Bruce Lee accomplished some amazing accomplishments in his short life. One of his most impressive physical feats was his super-powerful one inch punch.
How the heck did he do that?
According to British researchers, it was Mr. Lee’s over-developed cerebellums and primary motor cortex that allowed him to coordinate his body movements to deliver maximum force.
Previous studies have shown that the forces generated in a karate punch is not determined by muscular strength but by the brain & nervous system, Unfortunately, up until now, they had no idea what parts of the nervous system were responsible for making Bruce Lee a super-freak.
In this recent study, researchers looked for differences in brain structure between 12 karate practitioners with a black belt rank and an average of 13.8 years’ karate experience, and 12 control subjects of similar age who exercised regularly but did not have any martial arts experience.
In the first part of the study, the researchers measure the short range (5 cm) punching power of all 24 test subjects by means of infrared markers on their arms & torsos. As expected, the karate masters punched harder than the control subjects.
Analysis of punch biomechanics and brain function revealed the reasons for the difference in punching power.
- The researchers found that punching power depends on timing.
- Specifically, punching force correlated with how well the movement of the wrists and shoulders were synchronized.
- In short, technique + muscular power = Bruce Lee kicking your butt.
- To test brain function, they used diffusion tensor imaging to scan the grey matter (main body of nerve cells) and white matter (bundles of fibres that carry signals from one region of the brain to another) of the test subjects’ brains.
And what they found is that there was major structural differences in the white matter of the cerebellums and primary motor cortex of the karate masters.
It was these differences in the cerebellum that correlated with the synchronicity of the subjects’ wrist and shoulder movements that produced the larger punching forces.
The karate black belts were able to repeatedly coordinate their punching action with a level of coordination that novices can’t produce. We think that ability might be related to fine tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, allowing them to synchronise their arm and trunk movements very accurately.
We’re only just beginning to understand the relationship between brain structure and behaviour, but our findings are consistent with earlier research showing that the cerebellum plays a critical role in our ability to produce complex, coordinated movements.
So there you go…your nervous system is what’s going to separate your athletic performance from that of the average gym rat.
And that’s why nervous system function is one of the linchpins of all my training programs.