In the continuing series of articles on force and how we deal with it, this article will be looking at an important if ‘shunned’ aspect, dealing with ‘Brute Strength’.
There are several Martial Arts that claim to have the ability to overcome superior strength and size with technical skill and unique body mechanics. These arts are often renowned for these claims, either by those who have felt the skillset of a real expert or by those who have tested them and found them lacking. Either way the claim remains.
Anyone who has trained in an art like Taiji or Aikido for instance may have heard these claims many times. They more than certainly also heard comments like “you are using too much strength” or “you are just using brute force” during their training time. Of course, for the mechanics of these arts to be effective that may well be true in some instances. However, and it is a big however, often the Brute strength that the ‘unskilled’ person uses wins the exchange!
I have seen it a 100 times over, an exponent says ‘ok push me’ to demonstrate some method of dealing with force, then when they are unwillingly pushed across the room, ‘No, no you are using brute strength, push like This!’ Often to the bewilderment of the pusher.
Many exponents, through no fault of their own, miss the problem here. It may be true that for the art to be effective you should not use brute strength and that a more wholistic body skill could well produce better results, but there is a very good lesson in the demonstrations we see of this nature.
The exponents body skill or method simply could not deal with Brute Strength.
During my time in Nightclub security do you know how many skilled martial artists with refined body method I encountered? One. One kickboxer who proceeded to knock out 2 of my colleagues before I and several others could restrain him. In the hundreds of other encounters I was involved in, every one of them involved dealing with rage (and sometimes drugs) driven Brute Strength in one way or another.
‘Brute strength’ is the natural survival state for almost all people, so it would be advisable that we understand how to deal with this first before we move onto dealing with the refined mechanics of the trained fighter.
Embracing the untrained
There are of course many instances during learning or training where we must adhere to the core concepts of the method so that we can develop the qualities that we are aiming towards. These training periods should be full of correction, struggle and direction and we should be striving to make them perfect. However, there are times when we need to see how well all our hard work is doing, and these moments, where we simply accept the situation as it is and train, can be some of the most fruitful.
One of the best ways that we can do this is to accept ‘Brute Stength’ even if, ultimately that Is not the drill. Let’s say it is a fixed step pushing hands format where we are not to take any steps during the pushing and pulling interchange with the partner. No strike, no locking, just try to make the partner step using any means. Here we will see that at least one person, but often both people, will soon enter into a shoving contest and brute strength will be the name of the game. One need only look at the modern pushing hands format to see this in action.
But, unlike many traditional taiji exponents, we really shouldn’t shun this moment. For the people with the eyes to see and the will to change, it provides truly excellent testing for their body skill, method, and technique.
Ask yourself, when someone uses brute strength, do you fight it with your own? Do you return their power in kind? Do you love the little wins where your strength outmatched theirs? Well I have some bad news for you, you may have missed the biggest lesson in the exchange. If your methods are built on overcoming superior force in a different way, your methods failed you.
We need only embrace the untrained natural response, the power that is expressed towards you and work with it to be able to truly test our method. It is far easier said than done of course, but if you lose 9 times out of 10, but win with precise mechanical and body method skill just once … you ultimate win.
Developing the feel for brute strength
The more you train this way, feeling, failing and trying to make your methods work the more you will become accustomed to the feeling of Brute Strength being applied to you. When I teach Grappling and we perform stand up ‘randori’ or free training I will often pick the largest strongest opponents in the room. Some of these Guys are new, heavy and strong. With them I am able to test myself against brute strength, Some of their peers are also extremely skilled, the next stage of testing!
However, if I cannot make my methods work against the big untrained guy with lots of power, I have no business moving onto the big trained guy with lots of power! So slowly over time you begin to feel what it is like to have real, determined, power applied against you. You develop a feel for Brute Strength and the impact it has on you and this first step is one of the most important we can make.
To the fighter, this feeling is clear and familiar. But to those who never experience it, or whos training is constantly telling people off for using it, Brute strength can seem shocking, overwhelming, and frightening. A large strong person using their physicality can be extremely disconcerting to a body not used to that pressure.
But, placing yourself into this crucible repeatedly, you become accustomed to the feeling of this pressure. Then you can truly relax and train. In the JiuJitsu class I run we have some monster white belts arrive to train who are powerlifters, and strength athletes and they easilly ragdoll many of their peers. But when they roll with higher grades no volume of strength they exert amounts to anything. The reason is partly technical in nature, but it is equally the familiarity and deep comfort with the feeling of strength which in turn allows the mind to work freely. (image Pedro Sauer 150lbs vs Weight Lifter 250lbs)
So, the next time someone tries to muscle you during an exchange, the next time someone uses ‘brute strength’ maybe you should test to see if your method, body and skillset can handle it. If it can’t then thank them for the lesson, they just taught you something very important about your own level, and pointed you towards some deeper levels of training.