While typically well studied for jujutsu and boxing, the proper use of muscle and techniques for weapons is not always talked about.
As the use of striking weapons became less and less prevalent, those weapons being replaced by firearms or being forbidden in most places, the knowledge associated with it quickly disappeared.
If not for the koryu groups, we would never have kept most of the techniques related to Japanese weapons for example. And while these Koryu groups excel in the use of their respective weapons, this knowledge doesn’t often cross the walls of the school and is not used for other striking methods.
This article attempts to formalize some principles that can be used for all kinds of weapon and provide a blueprint to get more power out of your strike.
1) Technical use of muscles
Using the correct muscles to move your weapon when bringing the weapon up.
The first critical step of a cut is to prepare by bringing your weapon up over or at the side of your head. Gripping the handle of the weapon with both hands, you should always use your lower hand to push forward and up, using levers to bring the weapon up with as minimal force as possible. This can allow you to raise a sword with more speed, a crucial advantage in battle.
In aikido this method is not only used for sword practice but also in jujutsu to apply a lock on a partner’s arm.
Pushing the weapon down.
While cutting or striking, you want to prevent your body to slow down the cut. Most beginners will have a cut that is slower than the fall of their weapon, that is incorrect.
At a high level your arms and back should never slow the blade down until its course is finished. You must train so all your muscles are used to accelerate the blade.
This technical aspect is trained extensively in all kinds of koryu. For example, you can study the work of the now famous kuroda tetsuzan. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYO_qqGdDVA ) It has also been shown in studies that his use of back muscles was different from the ones of an untrained student.
Another aspect of this training is to make sure your weapon will both cut and deflect the opponent’s weapon. Example of this can be found extensively in Itto-ryu training.
The method however can be different for other types of weapons.
For example, when you swing an axe, you must space out your hands on the handle and bring them closer as you strike to accelerate the blade. While this is not helpful for swords with small handles, it can very well be applied when striking with a staff, jo or spear.
This technique can also be applied when using a mallet on a high striker to get more power without compromising control.
2) Using your bodyweight
Another aspect of putting power into your strike is correctly using your bodyweight. In the same way as boxing, your strikes will be all the more powerful as you transfer your weight into them.
One way of achieving this is to purposefully ‘fall’ forward and to catch yourself with your weapon …on the opponent.
With a spear you can gain substantial penetrative power with this technique which is akin to the ‘falling step’ popularized by Jack Dempsey in boxing.
Another way in which you can use your bodyweight is by dropping at the knee and hips as you cut down, thus accelerating the blade at the point of impact.
This however can perturbate an angled cut (kesagiri) and is therefore only advised for perfectly vertical cuts.
3) Pivoting and twisting
Another good way to add to your strikes is to add rotational power to your vertical strength. Turning with the hips allows for a substantial increase of speed and allows you to make use of more muscles in a single shot.
This increase in speed can be done by twisting at the hips or by pivoting on the foot, in both cases you should be mindful about staying stable throughout the hit, not to bleed power or be left in a compromised position.
In order to regain a proper posture, you can also add a step at the end of your strike which brings us to our next point…
4) Timing and coordination
Once all these elements are in placed it is important to coordinate them perfectly with your strike:
You should arrive at your peak speed exactly at the point of impact.
In order to do that you will want to twist and pivot as you strike but not step forward before the hit has landed. Else you compromise your link to the ground and will bleed power.
On the other hand, using the falling step, you should definitely still be falling as you hit, and only reach the ground afterwards. If you miss your target, you should hear the sound of your foot hitting the ground at full speed.
Another and final aspect is the timing of the breath.
In general, you should aim to exhale as you strike and inhale as you prepare you strike.
For some exercises, you should even load your breath and push the air down towards your belly in order to pack power for the strike. This technique can be observed in some koryus or on the 3rd ken suburi in Aikido, where the practitioner is told to ‘hold’ his breath until he decides to cut forward.
A powerful strike is a strike that lands
To conclude this small article I would like to remind everyone that putting power into your strike should not be the main focus of your training. A powerful strike that misses its target is useless and can put you in a more precarious position than a lighter cut or thrust !
In order to be more effective you should also look for vulnerable points on your opponent, be it defaults in his armor or natural weak points of the human body. On this aspect however, we shall come back another time !