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This article originally appeared in the November 2000, January 2001, and March 2001 issues of Tae Kwon Do Times  magazine, along with photos and diagrams. Only the text is reprinted here, courtesy of Master Irvin.


                                                                                        THE FORCE TO KNOCK OVER A BULL
                                                                                                       and the principles behind it

                                                                                             Master Paul Y. Irvin, 8/18/00




In 1955 a young Korean Chung Do Kwan Black Belt named Han Cha Kyo knocked over a full-grown bull with a flying kick:  a remarkable feat for someone weighing only about 130 pounds (See TKD Times, Jan. 1995).  This level of power and skill attracted attention and, among many other accomplishments, took him on to lead International Taekwondo Federation demonstration teams through Europe and Asia, to instruct the Hong Kong Police, to form the Taekwon-do Association of Singapore, and later to move to the United States where he developed training devices and methods to help the able-bodied as well as the handicapped to realize their full potential.  In 1981 Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo founded The Universal Taekwon-do Federation to teach the principles and methods behind his accomplishments.

Grandmaster Han was very interested in the interaction of mind and body, in how exercising the body in certain ways altered mental attitudes, and in how the mental state effected the physical condition and performance.  He devised exercises and training methods which maximized performance through a mutually-reinforcing balance of internal and external development. His was possibly a unique approach where the “soft” style was learned simultaneously with the “hard” style of martial arts thereby developing the whole person at once, instead of addressing the parts separately.

This article was written at Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo’s request and is dedicated to his memory.  It will explain The Universal Taekwon-do Federation’s method of developing power by examining the most efficient way to generate and apply force. 


Although Grandmaster Han’s work came from a long tradition of manipulation of ki/chi (energy) this concept, along with some of the other principles which evolved through centuries of observation and pragmatic development by Asian martial artists, often seems rather vague and mystical to Western-trained minds.  Grandmaster Han focused on understanding the process behind the result, and then taught the process.  He understood that the result is only the consequence of the process, and that the only way to directly change the result is to change the process that led to it


To try to concentrate on the result itself is to remove attention from what caused it. Just as seeing a slow motion detail of how a board physically breaks apart will not improve our ability to break it, concentrating on speed in our training will not help us know how to make more of it, but understanding and being able to control the principles of force will.


One of the things which impressed me about Taekwon-do when I first began training as a college chemistry student in 1967 was the apparent intention of the art to use a scientific approach in order to understand and refine techniques and movements discovered and developed by many centuries of martial artists.  It is perhaps this attempt to use a scientific approach which may be Taekwon-do’s most significant legacy to the continuing evolution of the martial arts.  If some of the feats accomplished in Taekwon-do seemed almost “magical”, there was, nevertheless, the desire to understand the “magic” so that the benefits could be applied elsewhere. 


Science does not mean, however, just the studying or observation of something.  “Scientific” refers to a specific method of study which demands the testing of any idea (hypothesis) of how something works.  If the idea does not hold up under testing it has to be thrown out, or modified and tested again.  Only when an idea holds up to physical testing can it be considered a “theory”.  When a theory can hold up to extensive testing from all different approaches without any inconsistencies it will eventually be considered a “law”.              


Ideas have been presented before this about how Taekwon-do works, but unless they have held up to controlled testing they are only somebody’s ideas, and cannot be considered as “scientific”.  In fact, well-known principles, long used in other fields, already exist which explain much about the workings of  Taekwon-doUnderstanding these principles may remove some of the “magic” of Taekwon-do for some people, but that understanding will give us the ability to examine and improve our own performance in Taekwon-do, or any other activity.


Not understanding these principles can result in us wasting a lot of time and energy doing things which cannot directly improve the results we want, because those things are not actually involved in the process which produces the result we are looking for.  They might be good exercises for coordination, balance or aerobic conditioning, but they are not going to directly improve our intended result. 


In the hope of making our training efforts more effective this article will blend “East” with “West” and show that they mutually support each other.  This discussion will use long-accepted laws of classical mechanics, along with some of the findings of the infant science of biomechanics to bring more understanding to many of the principles used in our martial arts training.  This will not be just a theoretical scientific discussion, however. As we go along, over a dozen experiments will be presented here so that the practical applications of these principles to our training can be tested and felt first-hand.  Tested scientific principles will be presented along with “every-day” examples using such things as rockets, whips, slingshots and elevators, so that the ideas being presented to improve our training do not have to be accepted “on faith”.  Among the topics covered will be:

1.     the many roles that focus play for our bodies, minds and lives;

2.     how acceleration is the trainable element that controls speed;

3.     the difference between mass and weight and how ‘effective’ mass can be controlled;

4.     the use of counter force as a means of controlling the unstoppable reaction force;

5.     the need for the concept of center in a body in motion, and in other places in our lives;

6.     how integrated breathing enhances physical and mental efforts.


Understanding these principles of force can allow us to improve and refine our control of them which can directly benefit our training and our lives.  It is hoped that both the explanations and the experiments contained here will demonstrate the benefits of unifying inner power with outer strength to maximize anyone’s performance.


To start let’s examine a little more thoroughly some of what has been presented elsewhere about this topic and make clearer the meaning of some familiar terms:

Speed   x   3

Much has been made of the importance of speed for the martial artist and indeed it is important for several reasons, some of which are not often directly recognized and exploited in training.  Let’s start first with these less discussed reasons and then later re-examine the reason most often presented for a martial artist to have speed.

The two additional reasons for using speed both take advantage of the law of inertia.  One concerns the inertia of the target and the other concerns our inertia and how it effects the force of our tool.

The law of inertia states that a stationary body remains stationary unless acted upon by a force.  Inertia is easily seen in the trick of pulling a tablecloth out from under a table full of dishes:  pull too slowly and the dishes come along with the table cloth, but yank fast enough and the tablecloth will be out from under the dishes before their inertia is overcome and they can start to move.  (Please don’t try this, especially if they’re not your dishes - pulling a napkin out from under a spoon would be safer.)

For our training, let’s first examine exploiting the inertia of the target.  If we hit a target too slowly the energy of the initial contact will start the target moving away from the remaining energy of the impact (as happens in a push kick).  The faster the impact the more energy will go into the target before it can move away.  This is most obvious with

loosely suspended, and free-standing targets, but it is just as important for heavier targets if energy is not going to be wasted.  A heavy bag, when kicked solidly, will often swing away from the kicker, which means some of the energy of the kick went into pushing the bag.  When kicked with a sufficiently fast kick the bag will bend around the foot and finish by “dancing” on its chain as the energy which went into the bag is dissipated. 

This effect can also be seen in some board breaking events when the number of people needed to hold for a successful break is proportional to how slow the kick is.  With proper speed, two people should be enough to hold for a three or four board break.  If the people holding get knocked back it is because the technique is too slow and is pushing instead of snapping.  Only part of the kicker’s energy is going into the actual impact, the rest is being used to push the target away.  Unfortunately, this lack of speed will be masked with mechanically braced targets as long as enough mass accompanies the slow speed.  Few real-world applications of our techniques, however, are wall or platform braced (just try to get a mugger to stand still against a wall for you), and we will not be able to effectively transfer our energy into the target if our training exercises do not take this inertial effect into account.

Inertia shows up for our bodies also, because the faster a tool can be accelerated, the faster it will be going before our own body is pushed back by reaction force.  Seeing how this works for our bodies can easily be demonstrated by shutting a car door:  stand feet together close to a car door which has been pushed up to the latch.  Without leaning, push your hand slowly against the door.  You will push yourself backwards and the door will not latch.  Push a little faster and you may get the first of the two catches to engage before you get pushed away.  Push very fast and you can probably get both latches engaged and remain standing vertically in place.  This means that your power went into moving the door rather than into moving you.


EXPERIMENT 1.  This can also be practiced as an exercise with a partner.  Stand with your feet together half an arm length away from your partner who is standing sideways in front of you with their feet together. Without leaning into them, try pushing against your partner’s shoulder at different speeds and notice the varying results.  Try doing this with different size partners, and also while  standing on one leg.  This exercise will be used again later in this paper to demonstrate several other points.

Now for those definitions mentioned earlier, and that other reason:

Energy is defined as the capacity to do work.  Gravity, stretched or compressed springs, rotating objects (from atoms to solar systems), among other things, all can be used to perform work.  Work is a measure of the energy transferred when an object is moved.

Power is the capacity to do work (or transfer energy) in a given amount of time.  If twice as much work can be done in a given amount of time (or if the same amount of work can be done in half the time), it means  twice as much power is available.

If a hill is steep and long enough we may have just enough energy to bicycle to the top before we have to stop.  Somebody else the same size as us may be able to pedal to the top in half the time it takes us before they run out of oomph.  Since we’re both the same size and we both made it to the top of the same hill using the same bike we both did the same work and used the same amount of energy, but the other person had twice the power, because they could perform the same work in half the time.  Same amount of energy used, but twice the power produced.  We’ll see how later.

Right now with these definitions in mind let’s revisit the most often used reason for using speed. 

As is often quoted:    Kinetic(motion) Energy = ½ mass x velocity2.  Increase the mass by 40% and there will be a 40% increase in energy, but increase the speed by 40% and there will be a nearly 100% increase in energy.  Since we would seem (more about this later) to have a limited ability to make our fists or feet heavier on the spur of the moment, increasing our tool’s speed is often presented as an important way to increase our tool’s energy.  Of the different kinds of energy that exist, this energy formula is only concerned with the amount of energy in a moving object (usually viewed as a fist or foot, for our purposes).  It is not a measure of power, but only a measure of the energy in the moving foot (for instance).  It does not indicate how the foot got to be moving, how much energy was used to get it moving, or how much work it will actually do.  This formula tells us that a moving foot has energy, but gives no indication as to how it got to be moving.  Two different feet moving at the same speed may have taken very different amounts of power to get to that speed.  This formula does not help us know how to directly improve our results, it just says that more speed is better (or more mass for that matter).

The three reasons discussed above (being able to increase the impact on the target by using it’s inertia, increasing our power transfer to our tool by using our own inertia and the squared increase in energy of a moving object) all make speed very important, but speed is the end result of how we use ourselves and is of major concern only to what we are hitting.  Concentrating on final speed itself is not the key to improving final speed since it usually places attention on the arm or leg which is not where the power best begins, nor is it the largest potential contributor of power to the technique.  More important for improving our performance is to focus on the process which leads to speed.


Acceleration  >  Speed

Gasoline contains energy and a moving car has energy, but studying the gasoline or how much energy there is in the moving car will not help you figure out how to make the energy of the gasoline perform work to move the car.  If you realize that an engine is needed to transform the energy of the gasoline into the energy of a moving car, then you probably also recognize that some engines work better than others - some get more power for their size, others use less gasoline for the same performance.  To understand why this is so, you would need to study how engines work.  Similarly, we all contain energy and we all know how to work, and by focusing on how we work, we can discover ways to improve our performance - whether power or stamina.  To improve our kicking effectiveness we will benefit from focusing on what our body can do to increase the speed of the foot.  And increasing speed is the very definition of acceleration

Speed, or velocity, is the distance covered in a particular direction in a certain amount of time, such as 32 feet/second.  Acceleration is the change in speed in a given amount of time, such as 32 feet/second/second.  In the speed example, the object will be moving  32 feet/second after the first second, and will still be moving 32 feet/second after the next second and 32 feet/second after the third second and so on.  In the acceleration example, the object will be moving 32 feet/ second at the end of the first second, 64 feet/second at the end of the 2nd second, 96 feet/second after the 3rd second, etc.  Since at a constant velocity the object moves the same distance each second, the energy transfer is the same from second to second, but the accelerating object covers more distance each second and so for acceleration the energy transfer is constantly increasing.  Significantly however, nowhere in the above formula for energy is acceleration mentioned.  Yet, acceleration is the process which leads to speed, and is what we need.  Now, where does acceleration come from?

The final velocity of an object (a fist or foot, for instance) is ultimately determined by how quickly, and for how long, it can be accelerated.  And the rate of acceleration is dependent on the nature of the force behind the object.  Although energy is used to generate a force, only a force, not energy or power, is directly involved in the acceleration of a mass:  Force = mass x acceleration (F=ma).  In the case of a dropping ball, gravity is the force.  In the case of your accelerating fist or foot, you are the force.  Only a force can change the speed or direction of an object.  And changing the speed and directions of objects is what we are doing in performing Taekwon-do.

Energy  >  Force  >  Power

To summarize:  First there has to be energy, without it nothing can be done.  But just having energy is not enough.  Gasoline can be spread and burned to make a warming fire, or it can be confined in a small space and ignited causing an explosive force.  The first way of using the energy does not usually get much work done, but by focusing the energy the second way can move quite a lot.

So from energy, force needs to be created.  And from force the power to do work can be created.  We could use our energy to create a force to push against a wall and work up quite a bit of sweat, but if when we stop pushing on it the wall is still in place no work is considered to have been accomplished since nothing was moved.  And, as we learned from the earlier definitions of work and power, since nothing was moved no work was done so no power was demonstrated to be available.  I know, I know:  it was “hard work” pushing against the wall, but that was for us, the outside world was unmoved.

So being able to focus energy to create force is important, but, just as with some engine designs, some ways of using energy creates more force from less energy than others do thus making more horsepower possible from less fuel.  Paying attention to how the force is created will get more force from less energy.  Paying attention to how the force is applied will ensure that more is accomplished with the force available.  Some ways and applications are more effective than others.   Some people work better and others work harder.  Being somewhat lazy, I’d rather make sure I’m doing things the most effective way I can before I have to actually work harder.  To do this we must have a better understanding of what force is and how it works.


“Seeing” Forces

Although the effects of forces can often be seen, the forces themselves usually cannot be.  Because so much of this discussion deals with forces, it will be useful to have a way of representing them to make it easier to “see” some of the interactions being examined.  This will also provide a means for the reader to understand future situations they may wish to analyze themselves in order to improve their performance.

Force is considered a vector quantity which means it has magnitude(strength) and direction(focus).  In comparison, heat is energy, but has no direction, a moving ball has energy and direction, but cannot accelerate by itself.  The two force characteristics of direction and magnitude can be drawn as vectors which look a lot like arrows, but with a very important difference:  the arrowhead still indicates the direction, but the length is proportional to the strength of the force; if it’s twice as long, it’s twice as strong:


Force vectors only indicate direction and strength:  they do not indicate motion or distance.  If one force is equally opposed by another force they will be in equilibrium and there will be no change of position, i.e., no motion.  Think about pushing on that wall again:  your pushing force had direction and strength, but there was no motion or distance traveled.

If the force pushing up in your legs (vector of a certain length pointing upward) exactly equals the force of gravity (a vector of the same length but pointing down), adding the two vectors tip to tail shows that they cancel out and there is no motion - you are just standing there.  When one force weakens, the equilibrium is then broken and there will be acceleration according to the direction of the stronger force, and the final magnitude will be the difference of the two strengths.  If the force in your legs becomes weaker (shorter vector pointing up) then adding this tip to tail to gravity’s vector will leave a short vector pointing down: you will be dropping to the floor.  If you generate more upward force in your legs than gravity exerts, the longer vector will add to gravity’s vector leaving a short vector pointing up which indicates the strength of your lift or jump.

For now we will ignore any intentional opposing forces and only consider the unbalanced forces which result in movement.

If more than one force is at work on an object at one time, the vectors are first added together tip to tail (in any order).  Then by connecting the starting point of those added vectors to the point where they finish reveals the resulting direction and strength of the combined forces on the object.  You can draw a vector arrow pointing to the right of a particular length, say 1 inch, representing a force being applied to a ball.  Now to the end of that vector draw another one pointing up also with a force 1 inch long, representing something else pushing the ball with the same force upward.  Now go back to the beginning of your first vector arrow and draw a line connecting to the end of the second vector you drew.  This length and direction shows that the ball will experience a slightly greater force than either of the two forces alone, but in a direction 45 degrees to the starting forces.

As can be seen, additional forces can strengthen, weaken, and/or change the direction of any initially intended force. 

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had a practical understanding of forces sufficient enough to allow them to do some pretty amazing engineering from their predictions of those forces.  This can be seen in the various monumental constructions, such as pyramids, aqueducts and coliseums, which they built, some of which have lasted for centuries.

The method of adding forces used in the examples above has been known for 400 years since the work of Simon Stevin, and countless bridges, buildings and other structures have been designed using it.  The relationships of force, acceleration and mass have been understood and exploited since Isaac Newton formalized the three laws of classical mechanics 300 years ago.  These laws of inertia, force, and action and reaction, and the mathematics behind them, have been used to understand, and design, engines, cars, and supersonic aircraft, and can be used to explain the forces in any stationary or moving system.

These principles are considered laws because they can be (and have been) tested and proved many times by careful observation of the properties and terms in them.  They are used everyday in the work of thousands of architects and engineers.  These laws apply to all moving bodies, including ours.  Since no exceptions have surfaced so far in three centuries, no new untested ideas need to be proposed to explain Taekwondo’s techniques and movements.  These laws are more than sufficient to show us ways to improve our performance, to reveal things we may be doing which are hurting our performance, and to better explain the reasons behind many martial art training principles.


Checking forces in our training

So, let’s look at how these vectors can illustrate the forces at work in some simple examples from our training:

Adding the force vector of a downward attack (a knifehand, hammerfist or kick, for example) tip to tail with the force vector of a body dropping from flexing knees, not too surprisingly, results in an increase in the total impact force, as seen by the longer vector pointing downward.

Adding the force vector of an upward attack (upward punch or overhead kick, for example) with the force of a body drop downward, will result in a shorter vector pointing up and therefore a decrease in the total impact force.

Adding the force of a forward attack (punch, thrust or kick) with the force of a body drop, will slightly increase the strength of the attack force (shown by the slightly longer line that results compared to the forward attack by itself), but it will also radically change its direction, and therefore reduce the effectiveness of the attack at its intended angle of impact.

Taking a slightly more complex, but hardly uncommon situation for a beginning student where a forward punch vector is added to a downward vector representing a dropping body, is then added to a backward vector representing an arching back.  Drawing the sum line from the beginning of the first vector to the end of the last vector demonstrates the final change in direction and decreased force of the resulting forward punch.

Note also that even if the body drop portion is removed from this example, adding together just the forces of the punch and the arching back demonstrates the need for a strong center so that the body does not flex at the waist and subtract force from the forward-directed tool (more about this later).

These examples demonstrate a major reason why some people use more energy to produce less power than others:  some of the forces they are producing are canceling and/or misdirecting some of their other forces.  This fact demonstrates the need to pay attention to how we focus our various forces for an intended task.

Force cannot exist without acceleration and vice versa.  They are inextricably linked by the relationship,  force = mass x acceleration.  The maximum magnitude of our acceleration is partially determined by our muscle’s ability to contract and our joints’ ability to handle the energy without damage (especially critical if the technique abruptly changes direction along its path).  Physical conditioning can increase our muscle strength and contraction speed, and proper exercise can increase our joint strength and flexibility.  But, unless our brute strength is focused properly by skill, much of our body’s physical efforts can be canceled or misdirected.



mass  x acceleration      =              \/              =   mass x acceleration

Or, in other words, for any given amount of force there is always a trade-off between mass and acceleration:  if the mass is increased, then the acceleration will decrease, and if the mass is decreased then the acceleration will increase.  The force vector shown above could represent the force in our dropping body or in our downward kick:  if our leg were 1/10 of our body mass and the leg acceleration were 10 times faster than gravity then the force would be the same as the whole body dropping under gravity’s acceleration.  It makes no difference to a force if it is going to be used to accelerate a small mass at high acceleration or a large mass at a slower acceleration.  BUT  our expectation of moving a large mass or a small one unfortunately often makes a significant difference in how we use our bodies to generate that force.  When expecting to move a large object we usually prepare ourselves differently and start using different muscles than when we are moving a small object even when we are supposedly intending to move it as quickly as we can.  Performing a technique against extra resistance or weight will often let us better see if we are using the optimum muscle sequence and pathway for that technique. 

EXPERIMENT 2:  A) stand in a left walking stance with the right fist extended in a forward punch and the left fist at your hip.  Have a partner stand in front of you and hold the wrist of the extended fist while putting their other palm against the fist at your waist.  While your partner holds on strongly (enough to strongly challenge you, but not to live-or-die frustrate you), pull back the extended fist while you punch forward with the fist at your hip.  If you are trying to punch just with your arms you will probably have difficulty completing the motion at first, and your body will start searching for other ways to add to the effort.  When you have adjusted the way you use your body and can do this punch reasonably well against a strong resistance (if you are having trouble, a helpful hint will be given shortly), try moving the one fist from the hip up to a starting position on the waist and try again against the same amount of resistance and compare the effort to the hip starting position; then try starting the fist from the shoulder against the same resistance and feel the results.

            B)  Try doing a side kick while somebody holds on to the cuff of your pants in such a way that it will pull out of their hand only if you move strongly enough (no torn uniforms, please)                                                                        

C)  Try performing a sidefist strike while holding onto a dumbbell. 

All of these approaches increase the feedback of what your body is doing when you perform techniques.  You will likely find that there are additional muscles you could be using, that some positions are more difficult to generate a force from, and that some portions of your motions are jerky which puts the joints at long-term risk of being damaged.  All of these discoveries will still apply when the resistance or weight is removed because we are still dealing with the same potential amount of force (force = mass x acceleration).  Increasing the mass just proportionately slowed down the acceleration and increased the obvious loads on our joints, making it more obvious what our body was doing.  With enough repetition, any improvement in body use can be transferred to the light-load condition of just using the tool by itself, as long as we stay aware of our whole self.

It is quite possible to work harder without much increase in results.  In fact, as we have seen in the above vector samples, if the effort is not well focused it is even possible to work harder with a decrease in results.  Too often effort is confused with effect.  It is the efficiency of movement which concerns us here, and it affects the tool’s acceleration and even, as will be explained later, the final mass at impact.  An increase of efficiency allows an increase in delivered power using the same effort as expended before, or it allows the same amount of power as delivered before to be achieved with less effort, resulting in increased stamina.  It is the nature of the force used which will determine how much power can be produced from the energy we have.  Creating the force comes before power.  A little bit of understanding and practice can give us some “free” power and stamina.  Want some?


So, how best to generate force?

For a variety of reasons beginning at the cellular level and extending to the whole body in relation to its environment, our energy flows most effectively from the center out:

1)     Although it may seem contradictory, the cellular mechanism which contracts muscle fibers determines that shorter, slower-contracting muscles like those connected to the hip, actually generate more force, more economically, than longer, faster-contracting muscles like those of our arms and legs.  (Compare power and quickness in a cat and a dog of the same size.  Or, consider how the most muscle-bulging human cannot pull himself through the trees with as little effort as a monkey of the same size - it is not just the size of the muscle which determines strength, but also the type of muscle being used.)

2)     The slower-contracting muscles use an energy metabolizing pathway which naturally gives them more stamina than the faster-contracting anaerobic muscles.

3)     Activating muscles from the center of the body outwards tenses the various deep fasciae (sheets of connective tissue) which help to increase the muscular action of the overlying muscles, as well as stabilize the joints for maximum load-carrying ability (important for maintaining healthy knees, shoulders and elbows).

4)     Making our center the foundation of all techniques gives the shortest average path to all tools for quickness of response.

5)     Awareness of the center helps maintain balance (crucial for maximum effort as will be discussed later).

6)     Beginning the force from the center of the body does not depend on footing, or the lack of it (unreliable surfaces or while airborne in a jump).

7)     Starting at the hips maximizes the mass that the reaction force of the tool works against, thereby maximizing the speed of the tool. (more about this later also)

8)     And finally, starting the force at the center leaves the limbs relaxed which allows them to be moved faster than when they are tense from working, or from expecting to work.

EXPERIMENT 3:  To experience the difference between inside-to-outside and outside-to-inside focusing of power try this experiment:  Find an open-backed chair which is not too heavy and stand behind it.  Extend your arm out and lift the chair by hooking your hand underneath its back.  Notice how much effort it took and put it down.  Now this time first grip the back of the chair strongly, then tighten your arm muscles and then use your shoulder muscles to lift the chair.  Now try it the first way again.

Extending our energy out from our center to lift the chair allows the more powerful and efficient muscles to do as much work as is needed before requiring the quicker, but less efficient, muscles to participate. 

This moving from the center out also greatly reduces the possibility of pulled backs:  since the center foundation (abdomen and lower back) is already working before any outside stress is imposed on it from lifting, pushing or pulling, there is little chance that it will over-react trying to suddenly counteract an unbalancing force coming from the limbs.

Gripping the chair back with the hand first, however, and tightening backwards to the shoulder “blocks” much of the energy used from getting to the job due to Reasons #1 and #3 above.  This same “blockage” and energy wasting happens in our techniques, for example, when punches start in the arms and kicks start with the legs - this improperly focused effort uses more energy to produce less final power.  To achieve the most effect for the least effort, all techniques need to start from the center.  Now focus on this idea and go back and retry the punching, side-kicking and knife-hand striking against resistance described in EXPERIMENT 2.


Mass vs. weight

For techniques performed while standing, high stances tend to unfortunately focus a beginner’s attention on the chest as the starting point.  Lower stances, however, drop the focus of attention to the hips with the added benefits of improving leg strength and flexibility and of forming a more stable connection to the floor, which is often used in the early stages of training as the foundation of techniques. 

This might be a good place to note that being in a low position increases stability because of the greater resistance to being tilted over.  The act of dropping into a low position does not increase stability (nor increase power with most techniques, as we have seen earlier from the vector analyses).  If it did help, then football linemen would be dropping when the football was snapped, baseball batters would drop as they were swinging at the ball and boxers would drop as they punch, instead of beginning their power move from an already low position.

EXPERIMENT 4:  Go back and retry the partner-pushing EXPERIMENT 1 described in the “inertia” section at the beginning of the paper, but now try pushing as you drop and pushing from an already low stance.

Anybody who has ever taken an elevator down knows that as it starts to drop you feel lighter.  That is because the dropping elevator is canceling some of gravity’s acceleration of our mass.  In fact, if the elevator’s brakes were to fail or its cable were cut it would go into free fall and we would feel completely weightless as we drop.  It is gravity pulling our mass against the ground or floor which we feel as weight.  Our mass always stays the same, unless we are moving at speeds close to the speed of light - not likely for any of us humans. 

Our apparent weight does increase at the moment of stopping the drop, but that added weight requires more energy and time to overcome in order to move from that dropped position - not a worthwhile trade where speed and agility are needed. 

EXPERIMENT 5:  Try dodging to the side or jumping up just as the elevator decelerates to a stop and increases your weight.

The idea of dropping while executing techniques probably has its origin in the fact that the motion of doing this often focuses part of the person’s energy into their center, or hips, which, as we have seen above, is a good place for it to be concentrated.  It is the dropping into one’s center which is the important part, however, not the dropping to the floor with its disadvantages for subsequent movements

While punches done from the shoulders have a short path and so could finish quickly, they are significantly weaker because they miss taking advantage of the greater strength of the hips and the greater resistance to unbalancing the body which is offered by the hips’ greater mass.

While starting arm techniques from the feet does give a longer path and therefore seemingly more opportunity for acceleration, it takes too long (try doing multiple punches all starting from the feet), often results in unbalancing the student (from lunging, etc.), and it has no application in other positions (in the air, on your back, while sitting, etc., or even while backing up, standing on one leg or sliding in as often occurs in sparring).  EXPERIMENT 6:  Try various arm techniques starting from the feet while doing the various activities just described.)  Because of its central location, strong attached muscles and large mass, the center is the most useful starting point.  But just moving the hips is not enough.  Your center must be connected to the tool, and it must be connected with the proper sequence and timing.


Accelerating rockets . . .

An analogy to space rockets can be used to describe the focusing of power from larger, slower muscle groups to smaller and smaller (and quicker and quicker) muscle groups.  Using the punch as an example, your center is the large first stage which gives all it can give; then the muscles of the trunk and chest contribute their boost, followed by the third, and even quicker, stage of the arm delivering the fist to the target.

Some students, knowing that they should be increasing their speed from the beginning to the end of the technique, think it is necessary to start slowly so they can speed up the technique later.  This is a power robbing practice for two reasons.  Given the same maximum force available, the hips cannot be accelerated as quickly as the hand since more mass is involved, so the hips will naturally be slower (force = mass x acceleration).  (Similarly, if we try to twist the whole torso together at once it will slow the punch even more.)  Additionally, the hips do not have as far to travel as the hand or foot, so if we wait too long after the hips begin their twist to start our tool on its way, the hips will finish before the tool arrives, or we will unconsciously slow up the hip movement so that it doesn’t arrive too early.  Both of these approaches greatly reduce the amount of possible power.  If the center begins under its maximum acceleration and each quicker “stage” is added in proper sequence at its maximum acceleration, all stages can finish together at impact.

EXPERIMENT 7:  Punch hard continuously for two or three minutes.  Stop and check how you feel all over.  If the arms or shoulders are noticeably tired, then too much of the effort was concentrated there.  If your center is not equally tired then it wasn’t doing as much as it could have - resulting in a significant loss of potential force due to the size of the muscles involved there compared to those of the arm.  If all parts participated equally relative to their ability, all parts should be equally tired.  To improve the final speed, more effort needs to be spent training the participation of the part that is not working enough.

Jumping techniques offer an opportunity to add another “stage” to the force development.  Many people, however, just use the jump to get airborne and then start the kick or punch.  By the time the technique nears completion, gravity has already canceled most, or all, of the jump velocity.  (Try adding the vectors, tip to tail as done before, for a rising leg and a dropping body to see the resultant magnitude and direction of the kicking force.)  Starting the technique sooner can add the vertical and/or horizontal (depending on the direction of the technique) energy of the jump to the impact rather than having it used just to change the location of the body.  Timing is critical to focus the total effect of all these individual movements.

Something else to consider with jumping techniques is if after executing a flying side kick, for example, we land still going forward, this means we failed to transfer all of our forward momentum into the kick.  (How this is done will be covered in the next section.)  Landing in an uncentered manner like this means you have no choice of which direction to go  -  against an opponent you will be an easy target, unable to dodge until your second step.



… with accumulating stages . . .

We know we can control acceleration, so it becomes an important element to develop in our training.  Mass is the other element making up force, but unless there is some way to control it, there is no reason to consider it an element to train.  We could walk around with rolls of pennies clenched in our fists, or weights fastened to our feet to give our tools more mass when they hit, but it would also be slower to get them moving, cumbersome when we didn’t need them, and rather harmful to our joints in the long term.  If that’s all we could do to effect our tools’ mass, we would just have to consider mass a given which cannot be effected by training.  Fortunately for our effectiveness, however, there is a way to control our working mass.

We are the size we are and we can’t suddenly grow bigger when needed.  It is the attraction between our mass and the earth by the specific force of gravity which is our weight:    fgravity = mass x acceleration(32 ft/sec2)  =  pounds.  We cannot increase our weight unless we add more mass (eat too much) or unless gravity’s acceleration here increases, neither of which happens quickly enough to be useful for our performance effectiveness.  In fact, our weight is not that important to our opponent unless we are standing or sitting on them.  What is important is the mass of our tool.  And, unlike the stages of a rocket, all of the “stages” of our mass can stay connected and all can keep working to the end.  This is very important, because in this way the effective mass of our tool, as well as its speed, accumulates.  So, kicks are not just leg techniques, and punches and strikes are not just arm techniques.  All techniques are body techniques.  The knuckles (or elbow or footsword, etc.) are merely the surface point of our body’s mass which impacts the target.  The whole body should participate in, and contribute to, the mass of impact.

For instance, when just the mass of a beginner’s fist hits a wall-mounted pad, it often bounces off, because its mass is small compared to that of the pad and wall.  But if that student were told that four boards were about to be broken against their already extended fist, their whole body would automatically “lock on” to the fist to help it survive.  Since four boards hitting an unmoving fist like this is actually the same impact that the fist would feel if the fist were trying to actively punch four stationary boards, the body needs to work in the same way - as a unified mass.

Our total mass can’t be quickly changed, and the mass of our tool itself can’t be changed, but by learning to unify our mass we can learn how to change the effective mass of our tool.  Although an increase in speed increases energy rapidly because of its squaring factor (as seen earlier), working on learning to increase our effective tool mass can be seen as definitely worthwhile when the mass of our hand or foot alone is compared to the mass of our whole body.

The present level of scientific understanding will say that it is not possible for cats to land on their feet when they are dropped upside down, yet they do.  “Soft”, flexible bodies are too complex to be modeled accurately by computers or mathematics at the present time, but on a practical level it is quite possible to understand and exploit the possibilities presented by them.  Our bodies are actually a collection of masses connected together by joints, which can be loosely or tightly connected at any instant by muscle control.  Complete connections must occur at, or just very slightly before, the impact in order to maximize the mass at impact.  If rigid connections are made too soon in the sequence of motion, acceleration will be lost.  If the connections are held too long after impact, it will delay the ability to respond to the next situation (perhaps a needed block or an opportunity for a follow-up technique in sparring).  Poor timing in disconnecting and connecting the masses of our various parts will result in energy being used up without it ever actually contributing to the final purpose.   Connecting and disconnecting our various masses must be well practiced so that they can occur as quickly as possible, and in the proper sequence.

EXPERIMENT 8:  One way of checking “connectiveness” is to have someone perform a front walking stance punch and immediately push against the fist knuckles.  If the wrist bends against the push, then essentially the punch was the mass of the fist.  If the elbow bends, then essentially just the mass of the forearm unit was punching.  If the shoulder pivots backward, then it was mainly the whole arm mass which was punching.  If the person bends backwards at the waist, then their torso was punching.  If the whole person is moved back by pushing against the fist, then the mass of the whole body was participating in the punch. 

Similarly, pulling on the extended fist may pull the shoulder forward, pull the person forward at the waist, or pull the whole person, in their upright posture, forward along the floor, depending upon the body’s level of connection to the fist.  If the person can be pulled forward at the waist in such a maneuver they are an easy target to be thrown by an opponent.  A person punching unified to their center contributes the most  mass possible to their punch and also presents no opportunity to be thrown, thus maximizing their offense as well as their defense.

Also, by having each “stage” working and solid in the proper sequence, a solid foundation is given for each subsequent stage to accelerate from, rather than having part of its energy going to the reaction force of pushing back the previous stage, or stages.  Try pushing something heavy without first having a solid foot position and part of the energy of the push will move you backward and only part of the energy will go into the object.  By having a solid foundation, all the movement of the push goes forward.

While kicking and striking, however, it is best ultimately if that solid foundation is not the floor, but our whole body unified.  Having ourselves as the center, removes the possibility of throwing ourselves away by depending on something which may be unreliable:  the floor with a slippery spot, loose gravel or sand, ice, or even a foundation which isn’t there - such as the air during jumping techniques. Since very little of the active application of our techniques is done with both feet rooted in place, but more usually in an active state of moving forward, backward, sideways, while on one foot, or while jumping, it will be the most useful for us if we take our foundation with us at all times.  The only way to do that is to make ourselves the foundation.  Trying to keep our feet anchored to the floor while punching or kicking allows us to be pulled off balance.  If we anchor our punches and kicks to our center we cannot be unbalanced.  When that skill is sufficiently mastered it doesn’t matter if we are standing, sitting, lying down, or in the air, or if the target is below, in front, or above us  -  we can apply the same mass against it.


. . .and Whips

Another difference of this rocket comparison for martial artists is that the stages are less distinct than for a rocket.  In this respect, comparison to a whip is more appropriate.  Here the transfer is smooth and continually accelerating from the thicker handle end to the thinner and more supple tip.  Stiffness (tenseness) anywhere along the whip will reduce the power pulse.  This idea of looseness (relaxed state) is extremely important for power transfer, and any factor which slows this transfer needs to be eliminated in order to improve effectiveness.


Counter Force and Reaction Force

Earlier, we saw how some of our other forces could help or, more usually, detract from our tool’s impact force.  Here we will see how we can improve our impact force, speed, agility, and stamina by intentionally using other available forces.

Forces can only act between objects, either attracting (gravity, magnets, stretched springs, etc.)or repelling (compressed springs, opposing magnets, explosions, etc.)each other.  Because of our mind-set, however, we usually think our force pushes our fist away from us when we punch.  Actually, our force moves the fist and body away from each other and both feel the same force.  This is the third law of classical mechanics:  action and reaction  -  forces always appear as equal and opposite pairs. 

EXPERIMENT 9:  A)  To demonstrate this, try standing sideways in a doorway with your feet together and your back about an inch or so away from one side of it.  Now punch your fist out hard from in front of your shoulder (holding on to a small weight will accentuate the effect).  Unless you are consciously compensating, your back will smack the doorway - the force of that smack is the reaction force of your fist going forward.  While the force separating the fist and the body from each other is the same, the effects are different for each because of the large differences in mass (remember:  force = mass x acceleration).  The smaller mass of the fist will be accelerated more quickly than the larger mass of the torso.  This demonstrates the advantage of being able to “unify” the body’s total mass at will, as mentioned above:  the greater the mass which will oppose the fist, the less will be the effect on the body and the greater the forward speed of the fist.  B)  Now try the back-in-a-doorway experiment just described again, but this time punch your fist hard from your hip and notice the difference in the impact your back makes against the doorway.  The greater mass centered at your hips will react less to the punch than the smaller mass centered at your shoulders - one of several good reasons to start a punch from the hip whenever possible.

Reaction force occurs whether we want it to or not - we cannot increase it or decrease it at will.  This is a law of physics, as mentioned above.  We cannot move without there being reaction force.  In fact, which half of the force pair is “reaction force” and which one is the “working force”, so to speak, really depends on our perception of the intention of the movement.  For instance, when punching we see the fist’s motion as being what we want and the force on the body being a side effect, at best.  Yet when we try to walk on top of a fence we automatically move our lighter arms around to purposely move our heavier body back into a balanced position:  we are intentionally making an action to take advantage of the reaction.  Action/reaction is perhaps another instance of um(yin) and yang:  we can’t have the one without the other, and, there is nothing we can do to control it.

Just because we cannot directly control reaction force, however, does not mean we can afford to ignore it.  For our training being able to control the effects of the reaction force of a technique is very important because it saves energy and time.  Since the body does not have to use energy fighting its unbalancing effects more energy is available to put in a technique, and the body stays relaxed and is able to respond quickly in any direction needed.

We control the effects of reaction force by applying what is actually a counter force - a force equal and opposite to the “working” force for the purpose of keeping the system in balance.  This counter force naturally has its own reaction force also, but it is canceled by the reaction force of the working force.  (This approach is often used in engine designs where counterweights and counter-rotating shafts are used to counteract the unbalancing effects of the working parts.)

Applying this concept to our techniques works like this:  When a punch (or any technique) is “thrown”, natural reaction force pushes the trunk of the body in the opposite direction from the tool.  Not wanting to lose its state of balance, the trunk will automatically tighten to counteract this offsetting force.  This tightening will hinder speed and restrict breathing.  However, when a punch is executed and the opposite arm properly and simultaneously drawn back, the trunk itself does not feel the punch’s reaction force since its been “canceled” (drawing vectors for this as we did earlier will make this visually clear), and the trunk can remain relaxed to finish contributing its full effort, to be ready to participate fully and immediately in the next move, and to permit breathing to continue unrestricted.  Doing this counter-motion does not reduce the force of the punch, it just reduces the off-balancing effect of the punch on the body.  In fact, the force of the punch will be increased since, with the reaction force “canceled” and the torso not fighting itself, more force will be available to move the fist.

It probably seems contradictory that by doubling the forces you can be more relaxed, and that by going backward you can have more force forward, but the laws of classical mechanics and some simple experiments can confirm this paradox. 

EXPERIMENT 10:    A)  While standing on one leg or sitting cross-legged, try doing several “one-sided” punches, side blocks, knife-hand strikes, rising blocks, and low forearm blocks hard, keeping your other arm next to you or in your lap.  Notice how your body fights to keep its posture.  B)  Now try doing these same techniques while using the opposite arm appropriately as an opposing counter force.  The better we can learn to use counter force, the more relaxed and balanced our torso will be and the more speed our tool will have.

For the beginning student, arm techniques are particularly helped by the use of counter force because these techniques strongly unbalance the body in several directions.  Beside the overall backward thrust of the reaction force against the torso as already discussed, the arms’ off-center connection above and to the side of the center of mass causes a tilt backward from the hips and a twist around the central axis (seen by the shoulder throwing forward as the body turns) .

When properly performed, counter forces will cancel, or at least greatly reduce, all three of these forces.  In fact, it is the off-center connection of the arms and legs to the hips which allows the twisting hips to impart energy into these tools:  centripetal force is being converted into linear motion - as in the old-fashioned slingshot of David and Goliath fame.  Examining this more closely would lead to a more complicated analysis than we need for the present discussion, but it will be useful to think of our hips as the slingshot, then we can apply the knowledge that the faster the turn, the faster the stone (or tool) will go.  Note also that both sides of our hip must turn equally for the center to be maintained externally like this.  With appropriate training, counterforce can be applied internally, as it must be with leg techniques.


EXPERIMENT 11:  A good device for understanding the difference between reaction force and counter force, and for checking their use in our training is a platform turntable.  Performing a “one-sided” knifehand strike while standing in the middle of the turntable will cause the turntable to turn in the opposite direction due to the reaction force of the striking force. The better one is able to pull the opposite arm back appropriately to create a counter force for the strike’s reaction force, the less the turntable will move.  The less the turntable moves means the less energy you will be spending in countering imbalances and the more energy you can put into the technique.  This checking method is useful for a wide variety of techniques.

[Don’t be surprised, however, if you can’t seem to get a punch to cancel out rotation of the turntable.  The opposite pulling arm does cancel the backward reaction thrust of the forward punch (which you might be able to see if you can stand off-center), but it also adds to the torque of the punch - good for the effect of the punch, but a bit more complicated to learn how to counteract.]

Rising kicks while pulling the hands down and side kicks while pulling the fists back are some obvious applications of counter force to foot techniques.  Most use of counter force in kicking, however, is less obvious than this since the hip and portions of the trunk are usually what is used as the mass of the counter force.  (In fact, with increased mastery, these parts will also begin to be used as counter force for arm techniques.)


Center vs. Balance

To use counter force well, we must have a strong sense of center, so that whatever is going on somewhere in the body can be balanced out elsewhere.  Our “center of gravity” is used to define the relationship of our mass to that of the earth’s, and a sense of it is needed for good balance.  As long as we position our center of gravity anywhere over an imaginary line between our two feet when both are on the ground, or above our standing foot in a one-legged stance, we will be in stationary balance.  But, not all the many body positions we could use to achieve this balance will align our bodies properly for efficient movement and for generating force from the center outward.  Body alignment, not just balance, is the reason certain postures are better than others.  (How body alignment works is a topic for another discussion.)

While a sense of our “center of gravity” is quite necessary for stationary balance in our stances, by itself it is insufficient to determine balance for a three-dimensional body in motion.  Gravity is one-directional, dealing only with our vertical relationship with the earth/floor.  In a dynamic situation, this vertical sense of balance needs to be accompanied with a sense of tilt and rotational balance (which is why satellites need three gyroscopes to keep in balance - if one fails the satellite’s position cannot be controlled).  When all three directions (vertical, front-to-back, and side-to-side) are considered in relation to our mass, the point where they cross is the “center of mass”.  When a force is applied at an object’s center of mass it may move location, but it will not change its orientation, i.e. it will not tilt or turn.  For this reason, the force for all of our movements, whether to move our body to a different location or to execute a technique, needs to be applied through our center of mass.  A sense of our center of gravity helps us from falling over, but having a sense of our center of mass, by reducing unwanted twisting and tilting motions, helps us to keep our bodies relaxed and aligned for maximum effect.

For the most effective movement we need to feel our body as being positioned around this center of mass.  Our feet should not be acting as anchors or attachment points to the ground, since rotating around one foot or the other will not keep us in 3-dimensional balance, but moving around our center will.  Our feet should be free to move to wherever needed to balance the force of our moving body through our center of mass.  A sense of center of mass covers more situations than a sense of a center of gravity.

Our center of mass determines where our supporting feet should be placed, not the other way around.  Try walking while putting your feet directly under yourself  -  you either won’t be able to walk, or you will fall over.  It is our sense of our moving center of mass which tells us how far in front and to the side of ourselves to step, depending on speed, direction and incline.  If we are standing still, a sense of our center of gravity is enough.  But in Taekwon-do, we are usually moving - forward, backward, up, down, and sideways - and we need a well-developed sense of our center of mass in order to be able to always keep our body relaxed and aligned for maximum power and agility.

Martial arts like Judo, Aikido and Hapkido exploit opponents being unbalanced.  A strong sense of center, however, will make it both more difficult for you to be unbalanced and taken advantage of, and will make it possible for you to return to balance more easily and quickly when you do lose your equilibrium.

EXPERIMENT 12:  Practicing in shoulder-deep water (where we are almost weightless, but definitely not massless), or on ice, so that our feet don’t have enough grip to correct imbalances (or while standing on one leg or sitting, as mentioned above) are all good ways of improving our sense of center and of learning how to work from it.



Integrated Breathing

Not having enough awareness and training of our breathing can lead us into difficult situations of too much or too little oxygen and the resulting stamina and reduced power and focus problems which come with them.  The answer is not to try to impose an outside system of control over our breathing, but to learn how to integrate our breathing with our other efforts so that they all naturally reinforce each other to maximize the total effect.  For the beginning and intermediate student learning integrated breathing can be a very important factor in unifying the body’s efforts, and for coordinating it with the mental state.  A properly performed exhale will unify and stabilize the body, release tension, and focus energy

Studies have demonstrated that yelling can increase power by approximately 25%.  This is usually discovered early in life through everyday experience by most people.  In fact, it is difficult to find any activity being done to its maximum, whether swinging a tennis racket, lifting something very heavy or trying to unscrew a stuck jar lid, which isn’t done with a grunt or a yell.  But it is not practical to yell with every movement, nor do we need to.  What happens in our bodies when we yell can also be harnessed without the sound.

The most productive exhaling is done with the lower abdomen (not with the chest), and is often performed against a feedback pressure provided by the throat and mouth:  exhale as if you were yelling, not as if you were blowing out a candle.  Exhaling with no resistance ends too quickly and does not pressurize the torso which is needed for generating power and for receiving impacts.

Starting the motion at the same time as the exhale, however, often results in the whole body tensing at once.  Instead, try beginning the exhale in the lower abdomen just before the movement is to start.  Doing this will focus the effort to begin from your center and relax the rest of your body so that its various parts can give their maximum effort when timing calls for them to act.  Just as the exhale leads the beginning of the motion, it should also accelerate and lead the acceleration of the technique.  The central foundation and role provided by the activity of the lower abdomen is the crucial element in all motion and movement.  This is so important it is probably impossible to emphasize it too much.

EXPERIMENT 13:  Once again try the partner-pushing EXPERIMENT 1 described in the inertia section at the beginning of the paper, or better yet “dropped” version of it in EXPERIMENT 4.  Now do the pushing:  1) as you would normally breath, 2) with a yell/exhale beginning at the same time as the push, and 3) as an accelerating exhale/yell which begins first in the lower abdomen and immediately leads into the push.  Feel what your body does under the different conditions:  Which way does the arm and shoulder feel the least tensed?  Which way do you feel the most centered/stable?  Which way gives you the most power?  Which way has the greatest effect for the least effort? 

Conscious and deliberate effort may be needed initially to untrain unhelpful breathing habits, but just as with kicking and punching, the more that integrated breathing is practiced the more it will become automatic and just as much a part of any technique as the appropriate posture and arm position.




Because of the wide variety and number of muscles used in even our simplest techniques, improper focus and timing can greatly reduce the power delivered for the energy used.  The more complex the movement, the greater the potential for wasting energy.  Only extensive repetition can refine the mental and neuromuscular coordination needed to maximize the force created and the power delivered for a given amount of energy.

Controlling our mass by being able to quickly adjust the degree of connectedness of our various body parts from fully relaxed to totally unified, and knowing how much and when are extremely important skills for us.  Having good internal body awareness, reinforced through breathing, center, focus and counter force training, is extremely important for our performance and our long-term health.  These are the “internal” skills which guide and empower the “external” skills of technique.  Being less visible than technique they are often overlooked or neglected, but at a high cost of reduced effectiveness.  An artist with no sense of color, or a musician who is tone-deaf must try to rely on technique alone, but art, like ourselves, can only be fully realized when the internal and external contributions are in balance.

Moving and maintaining the body in balanced harmony is often seen as characteristic of “soft” style martial arts like Tai Chi and not usually associated with the “hard” styles of Taekwon-do and Karate, but to ignore this fundamental principle in any dynamic situation is to reduce the effectiveness of our efforts.  It is a common contradiction for people on the one hand to recognize that there cannot be hard without soft, external without internal and yet then concentrate their training on only one part.  There can be no wholeness or balance unless both halves are trained proportionately.

The idea of controlling our mass by controlling the degree of our connectedness applies to areas of our lives outside of our bodies too.  Being unable to connect with other people limits our effectiveness.  Only so much can be accomplished by working alone.  To have more and more effect often a larger and larger mass of people is needed.  On the other hand, being unable to disconnect at the proper time can also reduce effectiveness, since certain things are accomplished quicker when the rest of the mass doesn’t have to be pulled along or convinced to change direction.

Acceleration also applies in our lives.  Certain ideas and movements have to “gather enough speed” before their effect is felt.  Faster is not always better though.  Knowing when, if and how quickly to respond and act can strongly influence the effectiveness of our efforts.

The concept of integrated breathing can be used to influence our state of mind.  A woman said that once she learned about this concept whenever stress starts coming her way she just starts a slow rhythmic breathing and that stops the usual disturbing emotional and physical reactions to it, and then she can just respond to the situation rather than to her reaction to it.

A well-developed sense of center is a necessity to keep a dynamic system in balance and that concept is also very important for our development and achievement in other ways too.  The concept of center is not meant just in the physical sense, but in the sense that strength must be balanced with skill, quantity must be balanced by quality, and outside awareness must be balanced with internal awareness.  We need to keep our physical selves in balance with our mental and emotional selves.  We need to keep our family life in balance with our business and recreational lives.  Also, by having a center purpose in our lives we have a reference point against which we can check the usefulness of our short-term activities and a perspective to balance any catastrophes which may come our way.  And perspective is a necessary ingredient for wisdom to flourish.

The principle we use in helping to maintain center is counter force:  the use of force in one direction to counter-act an un-centering force in the opposite direction.  If we are in control of our lives, as well as our bodies, then we will be using this principle also to maintain center in them.  Too much time spent sitting, then it’s time to move around.  Too much time spent working, then it’s time to recreate.  Too much time spent alone, then it’s time for family and friends.  Too much time spent thinking, then it’s time for doing.  Our actions often cause reactions which we cannot control, but if we are aware enough we can counter-act any unwanted reactions so that the situation, or our life, does not go in an unwanted direction.

Focus is a principle that has occurred throughout this discussion.  Focus, as meaning direction, is a necessary principle of force, since it is impossible to have a force that does not have a direction, and the more finely it is focused the more effective it will be.  Focus is also a necessary principle of creating force in our bodies, since energy must be focused from the center out to create force effectively.  Focus is also a necessary mental principle, as well as a physical one, in achieving any of this.  If our lives are going to be effective forces in the world, then our lives too must have a focus, and not just be undirected energy.

These six interacting principles:   control of mass, acceleration, focus, center, counter force and integrated breathing comprise the Principles of Force which govern our physical and mental lives.  Each of these emphasize a process, or the doing of something.  Integrated breathing is obviously a process.  Acceleration is the process which controls speed.  Counter force is a process which controls the effects of reaction force and other off-centering forces. The control of mass achieved by the ability to connect and disconnect the masses of our various parts gives us the ability to improve acceleration and to increase the effective mass of our tools.  If nothing ever changed, focus and center would continue as the result of an initial setting.  But in life there are constantly forces acting on us, and maintaining our focus and center is a constant process which has to be learned and developed.

Objects in motion have energy, as discussed at the beginning of this article.  And martial arts practitioners, by having moving arms and feet, are in possession of tools with energy, but the tools themselves are not the important part.  It is the size and direction of the force which moves those tools which is important.  In fact, even the energy in the tools is not as important as what is done with that energy.  The more efficient, unhindered and well-focused the effort is, then the more force will be created with a given amount of energy, more power will be available, and more will be achieved.  The force that does this best is the whole person unified, relaxed, and responding to the present.

Application is an important teaching principle of Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo’s method:  we must be able to apply the force we have, there must be an application for the techniques we practice, and what we are learning must apply in some way to our whole lives in order for it to be an art and not just a sport.  Taekwon-do can be viewed and taught as the “ways” of the hands and the feet, but it has so much more effect when it is taught and learned as the way, or path, as discovered through the use of the hands and the feet.  As an “art” it is intended to deepen and broaden all one’s life.  For tennis a good backhand is a good backhand, but in learning kicking and punching, we can learn about being a force, with strength and direction, in life.


                                                                                    Paul Y. Irvin copyright 2000




This article also serves as the foundation for other articles:  “Power Robbers” which explains the various factors which reduce maximum generation and maximum delivery of force for its intended purpose whether in Taekwondo, other martial arts, or any activity, and “Principles of Teaching” which explains Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo’s methods and techniques used in developing students of all ages and abilities. 



Acknowledgments:  Thank you first of all to Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo for guiding me for twenty-four years so far along “the way” , and for being such a model example of both a teacher and a student.  Thank you to Mr. Earl Weiss VI Dan ITF for his suggestions how to make a very early version of this article more useful to more people.  Thank you to fellow co-President of the Universal Taekwon-do Federation, Master Dr. James Langlas, and to Mr. Bruce Helman V Dan UTF and Dr. George Luther, Northwestern University, for their reading, input and suggestions as this paper grew.