In this article we are going to look at the ways in which force being applied to us can be handled by our body without the requirement of movement. This subject is the first to look at, before we discuss movement, tactics, attacking, returning, etc. As soon as we touch someone, or they touch us our body is interacting with a new force. How we deal with that force is an expansive topic but here I will simply highlight some of the most common, and slightly less common methods that we use.
Firstly, we need to think about why the mechanics by which we deal with forces applied to us may be important. Is it not simply enough to ‘resist’ until the opponent changes? Well, frankly, in most cases no it isn’t. The opponent, if trained will take advantage of this. Simply imagine the implications of ‘resisting’ a punch to the face until the opponent give up! … not ideal.
The ways in which we use our trained body can have a direct impact on our ability to defeat the partners force, even if it is of a superior magnitude. The way force is initially dealt with can help us create or utilize movement, can help us protect our stability or provide us with much needed breathing room.
A simply analogy for the varied ways in which force applied can be dealt with would be to imagine a seesaw. The classic seesaw is a long solid length over a pivot, as force is applied to one side the other side rises, and vice versa. Here it is the solidity of the length that is important.
We can also imagine a seesaw that is a series of lengths spanned with elastic. In a static position it appears the same, but as force is applied, the elastics stretch, and the length distorts until finally it moves. Further we can think of the pivot being moved closer to the side where force is being applied, and how the force required to move the other end increases as a result. These ideas are crude when we apply them to the human body, which far from having a single pivot, has multiple points of 3-dimensional rotation across multiple joints.
But I digress into the realms of future posts. In this instance we are looking at the length of the seesaw and how it can be used before it balances out the force though movement. For now, let’s look at some of the basic ways in which we can deal with a simply push on our body. Let’s imagine the push is on our chest and we have a basic staggered standing position.
The most natural way that we can deal with something pushing on us is to use a counter force against it. A counter force is the action of aligning our skeleton to the direction of force and then tensing our muscles as needed to consolidate the structure and resist the push with an equal opposite push. This is the first way people tend to deal with a push on their chest and is the most natural way to react.
This method creates a couple of obvious problems for the martial artist. Firstly, by countering in this way you are ‘committing’ yourself to the incoming force direction. By this we mean that you are building up the directional force in your body and committing your centre of gravity in the direction of the pusher. Should the pusher stop pushing or change the direction of their push suddenly, you will lose balance as all your force and centre continue in the direction of the original push.
Some martial artists will take advantage of this and will make you push against them so that they can utilize this method of off balancing you. It does however sometimes have utility within a striking context.
Bracing is like counter force, but lacks the activation of the musculature to create a counter push. Bracing can be thought of as a stick in the ground that you lean on. You form up your structure behind the push to redirect the push to the floor. This is the second most common method of dealing with an incoming force.
The refinement of this method and the association of the joints, skeleton and tissues to create a clean line to the ground is the subject of many martial arts and the concept of bracing can be seen across many styles. The method is useful for conservation of energy during a prolonged exchange in that you don’t have to be active to achieve the result, you simply stand there while the partner essentially pushes the floor.
However, there are also some inherent problems with creating this path through the body. Chief among them is the ‘emptying’ of the areas of the body which are not transmitting the forces to the earth. Think for instance of a push on the chest which is taken through the spine and down the back leg into the floor. As the force applied increases the front leg will eventually become light, this is the problem of ‘emptying’ that we see in the bracing method.
Carrying is similar to bracing but now you use the push to create an angle perpendicular to it. This method can be seen in numerous demonstrations of people being unable to push someone back. It is often considered to be a ‘trick’ and in some ways, it is, but this shouldn’t diminish its utility. I will use this concept against much larger grapplers who are trying to steamroller me backwards. It is one of the fastest methods to completely negate their force.
This method works on the concepts of diminishing the pushers directional force, breaking their chain of power, and forcing them to apply force in 2 directions to maintain an equilibrium. Although the most common demonstration of this idea is in the push where the partner controls the pusher’s elbows, there are many other ways in which ‘carrying’ is applied and can be used both in attack and defence.
Here we have a similar method to Bracing but with an added component that avoids emptying the opposite side. In splitting we actively try to ‘split’ the force applied to us between the spiral lines of the body, often with one ‘side’ moving the force up, and one side the force down. This method has the benefits of both Bracing and Carrying without the errors of emptying the non-bracing side (which often becomes the carrying side). Splitting is most commonly seen in the movement methods of spiralling and rotation I call Pairing, but this is something we will look at in future posts.
Splitting can be used in many directions and across different lengths of the body, bit the common factor is that the force is never taken through the frame of our body at 100% of its entry power. It is split thus the effect of the initial force is lessened. Those who are good at this method are extremely stable, to the point that they may feel un-movable and, when there own movement is added, they are able to express power from the opposite side (like the other end of the seesaw rising) in perfect accordance with the pressure applied to them.
Spreading through the trained body, & tensional integrity
Finally, we come to one of the most interesting methods of dealing with applied force. This is the ability for the body to spread forces out across its tissues as they enter. As every tissue saps a small amount of power from the push, the total effect lessens meaning that we can split, carry or even brace a much smaller volume of power. . In fact in the highest level adepts the push is completely dealt with inside the body, allowing them to be shoved in the chest while standing on one leg and not topple backwards.
It seems to some like this ability is fake, but there is good mechanical reasoning behind it. The body can be considered and model of tensional integrity (tensegrity), indeed some people advocate that the body stands because of this quality. Personally, I believe there is a middle ground between classical anatomical models and the tensegrity idea. But, this does help to explain the ability to spread load. As a push occurs on the system the pressure is spread and absorbed as the frame distorts. It is this distortion that dissipates the pushing forces and helps them to be resolved inside the body.
Many years ago, I likened the body that is dealing with force to the ‘Faraday Cage’, a model that I have seen used by others since that time. The faraday cage is a metal cage around an object that routes electrical strikes to the earth, protecting the objects inside. My reasoning for using this model of description is that when a push is applied to the body the centre is protected by the suit of the body and the forces are re-routed to the earth. However, since then I have modified that model a little and now would say that is more like a thick rubber or elastic suit that is held by key points and pulled taught. If you push anywhere on the ‘suit’ you simply stretch the elastics and little of the force reaches the ground, while the centre inside remains protected from the effects of the push.
A little contrived, sure, but hopefully a good visualisation of how active spreading of force through a trained structure can occur.
More on dealing with force in the next article.