It Takes More than Brute Strength for Martial Artists to Pack a Punch

Martial arts students are able to generate powerful punches and the power of these punches increases over time. Most people believe that it has to do with strength. Turns out it has a lot to do with brain power, as well.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to martial arts experts who know well the power of the brain when it comes to mastering the art of karate, Kung Fu and other disciplines. Now, however, they have science on their side.

According to brain scans and research performed at Imperial College London, black belts in karate were able to repeatedly coordinate their punching action with a high level of coordination that those who were just beginning to practice karate could not. The research shows that these skills may be related to more fine-tuned neural connections in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that plays a crucial role in the ability of a person to perform complex and coordinated movements. Researchers believe the finetuning of these connections allow martial arts experts to synchronize arm and trunk movements more accurately the longer they have been training.

As part of the study, researchers looked at the brain structures of black belts who had trained longer than 13 years as compared to physically active people who were approximately the same age but never trained in the martial arts. Specifically, the researchers compared punches from short range.

The brain scans performed were diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans. DTIs detect structural differences in the white matter of the cerebellum as well as the primary motor cortex, also involved in the control of movement. The differences measured in the DTIs correlated with the synchronicity of the subjects’ wrist and shoulder movements when they were punching. Also significant was the fact that the DTI results were in line with the age at which the individuals began training in the martial arts and their level of experience.

Of course, researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding the relationship between the structure of the brain and behavior but studies like these seem to prove what most in the martial arts world will attest to. Namely, that karate, Kung Fu and other disciplines are more about brute strength. Rather, they emphasize the importance of the mind, body connection.