Body rotation and shifting body weight: the keys to power

Bruce Lee Bruce Lee

One of the greatest challenges in martial arts is overcoming the impulse to use upper body strength to make things work. This is true for all martial arts techniques.

Particularly in Western culture,¬†we’re conditioned to think that upper body strength equals masculinity. Ask someone to “make a muscle” and they’ll flex their biceps, or their “guns” as they’re called. Broad shoulders, big chest, wide back – we admire these in men. So it’s natural to want to use those muscles to power your punches, or to make your joint locks work, or to throw someone to the ground.

The problem with this approach is that it’s completely wrong. It may be effective to a point, but it’s an inefficient way of generating power, it’s tiring, and it only works on people who are physically smaller or weaker than you.

Much more power can be generated – and with far less effort – by turning the hips, dropping your body weight a little, and shifting weight from one foot to the other. We should constantly be working on eliminating muscle strength from the equation. Body mechanics are the key.

It’s no accident that many of the greatest martial artists and fighters had lean, even slight figures. They were strong but not bulky. Bruce Lee is a case in point, but one might also look to modern MMA champions, most of whom have established themselves through superior technique and body mechanics, not muscle mass.

Wael Abdelgawad, Founder
Hammerhead Hapkido


  1. In conjunction with body rotation, a few important points I’ve mentioned in other recent posts are keeping your shoulders relaxed, keeping the elbows in, and disrupting the enemy’s balance.

    • Sure, all of that is important but it only relates to the physical sphere of the martial art, beyond and within all the points you mention is the mastering of the ki, which will give the strength, flexibility, softness, lightness, certainty and grace to every movement realized by the martial artist.

      • Maria, thanks for your comment. I was wondering if your son ever started martial arts, and how that is going for him?

        I am an agnostic when it comes to ki. I have not personally seen any evidence of the existence of ki as an actual, tangible thing that can be channeled, directed, and utilized. That’s why I prefer to focus on the identifiable physical aspects of good martial arts: relaxation, balance, efficiency of movement, use of body weight and hip rotation, keeping the knees bent, etc.

        There are many stories and anecdotes in martial arts about ki, but I cannot teach what I have not seen or experienced.

  2. You are talking from heart, Wael, I do know what you mean about believing what you experience, I certainly do, you are a wise, down to earth man…Ki is simple, when you experience it you know it, gives you roots and at the same time wings, but beyond the physical experience, seals the ego, the yin and yang turns into one and the need to talk about it is unnecesary because you can tell that person has something different from the others.

    One option could be to experience the martial art from within, relaxing concentrating, breathing, directing the energy through your energy channels, feeling where it flows fluently and where is stagnated, where you feel warmth or coldness, …Have you ever experienced a movement that has amazed you to the point of asking yourself, have I done this myself? That is the flow of ki. Easy and simple. I understand that to awake the consciousness of ki needs the same time of training than the physical part, better of course if the physical training comes together with the flow of energy(conscious breathing included to guide the mind where we want to direct the energy), …Just let it be, that is other option, maybe the wisest as you do.

    Thank you for listening my thoughts.

    He began this summer.

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