The Different Levels Of Traditional Martial Arts Training

Training in traditional martial arts simultaneously trains you on several different levels.  Not properly understanding this can lead to confusion and trying to apply a given technique in an inappropriate manner.  So first of all, lets look at the different levels at which any technique actually trains you:

Self Defence Application:
Obviously each and every technique was at some point created for a some form of strike, block, deflection, throw/take-down, release, restraint; or (quite commonly) it can used for several purposes. Continue reading “The Different Levels Of Traditional Martial Arts Training”

Techniques As A “Shorthand” For Learning Principles

Some of the newer and more reality based martial arts which emphasise real self protection (as opposed to sport) such as Krav Maga and Systema argue that the strength of their system is that they emphasise principles of movement rather than techniques.  They argue that most of the older Oriental martial arts by contrast put the emphasis the other way round, on techniques more than principles.  They argue that this makes their arts better for learning self defence more quickly and effectively.

Note:   Systema is actually quite old, but has been seriously re-vamped and modernised by the Russian Communist government.

When you think about it, learning a principle is more important then learning a technique.  If you learn one technique, you have just that, one technique.  If you learn a principle, you have something that you can adapt to many different techniques and scenarios which makes if far more useful and versatile than a single technique.  A system that places emphasis on learning principles over techniques would have a number of advantages as it wouldn’t take too many principles before you have a fairly wide range of applications in your arsenal.

Without any disrespect to these newer and reality based systems, but I think that they misunderstand how the Oriental martial arts are structured.  I think it’s easy to forgive them for that as most people practising Oriental martial arts don’t fully understand either.  I’ll take Karate as an example as that it my main style (though it applies to Taekwondo, Kung Fu and other styles too).  What most of the Japanese Masters emphasise above all else is good form.  Whilst I agree that good form is important, what I don’t like is that most senior Masters emphasise form over function and the functions are largely lost in history.  Again, you can forgive them for this, as that is the way the Okinawans taught them.  I won’t go into the political and social reasons for this as I’ve discussed this elsewhere.

But when you put emphasis on form and forget (or at least don’t study in depth) the function; then you end up being technique orientated.  When you focus primarily on the form of the technique, you end up with a very restricted view of how you can use it!

However, each technique is really a shorthand method for studying principle(s) of movement and function.  If I take a stepping punch for example.  As a technique for stepping forward and punching somebody it’s a bit limited.  It’s easy to see it coming!  Usually to make it work you have to use a distraction as it’s a bit long and slow as a single technique.  That said, distraction is always good and should be practised as a matter of course!

However, if we look at the stepping punch in terms of learning principles, what principles can we learn.  Well there are several.

–  Co-ordination of the breath with the strike.
–  Co-ordination of punch with forward body momentum.
–  Sinking the body weight at the end to have a good “root” when striking.
–  Correct alignments of the skeletal system to impart maximum impact.
–  Compression of the stationary leg (the one that does not step) during the first half of the step allows you to propel yourself forward in the second half of the step (release the compression).

Stepping Punch

So lets say for example that you are confronted by an aggressor.  You do all the right things to try and de-escalate the situation and it doesn’t work.  For whatever reason, lets assume that running away is not an option!

You decide you have to strike!

Note:  Under UK law, you’re legally entitled to strike first if you honestly and sincerely believe you are in imminent danger of being harmed (but you may have to justify that belief in a court of law).  If you’re not in the UK, you’ll have to check the law in your country/state!

So you’re in the fence position (or a guard).  Either way, you have your hands up and front of you, between you and the aggressor; and one foot in front of the other.  If you were to execute a classical stepping punch, by the time you’re half way there the aggressor will likely know it coming and be preparing his/her counter!  That said, bullies often come close into your personal space to try to intimidate you, so you might not have room anyway.

However, lets just say you slightly lower your weight so as to compress the rear leg.  You then slightly lift the front foot of the ground and allow your body weight to move forward.  You enhance the forward movement by releasing the prepared compression and propelling yourself forward.  As you move forward you use the correct skeletal alignment, exhale and sink your weight on impact!

You haven’t performed a classical stepping punch.  In fact you haven’t even stepped through properly, you’ve just slid forward on your front leg!

However, you’ve used all the principles of movement/alignment/power generation, listed above which you learn from practising the technique of stepping punch.  The untrained observer wouldn’t even recognise that there was a connection between the movement described above and a stepping punch; yet the movement described above would not be very powerful without a lot of repetition of the stepping punch.

This works with just about all of your other techniques.

And this post only covers the use of this technique for a strike.  Most techniques are multi functional and can be used for striking, grappling and weapons, but the that’s for another post!

Reverse Punch With Sliding Step

I have done a very similar video to this before about maximising the thrust in the reverse punch (gyaka zuki).  This time however, I wanted to take it a bit further by adding a sliding step, which is a very useful and powerful technique from both competition and self protection points of views.  It moves the body weight forward further and even more rapidly giving a lot of acceleration, impact and covers distance in a very deceptive maner.

In the video, I look at some of the details of the technique to achieve this sliding step more easily and efficiently.  It’s nothing new, it just goes a bit more into detail which I personally feel not people explain in much depth.  If you find it useful, please “like” it and leave a comment below.

Karate Kime (Focus) & Tension At The End Of The Technique

“Kime” is a Japanese word, roughly translated as “focus”.  It is where Karate derives it’s power from at the point of impact of a punching or striking technique.  But how well is it understood?

Most people loosely describe achieving Kime as moving with relaxation, then tensing the whole body very rapidly at the completion of the technique with a heavy exhalation.  But tension stops movement and do we really want to tense (hence not be moving or hardly moving) even be it for a moment?

Does it really add anything to the technique?

Is there another way?

Master Kousaku Yokota speculates in his book, Shotokan Myths, that as Kata (patterns/forms) competition become popular, the tension at the end of the technique became more and more exaggerated so that competitors could emphasis to the judges that they were actually focusing at the right places.

There is a story (which I’m not able validate) that Gichin Funakoshi’s son visited the Japan Karate Association (for many years the main driving force behind promoting Shotokan throughout the World).  Apparently one of his comments was, “where did all this tension come from”?

For many years, Karate (Shotokan in particular) has been criticised by other styles for being tense, stiff and wooden; because of this heavy emphasis on tension at the end of a technique.  It is called a “hard” style, despite it’s Okinawan roots being more akin to the “soft” Chinese styles from which Karate evolved!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.  Please let me know what you think and leave your comments below.

 

Martial Arts Training With Joint Injuries (Part 2)

Following on from (and inter-related with) Part 1, we are now going to look at body alignments, in particular with legs and stance.


Mechanics Of Normal Walking

Normal walking is a continuous fluid motion with one step merging into another step.  When we walk normally, our body weight moves directly over our knees and feet.  When viewed from the front, our ankle, knee and hip joints all in complete alignment and our feet pass each other no further apart than our hip joints.  That is where the femur locates into the pelvis, (not the outer surfaces of the hips).

This is logical as when we walk our weight is supported on just one single structure (one leg) then transferred onto another single structure (our other leg).  To support a weight on a single structure, physics dictates that the most efficient way is for the supporting structure to be directly below the main weight (in this case – our body).

Physics also dictates that the weight is most easily supported when the supporting structure is straight (which our leg is as the weight passes over it).  To test this, try standing on one leg for a minute.  Then try it again with a bent leg.  You can do it with a bent leg, but you’ll tire much more quickly.


How The Karate Step Differs From Normal Walking

Taking Forward Stance (Zenkutsu Dachi) as an example, our feet are shoulder width apart when viewed from the front (rather than hip joint distance as in normal walking).  This extra width of stance gives much more stability and “root” from which to deliver our technique and to absorb and rebound the reaction forces from the impact of that technique.

As mentioned above, when supporting a weight with a single support then the support should be directly below the weight.  However, if you can have multiple supports (using both legs in a stance at completion of a step) then the most stable structure is a pyramid shape (broad base, small on top).  We can’t really make our torso smaller, but the broader stance (feet shoulder width apart) does form a shallow pyramid structure, giving us maximum stability for that split second of impact.


Putting Natural Alignments Into Your Stance

In my early days of training we were taught to push the knees outwards.  In Forward Stance the front knee would be pushed outward, in Back Stance (Kokutsu Dachi) the back knee would be pushed backwards and in Horse Stance (Keba Dachi) both knees would be pushed outwards.  I realise that many teachers and associations have moved on from this practice, but it is still worth mentioning.  Pushing the knees outwards puts unnecessary pressure on the outside of the knee joints and will damage them over time.  Many senior instructors have had to have knee and hip replacements.  Many others have just had to give up their training.

Pushing the knee(s) outward is like bowing the leg and distorts the natural pyramid shape structure, thus weakening it.  This not only damages the knee over time, but it creates extra tension as your muscles around the knee tighten slightly in order to try and keep the knee joint in place (so as to prevent the damage).  Tension of course just slows us down, so it is bad from a self defence point of view as well as for our health.

When looking at the front of the leg the ankle, knee and hip joints should all be in alignment (as with normal walking above).  For this purpose I would like to define the front of the leg as being viewed from the direction that the foot is pointing in, as the legs can rotate at the hip joint (hence in back stance the feet point at about 90 degrees to each other).

It may not be the same for everybody, but I find this alignment is most easily achieved when the weight is balanced on the base of the big toe, rather then spread over the whole foot (as per Part 1).

Again, if you know anybody who suffers from hip/knee problems, please forward this post to them.

 

Martial Arts Training With Joint Injuries (Part 1)

Having suffered with joint injuries myself, especially to the knee, I know how frustrating it can be and the limiting impact it can have on your training.

I have found some very minor adjustments in training which have helped me to cope with the knee problems that I have suffered with.  I don’t claim that this will work for everybody or that it will be a wonder-cure, I just want to share what has helped me and hope that it will help others too.  Fact is, it is not a cure at all, but a coping mechanism to minimize the pain/discomfort to the joints.

The following is based on a conversation that I had with my podiatrist when I was being examined to have orthotics to cope with fallen arches in my feet.  Although it primarily referring to Karate (as that is the art I practice) it will also apply to many other arts too.

Mechanics Of Normal Walking

Put left foot in front of right.
Put right foot in front of left.
Keep repeating the above.

OK there’s a bit more to it than that.  The way we step in Karate (and many other marital arts) is obviously different to the way that we step when walking normally.  However, the more that we can put our natural method of walking into our Karate step, then the easier and more fluid it becomes.  To do this it helps to have a look at the mechanics of normal walking in a bit more detail.

If you ask most people how the foot works during walking, they’ll often say something like “heel toes, heel toes”.  A slightly more detailed version would be “heel, ball of the foot, toes”.  However, it’s a bit more involved than that.

As we walk the heel obviously comes down first and then roles over to the ball of the foot.  However, the weight comes down primarily onto the base of the big toe (the inside portion of the ball of the foot).  It is important to note that our weight does not come down evenly on the whole ball of the foot.  The big toe lands first, then fractionally afterwards the little toes come down to give us balance.

As we continue the step, we raise our heel and push our weight back onto the base of the big toe.  Again the little toes and the outside portion of the ball of the foot are still on the ground, but are primarily for balance.  Our body weight and the power to push forward are directed through the base of the bit toe (rather than the whole ball of the foot).  If you look at the photograph of the footsteps in the sand, you can see that the indentation in the sand is larger at the base of the big toe then it is at the outside of the ball of the foot as that is the part that is pushed into the sand hardest.

How The Karate Step Differs From Normal Walking

In Karate basics and kata, multiple steps are usually NOT continuous and fluid.  Each individual step should be a very fluid movement, but there is usually a very tiny pause between one step and the next.  This is because on completion of your Karate step, you are looking to very momentarily form a stable platform from which to deliver your technique for maximum effect. Part of that skeletal structure includes having a good “root” to the ground that will not move or give way when your body is subjected to the reaction forces caused by the impact of your own technique.

Putting Natural Movement Into Your Step

Many people in martial arts do what they think they should be doing (or what they’ve been told to do) rather than necessarily doing what comes naturally.

Most instructors teach that you push off with the ball of the foot.  However, I would respectfully suggest that you should specifically be aiming to push off with the base of the big toe (as in natural walking).

Now many people (possibly most) will be doing this naturally without realising it.  But when you do realise it, then it becomes easier to focus on and develop.  Also, if you are an instructor, it becomes easier to explain and teach the movement to your own students.

Other people however, will be taking the instruction literally and will try to push off from the whole ball of the foot.

Try this little exercise.  Stand upright, with your feet at about shoulder width apart, parallel and pointing forward.  Lift the heel of one foot off the floor and move it directly forward, so that your knee moves forward too.  Now feel where the weight is centred on that foot?  It will be on the base of the big toe.

Now try again, but this time as you raise you heel, make sure that the whole ball of the foot stays on the floor with the weight evenly distributed over the whole ball.  If you’re doing it properly, you’ll notice that your heel and knee go very slightly to the outside.

If you are looking for forward movement, then the transferring weight onto the base of the big toe rather than the whole ball of the foot is obviously advantageous (as well as more natural).

Now picture yourself in a Forward Stance, ready to take that step forward.  Your back foot is pointing slightly outwards (as we can never get it facing completely forward).  If you try to push off from the whole ball of the foot, then as your foot is pointing slightly outward, your whole rear leg will be facing slightly outward as you start your step.  Hence the direction of thrust will be more or less in the outward direction that the foot is pointing.  It will however be quickly adjusted as you begin your step forward.

However, if you start by pushing off from the base of the big toe, then the load is taken away from the little toes (hence taking away unnecessary effort) that fraction earlier.  In turn the leg begins to naturally rotate forward just that fraction more quickly, giving you thrust that is completely facing forward that little fraction earlier.  You get extra leverage to start your movement making the step easier and more fluid for fractionally less effort.

As previously mentioned, many people will be doing this naturally without realising and I do not claim to be proclaiming something new.  However, we are normally told to “push off with the ball of the foot” and there are many people who will take that literally, even if it means overriding the more natural way of doing things.

Putting This Natural Alignment Into Your Stance

When we stand naturally and comfortably (maybe in a social setting), our feet are normally just below us.  Because of differences in the pelvis, women tend to stand with feet quite close together, whilst men tend to stand with feet at about shoulder width apart.

In this comfortable and natural posture, the bottoms of our feet are more or less, squarely on the floor.  However, if we spread our legs further, (as if going towards the splits position), then the further we spread our legs, the more that we tend to come onto the inside edge of our feet.  Eventually at full splits, the flats of our feet come right off the ground and only the side of our feet make contact.

Horse Stance (Keba Dachi) is the stance where we separate the legs sideways the most.  As we do this, the natural tendency is to start putting the weight more onto the inside edge of the feet (heel and base of big toe).

However, many people fight this and struggle to flatten the foot out as much as they can, so that the weight is evenly distributed about the whole of the bottom of the foot.

Why?

What is the benefit of struggling to flatten the bottom of the foot evenly on the ground?  As we have seen above, the power generated through the leg when stepping is released at the base of the big toe which is on the inside of the foot.

Keep the knees in line with the ankle and hips (when viewed from the front) and allow most of the weight to primarily rest on the inner part of the bottom of your foot.  More specifically, focus the weight primarily on the base of the big toe.  The heel and small toes must also be in contact with the floor, but (as with walking) the little toes and the outside portion of the ball of the foot are more there for balance than for supporting the weight.

Try getting into a Horse Stance and alternating between supporting the weight evenly over the whole bottom of the foot and then transferring the weight primarily onto the base of the big toe.  As you move the weight onto the base of the big toe, you should find that your ankles and knees relax just a slight fraction more, because this is a more natural alignment.  The only way to really flatten out the foot evenly is to flex the ankles outward, which takes it out of natural alignment and creates tension.

Have we not always told that relaxation is extremely important?  Why then do so many people try to maintain a stance that creates tension as a by-product?

Note:  Although I’ve used Horse Stance as an example, the same principle applies to other stances too.  It is just easier to highlight in Horse Stance.

Whilst practicing basics and kata, we sometimes have to hold a stance for a moment.  However, for real fighting stances are usually only transitory so we should be able to move in and out of them very quickly so that we can move on to the next technique (or next opponent).  In order to move out of these transitory stances quickly, focusing the weight on the base of the big toe (as in normal walking) makes a great deal of sense on a practical combat level as well as being healthier for our joints.

“Beginners must master low stance and posture; natural body positions are for the advanced”.From Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts

Most of us know or train with somebody who suffers from joint problems.  If you have found this useful and think it might help somebody that you know, please forward this post on to them.

Diaphragmatic Breathing In Martial Arts

Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many traditional martial arts, but I don’t think that all martial artists completely realise the full extent of how important this really is.  It actually helps us on a number of different levels.

But first though for anybody new to martial arts (or this concept) lets have a look at what diaphragmatic breathing actually is.  Most adults breathe into the top of their lungs and as they do so their shoulders and collar bones rise slightly.  But with diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm (which is a large internal muscle at the base of the lungs) is used.  This pulls down on the lower part of the lungs, opening up the whole of the lungs and thus pulling in more air (hence more Oxygen).  When breath is pulled in this way, the shoulders and collar bones do not rise.  However, as the diaphragm pulls down it displaces the lower torso organs and the stomach area in particular is pushed outwards.

Young children and animals naturally breathe this way.

Many people say that you “breathe into your stomach”.  This is of course not physically possible, but that is how it feels.  And sometimes looking for a feeling will help you to get the correct technique, even if it is not actually possible.

So lets look at some of the many ways in which diaphragmatic breathing helps us:

Technique

As above, when you pull the breath in with your diaphragm and it feels as if it is going down to your stomach (otherwise known as hara or dan tien).  This is where your centre of gravity is, so by having your focus on that part of your body, you can start to move more fluidly.  When you movement is generated by your centre of gravity the rest of your body follows naturally, whereas if you lead with shoulders or upper torso (which is common with beginners), you drag your centre of gravity which will slow you down and compromise fluidity.

When you inhale with your diaphragm it has a relaxing effect on the rest of the body.  Again this helps with the fluidity of movement as it helps to remove tensions from the rest of the body.

When you exhale rapidly from the  diaphragm, it allows you to generate rapid muscular movement to drive your strike/punch/kick into your opponent.  As the diaphragm is connected to the core muscles, it also assists with the over stability of your body and your ability to absorb any reaction force to the impact of your blow.

Masking Intent

In a conflict situation the last thing you want is for your opponent to know what you are planning to do and when you plan to move.  It is instinctive to inhale before launching an attack.  As mentioned above, most untrained people breath into the top of their lungs and their shoulders and collar bones rise up.  When you see this, you get a warning that you are about to be attacked.

Even if you did not know this fact and your conscious mind does not notice, your unconscious mind will notice and give you that intuitive feeling that something is coming, giving you that tiny fractional bit more time to prepare or react.

When you inhale with your diaphragm your shoulders and collar bones do not rise so you don’t give away this little warning signal, so your opponent has less chance to react or prepare for it.

Calming the mind

Much is written these days about the effects of adrenaline, especially by those who are into reality based martial arts, and that is a good thing.  One of the effects of adrenalin is that breathing becomes short and shallow.  Oxygen tends to be pumped into the limbs ready for fight or flight, but the brain receives less oxygen which blunts the ability to think a way out of the situation.  This can even lead to panic or freezing up.

Diaphragmatic breathing should be practiced during pressure training.  That way when you are in a real street conflict situation you are more likely to be able to maintain diaphragmatic breathing rather than resorting to the short shallow breathing.  This in turn allows you to draw in more oxygen which will allow you to function better both physically and mentally.  It will keep you calmer.

If can use this to keep your calm when you are facing a violent assault, you can also use it in other areas of your life (problems at work, exam nerves, relationship tensions, even just stressed when stuck in traffic).

intuition

This is tied in with the section on calmness above.  As mentioned earlier, the unconscious mind can pick up a lot of signals that the conscious mind misses.  This is when we have a feeling of intuition, when we just sense or feel something but don’t really know how or where this knowing comes from.

However, a mind that is in a state of panic will not access this intuition as well as a calm mind.  This is why you can sometimes fight/spar with a very experienced person and they just seem to read you like a book and know what your moves are almost before you do.  They respond with what seems almost supernatural reactions.  But what you notice from anybody with this ability is that they stay completely calm throughout, allowing themselves to access this intuition.

Health

Firstly, we need oxygen to live.  Oxygen has great healing properties and can even kill cancer cells.  Diaphragmatic breathing pulls more oxygen into the body then just breathing into the top of the lungs.

Also, toxins always gather in the body, including in the lungs.  Those who only breathe into the top of their lungs do not clear the toxins from the bottom of the lungs.  People who are used to diaphragmatic breathing will pull the breath right down to bottom of the lungs and clear these deep rooted toxins.

“Sinking” In Your Stance At The End Of A Technique

In many martial arts we are taught that on the climax of our technique we should “sink” into our stance.  I will admit that if my knees are sore, I sometimes find this quite difficult to do.

But firstly, why do we do it?  “Sinking” at the climax of out technique is a way improving our skeletal structure and helping us for form an immovable “root” to the ground, thus enabling us to more efficiently absorb the reaction energy to any impact from our blows.  Or more correctly, we don’t absorb the that reaction energy as it tries to go through our structure, finds the immovable ground, and is rebounded into our opponent again (so he gets it twice).

So why do a lot of people struggle with it?

Although you obviously have to bend your knees more in order to sink, if you focus on bending your knees then ironically it will probably not come easily.  It’s a little bit like doing a squat, the more you bend the knees, they more you intuitively tense your legs to absorb the weight!

In some styles  such (as in the early versions of Shotokan exported from Japan) there was an over exaggerated exhalation/tension in order to produce kime (focus).  I remember being taught to tense the whole body including the legs, which will obviously make it them a bit more resistant to bend, in order to sink further.

Also, if you have knee pains, you intuitively tense the muscles around them in order to prevent your knee bones/cartilage/ligaments/tendons/etc from moving about too much (hence less pain).  I know this from personal experience.  But this tension makes it difficult for you to bend the knees more and sink.

The best ways to “sink” into your stance is by getting the right feeling rather than focusing on a physical movement itself, because focusing on physical movement tends to make you focus on muscles, hence – tension.  Some say it is like “falling down a hole”, but obviously you stop yourself before going too far.

Different things will work for different people, but I’d like to share something that has worked for me.

We are usually taught in most martial arts to “breathe into your stomach” (or hara/dan tien).  This is of course not actually physically possible as the air we breathe in goes into our lungs and can’t get passed the diaphragm to our stomach.  Our diaphragm moves down and displaces our internal organs, so that it feels like we’re breathing into our stomach.  In fact it’s a visualisation that we use help get the right breathing technique.  It is however a very popular visualisation which most of us are taught right from the very beginning.

We can however build on this.  When you want to sink in your stance as you exhale, try to visualise the breath leaving the stomach through the legs, to the feet and out into the ground.  If you focus on the breath going down (rather than your weight going down), you should find it relatively easy to sink slightly without unnecessary tension.  The whole process becomes much more relaxed and natural movement which is what we should be aiming for.

I actually learnt this through Tai Chi, but have applied it to my Karate.  Of course, once your body gets used to the correct feeling, you can drop the visualisation as your body will know what you are looking for, but it is a useful tool to help get that feeling in the first place.

The “Corkscrew” Punch (The Devil In The Detail)

The “corkscrew” punch where we rotate the fist at the end of the punch is unique to Oriental martial arts.

Twisting the fist  is something that we all know about and take for granted.  And why shouldn’t we, we’ve been doing it since our very first class in Karate/Tae Kwon Do/most styles of Kung Fu .  The reason that I write about it here, is because I believe that it is something that though deeply ingrained into us, is still not done quite right by a good many people.

It may sound a bit strange to question something so basic, but bare with me.  Although many will be doing what I describe below, a good many others will not be.

Why not?  Because people will rotate the fist to get it into it’s correct finishing position, but not think about how the rest of the arm is moving to get it there!

It would be more correct to say that you should “twist your forearm”.   The fist is actually incapable of rotating on its own, it is only capable of moving up and down in a waving/hinged motion when isolated from any other arm movement.

Try this little exercise.  Perform any linear punch, then just freeze for a second with the arm in the extended punch position (no snap back).  Now keep check if the crease of your elbow joint (where it folds) is pointing upwards or inwards.  If you are not sure, then being very careful not to move the upper arm at all, bend the elbow.  It the fist rises up then the crease of the elbow joint is facing up.  If the fist moves inward (parallel to the floor) then the crease of the elbow is pointing inwards.

So why should you care about that?

Like the fist, the elbow is incapable of rotating itself, it is a hinge joint rather than a ball joint.  From the starting position with the fist at the hip, the crease of the elbow joint points forward.  As the arm is extended forward (without rotating), the elbow crease should end up pointing upwards.

For the elbow to rotate (so that the elbow crease points inward), you actually have to rotate the arm in the shoulder socket.  To be a bit more technical, you rotate the humerus bone in the ball socket at the shoulder.

This is something that you shouldn’t be doing.  Firstly it is an unnecessary movement of the shoulder joint and as we progress, we should be looking to take out all unnecessary movements.  Secondly, it creates a small jarring feeling at the elbow, so it is not good for the long term health of either shoulder or elbow joint.

Furthermore, it’s a less efficient punching technique, so it is less effective if you really need it.

Try standing in front of a mirror with you arm and shoulders exposed.  Now extend your arm in front of you and towards the mirror.  Don’t worry about making a fist or any technique, just relax.  Now rotate the whole arm several times at the shoulder joint.  You will notice when you look closely that upper arm actually moves very slightly away from the body when you rotate the arm so that the elbow crease points inwards rather than upwards.  Linear techniques are based on having the body weight behind them, so anything that takes the strike sideways away from the body will weaken that technique.

Granted, this is a very slight outward movement, but as you get more advanced, so it become more about fine detail.

It also effects your muscular alignments too.  The shoulder and lateral muscles (underneath the arm pits) act as shock absorbers and maintain the body structure when you strike a target and receive a reaction force from the impact.  Rotating the humerus outward in the shoulder socket slightly stretches those muscles making them less efficient at absorbing that reaction force.

Furthermore, when you punch, you use your triceps to extend your arm.  The triceps work more efficiently with the crease of the elbow facing upwards.  Don’t believe me?  Ask anyone who does weight training, or look up “triceps curls” on Youtube.

The bones of the forearm (the ulna and radius) are much smaller and they can rotate around each other.  There is not a big ball in socket rotation required as with rotating the humerus in the shoulder socket.

If you are not used to doing it this way, it may feel awkward at first and you may not be able to fully rotate the fist all the way over.  Stick with it, your forearm muscles will become more flexible and it will become easier.  You’ll find when you get used to it that the whole punch is much smoother than when you rotate the shoulder joint.

There is an argument that the bone alignment is weaker when the ulna and radius are rotated about each other.  However, the idea when punching is that you actually make contact with the target before rotating the forearm (when the fist is still palm up).  So the point of impact is when these bones are still in a strong alignment.  You only rotate the forearm after contact has been made so that the rotational energy is added to forward impact to the punch, giving it a very penetrating “corkscrew effect”.

This forearm rotation comes into many other techniques too, such as at the very end of Soto Uke (Outside Block), Uchi Uke (Inside Block) and others.  With these blocks, the rotation of the fist at the end of the technique cannot be supported by the rotation of the shoulder joint because of the arm being bent and the elbow joint being lower than the fist.  Practicing for maximum forearm rotation in the punches will help maximise the forearm rotation in these other techniques too, making them more powerful, even with smaller movements.  It helps to give a small “whip” on the the end of these other techniques.

Maximising The Thrust Behind Your Reverse Punch

OK, this is mainly from a Karate perspective, but does also apply to some other styles too.  If you’re not a Karateka but sometime compete with them, then it might help you to understand some of the mechanics of our techniques too.

The content in the video below is in fairness nothing new, it’s just honing a fine detail which may help some to understand the mechanics of a reverse punch (gyaka zuki) that little bit better.

For those who teach, it may just give another way for you to explain to your students the mechanics of the movement that you’ve been trying to get them to understand.

I talk a lot on this website about practicality and bunkai, but you still need to have good technique or the practicality and bunkai won’t work very well.

It might be immodest of me, but I consider one of my strengths to be an ability to break techniques down into fine detail and sometimes to re-frame details to help people to understand that little bit better.  I might of course be deluding myself so I’ll let you be the best judge of that.  If however you agree and find this video useful, then please pass this link on to you club mates and martial arts friends.  I hope you enjoy it: