It's Gotta be the Hips

Fall of Titan

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Hi there,

First, a quick intro. I loved JCVD movies as a kid, and eventually convinced my parents to enroll me in classes. I trained in TKD around age 12 up to blue belt. In my late 20s I trained in Shotokan through the park district. Then I took a few months of boxing. Fast forward many years... During the pandemic I watched too many old martial arts movies and went into mid-life crisis mode. So what did I do? I enrolled in TKD at the ripe old age of 41. I'm 43 now.

A challenge I'm having is that I have no idea how to use my hips/waist to generate power. I'm constantly being told to do so during poomsae and whatnot, but I can't figure out how. And it's not a new problem. It was the same thing in boxing, and it was the same thing in sports we played during gym in grade school. I even went golfing once for work and couldn't put any real power into my swings.

I've watched various YouTube videos and even looked up the drum technique from Karate Kid 2. My instructor said that the power comes from the waist/hips/core and that the arms/hands are just a vessel. I get rotational force on a theoretical level, but don't understand how to actually apply it to create a thrust or whiplash motion. I was hoping eventually it would just "click" and I'd have it figured out, but not so. If I haven't figured it out by age 43, I'm not sure I ever will.

As a side note, I lift weights 3 days/week and work my hip adductors/abductors. I also do planks daily and hip flexor stretches regularly.

So, my request for help is -- what exercises/drills can I do at home to finally generate power in my moves from my hips/waist/core?

Thanks for any help.
 
The video I posted here might help as a starting point.

If you've already seen those concepts and understand them intellectually but can't get them to physically work for you, then it's probably more of a kinesthetic awareness issue making it hard for you to coordinate your muscle groups and activate them in the right sequence. If you can post video of yourself throwing a punch, we might be able to offer some feedback and I can probably put together a video showing some exercises to address whatever problems you are having.
 
Along with medicine ball, explosive push ups, burpees, etc
This might help
 
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The video I posted here might help as a starting point.

If you've already seen those concepts and understand them intellectually but can't get them to physically work for you, then it's probably more of a kinesthetic awareness issue making it hard for you to coordinate your muscle groups and activate them in the right sequence. If you can post video of yourself throwing a punch, we might be able to offer some feedback and I can probably put together a video showing some exercises to address whatever problems you are having.
I agree. Not to say his teacher is wrong but it's possible that the Op is using the hips to generate power but it may not look like it. Some have that exaggerated look of the hips generating power, while others don't

I can generate power using my hips but it doesn't look like the butt shake that I've seen in some systems. Boxers use their hips and they never look like that. I'm interested in seeing what the case is for the OP.
 
I know you can do this exercise with Shotokan Kata... as I do it with those kata. I assume that you can do the same with TKD forms as well...

Start with a simple kata first. Do it slowly, but when you punch, punch hard. When you are executing the punch, notice what it makes your body do. When I punch hard, from my shoulders (like most people do), it causes my upper body to turn with the punch. That turn, then pulls my hip forward. The pulling of my hip forward, should change how my feet hold my center of gravity... my center shifts forwards. Yes, this is doing it wrong, because you are punching from the shoulder. But, if you notice all the things that it does to your body... it will tell you how to connect the punch to your feet. In this drill, the punch pulled the shoulder, which turned the body, which turned the hips, which moved your center. Now, reverse the order. Shift your center, turn your hips, turn your body, and throw the punch.

This is one of the things I really like about the kata... you can do it like a beginner.... but if you pay attention to what the beginner version does to your body as you do the techniques... it is showing you what you need to do to get to the next level. Beginner does the technique, which effects and moves his body. Next level, moves his body to do the techniques. Because Shotokan kata have the exaggerated stances, it becomes very clear what each move is doing to your body, if you take the time to notice.

Here is a very simple exercise to get started. Most people will do this as part of a warm up. Stand naturally with your left foot forward. Now, swing your right arm, from your hip to out in front, then over your head, behind you and back is a big circle. You are loosening up the shoulders. As you swing your arm in the circle harder, notice the effects on your body and hips. Try to see if you can transfer the power from the arm to the hip, to keep the circle going. When the arm is creating the power, it leads the hip and pulls the hip. Time it, and then have the hip lead the arm (fraction of a second difference here). Soon, you should be able to keep your arm swinging in the circle, with hip motion only. (think hula hoop....) Try this same method with the techniques in your kata or form.
 
Thanks for the videos and feedback. I will check them out and see if I can record myself later.
 
I'll talk about forms in this reply, and power generation in general in the next.

As @Tony Dismukes 's video says, there are many different ways of generating power in technique. In my experience with Taekwondo forms, there's usually only one or two that get highlighted. The answer to your problem in forms is most likely going to come from your instructor. It's going to be very different if your forms are sine wave forms (ITF TKD), vs. a few different ways in other styles.

In my experience with TKD forms, the "pop" of the uniform that signifies you are doing the technique strong is less about the hip, and more about the timing of the wrist rotation. For example, on a high block, twisting your forearm at the last second and sharply stopping both the upward push of the arm and the upward twist of the forearm at the same time is what creates that "pop". In a punch, twisting in the last few inches and stopping the punch and twist together creates the "pop".

What I recommend is for you to ask your instructor to show you specifically what it is you are doing wrong. There are a few ways they can do this.
  1. Record a video of you doing the forms, and show you where your hips are lagging.
  2. Imitate you doing a technique, and then do the technique correctly, so that you can see the difference.
  3. Help you physically through the movement (i.e. push on your lower back when your hip is supposed to move) so that you can feel what it is like to do the technique correctly.
  4. Come up with guided drills to help you better connect to what it is they are talking about.
A good instructor should be able to find alternative ways of giving feedback if what they're giving you doesn't work.
 
If you're getting criticized specifically about your application of the hip movements in both boxing and TKD, then it sounds like the problem is irrespective of how much strength you do or don't have. The problem is most likely with your timing, range of motion, or being tight or loose at the wrong time.

Timing is something you can really help by slowing down the technique, and paying attention to how connected you are with it. If you are moving your hips before the punch, then you are just doing an arm punch (the hip movement didn't add any energy to the punch). If you are moving your hips after you punch, then you're basically doing a stiff-arm instead of a punch.

Range of Motion is another.
  1. Look at your feet after you think you've turned your hips. If your foot is not aligned with the direction of power, then you're holding your hips back. Especially in the case of a cross, you want your foot to be facing forward.
  2. Look at your knee. If your knee is pointed to the side, go back to step 1. If your knee is pointed forward, is it relatively straight, or is it bent? If it's straight, then you're turning your hip, but you could add more by sinking your hip into the technique. Another good indicator is if your heel is flat or if it's pointing up. The higher the heel and deeper the knee bend, the more you have sunk your hip into the technique. Skip this step in forms where you are supposed to be in a front stance.
  3. Look at your shoulders. Are you: twisting your shoulder towards the target, square with your hips, or twisting away from the target? Twisting past your hips will add power and range. Twisting behind your hips will largely disconnect your punch from the lower body, and is bad. Being square with your hips is generally going to be the proper form in forms (but check with your school, first). You also want to be careful that you're not leaning forward, at least until you can figure out how to punch properly with good posture, and figure out when you would have benefited from leaning forward.
When to tighten, when to loosen: A general rule-of-thumb is that you should be loose during the acceleration of a technique, and then tighten up on impact. This goes back to timing. If you are tight the whole way through, then you lose range of motion. If you are loose on impact, then you are disconnected. Once you've checked your basic timing and range of motion, go back and make sure you're tensing up at the right times.

I have the same suggestion here as I did in my other comment, that your instructor should be able to use some of the following ideas to help you fix this problem:
  1. Record a video of you doing the forms, and show you where your hips are lagging.
  2. Imitate you doing a technique, and then do the technique correctly, so that you can see the difference.
  3. Help you physically through the movement (i.e. push on your lower back when your hip is supposed to move) so that you can feel what it is like to do the technique correctly.
  4. Come up with guided drills to help you better connect to what it is they are talking about.
 
I agree. Not to say his teacher is wrong but it's possible that the Op is using the hips to generate power but it may not look like it. Some have that exaggerated look of the hips generating power, while others don't

I can generate power using my hips but it doesn't look like the butt shake that I've seen in some systems. Boxers use their hips and they never look like that. I'm interested in seeing what the case is for the OP.

If the shoulders bunch up he is probably not using his hips.
 
Don't punch through the target like you are told. Punch on the target. But be a bit snappier. So power comes from initial acceleration.

Hopefully that will stop you pushing punches. And therefore throwing your bum backwards or shoulders forward or whatever you are doing.
 
Thanks @skribs for the detailed feedback. I like the suggestion about having my instructor imitate the incorrect movement and then show me the correct way.

I should clarify and state that I've been happy with the instruction and I'm not criticizing my instructor. I also forgot to mention that the feedback on lack of power has been around certain moves during poomsae, namely the outward block and knife-hand block in back stance. We practice Taeguk poomsae, and the school aligns with WTF/Kukkiwon.

Good point about loosening/tightening. I definitely need to work on that, as I'm generally a tense person. One thing my instructor often says is to go from slow to fast (i.e. speed up at the last second); relaxing my tense muscles should help with this.
 
Thanks @skribs for the detailed feedback. I like the suggestion about having my instructor imitate the incorrect movement and then show me the correct way.

I should clarify and state that I've been happy with the instruction and I'm not criticizing my instructor. I also forgot to mention that the feedback on lack of power has been around certain moves during poomsae, namely the outward block and knife-hand block in back stance. We practice Taeguk poomsae, and the school aligns with WTF/Kukkiwon.

Good point about loosening/tightening. I definitely need to work on that, as I'm generally a tense person. One thing my instructor often says is to go from slow to fast (i.e. speed up at the last second); relaxing my tense muscles should help with this.
Hmmm...in my experience, the hips play very little into power generation in the Kukkiwon forms. It's more of a twitch as you settle into your stance.


This is from the official KKW youtube series on the poomsae. In this video, the two steps I think might help you are ironically not the ones you're talking about. Look at the slow motion of the double punches (starting at 6:20) and the next step, the knife-hand strikes (starting at 6:55). I don't think they really cover the hip into the knife-hand block very well, but they do cover the hip into the punch after it. I think the two techniques I mentioned are the best showing.
 
@Tony Dismukes
I recorded myself performing Taeguk Yuk Jang. I figured it has enough different moves to gauge overall usage (or lack thereof) of hips/waist/core. Thanks.

 
@Tony Dismukes
I recorded myself performing Taeguk Yuk Jang. I figured it has enough different moves to gauge overall usage (or lack thereof) of hips/waist/core. Thanks.

From the angle in the video, it almost looks to me like you're arching your back. Your hips appear forward, your belly very forward, and your shoulders back.

If this is the case, I think that's where your problems are coming from. If you keep your shoulders back, then your shoulders are not benefiting from the legs or hips. In fact, any punches you do with your shoulders behind your center of mass, and you're more likely to push yourself back away from the opponent than you are to inflict any meaningful damage onto them.

I say "from the angle in the video" because we learned during COVID how deceiving self-shot videos can be in determining exact details of a form or technique. We might be able to help, but I think your Master will be best able to help.
 
@Tony Dismukes
I recorded myself performing Taeguk Yuk Jang. I figured it has enough different moves to gauge overall usage (or lack thereof) of hips/waist/core. Thanks.

This may be purely stylistic-I know not all styles agree with me on this, but there are two things I noticed. (maybe @skribs or @Dirty Dog can give a tkd perspective).

The first is that your shoulders are back during your punches. You don't want to hunch them, but they should be following your punch, almost as if they're being pulled. If you keep them back, you're losing half of your rotation.

The second is that I'm not seeing any leg/feet rotation in your punches. This is the one that maybe not everyone agrees, particularly with the feet, but you're not putting your lower half into the strikes, which costs you the other half of the rotation.

If you have 3 joints, and the joint above and below something are not moving, the middle joint can't move as well. In this analogy, your waist/core is the middle joint, so no matter what you do you'll have trouble moving it without fixing one (or both) of those issues.
 
Thanks for the feedback. Good point about putting my shoulders into the punches.

@skribs I do have anterior pelvic tilt, so I do daily exercises for that like bridge, plank, etc.

@Monkey Turned Wolf Yes, I've heard/read about punches starting from the ground up, so that's another thing I have to work on.
 
@Tony Dismukes
I recorded myself performing Taeguk Yuk Jang. I figured it has enough different moves to gauge overall usage (or lack thereof) of hips/waist/core. Thanks.

Cool, that's helpful.

I thought at first that your problem would likely be a matter of learning how to properly synchronize your hip and core rotation with your strikes. But it's much simpler than that. At the moment, you just aren't turning your hips at all.

Let's focus just on your reverse punches for now, because that's one of the simplest techniques to see and understand how hip rotation generates power. I think you have reverse punches at :13, :17, :19, :39, and :41 in the video. (I might have missed some because of the camera angle.) At each of those moments, watch your butt and your hips. They don't move at all. Not even a half inch. I think you might be getting a tiny bit of waist rotation on a couple of the punches.

I'm not a TKD practitioner, so I went and checked out some videos of Taeguk Yuk Jang to see what the standard expectations are. Everyone I watched was rotating their hips and for the most part they also had a little waist rotation as well. It's not an extreme movement, because the punch is coming from a front stance where your hips are already pointed most of the way forward, but it's definitely there.

How to get that hip rotation ... you see in the video how your rear leg is significantly bent in your front stance and your hip is facing slightly off to the side of the direction you are punching? (Imagine you were wearing jeans with a belt - your belt buckle would be facing about 20 degrees away from your target.) Straighten your rear leg and push off the ground with your rear foot to turn your hip forward so that your belt buckle would point directly at your opponent. If you want to add some waist rotation, activate your core to pull your non-punching hand back so that your shoulders rotate a little further than your hips and your shoulder on your punching side is just slightly ahead of the shoulder on your non-punching side.

Different instructors in different arts may have different opinions on whether they want you to add that waist rotation in your forms, but I do see that it in a number of the Taeguk Yuk Jang demos online. For example, check out the reverse punch at :43 in the video below. You can see her rear leg straightens to make her hips rotate forward and then her waist twists a little further so that her punching shoulder is a few inches ahead of her non-punching shoulder.


So your first step is to actually move your hips. Once you're doing that, you may need some additional exercises to get the coordination down to fully access the power. But you have to move the hips.
 
Straighten your rear leg and push off the ground with your rear foot to turn your hip forward so that your belt buckle would point directly at your opponent. If you want to add some waist rotation, activate your core to pull your non-punching hand back so that your shoulders rotate a little further than your hips and your shoulder on your punching side is just slightly ahead of the shoulder on your non-punching side.
It amazes me sometimes how concisely you can say what I've got in my head.
 
I'm not a TKD practitioner, so I went and checked out some videos of Taeguk Yuk Jang to see what the standard expectations are. Everyone I watched was rotating their hips and for the most part they also had a little waist rotation as well. It's not an extreme movement, because the punch is coming from a front stance where your hips are already pointed most of the way forward, but it's definitely there.
I really appreciate that you went and looked at how TKD does it, instead of just going based off of how you would do it based on your experience in different arts (even though you are quite experienced and an authority on the subject in general). This way, your feedback is more likely aligned with what his instructors want to see, which is what's going to help him best in doing the TKD forms.
 

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