The Science Behind Martial Arts: Introduction and Purpose

What is this all about?

I love martial arts, and I love science.  I also love teaching, and I believe that by looking at martial arts from a scientific perspective, I can teach people to become proficient in martial arts in relatively little time.  Now, when I say “science” I’m not talking about vague claims about “power” and “speed”.  No, I’m talking about the details: formulas, vectors, integrals, solving equations, etc., and how understanding those things can quickly help anyone to master the art of fighting.  By applying some established knowledge from various areas of science, you can take a shortcut to martial mastery.  Skip all of the stuff that is provably ineffective, and focus only on things that can be scientifically shown to work.


Could you achieve the same effectiveness the “old fashioned way” by just practicing a lot?  Yes.  However, most people don’t have the time for that kind of trial and error process, and even then many of them are simply parroting what they’ve been taught and don’t understand why a technique works or how to modify it for a new situation.  I advocate that understanding the scientific principles behind martial arts will allow you to progress more quickly and become more adaptable in a fight (competitive or defensive).


Why should you listen to me?

I’m generally not a fan of touting my own skills and credentials, but seeing as how there is an ocean of self-proclaimed experts to choose from and I really believe I have some valuable information that I want people to devote their limited time and attention to, I see no alternative.  So, let me explain why I’m qualified to talk about both martial arts and science.


I started doing Taekwondo (TKD) and Judo back when I was 9 years old.  I did it for a few years, then stopped for a few years, then I started again (back at white belt, though I really shouldn’t have…my choice) and got up to brown belt.  I did TKD on and off throughout college, getting approximately 5 total years of practice under my belt (I’m an engineer…bad puns are required).  After college, I joined a Hapkido school that also taught a fair amount of ground fighting.  I was there for two years and did A LOT of sparring.  Black eyes, bloody noses, and split lips were the norm, and I loved it.  I would have stayed with that school, but I moved out of state and got involved in another school.  This school claimed to practice “reality-based” martial arts.  There was a lot of grappling, weapons, street tactics, trapping, and the like there.  Eventually, I left to start a dojo with a friend where we emphasized modern fighting tactics with influences from traditional ninpo taijutsu.  My “style” has evolved to be anything that works for me.  I take what’s useful and ignore the rest, which makes answering the question, “which style do you practice?” a somewhat difficult one to answer accurately in any short span of time.  In any case, I’ve been doing modern reality-based fighting for the last 8 years or so.


As far as ranks that I’ve achieved that are worth mentioning:

  •       Level 11 in the Scientific Fighting Congress (SFC*) Unarmed program (equivalent to 2nd degree black belt)
  •       Level 12 in SFC Knife
  •       Level 11 in SFC Pacific Archipelago Combatives (PAC), which includes a lot of Kali and Silat and fighting with two weapons in hand
  •      4th degree black belt in tactical ninjutsu (which focuses mainly on taijutsu, Filipino martial arts, Silat, and JKD)

(There are a number of honorary ranks I have received as a result of several of the above as well as a collection of certifications for various systems that I’m now certified to teach, but that’s not the point.  The point is that I am qualified to train people in the use of their hands, knives, and sticks, award them black belts for it, and have their black belts be recognized by an international organization [].)

I’ve also done some training with JKD instructor Tim Tackett, and I draw most of my JKD drills and techniques from his teachings.


What about my scientific credentials?  While not as impressive as the above (or at least, I think so), I do have some experience with science.  First, I have an engineering degree from The Ohio State University (with extra emphasis on the “the”… it’s required). I got good grades.  I also took ridiculous math classes that the orientation people said that engineers had no business taking, which of course meant that I had to.  I’ve also spent the last five years tutoring high school and college kids in math and physics.  I’ve tutored math from algebra 1 up to multi-variable calculus and differential equations.  I’m comfortable with physics up through college level electricity and magnetism, though that particular topic won’t be necessary for what I’ll be covering here.  The point here is that I’m very comfortable with classical mechanics — comfortable enough to teach other people how to do it.


I’m also very logical, almost to a fault (actually, my wife would probably argue that I make it all the way there 😉 ).  I like deconstructing concepts and finding the common elements in order to better categorize a topic.  My degree is actually in computer science and engineering.  So, much of that desire for structure and abstraction comes from my software engineering skills.


Combining all of these things, I’m in a fairly unique position to deconstruct, simplify, categorize, and communicate the essentials of martial arts/fighting.


But aren’t “martial arts”, you know, an art?

Yes and no.  It’s really just like anything else.  Seeing the science behind the art is a matter of comprehension.  From a casual observer’s perspective, all martial arts might appear to be more art than science (or maybe just pure chaos!), but that’s only because they don’t see the structure and principles at work.  Once those principles are understood, what used to seem like chaotic motion of fighters becomes structured and predictable.  Is that to say that there’s no “art” aspect to fighting?  Not at all.  I’ve tried my hand at many skills in the past and was proficient, for a time, in most of them.  However, martial arts is the only one in which I would label myself an “artist”.  What do I mean by “art” though?  I define “art” as a means of self-expression through a medium.  In my case, I can express myself through fighting.  I can be playful, angry, happy, sad, or just about any other emotion and have that emotion come out in the way I fight while still being effective.  After expressing myself through fighting, I could then scientifically analyze what I did and demonstrate all the scientific principles at work to other people.  The science of fighting is the toolbox and raw materials.  The art is the house that you build with them.  Rather than showing you how to build pre-designed houses, I’ll show you how to apply the tools to design and build your own house.  I’ll show you how to apply scientific principles so you can practice a style of fighting that works for yourbody.


What not to expect

Don’t expect me to trash particular fighting styles or systems or to provide any sort of hierarchy of effectiveness for different arts.  All systems that have been around for any significant amount of time have survived for a reason.  It’s important to know what those reasons are, both so you know when to apply the art and when NOT to apply the art.  I’m not here to step on toes.  I’m here to show you the principles that apply to all fighting, regardless of system or dogma.  People should be able to take this information and apply it in the art that they practice to become more effective.

That being said, I’ll probably criticize certain generic dogma here and there, but the goal will be to help people understand different arts better, not to try to change them.


What to expect

Since science is the main driving force (ah, the puns) behind these writings, things will get a bit nerdy.  I’ll do my best to separate out the really nerdy stuff from the application, but seeing as how I love both martial arts and science I humbly request that you read through the nerdy parts.  Martial arts is as much, if not more so, a brain activity than a physical activity.  So, it’ll be good for you.


Expect to see principles from math, probability, classical mechanics, engineering, physiology, sociology and psychology.  I’ll cover striking with all parts of the body (hands, feet, forearms, shins, elbows, knees, shoulders, hips, torso, and head).  I’ll also cover joint locks, throws, grappling (both standing and on the ground), weapons, multiple opponents, surrounding environments, essential fighting attributes and anything else that might come up in a fight.


This is going to be fun!  I have a huge list of topics that I want to cover eventually, but if anyone has a particular topic they’d like to see, just send me a message and I’ll see what I can do.



*  Hock has decided to rename his SFC program to “Force Necessary”.  This is largely because he is tired of the overuse of the word “combatives” (even though he was the one who drove the word to popularity in the first place).  I prefer the SFC name…for the “science”. 🙂

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