Learning Principles From Techniques

So, I talk a lot about the value of learning principles rather than just techniques.  If you have an instructor the explains the principles to you then you’re in good shape, but what if the instructor doesn’t explain the principles?  What do you do then?

If you want to extract the principles out of a technique, then you need to first deconstruct the technique into its components and then try to generalize each component as much as possible.  Now, there is not one, unique way to deconstruct a technique and different principles might be learned from different deconstructions.  In any case, you’re sure to learn something.

Let’s look at an example of something basic: a rear hand straight punch.  Here’s a good example I pulled from gifsoup.com.



We can break this down from the ground up.  First, I see a balanced stance with the back heel slightly up.  He takes a lunging step forward and to the left of the target.  He rotates his hips and shoulders, which seems to give the punch more power.  He keeps his shoulders up, protecting his jaw, and his punch makes contact with the target before his lead leg touches the ground.  Also, he pulls his punching arm straight back the way it left.


So, let’s see how we can generalize these components into principles that apply to much more.  From the stance, I can see that he has both balance and the ability to move forward quickly.  In fact, this stance looks like it can move in just about any direction quickly.  That sounds like a good thing.  So, we can get the principle of having a good, balanced stance.  In fact, his stance demonstrates an even more general principle of mobility.  Fighting on your feet, mobility comes down to stance and footwork, but on the ground your feet aren’t going to help you so much.  The doesn’t mean that mobility isn’t important on the ground.  So, I’m going to say that the footwork in this technique is demonstrating the principle of mobility.

One of the goals of a straight punch is to do massive damage.  As seen in the picture, much of the power from this technique is coming from the rotation of his hips/torso/shoulders.  Is that rotation unique to this punch?  Well, if he opened his hand up into a palm strike, that wouldn’t really affect the need to rotate for power.  An upward/thrusting elbow strike from the rear arm would likely also need the same rotation.  Is rotating this way a striking thing only or does it also apply to other things like grappling?  Well, if his hand had started on the target before the rotation, then the rotation would have ended up causing him to shove the target away.  That sounds useful.  So, I’m going to say that the rotation in this technique is demonstrating the principle of rotation to generate linear force.

In a fist fight, for the most part if you can reach the other guy, then he can reach you too.  That means that you might have to deal with an incoming punch while you are punching.  Keeping the shoulders up facilitates this defensive goal.  I imagine that not wanting to get hit while in the middle of a strike applies to any strike, not just this one.  In fact, anytime in a fight that you can hurt the other guy (striking, grappling, etc.) then you’re probably at risk for being on the receiving end as well.  So, let’s generalize even further and say that your structure and positioning during an offensive technique should mitigate against the risk of a simultaneous incoming attack.

Watching the animation above, I see that he gets a pretty good result on contact.  This is because of the timing of when his fist hits verses when his lead foot hits the ground.  That results in all of the momentum and force being transferred through his fist.  None of the forward motion is sent into the ground.  This certainly applies to other linear punches…probably jumping kicks too (land the kick before the support foot hits the ground).  Come to think of it, any time you make a movement that is meant to affect the other person, it would be better if none of your effort was wasted by having it dissipate into the ground (or really anything other than the opponent).  So, make sure to use your motion efficiently.


There you have it.  Four extremely general principles extracted from a single technique.  These principles not only applied to other techniques that are “near” the original like a jab or a front kick, but they also applied to grappling and ground fighting.  If you think about it, they apply to some weapons fighting as well.  So that’s one of the scientific processes you can apply to learning martial arts.  Use this to extract lots of value out of your training!

Bonus points for anybody who understands
why this picture totally belongs here


  1. So, in keeping with the class-room mentality and catching up on some of these posts (Sorry for not having been as loyal as I would like.

    I feel two further principles are observable in what he's doing inefficiently. That is, (1): His right foot is not contacting the ground when his right hand strikes his target. Assuming he's right handed, he's losing power from not having kinetically linked his strength via thrusting up from the ground and continuing through his target with the punch. Observe here:

    This is the American heavyweight champ (one of them in the world- *sigh*) going ham on his opponent in a recent bout – https://vine.co/v/expjZ1hr2DO – The scenarios are a bit different. Wilder is throwing multiple punches and the above gent, only one. Still, Wilder's leverage, accuracy and power and ability to recover would all be greatly benefited by maintaining a solid connection (Both feet) with the ground. I feel Johann Duhaupas (The challenger) probably would have been knocked over or out had Wilder formed a stronger kinetic link.

    As a Boxer I feel this mistake is not only easy to commit, but also deceiving. Nothing is quite as emboldening as landing the Superman-Punch: http://images-cdn.moviepilot.com/images/c_fill,h_222,w_320/t_mp_quality_gif/asvo68gz80exwdpa15bk/how-to-make-an-awesome-superman-game-falcon-punch-438150.gif – Still, it's less potent and also burden you with the danger of over- committing – Which is Principle-Don't Number (2) Over-Committing to your attack, be it a kick, punch, tackle etc… makes you especially vulnerable to a counter-attack. Had Mr. Duhaupas, Darkseid or our friend, the punching bag, suddenly circled away or sidestepped, the attacking agent would be in serious trouble. Not only would would the attack miss it's mark, but the person attempting delivery would be off balance, more than likely (Unless you're Superman) flat-footed AND off-centered in order to block and defend from the opponents replying attack.

    Food for thought. Also, I in now way want to undercut you here – Just a fellow nerd tossing in 2 cents worth.

  2. Thanks for the input 🙂

    Those are definitely valid criticisms of the technique shown. (I mainly just tried to find something in a few minutes that was easy to analyze when ibwrote this.) I talk about the kinetic linking in my article on structure (though I don't use that term exactly). I suppose this points out something that I hadn't originally intended for the post but is actually good, and that is that you can still discern valid principles from flawed techniques. I suppose that there are always going to be some weaknesses in any movement. That's why we have counters. So the trick would be to observe multiple techniques to pull out the common principles and toss out the remainder as the inevitable imperfections.

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