Martial Arts Physics 
and Kung Fu, Part 2

This is part two of the article martial arts physics and kung fu giving ways to help you deliver the most energy out of your techniques, including tai chi and dim mak techniques.

Use of body mass

The other variable in our equation (Force = mass x acceleration) is mass.

Can we change our mass? Because, if we could, we could increase the force of the punch.

The body mass in a strike is constant – a person with a body weight of 70 kilograms will still have the same body mass after the strike. What matters is not so much the weight of the person but how much of that body mass is involved in the strike. It is therefore important not just to use the arm but also to use the entire body to try and transfer as much of that weight to the end target.

An arm only represents ~10% of our body weight, which is not much if you think about it, we can increase this mass by using a proper steady stance, moving forwards when punching and rotating our hips. Also pulling an attacker into our strikes all help to increase this mass variable.

If we look at a boxer punching, it is unusual that a person would get knocked out with just a simple jab, where a little more than the weight of the arm is contributing to the strike. But with a hook punch, it normally results in a knockdown due to the whole boxer’s weight being behind the punch.

“optimal force transfer is based on the body’s ability to become a series of rigid links and proper anatomical alignment is crucial for developing this force”

The aim is to try and develop as much speed as possible – hence relaxing the appropriate arm and upper body muscles during the punch and then tightening all these muscles at the moment of impact creating a single unit – ie fist, arm, upper body which then in effect creates a higher mass than just the arm itself.  Focus.

Martial Arts Physics and Kung Fu

Other considerations to think about

1.  Maintenance of height during a strike

The lower the drop, the higher the energy transferred

It is important to maintain height in order to conserve energy, that’s the reason why we are told to maintain the height of our stances as we make a transition from one stance to another, or during a strike.

2.  What about fist rotation?

in regards to energy produced, estimated at ~0.25% of the total energy produced by a punch and so has little impact in the overall amount of energy delivered.

3.  Kicks versus Punch

Kicks are more efficient than punches for several reasons including a higher mass (20% of body wt) and the ability to have a higher speed generated. Kicks are estimated to be between 3-6 times more powerful than punches. The energy produced during a forward punch has been calculated as 309.48 joules versus a front kick which can generate 1008 joules. If a stationary punch is thrown without moving forward, the energy produced is only 171.5 joules , almost 6 times less than the kick

4.  Striking surface

The role of the body part we strike with, e.g. heel of hand, whole hand etc, is also important and can influence the energy transferred in a strike. In a study done to investigate this, it was shown that a punch could generate 190 joules of energy.

     If we were to use the entire hand (~155cm2 area) to deliver this     strike it would impart ~1.3j per sq cm. If instead we were to strike with the heel of the palm (~19cm2) it would be 10j per sq cm,  almost an 8 fold increase in the energy delivered

The same theory can be applied when punching with a fist, e.g. focusing on striking with only the first 2 knuckles versus all the knuckles as it is done in the martial arts.

In other words striking with the minimal surface area will deliver the most energy.

Kinetic Linking

Another concept, not as easily measurable by scientific means is called kinetic linking – it is based on the notion that power is drawn from the earth; and that various segments of the body work together to perform a final action, the kinetic chain or kinetic link.

It has  2 principles:

1.  Acceleration of distal segments by a proximal segment

i.e. to deliver an effective martial arts punch it is not just the arm/fist (distal segment)  that does the work,  it is a build-up and transfer of energy from the proximal segments. For example, when punching from a dragon stance, the movement would start with kicking the heel out, that energy then continues onto a proper hip/waist turn, then flowing the energy through the back, shoulder, arm and down to the point of impact – the fist.

2.  Conservation of momentum

i.e. making the action efficient, and avoiding “leaking” of this momentum. For example, having our elbow pointed backwards in the line of direction of where the punch will go rather than having the elbow pointing out to the side.

By pushing into the ground with the legs, that energy travels back up the body, and out the limb doing the strike. A solid ground connection is an important part of making strong techniques and stances.

     “gathering or coiling energy, and then releasing or uncoiling it”


I hope that as you reach this point of the article, you would have come to understand some of  the forces involved in a strike (whether it is with a punch or a kick) and some of the ways that we can manipulate the “laws of physics” to our advantage.

I have focused only on Newton’s second and third laws of physics, so for those of you who wanted to know what the first law was, it is…

     “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

Part 1 of the article can be read here.

Si Hing Paul Ah-Tye, Rowville Instructor Martial Arts Kung Fu

Back to Martial Arts Kung Fu Conditioning

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J Walker, Karate Strikes Am J Physics 43(10), 1975, pp 845-849

S.R Wilk, R.E McNair, MS Field, The physics of karate 51(9), 1983, pp 783-790

F Diacu, On the Dynamics of Karate

C Rist, The Physics of … Karate Discover Magazine, 2000

J Chananie, The Physics of Karate Strikes, Journal of How things Work, 1, 1999, pp 1-16

B McGonagill, The Physics of Martial Arts, Classical Mechanics, 2004, pp 2- 12


© Copyright Richard Tsui-Po 1971-2014. All Rights Reserved.
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