Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting a bit punchy

The punch.  I can't think of any martial art that doesn't work on punching.  Many martial artists practice it for a lifetime, perfecting it's every nuance.

A punch is an interesting thing.  It's kind of instinctual.  Balling up your fists and hitting someone emerges as a natural consequence of anger and frustration in the early years of life.  Now, very young children seem to keep an open hand and have full arm swing movement when they "attack".  Smart for power generation and protecting the hands, but pretty easy to see coming.  After that, it's 'fists-a-flying'.

Some will argue and say that a proper punch is anything but easy.  In some ways, I agree, in others I don't.  Take a person who has never taken a martial art.  Ask them to do a four corner throw, or an arm bar, or a joint lock.  They will struggle and have to be shown.  Ask for a punch, chances are they'll be able to do a half decent one right off the bat.

I've been questioning the effectiveness of the punch.  Scratch that, I've been questioning how much time I should be spent practicing the punch.

I've been working out with a boxer off and on over the last several months.  He is a tried and true striker.  Well that's not entirely accurate either, since he's now expanding his study into Jiu Jitsu.

At first, I was a little bit intimidated by his punching ability.  They were crisp, fast, and usually part of a flurry of strikes.  Over time, though, I've found ways to work around his fists of fury.  First off, I don't box with a boxer.  Once I got over trying to go toe to toe with him, I could move back into my comfort zone, and started finding openings.  The punches that I throw are rarely meant on their own to be knock out blows.  I use them to distract and 'get in' on my opponent.  What I learned with the boxer was that the actual quality of my punch didn't matter nearly as much as how I was using it.  Used properly, a poor punch still created an opening for me to move in and go to work.

This got me looking at the punch more closely.  In a real confrontation, how many punches actually land, and of those, how many land where they were intended?  And for those that did land as intended, how many were fight enders?  We're conditioned watching sport fighting to expect the punch to be the tool that ends most matches.  Highlight reels are full of spectacular knock outs.  Yes, they can happen, but they're much more likely to occur in a ring than in a dark alley or parking lot.

What's also likely to happen is that you're going to break your hands in a bare knuckle fight.  Even professional boxers break their hands in fights when the gloves come off.  The hands contain too many breakable parts.  Small errors on angles, arm position and striking surface can cause injury.  What happens then if a weapon comes into play?  Can you still use your hands?  Did you de-fang your own snake?

My point is not to abandon striking and the punch.  I'm just questioning how much time I should spend practicing something that I can do fairly well with little or no practice, and something that is as rife with danger to the delicate structure of my hands.  And on top of that, are they really all that effective in the first place?  In my line of work, I've rarely come across situations where a punch or two ended things.  Quite frankly, most are fairly easy to get out of the way of unless you're standing face to face in a 'punch off'.

I know I'll never stop using or practicing punching.  What I may do is spend more time working on what comes next.  For me, a punch is a tool that leads to something else.  This stays in line with my belief that the first, second, and sometimes even third technique you try in a real fight probably won't work out as planned anyway, so I'm not going to put all my eggs in one, um...punch basket.



  1. I started off as a punchy guy, but went to the classical soft route. I only connected and controlled for the past twelve years. I have learned the lessons and have come back around. Punching is damn useful. I have changed how I do it though. I use it as a deep connection push to change the structure of my opponent, rather than for percussive damage. Either way a useful tool. But yeah, the punch itself isn't brain surgery. How to land the punch, and weave through space and defenses is a bit of a trick.

  2. You make a good point, Journeyman. The way I have always seen it is that striking should be a first stage due to the fact it is so instinctual (eg with children as you mentioned). But you are right - how much difference is there between a good punch and a spectacular one? I think the key is that you have a strong core competency in grappling, throws and a totally different distance range. I would wager someone with less experience than you in those areas would rather keep more distance. Spot on with the idea - get the basics and move on to the hard work. On the other side, it can take a long time for someone to get a strike that will have any effect - even if you get lucky and hit the head, a poor punch will injure you and reduce impact on the opponent. And your next punch will surely not have the power it needs should you get lucky again.

    That was much longer than I intended, but in summary: Good Post. :)

  3. Sensei Strange,

    I've been back and forth over the years as well. Punching is definitely useful, and can be used in different ways and for different purposes. Disrupting the energy of your opponent is most definitely a trick, and one that I use the punch to initiate. Thanks.


    Thanks for the comments. I've found the longer you stand toe to toe with someone, the greater the chances of dumb luck intervening, which can end up in you munching on a knuckle sandwich.

  4. As a karateka the definitive technique of my art is the punch. However someone of my sex and build is not going to do a lot of damage to a determined attacker fuelled with adrenaline so I think that punching or striking 'smart' is more important than punching hard. By that I mean that one should target the strikes very accurately on vulnerable areas - eyes, throat, groin, floating ribs etc. I think this is more effective than trying to punch hard and of course is much more skilful than just 'throwing a punch'

  5. I was hoping for a few karateka to weigh in on this post. With so many things in the art, working smarter is better than just working harder. Great points about punching. By striking smarter, you also reduce the risk of injuring yourself, assuming they land where intended. Thanks for commenting.