One of the most fundamental skills to learn in Combatives is the ability to generate powerful strikes that will take an attacker down in the quickest time possible. You may still get away with having little power in your strikes–you may still prevail–but it will take you longer to do so, because you will have to hit your attacker more times in order to put them down.
Having to throw more strikes takes time, and that’s time you are giving your attacker to possibly come back at you, or for someone else to join in. No one wants to get involved in protracted fights. Most just want it over and done with in the quickest time possible, and one of the best ways for that to happen is to hit your attacker as hard as you possibly can. This means you have to spend a lot of time on power generation.
Obviously this does not mean that you will drop attackers like flies every single time. It merely means that you have significantly increased your chances of dropping the other guy quickly.
That’s reason enough to spend time on power generation, don’t you think?
What Is Power?
When we talk about power generation we are really talking about force generation. However, a better way of looking at it would be in terms of momentum, which can be defined as being the product of accelerated mass.
The bigger picture of what you are doing when you strike is that you are accelerating your mass (your body) in the direction of your target (an attacker) in order to create an impact between you (specifically, your hand or fist) and the opposing force (your attackers head).
For this process to occur with maximum effect and efficiency, a number of biomechanical concepts and principles are brought into play.
The scale of impact of your strike is measured against how skillfully you are able to engage this momentum process to full capacity.
Power (momentum) is first generated in the core of your body, as well as with the hips, which will also cause the spine to twist. This is the beginning of a kinetic chain or kinetic link that ends with you throwing the strike. The faster you can engage all the links in the kinetic chain, the more acceleration you will produce and thus the more powerful (forceful) the strike will be.
When looking to generate momentum the larger body parts (hips, abdominals etc.) are the first to move in the sequence, quickly followed by the smaller body parts (arms, hands) that feed of this momentum to produce fast, dynamic movements. This is also known as force summation.
Power is not about pushing of from the ground as some people think. Pushing off from the ground will add weight to your strike, but it won’t add velocity.
It is more important to maximize the velocity of the strike than the weight behind it. Weight is still important, but velocity is even more so.
Driving up from the ground will not add to the velocity of the strike because of the direction of the force vector. The force is travelling upwards instead of forwards.
Generating force from the hips/core ensures the velocity travels forward into the strike, which is where it is needed.
The twisting of the leg and foot therefore, is just a by product of the force generated in the core and through the spine.
Keeping the rear leg weighted behind you, as is the case with the classic boxing mechanics, will not aid velocity. It is much better to allow the rear leg to travel forward with the hips to ensure max velocity and momentum.
Everything has to contribute to the forward momentum in otherwards. Nothing gets left trailing behind to hinder this process.
To aid balance, you post on the front leg.
The key to this summation of forces is timing. Each link in the kinetic chain must be activated at precisely the right time.
Here’s Mick Coup explaining this process.
The Stretch Shortening Cycle
Another key factor in power generation is something called the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). This occurs when you quickly stretch a muscle and then just as quickly contract that muscle. This will add a significant amount of elastic energy to your strike.
This is done by simply pulling back and loading the strike. The more distance the striking tool (the hand) has to travel, the more velocity it will gain and thus the more force/impact will be generated.
This obviously raises the issue of telegraphing, which really, is a non-issue, as I’ve already said in a previous article. At such close range, it matters little if you telegraph the strike for it only takes a split second to do so and it will make little difference in terms of your opponent seeing the strike coming. Loading up in this way however, will make a significant difference in the power of your strike.
The quicker you can stretch and then contract the muscles involved in loading, the more power you will generate.
And speaking of elastic energy…
Plastic And Elastic Energy
The kind of impact you cause with your strike will largely depend on which of these two kinds of energy you use.
Plastic energy is utilised by pushing through your target. Allowing your strike to carry on through your target until it fizzles out, having the effect of sending an attacker flying backwards, may seem like a good thing to do, but it actually isn’t in terms of impact. By allowing your strike to carry on unchecked you are giving your attacker the chance to absorb the energy of the strike with 100% of their body mass. In effect, they will absorb what you give them and come right back at you again, since you haven’t really done anything to hurt them or cause them any real trauma.
Elastic energy on the otherhand, is utilised by allowing the striking hand to bounce back of the target naturally using the recoil generated by the impact. The effect will then be that your attacker will absorb all of the impact in a concentrated area of their body (the head), which will have a much greater traumatic effect on them because it will rattle their brain more inside their skull.
Care must be taken not to pull the strike too soon, as this will impede the energy transference of the strike. Follow through with the strike and allow the hand to bounce back naturally. It takes some practice to get this right, but the effect is well worth it.
The Serape Effect
We also have something called the Serape Effect. The Serape Effect is a band of muscle that criss-crosses the body from opposite shoulder to opposite hip on both sides. It is designed to aid rotational movements in the human body.
Logan and McKinney explain it this way in their book, The Serape Effect:
“The serape effect incorporates several major concepts which are vital to the understanding of movement. In ballistic actions such as throwing and kicking, the serape muscles add to the summation of internal forces. They also transfer internal force from a large body segment, the trunk, to relatively smaller body parts, the limbs. For example, the serape effect functions in throwing [striking] by summating, adding to, and transferring the internal forces generated in the lower limbs and pelvis to the throwing limb.”
Speaking of a right-handed thrower (substitute “thrower” for “striker”–the movements are much the same), Logan and McKinney state:
“There is a definite interaction between the pelvic girdle on the left and the throwing limb on the right by way of concentric contraction of the left internal oblique, right external oblique, and serratus anterior on the right at the initiation of the throw. The pelvic girdle is rotating to the left and the rib cage is rotating to the right.”
This means we should base our strikes around rotational movements, as opposed to linear ones.
So as you throw the strike you shouldn’t just be thrusting directly forward, but down and across to match the pulling movements of the muscles connecting from the left hip to the right shoulder. As you do this, you will notice the left hip rotating to the left and the tension in the left ribcage as it pulls in and rotates to the right. These movements together will combine to aid in your explosive power generation.
So basically, as you throw the strike, you are angling downwards to match the natural movements involved in this Serape Effect. I hope this makes sense, because it is very important.
If you were to throw a right palm strike, you would not just be thrusting forward with it in a linear fashion, but rotating your whole body to the left and downwards slightly at the same time, posting on the left leg to aid balance and allowing the right leg to come forward to aid momentum.
Head movement also comes into play here as well. For a right handed strike, the head will fly forwards and to the left to allow the body to rotate forwards.
This does not mean that all you have to do is throw your head quickly forwards to do a powerful strike. The head movement is more of a by product of all the other movements involved, just as the leg and foot twist is a by product also.
In order for power to occur, we have established that you must move your mass as quickly as possible with maximum velocity to the target.
For this to be effective however, you must also present a solid structure to resist the recoil that will come from the impact. A weak structure will result in a weak transference of force and the energy you generated will end up going back into you again.
Strength is another factor effecting power. The use of strength should not be your initial concern when striking. Your initial concern should be correct body mechanics and transference of power. Once that is accomplished, you can then add in your strength to the equation, using it just at the end of the process to gain added force and impact.
You can also gain further momentum by stepping quickly forward with your lead leg, but this is obviously only possible when you have the space to do so.
There will also be times when you are unable to utilise the full kinetic chaining process, because you may be in an awkward position or completely lacking in space. In this case, you would then use your spine to generate power. It is possible to generate tremendous power with just the spine alone. When you see someone strike almost casually with little movement to affect a great impact, they are doing so by using the spine, twisting it very rapidly and forcefully.
(You can practice this by placing your open hand very close to a focus mitt so you can practice delivering impact at very short distances, without using your body much, except the spine. You’ll be surprised by how much impact you can generate.)
Inner-power, generated by emotion, can also be helpful in hitting hard. Aggression, anger etc. will help fuel your physical movements. I talked about this in another article.
Finally, relaxation is also a key factor to power generation. Tension will decrease your potential velocity in two ways:
1. You have to overcome the force of the muscles that are tense (this is how most beginners strike – they are very stiff).
2. You can’t stretch the muscle to use the SSC, since it’s impossible to stretch a contracted muscle.
You must therefore learn to fire of only the muscles needed to do the job, and relax the opposing muscles.
What you just read is the best template I know of for power generation at this time. I have no doubt further advances will be made, especially with all the research going in the MMA world and that being done by great instructors like Steve Morris and Mick Coup.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you found it useful, share it with your mates on Facebook and elsewhere.
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