When we take a higher level view of the hundreds of practices that encompass the Martial Arts or Combat sports we see that, regardless of origin, cultural background or goal, they boil down to our ability to produce or deal with forces. Even largely solo training methods like Iaido are reliant on a refined understanding of forces in our body to produce smoothness and clarity in the methods. This higher level view of the Martial Arts, peeling away the layers of context from them, gives us an opportunity to examine the types of force, power and method that are common across them.
Although simple in theory, in application, the ways in which we deal with forces, express them, create them and use them is complex. There are a huge number of different forces pertinent to the action of a human body moving, from the elastic forces in the tissues, the contractile forces produced by muscle, the leverage of the bones, the effect of gravity in our mass, the inter-abdominal pressures etc … To map the full scope of contributory factors in even a simple movement like walking is a big task. To do so would require a massive amount of laboratory and analytical equipment … and a lot of Math and number crunching.
The Martial Arts approached this complexity by describing the use of the body in terms of ‘power’. This was a top down look at the overall use of the body in a specific action, rather than a granular look at each contributing factor.
Powers as we mean them here are the types of movement, direction, angle, expression and interaction that produce a specific type of result. This focus on ‘powers’ is something that we see in many traditional martial arts. They would have words or phrases to describe a specific type of power that they use for a specific purpose. In a ‘warding off movement’ there would be a specific type of power, in a ‘dragging movement’ another kind of power, in a “leading movement” still another and so on.
This method of describing a method by its type of power, rather than its specific technique, helped Martial Artists focus on the training methods to achieve or enhance these specific ‘powers’. They would train to produce a strong ‘dragging’ power for instance to be used in all ‘dragging’ methods, regardless of specific technique. Over time these training methods for specific ‘powers’ would become more and more refined often becoming so subtle that the slightest of movements was still full and clear.
Once again, however, we find ourselves faced with a mountain of information. Powers for pulling, dragging, lifting, pushing, crossing, splitting, grasping, cutting, chopping, waving, pulsing, rotating, rolling … the list is long and expansive!
But, moving higher still, we are able to simplify even further to group all of the power methods into 2 distinct categories – The Active Methods and the Passive Methods. This distinction is something that I use to describe the way in which a type of power we produce is experienced by the opponent or partner. Indeed, it actually maps into how we perceive our own movement, power or force production as well.
Understanding the difference between these 2 ideas and their interaction can be an excellent over arching guide to frame techniques and powers, and their usage. In this series of articles I will be exploring the idea of ‘power’ and how the MartialBody can be used to create, express or produce powers in the Martial Setting. We start with the higher level concepts and will work our way down into the myriad of different powers as the articles progress. First, lets look at the power equation from the view point of the Active & Passive Methods.
2 sides of the same coin.
Firstly, we must clearly understand that although these are somewhat opposite approaches they are all part of the same fundamental framework. Neither can, nor should, be used in isolation and, in fact, will be expressed in a constant exchange during a real combative encounter, often within fractions of a second.
I describe this as a the ‘coin’ analogy. If we flip a coin we always are focused on the sides of the coin – but to spend the coin we need the whole coin and do not even consider which side is which. In this article, and the upcoming articles looking at each power in detail, these differences should always be framed within the context of the whole. It is very easy to zoom in on a subject and view it in complete isolation, out of context or with a narrow viewpoint. Indeed, I believe this is one of the reasons we see so many strange phenomena in the Martial Arts, people losing themselves to a singular idea that was never meant to stand alone. But here, let's keep our heads and stay focused on the whole coin – even as we discuss the design of each face.
Active and Passive power methods.
So what exactly does Active or Passive power methods mean? Again I will use an analogy to describe the idea first, then we will dig into its applicability to the human model in later articles.
Imagine a huge stone ball, much like the one famously seen in the Indiana Jones Movie – Raiders of the Lost Arc. There are 2 ways that we can imagine this ball to exhibit the idea of Active or Passive Power.
- Active Power - The Ball is rolling towards us, much like in the move, running us over and squashing us flat – this is the Active idea – the ball is actively expressing its power and we have to escape it.
- Passive Power - The Ball is fixed via an axel and is spinning freely in place – here it is only a danger when we reach out to grab or touch it. The Ball is expressive power that is inconsequential until we engage with it – then we are flung around.
If we were to take direction or environment out of the equation the balls rolling action would be the same in both scenarios, but the context of this action in space, in relation to the ground and in relation to other objects is what creates the differing effects. Which is more ‘powerful’ is a mut point as it is the same ball, spinning in the same way. It is the context for the power that defines whether it is passive or active in its expression.
Hopefully this simple example clarifies the idea somewhat, but we could also say that; Active Power seeks the partner in some respect, while Passive Power catches the partner as they seek us.
Active power method overview
The active power is the expression that ‘seeks’ or ‘acts’ upon the opponent. We may still retain highly refined body mechanics and have an internal focus on the production of that power, we will be applying this method to the opponent or partner. It is active in its application in that it will act on the opponents gaps and vulnerabilities. This is often the most common type of power we see in the Martial Arts, where seeking the advantage through active means is the focus.
It is important to note here that, just like the stone ball rolling the power generation and production methods do not necessarily differ to those found in the Passive method, it is the context in which these powers are expressed that produces the differentiation.
Active Power methods are often characterized by the addition of external environmental context to the body method. We encroach on the partner, lure them into us, attack through open ‘gates’, disrupt balance through actively seeking to do so etc.
Passive Power Method Overview
The passive power method is found in the expression of body method without clear consideration of applying it to the partner. Like the ball spinning, we create the conditions within us that, if touched by the partner, will produce effects in them.
This is not to say that we are completely unaware of the partner or their methods, that would be a grave mistake, simply that their forces, structure and methods are not met with direct counters. They are handled through the nature of our ability to move ourselves regardless of the partner.
It is not only the action of our own movement that can be characterized by the passive approach. There are methods for ‘returning’ forces that are applied to us which would also fit under this approach. Methods like checking a strike on one side and using its force to rotate freely and return the action onto the other side in order to strike. The resulting strike is not a consequence of active methods, but one of the passive receipt and return of the opponents forces.
Passive power is the least common of the two, but tends to become more and more prevalent the longer someone practices or the more they age. It does not require a constant ‘hunt’ for the partner as the Active method does. There are some Martial Arts that focus primarily on the passive power approach and these methods invariably look to produce some sort of ‘off balancing’ before switching to the active methods for purposes of attacking. Through the right technical lens, the passive approach can produce extremely powerful effects and although it is 'passive' that should not be read as meaning 'weak'. Once again, Passive and Active are not isolated and should never be perceived as such.
This introductory article is presenting this initial idea of Passive and Active power. In the next 2 articles we will dig much deeper into these 2 subjects. Then, in subsequent articles we will be exploring various variations and principles of power and how it relates to the 6 bodies of the MartialBody method.