Tension and power

One of the things that I find most interesting about martial arts is the different ways they generate power. To the untrained eye a punch is just a punch, but when you look at each art they all have slightly different ways of generating the power to make the seemingly simple journey from fist to object. As an example, a cross punch in karate (gyakuzuki) generates power by transferring it from the feet, which are solidly grounded in quite a deep stance, through strong hip rotation, along the arm and through the elbow joint and eventually to the fist. But the same punch in boxing is very different – it needs lighter footwork, a narrower stance and although utilises some hip movement mostly relies on a push-pull rotation of the shoulder.

Here is a demonstration of a gyakuzuki:

And a short clip about throwing a cross in boxing:

It’s not just about rotational power, but also about the generation and release of tension in the body. For gyakuzuki, continuing that example, there is a period as you move forward into it, way before releasing the fist, where you create tension in the hips. It’s almost likes queezing a tennis ball hard and using that compression to let it pop forcefully out of your hand. It’s this torque, as it’s released, that helps to further drive the punch forwards. In karate most of this power is generated from the hara – the area below your belly button, and your centre of gravity if your stance is correct.

Anyhow, the reason I am talking about this is because I have recently found I’ve been training in bar calisthenics enough to start to understand more about how power is generated. It’s not just about bare strength and hauling yourself up over the bar, but about using the tension that you create in your body and carry in your hara to move yourself up more efficiently.

Assuming you’re going for fast dynamic pull ups, rather than strict ones where you would lock out totally, you create tension when you hit the bottom. You create this in the muscles in your forearms and around your elbows which has the effect of being a bit like a rubber band – as you hit the bottom and your body meets the resistance that your tensed muscles have created, it gives you some force to spring back up again.

Keeping your core tense, rather than allowing your body to flap around and your arms do all the work, almost allows you to focus that energy in your body on moving upwards and forwards. That sounds like hippy sh*t, but there is an element of concentrating on keeping that tension in your abs and back and feeling it assist you in getting upwards. Now that I’m getting to the point where I can do pull ups etc. with decent form (instead of thinking “damn that’s hard” or trying not to swing around) it feels good to be able to think about the mechanics involved, and how I can make them work more effectively for me. It also reminds me of the way that over the years of training in karate you learn to internalise your movements.

In case you’ve got to the bottom of this post and you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, then hopefully after watching this and taking into account the above, you’ll see what I mean. Here’s Bar-barian Zef…

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