Powerful Punches, Powerful Prayers

fist_desktop_1024x768_wallpaper-326742In my Tae Kwon Do practice, we are taught to put tremendous energy and force into every move. Each block, kick, or punch must not only be executed correctly, but it must also harness energy from our core (hips, back, stomach) so that it delivers significant force. Since people of all ages and sizes practice Tae Kwon Do, the question of how to develop that force is an important one. If you recall your high school physics, the equation for force is F=MA, force equals the product of mass and acceleration. In layman’s terms, two components affect the force of any strike, the size of the object and how fast it its going. Consider your fist. It is not that big, really. If you strike someone very slowly, they will barely feel it. The small size of the fist multiplied by the slow movement will not deliver a significant amount of force. If my fist was much bigger, say the size of a boulder, the rate of acceleration would not matter. A slow moving boulder still delivers a devastating amount of force. For a small pebble to equal that force it has to move at a much higher rate of acceleration.

My fist has a constant mass. In order for it to deliver a powerful blow, it must be moving very fast. I only have so much muscle and so much power in my arms, so to increase the power of my punch I have to begin the movement from my center, move through the distance to the target at an elevated speed, and at the very last moment, rotate my fist in order to fully maximize the acceleration. In addition to these mechanics, when throwing a TKD punch, we make a sharp and loud noise (kee-hup) just as we are about to strike the target. This shout serves several purposes – distracting the opponent, intimidating him/her, focusing our attention – including a brief, but important additional measure of energy in the movement. All of these efforts combine to make my small fist a potentially upsetting force.

As you become a more advanced student, the expectation is that you will become an increasingly powerful fighter, capable of overwhelming power in each and every move.

In my Jewish practice, I teach my students to put tremendous energy and meaning into each and every word of the tefillot (worship) and action of the mitzvot (commandments). Each individual word is small, and has a constant capacity. The force and effectiveness of a person’s prayer is necessarily the product of the energy they put into these words and actions. Like a well-thrown punch, a well prayed word gets nearly all of its energy and power, not from some external force, but from the core of the person who is praying. If you deliver the words with very little intention/kavanah (acceleration), they will be anemic and unable to affect the target at all. The words must be accompanied by intense focus, vocal clarity, precision mechanics, and a spiritual kee-hup.

Like Tae Kwon Do, as we become more advanced in our prayer practice, we must keep the expectation high, and strive to be increasingly powerful warriors of the spirit, capable of overwhelming depth and meaning in each and every word we say. This capacity does not come from the siddur (prayer book), or from any other external place. It must come from within, and be delivered to God with every measure of strength we have.

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