An Okinawan karate instructor who once visited my martial arts school impressed me with his knowledge of how to efficiently generate power in hand techniques. It’s rare to see a person who practices a hard style utilize power that’s generated in the legs and then amplified in a torquing manner in the waist to eventually flow up through the body to the hands.
Few karate and taekwondo people have a good grasp of how to use what Chinese stylists call waist power. Instead, most use what I refer to as “hip-rotation momentive power.” If a practitioner is strong and large, HRMP can be effective. However, as age increases, physical ability naturally decreases, and along with it goes the ability to generate HRMP. Not so with the more efficient waist power.
When the Okinawans first imported martial arts skills from China, the use of waist power was the preferred approach. Yet this effective method was lost because many students didn’t devote enough time to properly learn how to use waist power before they began teaching karate.
Some also have speculated that the Okinawans didn’t want the Japanese to learn karate properly and, therefore, didn’t teach them the waist-power knowledge they’d acquired from the Chinese. Taekwondo stylists, who learned from Japanese karate practitioners, didn’t learn the Chinese waist-power method, either. Likewise, some kung fu teachers have failed to learn it.
The HRMP method of generating power in techniques is much easier because students require less skill and time to be able to use it. Waist power, on the other hand, is much more difficult to master because all parts of the body must be linked in a coordinated fashion within a supple muscular environment. If this skill is not mastered, techniques produce diminished power.
At this point, you may be thinking about a specific type of power because every kung fu system has different names for power-generation methods. Actually, there’s no such thing as internal power or external power; there’s only efficiently delivered kinetic energy. Whether you employ the simpler HRMP or the more sophisticated waist power, both create kinetic energy. For kinetic energy to be effective, it must cause damage to the target. Therefore, the greater the efficiency in creating, delivering and exchanging kinetic energy, the less energy you need to produce a given amount of damage. The fact that it requires less energy and has greater efficiency in delivering power makes learning waist power worthwhile.
Step by Step
The first step in learning this approach is making sure you are “rooted.” Nearly everyone has heard the term often enough, but it can sound somewhat esoteric. A better description is to assume a stance in which your weight is balanced on the balls of your feet and your center of gravity is lowered. Only with this positioning can the two most important aspects of efficiently generating power be realized: balance and coordination.
Combine the supple body state described above with a balanced position, and you can begin. It starts with your legs and is amplified by your waist. Kinetic energy then flows from your body into your hands, and only a supple body will allow this to occur.
To better understand the coordination that’s required, consider an example from the world of physics: a row of steel balls suspended in line so they touch one another. When one ball is pulled away and released so it can hit the others, the ball at the opposite end swings away from the rest. This is a classic example of the efficient movement of kinetic energy through an inert body. Kung fu practitioners learn to make their body do the same thing. Waist power travels through the body only when all its parts are linked together properly. Misalignment detracts from the power output, as does stiffness in any part of the body.
Learning kung fu’s method of producing power takes time, practice and a qualified teacher. The advantage is that a smaller person can generate a great deal of energy without needing a lot of upper body strength and a larger person can generate power without relying on only his strength.
Jon Funk is a seven-star praying mantis kung fu instructor based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Continue your martial arts education here!
• Power Training for the Martial Arts, by Leo Fong. Available as a DVD (on sale now!) or an instant video download.
• Beyond Kung Fu: Breaking an Opponent’s Power Through Relaxed Tension, by Leo Fong. Available as a book (on sale now!) or an instant PDF download.
• How to Develop Chi Power, a book by William Cheung.