What is "power"?

This is about something that finally dawned on me which I'm sure all of you know already, which is: what do people mean by "power"?

I mean this specifically in the context of explaining a judo technique. Occasionally an instructor on YouTube, or in the dojo, will show how not to do a move because you'll "lose power". I always assumed "power" referred to some intangible energy, which vaguely bugged me because I like to understand judo in terms of tangible mechanics. But now I think I get it.

Consider a basic form of physical competition: arm wrestling. There's a right way to position the relevant body parts, and there are wrong ways. For example, if you bend your wrist back, your hand is at a terrible angle to apply force to the opponent's hand or to resist the force that he or she will apply. Don't bend your wrist back, or you'll lose power.

"Power" in judo technique is simply the same thing, multiplied by the larger number of body parts that need to work together against the larger number of body parts of your opponent.

What made this click for me was this paragraph from "The Difficult Way" about how to do tai-otoshi (emphasis added):

Because uke isn’t properly loaded onto the back as in Morote seoi nage and instead in a halfway house between tori’s hip and upper thigh and because tori’s hands have fallen behind their head. This is a very weak position and to then attempt to complete the throw requires a lot of power to be extracted from joints that aren’t in the correct position to provide power, the result is very weak and will result in injury when attempted on a resisting opponent.

You can see how similar language could be used for the arm-wrestling example.

Sometimes "power" is not only about positioning but about the speed of your movements. In this master class, Hiroshi Katanishi demonstrates how an effective foot sweep doesn't strike the opponent's foot but rather accelerates it. Skip to the 10:00 mark or click here to go there directly.

The whole video is excellent, as are all of Sensei Katanishi's videos.

In summary:

  • To apply a judo technique is to apply force in one or more directions to one or more parts of your opponent's body.
  • "Power" is the degree to which your positioning and speed are optimized to deliver the force you need to deliver.

Again, this was probably obvious to you, especially if you've done other sports. The same principles apply to throwing a fastball or pulling an oar. I've just been dense about it for some reason.

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