USQ study packs a punch: the science behind martial arts

Sherrilyn Walters is combining her martial arts knowledge with scientific research to enhance our understanding of how martial artists generate so much power.

Martial artists are as close to superhuman as it gets, equipped with seemingly unimaginable power and speed.

From breaking bricks and boards with their bare hands to unleashing roundhouse kicks that send opponents flying, one can only marvel at the extraordinary feats they can do.

But how do they do it?

A USQ research student hopes to have the answer.

Sherrilyn Walters is combining her martial arts knowledge with scientific research to enhance our understanding of how martial artists generate so much power.

The martial arts instructor, who is studying a Masters (Research) in Sport and Exercise, said the study was the first of its kind to examine the difference in pressures within the body and muscle activation between martial arts practitioners and untrained participants.

“In traditional martial arts, concepts such as internal power or Chi are often used when referring to force generation and stability. However, a concrete understanding and practical application of these concepts remain elusive,” she said.

“We hope our findings will shed some light on these concepts and provide a framework to support future research and lead to technological solutions that make it easier for martial arts students to learn and apply these principles.”

Mrs Walters, who has practised and taught martial arts for more than 16 years, said a trained martial artist could exert between 200 and 500 kilograms of force in a single punch. In comparison, an untrained person can only generate between 50 and 120 kilograms.

“We believe it has something to do with the way martial artists develop different patterns of muscle activation and an increased control of intra-abdominal and internal pressures during training,” she said.

“We’re also investigating whether they are able to use internal pressure to increase their force output and stability.”

The study, which is expected to be completed early next year, recruited 20 people – 10 with martial arts experience and 10 without – to complete a series of tests to measure and compare strength, muscle activation and respiratory pressures during a series of martial arts tasks.

Mrs Walters hoped the results could be used to develop new methods to increase force output and stability in other sports and physical disciplines.

“It could also contribute in the rehabilitation of those who are physically compromised through age or disease, and when it comes to teaching self-defence,” she said.

martials arts research
USQ research student Sherrilyn Walters is investigating the science behind martial arts.