Benefits of Martial Arts General Musings Scholarly Pursuits

Speed vs. Power? Speed IS Power!

Have you ever seen “tension” moves in a form? They’re often slow, and the martial artist’s body vibrates as they execute them.

Sempai Jasmine at a demonstration. (Credit: Bec Thomas Photography,
Sempai Jasmine doing a “slow” move in a Karate form. Whats the difference between “slow” and “tension” moves? Read on to find out!!!


Have you ever wondered why they’re there?

Yeah, me too. In fact, if you have a good reason** to be doing them that way, I’d like to hear it, because I’m having trouble coming up with one on my own.

**”Good reasons” (in my book) do not include, “We’ve always done it that way,” or, “That’s the way it was taught.”

Personally, I like to go back to good ol’ physics class to help inject a dose of logic and science into martial arts. Let’s get right down to business:

Kinetic Energy = 1/2 Mass x Velocity ^2

Or if you like:

Force = Mass x Acceleration

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Bear with me.

Basically, these formulas point out that speed and acceleration are crucial for generating power. On the flip side, if your moves are slow, they don’t generate power, according to physics.

If you accept that, then “tension” moves in form begin to make less and less sense.

“Slow” moves don’t generate power either.

However, they are are extremely useful. What’s the difference? Well, “slow” moves leave out tension. They aim for total relaxation of the muscles being used.

Relaxing until moment of impact is the number one way to increase your speed, and therefore your power. Relaxed muscle travels faster than tense muscle. Simply because you’re not fighting your own body to get to your destination.

So, what “slow” moves teach is actually relaxation, whereas tense moves teach the opposite. Tension moves start to seem kind of counterproductive, don’t they?

Number two way to achieve greater speed is the twisting that is built into many martial arts techniques. That twist at the end of your punch?

Without really getting into some yawn-inducing formulas, twisting causes a short burst of acceleration, much like that of a bullet. Twisting increases your speed by a lot over a short amount of time.

And your speed squared is what increases your power.

Think about it this way: a car that crashes into a wall at 90 mi/hr vs a car that crashes into a wall at 30 mi/hr. If that car is a punch, which hit would you rather take? Which would you rather deliver?

(Did you ever think you’d need to know physics to understand martial arts?)

2 replies on “Speed vs. Power? Speed IS Power!”

Speed is not power…yes, a car coming at you in high speeds will be deadly but I mean, speed alone wont create a powerful punch. George Foreman himself is enough evidence for that. He was a heavyweight boxer (and he was a slugger) he was slow but devastatingly powerful, so speed alone does NOT equel power. Speed is a factor of power though, and speed combined with strength and bodyweight will be powerful.

Thanks for the comment, William! I don’t think you’re wrong, bodyweight is certainly a part of the equation. In the back of my mind as I wrote, I had the following considerations:

1. Mathematically speaking, speed is the more important factor. Why? Because in the equation, it gets squared. Squaring the speed means that for a 2 mph increase in speed, the power increases by a factor of 4. For 3 mph, 9. For 4 mph, 16.

2. As an instructor, I have to consider all body types. I’m not training MMA fighters. I train traditional martial artists, and a lot of my students are women and youth. For them, chemically speaking, they have much less control over their bodyweight. Many of them wouldn’t want to change their weight/body composition. I also would consider myself an irresponsible instructor if I told them to do so. I will acknowledge that MMA is 100% a totally different game.

So anyway, for me, when I put those two considerations together, I come to the conclusion that because its more easily controlled and because there is a greater output for even a small gain, increasing speed is the most important thing my traditional martial arts students can do to gain power.

Certainly, I could have titled my article differently, but then we wouldn’t be having this discussion–and I’m always happy to receive comments, so thank you! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: