Modern Training With Traditional Okinawan Weapons, Courtesy of Andrea Guarelli and Matayoshi Kobudo

[Sponsored Post] Most Black Belt readers are familiar with the basic weapons of the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, like the bo and nunchaku. That’s because those ubiquitous self-defense tools are taught in a variety of systems, both traditional and modern.

The Matayoshi style of kobudo is unique in that it teaches techniques for wielding those traditional implements of self-defense along with many, many more. In fact, the system is renowned for the emphasis it places on weapons that otherwise would have been lost in the distant past.

Andrea Guarelli (left) and Shinpo Matayoshi (with the suruchin)

Andrea Guarelli sensei is a master of goju-ryu karate-do and an eighth dan in Matayoshi kobudo. He is the only Westerner to have received his sixth dan and the title of renshi directly from Shinpo Matayoshi. That recognition followed an extended period during which Guarelli trained under the master and the two developed a deep personal friendship. Guarelli’s accomplishments are lauded in this certificate from 1996.

Translation: Mr. Andrea Guarelli, for a long time you have been applying yourself to the growth, diffusion and development, by your students in your country, of our cultural heritage, which is karate-kobudo of Okinawa. The extraordinary results you have reached have contributed to the prosperity of Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei. To pay you tribute for your contribution in the association and to honor the result of your effort, I would like to demonstrate my gratitude.”

Below is an exclusive video in which Andrea Guarelli demonstrates suruchin no kata and its application (bunkai) against the tinbe (shields).

Shinpo Matayoshi was known as an expert in suruchin-jutsu. Some believe this weapon dates from far back into history — to a time when it was used primarily against animals. When it’s deployed against a modern human attacker, Matayoshi kobudo teaches students to twirl the weapon with the aim of hitting or ensnaring the adversary’s limbs or neck.

The suruchin comes in different lengths. In the Matayoshi school, the length is proportional to the size of the user. The weapon’s length comes from the cord that runs between the two stones, each of which has a hole through its center. Shinpo Matayoshi liked to use the device to trap an enemy’s weapon, disarming him with apparent ease. He also would demonstrate blocking techniques against weapons that entailed first immobilizing the attacker’s fighting implement with the suruchin and then using the other end to quickly counterattack the person’s vital points.

The use of suruchin in Matayoshi kobudo encompasses numerous tactics and techniques, including the following:

•     Rotation (furi)

•     Defense (uke)

•     Grasping changes (mochikae)

•     Grips (hikitori)

•     Stop in the air (furidome)

•     Hooking (karage)

•     Lengthening (nobashi)

•     Shortening (chijime)

As chairman and founder of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association, Andrea Guarelli has set out to preserve the history and teach the techniques of the Matayoshi style — including everything that’s related to the suruchin — to interested students and instructors around the world.

To achieve this goal, he wrote Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art, now available in English from Skyhorse Publishing. This book delves deep into the history of the Okinawan martial arts and includes many never-before-seen photographs given to Guarelli by the Matayoshi family.

In addition, readers will enjoy a step-by-step photo tutorial of the oar kata known as chikin akachu no ekudi (techniques of the red man of Chikin) and eku no kata bunkai (oar-vs.-bo fighting techniques).

Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art also discusses two rare weapons disciplines: tekko-jutsu and tecchu-jutsu.

Originally, the tekko (above), whose name means “iron hand,” was a horse stirrup. It was readily available and easy to transform into a knuckle-duster, aka brass knuckles. The tekko was favored because it was easy to carry and conceal. Consequently, it became a popular street-fighting weapon in the 1920s.

In 1934 the tekko was officially adopted into Okinawan kobudo. That occurred after Shinpo Matayoshi returned from China, bringing with him several models of tekko. He then devised techniques for wielding the weapon.

Matayoshi shared the tekko with few of his students. While no original kata are known to exist today, the tool was adapted for use with some karate-do kata. Matayoshi advised Guarelli to incorporate the tekko into the goju-ryu kata known as sesan. Some students of Shinpo Matayoshi and Shinko Matayoshi went on to create their own tekko kata — including forms that have been dubbed kakazu, odo and kanei.

Although the origins of the tecchu (above) are unknown, there is a version that descended from a tool that was used by fishermen to repair their nets. Intended for fighting in the water (like the tekko), it fits over the hand so it can be used for thrusting and slashing strikes, as well as for throwing. The Micronesian “shark knuckle” is a similar weapon made of mangrove wood into which sharks’ teeth have been set.

To learn more about Matayoshi kobudo and its weapons, visit the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association. The website hosts a list of member organizations around the world, including the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America, whose president is Kyoshi Danilo Torri of Hanko Ryu Martial Arts in Trumbull, Connecticut.

Better yet, make plans to train with Andrea Guarelli. The master conducts seminars around the world. His 2016 USA seminar will take place in Connecticut on August 27-28. Members and nonmembers are invited to attend. Visit the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America for details.

About the author: Kimberly Rossi Stagliano is a student of Andrea Guarelli, as well as the secretary and treasurer of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association and the vice president of the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America. She trains in shito-ryu karate and Matayoshi kobudo with Kyoshi Danilo Torri, a founder of the IMKA and president of the MKAA, at Hanko Ryu Martial Arts in Trumbull, Connecticut. She’s a nationally recognized author, blogger and speaker who’s been published in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.

Andrea Guarelli’s book is available at Amazon. Click here to purchase.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Martial Arts of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Part Two)

In Part One of this blog, I noted that the sword fights from the first six Star Wars films were superior to those of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

Fans of the films claim that because of executive producer George Lucas’ love of early Japanese chanbara films, the lightsaber duels, the force and the amazing fighting skills of the Jedi — which were based on kendo, ki (chi in Chinese) and samurai/Errol Flynn films, respectively — were emphasized.

Studying the evolution of the lightsaber duels throughout the original trilogy served as a basis for determining the extent of kendo’s real and fake influence. With Luke Skywalker using telekinesis in The Empire Strikes Back, it begged the question, Was this the force? My “yes” answer was revealed in that blog, and my “no” answer will be expounded here.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

While the philosophy of the force ties in with Native American culture (see Part One), the combative nature of the force does not. Instead, during Jedi duels, the force falls in line with Chinese literature and kung fu cinema, where swordsmen use fa jing chi strikes to send opponents flying backward without touching them. In Chinese films, they also use xi wu da fa “suction” abilities to pull opponents or objects toward them, and they apply ching gong to leap high, run atop trees and land on their feet after jumping down from tremendous heights.

Before 1977, Japanese films didn’t use these techniques, and indeed they don’t exist in samurai folklore. Yet these fantastical abilities were commonly featured in Chinese literature and films dating back to the 1950s. They didn’t become widely available to Westerners until the 1970s. However, we need look no further than the first three fights of the Chinese film The Ghost’s Sword (1971) to see many of the skills of the Jedi knights that are shown in the Star Wars movies.

Burton Richardson teamed up with Black Belt mag to make Silat for the Street, a new online course that teaches the best fighting moves of the Southeast Asian art. Click here to learn how you can start streaming it to your smartphone, tablet or computer now!

In the 1990s, when director Sam Raimi heavily used Hong Kong martial arts action in TV shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, he had an assistant whose job it was to watch “fant-Asia” action movies and make fight-scene compilation videotapes for him. When I learned fight choreography in the Chinese film and TV industry in 1980, I was instructed to do the same thing. It’s no stretch to think that the British stunt coordinator for the original Star Wars trilogy was aware of 1970s kung fu films, especially when you consider that Hong Kong was a British colony and Chinese films were more accessible in the British entertainment circles.

Photo Courtesy of Lucasfilm

How did the fights change in the prequels The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) and how do they compare to The Force Awakens?

Tapping into the success of fant-Asia films in the West, Lucas wanted to ramp up the speed, agility and aerial capabilities of the Jedi fights because the films were set during the Jedi council’s heyday, when Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, “Darth Vader,” Count Dooku and other Jedi were at the pinnacle of their fighting prowess. The standard for this new action look was set by British stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, who intelligently hired legitimate wushu and guan (pole) expert Ray Park to play Darth Maul, a vicious, fighting-machine Sith warrior who wielded a double-bladed lightsaber.

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When Gillard added one-handed, figure-8 twirling and body-hugging swordplay to block, parry and slice; spinning footwork; aerial cartwheels; and flips to the Jedi repertoire, that marked the end of any kendo influence. In reality, samurai films from the late 1970s on have become increasingly influenced by Chinese-style choreography. Yet Parks pointed out that after flashing fancy whirligig wushu swordplay, all he had to do to sell the kendo look was end the swirling with a two-handed sword grip. As the trilogy evolved, there was more one-handed sword work, acrobatics and Hong Kong-style, frenetic-paced fights. To see what I’m talking about, watch Kenobi vs. Gen. Grievous or Yoda vs. Count Dooku.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

Now, let’s briefly revisit the plotlines of Star Wars and The Force Awakens.

For those who came in late, in the first movie, Luke Skywalker joins a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

In the Force Awakens, Finn, a former Stormtrooper, joins two cocky pilots, a wookiee and one droid to save the galaxy from the First Order’s world-destroying battle station while also attempting to rescue rambunctious lass Rey from the evil Kylo Ren.

Déjà vu. Not only has the plot of Star Wars come full circle but so have the lightsaber duels — except that in The Force Awakens, there’s no new creative choreography and the duels look more like the hackem-whackem sword fights we used to do as kids using tree branches.

Photo Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

There are only two novel ideas in The Force Awakens: One, Kylo Ren uses a lightsaber that looks like a medieval sword; and two, a fight takes place between Finn and a Stormtrooper who wields a large tonfa-like cattle prod. The fight was reminiscent of the Shaw Brothers movie The Magic Blade (1976), in which Ti Lung brandishes a slender, machete-like sword blade with a tonfa-style swiveling handle, but The Force Awakens didn’t match that fight’s creativity or intensity.

For The Force Awakens, critics lauded the boastful words from the filmmakers, who said that they didn’t need wires to pull off the fights and that John Boyega (Finn) would wake up early and train for a few hours before beginning four to six hours of stunt preparation followed by a day on the set. So what? Thousands of great sword fights before The Force Awakens had actors doing the same thing, and often with better results.

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In the benefit-of-the-doubt world, since The Force Awakens is a nostalgic homage to Star Wars, perhaps overtly mimicking the simplicity of the original lightsaber duels was intentional. But still it’s pretty chintzy. Our only hope is that with Donnie Yen being cast as a Jedi in the next Star Wars production, we may be in for a return to the more entertaining use of Hong Kong martial arts and fight choreography. May the force be with them.

Read Part One of this blog here.

Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Sneak Attack! Learn the Low Spinning Heel Kick of Kuk Sool Won

Created by In Hyuk Suh in 1958, kuk sool won is a comprehensive system of strikes, kicks, animal-inspired techniques, throws, grappling moves and weapons. One of the trademark strategies used with many of its moves is the spin. It introduces the element of surprise and generates incredible power.

When it comes to self-defense, perhaps the most useful spinning technique is the low spinning heel kick. Although kuk sool won teaches several variations of the kick, this article will focus on the basic one.

(Photo Courtesy of Daniel A. Middleton)

For the low spinning heel kick to be effective, you need speed, flexibility and commitment. If you execute the technique too slowly, your opponent can counter by stepping out of range. If you lack the requisite flexibility, your body won’t be able to move quickly enough or get low enough for the element of surprise to work. If you attempt the kick but change your mind halfway through, you’ll find yourself inside your opponent’s defenses, off-balance and low to the ground with virtually no way out. However, once you’ve acquired the necessary attributes, you’ll find that the kick is a devastating addition to your arsenal.

The best way to use the low spinning heel kick is by beginning with a setup that places your opponent in the prime position for the technique to be effective. The setup can be intentional (you employ techniques, body shifting, positioning and so on to lure him in) or spontaneous (you trigger the technique the moment the conditions are right). Although both are acceptable, it’s better to train for spontaneous deployment because you can’t depend on having control over anyone’s actions in a fight and because too many negative consequences can result from trying to maneuver your enemy into the proper position.

Burton Richardson teamed up with Black Belt mag to make Silat for the Street, a new online course that teaches the best fighting moves of the Southeast Asian art. Click here to learn how you can start streaming it to your smartphone, tablet or computer now!

That being said, the most advantageous position for the application of the kick is one in which you and your opponent are in “mirrored” stances. For instance, if you’re in a left forward stance, your opponent is facing you in a right forward stance.

Getting Started

It’s best to start by distracting your opponent with a high-line technique such as a jab or finger strike to the eyes. The objective is to get him to raise his hands and, more important, to focus his attention up high. That should be followed by your spinning to the rear and sinking your weight on your forward leg as you squat. It’s OK to place your hands lightly on the ground for support and balance.

Continue the spin as you extend your rear leg and sweep it parallel to the ground. Strike your opponent’s forward leg above the calf and slightly behind the knee. The technique will break his balance and can damage the muscles of his lower leg. The momentum of the kick will enable you to spin a full 360 degrees and stand up, re-establishing a ready position.

An alternate method, although not quite as fast or effective, involves placing your knee on the ground while you spin and executing the technique almost like a low, turning hook kick. This variation is easier for beginners but lacks speed and mobility, so it should be used only as a transitional method for developing the proper mechanics.

Training Right

An effective low spinning heel kick requires leg strength, and the best way to develop that is through squats. Lots of squats. Start slowly and pay attention to what your body tells you. The key is to build powerful quads, calves and hamstrings without damaging the connective tissue surrounding and supporting your knees. Technique development is important, but it should never be done to the detriment of your health.

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Begin with your feet together and pump out squats in sets of 25 to 50 repetitions. Don’t try to do too many or get too low to the ground. Build from there until you can comfortably do 200 to 300 reps in sets of 50.

Next, add the spin. Start in a left-leg-forward position and turn gently to the rear as you bend your knees. Begin in a relatively high stance to develop a feel for the motion and build leg coordination. As you get more comfortable, spin from a standing position and drop into a crouch with your weight centered over the ball of your forward foot.

Do this turning/squatting exercise until the motion becomes comfortable and easy to perform, after which you should add the kick. It’s effected by whipping your hips around and swinging your leg in an arc until it’s back at its starting position. Then you should immediately stand up and assume a ready position.

Training equipment can bolster the development of your low spinning heel kick. Perhaps the most important is a target that permits you to improve your accuracy. A commercial kicking pad is fine. If one isn’t available, improvise with a plastic jug such as the container engine coolant comes in. Such target training will help you develop a sense of accuracy and distance.

The low spinning heel kick should be executed with the weight centered and the body low to the ground (top). Beginners often fail to bend their support leg, which leaves their butt in the air (bottom). (Photos Courtesy of Daniel A. Middleton)

Two other tools can be used in conjunction with target kicking to fine-tune your body position, boost your leg strength and improve your balance. The drills that go with them are designed to eliminate the most common mistake students make while learning the low spinning heel kick: the dreaded “butt in the air,” which may result in the target being hit but which sacrifices the crouch and spin.

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To correct this mistake, you can use two folding mats, or a target and a foam pad. The mat method begins with the stacking of two folded mats on the floor. Each one should be 14 inches to 18 inches high, or slightly higher than your knee. Pull the topmost mat out so it overlaps the bottom one by about two feet. Place a stationary target under the top mat and against the edge of the bottom one.

Stand in a ready position about one foot from the edge of the top mat, then practice spinning and kicking the target without touching the mat. Exercise caution when doing this exercise. Repeatedly hitting the lower mat, which indicates that you’re kicking too deep, or hitting the upper mat, which indicates that you need to lower your body, can lead to hyperextension of the knee.

Two drills for mastering the low spinning heel kick: A plastic container is placed under stacked mats before it’s kicked (top). A training partner holds a target in his left hand and a foam pad in his right while the student practices the kick (bottom). (Photos Courtesy of Daniel A. Middleton)

The other exercise requires a training partner. Have him hold a target in one hand and a foam pad in the other. As you kick at the target, have him swing the pad over you at waist level. If you perform the technique correctly, you’ll be able to strike the target without getting hit by the swinging pad. If you fail to drop quickly or deeply enough before you kick, the pad will provide immediate feedback. The speed of the swing can be increased or decreased depending on your ability, and your partner can vary his rhythm to help you work on your speed and timing.

Mixing It Up

The final piece of the puzzle is incorporating the low spinning heel kick in combinations. One that’s often taught in kuk sool won is the high-middle-low combination in which three spinning kicks are performed nonstop at head, waist and knee level. This is a great drill for improving your balance during spinning. For best results, execute it in reverse (low-middle-high) from time to time.

In Hyuk Suh, founder of kuk sool won. (Photo by Peter Lueders)

Another combination, one that’s perhaps a bit more application-oriented, starts with a lead-hand jab and proceeds to the low spinning heel kick and round kick. It includes a distraction, the spin kick itself and a follow-up technique. These are merely suggestions; you’re encouraged to come up with your own combinations.

Tactically, the low spinning heel kick can be used just like any other similar technique, such as a sweep or low-line kick. The difference lies in the power of the impact. The tremendous amount of torque generated by the kick makes it better-suited to taking out the muscle or joint via impact trauma, rather than merely disrupting your opponent’s balance the way a sweep does.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

Pencak Silat Expert Gets MMA Smackdown, Regroups, Comes Back Even Stronger With His Martial Art!

Fighters have practiced pencak silat for thousands of years, but it didn’t capture the attention of Western martial artists until the late 1980s. Suddenly, the Indonesian system was everywhere, with its vicious counterattacks and precision takedowns attracting self-defense practitioners who wanted the best in street-fighting functionality. As a bonus, it offered a fascinating dose of Southeast Asian culture.

I had the good fortune of starting my silat training under Dan Inosanto in the early 1980s before it became popular. Several years later, Herman Suwanda, master of the mande muda style, started a class at the Inosanto Academy, which I naturally attended. Inosanto later got me into the backyard bukti negara group operated by Paul de Thouars. With those wonderful teachers guiding me along the path, I was in silat heaven.

Silat worked very well for me. As one of the original Dog Brothers — I was dubbed “Lucky Dog” — I used the art in the group’s all-out, minimal-protection stick fights. In our style of combat, which was deemed “too extreme” by UFC co-founder Art Davie, I was able to regularly apply foot sweeps and my go-to move, the tarik kepala, or head-tilt takedown. The latter technique proved so effective, in fact, that after some time, a couple of my fellow Dog Brothers asked me to stop using it because they feared someone would get injured.

I used silat in stick-fighting tournaments, in a challenge stick match in the Philippines and in two empty-hand challenge matches. When people questioned the effectiveness of the style, my teachers would point to my success as proof that it really worked. All was well in the world of silat. Then came MMA.


Back in the mid-1990s, MMA was called no-holds-barred fighting. I began training with some of the NHB pioneers — in particular, with Egan and Enson Inoue. The experience proved an eye-opener, to say the least. I couldn’t get my silat to work against athletes who had a strong grappling background. Sure, I wasn’t kicking them in the groin or gouging their eyes, but I had to acknowledge that most of my techniques didn’t function as planned.

Slap and Strike technique from Richardson’s new online silat course.

Example: I couldn’t break my opponent’s posture sufficiently to execute a good sweep or takedown. It was frustrating because I knew firsthand how effective silat takedowns could be. I’d used them against resisting opponents many times, but MMA was a different world. The grappler’s base was just too stable, and I couldn’t do the head tilt because my opponent’s neck was often too strong. To make matters worse, I found that my stance was vulnerable to wrestling takedowns.

Burton Richardson teamed up with Black Belt mag to make Silat for the Street, a new online course that teaches the best fighting moves of the Southeast Asian art. Click here to learn how you can start streaming it to your smartphone, tablet or computer now!

After months of trial and error — mostly error — I decided to set aside my silat skills. It was a sad and difficult decision, to be sure. I enjoyed being known as a silat fighter, but the truth had to come first. My goal in life was, and still is, to be the most effective martial artist possible and then to pass along my knowledge of functional skill development to my students. Silat wasn’t working, so I had to move on.


I began investing the majority of my energy in MMA and Brazilian jiu-jitsu while still maintaining my roots in kali, jeet kune do and muay Thai. The No. 1 lesson I learned during this period was that a person’s training method is paramount. You must contest against a resisting opponent or you’ll never be able to apply your techniques against a real aggressor.

This proved so important that I coined a phrase: “If you want to learn how to fight, you must practice fighting against someone who is fighting back.” The martial arts are that simple. As John Machado, one of my BJJ instructors, says, “No sparring, no miracles.”

Head Twist technique from Richardson’s new online silat course.

Ten years later, I was the owner of a BJJ black belt who had coached top fighters for matches in the UFC and various grappling events, but something was missing. Although I’d immersed myself in the fight sports for a decade, it dawned on me that I was neglecting the street-fighting facet of the martial arts. Yes, MMA definitely worked, but when there are no rules governing the combatants, you often need something more.

My remedy was to put groin strikes, throat grabs and simulated eye attacks back into my sparring sessions. My partners and I trained with resistance — of course, while keeping safety at the forefront of our workouts. And things changed again.


While sparring with a longtime training partner, I made a move in the clinch. He countered, and I countered back before flowing into a silat technique. Hmm.

A few days later, I found myself in the clinch again. He effected a counter to my arm-drag attempt, and that left him open to a cross-arm trap. Another silat success! An hour before it occurred, I would have told anyone that the cross-arm trap is great for movies but nearly impossible to use against a real fighter — but I had just pulled it off. In subsequent sparring sessions, I got it again with other training partners. What was happening?

Go here to read “Silat: Indonesia and Malaysia’s Deadly Martial Art” on the Black Belt website!

Analysis: Most silat techniques work well in the clinch. Typically, a practitioner makes a strong entry with a strike and, once his opponent is stunned, moves directly to a takedown. If the strike doesn’t have the desired effect, the silat stylist will remain in the clinch and likely resort to additional striking. Meanwhile, the opponent is striking, as well. If the silat stylist has good clinch-fighting skills, however, he can nullify the strikes while looking for an opportunity to unleash his next blow or set up a throw. The key to all this? Proficiency in the clinch.


To get to the clinch when your opponent is a street fighter who’s throwing wild punches is one thing. To do so safely when your opponent is an MMA fighter is quite another. You need kickboxing skills because a trained mixed martial artist is difficult to approach unless you possess solid strikes and tactics.

Because MMA practitioners also are likely to be skilled wrestlers, anyone who intends to use silat as a base should work on takedown defense. It requires lots of experience to deal with the power, suddenness and penetration of a strong wrestler — which is where sparring with a resisting partner comes in.

If your aim is to use a silat off-balancing technique in the clinch, you can increase your chance of success by using any number of street tactics. For instance, you can maneuver into position to grab his throat, then lift to make him rise onto his toes. Or you can slap him in the groin to cause him to bend forward — he usually will, even if he’s wearing protection. The best part is, such tactics can be practiced safely in sparring sessions, which is the optimal way to gain experience against an opponent who’s fighting back.


Sparring has been removed from most of the silat that’s taught in the West because it was deemed too dangerous for modern society. But MMA is flourishing, and martial artists now have access to protective equipment that enables them to spar safely. Each of my silat instructors engaged in real fights while learning the art in Indonesia, and that experience gave them the ability to apply their knowledge against resisting opponents intent on doing them harm. If you want to be able to use an art like silat in a chaotic situation, you must train in an environment that mimics the street as much as possible, and that’s no-holds-barred fighting.

Yes, learning the techniques and then practicing them with precision is important, but training with resistance is even more crucial if your goal is self-defense proficiency. It’s the single best way to make silat — or any other traditional martial art — functional in the MMA era. You need to be able to ensure that your techniques work against a mixed martial artist because nowadays there are lots of people, both good and bad, who have experience in this form of fighting.

Burton Richardson was Black Belt’s 2015 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year. Click this link for more information about his online course Silat for the Street, in which he teaches techniques from the Indonesian martial art that he’s deemed effective for modern combat.

Source: Black Belt Magazine

How to Hit Harder: The Key to Developing Maximum Power in Karate, Taekwondo and Other Martial Arts!

We have all seen martial arts demonstrations. A master squares off against his taller and heavier opponent, extending his arm until his fist stops a mere inch from the other man’s chest. Suddenly, the master’s fist slams forward with explosive force, throwing the opponent into the air. The foe lands in a pile 8 feet from where he stood.

Nearby, another expert lets loose a full-throated kiai as he leaps up, kicks and shatters a board held high over his head. A third master smashes downward with a hammerfist, pulverizing a stack of concrete blocks.

What secrets do these experts share? What endows mere mortals with such seemingly superhuman abilities? Consciously or subconsciously, these people have mastered the martial sciences. The more you understand them, the more you will come to appreciate the martial arts.

Black Belt Hall of Famer and Shaolin monk Wang Bo (left), photo by Robert Reiff

The martial arts are enormously popular, but what about the sciences? It may sound funny, but when you study the lives of masters of the past — people like shotokan karate’s Gichin Funakoshi, shito-ryu karate’s Kenwa Mabuni, wado-ryu karate’s Hironori Otsuka and goju-ryu karate’s Chojun Miyagi — you will discover they all were highly qualified martial scientists. Their disciplines covered sports medicine, biology, geometry, kinetics and physics. Knowledge of these disciplines enabled them to develop maximum effectiveness in their techniques.

That is not to say the term “martial arts” is incorrect, for the men mentioned above were indeed world-class masters of the martial arts. But the words “art” and “science” are not mutually exclusive. The techniques of karate and taekwondo constitute arts because, when properly executed, they move us to see beauty in their form. Yet they are effective because they develop tremendous power as a result of sound scientific principles.

What Is Power?

On an immediate physical level, the offensive goal of a karate strike is to transfer as much destructive power as possible from the karateka to the opponent. The question is, What constitutes the power that is being transferred? From the standpoint of physics, a dictionary definition of power is “energy transferred per unit of time.” The last word gives the first clue to the nature of karate power: Time is a critical factor.

Think about placing your fist near someone’s chest and pushing him as hard as you can. Now perform the same movement but shorten the time it takes to place your hand onto his chest. As the time decreases, the push becomes a strike. The body mechanics are the same; the only difference between a push and a strike is the time involved.

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The time required to execute a technique translates into speed. If we return to the dictionary, we find that speed equals distance divided by time and that momentum, which we can think of as force, equals mass multiplied by velocity. For instance, if you want to deliver a force of 4,000 units, you might have a 200-pound man move at 20 mph (mass x velocity, or 200 x 20 = 4,000). This example indicates that a great mass traveling at a relatively low velocity can result in the desired amount of force. Put more simply, a big man, although not nearly as fast as a small man, can still deliver a great impact.

On the other hand, a smaller but quicker man can produce the same impact: A 100-pound man moving at 40 mph will yield 4,000 units of force (100 x 40 = 4,000). This suggests that a smaller mass traveling at a greater velocity can produce just as much force as a larger but slower mass. An extreme example of this is a bullet — although it has a very light weight, or low mass, its great velocity gives it tremendous impact.

Developing Power and Speed

As you can see, velocity and mass are important when you’re talking about power. Let’s examine these concepts to understand their applications for real fighting techniques. The goal is to produce as much power as possible, so we’ll look at ways to increase speed and effective mass.

The greater the speed of your strike, the more power it has. Speed can be increased through good muscle conditioning. Many karate and taekwondo stylists use weight training and isometric exercises to enhance muscle tone. Explosive push-ups, or push-ups executed as hard and fast as possible, are also good for increasing speed. Another ideal exercise involves anchoring a heavy rubber exercise band (similar to a bicycle inner tube) to a doorknob, then grasping the band in your fist and practicing punches against the resistance of the stretched band.

Black Belt Hall of Famer Hee-Il Cho (right), photo by Rick Hustead

To develop speed, good technique is also essential. It allows you to properly tense the correct muscles in the proper order. Likewise, it allows you to relax those muscles not used to punch; if you don’t, those muscles will pull your arm in the opposite direction of the punch. Beginners without good technique often tense some of the wrong muscles unconsciously, thereby decreasing the speed and power of a strike. Constant practice at slow, then moderate and later fast speeds is the best way to develop good technique.

Another consideration is that hand speed is not constant throughout a punch. Research by the Japan Karate Association and other organizations indicates that during a karate punch, the greatest speed is attained just before the arm reaches maximum extension. This is the point at which contact with the opponent should be made. The remaining motion of the punch should be follow-through.

Not coincidentally, making contact just before maximum extension is the proper way to practice punching on the makiwara. It is also the way a good boxer punches — he aims for the back of the head and just lets the opponent’s chin get in the way.

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The speed of the attack, however, is only half the picture. The speed and direction of the target are just as important. The faster and more directly the opponent is coming at you, the greater your destructive force is when your punch meets the opponent. And the closer the strike is to a head-on collision between your fist and the opponent, the better.

Using freeway physics to illustrate, if you drive your car into a parked car, a certain amount of damage results. But if you drive your car into an oncoming car, greater damage results. Conversely, if you drive 55 mph into the rear of a car moving at 50 mph in the same direction, the damage is only slight because the actual impact speed, or the difference between the two cars’ speeds, is 5 mph.

While practicing the martial sciences, a common way to take advantage of your opponent’s speed is to dodge, soft-block or slip his punch as you counter with your own punch, thus lessening the impact speed. Punching an opponent who is withdrawing or falling away from you transfers the least amount of power, which explains why boxers on the defensive like to roll with an incoming punch.

Theory to Application

To thwart opponents who roll or withdraw, some martial arts teach lunge punches for extreme depth. Some karateka and street fighters advocate stepping on an opponent’s foot to pin him in place so he can’t withdraw from a punch.

Grabbing an opponent and pulling him into your punch increases impact speed. Similar techniques include teaching a prone practitioner to punch an opponent as he falls or lunges toward you, and to punch or kick upward at an opponent as he comes down after a jumping technique.

Black Belt Hall of Famer Leon Wright (left), photo by Robert Reiff

The other main variable to consider is mass or weight. Of course, you can increase the weight of a striking limb by adding muscle mass to it, but that is not always easy to do. A more practical way to increase your effective mass already exits in karate. The human body is a series of components — trunk, arms, head, hands, legs and feet — and each component has its own mass. When punching, you can increase your effective mass using kime (focus), or tightening muscles, especially the trunk, armpits, buttocks and legs, at the exact moment your punch makes contact.

Kime fuses your body into a single unit for a split second, making it a solid bar, as opposed to a series of linked units like a chain. By relaxing the moment before impact, you get speed. By focusing the strike at the exact moment of impact, you gain effective mass. Together, speed and effective mass add up to power.

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How do these ideas apply to the masters mentioned earlier? When force is applied to stationary boards or bricks, they will flex to the limit of their physical makeup; beyond that point, they will break. There are many other factors to consider, such as size and condition of the striking point, but the power produced by speed and effective mass is of prime importance in breaking stunts.

In self-defense, the one-inch punch is just as scientific but more subtle. The arm extends an inch into the opponent’s chest, and the hips twist, automatically rotating the shoulder into the punch with great speed and with the full body mass behind it. The force produced, when directed toward the opponent’s weakest point or angle, can be enough to break bones or send him flying.

Such is the effect that an understanding of the martial sciences can have on your practice.

Source: Black Belt Magazine