We’ve discussed this before, but here is another article discussing how the repetitive training martial artists actually wire new neural pathways in the brain, allowing more powerful strikes than a well-conditioned, untrained person can generate.
Like his muscles, Lee earned his brainpower the hard way, with many years of practice. Roberts says the white matter changes in his study’s participants can be traced to the concept of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to fundamentally rewire itself to cope with new demands. The more karate experts practiced these coordinated moves, the more the white matter in their supplementary motor cortex adapts.
Bruce Lee’s 1-inch punch is probably the most striking (pun intended) example of this phenomenon. Here is a description of the process from a Popular Mechanics (Read the full article here) article of the same.
To understand why the one-inch punch is more about mind than muscle, you first have to understand how Bruce Lee delivers the blow. Although Lee’s fist travels a tiny distance in mere milliseconds, the punch is an intricate full-body movement. According to Jessica Rose, a Stanford University biomechanical researcher, Lee’s lightning-quick jab actually starts with his legs.
“When watching the one-inch punch, you can see that his leading and trailing legs straighten with a rapid, explosive knee extension,” Rose says. The sudden jerk of his legs increases the twisting speed of Lee’s hips—which, in turn, lurches the shoulder of his thrusting arm forward.
As Lee’s shoulder bolts ahead, his arm gets to work. The swift and simultaneous extension of his elbow drives his fist forward. For a final flourish, Rose says, “flicking his wrist just prior to impact may further increase the fist velocity.” Once the punch lands on target, Lee pulls back almost immediately. Rose explains that this shortens the impact time of his blow, which compresses the force and makes it all the more powerful.
From one-inch away Bruce Lee could generate enough force to knock a person clean off the ground. This power doesn’t come from brute strength but a perfect blending of trained muscle and whole-body biomechanical timing. The trained mind.
Of course, neuroplasticity diminishes with age, so it’s better if they start young. In the words of an ancient Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
It’s never too late to plant that tree.