Hard and soft in martial arts refer to the way techniques deal with the force of an attack.
techniques can be effected in a 'hard' or a 'soft' manner. This applies to both unarmed combat
and to the use of martial arts weapons
Examples of techniques used in unarmed combat include strikes such as punches and kicks, along with traps, locks (see chin na), footsweeps, throws and takedowns, used in grappling. Examples of martial arts weaponry include knives, swords, and spears. In use these may be thrust, swept, hooked, etc. See a list of martial arts weapons for more details.
In a soft technique the receiver uses the aggressor's force and momentum against him by leading the attack in a direction where the receiver will be positioned in advantage, then, in a seamless movement, effects an appropriate martial arts technique. In some styles, a series of progressively difficult training drills such as pushing hands or sticky hands teach students to exercise this concept. While less physically conditioned students may be encouraged to undertake soft style martial arts on the seemingly miraculous assumption that it does not take any strength to apply them, this is not technically so. The goal of soft arts is said to be able to turn an adversary's force to their disadvantage, and to use the least possible amount of force oneself.
Note following points.
1) The receipt of the incoming force is dealt with in a soft manner thus:
This 'leading' of the incoming attack redirects forces from the aggressor either back at the aggressor or away from the defender instead of meeting the force with a block. Soft defenses are usually circular: The way this works is similar to the way a projectile may glance off a round or slanted surface without damaging it. The lack of resistance while meeting of the incoming force is usually referred to as yielding.
2) The final application of a technique is soft:
A technique applied in a soft manner is often applied when the person is off-balance (see kuzushi) which makes it easy for the person effecting the technique. This ‘ease’ of application was termed ‘maximum efficiency’ by Kano Jigoro, who founded judo. The Taijiquan classics report a concept known as "a force of four taels being able to move a thousand catties" which refers to the Taiji principle that a mass in motion can seem weightless. Techniques applied in this manner may superficially appear similar to those used in hard martial arts, e.g. throws, armlocks, etc. but it is the softness in their application which makes them different. No more force than is needed should be applied.
- * In Fencing, a parry is an example where the opponent's blade is guided away rather than a clash of forces in a block. This is likely to be immediately followed by a riposte and that by a counter-riposte.
- * When an aggressor (uke) pushes towards the recipient (tori), tori drops under uke while lifting uke over him with one of his legs to effect the throw Tomoe Nage. The technique is categorized as a front sacrifice technique, and is used in judo and other forms of jujutsu. The push from uke can come directly, or in response to a push from tori. If tori pulled uke over by sheer strength, then it would not be a soft technique.
The principle of ju
The principle of
underlies all classical Bujutsu
methods and was adopted by the developers of the Budō
disciplines. Acting according to the principle of Jū, the classical warrior could intercept and momentarily control his enemy's blade when attacked, then, in a flash, could counter-attack with a force powerful enough to cleave armour and kill the foe. The same principle of Jū permitted an unarmed exponent to unbalance
and hurl his foe to the ground.
Terms like "Jūjutsu
" and "Yawara" made the principle of Jū the all-pervading one in methods catalogued under these terms. That principle was rooted in the concept of pliancy or flexibility, as understood in both a mental and a physical context. To apply the principle of Jū, the exponent had to be both mentally and physically capable of adapting himself to whatever situation his adversary might impose on him.
There are two aspects of the principle of Jū that are in constant operation, both interchangeable and inseparable. One aspect is that of "yielding", and is manifest in the exponent's actions that accept the enemy's force of attack, rather than oppose him by meeting his force directly with an equal or greater force, when it is advantageous to do so. It is economical in terms of energy to accept the foe's force by intercepting and warding it off without directly opposing it; but the tactic by which the force of the foe is dissipated may be as forcefully made as was the foe's original action.
The principle of Jū is incomplete at this point because yielding is essentially only a neutralization of the enemy's force. While giving way to the enemy's force of attack there must instantly be applied an action that takes advantage of the enemy, now occupied with his attack, in the form of a counterattack.
This second aspect of the principle of Jū makes allowance for situations in which yielding is impossible because it would lead to disaster. In such cases "resistance" is justified. But such opposition to the enemy's actions is only momentary and is quickly followed by an action based on the first aspect of Jū, that of yielding.
A hard technique
by contrast meets force with force, either by directly blocking the technique with a head-on force or by cutting through at an angle with one's own force.
This can also serve as an example of the receiver using the aggressor's force and momentum against them. It is sometimes claimed that "hard" styles rely primarily on superior strength or conditioning to be successful, but practitioners of these styles would claim that it is the mechanics of their blocking actions that results in success rather than raw power as such.
- * A Taekwondo kick to break the arm of a person throwing an incoming punch.
- * Perhaps "hardest" of all is Shotokai with low, lunging attacks and brush blocks, all committed to the most vigorous, straight-line attack possible.
Hard and soft styles or arts
Some martial artists refer to styles or arts as being hard or soft.
A hard style or hard martial art, such as Shotokan karate, employs predominantly or exclusively hard techniques.
Soft styles or soft martial arts, such as Aikido and the Chinese internal martial arts, employ many soft techniques. For example, in Yin Style Baguazhang, a Chinese internal martial art which derives its philosophy from the I-Ching, the Kun trigram represents pure yin and it tends to yield to force. However, the Qian trigram represents pure yang and its techniques tend to be very hard. For instance, one might use a sweeping strike (an attack method of the Qian trigram) to block and break the arm of an incoming punch. Thus, while some might consider Baguazhang to be a "soft" martial art, it includes "soft" and "hard" techniques.
Many martial arts combine 'hard' and 'soft' techniques, such as Goju Ryu or Goju Shorei karate. (The name Goju is derived from 'gō' (剛 Hard) and 'jū' (柔 Soft) in Japanese). Such arts are usually called 'hard/soft'. The Chinese martial arts emphasize a balance of yin and yang. In some styles these represent softness and hardness, respectively. One should yield (yin) to hard force (yang); inversely, one should attack (yang) a soft (yin) opponent. Other uses of this doctrine state the study of yin and yang involve offensive and defensive responses; if one is struck on the left, one can effectively counterstrike from the right, if a low kick comes in, strike high, if a high punch comes in, kick low. As well, if one initiates these sorts of attacks, one should be aware of the simultaneous defensive liabilities involved.
"Hard/Soft" vs "External/Internal"
There is disagreement among different schools about how the two concepts of "Hard/Soft" and "External/Internal" apply to their styles. Among styles that this terminology is applied to, traditional Taijiquan equates the terms while maintaining several finer shades of distinction (see quotes below) while students of some other styles consider the two concepts distinct. In the latter case you will hear that "internal arts
" tend to be "soft" but "soft" arts are not necessarily "internal. Differences in opinion may be influenced by the national origins of a particular martial art and the use of the terms by those schools or nationalities - but in any case the debate can be quite fierce. An example of a soft martial art not generally acknowledged to be internal is judo
Quotes about the application of hardness and softness
- "here he names the five words: before (attack), after (defense), weak (soft), strong (hard), interim; in these words lies all art of master Liechtenauer and they are the fundament and core of all combat." gloss on Johannes Liechtenauer, recorded 1389.
- "As a martial art, Taijiquan is externally a soft exercise, but internally hard, even as it seeks softness. If we are externally soft, after a long time we will naturally develop internal hardness. It’s not that we consciously cultivate hardness, for in reality our mind is on softness. What is difficult is to remain internally reserved, to possess hardness without expressing it, always externally meeting the opponent with softness. Meeting hardness with softness causes the opponent’s hardness to be transformed and disappear into nothingness..." From chapter twenty of the "Forty Chapters" preserved by Taijiquan's Yang family.
- "Those who practice Shaolinquan leap about with strength and force; people not proficient at this kind of training soon lose their breath and are exhausted. Taijiquan is unlike this. Strive for quiescence of body, mind and intention. ...The greatest taboo when practicing Taijiquan is to use force. If one can make the entire body loose and open, and be absorbed in the circulation of blood and qi, then after a while one's practice will naturally develop inner jing. This inner energy is extremely soft, so when encountering an opponent one doesn't need to resist at all. The ability to extend and contract in order to follow the opponent's energy is referred to as elastic power within softness. Taijiquan theory states: "From the greatest softness comes the greatest hardness." This is what is meant by softness." Wu Jianquan in his essay Features of Taijiquan
- "In Randori we teach the pupil to act on the fundamental principles of Judo, no matter how physically inferior his opponent may seem to him, and even if by sheer strength he can easily overcome him; because if he acts contrary to principle his opponent will never be convinced of defeat, no matter what brute strength he may have used." Kano Jigoro
- "I may venture to say, loosely, that in Judo there is a sort of counter for every twist, wrench, pull, push or bend. Only the Judo expert does not oppose such movements at all. No, he yields to them. But he does much more than yield to them. He aids them with a wicked sleight that causes the assailant to put out his own shoulder, to fracture his own arm, or in a desperate case, even to break his own neck or back." Lafcadio Hearn
- "True spirit of Judo is nothing but the gentle and diligent free spirit. Judo rests on flexible action of mind and body. The word flexible however never means weakness but something more like adaptability and openmindedness. Gentleness always overcomes strength." Kyuzo Mifune
- "Do not think of attack and defense as two separate things. An attack will be a defense, and a defense must be an attack." Kazuzo Kudo
- "Another tenet of randori is to apply just the right amount of force--never too much, never too little." Kano Jigoro