How to Get More F in Your Attacks: 3 Elements for Greater Force Generation
Get ready for a short primer with some real weight. There are only three elements you can change to get more force into your attacks. Mass, Acceleration, and Body Structure. Understanding and applying this triad of concepts will leave an indelible mark on your martial arts skill set. They are easy to understand in theory but even easier to muck up in application.
Force = Mass x Acceleration. Plus, for a forceful attack there must also be a transfer of that force to the target. Which is where we get "Structure" as our third element.
Mass in the Direction of the Strike
Unless we are talking about a long-term situation where you are planning to put on or lose body weight and barring a Black Knight situation, your available mass will stay virtually static throughout a fight.
While overall mass will be treated as a constant for discussion, your recruited mass can vary greatly. Therefore, the key is to maximizing power is to put as much of that available mass as possible in the direction of the strike. Coupling a drop step to a strike is the easiest and most obvious method of adding power to an upper body strike. A common, basic drill in Wing Chun is to practice your chain punch(s) coupled with your Biu Ma step (basic forward moving shuffle step). The sorta hidden drop step within the Biu Ma step is when your strike should be hitting. In addition to these methods, hip turning, rising and sinking, and other weight shifting can add or subtract from the total body mass moving in the direction of the attack. Maximizing the amount of available mass coupled to an attack is paramount. Think punching with just the arm versus punching with the whole body behind it.
Looking at the equation Force = Mass x Acceleration, it is equally obvious that maximizing acceleration matters as much as maximizing mass. To over simply, move faster to increase force. However, if by doing this, you lose mass moving in the direction of an attack you could end up with a weaker attack that just moved faster. So, do not lose technique when adding speed. Speed training will over time increase the amount of force you can generate. Make sure your speed training is total body training.
In addition to these 6 ideas, you may want to consider strength training if it is not already a component of your conditioning program.
Beyond "just move faster" lies the use of technique to move an attack faster. Let us take a punch for example. The above mentioned "punch whilst shuffle stepping forward" adds not only mass to the strike but also increases the speed at which the hand is moving upon contact. Hand speed gets added to the speed of the platform on which it is moving. Turning the hips also adds to the speed of the platform. As you understanding expands you should see how these elements interplay and stack when properly timed.
Proper "Structure"/Good Body Alignment
Structure in Wing Chun is not really all that special. It is simply good, human body mechanics within a certain context. Having "good structure" in Wing Chun is just skeletal alignment which optimizes energy transfer to the target during an attack. Said another way, we want body alignment to the target which facilitates the cleanest transfer of energy possible while at the same time minimizing chances of injury. Proper structure varies with the movement tools being used, and assuming you can get from point A(part) to point B(ang) body alignment only matters for the duration of time one is trying to transfer energy into the target with an attack. A poorly aligned body will compress and dissipate the force you put together through use of mass and acceleration. And in addition to reducing the force delivered, you may injure yourself with your own attack. (This could be an acute thing or a repetitive stress type injury over time!)
Using the wrong tool in a given range (where you are still making contact with the target) will necessarily lead to a compromise of structure. Range and overall body positions will determine what tools you should use to encourage good structure. Range is so important that Marc MacYoung makes it a separate element in his "Power Triangle" in the book "Secrets" of Effective Offense.
But since here I am primarily discussing force generation I see it as a separate idea. For effective striking (or other attacks) one must absolutely have a good command of range. However for mere force generation, the ideas of range and structure are easily condensed into one idea: "proper body alignment for clean energy transfer" as it is obvious that contact needs to be made for this to occur.
Proper body alignment will get you far, however two other considerations for "good structure" should be considered. Strength , and impact conditioning.
If you can line your body up optimally but cannot maintain that alignment throughout the energy transfer phase of an attack you have a strength deficiency dissipating your force. You need not necessarily be bigger or stronger than your opponent to prevail, but to get the most bang out of the mass you have you will need to be strong enough to support that accelerated mass through an attack. And strength of course circles us back to acceleration potential.
Impact conditioning will help to insure what you are accelerating at a target is not mush that will break upon impact but rather will make a devastatingly clean energy transfer. Think how differently a wrecking ball would work if it was made out of Jello or glass.
So, how to use these ideas?
Look for these element's presence and interaction in your own movements. All three need to be present in maximum proportion and in harmony. Look for where you are fowling up their interactions or where you can add more of one or the other without fowling up another. If all is well, only physical conditioning will aid you in building for force in your attacks.
For example, ask yourself how you can add body mass in the direction the attack. But if putting more mass behind a strike incites faulty body alignment, force delivered may be reduced and self-injury may be incurred.
Or, if adding speed causes less mass to get moved along in the direction of the strike, you may be lessening the overall force on target.
Or, if holding "proper structure" too long prior to impact causes you to move too slow, learn to coordinate your body so that proper body alignment is achieved only at and through the contact and energy transfer phase of an attack.
Analyze your attacks through then lens of these three elements. Are you missing part of one or more? Can you improve any of these elements without mucking up the others? Can your conditioning regimen be tweaked to improve any or all three? Chances are yes. Give it a try.
Sifu Nick Edmonds
Red Light Wing Chun Phoenix, Arizona
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