannot believe the number of times we see people trying to compensate for bodymovement through speed. Or how often we see people trying to compensate for lack of structure through muscle. Our all time favorite though is when they try to compensate for a their lack of these elements by throwing a whirlwind of ineffective blows. That’s like saying “We’re losing money on every transaction, but that’s okay, we’ll make it up with volume of sales!”
So let’s say right here and now: Those “horse” elements are inside the corral, they are not what makes the corral. Don’t ever try to make speed, muscle or timing source of your power, because it simply is not going to work. And the more you try to “patch” the holes in your corral’s fence with these elements, the more things are going to fall apart on you.
In no other topic is the “what you know ain’t so” element so in effect as in Body Movement. To begin with most people are not consciously aware of how they move. This is made far, far worse by the fact that there are some misunderstandings of concepts that have become so ingrained in the MA/SD/DT worlds that the flawed understandings have eclipsed the reality. This is very much akin to what has happened to the word “ego.” In psychology the word ego describes a very specific construct of the mind. However, to the general public it carries the connotation of overwhelming pride, arrogance and self-importance (e.g. “He has a big ego”) These misunderstandings combined with not consciously knowing what their bodies are doing result in all kinds of power loss.
Let’s take the hips as the number one culprit. How many times have you heard that your hips are the source of your power?
Putting it bluntly, that is bullshit. The source of your power is your body moving in a particular direction. That is the source of your momentum (power). The formula for momentum is
M = m x v
Momentum equals mass times velocity. To start with, velocity doesn’t just mean speed, it means speed and direction. (It doesn’t matter how fast you are moving if you are heading the wrong way). So if you weigh 150 pounds and your body is moving in one direction at 10 mph, you end up with a momentum of 1500. Now there are all kinds of little tweaks and adjustments you can do to increase that number, but they are beyond the scope of this page (2). The general idea, in order to have power everything you have has to be heading where you want it to go.
Where this idea is violated is when people try to generate power from their hips. Someone once said “It is impossible to make something fool proof because fools are so inventive.” The same can apply here. There are all kinds of ways people come up with to screw up a move with their hips. The reason they are screwing up is because they are trying to make their hips the source of their power. While we cannot categorize all the interesting and unique ways that people — believing that their hips are what give them power — move incorrectly, we can give you a few examples.
Believing that the hips are the source of power, people quite often think that if a little hip twist is good, then a whole lot must be better. The problem with this idea is that, by over twisting their hips they are actually sending their force off in another direction. Short rule of thumb, your power is going where your nipples are pointing. People in trying to generate power from their hips, turn too much. To the point, that their bodies end up facing another direction and NOT at their opponent. This extra twist also makes it impossible to have structure if you are trying to punch straight (3).
In this over-done pose your structure cannot withstand the force you are generating. If you are punching, your arms will collapse like a spring. Yes it feels powerful, but the truth is this is only because your muscles are trying to compensate for your lack of structure. A proper hit, with your bones in alignment, your tendons and muscles able to lock them into place feels too easy! It feels as though nothing happened. That is because the force is not being diverted into your muscles, but channelled through your skeleton.
A second way that people commonly blow it is that they step into a stance, stop, and then try to start up again and generate force from their hips. They arrest the momentum they had by stepping into the stance and then try and make new momentum by twisting their hips. This behavior directly arises from thinking that power comes from the hips.
With these examples in mind let us give you a different perspective on the use of hips in power. They are not the source of power, they are an accelerator(4).
That is to say that if you are stepping at 10 mph, by twisting your hips at an additional 10 mph, you accelerate your body mass to 20 mph. This takes your force up to mass (150) x velocity (20) = Momentum (3000). The challenge is to move your hips only so far. Enough that you accelerate your momentum, but not so far that you divert your energy another direction. Which is unfortunately, what most people do when they try to generate power from their hips.
This is just a simple example of how important correct bodymovement is and why it is important to pay close attention to it in your training. There are many other things that can go wrong with how someone is moving their body — especially if they are unconsciously doing it, as so often happens when people think they know how to generate power. Once you know what the correct bodymovement of a technique is, do not try to make it more powerful by over-doing it, such an act ends up robbing you of power rather than creating more.
The subject of effective bodymovement is discussed more fully in depth on the Mushy Movement page of this section
It’s sad to say, but Range is perhaps the most poorly understood concept in the martial arts today. That’s because Range is not just one thing, but a combination of elements. Elements that must be studied and understood individually before you effectively combine them.
First of all, any technique is designed to deliver maximum power at a certain distance. This can be best illustrated in a power spike. Too close and the move does not have time to generate enough momentum (or the structure is not developed yet). This is demonstrated by how often a punch can be foiled by stepping into it instead of trying to avoid it. While power is still delivered the amount is greatly reduced. By changing the range you destroy the punch’s effectiveness. (This strategy should not be deployed with someone who knows how to punch with structure, but it works very well against sport punchers).
Too far out and the momentum has been expended already. This is over and above the problem of sacrificing structure to reach your target. Attempting to do a technique on the outer reaches of its range is problematic because your power has already begun to fall off. You are on the down side of the power curve.
It is knowing the proper distance that a move is designed to work — and not attempting it outside that distance — that will do wonders for keeping you from sacrificing your structure. All too often people try to over (and under) reach to compensate for being in the wrong place.
Another key element of range is knowing what kind of attack you are generating (see CoDDPITT/Dr. PiTTCo below). Targeting for different types of attacks is critical. For example, with an impact attack, your target is the imaginary pole in the center of your opponent called his “Vertical Axis.” With an impact attack (hit) you want to reach into his mass, touch that pole and retract. If you attempt to “punch six inches behind him” you are not hitting, you are pushing (a drive attack). The physics of a push are radically different than a hit. If you attempt to drive past your opponents vertical axis with a hit, either a) your structure is going to collapse and either he bulls in on and kicks your butt or you end up standing close to him wondering what to do next, b) you will just end up pushing him back for a moment, or c) a weird combination of both that puts you right back to where you started.
The vertical axis is akin to a small string that runs through the body. Unfortunately the way most people train to hit does not teach to target that point. In fact, how can you learn to accurately target such a small point, when you are training to punch anywhere from six inches short of your opponent’s chest to six inches behind it? That can be a distance of up to two and a half feet! Let’s say for the sake of example that the VA is one inch. If your idea of where to hit is somewhere within 30 inch span, how likely is it that you will be able to hit that one inch spot with any accuracy? This is especially true if that target is moving!
A punch is not a bullet. It does not “fire hose” or “laser beam” through the vertical axis causing damage as it passes through. That is a drive (push/chop). Your hands cannot travel the same speed as a bullet, so therefore you must create a shock wave in your opponent’s body through a different means. And that is an impact. An impact goes in, touches the VA, delivers the power and then quickly withdraws. Although your hand is slower than a bullet, it weighs more. If you are punching correctly, it will have your entire mass behind it. So you still can generate a large amount of force/shock/impact — enough to knock someone down.
Another reason that you need to withdraw is the retraction lessens the duration of the impact, which means that the power is delivered all at once. This instead of over a protracted period of time — as happens with a push. The importance of this concept can be seen in the difference between falling face first onto a concrete floor and falling from the same height face first onto a soft bed. The same amount of force is being expended in both cases, but the flexibility of the bed allows for the dissipation of force over a longer period of time.
If no one has ever explained this concept to you there is no way that you can find the correct range of a move. How could you? Somewhere within that span of 30 inches was the right spot, but you didn’t know where it was. But this leads to all kinds of other problems. Many people attempt to compensate for this failure by trying to generate more force. The problem with this approach is that by doing so, they usually end up using inappropriate bodymovement, sacrificing their structure or “patching” with speed and muscle.
Structure is another poorly understood concept in both martial arts and defensive tactics. And like Range, it is an umbrella term that covers a number of concepts. Among other things it is holding your body in such a way that the momentum your bodymovement has generated is delivered into your opponent. Sound simple?
Unfortunately, if you are not in the correct “pose” your joints tendency to bend. This will create shock absorbers, thereby absorbing the power by turning your limbs into giant springs, It’s not that you don’t have power, it’s that by how you are holding your body, you are robbing yourself of it. Most of your force is not going into your opponent, but rather into your own body.
Let us categorically state: Martial arts poses were developed to create structure. If these poses are correctly taken, the body’s own skeleton, tendons, joints and muscles will “lock into place.” When this occurs your momentum will be delivered into your opponent. Having said that, however, most MA teachers have no idea what that pose is. Oh sure, they’re in the general neighborhood, but the address is wrong. Like targeting for an impact, structure is a matter of inches. Hold your elbow one inch in and you have structure, hold it an inch out and you lose it.
Now, while it might just sound that we just gave ammo to the constant dojo wars that inflict the martial arts (where different factions within a style, are in a constant pissing contest over who has the “true art”) this is not the case for two very real reasons. First is that there are many different poses that create structure. Often both camps are doing something, that although different, are equally effective for achieving this end. They are arguing over who is “right” instead of what works. Unfortunately, the second reason is far more common, and that is that what both schools are doing fails to create structure. The complicating factor is that even though students of both schools are performing the move “right” (i.e. exactly how they were taught) the moves are fundamentally flawed because they do not create structure. In essence they are arguing over who is “right” when what both of them are doing doesn’t work effectively.
Here is a simple test to see if you have been taught structure. Stand in front of a wall and take a stance. Now move your weight to your back foot and perform a striking technique. Do it so your fist/foot just touches the wall. Now — paying close attention to anything that squishes, shifts or is pushed back before locking down again — shift your weight forward. When you do this tighten your muscles to resist.
If you have structure, you will not be able to move forward.
If you don’t have structure, you will push through resistance before you reach a point where you cannot move forward anymore. This will be where your body achieves a structural pose. Sometimes this structural pose is your strike, but just as often as not it isn’t. This structural collapse is what we mean when we say “hitting with a spring.” If you are not in structural position you are literally trying to poke him with a shock absorber. A shock absorber that is robbing you of your own power.
We mentioned earlier that an indication of striking with structure is that it feels “too easy.” This is a critical concept because when your body is held to create structure, even pressing into a wall with your full weight will not feel like much of an effort. The problem with how so many people attempt to do techniques is that they feel that the moves must be hard; they have to feel like you are doing hard work. That stress and strain is not an indicator of how much force you are delivering into you opponent. It is a indicator that you are in the wrong pose. It is your muscles trying to resist the physics that are threatening to collapse your limb because you don’t have structure. An unfortunate consequence of this is that most people initially train themselves to hit wrong (without structure) because it feels like they are doing more than when they are doing it right.
So here is an Animal’s Important Safety Tip: If it feels like you are hitting really, really hard….you’re not.
Take that experiment of standing in front of the wall (or door frame for circular attacks) and begin to fiddle around with different elbow, shoulder and body positions to see how you need to hold yourself in order to create structure. Depending on what style you practice, you will find all kinds of little tweaks and twists that you need to do in order to create structure. These are going to be a matter of inches. Also, free safety tip, if it hurts to do, it isn’t right so stop doing it. What you will find by doing this are all kinds of little problems with what you were taught. This exercise will get you from “right church, wrong pew” into the correct pew.
One of the most common mistakes that people do in their attempts of offense is that they spend more time preparing to attack than they do actually attacking. By in large this arises from another misconception, namely that an attack must “hurt.” The simple fact is there are many ways to launch an effective offense that are not necessarily painful.
So here’s another Animal’s Important Safety tip: An offensive action can be aimed at the person’s ability to attack rather than an attempt to hurt the person.
An action that disrupts the person’s balance, orientation on you, structure and ability to move/recover can all be done without inflicting pain. All of these are offensive actions. Actions that contribute to the over-all success of your offensive. Quite often people forget these kind of offenses, aimed at your enemies “supply lines” are critical components to victory. You don’t necessarily have to crush your opponent in battle, if his “army” is unable to fight.
Unfortunately, most people attempt to go into a situation with the assumption that they must crush their opponent. In doing this, they condemn themselves to a wildly ineffective strategy, increase their chances of being hurt and extend the duration of the conflict. The reason this is the case is that they commonly attempt to use only one attack strategy — usually hitting. The problem with this is that because of their limited offensive options, their inability to move effectively and the incredible power loss that most people have because they don’t understand range/structure/bodymovement as fast as they think they are moving, they are, in fact, wasting about two thirds of their actions. Yes, I just said they are doing about three times the amount of work that they need to do.
The complication that arises from all this extra and unnecessary movement is that any advantage that they gain by their one successful move is lost while they bumbleputz around with the next two ineffective moves. Yes, they create shock and disruption in their opponent with a successful move. But while they are out there preparing for their next offensive, they give him time to recoup and probably launch his own counter offensive. This is why most “fights” devolve into endurance contests to see who can both dish out and soak up more punishment(5).
In an attempt to combat the idea that the only way to achieve victory is through a smackdown. We developed the idea of CoDPITT/ Dr. PiTTCo.
As there are only three primary colors, black and white there are six basic ways to attack. These different ways are contained in the acronyms CoDPITT/ Dr. PiTTCo. No matter which acronym you use, knowing the six will greatly enhance your ability to turn every move into an attack.
The six ways are
Co – Compression Dr– Drive
D – Drive P – Pull
P – Pull I – Impact
I – Impact T – Twist
T – Twist T – Takedown
T – Takedown Co– Compression
Every attack that you can think of can — and will — be either a pure form or a combined form of these six basic approaches to offense. Furthermore, even the six themselves are unique combinations of each other. For example a compression attack is commonly a drive, but very specifically a drive into a base. In fact, if you want to break it down into the most basic, all of these can be broken into specific variations of push/pull.
Let’s start with the two most common — and most commonly confused — types of attacks: Impacts and Drives.
Impact: As explained earlier an impact is an action that delivers force into your opponent’s vertical axis. You literally reach into his body mass, touch the VA and retract quickly to deliver your force into his body and create an internal shockwave. This is like dropping a large rock into a pool, the waves/ripples travel through the water until they reach the side of the pool and then they rebound back in. Understanding this internal, multidirectional shock wave is critical to knowing how to deliver an effective impact.
Drives: Are actions that go beyond your opponent’s VA. They are in essence pushes, but a sword thrust or bullet are also drives. In empty handed work, they can be used to break/cut/tilt your opponent’s vertical axis or spin him around it (twisting). Where an impact would rock someone’s head with the shock, a drive would push it to where you want it to be. Drives have a very strong tactical application for moving your opponent into position as a set up for your next, more powerful move (e.g. instead of you moving, you can push him into your hitting range). They also have strong application in disrupting your opponent’s structure so he must spend the next moment regaining his balance/orientation instead of attacking
It is important to realize that your opponent’s limbs also have axis’s as well. Most limb breaking or sweeping actions are not impacts, but instead drives. You literally try to chop the legs out from under your opponent with certain kinds of kicks. While you can hit the axis that is more of a parrying move. Which is based on a fast slap against an incoming fast blow to deflect it. This concept is often misconstrued by people who try to turn their blocks into hits. Don’t try to hit with your blocks, it most often only results in you being too far out to block your opponent’s next attack. The reason for this is that most of the time “hitting” with your block is an attempt to compensate for poor structure with a drive. The only way a flawed block has a chance to work is if you push the attacking limb far away. That unfortunately, takes you out of position to effectively respond to the next blow.
Compression: These kind of attacks commonly a traps your opponent between force and a base. The utilization of a base doesn’t increase the force as much as it does not allow for the person to shed, roll with or bleed off the energy. Slamming someone into a wall and pinning them there is a compression attack. But, so is a chokehold, the forearm applies a constant pressure while the chest and bicep provide a base to keep the person from squirting out of the applied pressure. Although drives are commonly used in combination with a base, they and/or pulls can often be used as the base that pins your opponent for an impact. An example of such a move would be pulling/pushing an opponent into an elbow strike or a double handed ear slap. Compression attacks come in many forms, and although they are commonly associated with grappling, their absence in striking arts is because of safety reasons. A properly angled strike traps the person between the impact and the earth.
Furthermore, compression attacks also involve leverage. This is especially true in throwing arts where you push/pull your opponent over a base such as you hip, thigh or foot. Just because you are pushing/pulling doesn’t mean it has to be into the base, you can drag/push him over one.
Pulls: Are again a commonly lost element within most sport striking arts. The reason is simple, sucking someone into an elbow strike tends to create major damage. However, those arts that still retain them use them with great effectiveness. Pulling moves are often used to disrupt your opponent’s structure so that he must spend the next second attempting to regain his balance instead of attacking you. In the mean time you continue to attack. Pulls are also commonly applied to move your opponent into position for your next move while simultaneously twisting his body along his vertical axis so he is not directly facing you (ergo, taking his guns off line).
Twists: Are any action that manipulates your opponent into a position that you desire, but he doesn’t. Twists can be either drives, pulls or a combination of both. An example of the last would be pushing one shoulder, while pulling another to twist your opponent 90 degrees so you can close in behind him. Joint locks are another form of twisting attacks, especially ones that result in “voluntary throws” (where your opponent throws himself such as in Small Circle Jujitsu).
Takedowns: Come in two basic forms, throws or takedowns. A throw is where sufficient force is applied that your opponent is thrown so as not to be able to counter and re-establish his base. Whether this means you pick him up and toss him (involuntary) or he tosses himself (voluntary) doesn’t matter, they are both throws. A takedown, works on similar principles but with less force. A takedown is akin to taking two legs out from under a table. The table falls to the ground. Unfortunately for him, your opponent is the table. Both throws and takedowns are based in meeting two basic criteria:
1) Disrupt his balance/structure
2) Counter his attempts to get it back
After that gravity does the rest. While different techniques vary radically both takedowns and throws are complex cocktails of the other five elements of CoDPITT/Dr PITTCo.
The reason knowing these different types of attacks and the power triangle is important is that these are the standards that you can use to analyze the techniques from your system. This is recommended because doing so will not only assist you in learning them better, faster and more effectively, but will also make you more effective in doing them.
What’s more is that they give you an efficiency checklist. Once you sit down and look at the techniques you already know, in the light of the information presented here, you will begin to see how different techniques must have these elements in order to be effective. Once you know what must be there, it becomes easy to determine what is going wrong with a move (i.e. what are you leaving out?)
Let’s say a throw requires you to be in a specific location (range) so you can pull (bodymovement/structure) your opponent over (compression) your base (structure) and disrupt his balance/structure to throw (bodymovement/structure/drive). If something isn’t working right, run the check list. Are you in the right range? If not, then you are losing your structure. That means your power transfer isn’t going to work on your pull. Nor will your structure be in position to pull him over (compression).
Therefore, instead of him becoming the table with two legs missing (third class lever), you are attempting to be a crane (a different type of third class lever). If your opponent is the same size or bigger than you that technique isn’t going to work. Or if it does, your nuts are going to be rolling around on the floor because you just herniated yourself.
The information provided on this page is a shorthand version of concepts and ideas presented in our. Becoming A Complete Martial Artist with Tristan Sutrisno.
1) The triangle of “Heat, Fuel, Air” has been modified over the years to a more complicated Hexagon in professional firefighting circles. The Triangle, however, remains a popular layman’s explanation by fire extinguisher company and classroom science.
2) Over the last few years my works have taken a more analytical approach to what it takes to be effective. My forthcoming books from Lyons Press and Paladin Press address the concepts that I briefly address here.
3) Every time I say this a true believer of some “ultimate deadly martial art style” starts to argue about “Well we turn that way all the time” A prime example is found in Wing Chun/Ving Tsun or whatever off-shoot someone is arguing about. A common blow is to avoid an incoming blow and turn sideways (to either 9 or 3) and hit out from the hip along the new center line (12). This move is called Truth is that side pose is structurally sound. Your body does align in a manner that you can both generate and receive force without your structure collapsing. I am not saying you can’t move from one structural pose to another. What I am saying is that if you twist too far you lose your structure. But too far for one pose is not far enough for another. While over-twisting for one pose you fall short of reaching another structural pose (i.e. failing to reach 9/3) Try doing while facing either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock and see how well it works. Better yet, take it to 8 or 4.
4) If you are familiar with auto mechanics, a good analogy is the hips are a car’s “coil.” Power comes from the battery at a low voltage. It travels through the coil, where it is accelerated and the voltage/amperage is increased. This more powerful voltage is then sent to the sparkplug. What arcs across the sparkplug’s gap is much higher than what came out of the battery.
5) This is the source of the physical phitness phanatic movement in the martial arts and reality based self-defense worlds. These people are often trying to compensate for sloppy technique and poor understanding of the power triangle by relying on brute force. Their rationalization is that you have to be in good shape to fight. This is true. If you are going out and fighting on a regular basis then being in good shape does tend to help. However, there is a big difference between self-defense and fighting. With this in mind you should also know that you need to be in good physical condition to engage in sports, especially tournament and grappling competitions. Whereas, for self-defense or the perfection of your art, you don’t necessarily need to be in prime physical shape. You especially don’t need to be in that kind of top physical condition if you are able to do the move correctly, rather than the half-assed mushy movement that passes for most of these guys technique.