“Work smarter, not harder!”
How often do we know there must be a better way to do something, but are just too tired to find it? We hail the great innovators in society who found ways to do more with less. When we think of Martial Arts however, innovation is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. When we find ourselves in a situation where we must fight, what happens when we hit an opponent, and it is not enough to end the fight?
Naturally, we hit them again, and we hit them harder. We rinse and repeat until our energy is spent or our opponent’s is. We only work harder, not smarter.
At Tumfo Tu, we take a different approach to striking. We never train to hit harder. The power of our blows comes from executing them so precisely that no energy is wasted. We understand there are principles we have to follow to make a blow effective in combat. The way we form our hands, feet, and fingers makes a huge difference in what we end up putting into our opponents. The blows need to travel along an efficient path to a precise target to be powerful. When we strike, we must be positioned to support the blow. Studying these intricacies of combat show us how to strike with precision in all facets of the blow. We fight smarter, not harder.
Through this training, our hands and feet become a myriad of deadly weapons. Our knuckles get callused. Our fingers grow stronger. The balls of our feet become wrecking balls. None of these powerful effects come from hitting harder. The most elementary thing that makes a blow powerful is that the force behind the blow is focused into an area small enough that its target cannot maintain its integrity.
Consider the nail. A nail goes into a wall more easily than a hand, though even less force is applied to the nail. When we form our hand in the right way, striking through a wall is certainly possible, but the nail will always have the advantage. In every blow we strike, we seek for it to be like the nail. When we strike with our feet, the whole foot doesn’t strike – just the heel or the ball. When we strike with our hands, the whole hand doesn’t strike. Just the knuckles, fingertips, or whatever most specific part of the hand is being used to focus the force of the blow.
Now, consider the hammer. We probably learned as children that swinging a hammer is more effective than grabbing the head of the hammer and trying to slam it into the nail. Why is that? When we swing the hammer, the centrifugal force generated contributes to what goes into the nail. Because of its design, this is the optimal path for a hammer to travel to maximize its effect on the nail. Any time we strike, we must ensure the blow travels along its optimal path.
Finally, consider the hammer versus a stone. Why did humans invent a tool like a hammer? Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When we push against a wall, the wall pushes back, as it were, against us to achieve balance. When the wall can no longer match the force leveled against it, it breaks. When we strike a nail with a hammer, we usually feel some reverberation from that action. The hammer will bounce back as it absorbs the equal and opposite reaction. Imagine using a stone. We can swing it in a similar way, but we get less benefit from centrifugal force. We can thrust it at the nail, but it is hard to control where the force goes, and our bodies have to absorb the equal and opposite reaction. This might push us back or even injure us, if enough force was applied.
Hammers have a profound advantage over stones for a few reasons, but one of the most obvious ones is that it is much easier to absorb the equal and opposite reaction with a hammer. We have probably all seen or experienced someone striking something rigid and getting pushed back – and this principle from physics is precisely why.
One unusual thing about Tumfo Tu is that we do not train to strike punching bags. Punching bags move when they’re hit, demonstrating the force of the blow leveled against them. However, this is really just showing how much a blow can push something. This takes a lot of energy and is not precise. We train to strike rigid targets: rope-wrapped wooden boards mounted on steel beams against a wall. When we strike that, any imprecision in our blows becomes obvious. We are thrown off-balance and the board is unmoved. When we strike with the precision we train, the steel beams sing about it and shudder. We remain unmoved.
In Tumfo Tu, every time we move, we move with precision. We do not simply move harder, strike harder, push harder. We apply our understanding of our bodies and the way movement works to move the world around us rather than get moved by it.
“Work smarter, not harder” carries some profound wisdom when we apply it to life, and we do not neglect to apply it to combat.