Martial arts can seem like an illusion.
Take, for instance, the competition I saw at the U.S. Open in 2007 in Orlando. A martial artist, a black belt I presumed to be in his 40s, lifted up a plank full of nails and punctured a bottle of water with it. As the water spread out on the floor, he put the plank down and stepped on it. I cringed as I watched the nails all but pierce his feet while he demolished a stack of bricks as tall as a child.
Neither act – standing on nails or breaking bricks – is as strenuous as it seems, says Dr. Jason Thalken, author of his first book, Fight Like A Physicist.
Regarding the bed of nails, he says that “any person is capable of performing this trick right now with no training.” He explains how surface area distribution prevents the nails from piercing the skin. Turning to the bricks, he says it wouldn’t work if the bricks were spaced incorrectly. He details how bricks are broken due to how they are bent.
This is just one example of how Thalken breaks through martial arts mysticism.
The meat of the book, in my view, lies in the middle. Thalken discusses the issue of how brain damage occurs from sparring and MMA fights, and even suggests that, in some cases, the more protection we think we have from head injuries (through the use of face cages, for example), the more we may actually be at risk for them.
Just because Thalken is a new author doesn’t mean he lacks knowledge. The Ph.D., holder of three bachelor’s degrees, and holder of eight patents has filed a patent for a new type of headgear to protect against brain injuries in the hopes of preventing chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE), also known as “punch drunk syndrome,” in martial artists and fighters. CTE is caused by repeated blows to the head, and autopsies of athletes in boxing, football, and pro wrestling have revealed evidence of CTE.
The only other book I’m aware of that discusses science at this much depth in a martial arts book comes from The Secrets of Judo, but that book doesn’t address head injuries because that’s not the purpose of judo. Activities like boxing, sparring, and MMA all include the head as a target, and even a prime target.
Despite his expertise, Thalken says “you don’t need to be an expert if you can fight like a physicist.”
Check out these videos from Thalken himself to learn more about the concepts detailed in his book.