Bottlecap Challenge explained

Take measure, step back, kick, unscrew the bottle cap. It’s the bottlecap challenge that’s been making the internet rounds. Nothing could be easier. Except it is, it isn’t easy. Then again it’s not that difficult either.

I know what you’re thinking. It does look impressive and damn hard and you’re right but it’s worth unpacking because there are many elements to it and each one is worth learning more about.

First, and foremost of course is “why”? Why would we even bother to get involved in anything like this? Well, because it is kinda nonsensical which means it’s fun. But just like in any kind of nonsense joke it creates a common framework through which get to feel the humanity of each other. In the digital space that’s pretty difficult, so levity like this truly helps, which is why it went viral, though it took a little time (as these things do), the right person and (most important) the right spirit.

Now the challenge:

The Tools You Use

The kicking technique employed here is a reverse hook kick. To understand the biomechanics of a hook kick checkout this one here which I demonstrate for the Darebee website (I am its brand ambassador and occasional martial arts model). A “reverse” adds a 180 degree backward spin which adds its own complications.

If you’ve visited the link above you will know the muscles involved in making a hook kick happen. A reverse turn however complicates it further because it forces us to lose sight of the target and it will, inevitably, move the body forward by half a body’s width so that the back leg now comes to the front. That also means that it adds in the extra components of stability of the standing leg, core strength and overall balance.

All of these are physical. To compensate for the loss of visual of the target during a segment of the kick the head spins first (see the slowed down video of my kick). In a combat scenario the arms would be pretty tight to the body (because that helps accelerate the kick for the same reasons that a ballerina speeds up when she brings in her arms close to her body), but here (like Jason Statham’s kick) I have mine fairly extended.

This is by design. A. They slow my kick down a little which is not a bad thing to do as it improves accuracy and this is the only glass bottle I had lying around that had a screw top. B. As the target is stationery I use the reach of my arms to guide me in terms of distance from the target, just like a sniper would use a market to give them the distance.

Notice how in my practice run prior to this kick, when I still thought there might be a small chance I would overshoot the target, hit the glass bottle and end up collecting fragments of glass off the terrace for the rest of the day, I slow my body down to gauge the distance precisely and also use my arms, hands extended to help me establish the exact distance. As it turns out in that trial my estimate is spot on:

This is where the mental component kicks in.

Mental Modelling

In order for my back foot to come to the front, shape itself (I had to tense it so it is at 90 degrees to my leg) and brush against the screw top and force it to spin I need to have, in my head, a really good idea of the reach of my kicks, the distance to the target when I spin, the position of the screw top and the placement of my foot.

I have been doing martial arts since I was thirteen and spent a decade doing competitive martial arts at national level so my spatial awareness and cognitive processing during combat scenarios is a developed one. This makes, for me, the kicking of a stationery target simply a problem of precise placement rather than one of hitting the target.

Neuroscientific studies on this front show that:

… behavioral responses and event-related brain potentials (ERP) are better in expert than in novice athletes for sport-related tasks. Focused attention is essential for optimal athletic performance across different sports but mainly in combat disciplines. During combat, long periods of focused attention (i.e., sustained attention) are required for a good performance.

Self regulation is key here in order to calculate all that as well as a strong mental component that allows me to model the space I am in, my body (and its capabilities) and the target in order to execute a particular move, confident that it will give me the outcome I expect.

Can You Learn to Do This?

The million dollar question and the thesis of this article as well as, in a broader context, The Sniper Mind is that you can learn to do this without spending as long as I have, doing martial arts, if you understand the components of it well enough and begin to piece it together.

Here’s how:

  1. Position your target. Once you understand how the kick works and how to move your foot against the target, the question becomes one of balance and flexibility. These take time to achieve because they require tendon strength which is never instant. So lower your target a little. And practice a few times, slowly, to let your brain map the spatial boundaries of the movement.
  2. Get your distance. Spatial awareness is key. Try a few approaches using a plastic bottle to make sure your distance is correct when you finish the move. Your body moves the same distance each time you perform the kick, so to help you out here you may want to put a marker on the floor to help you get your starting point right.
  3. Don’t worry about your spin speed. You might be tempted to spin as fast as you can here in order to generate enough force. Here’s what it is: it’s a bottle screw top designed to be moved by your thumb and trigger finger and you are now applying the power of your hamstring, augmented by the shift of your body’s mass as you rotate. There is no way you will fail this unless you miss the target. Don’t miss the target.
  4. Calm down. Get excited and you will miss the target. You will break the bottle or simply get your distance wrong. Mental excitation introduces random noise in your brain’s signaling which slows down the rate of calculations it carries out as you execute your kick. Just take a deep breath and slowly breathe out as you execute the kick.
  5. Get someone to hold the bottle. Even the most precise kick imparts enough energy to have it crashing over and shattering.

That’s it. I hope this helps. And yeah, do check out how Ryan Renolds did it (or rather, failed to):