Biomechanical methods applied in martial arts studies

Fernandes, FM.1*, Wichi, RB.2, Silva, VF.3, Ladeira, APX.1 and Ervilha, UF.1 1Laboratório de Biomecânica, Universidade São Judas Tadeu – USJT, São Paulo, SP, Brazil 2Centro de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal de Sergipe – UFS, São Cri
Mar 9, 2018


Martial arts are practiced in both amateur and in high professional level, stimulating scientific research in several areas of knowledge, including biomechanics. The main purpose of this review is to present the biomechanics methods used in the study of martial arts. The great importance of this study is the compilation of information science of what has already been analyzed under the biomechanics aspects related to martial arts and how this has been done. The methodology was directed to the revision of literature starting from articles, books, and seminars. From the collection of bibliographic surveys, it has been concluded that depending on the parameters studied e.g.: reaction time, speed, strength, power, among others, there is the need to apply one or more methods since there are situations in which only one biomechanical method will not be enough to answer the pointed question. It is also concluded that the investigated studies in the presented review showed the character of a descriptive examination, not directly applied to the development of techniques used on different modalities.

1 Introduction

Martial arts, nowadays, are practiced by children and
adults of both genders, in several societies and with different
purpose (DEL’VECCHIO and FRANQUINI, 2006).
The most practiced modalities involving competitive
manner, both professional and amateurs are karate,
taekwondo, judo, jiu-jitsu, and kung-fu (CORREIA and
FRANCHINI, 2010). The amateur practitioners aim good
health and apprenticeship of techniques conceded by the
modality, but not the high yield (CARVALHO, 2004). At
the professional environment martial arts are practiced as a
sporting modality aiming high performance (PIMENTA and
Some of these modalities such as judo since 1972, in
Monique, Germany and the taekwondo since 2000, in
Sidney, Australia are considered as Olympic modalities
OLIVEIRA and CESANA, 2006). The investments to
promote tournaments, mainly connected by television and
radio programs surge the interest in the various modalities
of martial arts (PIMENTA and MARCHI JUNIOR, 2009).
With the professionalism, it became imperative the
improvement of the techniques through training
(OLIVEIRA, MOREIRA, GODOY et al., 2006), making
it necessary researches which potentially help technicians,
coaches and professors of martial arts in planning these
trainings in order to give to the athlete the best chance to use
his ability completely developed, fully fledged. It is found in
the literature biomechanical studies of several modalities that
analyze capabilities such as strength, power, reaction time,
speed, agility and balance, among other elements. Many of
these parameters which had been established are analyzed
based on techniques of punching and kicking. These
analyses are obtained through biomechanical methods of
kinemetry, dynamometry, and electromyography (AMADIO
and DUARTE, 1996). Considering the importance of
biomechanical parameters of martial arts as a link to improve
techniques used, as well as to evaluate performance, the
present review aims to exhibit the biomechanical methods
used in the studies of martial arts.
2 Material and methods
The PubMed ( and MEDLINE
databases were used to conduct a literature search using
keywords without restrictions. In this systematization, a
search was conducted using the keywords: biomechanics,
martial arts.
3 Results
Martial arts are a compound of corporal practices
derived from war techniques. The martial term means
“Marte–War Roman God” (FRANCHINI, TAKITO,
RODRIGUES et al., 1996). The term “art” means
expression, invention, imagination, playful and creation
As to Reid and Croucher (1983), martial art is a
compound of techniques, philosophy and combat traditions.
Each martial art is an heiress of a determined tradition and
constitutes coherence at all events in a way that all techniques
are duly assembled by basic philosophical concepts and by
traditional rituals. Martial arts were born many centuries
ago aiming high at self defense. The fights among tribes
led the warriors to understand the importance of training
to face sudden outbreaks in order to get the best results

in the combats (HIRATA and DEL’VECCHIO, 2006).

Owing to the big interest in the martial arts by professional
practitioners as well as amateurs (PIMENTA and MARCHI
JUNIOR, 2009; CARVALHO, 2004), researches are made
in this area looking for the best way to improve the combat
techniques. Biomechanics has been used through its high
methods aiming to study the physics of martial arts.
3.1 About biomechanics methods
Biomechanics is one of the sub disciplines of kinesiology
(HALL, 2000) and by definition it is the study of the
application of mechanics to biological systems (HAMIL and
KNUTZEN, 2008). The Biomechanics performance-related
areas include measurement and motor control of human
locomotion, sports, clinics and rehabilitation, orthopedics,
among others (AMADIO and DUARTE, 1996).
Biomechanics is structured with areas of cinemetry,
dynamometry, anthropometry and electromyography to
describe and exhibit a mathematical model of the human
movement as a special fact (AMADIO and BARBANTI, 2000;
CARPENTER, 2005; WINTER, 1990).
3.2 Biomechanical methods used in the studies of physics on martial arts
Biomechanical methods are used in the studies of physics
of the martial arts and now some studies will be presented
showing how these studies have been made. In a study
about karate, Rodrigues and Rodrigues (1984) measured
the reaction time and the movement time in the frontal
kicks (mae-geri) and circular (mawashi-geri), to check the
correlation between these two variables. The results pointed
to the fact that independently of the technique used, the
reaction time is superior to the movement time Layton
(1993) measured the reaction and movement time of four
techniques: straight blow (shoku-zuki), reverse blow (gyaku-
zuki), frontal kick (mae-geri) and circular kick (mawashi-
geri) of karate-shotokan, executed by both sides of the body.
The results showed that except for the application of kata
techniques the individuals executed the blows within the
same reaction and movement time, independently of the
side of the body that acts with the technique. Saltzberg,
Hondzinski and Flanders (2001) used a system of videos to
check five volunteers without any experience on martial arts
aiming to describe the process of apprenticeship of an
unknown movement involving the whole body. The results
showed that the individuals, through practice, changed the
angles of torsion and inclination of the trunk, facilitating both
the postural and the adjustment of the kicking. Pinto Neto,
Magini, Sabba et al. (2008) compared, using a high speed
camera (1000 Hz), values of strength, power and efficiency of
the palm blow of kung-fu among experienced and amateurs
individuals. Viana, Andrade and Belmonte (2005) checked
the correlation among the reaction time, flexibility and speed
of the lower limbs. The authors concluded that there were
not significant positive correlations among the researched
variables. Esteves, Nascimento, Moreira et al. (2007), using
a triple-axial speedometer coupled together to the back of
the ankle of the individual, studied the taekwondo’s kick
called bandal tchagui. The results showed that owing to the
high sharp of deceleration during the impacts, the structure
of the foot becomes susceptible to injuries. Sforza (2002)
performed a three dimensional analysis of the karate kicking

mae-geri-keage through an optical-electronic instrument. Thirteen reflexive markers were placed on anatomic. The reproducibility of the technique was measured. It was concluded that greater reproducibility was observed in the

horizontal plan and it was still noticed smaller deviation in
the hip and head. Movements in the ankle and knee joints
showed high variability in the dominant member. Nien,
Chang and Tang (2007) investigated the effects of speed
in the movements of the taekwondo kicking roundhouse in
two situations, i.e., kicking a target the quickest possible and
repeating the same task without a target. Using a high speed
video camera it was concluded that the maximum speed of
the toe and the ankle joint considering the existence of a
target, was significantly higher than it would be without
the target, and further, the angular speed of the hip, knee
and ankle did not present significant difference among
the situations kicking with or without a target. In these
studies the method of cinemetry was used. Pinto Neto and
Magini (2008) described the issues of electrical activation
of the biceps brachialis, brachioradialis and triceps brachialis
muscles as well as the kinematic characteristics of the upper
limb during a Kung-fu fight action striking with the palm
of the hand. It was observed that individuals did not make
total stretching of the elbow at the end of the blow, and
the first muscle to be activated was precisely the m. biceps
brachialis. The biceps brachialis and brachioradialis muscles
displayed less activity before the hand hit the target, whereas
the triceps brachialis presented, in this connection to other
muscles, larger wideness in the first half of the movement.
Castro (1994) compared the action of the biceps braquialis
muscle of both the extremity members in the kicking’s
dolha chagui and tuit chagui considering 20 athletes of
taekwondo black-belt category. For this research he used
electromyography aiming to register the electrical activity of
the investigated muscles, and also a video-camera to record
the kicking’s divided in five phases. The conclusion was that
the support limb showed higher muscle activation during
striking of dolha chagui compared with tuit chagui kick.
Pucsok, Nelson and Ng (2001) analyzed and compared the
horizontal and vertical reaction forces of the support leg and
the horizontal and vertical speed of the sweeping leg during
the execution of the throwing technique (harai-goshi) of judo
wrestlers both amateurs and advanced, utilizing a force plate
and video cameras. The authors concluded that there was
a positive correlation between the horizontal reaction force
and horizontal speed of the sweeping leg and a significant
difference of the horizontal reaction force of the support
leg among beginners and advanced competitors. Fernandes
(2009) made biomechanical analysis of the kicking ap bal ap
dolio tchagui of taekwondo on 13 elite athletes. In this study
the electrical muscle activation pattern for four lower limb
and two trunk muscles were identified. It was also measured
the electrogoniometry of the knee used for kicking and the
horizontal and vertical accelerometry of the lower limb that
performed the strike. The results allowed to conclude that all
the muscles studied are activated before the movement of the
knee, except for the vastus medialis muscle. It was also found
that biceps femoris and lateral gastrocnemius are recruited in
phase, the left and right erector espinae are pre-activated,
maximal knee joint extension occurred approximately 10%
of the movement prior to the foot/sand bag contact.
Gorgy, Vercher and Goyle (2008) used force plate in
order to study the effect of practicing the chinese martial arts
tai-chi-chuan, pa-koua and shing-hi-chuan in the postural
control, using external perturbation with the practitioners
in orthostatic position. In the experiment, the force plate
was unexpectedly middle-laterally moved. This maneuver
was performed with the volunteers keeping the eyes opened
or closed. The sample was composed by practitioners of
martial arts and practitioners and non-practitioners of sports.
It was assayed the center of mass displacement and postural
muscles amplitude and onset. It was concluded that the
practice of martial arts influence upon the balance, lessening
the displacement of the center of mass and pressure, as
well as increasing the use of the ankle strategy to deal with
the perturbation. However, there were not changes in the
temporal patterns of the electromyographic signals of the
investigated muscles. Santos, Esteves, Reis et  al. (2005)
measured the ground reaction forces from judo athletes when
applying “ukemies” in different types of surface. Oliveira
(2006) identified the palm pressure strength on jiu-jitsu
athletes of competitive level using a hydraulic dynamometer
and concluded that the jiu-jitsu athletes did not present raised
values of palm pressure strength compared with athletes of
others martial arts modalities. Borges Junior, Domenech,
Silva et al. (2009) compared the maximal isometric palm
pressure strength among practitioners of aikido, jiu-jitsu,
judo, rowing and non-practitioners. The results showed
that there are greater values of maximum strength when
the practiced sport is jiu-jitsu, followed by judo, rowing,
aikido, and non-practitioners. In this study dynamometry as
used. Gulledge and Dapena (2008) compared the ability to
unbalance the opponent by applying a direct or a reversal
punch. Ground reaction forces, force transducers connected
to the opponent body, and digital cameras (to measure
kinematic parameters) were used. The results showed that
the reverse punch is twice as stronger than the direct punch.
However, the direct punch was more efficient considering
that the goal was to unbalance the opponent. This is a good
example of a complex biomechanical setup used to answer a
direct question in martial arts.
4 Conclusion
Owing to the great interest in the martial arts,
many researches and developments are carried through
biomechanics. The present study proposing a review of the
literature aiming the investigation of which biomechanics
methods are used in the studies of martial arts, brought the
matter forward showing that depending on the variables
studied, i.e., reaction time, speed, power, potency, among
others, there is the necessity to use one or more methods,
since there are situations in which only one biomechanical
method is not enough to answer the proposed question.
Another question to be pointed out is related to the
investigation of existing literature about this subject, as it
has not been perceived, that one single variable is more
habitually studied than others. It is obvious that each
study is concerned at the investigation of its variables, not
seeming visible the possibility that one variable may be more
important than the other. In relation to the techniques
checked, i.e. punch, kicking, balance, among others, it was
not also perceived that there are techniques more studied
in comparison to others. Another point to be mentioned
refers to the fact that most of the studies investigated in this
research cover all aspects of purely descriptive research not
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