Much of the early training in the martialbody method is designed to create efficiency, economy and power when interacting with a partner. There are many names in the traditional arts for this sort of body development, but a common and understandable term could be ‘Whole Body Power’. This is a phrase used in many martial arts to mean that every movement, no matter how small, is backed up by the entire body. In this article I will delve into a few of the ideas behind ‘Whole Body Power’ and how it can be developed.
The Subjectivity of power
When looking at the subject of whole-body power, perhaps the first thing to define is what we actually mean by ‘power’ in the martial context. There are those who define power purely in terms of the mechanical forces generated by a given motion. With the use of force meters and pressure plates, we can identify how much ‘Power’ is generated by an athlete for a give motion for instance. And techniques for measuring force are, of course, extremely useful in the field of sports science and are a vital part of elite level performance development.
However, in the martial arts we have a slightly different and more personal relationship with ‘power’. In much the same way that the sensation of pain is thought to be heavily influenced by mental and emotional state, so, the feeling of power in a martial exchange can be similarly subjective. This doesn’t mean that the mechanical force generated is not relevant, but the sensation we feel when in exchange and the resulting way in which we process those sensation can cause us to perceive force in a very persona way.
A simple example of this could be, when pushing on someone much smaller than you who has a ConnectedBody, making them somewhat immovable, it can feel like they are very powerful, even though they are not expressing ‘Power’ that would be measurable on the force meters.
It is often the way that someone perceives your power that will dictate the action that they use to overcome it. Although the adoption of whole-body power is a highly effective way of producing quantifiable force increases, It can also trick your opponent to think they are dealing with someone much ‘stronger’ than they are. The feeling being that you are always dealing with the accumulated power of the whole body. This can be somewhat disconcerting of course often results in opportunity as the opponent tries to figure out how to deal with it.
The benefits of whole-Body Power are numerous and apply as equally to Grappling as they do to striking, to Ground work as to standing and to self-defence as combat sport. Let’s look at the some of the fundamental ideas that constitute Whole Body Power.
In this article I dig into the attribution of effort and how it be spread throughout the body. But to briefly summarise the concept here, when the body is linked together and using the combined action of the tissues in harmony it can spread the effort for a given motion. This means that the action is less reliant on any one muscle group, energy expenditure is lower, and you can remain efficient for longer in martial exchange.
But there is slightly more to this concept than just efficiency of muscle action. In fact, the action of levers and their associated spans can also be used to create ‘apparent strength’. Think of the lever in place to move a large block of concrete, there is a process of force amplification at work that can allow a small input force to move a large weight.
Our Bodies are full of spans (bones) and linkages (ligaments) that can transmit forces, both from elsewhere in our bodies, and from external factors. These spans are also able to articulate (via the Joints) and be articulated (via Muscles) to change angles, much like a Lever. As this body of spans that are articulating via a combined muscle action moves around, a very refined type of efficiency can result. If this type of is harmonised and purposeful someone interacting with the structure will be dealing with all the body tissues engaging at the same time, so articulate the skeleton so as to create superior angles. This type of advanced whole-body power is seen in many of the ‘Internal’ styles of Martial Art that focus like Taiji Quan as evidenced in some of the Classic Texts from that style:
“Stand like a perfectly balanced scale and
move like a turning wheel.”
“The whole body should be threaded together
through every joint
without the slightest break.”
So far, we have simply talked about how the body is harmonised to create increased apparent power. But how about boosting the actual output from this newly connected body?
Building the Power
There are, of course, many ways the power we generate with our body can be used. For the grappler power may be expressed in long crushing sequences where it is constant and sustained. For the Striker the power may be expressed within condensed short intervals as opportunities and openings appear. The important thing to remember here, however, is that the actual source of the power remains the same. The power we can generate using the whole body is dependent on a few different things, generally happening at once.
Part of the whole-body power method is found in the cumulative contribution of all of the muscles and connective tissues of the body. Literally everything from the small muscles in the feet to those in the hands, and everything in between is used in every inch of motion. The cumulative effort of everything being involved in every motion can produce shocking levels of force, but there is often a very interesting first problem that people hit with this idea. They simply don’t know they aren’t using the whole body!
Ask someone to push as hard as they can against a wall and they will perceive that they are using their entire body to do so. However, when you examine their body you will note that there are many areas of slack. This is because a path of tension is being formed from the Wall to the floor inside the individual pushing, this is an error for whole body power. As I have mentioned in previous articles the creation of this path from the point of contact through the body to the floor is extremely easy to exploit, but more so, it means that only one line of muscle and connective tissue is in use … the rest of the body is absent from the effort.
Instead, to correctly express whole body connected power we want to spread the effort to every part of the body. For instance, again pushing the wall, we want the non-bracing leg to be pulling on the ground to involve the opposite leg. We want every bit of slack in the system removed and every tissue in the body active and involved. Once we understand how this feels, usually with the guidance of an experienced coach, we can begin to focus on building the strength of this cumulative effort. Building this power can take the form various solo training methods, from isometric holds under extension to bodyweight training.
There are, in fact, many approaches to training to increase whole body power and equally as many ways to express it. As mentioned previously, longer force applications like those found in Grappling arts will differ from Shorter applications found in striking. But further, there can also be varied uses of the combined tissue recruitment. These can take the form of ‘pulse’ expressions, ‘wave’ expressions or ‘Ram’ expressions. But they all share the attribute of cumulative effort shared by the whole body.
The Turning Wheel.
In addition to the idea of cumulative effort, and for some more important, is the idea of the turning wheel. This involves action in the working centre and around the centre point (discussed here & here) being immediately expressed at the body surfaces. A good analogy here is to imagine a wheel attached to an engine via an axle. When you fire up the engine the axle turns as does the wheel, all immediately with no slack present. This idea also shows the utility of this method power amplification. The Axle can turn a tiny amount, but this will cause the rim of the wheel will travel a larger distance. If the engine driving the turn is powerful enough the Rim of the wheel will move with tremendous power, similarly if the working centre is developed enough, when it turns tremendous power can result at the active surfaces of the body.
The beauty of the turning wheel concept, especially when combined with the method of cumulative effort is that it always remains balanced. A wheel can rotate at enormous speed, without travelling forward or back, up or down, left or right. It can remain stable and in place while simultaneously expressing huge volumes of speed and power (were you to interact with it!). One way that we can perceive this rotation, which becomes useful when we move the model to the human body is that distal points on the wheel will be moving in opposite direction. When you look at the spokes on a wheel, with the correct perspective it will appear that as one is travelling forward and to the right, the spoke on the opposite side of the wheel will be turning backwards and to the left. (More on this concept, which I call ‘pairing’ here.)
Of course, we are not a wheel and the complexities of our bodies are such that rotation at the level of the working centre may be channelled in a vaste number of ways. It can cause the body to concave or convex, to wave or whip, to turn left or right, to open up or down, to shoot forwards or backwards. Harmonizing this direction with the cumulative effort of all the bodies tissues then creates something rather unique and special.
So, in conclusion, it can often be the case that we train individual aspects of the MartialBody without any real sense of how they ultimately fit together. But ‘Whole Body Connected Power’ as a goal can focus our efforts somewhat. We will need to have a heavy, stable, connected and elastic body as a minimum requirement for this to work, then to ‘turn the wheel’ will need the SpiralBody. But when you gain it, you will automatically ‘feel’ very different to your training partners.