Designing Martial Movements

As a martial artist I have been increasingly intrigued by the development and design of martial art systems. Questions like what makes a martial art more effective than other? Did different body types or environments help organize a particular system? And what do they all have in common? These are some question I want to be explore.

I will be starting with a Brazilian martial Capoera. Capoera is a great example of design by necessity, as it was developed and practiced mainly by African slaves in Brazil. The predominant use of leg work is attributed to the fact that the practitioners wore shackles and chains. And because they wanted to keep the martial aspect hidden, they camouflage it in plain site masquerading it as a dancing game. The overall idea is to be in constant movement following a rhythm so that the opponent doesn’t have a clue were the next attack is going to come from.

In contrast to that you have certain forms of karate where the design came from being as strong as a mountain and as rooted as a tree. Here the predominant idea is to forge one’s body to withstand any physical attack and delivering devastating blocks, power punches or kicks.

Kung Fu is notorious for getting its design from bio mimicry, as every one knows by now different styles of kung fu openly refer to the animals they are based on, like the one I have been practicing, Eight Step Mantis. Here the idea is to conjure up a visual of an animal performing an action and reenacted it abstractly using the body. For example Golden Condor Spreads its Wings is actually an open palm to the groin followed by a double kick to the chest and head. At first it might be hard to imagine but once you do it several times the Condor does spread its wings…

A lesser know Chinese martial art called Bagua finds its origins in the I Ching (the book of changes). In Bagua one of the ruling designs is that the power comes from winding the body then unwinding it thus releasing more energy than a mere strike could possibly achieve. Here strength is secondary, the system focused on developing the micro muscles of the body while relaxing the big muscle groups, the end goal is to rely on the fascia (connective tissue) and not muscle strength.

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