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"Stay 'unreasonable.'  If you don't like the solutions [available to you], come up with your own." 
Dan Webre

The Martialist does not constitute legal advice.  It is for ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

Copyright © 2003-2004 Phil Elmore, all rights reserved.

Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force

A Video Review by Phil Elmore

Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force (IOUF) is arguably some of Scott Sonnon's best work.   By the end of the series, I suspect you will be as impressed as I was with the valuable principles it contains.  The subtitle on the cassette boxes reads, "Never be thrown.  Throw at will."  Those six words comprise the essence of IOUF and are not mere hyperbole.

Production Notes

RMAX produced this tape in 2000, and the difference in Scott's appearance is somewhat startling.  Dressed in a camouflage gi and sporting a beard and ponytail, Scott looks like a modern-day pirate.  His earnest nature and vast knowledge shine through regardless of wardrobe, but the gis worn by Scott and his training partners Ben Brackbill and Scott Fabel are a point of contention with me.  All three of them are constantly straightening the gis after demonstrations -- a natural reflex, but one that tends to be distracting on camera.

The lighting is good, and the tape was recorded in front of a gray background and a contrasting carpet that are perfect for demonstrations of this type.  The ROSS banner is a bit distracting in its placement, but its presence is understandable.

There is a persistent audio issue throughout IOUF that deserves comment.  Frequently, the remote microphone attached to Scott's clothing produces poor sound when he's grappling with someone or when the fabric of his uniform has bunched up over it.  The recurring problem is a minor irritant, not something that cripples the teaching -- but it does illustrate the need for a boom mike in situations like this.

One thing this tape series does contain that is not present on some other RMAX productions is an explanation of ROSS.  To quote the text block,

ROSS is the training system of Russian Martial Art researched and formulated by the RETAL (Russian Combat Skill, Consultant Scientific and Practical Training) Center endorsed and approved by the International and All Russian Federation of Russian Martial Art, which is sanctioned and authorized by the National Olympic Committee of Russia as the sole official representative of Russian Martial Art within Russia and Worldwide.

Each tape contains footage of a demonstration of ROSS to Vladimir Putin in 1994.  Putin even offers a brief testimonial of his own to ROSS.


Scott opens the series by explaining that he's "teaching you how to fish."  Embrace the principles and training strategies contained in IOUF, he says, and you can create techniques based on those strategies. These comprise fundamentals missing in much martial art training today, he asserts.  He begins by explaining two important concepts in IOUF:  hyperfunction and the triangle point.

The body has its own survival instincts, righting reflexes that work against attempts to use dysfunction to flex joints to create pain or facilitate takedowns.  Rather than use dysfunction to work against this righting reflex, Scott advocates using the joint in the manner it is designed to function -- but causing it to move beyond the opponent's point of balance, thus inducing what Scott calls hyperfunction.

Think about it:  a typical wrist lock relies on dysfunction, such as jerking the opponent's wrist in a direction it is not meant to go.  He will respond automatically to "right" himself and escape that dysfunction.  If, instead, you manipulate his wrist in a direction it is meant to go -- but which was not his idea -- he cannot stop you from taking his balance.

(In Arthrokinetics, Scott goes into hyperfunction in more detail, discussing the four anatomical regions of joint manipulation as they relate specifically to appropriate tactical strategies.)

In explaining the triangle point, Scott points out that your feet can be connected by an invisible line.  Any line perpendicular to that first line indicates a breach of stance integrity.  (Combatives expert Carl Cestari describes using this line perpendicular to the line connecting the enemy's feet to direct your attack for maximum efficacy.  It is a sound principle.  The centerline is also the most important concept in Wing Chun and it is easy to see how all these arts and systems tie together.)  

Extend those perpendicular lines to a point either in front of or behind the line connecting the feet. What you see are two triangle points -- the points to which you can bring your opponent to take him off balance.  By causing his body to "overfunction" and driving him towards a triangle point, you may throw him at will.  Hyperfunction is thus the way you manipulate the opponent's joints to bring him to that triangle point.

Studying the head and neck and the pivot joint they comprise, Scott goes into more detail about the difference between hyperfunction and dysfunction.  When dysfunction is induced, the body moves defensively when a joint is moved beyond its range of motion, counteracting the energies directed against it.  Using hyperfunction, by comparison, "loads" the joints to facilitate motion.  There's no defense against this because it is simply how the joints are meant to work.  You take advantage of your opponent's body mechanics and move him without his consent.  In the examples that follow, we see that the body naturally moves to the triangle point, where balance fails.

Moving on to the ball and socket joint that is the shoulder, Scott looks at how to "load" and "unload" the joint.  Use this to naturally take the opponent to his triangle point by moving his body in the way it was designed to function, Scott urges.  In so doing you "disinhibit" his reflexes and bracing mechanisms -- because there is no dysfunction against which to react.

Continuing his discussion of the shoulder, Scott explains that the fulcrum of your throw is between the two levers of that throw, not at the grab point.  This idea transitions nicely into his treatment of force vectors, another key point in IOUF.

Understand the physiology of the human body, Scott says, and you understand that we are highly articulated, three-dimensional creatures.  The directions in which our joints are designed to move are limited and specific.  When you understand this, you begin to see the opponent's joints as traveling along force vectors -- directions along which you can move them, in the manner for which they were designed, to cause hyperfunction and take the opponent to the triangle point.

Discussing the elbow, Scott's treatment of force vectors begins in earnest.  Your body naturally loads and unloads in certain directions, he explains, so apply force along that vector.  Don't push against those force vectors. Follow them.  Look at the "bony levers" that operate your opponent's body and you will begin to see where he is vulnerable.  Numerous examples follow. In them, Scott explains the difference between the spastic reactions induced by dysfunction and the natural descent to the triangle point facilitated by hyperfunction.

The entire treatment of force vectors reminded me yet again of the balance exercise my Shanliang Li teacher and I have practiced that he calls "Indian Wrestling."  The drill teaches the importance of learning to yield when pulled or pushed.  If you offer resistance, your partner has something against which to push to put you off balance.  If instead you learn to give when force is offered, and to push or pull when tension is presented, you will win every time.  (I referred to this drill earlier in my Leg Fencing review.)

In order to be able to induce hyperfunction, it is important to expand your own range of motion.  Scott demonstrates performing "infinities" with the arms in both directions (drills discussed in more detail in the Fisticuffs series).  You're looking to "snake in," Scott explains.  You're not seeking to force the opponent's body to move.

In a lengthy segment on the "biomechanics of gripping" (which hints at the content of Volume 2 in the series), Scott explains how to vastly improve your ability to grab.  A standard "monkey grip," something each of us does instinctively, involves grabbing on top with the thumb.  Don't do this, Scott says.  Instead, start with your pinky and grab in on each joint, curling into the grasp.  Wrap underneath and you've created a much more secure grip.

Several examples of techniques that can be improved with this gripping technique follow.  These include the following helpful tips:

Scott goes on to explain just how to grab an arm to facilitate using force vectors.  As long as your focus is hyperfunction, you can literally grab the opponent anywhere.  He explains how to control various points on the torso, controlling and dominating the opponent's centerline.  Look at grabbing, Scott repeats, in the context of force vectors -- how to put structure in the way.

Two individuals engaged in single combat are locked in a relationship of force vectors.  "At any point, any throw," Scott intones.  Your partner depends on you for balance, and you can throw him at will if you understand those force vectors.  (This hints at Volume 3, Joint Mass Center.)

Throughout Volume 1 (and the entire IOUF series, for that matter), explanations of techniques are accompanied and followed by demonstrations and drills performed by Scott and his training partners.  The last segment in Tape 1, however, is comprised of archival footage of live grappling sessions.  This is great to see (even if the public domain music leaves a little bit to be desired).

To be honest, though, Volume 1 (while its explanation of force vectors and proper gripping is fundamental to tapes 2 and 3) only scratches the surface of what makes IOUF truly worthwhile.  The first time I viewed it, I came away with a better understanding of physical gripping and a vague idea about how to manipulate the opponent's joints.  The concepts had not yet come together for me, though.  For me, true understanding would come a little later in the series.

IOUF continues with Volume 2, Quantum Gripping.

Read my review of IOUF, Tape 2

Read my review of IOUF, Tape 3