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Martial Arts Power Is Based On Science


Master Instructor

Richard Leasure


   The martial arts are widely known as the methods of teaching self defense. Most people who hear the words Karate, Judo, and Kung Fu think of images of Asian temples or spiritual practices that are thought to strengthen the mind and body and spirit. Many prospective students and current martial arts instructors believe that the spiritual and physical techniques of the arts are indivisibly linked. Actually, the true nature of martial arts effectiveness is not thoroughly understood. Physics is the power behind martial arts strength. Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion easily explain why experienced martial artists can demonstrate power and ease of movement in the performance of their art.

            The martial arts would not be arts without their spiritual side. People are complex and cannot exist merely as physical beings. Martial art training also develops the spiritual aspect of its students. Physical training and spiritual practice are separate but equally important issues. True masters recognize the value of training the mind, body, and spirit. In addition to training the physical aspects of the martial arts, devout students are required to develop a routine of personal training in a spiritual direction. Choosing which methodology of seeking spiritual enlightenment is a decision that is best left to the individual student. Martial arts gain their true power and effectiveness from dedication, training and a studious application of physics to each technique. Because of this true application of power, the martial arts are open to all practitioners regardless of their religious preferences. Instructors and students are encouraged to recognize the value of the arts and respect the power that science can bring to dedicated practice.

            The physical aspects of the training are enhanced through participation in competitive activities. Stress helps people to achieve new goals. Without the possibility of failure there is no success. The competitive nature of the arts is beneficial to the student. The observer of karate practices must look for the deeper meaning. Grandmaster Nakayama, the first student of Gichin Funochoshi, the founder of modern karate says,

Deciding who is the winner and who is the loser is not the ultimate objective. Karate-do is a martial art for the development of character through training, so that the karateka can surmount any obstacle, tangible or intangible. – M. Nakayama, (11)

            In the practice of teaching people powerful and potentially dangerous fighting techniques it is important to have a specific and rigid code of conduct that governs the actions of the students. Power without responsibility is universally wrong. Martial arts practitioners must be held to a higher standard. Modern Masters of karate recognize the potential for deadly misinterpretation of the martial arts. Honorable instructors of the arts are careful to instill in their students a strict code of conduct. Practitioners of karate, for example, are required to take an oath of moral obligation that limits their actions to pursuits of honor and respect as matters relate to karate practice. It is commonly stated that karate techniques must be reserved for self-defense and relied upon as a last resort. The code of conduct is strict and unforgiving. Students of karate will face the rejection of the martial arts brotherhood for violations of the honor code. Martial arts certification and fellowship associations will excommunicate members who fail to respect the warriors’ ethic. In addition, many uses of karate in aggressive situations are subject to the local criminal code. Law enforcement does not hesitate to prosecute violators who use special training to seek unfair advantage over innocent citizens. Karate students must, rightfully, demonstrate themselves to be upstanding citizens who are a benefit to the community.

            In modern practice, the way of the warrior is no longer to fight enemies from the outside. Now it is the focus to master oneself. This can only be accomplished by seeking the harmony between God, Creation, and Self. Master Instructor Mikonosuke Kawashi describes the need to find balance before demonstrating an arranged series of techniques called a kata.

When a demonstrator was in the first place capable of putting himself in “the state of grace” essential to the sincere execution of the Kata – almost as in the delivery of prayer – the effective presentation of the successive forms was nothing more than a question of application and of time. When, on the contrary, he applied himself only to detail without the determination to identify himself with the whole, then the form escaped him and the Kata was no more than a pale reflection without truth or depth. (8)

            In addition to spiritual reflection in martial arts training, educated students and instructors must be aware that there is a difference between being a good martial artist as a person and being able to perform martial arts techniques powerfully and effectively. The true power and effectiveness of martial arts physical techniques is firmly based on the principles of science. Sir Isaac Newton published his famous book on physics in 1672. This writing is most famous for the Three Laws of motion. These laws provide the foundation for all martial arts physical techniques. Without an appreciation of the science that makes martial arts effective, the spiritual side of training alone will not produce the necessary power. Each movement will only be copied and imitated, not fully developed.

            The laws of science are considered universal because they apply to everyone. This means that anyone who wishes to begin training in the arts has a natural opportunity for success. The laws that make the martial arts effective cannot be changed by individual instructors. If every student develops an intimate knowledge of physics and how to apply Newton ’s Laws to his or her training, he will achieve the maximum skill level that his or her dedication and physical ability will allow. Each practitioner of the martial arts can choose to develop his skills to any extent that is comfortable for them. Religious ideology must not be a fundamental factor in determining a student’s opportunity for success. The Laws of Motion and a serious minded work ethic are all that is required to develop powerful martial arts techniques.

            Newton ’s first law of motion: “The first law is merely a restatement, in technical terms, of the notion of inertia, a concept introduced by Galileo. Newton now makes explicit the understanding that an object in any state of motion (including rest) will remain unchanged in that state (which means that those at rest will remain at rest) unless some unbalanced force is acting.” (Physics 014) This Law of inertia applies directly to the martial arts basics known as stances and dynamics. Before a martial artist can effectively deliver powerful strikes and blocks they must develop a strong foundation of stability for standing and moving around. Newton ’s first law teaches the martial arts student or instructor that once a firm position is obtained it will not be broken without the presence of an unbalancing force. A martial artist will not move from his or her position unless it is necessary. Stances and stepping techniques are designed to give the martial artist the maximum ability to function without risk of being overrun by an opponent. Master Nakayama reminds us, “The ability counter an attack, under any circumstances, depends largely on the maintenance of correct form. For techniques to be fast, accurate, and smoothly executed, they must be launched from a strong and stable base.” (36) Furthermore, once a technique is launched it will continue forward until acted upon by an unbalanced force. If the target cannot move or block, it will be hit.

            Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion “The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors in this law; the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.”(Astronomy 161) Martial artists use the formula in the Second Law to deliver the most powerful strikes and kicks possible. When a martial artists attempts to use his or her entire body weight to deliver a punch or a kick he is applying this law of motion to the technique. The idea is that the faster a person can move and the more mass behind the punch, the harder the strike will hit its target. Martial artists use this law of motion when performing amazing board and brick breaks. Accomplished martial artists can demonstrate the power of striking techniques and characterize the effects of hitting an opponent by showing the effects of well delivered physics to wood or stone. Master Nakayama describes a reverse punch:

Lower the hips and rotate them with good timing, utilizing fully the power that comes from straightening the back leg, and driving it into the floor. The stance must be stable and the hips always on an even keel. The pelvis, and hence the center of gravity, shifts slightly forward. A punch with the hips even a little to the rear will not be effective. The power transmitted from the leg and hips to the chest, shoulders and arm accelerates, but for this to be true, the body and limbs must be solidly joined together, like an iron rod and a steel plate. This depends on the muscles working in harmony and tensing powerfully in the same instant.(134)

            Tillery, Enger, and Ross describe Newton ’s Third Law saying, “Whenever two objects interact; the force exerted on one object is equal in size and opposite in direction to the force exerted on the other object.” (53) This Law of Motion can be directly applied to blocking techniques. In the event of an oncoming attack, martial artists are trained to block or hit the offending strike in an attempt to move it out of harms way. Of course, Newton ’s first two laws also apply to the techniques, but it is most important to understand this third law to make each block more effective. For example: if a reverse punch is moving quickly toward a martial artists head, he or she must understand that to remove the threat of injury the punch must be diverted from its original path. By striking the incoming punching arm with a well timed block, (in this case to rising block to protect the head), the attacking arm will be forced to move in a direction away from the defender. When the force of the upward block meets the opponents striking arm a situation of opposing forces comes into play. Thus, the attacking arm is moved in the opposite direction of the block. The result is the head of the defender is saved from injury. If the incoming attack is not blocked the defender will receive the full effect of the attack. Newton ’s laws apply equally to attacker and defender without prejudice. The resulting damage will be directly related to the attackers ability to apply Newton ’s second law.

             For every martial artist to develop the maximum power possible they must apply all three of Newton ’s Laws to each of their techniques. The throwing techniques of Judo demonstrate this fluid application of physics very well. For example: a simple shoulder throw consists of two opponents facing each other, each with the intention of one putting the other on the ground. To successfully defend oneself against a grappling attack, you must first recognize that the motion of the attacker prefers its natural state. They will continue forward against you until an unbalanced force acts upon them. Second you must realize that the force of the incoming attack is directly related to the mass of the attacker and the velocity he can generate towards you. Third you must realize that for each action there is an equal reaction in the opposite direction. The combination of these three laws working in natural harmony gives the defender the power to throw his opponent quickly, strongly, and decisively to the ground. As the attacker comes forward, the defender must grab onto his shoulder and wrist. Then the defender must rotate his hips under the center of gravity of the attacker. A final thrust in a round motion and a simultaneous twist of the shoulders moves the attacker toward the floor with force. Remember that each of Newton ’s laws is still in play. The natural state of the attacker’s motion has not changed. The attacker is still in motion. The force of the attack is still the attackers mass times his velocity. Additional force is applied by the defender in the motion of the pulling and hip rotations. And lastly, the action and reaction of opposing forces places the attacker on the floor with a force equal to but opposite of his initial attack. Newton ’s Three Laws of Motion are combined to enhance the effectiveness of the shoulder throw. A martial artist with a firm understanding of physics and many years of practice fully utilizes the attackers’ initial energy, momentum, mass, and aggression against him.

             The power of martial arts is developed through applications in science and not in religion. Individuals devoted to any faith can be effective martial artists. The student must be willing to develop proper understanding of technique to be successful. Teachers and students of the arts should pay more attention to the martial arts science instead of promoting their way of life. Students who wish to practice a certain religion should recognize the difference between lifestyle choices and the martial arts. Proper understanding will promote greater development of the arts and encourage participation of otherwise disinterested potential students.


Works Cited

Kawaishi, Mikonosuke. The Complete Seven Katas of Judo. New York : The Overlook Press 1982

Nakayama, Masatoshi. Best Karate, Fundamentals. New York : Kodansha International LTD. 1978

Tillery, Bill, Enger, Eldon, and Ross, Frederick . Integrated Science. New York : McGraw Hill

Astronomy 161 The Solar System Dept. Physics & Astronomy University of Tennessee Feb 23, 2003 (http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/history/newton3laws.html)

Physics 014 The Cosmic Perspective Isaac Newton’s Physics http://www.astro.queensu.ca/~hanes/p014/Notes/Topic_021.html#PART%202 Feb 23, 2003


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