Sunday, September 21, 2014

PSPSP-C Tower to improving technique in all styles.

Regardless of the style of martial art that one practices, there are certain universal aspects of technique that are necessary to perform at a high level of quality and proficiency.   It is not profound to say that good technique contains: precision, speed and power.  But what gives rise to these elements of a technique and furthermore is there a relationship between these three and the fundamentals that are used to build these.
Power is a catchall that can be defined a number of different ways. For the purpose of this discussion we will focus on external power (weh kong) as opposed to internal power (neh kong) or spiritual power (shim kong). For our purposes in this discussion we will look at power from the perspective of mass transfer.  When we strike an opponent we desire to transfer as much of our body mass into the adversaries vital point with as much velocity as possible. The force we strike with is a function of mass X acceleration. To increase our power we either need to move faster or transfer more mass.  The study of martial arts to a large degree is a scientific examination of mass transfer. We are “Mass Transfer Specialists”.  We study the art and science of transferring our mass or our opponents mass explosively in the direction we specify. 

The last sentence of the paragraph above contains two important elements: explosive (speed) and specify (precision). Being able to move a large volume of mass slowly while an interesting skill, does not necessarily provide martial value in an dynamic self defense environment.  Bench pressing 300 or even 500 lbs does not readily translate into a useful combative skill.  Strength training is valuable to our overall health and development, however in regards to executing technique I am focusing on explosive movement.  The faster we move any given mass the more force we transfer to our benefit.  Furthermore while I wish to move that given mass fast, I do not want it to move randomly.  When I am striking I want to be able to focus the mass transfer quickly into a very specific target (Kup Soo).  The human body while strong has certain week spots that can be exploited for our self defense benefit.  Additionally if we look at the unit of force lbs/sq. we see that a given amount of mass transfer into a small area vs a large area results in a greater amount of force experienced. Someone who steps on your foot with a sneaker imparts less experienced force than the same person who steps on you with a high heel. 

Hitting effectively with power in combative training therefore requires both the elements of speed and precision. But which should you work on first.  The military and law enforcement communities use a phrase that sums this up best.  “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, fast is lethal”. Precision starts by training slow, as you hit your target consistently at a slow speed you then are able to increase the speed until your accuracy fails.  You stay at this speed of training until such time that your accuracy returns and you are once again consistently hitting the target at your new speed.  This incremental process allows you to achieve a high degree of accuracy at high speed by programming muscle memory at achievable speeds.  When you are taking your time and going slow you are giving yourself the opportunity to take corrective action.  If you work to hit a target at full speed without first trying at slower speeds, you do not develop consistency in your motor skills and will not achieve the desired results consistently or quickly.  Precision therefore should be focused on before speed. The way I present this to my students is: “Precision allows for speed, speed provides power”.

This then begs the question, what tangible factor can a student of the arts work on to improve their precision?  The effective use of mass transfer requires an intuitive understanding of body structure. Body structure is most directly, but not exclusively, evidenced by stance. The platform (stance) a student uses to apply a technique requires stability, consistency and durability. When the student is working on the precision of a technique it is important that they do so from a stance that is consistently strong. If the stance is unstable, inconsistent or collapses under duress it is impossible for a student to consistently program muscle memory.  Through dumb luck they will occasionally hit the target, but we do not want our safety to rely on dumb luck, we are aiming for 100% accuracy.  In the martial arts our stances provide the consistent platform on which our techniques are launched.  In order for a student to establish consistent precision in their technique they must first develop consistency in the strength and durability of our various stances. Understanding of course that each stance has its own inherent benefits and weaknesses.  Part of stance training is to understand which is the optimal stance to use with different techniques and circumstance and how to transfer effectively and efficiently from one stance to another. With a well developed platform the student is ready to more diligently and effectively work on developing their precision which allows for speed and produces power.

What then is the critical element of all stance work, regardless of style, that we should establish first and foremost?  The simple answer is posture.  Poor posture, aside from being unhealthy, causes a cascading series of problem in the student’s technique. When the posture is bad it is impossible to have a stance that is consistent, stable and efficiently mobile.  Poor posture is the critical visible element where most techniques begin to fall apart and problems arise.  Once posture is corrected, the difficulty a student had hitting the target will often go away. Good posture allows for consistency and stability in the weapons platform (stance). When you see a student struggle with a technique it is easy to see that their stance is often bad as well. Bad stance is not the causative factor it is an indicator of a deeper issue. The causative factor is usually their posture. In the process of fixing their stance you will often unknowingly have them fixing their posture as well.  If you focus on the posture first the stance will almost always correct itself.  The more you can get the student to self correct their posture the quicker you can move them onto more advanced material.

Everything we have discussed up to this point is visibly tangible or measureable. A force meter can measure how much power is being imparted into a target, an accelerometer can be utilized to measure the speed of a technique at impact, we can visually see if a target has been hit with precision, we can video or photograph the student to show them the quality of their stance and posture and directly show them how these factors affect their precision, speed and power. Is there an additional element that has a demonstrable impact on the quality of their posture?  If we compare this example to building a house. We have framed in the house (stance) using good lumber (posture).  The solid framing allowed us to put up the roof, make the rooms, install utilities, finish, paint and furnish.  Making the house functional (precision, speed, power). We can do all this work but if the foundation is not sound in very little time the house will begin to experience problems and ultimately crumble well before its time. Most people think that our stances are analogous to the foundation of the house but this is wrong, there is something which offers a better correlation.  The foundation of our martial arts house is core muscle strength.  The below the surface strength of our bodies serves the same purpose as the below the ground foundation of our house. A person’s posture, balance, mobility and overall strength is profoundly dependent on their core muscle strength.  Our core allows us to connect the disparate parts of our body into one unified whole.  This allows us to increase the mass we strike with and the speed at which we efficiently move our mass. Developing core strength improves our posture which affects our balance and mobility. In short core strength develops our center, when you understand how to move your center and how you move your opponent’s center you will have the tactical advantage.

Core improves posture
Posture improves stance
Stance improves precision
Precision allows speed
Speed provides power

If you invert this series of equations you create a tower.
P             power                                  measurable
S             speed                                   measurable
P             precision                             measurable
S             stance                                  visible
P             posture                                visible
---           -----------                              -----------
C             core                                       unseen

In a tower if one level fails all the levels above it also fail.  You can have good stances but still be working on precision; if the precision is lacking then the speed and power are not relevant.  You can be faster and stronger than your adversary but if you cannot hit the broad side of a barn your technique is not effective.  Once we understand this tower we can begin to effectively and efficiently improve the quality of our techniques by looking to see which levels are well established and which are not, then put our focus on the level that needs our attention not the ones above it. If you are struggling with developing power in your technique begin to climb down the tower until you find the root cause of the problem.  Most times when helping students I find the fault in the posture and core areas – with a little attention in these areas we see dramatic improvement in a short period of time.

Please share this with your students and martial arts friends; my personal experience using this tower has definitively impacted my personal understanding of Tang Soo Do and also allowed me to better help my students.  I hope it provides you with similar results.

Tang Soo!
Master Scott C. Homschek

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A martial artist knows….A winner neither gloats in victory, nor complains in defeat.

Image courtesy of: Sakurambo

Throughout modern history there have been countless men and women who have been tremendously successful who will tell you their secret is they failed more than everyone else.  Thomas Edison failed at making the light bulb over a thousand times before he found the right formula.  I recently saw an old interview with Michael Jordan where he detailed, how many games he lost at the free throw line. I have a few friends who have made their careers as accomplished salesmen in the corporate world. Those that have been successful often say they achieved success by hearing “no” from more of their clients than their peers. Failure provides the experience for future success.

Much as I discussed in a previous blog about the purpose of testing being to provide information, a failure or a success should be analyzed in a similar light. What worked well, what did not work well and what we will do different when the next opportunity arises. Complaining about why the sale did not go through, why the ball did not make it in the basket, why the product is not ready to go; creates a barrier to future success. True you might not have accomplished the task you wanted this time, but confusing the issue by pointing fingers or talking down your competition does nothing more than to cloud your mind.  These negative methods do not allow personal growth and development. In fact they often will alienate the people who could be part of a future success. 

The other side of this coin is the person who wins the game, gets the sale or brings the new product to market and then lauds it over the competition. How you treat others when you succeed should mirror how you would want others to treat you when you fail.  While you should feel good about your accomplishment it should not be based on smearing someone else’s face in the mud. Congratulate your competition on a hard fought game; convey that you admire and respect their abilities and look forward to future opportunities to match skills.  While they might not be happy with their defeat, they will appreciate the respect and dignity you showed them and will likely return the favor when the tables are turned. 

Be the positive role model you want to see in others. If you win or lose with a toxic attitude you will find that others do not want to be around you.   When you face failure be self reflective about what you personally could have done different or better.  When you triumph be graceful and share the glory; be sure to credit those who helped make the success possible.  The choice is always yours – it is best to have others to share future successes and failures with rather than to stand as an island alone.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A martial artist knows…..If you expect to succeed, embrace hard work.

Photo courtesy of Kris Hughes - all rights reserved.

Every generation of humanity has benefited in many positive ways from the technological advances of that generation.  The most tangible evidence of this is the advancements in the medical field. Illnesses and injuries that just a few decades ago would have debilitating or terminal are now diagnosed and treated with ease. These advances not only increase the quantity but also the quality of life. The development of the mechanical engine has allowed a single individual to do the same amount of work as scores of men in previous times. The increase in productivity has not only benefited the individual but his community as well as the individual has been able to bring an ever increasing variety of goods and services to his neighbors.  However there is a potential downside to these advances.

When technology allows us to do more with less effort, the desired byproduct should be for the individual to channel that freed time into additional productive pursuits. Instead we often see the opposite; where the individual is only focused on completing the task at hand and not focused on what he or she can still accomplish in the time they have made available. This is not to say that we should not enjoy the benefits of this increased productivity by investing additional time into our families, hobbies and personal interests. 

The challenge arises when the individual who has committed to a certain amount of time to work, rests on his laurels when technology allows us to accomplish the same tasks in less time. Instead of recommitting themselves to accomplishing more in the time they have allotted to work they say “job done, I can take it easy”. When this happens on a consistent basis the individual gets accustomed to spending less time working and more time taking it easy.  We as a society are seeing this more and more often particularly in our children. 

Today’s children seem less capable of self motivating themselves to accomplish their own tasks.  Technology has made it easier for the tasks to be done, and we as parents have not filled in the work void with additional tasks to accomplish. The children have gotten accustomed to maximum benefit for minimal effort on their part. This has imparted upon them a lazier attitude than previous generations, and we as parents are the culprits. 

We need to teach our children the beneficial attitude of hard work, not just the material benefits of hard work. The person who embraces hard work will succeed in life, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.  We all face hardships at different times in our lives; how we attack those hardships is the ultimate deciding factor of the final result. Those that embrace hard work lift themselves up by their boot straps when they find themselves in difficult times and immediately begin working on a way to resolve their problems.  Whether it is loss of a job or natural catastrophe those who have embraced hard work will resolve their problems much faster than the person who waits around for someone else to solve the problem for them.

We need to cultivate this attitude in our children in as early an age as possible. In our family there is an expression “When we work we work, and when we play we play”. When there are projects to be done all hands, regardless of age, chip in.  Everyone works at the task until the task is done. Growing up in this environment teaches children that adults value hard work and if they are to be respected by their elders they should do the same. 

If you want your children to embrace hard work you have to give them age appropriate tasks to accomplish.  As they succeed the tasks get more involved and more challenging. Hmmm… kind of sounds like progressing in the martial arts. Helping our children to understand good time management; budgeting appropriately for both work and play along with fostering an attitude of accomplishment will go a long way to putting them on a path to future success. Teach them to focus on how much they can get done, instead of how little they can do to make their boss/parent happy. Those who embrace hard work will always rise above those that only want to get by.  Which do you want for your child?

Tang Soo!

Master Homschek

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why Should I teach?

When the student is ready the teacher will appear. I have heard this quote many times in my martial arts training. For the beginning student it refers to the student entering the dojang and wishing to start training in martial arts. It is a very primitive stage of martial arts training. Simply an agreement between the instructor to present the curriculum and the student to come to class and absorb what they can. In the beginning no more can be asked or expected. 

At some point in the students training they will transition to a stage of recognition. They have begun to learn and understand the techniques and begin to mentally link parts from various drills together. They begin to see the relationship between footwork and power or sparing and forms. At this point they are ready and the teacher again appears. Instructors will observe their practice, will answer their questions then  give them new questions and avenues to explore and point them in the right direction. 

In the final stage there are more questions than answers. Many people do not make it this far. It is the stage of enlightenment. It is at this point that the student is most ready. It seems that there are instructors everywhere. In class there are revelations that occur while doing the most basic of drills. New insights that occur as the instructor is covering the same drills that you have done for years. On the internet where you look for techniques or subjects that interest you and then apply them to the direction of your training. With your peers when you exchange ideas on the things that excite you both. 

A very big part of this is final stage is teaching. Teaching forces you to view a subject critically. It is very hard to teach something that you do not believe in. If you cannot make a technique work for a specific student or yourself you must tear it apart and see what parts are critical and what can be modified or discarded. You learn the techniques inside and out. 

I am telling you this in hopes that you can know what is ahead of you and get to the last stage. After many, many years of training I have recently begun to experience the enlightenment. It is a very thrilling feeling. Learn something new every day and more importantly, having more questions every day. It is this that now drives me in my training.

So it is very fitting that the circle closes with me being the student and my students, being the instructors, helping me to learn every day. 

When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

Tang Soo!

Michael Mullins

Mr. Mullins began his Tang Soo Do training in 2004 under the guidance of Master Scott Homschek at the River Valley Tang Soo Do Academy in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He earned his Cho Dan (Black Belt) in Tang Soo Do in June 2009 and His E Dan (2nd Degree Black Belt) in 2011. He also holds a Black Belt in Uechi-ryu Okinawan Karate and a Brown Belt in Shotokan Karate.

He has a Masters Degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is retired from the United States Army after 21 years of service.