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Martial Arts – Unnatural Movements?

Written by Pete. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

  1. For many people learning a martial art, involves someone teaching them to learn unnatural movements is this a contradiction.

I still think that its not a contradiction that we get taught unnatural movements when we get taught martial arts.

My first point is because if we were to be taught by what is natural to us it would mean we would just be repeating what we already know and what feels comfortable to us only ever concentrating on area’s of strength this would ultimately lead us to have massive gaps in our knowledge and skill leaving us vulnerable in the weaker area’s that would become more pronounced as time progressed we have to work on those weak area’s which feel unnatural to us in order to build that foundation block on which to base all are martial art movements, as without that all the time and practice in the world will not make our moves effective for martial art purposes

My second point is every person who comes into the dojo will have different inefficient natural movements, ways of moving and doing things which they have picked up at some point through their lifes, a few examples of negative natural movement for martial art purposes would be someone who when walking: bobs up and down/narrow gap between feet/slouched posture/chest puffed out/head down or up/dragging of feet/ leaning forward or backward etc these are a couple of the natural movements which we might expect people to do when they start their martial arts they must now try to unlearn them when training in order to make their martial art movements more effective, if anyone struggles with these or anything similar tai chi is a great way at looking into depth on this subject as body positioning and a stable balance are the top priority’s.

My example of natural movements is from gymnastics as I have been doing it for 19 years now and it still gets in the way of my progress in the martial arts because what is deemed effective and stylish in gymnastics is not the case in the martial arts so I have had to try and change things like getting rid of excessive tension in most of of my movements and moves like the back knife hand strike where I stretch my fingers and arm ready for a backhand strike currently changing this to be more efficient for martial art purposes I should try curving the structure of the hand into a stronger position for impact purposes this will benefit by reducing injury potential to my hand/fingers, to change this I need to start back at the Cognitive stage of learning and work my repetitions up and down the dojo trying to do maximum repetitions when doing basics or kata in training this ultimately will help me unlearn the ineffective movement and learn the effective one.

Are ultimate goal is to learn effective natural movement in the martial arts but first we have to learn effective movement (natural comes later) this is done through are basics and forms/kata’s and to begin with this feels unnatural, but become less so as we work through the Associative/Autonomous stages of learning.

Also people may just want to do what feels natural to them as this they feel is more effective for the situation unaware of the many flaws with the technique which could be used against them, most of the time especially to begin with it will be something to do with feet position or posture. One of the answers to this is yes relearning the technique the correct way will probably be less effective for you to start with (due to not being able to do things perfectly first go) but with good practice and time relearning the technique in a more effective way will be worth the time and effort. Especially if it is a skill you would consider using in a self defense situation where an effective move(s) are crucial for a positive outcome of the situation.

From what I have learned throughout this project I believe this system describes best are pathway from unnatural movement- natural movement in the martial arts.

1) Cognitive Movements are slow, inconsistent, and inefficient Large parts of the movement are controlled consciously

2) Associative Movements are more fluid, reliable, and becoming more efficient Some parts of the movement are controlled consciously, some automatically

3) Autonomous Movements are accurate, consistent, and efficient Movement is largely controlled automatically

Care must be taken especially in the cognitive-associative stages of learning because practice makes permanent not perfect, if you want to work towards making a move more effective practice making a positive change to the movement every time you train and don’t forget the positive changes you’ve already made in the past, if you practice something and have not listened and kept reminding yourself of the key points you are likely to end up performing moves that are full of flaws and bad habits leaving techniques performed either bad for your joints/off target/less powerful than you are capable, this is likely to be because of energy lost some where through the movement due to

1)neglecting using certain muscle’s groups in the chain reaction from toe to fist in a punch.(not using all the energy available)

2)poor posture-positioning (causes energy to disperse in different directions)

3)excessive tension (stopping much of the energy reaching its intended location, causes similar situation of trying to drive with the hand brake on)

These are 3 classic things to consider in the chain reaction of muscle movement from toe to fist in a punch.

Natural movement at a higher level

The high level grades will generally have good basics without having to think about it they would have got rid or made improvement to many of their inefficient ways of moving in there martial art training and learned many efficient principles and techniques which they can say they feel they have grasped and it feels natural to them) however when this stage has been reached they start to add different principles to there strikes including

power sourcing: Heavy punching by pushing through the back heel, light on the toes for quick snappy type techniques/use of hips or waist/shrug of the shoulder/Exhale of breath on impact etc.

Use of internal muscles for example in a punch not holding too much tension especially around the joints as energy must travel up the muscular system from the toes to the fist with excellent timing and coordination, higher grades look at this in deeper detail it may not look a lot different but when these principles have been mastered and applied its not much fun standing in the way of them,

Like an iceberg its deceptive it may not look dangerous from the surface but the dangerous bits underneath where you can’t easily see especially if you haven’t been trained to spot the tail-tail signs, coaches have to learn to spot such small movements it seems almost impossible for me at the moment to grasp how its done to the level of detail we see from our sensei and many other sensei’s around the country.

Obviously these things are not all trained at once that would be impossible to grasp instead they are looked at individually, once a student has good natural movement in a technique, all they need to consciously controlled is the new principle this is a new Cognitive Movement which is hard to grasp at first however with good practice and repetition the new movement/ principle is added to the natural movement of the student making their technique that bit more efficient than it was before, the student would continue down this path of adding more and more effective movements/principles together to produce a way of moving and doing martial art movements with ease and precision. Making them a deceptively dangerous opponent.

Perfection of natural movement in the martial art is something we should visualise and continue to work towards getting as close as possible when practising but is ultimately not something we will ever reach as there are always ways to improve, generally these things start big with the basics and move on to smaller and smaller things to change in the way we move our body to deliver a skill.


What can we learn from Animals being hunted?

Written by Pete. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

3rd report by Peter Syckelmoore

What can we learn from studying animals hunting/being hunted?

Animals Hunting


Animals have come up with hundreds of successful efficient hunting strategies in order to catch their prey, many predators will rely on outrunning, outweighing or out-muscling their prey but there are many ways other than size or speed to get a successful catch. After all, dinner tastes just as good whether you’ve tricked it, tased it, punched it, paralysed it‚ or just spit at it hard enough to knock it over.


Here are a few examples of strange but effective hunting strategies some species have come up with


Archer fish:

To knock insects on low-hanging leaves into the water, the archer fish shoots them with a precisely aimed fountain of spit, then swims over to retrieve the new meal.


Grabs a mountain goat by the leg and pulls it off the cliff to its death

Mantis Shrimp:

Wielding the fastest punch in the animal kingdom‚ its clubbed arms reach speeds of 50 mph‚ the mantis shrimp maims its prey with only a few blows.

Tentacled Water Snake

Fish reflexively turn and swim in the opposite direction when they sense a disturbance in the water. The tentacled water snake positions itself with its tail on one side of a fish and its head on the other. When the snake flicks its tail, the fish swims straight into its mouth.

Trap-Door Spider: 

The trap-door spider hides in a tunnel behind a camouflaged door of twigs and leaves. When an unsuspecting insect walks nearby, the spider reaches out and pulls it into the tunnel to eat.

Killer Whale: 

After driving a shark towards the surface, killer whales stun it with a swift smack. Since sharks enter a state of paralysis when upside down, the whales grab the shark and flip it over, turning a deadly enemy into an easy dinner.


When an enemy is within range, the crane will slap with its wings and stomp with its feet, thereby creating openings for impeccably timed beak strikes. Its long, flexible neck enhances its attacks.


The animal coils its body for speed and power, then strikes without hesitation or fear. It’s a relentless hunter that uses every muscle to push, slide, penetrate, wrap and eventually control its prey


A ferocious meat eater with strong bones and muscles, the tiger is physically gifted for combat. It boasts thick legs, huge paws with sharp claws, and an enormous head with razor-sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Its sturdy mid-section, back and neck help it generate maximum ripping and tearing energy. It hunts with great stealth, instinctively using ninja-type tactics to hit its prey from behind. The tiger’s speed comes from relaxed muscles; the more relaxed they are, the more quickly and silently it can move. Filled with pure power, its thunderous roar induces shock and fear in its enemies.


Other examples can be viewed on you tube under Amazing animal’s moments! Best animal’s moments! The best animal fights! (Part 3) Animals vs. Animals

I especially like this video as its shows a wide variety of hunting strategies with successful and failed attempts (you can see the margin for error is very small between success and failure) many of the strategies shown are similar to one another but with different outcomes due to timing of attacks/ aim of the attack on the preys vulnerable spots, using the environment (drowning prey, knocking running prey into water, taking advantage of distractions e.g. Prey fighting each other), ambushing prey which are fleeing or passing by, getting lucky because the prey makes a mistake e.g. Trips over something, loses balance, fighting multiple opponents, using teamwork to overwhelm larger prey.

The failures we see are a female lion getting too close to the running zebra who bucks the lion in the face. Lesson for the lion, watch your distance from the opponent be aware of any possible dangers prey could inflict at any time, to avoid this incident the lion should run to the side out of line of the zebras back legs, from here it is safer for the lion as it can sweep/claw at the legs with its paws or run alongside the zebra and try get its teeth into the zebras neck bringing the hunt to a quick end.

Another example includes a young Lion getting pushed along the ground by antelope as it made the mistake of not avoiding its horns. This lion looked quite a young hunter I’m guessing it made a big mistake in its attack and its prey took full advantage to counter attack and make its escape, hopefully the lion will realise where it went wrong and not repeat its error or it will soon starve to death.

The behaviour of the antelope here is a very interesting one as it simulates a self-defence situation and shows how we as martial artists would use our skill and training, not to be a predator but to be able to fight off predator’s if the need arises making them regret there foolish attempt followed by a swift escape.

What the Prey has to do well in order to avoid becoming dinner


1) Detect presence of predator:


By sight/fresh scent/sounds/feeling vibrations

2) Avoiding Predators:

Assess situation and plan response to avoid detection, being silent seeking refuge, camouflage self, the prey try to avoid encountering the predators in the first place by avoiding known habitats occupied by predators and by being active at different times in the day to the predators. some examples include decorator crabs they can attach external objects including plant matter or stones, to their bodies to allow them to better match their background, Behavioral postures and movement can also allow animals to disguise themselves; chameleons and walking stick insects mimic the motion of plants in the wind to avoid detection, and the mimic octopus takes on the shape of dangerous or unpalatable animals to deter predators. Animals can also camouflage their scent cues. Squirrels do this by chewing up shed rattlesnake skin and spread it on their fur, thereby masking their scent and identity as potential prey”.


3) Surviving an encounter:

If the above has failed the prey has to make a decision whether to take flight, use deception by intimidating using scare tactics or fight back to deter predator from attempting to kill and eat them or most likely to create an opening to be able to escape.


4) Choose the correct response:

Prey can work out successful responses to specific predators by understanding there tactics, motives and behaviours (predators however do the same thing working out the preys tactics and behaviours so both prey and predators have a tough time outwitting the other). The prey also need to judge the potential risk to themselves and decide an action plan, the risk maybe very minimal and not even need time and energy being wasted which could be put towards finding food or mates.


The above can become useful and be put into context for humans as there are nasty people out there, being prepared to act with an effective plan of action to detect them/avoid/survive encounters could be crucial for us to avoid or minimise dangerous situations before or as they arise. The context of potential threat comes into play too as running away or avoiding every possible potential threat is no way of living and would lead to a very boring lifestyle and lead to many unfulfilment’s in life.


Predators should be cautious the hunters can turn into the hunted one wrong move could be their last


Crocodile attempts to eat an anaconda snake, the snake is killed but the crocodile dies soon after as it’s unable to escape the snake which has coiled around it. Lesson avoid dangerous situations, assess each situation before you plan a response and don’t get involved especially if the risk for danger is high or you’re not adequately prepared for the task.


The hunters start their training from a very young age through play and learn through trial and error a kitten’s, for example, mother will often (if given the opportunity) bring an injured mouse for the kittens to practice their fundamental hunting skills, letting it go and re-catching it, effective holds to immobilise prey, effective areas to claw/bite to weaken, tire, maim and eventually kill,  this often goes on for over an hour with a single mouse cruel but fundamental for the kitten to practice its skills as a hunter as it will become a lot harder to catch and kill fully fit prey so it must know what its dong, they will also watch their mother stalk and hunt, which they then copy and practice for themselves, to begin with this nearly always ends up with failure not even getting anywhere near the prey before it spots the danger and flees however with practice they improve and learn to hunt more realistically choosing types of prey within their ability to catch and kill.


All species have different strength and ability’s which make these hunting methods work for them, any hunting strategy no matter how effective will not work 100% of the time as the prey also has methods of their own to escape.
We can use this method of using any means necessary to accomplish our goals, as long as there’s no major side effects e.g. damage to our joints, leaving ourselves vulnerable, breaking the law/breaking the rules in competition etc.


There are things out of the ordinary we see at competition which give the individual the upper hand in the fight, e.g. Bryan’s scare tactics leaving the victim wanting to either defend/flee or freeze and get whacked. Marks Nevola’s throwing the Gyaku Zuki as soon as the match begins, many opponents are not ready to defend quickly enough at this time. In a pro MMA cage fight a fighter uses the cage as a wall to run across before delivering a knock out roundhouse kick to his opponent risky but practiced enough by the individual to make it consistent and effective enough to use in a competition.


Everybody has different strength’s we as martial artist have to experiment and find those strength’s and work on training and improving the techniques which work best for us, it’s also handy to have a few tricks under our belt (as above) to give us the edge in a tight situation, most of the time however it is our fundamental skills which must be correct in order to fight effectively feet/posture/mindset/ power sourcing, as without these none of our actions will work as well as they should and will give the opponent easy opportunities to turn our mistake against us.


From analyzing hunters and the hunted I have learned that animals do many of the things we strive to learn and work towards in our martial art training and that we too could get to a similar level of skill if we did martial arts every day of our life’s and our life’s depended on it as is the case for wild animals who have to either fight for every meal or fight to avoid being eaten on a daily basis, having this mental approach of a hunter I feel would motivate us to train to the best of our ability’s and helping us to train with controlled aggression  /unpredictability (being relaxed springing quickly into moves) /focus (being smart conserving energy making moves effective/using strategy choosing the right response for the situation and finally just remember be positive belief in yourself this is the first step to success.


5 Animals

Written by Pete. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

kung fu, 5 animals, basingstoke kung fu, kung fu kids, kungfu, gung fu, wu shu, Second report By Peter Syckelmoore

Many systems of martial arts base their movements on animals (preying mantis, monkey, crane, snake etc) Why do they do this?

In nature all living things have evolved to adapt to their dangerous environments to survive and have naturally developed efficient ways to defend themselves, feed and reproduce (each animal has weird and wonderful successful methods which have helped their species to survive millions/billions of years.)


From what is said here we know these animal attacks are effective so why not copy their movements rather than trying to make up something new from scratch? That is what has been done and many martial artists have dedicated there life’s to copying the behaviours/ attacks/ defences and hunting strategies off animals and using them to develop their skills in the martial arts for themselves and others, the most famous and well known is the

History and facts about Shaolin 5 Animal Fists. 

references from Eric Lee black belt magazines

The concepts of the five animals is thought to have originated early in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) at Shaolin Temple, located on Song mountain in China’s Henan province

“The animals of Shaolin made a huge impact on the development of kung fu and are still doing so today. That’s because the animals, like nature, offer the same insights today as they did centuries ago.

“In the beginning, the old masters studied the animals and adopted many of their habits. Those habits included how they rested, how they gathered and released their chi (internal energy), how they stalked their prey and how they fought. The five animals were chosen for their superior attributes for fighting and defence and for other mannerisms that contribute positively to human life.”

Practicing Kung Fu with the attitude of one of the five animals can help you see things more clearly, “You’ll be more aware, and you’ll be more in balance internally and externally. The animals help you express yourself wholeheartedly in any direction. They’ll help you know what it’s like to be anything you want to be. If you let nature be your teacher, good things happen.”


The techniques of the five animal styles are briefly:

Dragon:  “Dragon fist trains the spirit.”

strong, smart, deceptive, unpredictable; includes traits of the other four Shaolin animals; considered one of the two most powerful animals in Chinese astrology and the sign of the emperor

uses quick, snapping kicks that hit with the blade of the foot; uses the full fist and the forearms to strike; may combine physical techniques of the other Shaolin animals

any body part that can be grabbed; the head, which is simultaneously grabbed and struck

relaxed muscles, ability to switch from soft movements to hard movements

drills to build explosive power

dragon-tail kick, which is used to hit or sweep; dragon claw “If you try to grab a basketball, your hand will form a shape much like a dragon claw. “It protects treasure, defends against famine and floods, and is filled with ancient wisdom and folklore.


Tiger:  “Tiger strengthens the bones.”

strength, agility; considered one of the two most powerful animals in Chinese astrology

tends to charge the opponent and attack directly with brute force, uses circular arm movements to overwhelm the enemy, relies on the arms but occasionally uses low kicks

any part of the body, especially those that react to tearing techniques

relaxed muscles, speed, solid build, ability to adopt a strong stance and quickly change to another stance

push-ups, sit-ups, calisthenics, sparring,  development exercises

tiger claw, an open-hand grabbing and striking weapon formed by spreading the thumb and fingers, then bending them slightly “like holding a baseball.”

“It offers the power to shake the earth and to be the authoritative king of its lair.

Crane:  “The spirit of the crane resides within the stillness.”

evasive, rarely offense-oriented, subtle, graceful

keeps the opponent at a distance and capitalizes on the length of the arms and legs, tends to strike with the very end of the natural weapons, attempts to overwhelm the enemy with rapid hand strikes, evades using circular movements

soft areas such as the eyes, throat, ears and heart; sides of the head; ribs

tall, long reach, ability to remain still for extended periods, good balance, concentration, minimal strength

mobility-enhancing drills to develop the ability to maintain distance between oneself and the opponent, speed training, quick retraction of natural weapons, chi-development exercises

crane beak, formed by bunching the thumb, index finger and middle finger together to strike with the fingertips

“It dances with accuracy and control, and offers weightlessness to rise above crises.


Leopard:  “Bend fingers hard, like iron.”

strong, efficient, fast, technical, defined by accuracy, capable of stealth attacks

strikes quickly to inflict pain, then follows up for the kill

soft-tissue regions and other vital areas, including the ears, neck, armpits, temples and groin

relaxed muscles, supple strength, ability to quickly retract the arms and legs after a strike

striking drills that develop accuracy and precision

leopard paw, a half-fist that strikes with the second knuckles of the four fingers. It’s a rigid weapon that makes contact with a small, penetrating surface.

“It’s nature’s master of precision and prowess—sharp, efficient and lightning fast.


Snake: “Hard like steel and soft like a rope of silk.”

deceptive, agile, fast, accurate

relies on awareness, employs coiling motions and hisses to intimidate, uses whipping toe kicks to the lower half of the opponent’s body, utilizes simultaneous striking and locking techniques,   avoids using the traditional fist

vital parts of the body, especially the eyes, face and throat

thin build, quick muscles

drills to increase explosiveness, which enables one to take the opponent by surprise; exercises that enhance balance and accuracy

snake hand, which uses one or two fingers—or, in the case of the spearhand, all of them—to attack and defend

“It has extreme chi power, which helps activate profound sensitivity and enables all the muscles towork as one.


  1. From looking at the explanations of the 5 animals here we can start to pick  out personality’s and attributes of the animal style which best describes ourselves and our current fighting style.
  2. It can become a habit in our martial art training to only train to our strengths e.g. working only 1 of the animal style‘s, throughout our martial arts career our fighting style should undergo adaptations and changes working on different styles to make you a more complete fighter, instead of lacking in any areas. All in all “mix them all in and take something from everything“. 
  3. By practising different styles it gives us a motivating goal to work towards it is also quite clear what it is you are trying to achieve from the start helping the martial artist to be focused and be in the right frame the mind in training, for example snake: working on how to avoid a situation as it develops rather than when it is already there, quick poisonous strikes to vital areas and complex ‘Hold and Control’ submission techniques, but most importantly I think is that it puts you in the frame of mind of a natural hunter meaning you are committed 100% to every movement and have good visualisation on what your aiming to achieve.
  4. There is so much to learn in martial arts it sometimes gets very confusing and things can start to get muddled up, by having the different styles as is here we break down our training into more manageable slots which helps us to stay focused in what we are aiming to achieve ultimately speeding up our progression into mastering the styles before moving onto the next subject.
  5. By becoming familiar and understanding the different styles you will start to become better prepared to assess an opponents likely fighting style, from this you are better prepared to pick out their weaknesses and use techniques which are effective against them. If the opponent is bigger and stronger the techniques learned from the tiger style in training are most likely not going to work as effectively strength on strength) against them as techniques from the other styles. Helps you become adaptive in order to prevail against different opposition. 


Using the five animals I will now use myself as an example on how I could use these styles to best describe myself and find what I believe to be my points of strength and weaknesses within the styles ultimately to help find out where I currently stand and how I can progress forward within the martial arts. I will also write something I would like to work on from each style and say how I could integrate this into my training.

(I found describing myself difficult as I have described how things feel for me when performing martial arts however this could possibly be completely different to what it looks like or is actually happening so if anyone thinks differently to what I have written please comment as this will be a big help)

This is the order I think best describes me and my fighting style (1=strongest 5=weakest)


Crane::  I personally think that the Crane style best describes me due to preferring to work at a distance from the opponent and at angles off-line from his attacks and requiring great flexibility for its attacking and evasion techniques. The Crane has excellent balance and is very good at disturbing the balance of others. (Disturbing opponents balance  is something I intend on trying to improve).Keeps the opponent at a distance and capitalizes on the length of the arms and legs,  evades using circular movements I feel this describes how I try to make my movements when working towards competition training 
“disturbing opponents balance +  mainly using counters”
These methods could be put into practice when doing our partner work as most of the techniques we have been working are evade/block followed by counters. Once we have become skilful in these techniques we should use these in slow sparring situations followed by medium/fast synario’s. 

Leopard:  Second due to being  reasonable good at the following attributes  strong, efficient, fast, technical, defined by accuracy, capable of stealth attacks. 
when I manage to consistently master the ability to quickly retract the arms and legs after a strike I will become much stronger for this style, I can work on this in training when working Padwork, sparring, basics up and down the dojo and even in kata’s where it is required.

Tiger: third due to strength, agility, speed, solid build, ability to adopt a strong stance and quickly change to another stance, I put this lower down the list as I believe I do not fight as fiercely or aggressively as stated for this stylist.
“charge the opponent and attack directly with brute force, uses circular arm movements to overwhelm the enemy, relying on the arms  relaxed muscles“. 

In training I need to put Full commitment into these attacks every time plus use loud vocals in the attacks representing the roar of the tiger so that the opponent will react with fear. Using the big Thai pads with a partner would be an ideal opportunity to work these techniques.  

Snake: strengths of the snake for me being: agile, fast , uses whipping toe kicks to the lower half of the opponent’s body, weaknesses being the grappling and locking work that comes with it and development of chi energy. 

“When doing snake moves, you can strike and lock simultaneously. Offense becomes defense, and defense becomes offense.”

These techniques could be performed when practicing jujitsu, judo + self defence in karate lessons as the ability to get your opponents into locks severely restricts there movement and puts you in control without relying on causing major damage to the person to keep them at bay.

Dragon: last as I feel I use many of its attributes, but feel I have along way to go here before I can say this is one of my strengths as you should know many of the techniques from the 4 animals as well as new ones from this animals style making it the most tricky to master. 

Fighting like a dragon means being smart, calm and fearless, “Always think ahead, and lead your opponent away from your vulnerabilities or into the abyss of your power. Take the obvious and reverse it. With the spirit of the dragon, you will always rise to fight another day.”Eric Lee insists.
I would like to train this concept as I feel it is one of the major concepts to help me overcome bigger and more experienced opponents.  



After completing this report I can clearly see why these styles of kung fu are popular around the world, my opinion on the use of them in our training would be strictly for the higher grades 1st kyu + or even 1st dan + as this is where you start to take the martial arts more in the direction of your choosing, before that its more important to get all the fundamentals right to give you a strong foundation to build upon, without this you will find few of your techniques and applications will work effectively.


To finish I have completed a quick quiz online after answering 10 questions it came up with

“You are elegant and calm, but can use the enemy’s momentum to turn it against them. Praying Mantis is especially famous for its technique, speed and continuous attacks. Another prominent feature of the style is its complex footwork and fluid motions“.


Watch Rokusho (5 animals – Tensho) on World of Martial Arts (