Martial Arts and Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion

To a great extent, martial arts is about motion and what to do with motion from certain positions. Being about that, it is also about how to effectively use movement and energy and understanding natural laws that apply.

It will be quite instructive to explore physics in this regard and, specifically, Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. These laws are:

  • An object in motion will stay in motion unless met by an irresistible force and an object at rest will stay at rest unless met with an irresistible force.
  • Acceleration occurs when forces acts on mass.
  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Let’s examine how these laws of motion apply to martial arts technique.

The First Law of Motion

Here it is in a nutshell: For you to move, there must be some kind of energy put into your action. For you to stop someone, the same is true: You must meet that action with some kind of energy or force.

To illustrate in a relatively simple way, I’d like to use the Kenpo technique called Deflecting Hammer. Deflecting Hammer uses a Kenpo Power Principle called Borrowed Force.

The technique is against a right front thrust kick. You defend by stepping back into a solid stance and blocking the kick at an angle which lends a riding force that pulls the opponent in as his energy is moving in anyway. You take advantage of this energy moving in by delivering an inward elbow strike to his chops. His energy continued moving until you stopped it with an equally powerful movement, which was your strike. So, the first law of motion, that an object stays in motion until met by an irresistible force finds completion in the technique, Deflecting Hammer.

Joe on the left and James on the right square off.

James comes in with a right front thrust kick.

Joe steps back to get into a stance with a good base and executes a downward diagonal block going toward him and back.

James own momentum and the riding force of the block pulls James in toward Joe.

Without stopping the movement of his arm, Joe chambers his arm to ensure decent travel on his weapon.

Joe shuffles in with an inward elbow which James lands on, the impact doubled by the force of the strike coming as James comes forward.

The Second Law of Motion

Techniques are really bursts of energy. You make use of your energy to move your body explosively into action. This is acceleration in terms of physics: Acceleration occurs when force acts on mass. And speed lends power to technique; gives punches, kicks, strikes and throws energy and power.

I’d like to illustrate this point with a technique that shows how action is beaten by meeting it head-on. The technique is called Calming the Storm and is effective because the defender must explode with energy directly into the opponent with force and precision.

Beginning of Kenpo technique “Calming the Storm”, against a round-house club attack.

As the attacker swings the club, the defender steps in and blocks and strikes at the same time.

Defender bumps attacker’s shoulder to open his center-line.

Defender delivers a punch to his opponent’s solar plexus, sternum or abdomen.

Being wound up so using counter-rotation, defender delivers a back-knuckle strike to opponent’s face.

The Third Law of Motion

The Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This can be seen as things bouncing off of things, or a swing in opposing directions. For instance, if I swing you one direction then immediately swing you the opposite direction, the reaction to the violent turn will create accentuated energy on the throw. Also, if my foot hits the ground and I bounce back up immediately into a kick, the hit to the ground triggered the bounce up into the kick. Possibly the most obvious example of the Third Law is the fact that when you hit your opponent there is inevitably some kind of response; you hit him in the middle, he’s liable to bend forward, for instance; to add further, if you initiate a follow up strike after hitting his middle, you are bouncing off of, and creating reaction to, your strikes.

Here are some examples.

In the Kenpo technique, Thrusting Salute, as you defend, you step back at an angle that gives you a line to the opponent’s targets. Ideally, that step back is ever so brief and as soon as your right foot hits the ground, it bounces into a kick to the opponent’s groin.

Beginning of Kenpo technique “Thrusting Salute”

Defender kicks attacker in the groin.

As attacker’s head comes forward from the groin kick, defender delivers a heel palm strike, doubling the impact.

Gift of Destruction is a Kenpo technique that illustrates a good example of action and reaction, particularly near the end which involves what is called in Kenpo an extension, which is just added moves to the base technique. The concluding moves of the technique involve a series of strikes that lend a reaction from the opponent and a corresponding strike each time. In other words, as the technique goes, you strike him low, he bends forward, so you strike him high, and so on.

Take a look.

Joe is on the left and James is on the right, shaking Joe’s hand and preparing to punch him.

Joe pulls on the arm and strikes at the elbow joint, manipulating at the hinge, while striking with a knee to the groin.

Joe having pulled back his arm, now has it chambered. He also checks James’ right arm with his left, keeping him crossed up to further check the back-up weapon and keep pressure on the depth zone.

Joe lands forward with an inward elbow, totally taking advantage of the forward momentum or back-up mass behind his weapon.

Joe off-angles to the 45, covering high with the left, and delivers a hammer-fist to the solar plexus.

Joe bring his fist up and toward the back of James, raking his knuckles through his face and turning head to the side.

Joe rakes through James face in the opposite direction on the way to delivering a hammer-fist to the bladder at the middle hinge of the body, causing James to bend forward.

As James falls forward, Joe shoots up with a forearm strike under James chin or to the throat, adding borrowd force to the strike.

Final Points

The main point is that energy can be used, and must be used, in self-defense situations. You can go with force or meet force with force, depending on what you want to do or need to do. It is also true that energy can neither be destroyed or created, but changes forms. This too is a principle in physics. Therefore, obviously, it is up to you how you use that energy and how to take the attacker’s energy and, in other words, how you use that energy to move your body and your opponent’s body.

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