THE THEORY OF POWER – A General Martial Art Concept

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By Gwen F. Hall 7th Dan Tae Kwon Do

                Concentration, Balance, Breath Control, Reaction Force, Speed interrelated with mass: these elements formulate the Theory of Power.  For those who are aware of them, there is sometimes a disconnect between naming them and understanding their depth of meaning, what comprises each and their interrelated application during technique and stance execution. The theory was codified by Gen. Choi, Hong Hi in the late 1950’s and is discussed in his books and encyclopedia. It is a concept that is also valid for other Martial Arts not just Tae Kwon Do.

CONCENTRATION – JIP JOONG:  Concentration is based on pressure being equal to force multiplied by area and has three dimensions -Spiritual, Mental and Physical. If any of the three are disproportionate to the others, concentration is weakened and its contribution to power dynamics is diminished.

One religious teaching says that a two souled person has nowhere to stand and is caught between two positions or places. He can neither move from one side nor the other, he is trapped with one part of his life on one side of a chasm and the other part of his life on the other side. The longer he stays in his indecision astride the chasm, the weaker he becomes until he cannot move at all. He dies falling into the chasm.

So it is with concentration. For it to function, the spiritual element of dedication can only be directed to one objective or accomplishment and the mind can only be in one thought place.

Application of Tae Kwon Do tenants perseverance and indomitable spirit control the spiritual direction concentration will take. If perseverance and indomitable spirit wane, then concentration is dissipated.  If they are strong, then concentration is fortified. The spiritual dynamic is a pressure that narrows mental and physical energy thus multiplying their impact.

A split thought (break in mental attentiveness) between the immediate task or situation and one that will or could occur in the future or one that occurred in the past, renders the practitioner inert – unable to grasp what is being put before them or asked of them at the immediate moment.  Mental attentiveness is achieved by clearing the mind of all thoughts except those pertaining to what is being done at the moment and developing the skill to block out distractions.

Since a person cannot think two different thoughts at the exact same time, the Martial Artist must train the thought process to dwell on what is being learned or performed at that moment.  The mind works with words, images, and intuitive responses developed over time by experiences. During Martial Art situations allow only words (thoughts and ideas) pertaining to instruction or performance that are Art related. Permit only images of techniques being used at the time and their situational application to cross the “Minds Eye”. Then let the intuitive responses developed thru training help keep the class time or event proceeding on objective.

This mental discipline is accomplished by narrowing the mental and visual field of information. Look attentively and respectfully at the instructor while listening carefully to the teachings and study eagle-eyed the instructors body movements as he demonstrates technique. During my early years as a Hoc Sang, some of my instructors spoke only Korean. It was by studying intently the nuances of their movements that I learned the fine points of technique execution: they could not explain how to perform the techniques; so, I had to “bore site” their movements and use a mirror to study my actions to make them as close as possible to those of the Masters who were teaching me.

After narrowing the mental and visual field of information, the practitioner must pay dedicated attention to the target of a technique. Such attention necessitates following the formula of proper technique to specific target described in Gen Choi, Hang Hi’s book and encyclopedia. The incorrect tool applied to a target yields much less than favorable results.

Once the spiritual, mental and visual fields are narrowed onto a target, the devotee must transfer that specific energy to every muscle of the body while using the hips and the abdomen. The middle body core contains the muscular dynamic required for specifically dedicated energy expenditure. Lack of full application of this critical power source dilutes the force vector of any technique.

Concentration with its spiritual, mental and physical components simply means – to Aim Precisely and Move Intentionally.  But to do this, the components must be automatically operating in full coordination.

BALANCE – KYUN HYUNG:  A Martial Artist out of balance is a practitioner in peril. Without correct balance (maintaining ones center of gravity) no technique nor stance can be completely effective and the practitioner is subject to stumbling or being easily tripped and or taken down. Undo pressure or position stress is placed on the lower back, knees, hip alignment and ankle strength. The components of balance entail Proper Stance, Eye Contact, Head and Appendage Position, Correct Posture and a Strong Middle Core.

To be in a Proper Stance one must utilize correct foot placement and angle, weight distribution in the legs and middle body / hip position alignment. The stance must be stable yet flexible: a tense stance, like a tense muscle, is basically frozen. To loosen either prior to another movement takes time, albeit a fraction, and renders the devotee vulnerable to split-second attack. The body’s natural shock absorber of the knees and ankles are vital for correct, flexible stances and instantaneous stance adjustment and technique execution.

The different stances require various usages of these components. One must avoid the mixture / hybrid effect that cause neither one stance nor another resulting in knee damage, strained backs, sore hips and poor or ineffective technique execution.

Except for the blind practitioner where balance requirements and the Arts utilization necessitates different dynamics, expanded / wide range Eye Contact with the adversary is essential. It is attained by holding the head erect facing the proper direction while utilizing peripheral vision. Effective vision usage is critical to evaluate ones surrounding environment and the opponents utilization of that environment. Broadened Eye contact helps read an opponent’s body movement and is valuable for spotting weakness in his balance during movement.   Where eye contact is not possible, one must rely on intuitive assessments of the opponents movements and body contact with the opponent.

Correct Posture requires an erect middle body, squared shoulders with no slouching in the spine, proper hip positioning in each of the different stances and correctly placed footing and weight distribution on the feet. Bending at the hips or waist is not the same as slouching in the spine.

A Strong Body Core provides inner power to maintain a healthy back and upper body control. Strengthening the entire range of the middle body muscle complex gives support to the back and enables hand and leg techniques to be delivered with precision and crispness as the Martial Artist grows in skill and knowledge. With a strong body core, hip movement is accentuated for stance shifting and technique performance.

Head and Appendage position during kicking either assists balance and subsequent effective technique or nullifies both. Arms flailing about pulls body alignment off balance center and counteracts technique vector control. A head turned downward or not positioned to view the target / opponent offsets gravity control and contributes to pulling power away from a technique, especially a kick. Like other aspects of Martial Arts, all these components of Balance must work together for its attainment.

BREATH CONTROL – HO HUP: As a practitioners exertion increases, breathe control becomes paramount for continued activity. Learning how to conserve energy while maximizing oxygen usage when continued activity is required and a ‘rest break‘ is not immediate, becomes a vital skill to further training. It is a matter of perfecting the ability to train softly, executing effective movements with less base muscle exertion while maximizing breath control / oxygen intake thus building endurance or “staying power”. This approach facilitates “rest “ while continuing movement until oxygen and energy replenishment levels have been reached: ergo, permitting the Martial Artist to execute a few more full power techniques, either for combat practice or a techniques perfection. Breath control is an imperative for such endurance development. After such endurance extension, physical rest and breath control refreshment can then be enjoyed resulting in an overall strengthened training level.

Such skill development occurs over time as the individual continues their regimen. Like technique skill attainment comes with correct, quality practice and repeated exposure to good instruction, so too strengthened breath control endurance for longevity of training time or staying power during combat.

To obtain correct breathing and develop breath control one must inhale and exhale at proper intervals during movement i.e.; inhale during technique preparation and exhale during technique execution. Holding ones breath uses middle body core muscles to keep the chest cavity expanded and thus robs energy from a techniques execution. By exhaling with the performance of a technique, the middle body core muscles compress, pushing additional energy into the movement. Inhaling is normally accomplished through the nose and exhaling through both the nose and mouth.

Proper inhaling requires the expanding motion of the diaphragm filling the lungs from the bottom upward, not by lifting the shoulders up and down. To exhale properly the jaw needs to be slightly dropped and air expulsed via the nose and mouth by compressing the diaphragm, abdomen, and chest. One effect of this encompassing action is seen while making a Ki Hop – “Yell of Concentration”. It hardens the body against a blow thus reducing the blows shocking effect upon the system. A strong abdomen, well exercised diaphragm muscle and chest cavity muscles must be developed. Continual practice of fully inflating and deflating the lungs by correct inhaling and exhaling contributes to increasing their capacity and oxygen usage endurance. The greater the lung capacity, the more oxygen they can process and the more physical endurance the body can develop. Special exercises can help develop lung capacity and train breathing mechanics for periods of extended motion.

Head and Neck Alignment must be straight to facilitate an open airway. Air must be expulsed correctly by an open mouth, not compressed lips creating a spitting sound and hindering full exhalation. Opera soloists are exemplary breath control specialists.

REACTION FORCE – BANDONG RYOK: Reaction force is that “back up or augmenting” energy generated by the movements of the other or non force vector appendages and body / stance motion accompanying the technique executing appendage or body part. It is based on Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

An essential ingredient in Reaction Force is utilizing a “pulley action” between the arms and shoulders for hand techniques or arms/ shoulders and legs for kicking and stance positioning to acquire rhythm of movement, technique placement, and technique / body motion speed. Such action, timed with the placement of a stepping foot while executing technique, sets the base for Reaction Force.

During technique performance, reaction energy is aided by a “momentary stopping” of the executing tool to send out the power from a technique when the force vector waves outpace the initial techniques power: it is at that point that the micro-second “momentary stopping” of a technique tool movement (though not a deliberate action) releases the force vector to travel powerfully through the target. Simultaneously the executing tool resumes its completed motion sequence undetected by the naked eye. To an observer, this rapid micro-second hiatus and resumption in motion is never seen, yet can be fully felt by the experienced practitioner.

Hip movement, a sometimes unrecognized component in Reaction Force, functions somewhat like a primitive mans Atel  Atel – a small handheld throwing platform that helps launch a small spear. The platform numerically compounds the muscle power and arm length of the stone-age hunter. Correctly performed, hip movement adds power and length to a technique contributing to the Reaction Force dynamic.

The Sine Wave though not a frequently recognized aspect of Reaction Force, when integrated with stance shifting and technique execution, contributes to Reaction Force dynamics when moderately employed. An exaggerated application of Sign Wave, becomes a sponge that saps power from technique rather than augmenting it, thus dampening Reaction Force.

An example of these Reaction Force principles can be seen performing a stepping walking stance front middle punch – Gunnen Sogi  Hop Kaunde Jurigie. The placement of the forward stepping foot upon the floor generates a “recoil” from the floor up through the body. Simultaneously, the retracting arm coming back to the belt line with the same intensity as the punching arm sends a “recoil” around the back and through the shoulders. These “recoils” are part of Reaction Force. Both the stepping foot “recoil” and retracting arm “recoil” meet and are added to the punching arm as it proceeds forward in time with the front stepping foots placement. These motions – the stepping foot, retracting arm and punching arm – must move rhythmically together, beginning and ending at the same time (pulley action).

While the stepping foot is moving, the hips are cocking slightly backward. Then as the foot is touching the floor the hips quickly twist forward in time with the foot placement and punching arm (hip action).

During the forward legs movement there is a slight rise on the base leg knee action lifting the body slightly upward. As the stepping foot is placed on the floor, the body is lowered (Sine Wave). Care must be taken during the rising and lowering action. Too much rise (an exaggerated Sine Wave) can overpower the other elements of the technique’s movement, robbing them of impact power. Excessive Sine Wave causes too much forward body thrust requiring energy to retract and stop the balance – defeating forward momentum. This retracting / stopping motion comes through the middle body which causes the punching action to be pulled backward. It robs forward energy from the techniques effectiveness.-

SPEED  – SOK DO: A moderate Sine Wave action during body movement captures the power of gravity. It acts as a speed force multiplier while the technique travels, thus enhancing speed and impact.

Speed is also augmented by the devotee being relaxed prior to and after technique execution. A tensed muscle is “frozen” and must be relaxed before it can be flexed or re-tensed to perform movement.

Proper coordination of movement between stance changes, arms, hips, and kicking action helps increase speed.

If one of these components is “off coordination” then speed is hampered.

A continuous, smooth, correct path to the target – whether and offensive or defensive move – is critical to speed. A smooth, moderately paced, uniform, correct motion is faster in the long term, than a sloppily executed motion performed rapidly. Speed is sometimes equated only with rapidity; seldom is a slower motion identified with speed. Yet, slow motion is an integral part of speed as is mass and proper tool usage.

The interrelationship of mass and correct tool to target placement, as it pertains to speeds effectiveness, bears directly on power. For example a fingertip strike performed very rapidly yet applied to an inappropriate target or poorly performed, is ineffective, can result in the performers injury and the energy spent doing it is wasted. A punch or palm heel strike executed with less speed but properly placed on most any target is effective if only somewhat. It is rather like the difference between the impact effect of a .38 caliber round verses that of a .45 caliber ACP round. The .38 is smaller, lighter and much faster while the .45 is slower, yet heavier and larger. For these reasons, soldiers of the past generally preferred carrying the .45 caliber Colt 1911 as a side arm. It had knockdown power pretty much wherever it hit the enemy, unlike the smaller, faster .38 caliber.

The analogy is that a fast fingertip strike to the wrong target is less effective than a slower punch to most any target. The nature of a fingertip strike, like the .38, necessitates it’s being used precisely to the exact target it is designed to contact. There is an element of “forgiveness” with the fist; i.e. mass.

It takes longer to slow and stop an 18 wheel tractor trailer rig going at a moderate speed, than a small sporty automobile going relatively faster. The big rigs mass and weight just tends to keep moving. This analogy does not lend credence to wrong technique to target placement nor poor technique performance. It does not negate Gen. Choi, Hong Hi’s study of mass and speed relating to impact power. As he pointed out, if a person doubles their speed, their impact power is increased four times. Ergo, if the fingertip strike is performed correctly to a correct target, then the increased speed would create more power. The analogy is to emphasize that there is more to the element and effect of speed than rapidity. Slow and correct is better than fast and wrong.

Where rapid speed is crucial is in arriving at deflection (blocking) position of the attacking force vector before that weapon penetrates the blocking – guard radius. To defend effectively, the deflecting or dodging action must be generated faster than the attacking motion. This means reading the opponents move prior to its launch or being much faster with the correct defense than the attacker once his move is detected. To proficiently block with such speed, the defender must have mastered all of the components in the theory of power.

Speed is critical in producing an effective technique, yet without the other elements of the theory of power, its usefulness is degraded. The other components must be properly employed. The key is continual smooth, correct technique practice during all aspects of performance and training. Appropriate speed with a correct movement or technique will result.

Practitioners of non Tae Kwon Do Arts may find that the Theory of Power is also valid for them. Its various principals can tend to cross Martial Art style lines. Breath Control and the manner of its achievement does not change for other Martial Arts. Balance essentials are the same; i.e. a Judo practitioner out of balance cannot use his techniques effectively to offset his opponent. Concentration of spiritual dedication, mental attentiveness and body muscle exertion is crucial to any Martial Art. The principals of Reaction Force and the aspects of summoning effective utilization of Speed and its relation to mass are also valid in other Martial Arts.

Concentration, Balance, Breath Control, Reaction Force, Speed: eliminate one and the others are rendered void. Utilized properly together, they are a synergistic force. The Martial Artists who master The Theory of Power will vividly portray their Art.

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