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Dispersion of Force

Published January 12, 2017 in Martial Arts , Philosophy , Science - 0 Comments

There is a principle of force that I teach my students. It’s very simple to grasp, but the implications often take a while to sink in.

If I apply a given amount of force over a small area, I create more pressure than if I apply the same amount of force over a large area.

This is easily expressed in a simple and common law of physics: Pressure = Force / Area (P = F / A).

For those who don’t like formulas, a simple example can help. If I apply a 100 pounds of force over an area of 100 square inches, I’ve applied a pressure of 1 PSI (pound per square inch). If I instead apply that same 100 pounds of force over one square inch, I’ve applied a pressure of 100 PSI.

Even if we don’t do the math for every application of force, the inherent relationship is intuitive. Even small children follow it easily when I explain it to them. And some applications of it are equally simple. When we strike, we want to make our strike contact point as small as possible. Every karateka knows to hit with the two big knuckles when you punch. It does more damage that way. On the flip side, every judoka knows to splay out as much as you can when you breakfall. It spreads the force out and does less damage to your body. These two very different scenarios are simple applications of the same core principle.

But the principle isn’t just physical in nature. It also applies in warfare. Concentrate your forces and hit your enemy in one spot. It’s much harder for him to defend against you that way. It also applies in social situations. Put a lot of pressure on the weak link of a group and the whole group finds it harder to defend. Or apply it to an individual emotionally. Pick at someone’s sore spot and they’ll break far faster than if you pick at everything.

This is an absolutely fundamental principle of the martial arts. Every student of combat must learn it. But it’s also an absolutely fundamental principle of human dynamics in general. Fail to understand it at your own peril.

Madison Martial Arts and Spirit Made Steel Karate are Merging


In January, 1995, I stepped into a small martial arts class at the Madison Rec Center. Sixteen years old and armed with my first real paycheck, I had no idea how much Sensei Kevin Swanner was about to change my life. Over the next twelve years I followed Sensei Swanner and Spirit Made Steel Karate through five moves and multiple knee injuries for both myself and Sensei Swanner! Eventually I became an instructor myself as his program grew.

In 2007, my wife Morgon and I moved to Georgia where I first began teaching on my own. After I moved back home and finished my master’s degree, I continued that by opening Madison Martial Arts Academy.

Today life has come full circle and again I’m “going home.” After running his own dojo for thirty years, Sensei Swanner is retiring from most day-to-day teaching responsibilities. As he continues the next leg on his journey through the martial arts, he has asked me to step in and help his program continue.

In the coming weeks, Madison Martial Arts Academy and Spirit Made Steel Karate will merge into one program and one location. We will be occupying the current Spirit Made Steel location at 1604 Slaughter Rd, Madison, AL 35758.

The new, combined school will allow us to provide a better program to our students in every way. We will have better and larger facilities, more equipment, additional instructors and new friends to train with.
Classes will move to the new location beginning on Monday, August 1st. In addition to the move, there will be some schedule changes. Please see the new schedule below.

Thank you all for joining us on this great adventure!

– Sensei Russell Newquist



Cross posted to the Madison Martial Arts Academy blog.

Conflict is Nonlinear

Published July 8, 2016 in Culture , Martial Arts , Politics , World War IV - 0 Comments

dallasFor years and years as I was training in the martial arts, my sensei drilled many sayings into us. One of them is particularly appropriate at the moment: Violence always escalates. Over the years I’ve learned to put some caveats and limits on that saying – but the core of it remains true. Violence always escalates.

Today I’d like to add a corollary to that: Conflict is Nonlinear. What the heck does that mean?

Linear phenomena are simple. If you make a small change, get small and predictable result. Make a big change and you get a large, also predictable, result. Think about your water faucet. You turn the knob a little bit and you get a trickle of water. You turn it a lot and you get a deluge. Turn it the other way and it turns off. The direction that you turn it always produces the same effect: one way gives you more water, the other way gives you less. And the amount that you turn it adjusts the magnitude of the effect in a smooth manner.

Nonlinear phenomena are completely different. Imagine that your faucet worked completely differently. Pretend for a moment that turning the knob a little bit in one direction gave you a trickle of water. But turning it more in that direction turned it off. Give it another turn – a large one – and… you get a trickle. Give it another tiny turn, still in the same direction, and it gives you a flood. Try turning it in the opposite direction and you get similar effects.

True nonlinear systems follow complex mathematics. In one sense, they’re not quite as completely unpredictable as what I just described. You can predict patterns of behavior that can give you some ideas of how the systems work. On the other hand, they can be even more unpredictable than what I just described. Predicting exact, precise results for nonlinear systems is pretty much impossible. This is why the weathermen still can’t predict the weather more than a day or three in advance, and they’ll probably never be able to.

The human brain handles linear systems very well. We encounter them every day and they match with our natural intuition. But we don’t handle nonlinear systems well at all. They respond in completely non-intuitive ways.

Conflict is nonlinear. Once it starts, it doesn’t respond predictably at all. Tiny events can escalate it out of all proportion. Meanwhile drastic events can have imperceptible effects, barely effecting anything. Or maybe the tiny events have tiny effects and big events have big effects. The reality is that both can and do happen once the conflict starts.

Racial tensions in this country have been growing for at least the last year – I’d actually argue for far longer. Last night, the conflict kicked off in earnest. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. Once bullets are in the air, they don’t care which side you’re on.

How to Choose a Dojo

Published June 3, 2016 in Martial Arts - 0 Comments
Madison Martial Arts Academy

Madison Martial Arts Academy

A question came through my Twitter feed today that’s quite common:

With all due respect to LegalSmeagol, this is the wrong question. In perfect fairness to him, he’s not the only one asking it. The question shouldn’t be what style to train in. The question is what dojo to train at.

My sensei had a saying: “There are no better or worse martial arts. Only better or worse martial artists.” It’s not completely true, but it’s close enough that a beginner should adopt that mindset. Pick the dojo – and the instructor – not the style.

That’s great… but what should you look for? Well, to some degree that intends on what you want to get out of it. There are a lot of things that people want out of the martial arts: fitness, friends, camaraderie, competition, something to do, fun, performance art, combat skill, self defense… I could go on ad nauseum. Most of those reasons are valid. You need to know what you want.

For this post, let’s focus on LegalSmeagol’s question: he wants to prepare to handle something akin to a riot. Which means that he wants something that’s going to give him some serious, practical training skills. That gives us a lot to work with.

First, you want a dojo that covers all ranges of fighting: kicking, punching, knees and elbows, standing grappling, takedowns and throws, and ground grappling. For practical, self defense purposes, if your dojo doesn’t spend at least some time in all of these ranges, it’s incomplete. You will find the range that you’re best at. It’s ok to focus on that range (with a big caveat that I’ll get to in a minute). But you need to be good enough at the other ranges that you can get to, or get back to, your preferred range. You also need to be able to handle it when somebody gets you in their preferred range, which Murphy’s Law tells us will be the range that you’re worst at. So you need to hit them all.

Big caveat: in a real life street situation, you do not want to go to the ground. You need the training to handle that range if you end up there. But if your opponent has a buddy that you didn’t know about, being on the can literally mean death. The ground is great in the cage, and you need to train it. But you need an instructor that understands this fact.

Second, you need a dojo that includes serious dynamic training. Drilling technique is great, and you need to do it. A lot. But you also need dynamic training. Dynamic training is when you’re training against an actual live human being who is actively trying to defeat you. That means that he’s moving in unpredictable ways and using unpredictable techniques. This kind of training can include sparring, slow sparring, interactive drills, grappling, judo matches, and a whole lot more. None of them will fully mimic a real fight. Each method emulates some different aspect of that. The more different and varied forms of dynamic training that your dojo includes, the better.

The instructor should be able to tell you what kinds of training they do. More importantly, he should be able to tell you why he does each kind of training. You don’t necessarily need to know that. But if he doesn’t, then he’s not serving you well.

You don’t necessarily need to do full contact training – if you’re more likely to get hurt in the dojo than if you never train, you might not be getting what you want out of it. But you do need a dojo that does at least light contact training. If you don’t feel techniques hitting you, your brain will never make the association that you got hit and you will never train to correctly avoid those techniques. You must actually feel something tapping you.

Is the instructor going to notice you or are you going to be lost in the crowd? Even big dojos can give good personal attention – if the instructors are putting in the effort to do so.

Your instructor should be able to offer positive feedback when you’re doing techniques correctly and constructive criticism when you’re not. He should have a good eye for the subtleties of technique – small things can make a huge difference. He should have an attitude toward teaching, the martial arts, and his students that fits with your personality. If you don’t mesh, you won’t stick around – and you won’t learn.

The instructors and their teaching styles are your top priority. But other things matter, too. The training facility should be clean and adequate to your training needs. You don’t need a huge dojo. But you do need enough dojo. I have a great friend who teaches in a dojo that’s less than 500 square feet, and it’s all they need. He runs great – small – classes in it. But even he would be hard pressed to go to a smaller space. You don’t need a ton of equipment, but you do really want some basics: mats for groundwork (or soft grass if you’re really hardcore; I’ve trained on it before), hand targets for various drills, and some punching bags. You can get y with just those things pretty well if your instructor knows how to use them properly.

You also want to look at the students. Do they bring a good attitude to class? Ar they ready to train hard? Having fun is OK – in fact, it’s great. But they should also be ready to be serious when it’s time to be serious. Are they focused on helping each other? Or is each student out for himself? Bad attitudes among the students can kill a dojo, even if the instructor is great. Do you get along with them and enjoy spending time with them? You’ll train harder if you do.

There are good dojos everywhere. There are also a lot of terrible dojos out there. Be prepared to look for the good ones – they might be hiding in plain sight. I’ve known fantastic instructors who teach out of their carport, out of their basement, out of parks, or in their front yards. None of those guys advertised. You had to find them. But their classes were great. I’ve also known some folks to own big dojos, packed with students, doing lots of advertising and still manage to run incredible programs. So be prepared to do your homework.

MADISON MARTIAL ARTS – Summer Special 2016

Check out our summer special on youth karate classes.

Check out our summer special on youth karate classes.

At Madison Martial Arts Academy, we’re offering a summer special on our Youth Karate class that includes three months of classes, a uniform, and your child’s first belt promotion. It’s a pretty good deal, if I do say so myself.

If you’re interested in training alongside your kids, we’ve got an even better summer special for you. Enroll yourself in our Adult Karate and Jujitsu program and your child can train free! This offer is limited to one child per adult.

Both offers are good through July 31st.

Adult Karate and Jujitsu Summer Specials

Adult Karate and Jujitsu Summer Specials


Published February 24, 2016 in Book Reviews , Martial Arts - 1 Comment

fightlikeaphysicistThere’s a reason that martial arts are called “arts.” There are a lot of myths, half truths, gray areas, and outright lies in our field. And even when we can demonstrate with practical experience that something works, martial artists all too often have a terrible understanding of the science behind why it works. In that environment, Fight Like a Physicist by Jason Thalken is a real breath of fresh air.

Thalken’s tome is basic rather than exhaustive. Anybody who’s had a college level physics course should be familiar with most of what he lays out. The problem is that all too many college educated martial artists leave their physics knowledge outside the dojo door, swallowing whole whatever their sensei feeds them. The even bigger problem is that too many senseis are feeding them a diet of junk science.

And it’s a shame, because there’s very good, very real science to back up much of the martial arts. Thalken covers the key concepts here – center of mass, momentum, energy, rotational physics, and leverage. Again, none of this is groundbreaking to any college level physics student. But what Thalken does is to apply the physics to the body and explain how it interacts when human beings fight one another.

In the second section, Thalken discusses some of the ramifications of the physics he lays out in the first section. Importantly, most of this section is given over to safety. His discussions of padding, gloves, helmets and concussions should be required reading for any martial arts instructor or coach.

My only complaint about this book? As I mentioned above, it’s not an exhaustive tome. It’s more basic than I would have liked, covering a lot I already knew (I did take college level physics). I’d very much love to see a follow on to this book at a far more advanced level. Mr. Thalken, if you’re reading this, know that I’d buy such a book in a heartbeat if you wrote it.

For what it is, though, this book is top notch. Five out of five stars, and I would consider this book a necessity for every serious martial artist.

This post has been cross posted to the Madison Martial Arts blog.