Inspired by Calasanz

Today we will explore the concepts of being both soft and hard within martial arts.

A great deal of people have heard of the technique of being soft and then becoming hard just at the point of impact. To be perfectly clear the technique involves being loose through most of the motion and then tensing the muscles just as contact is made, just as the punch lands. Followed there after by an immediate relaxing of the tension within so as not to be 'frozen' by the flexing of your muscles. It is important to note, however, that it takes a dedicated amount of time and training in order to execute this technique successfully. It is an acquired technique. Acquired meaning its not something an amateur can learn in an afternoon. As Bruce Lee exploded into cinema and onto the silver screen everyone wanted to learn things like the 'touch of death', soft and hard applications in a real environment, among other advanced techniques. They assumed that these were things that could be transmitted to the desiring pupil in a few short minutes if the teacher was worth his weight in salt.

So, many people would ask instructors, “Can you demonstrate the death touch just like Bruce Lee?” and the instructors that were real martial artists would say that they have not practiced that technique yet, or that they had not yet attained that level. Others would respond in the affirmative and attempt to demonstrate the technique even if it meant permanent embarrassment. Many amateurs would get hurt attempting to train these advanced techniques without the knowledge or experience to be aware of what they were actually doing. They would end up hurting themselves and quitting or find out just how much training is necessary to attain the skill they see in films and pulled back from accomplishing these martial arts achievements. It is often forgotten that Bruce Lee did not spend his time watching Bruce Lee movies to achieve his level of skill, he trained year, after year, after year to attain his talents and abilities.

It takes time to learn the difference between soft and hard. Perhaps we can help to expedite the process through word. Soft does not mean floppy and limp; it is better described as present. Hardness is almost equivocal to tension.

For example, one can have a closed hand up by the face in a ready fighting stance. The hand is in front of the face ready to strike, it is present. This is soft. Hard would mean that the hand in the same position is gripping and clenched tightly as if life depended on it. Having a hard hand here would only hinder the muscles' flexibility, as well as the mobility of the muscles around it (such as the forearm, elbow and even up to the shoulder) and limit its reactive capabilities through the radiating nature of the flex. (Also, keep in mind if the hard hand his knocked back into you, you will essentially be injuring your own hand with your own head.)

Sometimes it takes longer for someone even just to understand how to be soft and relaxed. Many people come into a martial arts academy or school full of tension without even knowing it. Common among newer martial arts students, it is thought that to execute a technique with speed and power is the measure of skill when in reality it is the person who executes with greater control and precision that truly knows what he is doing and why he is training.

While fast, strong movements are appealing to the eye , they are meaningless without true control. Better to practice a punch perfectly 10 times and take 1 minute for each punch than to do 10 sloppy punches in 1 second.

With control comes power, with accuracy comes speed. Speed is always available to the user, but keep in mind it is to be able to utilize this speed with precision that is going to finish the fight. To be fast and erratic is one of the easiest ways to get countered and knocked the **

  • k out.

Thinking of softness like a net, or a cloth, it is capable of reacting, catching and flowing, yet still must maintain its structure without collapsing. Hardness is like a piece of metal in its solid state. It will absorb and take damage, but is apt to dent or simply break altogether.

This is why one is never more important than the other. It is the interplay; the ability to adapt between the two, and the wisdom of knowing what is more suitable and when that denotes a true master.

Written by: Alan Wedell
Calasanz Martial Arts Calasanz History Martial Arts History

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