Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Science Behind Kiai

Image result for kiai Kiai is a Japanese term that is used to refer to a short yell or shout uttered when performing an attacking move. Why kiai?

The following is a draft of a passage included in the conclusion to my The Science Behind Fighting Techniques which is in the process of being submitted to a publisher. The conclusion calls on others to build on my work in building a body of knowledge about why a technique works in addition to how to perform the technique.

As I was in the process of concluding this book, Australian Ashleigh Barty played Belorussian Aryna Sabalenka in the 2018 Australian Open (tennis). The Belorussian’s powerful hitting and loud ‘grunting’ was cause for numerous articles on the issue to be published, one of which was by Damian Farrow (2018), professor of sports science at Victoria University: ‘All the racquet: What science tells us about the pros and cons of grunting in tennis.’ He reports that a number of studies have shown that ball velocity increases with hits accompanied by grunting. Can the findings in those studies be extended to kiai, a short yell or shout uttered in Japanese martial arts when performing an attacking move? Increased ball velocity means increased force is being applied when hitting the ball accompanied by a grunt. Can those findings be extended to prove that punches accompanied by a kiai apply increased force on impact? If so, how does a grunt/kiai generate more force on impact with a punch? This is an example of the current lack of biomechanical information associated with martial arts methods and how we may need to be inventive in developing that knowledge base in the absence of direct research.

There are those, many, who will have opinions on this martial arts question, however, they are only opinions. Uninformed opinions at that. My book is designed to turn the many uninformed opinions into informed opinions, which in the process will debunk many opinions.

The studies associated with tennis grunting confirm the increased velocity of the tennis ball accompanied by grunting. They do not explain where the additional force that was applied to the tennis ball was generated from.

The answer to the increased force on impact lies within the concept of kinetic energy. KE is the energy of motion which is transferred on impact. KE is calculated as one half of the product of mass and velocity squared. So which one of the variables of KE does grunting/kiai impact on in order to increase the KE of the arm/racket thereby increasing the force on impact?

The tennis studies limited explanation is highly technical/incomprehensible, however, it would appear to point to grunting tightening the body core which increases the mass behind the tennis strike thereby increasing the force on impact resulting in the increased velocity of the tennis ball. In like manner, a kiai when punching might tighten the body core thereby increasing the mass behind a punch and the force on impact. 

This would fit in with other studies on punching techniques in the martial arts that confirm that the difference in the velocities of punches by experienced and inexperienced practitioners is insignificant but the difference in the force applied on impact is significantly different. This difference is down to the experienced practitioners knowing how to contribute more mass behind their punches.

1. The findings in the studies above goes against everything that has been advised in martial arts and biomechanical texts in relation to punching techniques when referring to the biomechanical concept of KE.

2. There is a study published on the effects of kiap, the Korean equivalent of kiai, on gripping strength. A martial arts 'authority' refers to this study to confirm that kiap increases punching force on impact. It does not, as even the authors of the study acknowledge. It simply confirms that kiap increases gripping strength, so kiap away when grabbing someone. The tennis studies have more to suggest that kiai increases the force on impact than does the kiap study.

3. All of the above is an example of the mindset that is required when attempting to use science to explain martial arts practice. A mindset that is sadly lacking in current martial arts literature. That mindset will be the subject of the next post.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Anxiety and Narrowing Thought-Action Repertoires

Book #2 deals with our natural and learned responses to a threat. It integrates the theories of fight-or-flight, stress, emotion, and cognition to develop an understanding of our evolved survival mechanism. That explains our natural responses to a threat and our learned responses are all interventions in that survival mechanism, or what I call the survival process.

A book I refer to is Performance Under Stress which focuses on 'soldier stress' and soldier performance. It has contributors who share stress research about various aspects of soldier stress and soldier performance. The editors then explain that the information presented is not just for soldier's but for everyone because everyone experiences stress to varying degrees.

In like fashion, my book is about natural and learned responses to a threat in a violence, aggression setting, however, the mechanism responsible for your natural responses to a threat are also responsible for anxiety conditions/disorders.

Ironically, I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder while researching and writing this book. In treating the disorder I have visited a few psychologists. I tried to explain certain 'symptoms' and could actually explain what exactly is going on. One aspect intrigued me as the psychologists had never heard of the research that explains the symptoms.

Barbara Fredrickson developed the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. She distinguishes between positive and negative emotions. Positive emotions are associated with challenges or opportunities while negative emotions are associated with threats. Positive emotions do not tend to have action tendencies (joy-?) while negative emotions do (fear-flight). Fredrickson also considered the cognitive aspect of an emotional experience.

She explains how negative emotions narrow a person's thought-action repertoire. They increasingly focus on one way to deal with the threat. Their cognitive abilities, their reasoning, problem-solving, thought processes progressively narrow. This is why you cannot reason with a person who is angry, scared ... or anxious.

I know this from unfortunate experience. When you've come out the other side of an anxiety episode you see the many options that were available that you could not see while experiencing anxiety. You could not fix the 'problem' because your problem solving abilities are impaired while experiencing anxiety.

Negative emotions (anger, fear, anxiety) narrow a person's thought-action repertoire.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Martial Arts Instructor Qualifications

I'm in the closing stages of finalising book #1 on the science behind fighting techniques. The introduction leads with Gracie and Gracie's (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique) explanation of black belts as being fully qualified teachers who are expected to know why a technique works in addition to knowing how to perform the technique.

My final chapter asks how Gracie and Gracie operationalise their expectation of black belts. They don't do it through their grading system (if they do it at all) because they explain how the Brazilian jiu-jitsu grading system is characterised by its extreme informality.

I reflected on the grading system that Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan developed and came to appreciate that (a) de Jong shared Gracie and Gracie's expectation of black belts, and (b) uniquely operationalised that expectation in his 1st Kyu and Dan grading system. There are numerous gradings that examine a candidate's understanding of why a technique works and their teaching ability, however, de Jong was hamstrung in this respect because the body of knowledge associated with why a technique works is largely nonexistent. My book is written in an attempt to begin to fill the void that is the body of knowledge associated with why a technique works.

I've begun to research how other schools produce their teachers. For the most part, it is that a black belt (a) knows how to perform techniques, and (b) that knowledge and that grading qualifies them to be a teacher.

How does your school produce teachers?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Anxiety: Amygdala Gets Bored

My second book is tentatively titled Understanding Our Natural and Learned Responses to a Threat. It integrates the theories of fight-or-flight, stress, emotion and cognition to understand our natural responses to a threat. All of the methods taught by activities associated with preparing a person to engage in a violent encounter are actually interventions in the evolutionary 'survival process.' I have come to appreciate that the theory associated with understanding our natural and learned responses to a threat are also applicable to the mental health condition of anxiety and panic disorders. Consequently, a concluding chapter in that book expands the readership to those experiencing, or more importantly attempting to support, those who experienced anxiety and/or panic disorders.

My stepdaughter came home from her first day of year nine at school. She explained how she was nervous for the first few classes because she didn't know anyone in the classes. What happened after those first few hours? She got 'bored.' No more nervousness, aka anxiety, and boredom prevailed.

That is anxiety. Our amygdala scans the environment for threats and opportunities. When it detects a threat, real or otherwise, it initiates a defence sequence that we call anxiety (or fear). When that threat is not realised, our amydala gets bored and switches off.

That in a nutshell is anxiety. It is also anxiety's remedy - 'exposure therapy', by whatever name. Amygdala detects a threat, real or not, and reacts accordingly, and the more exposure it has to that stimulus the more it realises that it is not a threat and therefore does not react as if it is a threat.

I know. I know because I have been diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder, and I have observed the above in action.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine - Feature Story

The latest edition of Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine (Vol 31 No 6/Dec '17 - Jan '18) published my 'Why do we punch? How human hands evolved for punching' as their feature story.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fractured Hyoid Bone and Martial Arts Practice

I am in the process of finalising my first book on the science behind fighting techniques. One of the chapters is devoted to strangulation techniques (shime waza). In that chapter I refer to an injury I sustained to my throat when participating in a demonstration with Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan. Researching that injury led me to a study of a similar injury sustained by a taekwondo athlete when he was kicked in the throat during a competition bout. The following is taken from my draft, and to understand the extract you'll need to know that the hyoid bone is located in the anterior neck at the level of the C3 vertebra.

The biggest non-fatal injury risk associated with the use of neck restraints is damage to the airway. Force applied to the front of the throat can cause haemorrhaging in the neck and fractures of the hyoid bone and/or larynx. Are these fractures fatal? DiMaio and DiMaio[i] suggest that these fractures and associated hematomas are not necessarily fatal and are merely markers of force applied to the neck.

An example of DiMaio and DiMaio’s nonfatal injuries to the neck as a result of forces applied with a strangulation technique is the injury I sustained doing a demonstration with Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan (see Appendix) at the conclusion of a summer camp in Norway. De Jong was demonstrating defences using a jo, a wooden staff approximately 1.27m (4.2ft) in length. His timing on my punch was off a bit but he took me down anyway and wedged the jo across my throat as the defence requires. He applied a little more force than normal to make up for the timing problem which resulted in an injury to my throat structures. According to my GP (general practitioner), the injury may have been a fractured hyoid bone as I had trouble swallowing and painful swallowing for some period of time and the hyoid bone is often fractured in strangulations.

When investigating my GP’s suggested diagnosis, I came across a case report[ii] of a thirteen year old taekwondo athlete who collapsed after receiving a kick to the anterior neck. Lateral radiographs revealed fracture of the hyoid. Based on their review of the literature, the authors of the report suggest that striking and choking techniques commonly employed in martial arts provide potential mechanisms for hyoid bone fractures. Disturbingly, given that I did not seek treatment for the injury, the authors of the report also suggest that all patients suffering a hyoid bone fracture must be observed for a 48-72 hour period as previously asymptomatic patients may develop rapid hemoptysis, edema, ecchymosis and spasm resulting in life threatening asphyxia, requiring a tracheostomy and retro-pharyngeal drainage.

[i] DiMaio and DiMaio, op cit n 7.
[ii] J. Porr, M. Laframboise, M. Kazemi, Traumatic hyoid bone fracture – a case report and review of the literature, The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 56(4), 2012, pp 269-274.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What Is Pain?

In the book I'm currently writing, I explain:

A distinction is made between offensive and defensive aggression. Offensive aggression is when a person seeks to inflict injury or pain upon a person who is or has not been attempting to inflict injury or pain upon them. Defensive aggression is when a person seeks to inflict injury or pain upon a person who is or has been attempting to inflict injury or pain upon them. Offensive and defensive aggression are at the heart of Survival and Combat Activities (see Introduction). Injury and pain are at the heart of offensive and defensive aggression, therefore, injury and pain are at the heart of all Survival and Combat Activities methods. What are the two subjects that are never explicitly studied in Survival and Combat Activities literature? Injury and pain. 

I cover, uniquely in Survival and Combat Activities literature, the subject of injury and pain.

Currently I'm working on the chapter on pain. The first issue to cover is, what is pain? That is a question that is more difficult to answer than you might imagine.

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) introduced the most widely used definition of pain. The IASP defined pain as an ‘unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.' So, pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.

The sensory aspect of pain refers to nociception, however, pain may be experienced in the abscence of nociception, e.g., in the case of phantom limb pain when pain is experienced in a limb that does not exist.

The emotional aspect of pain, that is where it gets interesting. What emotion is experienced with pain? The answer to that question is lacking in the literature.

Is pain an emotion like fear or anger? Not according to the vast majority of those that study emotion.

According to Broom, pain is an aversive sensation and feeling. His definition of pain is similar to the IASP definition but differs in detail. The aversive sensation is the sensory experience of the IASP definition, however, Broom distinguishes between emotions and feelings. You can experience a feeling without experiencing an emotion, therefore, you can experience pain with no emotional experience.

Izard distinguishes between drives and emotion. Pain is a drive for Izard which is often accompanied by an emotion. Pain is often accompanied by fear, according to Izard, which is why it is used as a weapon by Survival and Combat Activities. However, pain is also accompanied by anger and aggression which is why the use of pain as a weapon sometimes backfires.

To be continued ...