Use of the Waist for Power

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.

Thank you for visiting my blog!


Learn to Wrestle

Lately, I’ve noticed on the Big Stick Combat Blog that Darren Cook has been exploring some practical grappling moves that he’d picked up from his nephew. I took a look, and they are very valid, sound techniques. I like that he went to the source–a young, champion wrestler to pick them up. When you can, please follow the link and look at the techniques he’d written on.

That got me to thinking about something I was told when I first decided to spread my wings and investigate other martial art styles. In 1986, my mother had sent my younger brother to the Philippines–Angeles City–to live with my father. While over there, my brother had joined a group called “Kyosho” and also joined a wrestling club. Around that same time, I had begin studying Judo in DC. However, I only trained in it full-time for a few months, and then went back to boxing. My brother, on the other hand, stuck with Kyoshu and wrestling. Two years later, I travelled back home to visit my father, and of course my brother–who was now 3 inches taller than me–and I “compared” notes. Whenever we would hit the ground, he would kill me. And everytime he pulled some move or strategy I was unfamiliar with it, I’d ask him to explain what he had done. One day, my brother told me something profound. He said, Kuya, don’t just learn the moves–you need to just learn how to wrestle.

Wow. At 17 years old, my brother had taught me–a cocky 19 year old who was a ranked fighter in America (and knew everything)–an important lesson. And that lesson (“learn to wrestle“) is one of my primary principles. “Learn to wrestle” has nothing to do with actually wrestling, you must understand. LTW refers to learning the arts rather than the parts. You’ve probably heard this before, but have you ever met a man who can say “hello”, “good-bye” and “thank you” in 10 languages, but still can only converse in one language? Yeah, it’s like that. Allow me to explain…

When investigating other martial arts styles, you can only benefit so much by scraping the surface of an art with a few moves. Yes, if you practice the few moves enough, you will be able to defend yourself with them. But you will really reap the benefits by actually learning how to do the art as one of the art’s practitioners. You don’t want to be a Tae Kwon Do guy who knows stick techniques–that’s darn near a waste of time; you want to be a TKD guy who also knows Arnis. A boxer who also knows how to fight on a ground is always better than a JKD man who only knows a few techniques and pins. I’m not saying that you must be an expert at those other skills (although that is the best idea), but you should at least be as proficient as anyone else in that craft. Anything less is like the old ex-navy guy who running around blurting “sa waht dee kap!” to every Thai, yet isn’t fluent enough to ask where the bathroom is, is just as lost as the German guy with the Vietnamese phrase book in downtown Bangkok. LOL!

If I had a nephew who was a champion wrestler, I’d get with him once a week (at least) for about 6 – 12 months for weekly sparring sessions and practices. By the end of all that, 99% of your fights that go to the ground will result in you getting up and handing your opponent his ass back. It really doesn’t take much time to learn an art, just the desire to actually learn that art, and you’d be surprised how fast you develop proficiency. As a martial arts fighter, it is the best way to “cross-train”.

So tonight, I have a young Tae Kwon Do teacher from a nearby school coming to my home to learn Eskrima. Not to learn a few techniques to show his boys at the school, but to actually learn to fight like an Eskrimador. I am impressed, because he did not ask to learn “sticks” or “a few moves”; he actually wanted to learn Eskrima. I would have it no other way.

I have to tell you, I like Mr. Cook’s philosophy:  learn to smash things with big, heavy sticks, learn to fight Muay Thai style, and learn to wrestle? Sounds like he’s putting together a very powerful combat art…

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