To achieve power and quick movement in Taekwondo, you must first have stability. This means your body must be in balance and steadfast. There are two ways to view the importance of stability when fighting. One, you must have stability if you want to win. Two, you must upset your opponent's stability if you want to win.
Three factors determine your stability: your weight, base, and center of mass. Your weight is determined by gravity's effect upon your body and does not change during a combat situation. Your base is an imaginary line drawn between your feet over which your weight is supported. Your center of mass is the center of balance or center of gravity of your body (usually in the lower abdomen, at a point a few inches behind the knot of your belt). It is the single point at which the body is in perfect balance. It changes with body movement and may even move to a point outside the body. It must fall within the boundaries of the base for stability to exist. When moving the body, the center of mass should move in straight, level line to its intended position with minimal movement in any other direction. This is contrary to the International Taekwondo Federation's theory of "sine wave" movement in which the center of mass rises when moving and falls into the next stance. Sine wave movement supposedly increases power by dropping body mass into a technique. However, excessive movement of the center of mass uses extra energy, weakens stability, and slows forward motion. Body mass should be thrust into a technique for power.
Stability may be expressed as the ratio of the width of the base to the height of the center of mass above the base. Stability is inversely proportional to the height of the center of mass above the base. As the center of mass is moved higher above the base, stability decreases, and vice versa. Stability is directly proportional to width of the base. As the base is moved narrows, stability decreases and vice versa. When performing a sitting stance, the lower the body, and the wider the stance, the more stable the stance.
Stability may exist in two states: static (not moving) or dynamic (moving). Static stability is important, but Taekwondo involves movement, so dynamic stability is more important to a Taekwondo student. If the body is not stable, then it cannot move quickly to either block or attack, and techniques will lack speed and power. In performing a stance, the body must have static stability. The feet must be far enough apart to form a strong base and the center of mass must remain along and directly over the base. To perform a kick, the body must maintain dynamic stability throughout the kicking motion. This means the center of mass must constantly shift so it is kept directly over the base (which is now the supporting foot).
Any time the center of mass moves away from a location directly over the base or outside the area of the base, the body becomes unstable. As the center of mass is moved higher above the base, stability decreases, so the legs should be bent so the center of mass is kept as low as possible while still permitting quick movement of the body. As the center of mass is moved lower above the base, stability increases until the point is reached where the body may no longer move effectively. Students must develop flexibility and strength so they can make quick shifts of their center of mass to maintain stability and balance. Sometimes, a small twist of the knee or rotation of the foot may maintain stability, while at other times, such as while being grabbed and pulled, great strength may be required to maintain stability. To maintain stability, strength and flexibility are required, not body tension.
The center of mass is an important concept in all the martial arts. In Chinese, it is known as the Dan Tian. The outer Dan Tian refers to an acupuncture point a few inches below the naval. The inner Dan Tian is visualized as a ball inside the abdomen and roughly corresponds to the fascial layer surrounding the abdominal cavity. This "ball" lies just under the diaphragm and breathing greatly influences its shape and position. Many energy skill exercises focus on contracting, expanding, and rolling this "ball" in conjunction with breathing. In Eastern medical theory, energy is flowing around and through this "ball." In terms of Western physics, the center of mass is changing as a result of abdominal rotation and angular motion. When coupled with proper stability this angular motion allows great force to be expelled. If there is no stability, then the amount of force generated will be limited by the relationship between the mass and the velocity of the rotation. With stability, the transfer of force from the ground up through the joints of the body is coupled with rotation of the center of mass to generate even more power. With stability, when contact is made with a target, the reacting force is directed down the legs, where it hits the ground and rebounds up and out to the target. If you can align your body properly so the forces are transferred smoothly, then the earth is added to your mass. This is good news for older, slower, smaller people who cannot rely on body mass and speed to generate power.
Some principles of stability include:
- Stability is inversely proportional to the vertical distance of the center of mass above its base. The deeper the legs bend, the greater the stability.
- Stability is inversely proportional to the horizontal distance of the center of mass from the center of its base. The more the body leans, the less the stability.
- Stability is directly proportional to the area of the base. The greater the distance between the feet, the greater the stability.
- Stability is directly proportional to the mass. The heavier the person, the greater the stability.
- Stability in a given direction is directly proportional to the horizontal distance of the center of mass from that edge of the base. The closer the center of mass is to an edge of the base (while remaining within the base) the weaker stability is in that direction and the stronger it is in the opposite direction.
Integral to stability is balance. You must maintain balance to have stability. You maintain balance through subtle movements of your body, not by gross body movements. Large movements may overcompensate and require further compensation in the opposite direction. Use your arms for defense and attack, do not swing them around for balance. If you extend your arms for balance, it leaves you open to attack. Maintain balance using minute movements of joints, muscles, head, or feet. If minute movements are not sufficient to maintain balance, then move your entire body into a new position that is in balance.
What is involved in Balance?
What is the primary interaction of the following systems to maintain one's equilibrium:
- Vision. Messages are sent to the brain about position and movement.
- Inner Ear. The inner ear is key to the balance equation. It also sends signals to the brain regarding position.
- Proprioception. Proprioception refers to a sense of joint position. Tension, pressure, and stretching in the muscular system send signals to the brain via the sensory receptors.
Breaking the balance of an opponent, means you are causing the opponent to lose balance or to be off-balance. Some principles of breaking balance include:
- There are eight directions of off-balance. The directions are best described by relating them to the directions of a compass. The eight directions are north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest. You should push or pull your opponent in one of these directions to cause them to become off-balanced. If opponent is already in motion, pull or push the opponent in that direction to cause them to become off-balanced.
- Coordinate all parts of your body to force your opponent off-balance; do not rely on just your arms.
- Take advantage of your opponent's long reaction time. When your opponent is distracted, such as when concentrating on an attack, he or she is not thinking about balance and will react slower to being forced off-balance.
Keep your center of mass lower than that of your opponent. The abdominal region of the body coordinates balance for the entire body since it connects and supports the upper and lower extremities of the body. It has some of the largest and strongest muscles in the body, and it contains about one-third of the body weight.
Keep hips and waist pointed in the same direction as the toes of your weight-bearing leg. When fighting, no matter the stance you use, you will usually have most of your weight loaded onto one leg or the other. For maximum stability and power, keep your hips and waist pointed in the same direction as the toes of the foot with that has most weight loaded onto it.
Methods for cross-training to improve balance
- Eye Exercises. Performing eye exercises aids the visual aspect of balance.
- Resistance Ball Workouts. Resistance balls are used by a lot of physical therapists to improve balance. Many muscle conditioning exercises maybe done on this over-sized ball.
- Balance Boards. Balance boards come in different forms. Their main focus on improving balance.
- T'ai Chi. Balance is considered the single most important movement skill in this art. It concentrates on utilizing the energy of gravity well.
- Yoga. Many Yoga exercises are done on one leg to enhance balance.
- Pilates. Pilates exercises emphasis on the stomach and back, which are key in maintaining balance.
- Slide Workouts. Using a slide apparatus improves lateral movement and balance.
To move, one must break balance. A step is merely a controlled fall. Just before the stepping foot strikes the floor, the body is falling forward. If the stepping foot slips or is knocked away, the body falls. Two components of movement are speed and accuracy.
- Speed. Every Taekwondo student wants to move quickly, either to avoid an attack or to attack first. To move the body, muscles must contract. Since the speed of movement is directly proportional to the force that produced the movement, the stronger the muscles are, the quicker the movement. So to increase speed, develop more muscle strength. Strength is increased by subjecting muscles to more forcible contractions than they normally are subject to. This is done by quickly contracting the muscles against light resistance for many repetitions (which strengthens existing muscle) or slowly contracting the muscles against heavy resistance for only a few repetitions (which builds more muscle). Strength may also be increased by either quickly or slowly contracting the muscles while keeping them tightly tensed, this is called dynamic tension.
- Accuracy. You must not only move quickly, you must also be able to move to exactly the position desired. To move accurately, you must keep your eyes open and the opponent in view and compute the exact direction and distance to the point you wish to move to. If you can detect the opponent's initial movement as soon as possible, you will have more time to compute and move. Fatigue will reduce accuracy as well as speed, so the more physically fit you are, the better your accuracy and speed.
Ways to use these natural laws
- Low, long stances are better for delivering powerful techniques.
- Higher, shorter stances are better for moving quickly.
- Use a forward stance if you want to go forward.
- Use a back stance to back up or want to keep the feet close to the opponent and the body out of range.
- Use an evenly balanced stance to be prepared to move in any direction.
- If you are losing your balance while kicking, bend your base knee and keep the base foot flat and the body as erect as possible.
- If you are being pushed or knocked off balance, bend the knees, lower the center of mass, and make sure the hips and shoulders are in line.
- When stepping, try to make the body go forward rather than up and down. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
- A stance with the weight on the front leg is useful to:
- Receive force from the front (blocks).
- Create force to the front (punches, kicks).
- Move to the front (step forward).
- A stance with the feet relatively close together and the weight equally balanced (a sparring stance) is useful for moving in any direction quickly.
- A wide, low side stance is strong to the sides and allows movement to either side.
- A stance with the weight on the back leg is useful to:
- Back up.
- Move the body away from the opponent without moving the feet, to avoid attacks and set up counter attacks.
- Set up counter attacks. By moving the body weight back to avoid attacks and the shifting the body weight (center of mass) forward with the counter attack, a great deal of force may he created.
Schroeder, C. R. and Wallace, B. (1976). Karate. Basic Concepts and Skills. Philippines: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
Watanabe, J. and Avakian, L. (1974). The Secrets of Judo. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company.