20 April 2011

The Basics of Power Generation in (ITF) Taekwon-Do

Power generation in (ITF) Taekwon-Do basically comes down to this:

accelerate as much body mass as possible in the direction of the technique, with emphasis on strong exhalation, and without compromising your balance and posture.

Try to always start from a relaxed position. This will require you to slightly and naturally bend your limbs. (You may find yourself somewhat lower than before.)

Your body motion might be described as going down.

One of the easiest ways to get as much body mass as possible accelerated is to merely “drop” your body. So momentarily forget that you have legs and just drop, letting your technique “fall” into your opponent with your whole body mass behind it. However, maintain control of your balance at all times. This method works great for techniques that go downwards or forwards at a slight downward angle. If you are already “up,” just fall. If you are low and still want to do a forward or downward type technique, then you will need to go up first and then fall into the technique. (If you are “low,” it might be better to use a technique that uses an upward angle, in which case follow the Push method.)

Your body motion might be describe as going down or up-down.

We are assuming that your body is at a low position. For techniques that go upward or forwards at a slight upward angle, swiftly push with your legs up (and forward). If your body is “up” already, and you really want to do an upward-technique, it will obviously require you to come down first, then push up. (If you are “up” it might be better to just use a technique that uses a downward angle, in which case follow the Fall method.)

Your body motion might be described as going up, or down-up.

A good Taekwon-Doin knows how to "ride the wave" and will fall and push alternately, getting lots of body mass behind each technique.

Hip Rotation
Another way to accelerate body mass behind a technique is through rotating your torso by jerking your hips in the direction of the technique. It is usually possible to just jerk your hip in the direction of the technique from your current position, but sometimes you may need to pull your hip back first, then jerk it in the direction it has to go. Hip Rotation works very well for most techniques (you can use it both when falling and pushing to accelerate the fall or push), but it is especially effective for techniques that rotate sideways.

A very important part of Hip Rotation is to extend this principle through out the body into every limb and joint, so that each part of the body ads to the acceleration, creating a whip-like action. This is known as kinetic chaining or sequential motion.

Exhale during techniques, especially sharply at the moment your technique makes impact at which time you momentarily tense all your muscles. The exhalation should have the same feeling as when you naturally grunt while picking up a very heavy object.

Balance & Posture
Never do techniques so powerfully that you lose your balance or put yourself in a compromised position. We want maximum force, minus whatever necessary to keep your balance. (This is why Taekwon-Do's turning kick is done differently from Muay Thai's roundhouse kick.)

These are the basics. Learn to fall, push and do whip-like rotation to maximise the acceleration of body mass behind a technique; also learn to relax, keep good balance, and exhale sharply, and you've got 80% of it nailed. The remainder is just some refinement, a better use of physics and body mechanics, and exploitation of your opponent's motions.


Morlan Carr said...

Nice article, I enjoyed reading this.

SooShimKwan said...

Glad you liked it and thanks for the link!

Ymar Sakar said...



That's the foundation of internal power. Pelvis shifting and rooting are other parts of the foundation.

Refining it down to some base concepts, internal power needs 2 things for it to work right. 1: there needs to be a power generation source that exceeds the acceleration, but not velocity, of human muscles. 2: there needs to be a feedback support system that makes the energy go into the target by taking the feedback force, routing it to the ground, and then pushing back up from the ground and into the target again.

Xingyi uses gravity as the primary power source. Human muscles are still required though for the supports. Bagua uses rotation, body momentum in motion, as the primary power source. Taiji Chuan uses power stealing, or the other person's momentum and energy, as half the power source, with the other parts being linear and circular force generated by the user.

Then things such as breath, hips, and what not are simply the details that are required to build something solid on the foundation.

For example, many feedback systems don't use bone on bone as the resistance, but an alignment between foot, knee, and pelvis to root force and send it back into the target. If the alignment is incorrect, then the force may dissipate in the foot, the knee, or the pelvis. The knee collapses. The pelvis juts out. Force is lost and the target receives 50% or less of the initial impact. If the initial impact wasn't enough to do damage, and if the force was required to penetrate more deeply to injure the main organs, then the strike would be ineffective.

Breathing out is one of the key components in external power, though it is also used as a backup system in internal power systems. By solidifying the hara or dantien, an external martial artist creates a furnace inside the guts, which metabolizes oxygen and turns it into energy in the presence of glucose. It also hardens the muscles required to link the body together and increases their peak performance.

Much of my research on IP has led me to believe that the consequences of internal power are manifested in these elements. The acceleration exceeding the limits of human muscular capacity allows the force to peak the target's tissue absorption capacity. In a strike powered by kinetic linking, this will transfer the force into the tissues and then immediately spread out and do damage to the surrounding tissues. Used with penetration, this will go deeper and hit the organs and CNS/spine and do a shocking type effect. However, an IP strikes goes straight through the target in a way that pushing energy cannot do in boxing. Pushing energy will transfer into the brain causing whip lash and concussion, but to destroy the vital organs of the human body and bones, requires an immense level of acceleration, penetration, and the ability to maintain that power level no matter how long it takes. The other effect is uprooting or rooting. If the attacker is rooted and if the target is uprooted, the force converges on the target. The force is unable to be sent into the ground, so it bounces back up from the user. At the same time, the target is uprooted so gravity is forcibly pulling them down into the strike, making it impossible for them to resist by gaining more time, say stepping back or moving away from the point of contact. Ribs break because they can only bend so far, and then they can no longer bend any more. Since most people move away from pain, an initial force is either enough to break the bones in time or it isn't. But if one can sustain a massive amount of force and keep the contact time to as long as possible, the ribs will break even if the initial force was only enough to bend it.

Ymar Sakar said...

As a result of this, people feel the force as something very heavy on their chest, in the Jin 0 inch punch video. That was done without any external, speed, or shock type power at all.

When internal penetration is combined with shock type explosion power, we typically get fajin. Or the way I like to describe it, pushing is shooting a sub sonic bullet through a target. Penetrating strikes shoots a supersonic bullet through the target. A shocking strike destroys the external surface and skin of a target with an external explosion.

A proper fajin strike should be able to shoot a bullet into the body, then have it explode while inside the body instead of leaving the body.

What this tends to mean is that a strike on the liver will rupture the liver, causing a mortal wound, yet at the same time disrupting the spine, heart, spleen, and other organs such as the lungs and diaphragm due to the vicinity of those targets. This not only causes a mortal wound but ensures that the person cannot do a double kill by attacking while suffering a mortal wound, which has been known to happen when people are truly dedicated to winning.

Further research into these fields will allow me to fine tune and solidify my ideas. I've witnessed examples of all of the effects of such power types, but the combination effect is something I've only seen in my own mind.

For clarification, most liver shots in boxing and MMA matches are the result of the liver getting a love tap. A shake. A poke. Medically, it's of minor consequence, if the person gets up in a few minutes and there is no internal bleeding. An internal rupture of an organ, at the least, produces internal bleeding.

SooShimKwan said...

Interesting thoughts Ivan.

I've written a series of posts on "fajin" (it is known in Korean as Balgyeong) in ITF Taekwon-Do, which you may find interesting.


In ITF we do not generally use such phrases as "internal power" and "external power". General Choi wanted to make Taekwon-Do into a "modern" martial art, so he used Newtonian physics almost exclusively to describe power generation. Although the vocabulary used is from Newtonian physics, I've argued in the "Balgyeong" posts that internal power is definitely a part of ITF Taekwon-Do.

The big problem with internal techniques is that it is difficult to research scientifically. How does one scientifically test "sonic bullets" that "explode while inside the body instead of leaving the body"? I'm definitely looking forward to experiments developing for testing internal energy techniques and subsequent research. (Maybe I should consider it as a PhD research problem.)

There are some research done, for instance the one below:

But, I'm not so much curious about the mechanics, but rather the actual effect of the impulse; how the pulse "explode while inside the body instead of leaving the body", as measured by scientific analysis.

Ymar Sakar said...

Who's Ivan?

I read some of those posts in question. In fact, the one that used Glen Levy's hammer fist demo I read just a few days after I first came across that video of his. Talk bout coincidences.

I learned force momentum first from a Newtonian model. But the Newtonian Model does not cover internal organs and systems, so Tim Larkin's guys chose to use sport medicine as the base data for how to generate injuries using the capacity of the human body in motion. The Chinese looked at it from another model, that of chi, which is not a pre-scientific model so much as it is a parallel Aristotelian model. Aristotle had his essences. The Chinese had their 5 elements: wood, water, metal, fire, earth. They were developed in relatively the same time period. I can't state that there were any connections yet until I learn both models, which I have not. But chi was also a way to describe phenomenon much like Aristotle did.

Thus in order to see what actually is happening from the impulse of a shock type power transfer, one must study Chinese medicine or neuro-physiology. Chinese medicine is the easier and more relevant path for martial artists.

Recent individuals like Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, founder of YMAA, have combined Western interpretations with Eastern chi, meridian, and medical knowledge. So I use his re-integration of such systems.

The main problem with science experiments is that the scientists aren't martial artists and thus incorrectly interpret the data. This also tends to make them create experiments which are based off erroneous assumptions. For example, they compare crash test dummies concerning deflection or V, and get a person to hit the crash test dummy to compare the data to car crashes. That is a relatively good experiment in terms of obtaining control data and variables, but that's not how the real human body behaves and is thus not very useful in telling a martial artist whether he has accounted for all the realistic factors involved. These types of experiments also don't graph power over time or acceleration over time. The most important part of any experiment is the raw data, not the massaged data or the executive conclusion interpreted off the data.

I would posit that ballistic gel would probably be the best bet for researching the effects of internal power. Scientists and engineers have already created such human experimental models for things such as bone. So far most people have focused on the user. If they focused on the power generated by the user, it was in situations which did not 100% mimic human targets.

For example, the Stanford university student test gave a raw data feed on a graph. Notice that flat line at the top of the bell curve. What does it mean?

Ymar Sakar said...

They don't know what it means. In fact, they don't know what the majority of their data means. That would require an understanding of internal art applications, and specifically the move in question.

When making contact with a target, the force they measured on the floor plate would be doubled or tripled. Measurements of 10X that force wouldn't be impossible either.

It is not that their conclusions are wrong, but that they don't make use of their own data efficiently.

The momentum of the body is always powered off the root, and the speed of the hand and shoulders is always after the starting momentum of the lower body. The foot speed peaks first, then is rooted, and the root is behind the movement of the pelvis peak, which is behind the peak velocity of the shoulders, which is behind the hand velocity. Once the foot is rooted, all the muscles up top then no longer have to worry about wasting energy if they come into contact with an opposing force.

That is an example of kinetic linking, but unlike seen in the West, this is kinetic linking that is rooted to the earth.

The relaxation of the arms could serve two purposes. One is to decrease the contact time by separating the hand from the target. After releasing the energy, this makes it impossible for the energy to then go back into the attacker's own body. However, if it did go back into the attacker's own body, the relaxation ensures that none of it is depleted in the muscles of the arm or shoulders, but instead is sent directly to the rooted foot, which then sends it back and then back into the target. Which is a kinetic link that composes one's own body plus the target's own body.

Most of my time has been spent on researching linear strikes that makes use of that force reflection, since explosion power is another application of kinetic linking (which I already knew at the time). I tried to initially find ways to do them at the same time but eventually concluded that I had to chain them up. One had to come first. And since it was impossible to put kinetic linking last, it had to be first.

There is an equal and opposite reaction. So even though a person can relax the hands immediately, it is not the same as simultaneously. Thus he must be rooted at the moment of contact, as well as be rooted after the moment of contact. Even though the concept is the same as boxing's rear cross, the details are not. Simply lifting the heel from the floor unconnects the root. Then there's knee alignment and pelvis alignment. Then there's spine alignment. There's head alignment. Shoulder alignment. Arm alignment.

Internal arts prioritize the control of muscles but the power is generated via structure and proper alignment, proper firing of the correct muscles in the proper order. External arts prioritize the power generated by muscles; control is only used as a backup/conditioned component.

Convenience wise, it's better to test these things on humans rather than data instruments. We already have body suits to measure velocity. There are already bear suits that can deflect large caliber bullets and melee impacts. Combine them and you'd get an interesting data feedback system. And if money is a limitation, one can simply use the human neural feedback system, reduce the protection gear, and reduce the impact force. Use sports medicine to see what full impact does, then reverse engineer.

Ymar Sakar said...

The priority placed on Newtonian physics is misplaced. The human body was never something Newton tried to model. Only external physical phenomenon. Learning physics, Newtonian physics, is not going to give the physical skills to a martial artist. At best, it will only give them a conception of the metaphysics behind the moves. Like I said before, however, concepts can be communicated in 10 minutes for a 60 minute class. The rest must be physical repetition and hands on learning. Thus people who place more than 1/6th of the time on Newtonian physics, is degrading the student's learning progress. Simply repeating the concepts or equations, will not transfer any real ability to the student. Internal and external concepts deal primarily with how a user generates power and hits targets. Without understanding internal and external principles, ideas, and concepts, a student cannot translate Newtonian concepts into physical skills. Instead, they will be required to guess, as with the sine wave, and what they get won't be pretty.

As for what I personally use, I developed my ability by punching at a candle. The candle's base and wick were rather larger so it allowed me to see how much wind was actually produced. I also figured out tricks to make it easier like positioning the pinky right above the tip of the flame, causing more wind to flow across it. But that wasn't the point at the time. I needed at first an external guide to determine what my internal feeling meant. Once I figured out that a certain feeling in my arm when punching meant I was going fast, by cross referencing when I felt it to when the wind blew the strongest across the flame, I isolated that feeling and sought to reproduce it and make it happen more often.

Eventually I could generate enough force that it felt like something was pulling my elbow from its socket, like someone pulling on me at the end of my punch. Then later I felt the force go to my wrist. Then eventually, I felt it pull my fingers out, if I didn't close my hands tightly. Then later I saw what Chinese kung fu were doing with fajin. Right now I can do the wrist part on my left hand, but only the fingers on the right. Two people that I used the link method on, but didn't supply much muscular strength or velocity with my arm, reacted strangely. They were supposed to be big enough and tough enough to take some hits in sparring, but while I was doing some drills or demos with them, they reacted like it was much more than the love tap I thought I gave them. I used about the same energy as using the door knocker on a door. Whether that was fajin or not, was hard to tell. One would have to catalog the feeling of the receiver and change attackers to gauge the difference in feeling.

From what I've read so far, ITF TKD is a hybrid. Whether it was before or is becoming one right now, is less important. A hybrid has special rules on how they use soft/hard, internal/external. Internal-external is also not synonymous with soft/hard. So there are styles that are external, but they also incorporate a combination of hard/soft. Then there are purely internal styles that do the same thing. But hybrids are usually hybrids throughout, due to the special rules.

SooShimKwan said...

Wow, your responses are so detailed, I don't know where to begin.

(Probably first by apologizing for writing to this "Ivan"-guy. I don't know who he is either!)

I'll make two points only. First, the ITF Encyclopaedia commands that the heel should be flat at the moment of contact with the opponent, stating that with regards to punching: "The rear foot in all cases must be placed firmly at the moment of impact to contain the rebound" (Vol. 3, p. 29). This is consistent with your own thoughts, but not consistent with typical "modern" sport combat fighting where the rear heal is often raised and used to push forward with.

Secondly, I agree with you that ITF Taekwon-Do is a hybrid. At the beginning it was very much just a Koreanized version of (Shotokan) Karate, but it had undergone a metamorphosis and is quite a different creature now. I'm not sure if there are certain set rules for which method of power-generation (internal or external) should be used when.

Maybe further personal study and research will reveal the answer. It does seem to be a personal endeavor at present, for although I know that other people perform fajin ("balgyeong") in ITF Taekwon-Do, I think I may be the only one writing about it, which is making researching the topic slightly problematic. It requires me to read up on the matter as it is applied in other martial arts, and then see if it fits the ITF mould.

Thank you for your thoughts, Ymar.

Ymar Sakar said...

From watching MMA progress from its infant stages to where it is now, toddler walking stages, I know that MMA has changed boxing's heel toe drop/sway. It made fighters too unstable to take downs so they took it out, mostly. This is interesting because boxing hip toe sway methods for striking only came about after boxing adopted gloves for the ring. Originally gloves were just a beginner's training tool. Then it became something pros used. Boxing used to fight with weapons and was no holds barred, with throws, locks, and so forth. They even got to the point where one guy died from a strike to the chest (internal penetrating strike). So boxing was probably developing training methods that were reaching into the internal arts. Then they stopped. IN China, 2000 years ago, they didn't stop that R and D development cycle. When somebody died from the "death touch" strike, a whole load of people spent time studying how to reproduce it.

In kendo, if the heel is lifted or off the floor during a strike, that strike is not counted as a point in tournaments. Not a full point, and certainly not an ippon.

I think right now it would serve your interests better to see yourself as the leading front of a Research and Development process, not simply a passive research committee. But something that collates data and enforces the implementation of those ideas.

From my own research and observation, because TKD shares so many roots to Shotokan Karate, I would suggest you link up with Iain Abernethey's kata bunkai. Since you share the same forms, you can take info from his methods and integrate them into your own far better than doing it with Chinese internal arts back into TKD.

SooShimKwan said...

Regarding kata bunkai, other people like Stuart Anslow or even Colin Wee are doing much more focussed pattern application work, so I think it better that they continue with that, rather than me trying to add to that area.

There is almost nobody else that says much about these other things--ITF's Taekkyeon roots and internal style type motions--so this is where I'm spending much of my research and contemplations. This seems to be my niche, the place where I'm likely to make the most useful contribution.

Ymar Sakar said...

What I meant is that when looking to see which TKD techniques use one type of power or another, it can be very convenient to go back to the kata. By seeing the potential applications in the movements, one can derive whether the motion can, in the correct context, be used with body weight or whether it can be pulled back. Since Okinawan karate has various shock power methods, the techniques translate literally from the kata to the mat. Meaning the stances and movements are designed with this in mind.

There's two ways to approach Taekkyeon. Either a student must learn it with a fresh start, or after they have a solid grounding in TKD/Karate stances and movements. But the first requires a ground up rework, if it is using TKD as a starting place. The second takes time, though that time can be shortened by the process of oyo. Iain Abernethey is known for kata bunkai, but that's not all he does. What he does the rest of the time is mostly research and develop things based off the shotokan karate background. This research data can be used to circumnavigate much of the work needed to figure out which TKD techniques does what specifically.

SooShimKwan said...

Hi Ymar,

I'm only familiar with Iain Abernethey within the bunkai context. Will definitely look into his stuff in more detail when I have the time. Thanks!