Remember how, in Kill Bill 2 (2004), Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) is able to break out of the coffin in which Bud buried her alive by smashing its boards, despite having only a few inches of arm room to throw a punch? Fortunately for Beatrix, her Si Fu Pei Mei had taught her Kung Fu rigorously, making her break two-inch boards starting the blow only an inch away from its target.
Terrence McCoy, in the Washington Post, reports that scientists are attempting to explain how Bruce Lee could do the same kind of thing… in real life.
Itâ€™s a punch that has captivated our imagination for decades. From the distance of one-inch, Bruce Lee could break boards, knock opponents off their feet and look totally badass doing it. Itâ€™s one of the most famous â€” and fabled â€” blows in the world.
Days ago, Popular Mechanics set out to solve the mystery behind it â€“ and did.
Drawing upon both physical and neuro power, Leeâ€™s devastating one-inch punch involved substantially more than arm strength. It was achieved through the fluid teamwork of every body part. It was his feet. It was hips and arms. It was even his brain. In several milliseconds, a spark of kinetic energy ignited in Leeâ€™s feet and surged through his core to his limbs before its eventual release.
Scientists advise that you watch Leeâ€™s movement closely. If you do, youâ€™ll see every part of his body move. …Every bodily jerk has an apex of force. To not only maximize on that force â€” but to augment it â€” Lee perfectly synchronizes his movements, one after the other, linking them like boxcars on a train. To be sure, countless muscle men have been stronger than Lee, but few, if any, could deliver more more power than Lee with just one inch.
What makes the difference? Leeâ€™s brain.
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 Leeâ€™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, Leeâ€™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 Leeâ€™s hipsâ€”which, in turn, lurches the shoulder of his thrusting arm forward.
As Leeâ€™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.
By the time the one-inch punch has made contact with its target, Lee has combined the power of some of the biggest muscles in his body into a tiny area of force. But while the one-inch punch is built upon the explosive power of multiple muscles, Rose insists that Bruce Leeâ€™s muscles are actually not the most important engine behind the blow.
“Muscle fibers do not dictate coordination,” Rose says, “and coordination and timing are essential factors behind movements like this one-inch punch.”
Because the punch happens over such a short amount of time, Lee has to synchronize each segment of the jabâ€”his twisting hip, extending knees, and thrusting shoulder, elbow, and wristâ€”with incredible accuracy. Furthermore, each joint in Leeâ€™s body has a single moment of peak acceleration, and to get maximum juice out of the move, Lee must layer his movements so that each period of peak acceleration follows the last one instantly.
So coordination is key.