Combative Balance
by Jim Dees

We have all enjoyed the performances of modern martial art competitors and marveled at their strength, flexibility and balance. These contemporary martial artists have spent countless hours training to perfect their art. But, I began to wonder, is the type of balance that is developed in high kicks and extreme static postures practical in terms of combat. Clearly, one must concede that a strong flexible body is less prone to injury in a fight. That is true, but I was more curious about the snap shot in time when the two fighters make initial physical contact. What happens to the balance then? My training program has been along the lines of traditional Chinese internal martial arts. And, there are many who feel that the internal arts, like Tai chi, are more of a health dance than a combative science. To that end, I would like to examine the fundamental understanding of balance and apply that to a real fight. This article should in no way be interpreted as A is better than B. There is value in all training. One martial art is not necessarily better than another. That is not my point here. As serious students of martial arts, I feel that we should all try to examine the foundation of our training to see if it really meets our needs. Not to blindly accept what we have been taught. This type of research leads to a deeper understanding of our chosen style and helps us develop more fully as teachers and students of the fighting arts.

When I first became interesting in martial arts in 1970 I was very impressive by those who could defy gravity and spin in the air and deliver kick after kick before floating back to the ground. These techniques can clearly be applied to a real fight as well. But, I was not gifted with a body that readily lent itself to touching my toes, let alone putting my foot over my head. I was more gear towards carrying weight on my back and walking long distances. Perhaps this is what landed me in the Marines. Be that is it may, I have always felt that the events in a real fight happen so quickly that there is no time to think. For example, my opponent is now attacking me with a straight punch. I shall now rotate my lead arm up in a counterclockwise fashion and deflect his blow. Then I throw a reverse punch to his sternum. Well, the sad truth is that I am just not that good. I have found that I must rely on those things that have the greatest likelihood of being successful. That is not to say that the block and strike scenario mentioned above could not work. I am just saying that there are things that are more likely to be effective for me. By sticking with a method of fighting that has a higher percentage of being successful, I am more likely to survive the encounter.

Any method of fighting that seeks to increase its likelihood of success in a real fight must first determine what a fight is. In modern times for the street (not warfare) a fight is one or more persons trying to kill an individual. The attackers may even be armed. While any scenario could be "what if'd" to death, I hope to keep this on a generic level to eventually examine balance, so bear that in mind. Now, back to the fight. Let's assume a single attacker, unarmed. First the bad guy has to get close enough to strike me. That strike can come from the hand, or foot. So, distance awareness and control are important factors to consider in training. Next, are tools. What are the tools of the fight? They are the head, shoulder, elbow, radial bone, ulna bone, fist, fingers, hip, knee, shin, legs, and feet to name the obvious. What are my targets to be protected as well as attacked? The vital points are too numerous to mention. Any student of the fighting arts is well aware of these tools and targets. So, why do I mention them? It is not what I mentioned that is key. It is what I left out that you need to pay the most attention to. That is balance.

Balance is the key to prioritization. In any scenario short of a sucker punch resulting in a knock out, you must take care of your balance. If not, you are putting your self at an unnecessary risk. Remember, it is all about percentages. If two people are squared off, imagine what is going through their minds. Fighter A is looking for an opening and jockeying for position for his favorite combination. Fighter B is trying to line up a front snap kick and over hand right. The specific examples may not be important, but the downfall of this method, in terms of probability of success, is that the fighters are trying to force things to happen that are not natural. However, the one thing that they each have in common during this phase of the fight is their individual physical balance. They can each move about freely only because they have their balance. Without that, there thoughts of attack and defense are moot points. But, there will come a time in every fight when they touch. This in my opinion is the critical moment of the encounter. If one of the fighters trying to execute a round house kick and the leg is caught, or the leg lands and the adversary absorbs the force with no effect, the kicker is in grave danger of losing his balance. Now he is there with his leg in the air in the hands of his opponent. So that I do not appear to be bias against high kicking styles, the same could be said of someone executing a lunge punch. The arm is over extended during the punch and the opponent either gets out of the way or performs some counter-technique that results in the puncher leaning forward with his chest over or past his lead foot. This is another example of loss of balance upon physical contact with the opponent.

Once physical contact is made and there is a loss of balance, the scales have tilted heavily in the favor of the one who can maintain or recover his balance the best. If you think back in the fights that you have seen, recall the moment of two people clashing. Did you notice that both of their heads went up? This is very common when two strikers collide.
This is due to the fact that they are each losing their balance at approximately the same time and using each other to support themselves. How kind they are to hold up their adversary. Let's also consider the scenario where they do not support each other and one has a catastrophic loss of balance. This can result is a throw, a lock, a strike. The person suffering from such a catastrophic loss of balance has now changed his perspective. He is no longer in a fight. He is fighting for his life. With the loss of one thing, that being balance, he is doomed unless he can regain it. If his opponent is skilled, that is very unlikely. Should not such a critical aspect of a fight, balance, be a major focus of training? And should this focus also consider balance when in physical contact? By this time, you can already guess that I feel that it should. This is the study of combative balance.

What is combative balance? Let's first define it. I feel that for one to have good balance in a fight the body should be all but immune to physical contact of the opponent. This is both in offense and defense. In traditional Chinese internal martial arts, this is done by a rather complex method of changing the body from the inside out. This internal body-changing program has the goal of increasing ones balance from the inside out, among other things. This training method is very individualized since we all have different strengths and weaknesses; suffice it to say that the goal is practical in combat.

The practicality of this type of balance relies on the selfish goal of not worrying about your opponent, only your self. A critical aspect of this is the belief that if the opponent's force goes all the way to the ground, it will not have an adverse effect on your balance. Simply stated your body becomes a conduit for his force to the ground. This is accomplished though structure and alignment. By this, I am not referring to the foot to knee, to waist to shoulder to hand practice that many feel are the part of the internal martial arts. That is not correct. Without going too far off track, this foot to knee etc to hand method is unable to change. Yes, it is a strong grounded push, but nothing more. There is no mobile root, not changeability as in dan tien rotation for those versed in the internal arts.

Here is an example of combative balance. Attacker A throws a roundhouse strike at my head. All I must do is protect myself by covering my center. At the point of physical contact, I maintain my structure so that his force goes to the ground. At the precise point of touch, I must ensure that I do not fight his force. This is not a technique, rather a principle that allows me to take the incoming force into the ground. If I cannot do this, his force will enter my body and get stuck causing me to potentially lose my balance and injury me. This will also limit my mobility by fixing me in place under the physical pressure of his strike. I certainly will suffer a loss of balance if my opponent is larger or stronger than me. My attacker has so many options at his disposal, hundreds of techniques. How can I possibly recognize which one he shall use and execute its counter? I believe that I have a greater chance of survival if I can just protect myself and take his balance while keeping mine. Once he has suffered a catastrophic loss of balance, whatever I do will work.

In the photos accompanying this article you can see that I am taking force to the ground from the obvious direction ( san ti). This is really nothing special as most people can do this using muscle when facing someone of the same size.

Photo two (long bow stance strong direction). Here is another example of taking the force to the ground. The mechanics here are pretty obvious. My posture is clearly designed to take or issue force in this direction.

Photo three ( long bow stance 90 degrees). This makes no sense at all unless my structure and alignment are sound and I am able to rotate dan tien to keep his force in the ground.

Photo four ( walking 90 degrees). Here I can step fluidly and my balance is still not effected by his force. This is a mobile root.

Photo five (walking 180 degrees). This position clearly shows that the force is being issued 180 degrees from my mass and it still does not affect my balance. His balance relies on mine.

These photos show a different understanding of balance. The underlying premise of balance demonstrated here in that the body is a conduit. This type of balance is practical in fighting and allows the practitioner a free and powerful rooted movement. In each of these photos, I am supporting my would-be opponent. With the slightest rotation, I can cause him to have a catastrophic loss of balance and strike him (photo 6). This is practical in a real fight.

I hope that this will give the reader some food for thought on the issue of balance. By examining different perspectives, we can often improve ourselves as martial artists. Examine the deepest fundaments of martial arts, and often we can open our minds.

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