Directing Energy in Your Martial Arts
---- Matthew Daniels ----
If there is one thing that seems to frighten and temporarily alienate newcomers to the martial arts, it seems to be noise. The kiai we often see in the Japanese arts is a prime example. Often, a new student will feel out of place when asked to kiai, and may sometimes refuse to kiai for weeks into their training. Even among those who do not refuse, it is not uncommon for the more arrogant students to snicker behind their instructor's back at the idea of a kiai.
But for the advanced student, the kiai is no longer only a noise; in fact, one might eventually feel that the kiai is not a noise at all, but happens to produce some involuntary sound as a consequence of an energetic explosion which drives the power behind their motions.
When a student begins to realize that a kiai is, indeed, not a noise at all, he has probably started to understand the importance of energy management in his chosen art.
I - and my instructors, before me - will sometimes ask students where their punch begins and ends. To a white belt, this may seem a nonsensical question; the fist, of course, travels from the ribs to the desired target (the opponent's solar plexus, for instance).
Obviously, this is not the answer that an instructor is looking for. The punch should start not from the ribs, but from the ground. For some students, this will initially seem confusing, but it is certainly true. The energy that drives your fist should start from the heel.
As a punch is executed, the heel should push against the ground. Imagine that the path of your body between the heel and the knuckles is a large canoe resting against a riverbank (the ground). From a standstill, can you simply begin to paddle and expect the canoe to move?
Well... actually, you can. And sometimes, there's nothing wrong with this. This is called punching from the shoulder. But would it not be faster and more powerful to push off of from a sturdy riverbank, getting your momentum going before you begin to paddle? This is called punching from the heel.
A convenient way to practice energy concepts like this one is to visualize the energy transferring through your body in real time, as you're punching. The Chinese traditionally believe in the concept of chi, an energy-like substance which permeates the body and the world, providing a sort of life-force. Fully appreciating the concepts of chi and the Chinese philosophies behind the different energies at work in the cosmos and inside the human body is far, far beyond the scope of this article. For now, to illustrate my ideas about energy in your martial art, we will make the gross assumption that chi is a homogeneous, energetic fluid that can be directed and harnessed by the body.
So, in the previous example, can we draw energy like this from the ground? Yes, we can; and you should, if you wish to generate a respectable amount of power in your attack. If you visualize the energy transfers at work in your body, it can help you attain this energy channeling and put your whole body in sync with your attack.
Let's run a basic trace of this energy as it travels from the Earth and out of your fist. For our purposes, the Earth is not moving; it provides an eternal riverbank to shove off of, and is a limitless source of energy. Therefore, when appropriate, we should always try to use it to our advantage. To do this effectively, we must root ourselves into the ground; this is one application of your stance training. Try to imagine your feet reaching down into the ground, locking themselves in place by becoming part of the Earth. These roots will help ou soak up the energy that will drive your fist.
As you shove off from the heel (without losing your root), the energy will being to travel up the legs. As it reaches the waist, two things should happen simultaneously. The energy should being to torque the waist and hips. It turn, the waist and hips will accelerate the energy up the body and into the spine.
As the energy travels up the spine, a similar reaction will take place. The energy will excite the spine, causing a wave through it and up the back. Your chi should ride this wave up your body (along the fire path), and it will be thrown out of the spine and into the arm.