The one inch punch has captivated our imagination for decades. Bruce Lee was an average and normal martial artist until he discovered Wing Chun, the only fighting art created by a women. Wing Chun is a traditional Southern Chinese Kung fu specializing in close range combat. No feat in martial arts is more impressive than Bruce Lee’s famous strike. Lee was able to muster such an explosive blow from just 1 inch away, with a barely moving fist, that he could break wooden boards and even send a man twice his size tumbling across a room. The force of these punches can not be attributed to muscular strength alone, the punch owes far more to the strength of his fascia rather than muscle bulk (Roberts et al., 2013). This fascia is the connective tissue, a cling film that wraps all the body and is interlaced around each and every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein in our bodies, as well as all of our organs, including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord (Bordoni & Zanier, 2014). Until recently fascia was disregarded as merely “packaging” that gave our bodies structure and form and the medical world assumed that bones were our frame, muscles the movers, and fascia just packaging. It now appears that fascia is not merely bubble wrap. Fascia is actually a sensory organ, as rich in sensory input as your tongue and eyes and plays an essential role in force production (Schleip et al., 2005). Fascia can contract, feel and react to impact meaning that it is a critical component in contributing to our movement, performance and even more importantly injury.
When watching the one-inch punch, you can see that Bruce Lees trailing legs straightened with a rapid, explosive knee extension. This burst forced Lee to twist his hips faster, bringing more power into the shoulder and transmitted down to his punching hand. The punch was a whole body movement, he uses “fascial snap” instead of muscle strength to create incredible power. It is sometimes easier to understand the anatomy of the human body by dividing it and compartmentalising it into individual muscles, joints and compartments but in reality it is one big continuum. A small restriction in one area of the body can cause pain in another area. For athletes this dreaded domino effect is easier to understand using the analogy of a tight jumper – if you tug on one end of that jumper, you see the tug travel to other ends of the same jumper. So it’s clear then that an injury to one area of the body affects every other of part body, although in varying degrees of intensity. This fascia is like the body’s rubber band, it gives a natural spring. The rebound effect of the fascia allows the use of less muscle power, and therefore muscles fatigue less rapidly – it’s free energy. If you want to run faster, jump higher , and throw farther? You’ll need to pay attention to nourishing the elastic quality of this fascia. Running, like Lees punch is a whole body exercise. Running with healthy fascia allows energy to be returned from the ground – like a trampoline! When this “rubber band” is new it is flexible and pliable. But take that same rubber band and tie knots (trauma) in it – It still has the ability to move, but with less freedom. As time goes on, then the rubber band gets even less flexible and pliable and can become brittle and weak, making any type of movement very restrictive and even painful. These fascial restrictions places an exorbitant amount of pressure on everything in your body—muscles, joints, bones, etc. This pressure can cause pain and restriction of normal movement, this is often dismissed as “getting old”. But the damage you’ve caused your fascia is reversible, and every one of the problems it’s caused are avoidable. Move more, and move in different ways. Children generally have less fascial restrictions because most of them are constantly moving in different ways – exploring, headstands, wrestling, running and jumping. Runners love to run but treat your fascia to new movements occasionally to prevent injuries and adhesions – pilates, walking, yoga or maybe even embrace your inner ninja and practice the “one inch punch”.
Bordoni B & Zanier E. (2014). Clinical and symptomatological reflections: the fascial system. J Multidiscip Healthc 7, 401-411.
Roberts RE, Bain PG, Day BL & Husain M. (2013). Individual differences in expert motor coordination associated with white matter microstructure in the cerebellum. Cereb Cortex 23, 2282-2292.
Schleip R, Klingler W & Lehmann-Horn F. (2005). Active fascial contractility: Fascia may be able to contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and thereby influence musculoskeletal dynamics. Med Hypotheses 65, 273-277.