My question is in regard to “snap.” My instructor explains that hip snap is very important, but I find this hard to achieve especially when executing any kind of a block in a front stance (I do somewhat better in a back stance.) I also have fairly poor snap on my punches and probably on my kicks. I almost never hear my uniform snap. My instructor thinks my main problem is that my upper body musculature is tense/tight and that I cannot rotate freely or quickly because of this. I keep trying to loosen up in the upper body, but apparently have not been very successful. I have also concentrated on my reaction force, but this is still not bringing out the "snap." Any tips would be appreciated.
Babies breathe naturally using their diaphragms. As they age, at some point they start breathing unnaturally using their chest muscles. After years of breathing in this inefficient manner, it is difficult to train students to breathe properly. When learning to punch and kick properly, Taekwondo students experience the same problem; they have done punched and kicked incorrectly for so long it is difficult for them to learn the natural, proper way.
When students first learn to punch, they use their arm muscles and lean or reach with their shoulders; therefore, their power comes from whatever energy they are able to generate with their arm and shoulder muscles, and the mass of their arm. To generate maximum power in a punch or kick, one should sequentially apply power to the technique using all the muscle from the soles of the base foot or feet to the point of impact, and, at moment of impact, apply as much mass as possible to the point of impact. Learning to apply muscle power sequentially is usually not much of a problem for students, but learning to apply mass, using hip snap, tends to take longer to master.
The audible snap of a technique comes from acceleration of the fabric of the uniform at the end of the sleeve or pant leg. No person can accelerate his or her arm or leg fast enough forward to achieve this snapping sound. To achieve a snapping sound, one must retract the technique as quickly as it was extended, just as when a person snaps a whip or a towel. The snap itself is useless; it only provides feedback to the user that the required quickness has been achieved. To make a snapping technique useful, mass must be applied behind the technique. When a snapping towel hits you on the chest, it stings; when a snapping punch hits you on the chest, it breaks ribs.
To apply mass to a technique without leaning or reaching, which causes instability, we must snap body mass into the technique using the hips. To illustrate this motion, stand in front of a target pad or bag and hit it with hook punches. Now, from your guard position, raise your elbows upward to the sides so the fists are in front of the face with the forearms parallel to the floor. With the arms locked and upper body locked in this position, hit the target with hook punches without using the arms or shoulders; only use a rotating snapping motion of the hips. With a little practice, you will find you can strike just as quickly and powerfully this way as you did using your arms. Now, if you combine the hip snap with the motion of the arm and shoulder muscles, you can strike with maximum power.
To illustrate the hip snap (or in this case the hip roll) with a kick, extend the leg in a side kick position and hold the heel against the target. This is the point of impact for beginning students. With the leg still extended, roll the kicking hip over and downward, snapping the body mass into the kick. With what seemed to be a fully extended kick, you will achieve even more extension and more striking force.
Most people do not use their hips. They have to be taught to lift using the legs (and hips) rather than using their backs. When they take a step, the hip and leg move at the same time, which means their mass moves with and at the same speed as the foot, which means they fall if the foot slips, and they have no power in the step. When stepping, if the hip trails (lags) the foot, the mass is not committed, so, if the foot slips, you may still maintain your stability. This way of moving is used in Judo. If you commit your mass into a step and the opponent sweeps the foot, you fall. If the hip and mass lag the foot, if the foot is swept, nothing happens. Since people have not used their hips properly for years, it takes awhile to unlearn the improper way and learn the proper way to move their hips.
To learn hip snap, do not think about cocking (moving the hip backward) before executing a technique (this takes time and telegraphs the attack). Instead, let the hip lag the punch or kick, and then let it snap forward to catch up with the attack at moment of impact.
To use the hips properly in a punch or kick, the hips must move freely and smoothly in the eight directions (North, NE, East, SE, South, SW, West, and NW), they must rotate smoothly on the vertical axis, and they must swing freely around the vertical axis. This means the lower abdomen, hips, and upper thighs must be relaxed and move easily. For some, this free movement is natural; for others, it is awkward, but, as with everything else, it may be learned with practice.
Dancers use their hips. Dancers who have stiff hips look like klutzes. If you are not a dancer, turn on some music that makes you want to move and dance (probably out of sight of others), concentrating on hip movements. All types of stretching are useful. All types of abdominal exercises are useful. Find a yoga book or web site and practice the poses that concentrate on the hips. Learn to relax the entire body when sparring. Most students stand relatively motionless, with clinched fists, and concentrating on the opponent. Learn to move freely with every muscle loose in flowing motions, unclench the fists, and, instead of concentrating on the opponent, learn to be aware of the opponent while flowing with the movements of the situation. Do not be a tree standing firm in the forest against the wind, be a leaf that moves with the motion of the forest as it moves with the wind. If you watch true martial artists (actual rank may or may not reflect this), they are relaxed and fight effortlessly. A new driver grips the steering wheel and looks tense and nervous, while an experienced driver drives relaxed, with little thought or effort. With experience, martial artists perform in the same manner.
When sparring or training in class, do not worry about scoring or looking good, instead, concentrate on performing perfect techniques with hip snap and focus. You may look silly at first, but as you learn to move to move properly, your techniques and power will dramatically improve and you will look better than the rest of your fellow students. Do not spend much time practicing what you can do, instead, spend most of your time learning and practicing what you cannot do. If you do right leg kicks much quicker and stronger than left leg kicks, do not practice right leg kicks, practice left leg kicks.
Practice long and hard in performing techniques properly, without concern for how you look to others, and, even though to yourself you will seem to be just doing what you always do, you will find that others begin to refer to you as the best martial artist in the class.
Stay relaxed, perform techniques perfectly with proper stances and posture, use hips snap and focus for power, and practice long and hard, and you will become a true martial artist.