Getting better at sport (Part 1)

I’d been thinking of writing these posts for a while, but things kept happening that slightly tweaked my viewpoint and how I felt I could best present my thoughts. After some pondering (a lot of which generally takes place before I write anything significant on here) I decided to split what is a fairly epic subject into two posts and just get on with writing.

About once a year I go to the local driving range with my Dad. I’ve never played a game of golf in my life, and before picking up a club with him I’d never tried to play (excluding mini golf on family holidays!). Somehow, though, I’m quite good at it and can consistently hit a ball well over 100m. I went a few weeks ago with both my parents as Mum’s just started to have golf lessons. I think it annoyed her that I could hit so far and so consistently, and I tried to explain why it was the case – that I was able to apply things I’d learnt in karate to get a “head start” at being good at golf. I’m not sure I did a very good job of explaining to her what they are, so thought I’d try and write about them here instead.

If you take away the “game” element (point scoring, tactics etc.), what is required to “play” a sport can essentially be broken down into physics. Every sport requires some mechanism to generate power in order to propel something – usually either yourself or a ball – somewhere else. As you will (maybe!) remember from science class at school, there’s a dizzying array of complicated formulae that can be used to calculate power output in a number of different circumstances – from gravity, from something spinning around, from something rolling down a hill, and so on.  There are also other factors that will inhibit that objects ability to generate power, and factors that will limit power output further down the line.

Once you understand that things can be viewed like this then you can look at a sport and break down the movements into a series of almost mechanical motions, and then further understand how to fine-tune them into the perfect technique (well, in an ideal world!).

For example, applied to golf, the power comes from the hips as they are rotated. By keeping the body in-line and the shoulders and hips on an axis, rotating around the head, the club makes a smooth and consistent arc and power output is maximised by the time the it reaches the ball.

There are many things that can inhibit power, such as moving the head, which would cause a wobble in the axis. If you haven’t already read it, this idea was something I spoke about in this post, which has some examples that I feel are quite relevant.

I’m pretty sure that this idea of breaking down “sport” into their constituent movements could work for anything. Tennis springs to mind, and the idea of creating a smooth arc with rotation around a central point (the hips, again) is the same as in golf. And in football the same principles can be applied to the arc made by the leg as it kicks the ball.
Just to veer off slightly, it’s not just rotational power that can be generated from the hips, but gravitational force can be used to huge effect (and is indeed used every time we stand up). They can be well utilised if you are ever in a situation where you need to really use your bodyweight. My ex-housemate Nick, who is a black belt in Aikido, and I often get drunk and mess about with our respective martial arts (not, I might add, something I would recommend). At a wedding (?!) a month ago he knelt down in seiza and asked me to push down on his shoulders and that he’d demonstrate how to get up (or something like that – memories are a little hazy). All I did was put one hand on each shoulder, lock out my arms and concentrate on keeping my energy (gravity) going straight down through my hips. As he moved, I moved, and funnily enough he couldn’t actually get up. I was messing around with another friend doing some play-fighting grappling. He seemed surprised that I could stay on top without him pushing me off, and I explained the secret – that by keeping my hips down and pressed against him made me appear much heavier, and that the lack of space between us meant there was less room for him to manouver an exit. It’s why the “sprawl” is such a powerful move in grappling.

Anyhow, the different ways that power is generated is something I find endlessly fascinating (even within seemingly similar martial arts there are massive differences) and I could happily waffle on for another three thousand words. But I won’t – I will stop here in the hope that it has left you with something to think about that you can apply to your own training.

[Edit: You can read Part 2 here, and also an addendum of sorts, Part 3)

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *