Movements as equations: how not to get kicked in the head

June 23rd, 2009By Category: Arts & Entertainment

movements-as-equationsWhile training in Korea, I once heard a former member of the Canadian national Taekwondo team, describe  Taekwondo ring fighting as nothing more than a system of equations: your opponent moves this way(“A), and you simply have to respond that way (“+ B”) to get the result you want (“C”). At the time, I kept thinking that it can’t be that easy. There are too many variables involved. (i.e. the angle of their attack, the positioning of your body, the timing of the movement, the vision (and at times, mood) of the judges, the list goes on  and on.  But the fact that he kept repeatedly (and successfully) kicking me in the head made me think that perhaps he had a point… and the fact that he quite literally ‘beat it into me’ certainly made sure I wouldn’t forget it. Although he was speaking in the context of Olympic Taekwondo, I’ve come to realize how this mentality accurately described the underlying form of most martial arts and the reason why repetition is so necessary for the mastery of technique. The fact of the matter is, thinking, and in particular, making decisions, takes time, and in a ring fighting (or a self defense situation) a tenth of a second can make the difference between a winner and loser or life and death. This is why are reflexive movements are handled directly by the spinal cord, and bypass the brain (and consciousness) altogether.

The point of repetition is not just to hone the technique, or strengthen the muscles for that particular movement, but to actually do it to the point that we can do it ‘before we think about it’. If that’s true, then what he says makes perfect sense- reflexive movements cannot be anything more than simple equations because there isn’t any time ‘to figure out the variables’.

Your sensory organs take in the stimulus. (A) You respond. (B). If you’ve trained enough so that the reaction is reflexive, your muscles are strong enough to move with the necessary speed and power, and your technique is fine-tuned enough that you are using those muscles with maximum efficiency, then the result (C) will be the same, regardless of who you step into the ring with, where the fight may be taking place or any other variable that one can think of. This also made me realize why a great deal of martial arts masters get irritated if you constantly ask questions. Mastery comes from practice and doing it yourself, not from asking how.

Perhaps this is what Bruce Lee was alluding to when he said, “The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.” or “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the one who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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