Letters: Sequential vs. simultaneous release

22 March 2006

A technical question with a not-so-technical answer.

Why or when would you use a sequential type strike rather than the simultaneous strike? I’m slowly getting some idea of the head as the main initiator, which does seem to increase the power of strikes. Prior to watching yourself all my striking had been attempts at utilising ‘whip-like’ motion.

–Paul Bartley

When I give a technical explanation, it’s an observation of the possibilities of how you might respond, from a short range or a long range.  It doesn’t mean that’s how you have to respond.  Even a sequential shot, relying on development, will have a sudden shifting of the body at the end to create an accelerated follow-through to change the shape of the target you’re hitting dramatically.  It’s more about the effect you’re trying to cause externally, and having criteria by which to do that, rather than trying to fulfill the criteria of doing something internally in order to create an effect externally.  In other words, concentrate on what you have to do and not how you’re going to do it.  The tip I’m giving you is just a tip, you don’t think about it.

There are so many ways, through all the different possibilities of interconnecting the body, of producing a force.  But the most important thing, before you can ever apply any force of any kind from a biomechanical point of view, is that you have to have a kinesthetic sense of the joints and the axis about which a movement will take place.  Without that, you’re pissing in the wind, biomechanically speaking.  That’s why it’s sometimes easier just to concentrate on distorting the target–compressing, stretching, twisting, tearing, bending–so it doesn’t regain its shape.  And if it does, and rebounds, then its restitution actually causes the damage/knockout.  You either destroy it, or its own rebound disrupts it. 

You need to have a visual representation of the effect you need to cause or prevent, plus a kinesthetic sense/representation of those generative forces by which you’re going to do that, either by your own experience or the observation of others.  However, with the observation of others you need to be able to empathise at all levels of their performance: emotionally, biomechanically, tactically in order to absorb what’s actually taken place.  That’s a pretty big step for most people, as is having a kinesthetic sense of their entire body moving as a whole.

Because much of the way you move is dependent on inherent behavioural and reflex patterns, the simplest way to access kinaesthetic sense of movement as a whole in a natural way is to choose something which you do every day, and which is functional and simple enough to be adaptable to more specialized patterns.  It also needs to be slow enough to allow you to ‘watch’ the process of it.  That’s why I always recommend walking.  Through the interaction of body parts, you learn to increase the forces of pressing down against the ground to get a reaction back up through the structure on a reflex level.  You’ve understood the principles and concepts of movement and the processes which underlie it, and then use yourself as the laboratory so that you can actually experience those principles and concepts in action.  It’s something I swear by and which actually changed my whole perception of movement, Aristotle’s ‘The animal that moves makes its change of position by pressing down against that which is beneath it.’  Through the laws and principles of force and motion, we move and the Earth doesn’t. The question is, how do we refine that process of pressing down?  What are those factors that are influential upon the process of the animal interacting with the ground and its surrounding environment? 

You can’t just superficially go into this thing.  Ideally you will be both internal and external in your objectives, but you must have accurate representations of those objectives.  MMA is an external example of how this movement process should be adapted for fighting, and we know that because it works.  But the internal processes are often the subject of speculation amongst martial artists.  They are something you can only understand through vast research—it’s a scientific analysis of movement.  We live in an age in which these things have been researched meticulously, and there are lots of data out there.  It’s not imaginary.  For example, the reactive sensitivity of muscle spindles can be set by visual imagery of what you have to do.  

What I’m trying to get at is that you can’t just concentrate on one aspect of movement in isolation of the rest; i.e., sequential versus simultaneous shots.  If you overconcentrate on one essential process, you will ignore other essential processes.  That’s why you’ve got to rely on understanding that the body will act as a reflex whole if you entrust yourself to the body’s wisdom.  Having a purposeful intent will bring about the necessary movement pattern, provided that you persist with the process of trial and error, always testing that process. 

It’s sometimes better to take the external route with a few tips to guide you, than to go the way I went.  Because although sports science is well-documented, it’s sometimes difficult translating that information into a physical process.  That’s why you often see a sports scientist giving advice to an athlete, but the sports scientist can’t necessarily perform the movement himself.  And the athlete, when he tries to explain the movement, he can only articulate those aspects of the movement that he believes are significant to its effectiveness.  But they might have no bearing at all on the effectiveness of his movement!  Or even if they do, his advice leads the people he’s instructing to overconcentrate on that part at the expense of the rest. 

And sometimes, there seems to be a conflict between the way the unconscious wants to organize the motor event and respond reflexively (stimulus-oriented response), and the way the conscious mind wants to fulfil the requirement of a perceived move as it believes it to be (motor-oriented response).  By better understanding what this unconscious process might be, you remove the conflict. 

In my case, I was already a natural athlete.  What I had to discover was why I was natural.  I had to analyze the natural processes I was using so as to use them better, and to be able to teach others.  That’s why I turned to research the way I did. 

People who saw me in the Seventies could see just raw power, pure physicality.  Now it’s not so obvious to the eye what I’m doing.  The refinement can be partly achieved externally, through sheer trial and error and repetition, provided it’s being tested in some way.  But for me, unless I understood the process, I couldn’t refine it any further.  I was already training 8-10 hours a day, every day—you couldn’t invest any more time or energy than that.  And the only way forward for me then had to be internal—not the internal of the Chinese martial arts, but the internal of Western science. 

And that’s why I’m saying, take the tip, and essentially, at the same time, forget it. Paradoxically, that’s the only way it works.  You’ve got to remember, I’m teaching a four-hour course once a month.  I can only give you so much in that time.  Even seeing guys every day, as in the martial tradition, it would take a lifetime to pass on what I know.  This isn’t to discourage you, it’s just the truth.  No sooner have I defined this process in one way, but tomorrow I’ll be redefining it in another way.  This thing does not stand still. 

But in the end, it all contributes to making the performance, and the training, better.  I think a lot of people would rather settle for the absolute lie, something which is fixed, as ‘the truth’ than to accept my truth, which is that this thing is always changing.  There’s more depth to this than meets the eye.