An Ex­am­i­na­tion of a Foun­da­tional Mar­tial Arts Prin­ci­ple — How to De­velop It in the Gym So You Can Ap­ply It on the Street!


$ YHWHUDQ PDUWLDO DUWV LQVWUXFWRU ZKR·V DOVR trained the U.S. Army Rangers re­veals a IRXQGDWLRQDO SULQFLSOH RI ÀJKWLQJ DQG H[SODLQV how you can prac­tice it in the gym so you can ap­ply it on the street.

In all like­li­hood, I look at mar­tial arts and self- de­fense train­ing dif­fer­ently than you do. Yes, I’m an avid prac­ti­tioner, as well as an in­struc­tor. How­ever, I also have hand­son knowl­edge gained while train­ing spe­cial op­er­a­tors — on base, five hours a day, ev­ery day — for a year. And I coached the 3rd Ranger Bat­tal­ion, lead­ing them to the first All-Army Combatives Cham­pi­onship.

Please don’t en­vi­sion any of this as a Rambo fantasy. My work in­volved train­ing peo­ple who risk their lives to keep Amer­ica safe and free. There­fore, what I taught them had to be ef­fec­tive. BS is not tol­er­ated when so much is at stake.

I’m also an ex­er­cise sci­en­tist, a biome­chan­ics spe­cial­ist and a cer­ti­fied strength- and- con­di­tion­ing coach. As you might guess, mar­tial arts train­ing is my life. I take it se­ri­ously, and I think you do, too. So pull up a chair and take out your note­book. You’re about to learn what Amer­ica’s elite fighters are taught.

The Prin­ci­ple

My time as a mar­tial arts in­struc­tor and trainer has given me a unique per­spec­tive on a con­cept I re­fer to sim­ply as “push and pull.” The abil­ity to prop­erly per­form th­ese two fun­da­men­tal move­ments in the gym, in the ring and on the street is vi­tal for any mar­tial artist. The fol­low­ing are some key “ex­er­cises” — and I use that term loosely be­cause tech­ni­cally they are move­ments. If you’re not al­ready doing th­ese ex­er­cises, you should be. If you’re al­ready doing them, by the time you fin­ish this ar­ti­cle, you’ll have some new ways to tweak them to max­i­mize their ef­fec­tive­ness.

The move­ment is for­mally called a “push-pull,” but you may know it as a punch, a grab, a pull, a push, a tran­si­tion or an open­ing. Pic­ture this: You’re walk­ing down the street, mind­ing your own busi­ness, and wham! Some thug pushes you up against the wall. You don’t know why he’s doing it or what his mo­tives are, but you do know he’s got bad in­ten­tions, and your only way out is blocked.

Your self-“of­fense” train­ing in­stantly kicks in. You grab the ag­gres­sor’s left up­per-pec­toral in­ser­tion (or shoul­der) with your right hand and brace his right el­bow/ shoul­der with your left hand. Then you si­mul­ta­ne­ously push with your right hand, pull with your left and step to your right while mak­ing a 180-de­gree turn and slam­ming his back into the wall.

Con­grat­u­la­tions! You just ex­e­cuted a beau­ti­ful push-pull, a tran­si­tion from a defensive po­si­tion to an of­fen­sive po­si­tion.

Here’s an­other sce­nario: You’re caught flat-footed by some­one with a knife who’s de­mand­ing your money. All of a sud­den, he thrusts the blade at you. You swing your right hand down and into the back of his right hand. Grab­bing that hand with yours, you pull him into you while de­liv­er­ing a fist or el­bow to the face. Push-pull. And yet an­other: You’re in the

dojo, work­ing on your jab-cross com­bi­na­tion. You snap out your left hand in the form of a jab, then pop out a right cross. Ever seen a new­bie throw that com­bi­na­tion and com­pared it to the way an ex­pe­ri­enced fighter does? The noob looks like he’s punch­ing while hold­ing onto elas­tic straps, while the elite fighter looks like his punches are be­ing launched crisply from the hips. They snap like a bull­whip.

That launch­ing from the hips hap­pens be­cause the mar­tial artist pushes his left hand away from his body. Mid­way through that move­ment, his hips are al­ready start­ing to counter-ro­tate to pull the jab back and tran­si­tion to the cross. A clas­sic push-pull. If he didn’t do that, the force he gen­er­ated would pro­pel him for­ward and dis­rupt his balance.

In grap­pling, the push-pull is some­times called “cre­at­ing an open­ing” or “off- balanc­ing your op­po­nent.” This is ac­com­plished by hav­ing at least three points of con­tact: push­ing on one point, pulling on an­other point and hav­ing a third to serve as a sta­ble

base. This in­stinc­tive push-pull com­bi­na­tion forces your op­po­nent’s body to re­act in a pre­dictable man­ner that cre­ates an open­ing you can cap­i­tal­ize on — per­haps by tran­si­tion­ing to a throw, strike or fin­ish­ing tech­nique.

The Science

This sec­tion delves a bit into ki­ne­si­ol­ogy. Even if you don’t know much about that field, stay with me. Con­sider how you move your body in terms of uni­lat­eral, or onesided, ac­tiv­i­ties. Think of punch­ing and kick­ing com­pared to swing­ing a base­ball bat or row­ing a boat. Punch­ing and kick­ing in­volve the use of one ex­trem­ity, pri­mar­ily to de­liver force. A bi­lat­eral ac­tiv­ity uses two limbs in con­junc­tion to al­low and en­cour­age the trans­fer of force from one area of the body to an­other area of the body or into an ex­ter­nal ob­ject.

Now, your body is well-de­signed to con­trol, buf­fer and dis­si­pate ro­ta­tional forces such as those gen­er­ated in such move­ments. Think of run­ning. When your right knee is raised, your right arm swings be­hind your torso and your left arm rises in front. Why not run with your right knee up and your right hand up? First, you’d look ridicu­lous. Se­cond, you’d spin around from the force you’re gen­er­at­ing.

The choice isn’t whether to do a push-pull; the choice is how to best train for it and how to strengthen the as­so­ci­ated me­chan­ics in the gym.

The Ben­e­fits

No.1 Strik­ing noobs typ­i­cally don’t use their hips ef­fi­ciently. Of­ten, they don’t use any part of their body well — ex­cept, of course, their face. For some rea­son, a be­gin­ner’s face is re­ally good at stop­ping punches. I speak from my own ex­pe­ri­ences from back in the day.

Novices tend to use their hips in ex­cess, which gen­er­ates too much ro­ta­tion when they strike. And since their core is poor at trans­fer­ring that force into their tho­racic spine and out through their hands, they may have sub­par tech­nique, ex­hibit poor me­chan­ics and, even worse, tele­graph. ( Noth­ing sucks more than miss­ing your op­po­nent with a punch, only to wake up on the floor, won­der­ing what hap­pened.) Most of the force be­gin­ners gen­er­ate is wasted be­cause they’re not yet ef­fi­cient at strik­ing — or kick­ing, for that mat­ter.

In con­trast, when you look at pro­fes­sional fighters, you see peo­ple who have man­aged to dis­till their tele­graph­ing down to such minis­cule move­ments that they can be no­ticed only by other ex­pe­ri­enced fighters. Their punch starts with their hips. (Ac­tu­ally, it starts with the big toe, but that’s an­other ar­ti­cle.) Too much ro­ta­tion re­sults in sloppy punch­ing and tele­graph­ing. Too lit­tle ro­ta­tion yields tired arms. The push-pull con­cept trains the body to move the hips sub­tly. Of­ten, be­gin­ners have an is­sue with this be­cause they’re not used to gen­er­at­ing power with­out push­ing that power into some­thing. The take-away: Push-pull trains the hips to work with the shoul­ders. No.2 When you throw a jab, your body seem­ingly wants to fol­low up with a kick or punch from the op­po­site side. A left jab with a right cross flows more smoothly than a left jab cou­pled with a left hook. When you throw left-left, there’s a re­set that must hap­pen. When you throw left­right, the need for a re­set is gone and the tran­si­tion of force is am­pli­fied. The push-pull move­ment helps you de­velop that re­ac­tive se­quence that your body wants to do. The take-away: Push-pull builds on and en­hances nat­u­ral ten­den­cies and move­ments. No.3 The push-pull move­ment trains the core the same way you want it to work when you strike (with the ex­cep­tion of knees and down el­bows) and when you en­gage in stand-up grap­pling. By prac­tic­ing push-pull, you’re teach­ing your body to work as a unit while you’re stand­ing, which has a strong carry-over to

stand-up fight­ing. It’s called “func­tional train­ing.” I hear a few books have been writ­ten on the sub­ject. The take-away: Push-pull trains the core in a very func­tional way. No.4 When you learn to do any­thing, your body cre­ates neu­ral “high­ways” that connect your brain with spe­cific mus­cles and groups of mus­cles. Just as the cre­ation of a real high­way takes time, so does the cre­ation of a neu­ral high­way. Both al­low one thing: a quicker de­liv­ery (or path) to a de­sired des­ti­na­tion (or out­come).

Un­less you’re a grap­pler, you shouldn’t be on your back push­ing a weight away from you in the gym. That amounts to cre­at­ing a high­way for ve­hi­cles we don’t have — like fly­ing cars. As silly as that sounds, it’s a good anal­ogy. Bench-press­ing and the push in the push-pull are sim­i­lar. The dif­fer­ence is that with the proper ex­er­cise move­ment, your whole body is en­gaged in the push­pull the same way you’re go­ing to fight — that is, stand­ing.

The take-away: The push-pull helps strengthen punch­ing and en­hance the mo­tor pat­terns as­so­ci­ated with it. Con­sider: You of­ten have to con­sciously con­trol the counter-ro­ta­tion that re­sults from a punch or kick if you don’t take that mo­men­tum into an­other strike. But some­times it’s smart not to sur­ren­der to your body’s wants. That’s where push-pull comes in. The move­ments will help strengthen your abil­ity to con­trol body ro­ta­tion while train­ing your body how it nat­u­rally wants to work — as a unit.

The Ex­er­cises

The push-pull is typ­i­cally done from a bi­lat­eral stance with your feet shoul­der-width apart. You’re hold­ing a ca­ble in your right hand that leads to a weight stack in front of you and an­other ca­ble in your left hand that leads to a weight stack in back of you. When you’re ready, si­mul­ta­ne­ously brace your core by slightly tight­en­ing it, ex­hale sharply, and push your right hand out while pulling your left hand back. Hold, then slowly lower the weights to their start­ing po­si­tion. That’s one rep. Do all your reps on one side, switch to the other side and then rest. That’s one set. Fre­quent Flaws: The first in­volves ro­tat­ing the hips. Re­mem­ber that this is not a punch; it’s a move­ment de­signed to train your mus­cles to work as a unit to pre­vent or con­trol

The choice isn’t whether to do a push­pull; the choice is how to best train for it and how to strengthen the as­so­ci­ated me­chan­ics in the gym.

ro­ta­tion. Your hips should move a lit- tle to ini­ti­ate the ex­er­cise, but ex­ces­sive hip mo­tion will take your core out of the move­ment and negate many of the ben­e­fits. Re­mem­ber that high­way anal­ogy? The state doesn’t build two high­ways next to each other that take you to the same place. If you prac­tice a move­ment that is too sim­i­lar to your sport-spe­cific move­ment — like punch­ing with dumb­bells — your body ac­tu­ally has to de­velop two dif­fer­ent ways to get the job done. And while hav­ing two ways to get a job done might be good in an­other arena, it just slows ev­ery­thing down in a fight be­cause your body has to de­cide which path to take.

The se­cond flaw in­volves let­ting your weight be cen­tered on your rear leg. Just like when strik­ing, you want to keep your weight on your lead leg, with the heel of your rear foot lightly touch­ing or slightly off the ground. This en­sures that your core and hips are work­ing ef­fec­tively.

The third flaw en­tails ex­ces­sively ro­tat­ing your belly/ lum­bar spine/mid­sec­tion. Re­mem­ber that power comes from your core, not your belly. What’s the dif­fer­ence? Watch a pro boxer with low body fat who doesn’t do a lot of re­sis­tance train­ing. You’ll no­tice a few things: He prob­a­bly has well- de­vel­oped latis­simus dorsi mus­cles to con­trol ro­ta­tion at the hips and to aid in bring­ing his punches back. He prob­a­bly has a six-pack be­cause of that low body fat and a propen­sity to do body­weight move­ments. He prob­a­bly has a mus­cu­lar butt, too. All th­ese mus­cles are de­vel­oped by re­peated strik­ing. All of them make up your core ( back mus­cles, ab­dom­i­nals and hips). So while power comes from the core, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily where you think it is.

The Vari­a­tions

Stag­gered- Stance Push- Pull: This is done from a fight­ing stance. Just re­mem­ber the mo­tion is not that of a punch. There­fore, you need to keep your shoul­ders down and your head up. Ground- and- Pound Push- Pull: Ba­si­cally, when you ground-and­pound some­one, you have to hold that per­son down — that is, push him into the ground some­how.

To that end, this ex­er­cise is done with an iso­met­ric hold in your pull hand. Re­ally, you can ar­gue that this move­ment is a push-push, and I won’t de­bate that here. What you need to re­mem­ber, though, is that it’s a badass move­ment that mim­ics a ground-and-pound while still hold­ing true to most of what I covered pre­vi­ously.

Supine Push- Pull: This is ba­si­cally a push-pull ex­er­cise done while you’re ly­ing on your back. If you do it at a gym, you might get crit­i­cized for tak­ing up too much space, but that’s OK be­cause you’ll look crazy doing it and peo­ple will be won­der­ing why they didn’t think of it first. Mean­while, you’ll be build­ing your mar­tial arts abil­ity in ways they can­not imag­ine. Ben­jamin Dear­man has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ex­er­cise science and a mas­ter’s in nu­tri­tion and hu­man per­for­mance. A cer­ti­fied strengt­hand- con­di­tion­ing spe­cial­ist, he owns KDR Fit­ness in Le­banon, New Hamp­shire. Dear­man served as a Modern Army Combatives Pro­gram level-2 in­struc­tor and is a long­time prac­ti­tioner of Brazil­ian jiu-jitsu. • Christo­pher S. Spaulding has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in be­hav­ioral science. He’s taught de- es­ca­la­tion and self- de­fense at Dart­mouth-Hitch­cock Med­i­cal Cen­ter and the VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter, and he is a guest lec­turer at Nor­wich Univer­sity and Colby-Sawyer Col­lege. Spaulding is the founder and head in­struc­tor of the utsu- do self- de­fense sys­tem at BeBrave Self-De­fense in Le­banon, New Hamp­shire.

An ag­gres­sor shoves Paul Gif­ford against a wall and pre­pares to at­tack ( 1). As the man cham­bers his right fist for a strike, Gif­ford pulls down on his left arm (2). He then en­gages the man’s right arm, which he pushes to stop it from strik­ing (3)....

When Paul Gif­ford is at­tacked by a man with a knife, he swats aside the limb and traps the wrist (1). Gif­ford im­me­di­ately tran­si­tions into a push-pull tech­niqueL His right arm pulls the as­sailant in, which am­pli­fies the force of the strike he ef­fects...

PUSH- PULL IN THE WEIGHT ROOM: Ben­jamin Dear­man demon­strates an ex­er­cise that de­vel­ops the push-pull mo­tion us­ing cables at­tached to weights placed in front of and be­hind the mar­tial artist.

PUSH- PULL VARI­A­TIONS: Ben­jamin Dear­man shows how a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions and pieces of equip­ment can be used to train the body to push and pull in a way that might ap­ply to a ground-and-pound sit­u­a­tion.

To build the body’s core in a way that’s func­tional for fight­ing, Ben­jamin Dear­man be­gins by hold­ing a rope at­tached to an elas­tic cord He then ro­tates to his left on his way to com­plet­ing a 180- de­gree turn in which he’s pulling with his left and...

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