In many Asian cultures, a large waist represents raw, destructive power. In the West, we happen to like small waistlines and defined abdominal muscles. However, there is something to Asian understanding of the role that the waist in generating power for the martial arts. This is not to say one is wrong or right. Simply, there are differing approaches to power and each have their merits.
Let me start by helping you envision what type of power could come from what we in the West would consider sloppy and unhealthy. Take a look at the following clip:
For those who do not understand Sumo, what is happening in these fights is that the opponents may engage muscle-to-muscle (hands-on) or through strikes or through repeated attacks and pushes. This collision is meant to overwhelm the opponent, as the pressure gives the opponent only split-second gaps in which to respond and counter attack. The slaps, the pushes (while you are leaning in) and hits are very painful and one must endure that pain while waiting for an opening long enough to attack with any one of many counters. In this, your gaps are so small that a slight twist of the waist, a quick retreat as small as a few inches or a fraction of a second, or a complete sidestep can send the opponent flying. You must be strong enough to hurt a man who weighs over 300 pounds, tough enough to endure his strikes, yet quick and supple enough to sense when he can be sent off-balance. This is skill that most people would never think a large man can develop.
Secondly, let me state that when it comes to fitness for fighting, the three most important factors are: mobility, power, and speed. When you are a large man, as long as you can move around your opponent, you can destroy, and you can do both faster than your opponent–you will be effective. This has nothing to do with how cute you look in a T-shirt, or whether you need two seatbelts on the plane or one. If you are a warrior, appearances mean nothing because warriors have no vanity about beauty. These men in this clip have one goal in mind: to defeat their opponent dominantly. Sorry, if that means you won’t be winning any beauty contests.
Now, back to the subject. The waist can be a very powerful ally, or it can be your enemy regardless of how much you train. The difference lies in your ability to harness its power and make it work for you. This strength comes from basically three things–your flexibility and the ability to twist and turn on demand, the ability to alternate between looseness and tenseness, and strength. Let me offer a few rules to how a big man can harness this power, and how a smaller man can use his girth (regardless of how small he is) to multiply the power his frame can normally generate:
- A twist as small as a slight nudge of the shoulders can mean the difference between taking a full-power blow, or making the opponent miss and fall over his feet.
- You must be able to fluctuate between withstanding a powerful blow while resisting his power, and then giving, which will be similar to pushing with all your might… a curtain.
- The secret to this kind of skill is to sink the knees. Bend your knees and put that pressure onto the thighs. Once you do that, the waist will then be able to simply turn either at the hips or the shoulders. You will be able to do so quickly–much faster than with stiff legs.
- Always try to twist to a specific point. Once at that point (think in terms of degrees–15 degrees, 45 degrees, etc.), you will collect all your power and then–like a rubber band–unleash it as you “unwind”. This is how the power uses the yin (negative) power to multiply its yang (positive) power. Most fighters simply do not think of the twist and twist-back. This is an important concept.
- Remember that effectiveness will come from a balanced combination between strength, speed and flexibility. When training, take a break from just arm curls and bag-hitting, spend some time preparing your waist for manipulation.
It was very difficult for me to put this concept into written form. If you do not understand anything I have said here, please post a question (or email me) and I will do my best to address and clarify it.
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