Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The principles of unbalancing....

I have become quite fascinated recently about the use of unbalancing principles in karate. It seems to me that it is an art form in itself; something that can and must be studied in isolation as well as in combination with various techniques....

Unbalancing is about disruption and control: Disrupting your opponent’s attack and seizing control of them. There is both art and science in understanding balance and unbalancing methods. It requires a scientific understanding of how the brain and body work together to enable balance combined with a sense of creativity in assessing the many ways in which your opponents balance can be disrupted.

To understand how to unbalance an opponent you first need to understand how we are able to balance in the first place. I wrote a previous post about balance called ‘martial arts – a balancing act’ where I described the three main tenets of good balance as being having a wide base of support, having a low centre of gravity and maintaining the head and spine in a vertical position.  In this article I also discussed the importance of the ears, eyes and proprioception in the maintenance of good balance. 

To unbalance an opponent then you have to disrupt at least one on the main tenets of balance: pull them out of their base of support (or reduce their base of support), raise their centre of gravity or disrupt their vertical alignment. Of course you must do all this whilst maintaining your own balance.

So how do you do it? 

Ways of disrupting the base of support:

Pushing or pulling: pushing or pulling will move someone out of their base of support but you need to know which way to push or pull. This requires some knowledge of the “eight points of off balance” which relates to stances. Look at this diagram:

As a point of principle your off-balance point is generally perpendicular to the plane of your stance. So if your feet are positioned on points 8 and 4 on the diagram (this could be a left foot zenkutsu dachi (weight forward) or kokutsu dachi (weight back) and facing point 1 or even a shiko dachi if you were facing towards point 2 or 6) then you will be off-balance if pushed or pulled in the direction of 2 -6 or 6-2

So for example, if you are grabbed by the wrist by someone standing in front of you in a natural stance i.e with feet positioned on 3 and 7 then you only need to trap their hand and step backward to position 5 to unbalance them.  In order that you don’t unbalance yourself you need to use fairly strong, deep stances to ensure your centre of gravity remains low, your base of support is wide and your spine remains vertical. I never understand why people argue that stances in karate are no good and only useful for building leg strength – good strong stances are great for pulling people off balance. Of course taking just one step back many not be sufficient and you may need to take two or three long low steps backwards to pull your opponent over.

Reducing the opponent’s base of support: you can reduce the opponent’s base of support by taking one (or both) leg away e.g. with an ashi barai (foot sweep) technique or just a plain and simple ‘trip’. You may want to follow this up with a push, pull or even a throw.

Raising the opponent’s centre of gravity:

If a low centre of gravity assists with balance then a high centre of gravity will help reduce it. Getting your opponent up on their toes will make them seem lighter and easier to displace. Getting a good arm/elbow lock on can often get them on their toes. They won’t drop their weight back down to compensate because that will tighten the lock and cause more pain. You will now have them controlled and not fully balanced making it easier for you to apply your next technique – this may be a sweep or throw or just maintaining the restraint to march them off (always walk backwards with your restrained ‘prisoner’, I am told on good authority, it is harder for them to resist).

Disrupt your opponent’s vertical alignment:

Getting your opponent’s head and spine out of a vertical alignment will disrupt balance because it stops them from pushing their centre of gravity in a downwards direction. It is also very disorientating because it upsets the ‘balance sensors’ i.e. the eyes can no longer maintain a horizontal plane, the cochlear fluid in the ears may start to swirl and cause dizziness and the proprioceptors may have a hard time working out the body’s position in relation to the ground.

Techniques to disrupt vertical alignment include pushing the forehead backwards. This is especially effective if the other hand is placed at the lower end of the spine to create a push/pull effect. Alternatively you can twist the opponent pushing on one shoulder whilst pulling on their opposite hip.
These are just a few techniques you can use to disrupt balance, I’m sure that with a bit of creativity you can think of more!

Of course your opponent will instinctively try to correct their balance once they feel it starting to go. They will do this in predictable ways – the same ways you will try to do it. If you are pulled forward you will put a foot out to steady yourself. You will put your foot out in the direction you perceive yourself to be falling. If you are falling backwards you will try to step backwards. To stop your opponent from trying to correct their balance you need to stop them from putting their foot in that optimal position for regaining balance – you do this by making sure your foot is there first, forcing them to put their foot in a sub-optimal position and thus still being off-balance. 

To conclude: 

Unbalancing your opponent is a good tactical self-defence principle. It enables you to disrupt your opponent’s attack and gives you an opportunity to gain control of the situation. Good unbalancing is both a science and an art form. It requires some serious study into the physiological principles of balance and an exploration of ways of disrupting those principles. In any martial arts class it is worth spending time with a partner just manipulating and observing the effects of balance point disruption. Experiment with this in isolation as well as incorporating these unbalancing principles into various strategies and techniques and notice how much more quickly you are able to disrupt and control your opponent.

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Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt