Martial arts are, at their core, simply ways to move. The movements can be those of war, violence, tradition, beauty, efficiency, ceremony, cruelty or profundity but they movements none the less. And these movements always boil down to a core set of mechanics.
The development of the mechanics found in the combat arts is driven by the search for efficiency in creating and dealing with forces. These could be forces acting upon us, or forces that we produce to act on others. Forces as we mean them here are the powers generated from all possible martial tactics and motions, be that the forces produced from Grappling with a partner or the concussive forces created through striking or impact.
How we move, and using which principle, will have different implications for the encounter with the partner or opponent. The situation dictates the type of motion that is appropriate, sometimes we will want to be illusive, sometimes overbearing. But it is fair to say that our aim is almost always to maximize how our force is perceived by the opponent. Here we will explore some of the ways in which forces can be created or applied in general terms, the types of power we see in the fighting arts and their utility to the various combative fields.
Martial Arts as a group of movements encompass every possible articulation and direction that the human body is capable of. WE see wide variety in the movements, from the relatively static styles that focus on arm and hand dexterity to the acrobatic and athletic styles like Silat or Capoeira, which can exhibit flips, crawls and rolls. Essentially the term 'Martial Arts' is a broad as the term ‘Sport’ in the range and breadth of the movements we see.
It is quite a task to see through these many different and apparently divergent motions to recognize the commonalities between them. But if we zoom out enough we can see that there are in fact only 4 movement or force production concepts at play in all martial arts. These 4 concepts are more often than not in a constant state of change or combination but they remain the 4 cores of the motions and force production we see.
The most basic, but still highly effective, principle we see in the martial arts is the ‘Isolated’ movement. This is characterized by motion of a single part of the body isolated from the rest. A good example for this would be someone stopping your attack at the elbow so you flick out your forearm to strike them with your hand. The elbow is static and the forearm moves in isolation from the rest of the body.
This method of isolated movement is often shunned because it lacks the mass and connection of some of the other movement types we will talk about, but it can be highly effective when used by an expert in timing and rhythm. You do not need whole body connected power to strike an eye ball or the jaw line, both of which I have seen used to great effect in order to set up more high powered finishing techniques. This method of movement is often seen to create new angles, to distract an opponent from more connected forces or to Isolate one body part during contact so that the opponent doesn’t feel the re-positioning of your body on a new line. This method is often a ‘surprise’ method and angles and attacks from unexpected positions become possible.
Here is a masterful example of isolated motion as Anderson Silva strikes Forrest Griffin while his main body mass is traveling in the opposite direction to the strike.
Linear motion is the next step up from isolation motion in terms of power. Here the motion is backed up by the mass of the body and the co-ordinated effort of the body musculature and frame. This method of moving is characterized by force traveling along the obvious path, it goes straight to where you would think it goes.
So although someone might be rotating to perform a hook punch for instance, this would still be defined as Linear or direct because the power is traveling directly from the point of origination (rotation of the pelvis) to the point of impact (fist) with no added movement within that direction. This idea of direct motion is characterized by our ability to perceive it, this is not to say that these motions are crude or easy to stop, but that they are where we expect them to be.
This is where most striking in the Martial Arts is applied and where huge levels of power can be produced if the exponent is sufficiently developed. We see many MMA fighters exhibiting this linear/direct force to a very refined level, able to KO people with Jabs or straight kicks.
Perhaps most importantly this method adheres fully to the ‘rhythm and beat’ method of combat where there are definitive start and end points to the movement as power is expressed. Someone using direct or linear force/movement expression will have a rhythm and timing to their motion that can be recognized or understood. At the higher levels the beat and rhythm of an adept in Direct or linear motion can be ‘off beat’ and in strange and complicated rhythm. So even though the force is traveling the direct or obvious path, it is still extremely difficult to counter effectively.
Circular movement should not be necessarily confused with the path that a given action takes (because almost all human motion is in arcs!), instead here we are talking about the production of force using circles, especially circles in the joints. The rotation occurs at the level of the joints or vertebrae adding small, cumulative increases in power as a motion is performed. If we take the hook punch example above, now we would see rotational forces in the spine, shoulder, elbow, wrist, even hand all adding to the power of the direct or linear power already expressed. This is layered onto the linear movement type and a big jump in power can be felt without the need to necessarily increase your body mass, speed or to bring more weight to bare on the situation.
This method also starts to take the exponent out of the ‘Rhythm and beat’ fighting model because the circularity occurring in the joints and throughout the body means that there is no ‘stop/start’ to the movement, you simply loop back around the circle. The advantage of this idea is in how the practitioner will feel ‘full’ of power all the time, because they are always expressing circularity and there is no point between the beats where they are in a limbo.
We see this method at work in high level grapplers who don’t really have a ‘Beat’ to their movement, they simply feel like a Boa Constrictor, looping coil after coil over you until you are finished. Anyone who has rolled with a high level BJJ exponent will understand the feeling, there is no gap to exploit, no obvious direction of power and no single point to counter.
Here the great Marcello Garcia demonstrates a lack of 'beat' and a constant circularity of motion to defeat Victor Shaolin at the ADCC Grappling event.
Spiral movement is the highest level of movement complexity and the hardest level of movement for the opponent to counteract. Although this level generally does not exhibit any real increase in power from the proceeding levels, the power that it does produce is often perceived by the partner as exceedingly difficult to deal with because of the unusual direction. This level is very hard to actually see when the exponent exhibits it, it is not simply moving through space in a spiral shape and often is only realised on contact.
Spiral motion is the combination of linear, circular and drilling or winding motions. These movements combined create the spiral, an extremely clever shape for combat and one which the human nervous system and action/reaction cycle has a very hard time dealing with.
Imagine if you will a large corkscrew rotating in front of you. If you try to pick a point on the corkscrew to hold onto you will be drawn up while simultaneously around a circle, backwards and forward, left and right. This combination of all the directions in one make the spiral almost impossible for us to perceive accurately when trying to stop it. When you think you can touch a point, the point has already moves away from you alone the X,Y and Z axis simultaneously.
In this method we see the complete absence of the beat and rhythm method of fighting because the various parts of the body, working in harmony with one another, are always expressing spirals, which do not have an end point.
These 4 methods of movement, power and force production in the martial arts represent an scale of complexity and encompass all the various movements we see, from the Bui Ji of Wing Chun, to the Kimura of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, to the Hook of Boxing, every movement will express either the isolated, linear, circular or spiralling quality.
It is important to realize that in most cases martial artists as they perform their given method will often flow between these various movement types or a combination of them. One minute they could be flicking out an isolated arm to create a reaction before seamlessly capturing the opponents limbs and applying circular power in the ensuing grappling exchange. Nothing in the Martial Arts ever remains static or outside of this flow of attributes. For instance a Wave type power, is a combination of the direct or Linear and the Circle, the wave being made up of a direction and a series of repeating circular proportions. Similarly a Whipping type of power we see in some arts would be a combination of linear, circular and isolation.