Importance of The Law of Leverage in Martial Arts
The Law of Leverage deals with using the whole body to apply force (Yang) to, or receive force (Yin) from, an opponent. A lever allows one to apply a greater force to move an object than if a force were applied directly. For example, when we pick something up from the ground we are working with the Law of Leverage. If we bend over from the hips and try to pick something up by pulling upwards, we are likely to strain the back because it is not the most efficient way of using the Law of Leverage. However, if we bend at the knees and bring the whole body down we can then use the leverage of the legs to raise the object. This shows that there is a right way and a wrong way to use the body for a particular task, and we can apply this to Martial Science. The most important place where leverage is used by the body is in striking and blocking. The average untrained person will lean in with the upper body and throw a punch with the elbow out. This is inefficient in several ways:
1. It means that you have to lift your whole body weight upwards (a) and so it would favour someone with a large body mass, over someone with a smaller build who is not going to gain much by ‘throwing his/her weight around’.
2. By lifting the body weight, you commit more heavily to a line a force, which not only makes your body mechanics easier to predict but also destabilizes your centre by lifting up your weight and throwing it forwards.
3. If the elbow is pointing out then the energy will not be transferred to the ground (Yin) or, from the opposite perspective, you will not be able to lever up from the ground (Yang).
The power starts from the rear foot on the ground; as the muscles in the rear leg lever upwards, twisting the waist forwards, this circle increases the energy. The elbow is pointing down towards the rear leg thus allowing it to channel the energy upwards to the hand. Bruce Lee said, ‘the rear foot is the piston of the fighting machine’, and by this he meant that the power to strike comes from the rear foot and leg. This is much the same as bending your legs down to pick something up. We also see in this example the use of a twisting motion with the waist, which creates a circle that then releases into a straight line via the elbow and hand into the target. This application of circles releasing into a straight line in order to generate force was, and still is, essential to understanding how Kung Fu techniques work. It is a principle that is used in many sports: the swings of a golf club, tennis racket or cricket bat all utilize a circular motion that releases the object (the ball) into a straight line. In fact, David even used it against Goliath.
The same channelling of force used in our example of striking can also be used in the reverse for blocking. A force meeting with our blocking hand is transported through the alignment of the elbow down through the rear leg and foot to the ground. This is achieved because the force travels through bones that are correctly aligned and so never pushes directly against muscles and/or ligaments. If your bones come out of alignment then muscular exertion will be needed to control the force travelling through the Dody, which wastes precious energy. In Align the Body we learned how to channel the force of gravity through the bones to the ground, and we can now apply this sensation to both striking and blocking. Moreover, in the second Chi Kung exercise we learned to apply force from the centre (Tan T’ien) and not the head. Both striking and blocking depend on the energy channel developed by this exercise and on a stable centre – if the centre is lost even temporarily then the energy of the strike will not reach its full potential.
Embodying the Law of Leverage is one of the most efficient ways of leveling out the differences in body weight, height and mass. Master Derek Jones evolved the BMS Martial Art system out of the original style of Wing Chun Kung Fu. Nim Wing Chun, the originator of this system, was a 4 foot 10 inch Buddhist nun who, in order to fight off a local gangster’s amorous advances (she had actually made a bet with the gangster that if she beat him in hand-to-hand combat he would leave her alone), adapted the system from more traditional Kung Fu styles to suit her diminutive stature. Unfortunately, as with many Kung Fu styles, the present-day Wing Chun has been distorted over its long journey from its roots, and many dubious and modified interpretations have led to a clouding of its original perfect body mechanics. The essence of Nim Wing Chun’s original system lay in the alignment of the skeleton, which she embodied after meditating for considerable periods of time on the structure of trees, flowers and the praying mantis insect. (Bruce Lee pays tribute to Nim Wing Chung’s influence by including a gambling scene between two praying mantises in the film Enter The Dragon where Bruce’s superior knowledge earns him a good sum.) The influence of the praying mantis is also quite obvious when observing Nim Wing Chung’s greatest gift to Martial Art, the practice of Chi Sao.
When a strike or a block is employed using the Law of Leverage, the body is used as one unit in the same way as when using the correct technique for picking something up. The whole body works together to lever up from the ground and its power is then channeled, in this case through the striking or blocking hand. The emphasis of learning the principles that lie behind techniques, rather than the acquisition of lots of techniques, is essential to correct training in Martial Art. and the body moving as one unit has been a favorite theme in the evolution of Kung Fu. The following is a quote (circa 1500 bc) from the Taoist monk Chang San Feng:
At one with the Breath, Chi and Spirit
The rooting of the feet, the strength Of the legs,
And the power of the waist all manifest
In the hands
The whole body is connected moving as one
Our movement is guided by our Intention
This quote beautifully describes the body moving as one unit, including our breath, Chi and spirit. The feet are rooted to the ground to provide a stable base from which to push upwards, and the large muscles in the legs provide the main thrust, spinning the waist or hip into the strike, through the elbow position and finally manifesting in the hands. Thus, the whole body works together to provide power, not just the arm and the shoulder muscles. Our movement is guided by our intention and comes from the inside. Remember: before there is any physical movement, there must be an inner impulse or intention to move. If you are studying Martial Art or, for that matter, any physical discipline, try to ask yourself exactly how your body is working in terms of leverage. When people use leverage in movements it looks effortless and right – the body understands it. Great tennis players, soccer players, batsmen and dancers all have this effortless motion.
If we embody this principle, many movements that we make when applying force to something will be transformed, for example, opening doors, sawing a piece of wood, scrubbing a countertop or pushing a car. By practising Martial Art techniques that employ the correct principles of leverage, such as the second Chi Kung exercise and the Twist Punch, the body learns to support the hands through its centre of gravity. As this way of moving takes root in the body of attention, it begins to impose itself on our everyday movements, slowly transforming them. However, if you do not support your hands in the correct (natural) way, then eventually injury will occur. When we use unnatural body mechanics the force is not conducted up from or down to the ground cleanly through the centre, if our spine misaligned in any way then part of the force will get ‘stuck’ at t point of misalignment thereby causing injury to the vertebra. Back and neck injuries are the most common result of leverage misuse; other injuries that can occur from bad leverage are pulled muscles, strained or ripped ligaments, skeletal dislocations, hernias, fallen arches and arthritis.
Studying the Law of Leverage teaches the Intelligent Warrior not to use excessive force when trying to achieve a goal, whether that be defeating an opponent or winning over work colleagues with an idea. If you have to force something or someone then you are approaching it in the wrong way and you need to get ‘more leverage’ on the situation.
Now we have looked at some of the basic laws that govern self-defense we can begin to study the techniques and the strategies we use to employ them.