Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Small Karate Physics Lesson

Physics is very counter intuitive. The fact that us and everything around us is actually accelerating toward the earth all the time under the force of gravity is weird and strange. The only thing keeping us from falling through the earth is that the ground can absorb the combined force of our mass and acceleration. This is more commonly called weight. The moment that what we are standing on can't absorb this force we fall, like falling through ice, rotten wood or just anything.

Objects also have a limit to the amount of force they can take. There is an absolute threshold to the amount of force any specific object can absorb. After this threshold it either breaks, is crushed or is pushed. Basically it will deform. This force works both ways. If I punch a wall and the force is more than the wall can withstand it will deform in some way. If I punch a wall and the force is more than my fist can withstand it will deform in some way. They bend, break, buckle, shatter or if they can withstand the force nothing will happen. If my fist can withstand the force, but the wall can't I'll either push the entire wall backwards or my fist will go through it. I also can't impart more force to the wall than it can take before breaking. If it takes 10 newtons to break the wall than 10 newtons is the maximum amount of force it will encounter. Even if my punch had the power to put a hole in a wall that could withstand 20 newtons, if the wall I'm currently punching can only take 10 then it receives 10 newtons and my hand goes through it.

What this basically means is that no matter how big, strong, fast or proficient my striking is there is an absolute upper limit that I cannot cross without damaging myself. I could produce a lot of force jumping off the Empire State Building, but I'll splatter on the pavement. You can't out exercise physics. The strongest toughest man in the world still splatters on the pavement after jumping off the Empire State Building. Because there is this upper limit, one needs to be more concerned more with not losing energy rather than gaining energy. If I can only hit with 10 newtons of energy than I want to make sure that all those 10 newtons are getting transferred into my target. One way that you lose energy is through bad structural alignment.

Because the force of a strike works both ways, my own body can act as a shock absorber for the other person. If my arm is bent the wrong way, or if my legs aren't in the right position my joints will bend with the force of the impact and some of the force will be absorbed by my flexing joints. It's the same as jumping from a high place and bending your knees on impact instead of locking them out. Locking them out is more jarring, because you receive the full brunt of the impact. The same goes for striking.

Now if I strike someone and it sends them flying backwards, I've also wasted energy. Instead of the person absorbing all of the energy of my strike, some of the energy is just used to push the person backwards. I want the person to absorb all of my energy. This is where the hikite comes in. If I pull them into my strike, they can't bleed off the force by moving backwards their body has to absorb the impact or break. It becomes similar to stomping someone on the ground, because the ground won't flex with the impact, all the energy is either absorbed by the person or they break. It's why being stomped is dangerous and a killing blow in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. A hikite doesn't make you punch harder, it just means you don't waste the energy you were already using.

This is why structure, good structure, is what I think about the most. I want to hit with good structure, so that I don't waste any of the finite amount of energy that I can produce. I want to hit like a hammer, not a pool noodle. It's also why you strike anatomically weak parts of the body. The frontal bone of a person's skull can absorb more force than your fist, therefore you will shatter your fist if you punch it. A person's neck however cannot withstand as much force as a fist, so their neck gets crushed when you punch it.

At it's very heart, striking is about whacking people with geometry and physics.