Snap of a Sleeve: Training for Martial Speed

training for martial speedWhen he was covering sports and at the top of his form, Hemingway wrote about things like the squeak of the boxer’s shoes as they rotated on the canvas. Just a poignant little detail like something Roger Angell might use in a baseball piece.

The martial arts is loaded with such details. Some are so distinguished that they are hard to forget. The snap of your sleeve–just as you lock out a punch–is just such a one. It’s a sound that becomes associated with generating a little power but–more important/essential–is its wider halo of hints about how stiff your back leg is,  if you’ve fully retracted the other hand, if your pelvis is pushed forward, if you’ve kept your spine lengthened, and more. So much told with a single action, a single snap.

I saw a movie where an older Clint Eastwood plays a baseball scout with failing eyes yet, when on the bench can analyze the potential of a rookie by the sound of his bat swinging. This, to me, resembles a typical day’s teaching.

Training for Martial Speed

training for martial speedIn some systems it doesn’t take long for the snap of the sleeve to spread throughout the body with checking hands, double slapping, and enough different methods that someone might think you are playing spoons. I remember from my early Kenpo training that people would criticize the style as “slap happy.” And in many cases they were right. 

The snap kick (also known, less politely, as the ball kick) is hinged and fast and has just the right angles to produce an authoritative snap early on in your career, and before you even deserve it.

training for martial speedSuch slapping practice can give the student a sense of rhythm and sequence. It also demonstrates a certain unique aspect to a style. The sound of a line performing Pigua strikes is almost distinctive enough for you to turn your head away and still recognize the style.

When you are young and starting your training for martial speed, the snap seems like a coach. This is not bag punching training. This is standing before a wall and measuring your arm length  about one inch shy of hitting it, all in a nice solid horse stance,  then firing away with punch after punch like a cap pistol, never quite hitting the wall (a pretty easy rule to follow if it is a brick wall). Punch after punch slowly builds into torso and body movement and even counter-motion with the hips increasing short range power.

You may not find this power immediately, so there is one tried and true way to insure the volume of those snaps; convince some family member to use a lot more starch when washing your uniform. Then you will produce thunderous sounds, even when you’re just walking around!

What Snapping Signifies

For some people, snapping never ceases to signify power. On the other hand there are those un-forgiveables who fake the power by pulling back from the strike at the last instant instead of finishing the thrust and, outrageously, consciously trembling their hands to imitate the residue of real power.

training for martial speedThe point here is that while breaking your first board is not really a monumental feat of skill it is, nonetheless, a demarcation, a landmark. The concentration and faith in a new student summoning up the courage to throw that chopping hand can be a real test. The snap of a sleeve can also remind us of  hours spent mastering skills which, admittedly, are not important for their audible effect but significant for their demonstration of  focus, zooming attention, breath, tension and accuracy. It might not be what many people call qi, but it’s pretty darn close.

There is a river of sounds in any good martial studio. It may be the clacking of a short staff, the muffled thump of a thrown body landing, the rhythm of a bag receiving punches, the tapety-tap of the wooden dummy and the dead meat sound of someone hitting the Iron Palm bag. And, probably the most important of all, is the buzz of conversation after class where the students talk tired but talk excited, too. Now that sounds right.

One Response to “Snap of a Sleeve: Training for Martial Speed”

  1. Jeff says:

    When I first began kobudo training, I didn’t understand how my instructor consistently made that sound. I couldn’t see the source of it. His sleeves were rolled-up to mid arm. Yet every strike and thrust ended with a clear pop even when he wasn’t using full power.

    Somewhere along the line, I stopped thinking about it.

    Now, six years later, I recently noticed that I’m doing it. And you’re correct, it is a fine sound.

    Not so much for those who slap their sleeves.

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