Essential principals of combat

by Sensei Mike Pepe

As two antagonists lock together in mutual combat, each has the expressed physical intention of forcing the other to surrender to their dominance.

  While we as spectators watch, our primal instincts take over as we accept facial cuts and injuries as factors to decide who dominated whom. However, other dynamics come into play, providing a clear assessment as to who controlled the other and thereby dominated the fight.

  As their bodies collide, the combatants would bring forth a myriad of scientific principles. Principals of motion, balance and leverage are some.

   Initially, the combatants might grab each other and like two bulls locking horns, attempt to drive each other backwards.

 The battle of stability

  When a person stands erect, their natural center of gravity lays some place within the pelvis, below the bellybutton and approximately two-thirds inward toward the spine. To better understand the formation of a well-balanced individual picture an isosceles triangle with a base that runs between the feet, whose sides run from there to this center of gravity point. This “structure” is very stable until one of two actions occurs. In the first, the person wishes to move or step and leans forward moving his “hips”, the center point of his isosceles triangle, past its base at the feet. As he starts to lose stability, he must move his leg forward and establish a “new” triangle slightly ahead of the last and if left unobstructed, regains his balance. In the same light, if an outside force pulls this same person, his center of gravity has once again moved and he must again readjust his base, moving his foot forward.

  Overcoming opponent’s stability using math and science

Assuming that person (A) is larger  than another person(B) we can say the person “A” has a better grip on the ground due to gravity pushing his mass into the earth, causing increased friction between the feet and the ground. This friction makes it difficult to move a larger opponent. 

 In order to create motion in a larger opponent to the point of unrecoverable instability or falling, the smaller opponent cannot push against his larger opponent. If fighter “A” has the potential to push using ten units of force and fighter “B” has the ability to push using seven units, it makes sense that if both push, fighter “A” will always win. The smaller of the two must pull, the moment the larger pushes. *check the correct law-Using Newton’s 3rd law of motion…If the larger person pushes using seven of his potential units and the smaller were to pull using only three of his potential units of force he harnesses the combined ten units of force and can easily topple a much larger opponent.

  When the heaver fighter pushes, he uses weight and motion, creating momentum. A larger person has many problems once momentum is used against them. The larger person has more difficulty slowing or stopping his movement once he has gained momentum. A larger person also falls faster once momentum is introduced and the larger person uses up additional energy trying to reestablish a stable posture than would a smaller sized person.

  Causing one to fall by interrupting balance

  As the combatants tussle and the smaller gains control of the other’s movement and balance through good strategy, he need only to block or sweep the hip or leg to send his opponent to the mat. If a leg is blocked or swept as it attempts to regain a base, it is difficult for the brain to readjust to the sudden interruption. But just when is the best time to interrupt someone’s balance?

   Once movement occurs between the two, the ideal moment to cause one to tumble evolves until it peaks, and once past, it is lost and a new chance must be cultivated. There is one and only one moment that causes the opponent to fall with the thrower using minimal effort (which still uses some muscular effort). Any attempted throw on either side of this “peak moment” demands the use of added muscular effort, compounded by the time past the peak. It is not impossible to accomplish the throw but it becomes more difficult if the moment is not used and the opponent regains any stability.

Seizing the moment

Where was the man when he jumped off the bridge? Not on the bridge, that was before he jumped. Not in the air, that was after he jumped. The thought process used in answering this question is used again in finding the solution to the question, “When is the right moment?”

   The moment of time, when best to sweep or block the leg, leading to a successful throw, is born when the opponent begins to place his foot on the mat in an attempt to regain balance, the moment peaks when he has placed half his weight on the advancing foot and has past the instant after. When his foot is not on the mat, is not the moment and when his foot rests firmly on the mat the peak moment has also past. The smaller competitor must master this, moment in time, in order to use minimal effort, in toppling a lager opponent.

The use of levers and fulcrums

 Greek philosopher Archimedes once declared, “Give me a firm place on which to stand and with a lever I can lift the world”.

  A lever is a something used to lift an object and the longer the lever the better. Placing something under our lever helps gain lift. This object forms a fulcrum at the point where it meets the lever. The closer the fulcrum is to the weight, the easier it is to lift.

  The two combatants have now landed on the ground and have entered the final stage of the battle. The smaller of the two must now think like a master of applied science. With two differently sized and differently shaped three-dimensional bodies, there are an infinite number of ways to apply principles of leverage but our smaller fighter has chosen juji-gatame or cross arm lock as it might be called in Judo. Older schools of Jiu-jitsu called it ude nate arm break, nonetheless, attacking the arm.

  With the larger man now on his back the smaller of the two sits beside, facing him and places both his legs across the chest and neck, the larger man’s arm now stuck between them. Pressing the backs of both legs to the mat the smaller man now pins the larger and at the same time, squeezes his knees together, trapping the arm. It is not impossible to escape the arm but it becomes difficult. The big man’s arm now becomes our lever, the smaller man’s hips, the fulcrum. In getting the hips as close as possible to the heavy man’s body, we make it easier to lift. It also lengthens the lever. Grasping the end of the “lever” (the man’s wrist) the smaller man now leans back straitening the arm and locking it into this extended position. Since our intention is not really to lift the weight, our legs hold downward pressure, then, by applying pressure under the arm lift the hips, hyper extending the arm and breaking it at the weakest point, the elbow.



If a fighter uses only brawn to overcome an adversary, he might win if he is stronger. If this same fighter knows, nothing of the principles of combat he can push, pull, shove and move, but these tactics will be random and like trying to guess the combination to a lock, be very ineffective.

   However, a student who is knowledgeable in these essential principles of combat has the knowledge and the tools to put to use in their quest to control a larger opponent and with minimal effort thereby defeat him.


For further information read,

The secrets of Judo; A text for instructors and students

Jiichi Watanabe and Lindy Avakian








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