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Tau's picture
How Important is Anatomical Knowledge?

How important is understanding of human anatomy in Martial Arts teaching and training? I feel that my professional study of anatomy has made me a better Martial Arts instructor and certainly a safer one. Yet some feel my knowledge is excess and unnecessary.

ky0han's picture

Hi Tau,

for me anatomical knowledge is vital. When you don't know how joints are aligned you are not able to effectively apply locks? When you don't know what forces a human body into unconsciousness how can you pull that off?

When you don't know anything about how the human body protects itself from certain threats you can't use those mechanisms to your advantage. To simply pound on someone is not alway causing the other to retreat. It may make him angrier than before. But the goal must be to prevent the opponent from further offensive behavier.

The past masters also studied anatomy, there are the vital point charts in the bubishi or in Funakoshis Karate Do Kyohan. That must have had a reason.

Regards Holger

Mr P
Mr P's picture

Interesting question with no right or wrong answere. As a nurse I have very good anatomy and physiology knowledge. I can say if  you hit here this bone, nerve or organ is here and you can expect this to happen or why you might get a certain reaction. I can justify why certain targets on the body are good or prime targets to hit. However, you do not really need to know this as common sense or a bit of experience informs you of what hurts where. I have trained with good jujitsu and judo people who can lock and twist me up with great ease and with no knowledge of A&P.

miket's picture

Good question Tau.  I would answer 'Very important' for several reasons.  At some levels, I really see 'martial arts' as both the simultaeous study of human anatmoy and human kinesthetic motion: 1) You already mentioned safety, very important 2) Striking: understanding of anatomy and what I call 'body contour' allows for more precise weapoon selection and placement of blows; also angulation of blows, and so called 'hidden' weapons... one of my fav's is the thumb-tip strike used so ubiquitously in Motobu-Ryu.  Looks like a fist to anyone not watching closely, the effect is more like a stab with deep impact in soft tissue targets. 3) Increased understanding of leverage and the application of physics reference the human body.  Especially useful in grappling, locking, etc.  Just this morning was having a conversation with an instructor buddy re.: the 'fish-hooking' of force into the body and how that underlies many advanced techniques. 4)  Better 'technique'.  Personally I define 'technique' ala Kano:  i.e. "technique" = "efficiency".  This is WHY or HOW a smaller person can overcome a larger one 'using' tecnique:  They are capable of this because they are possessed of more efficient action-- For instance, they have more efificent reaction times, they have 'economy of motion' in action (i.e. 'motion pathway efficiency'), they achieve more with less muscular effort (i.e. more strength, more speed, more impact, etc.).  All of these 'technical'  superiorities are to me, examples of techncial efficiency.  And as you see, they are the underliers of what makes technique work. If one thinks about it, at a technical level, "martial arts" is simply the organized study of how to break one body down (his)  using another (yours). So, the more you understand how YOUR body works, and how 'THE' body works generally, the more you understand how HIS body works.  Therefore, you can achieve greater efficiency in your action.  i.e. I see knoweldge of anatomy as an underlying and fundamental precursor to 'having technique'.  Certainly to 'having advanced technique'. 5)  Coupled with a baisc knowledge of physics, knowledge of anatomy assists in explaining 'how things work' to students, but more importantly WHY things work.  

Talassar's picture

There is some truth in the notion that you do not need a strong basis in anatomical knowledge to become proficient at a given martial art as, in my experience at least, the basic methods have been developed over centuries to account for this anyway. However I pose to you one simple question in return: When is more knowledge ever a bad thing?

I know some people will say that if you try to take on more then you may end up over thinking things but consider kata and kihon. Both are designed to get your body moving in a certain way so that your muscles are used to the movements and then when you need to employ those movements they will come that little bit easier. I apply the same thinking to my knowledge of anatomy: when practising I consider where a particular strike should be landing and why, then when I need to call upon these methods I instinctively respond in that way. 

To make a comparison, when practising guitar I think carefully about the position of my left hand on the neck of the guitar. My fingers can only stretch so far and can only bend in certain ways so it is important that it is placed correctly. When I'm gigging that practise comes into it's own; I can improvise riffs without having to think about positioning because my practise has made it instinct.

So, do you need an in depth understanding of anatomy? No. Do you want an in depth knowledge of anatomy? Yes. How important is it? That depends on how seriously you take your martial arts!

shoshinkanuk's picture

IMO nothing more than a basic working knowledge, gained from decent contact training is really needed to be effective in the application of martial arts in self defence.

Of course if someone looks deeper there are benefits in more advance studies.

Pen and the sword and all that I guess.