For whatever reason I’ve found myself thinking about punching a lot lately. Ok, maybe it’s not too much of a leap for me to think about it, I practise martial arts for goodness sake, but even for me it’s been on my mind a lot. Mostly I’ve been thinking about the differences in the way different arts punch, and how the power is generated.
When you think about it quickly, a punch is a punch, but when you break it down there are so many different ways of doing it, and all with the express purpose of putting the opponent down as fast as possible. Can it really be that difficult to figure out the best way to do it? Apparently so.
Let’s start with what I know; Tang Soo Do. It’s actually pretty complicated to analyse a karate-style punch, because when we perform our basics or forms we tend to finish the punch at the same time we end in a stance (which is often a chun-gul jaseh – front stance). Obviously in practise this wouldn’t be the case, the punch would have to come out earlier, but the way we throw a punch is as important as when. Shin Chook (tension and relaxation) is a fundamental part of Tang Soo Do – it’s one of our eight key concepts – and as well as governing a lot of the ways we should move, it also dictates the way we should attack. The principle is that the arm and body should be totally relaxed through >95% of the attack, with only a small moment of tension at the point of impact. The idea behind it is sound, the relaxed muscles increase the speed available, the power’s delivered by the hip, and at the end of a day a good punch is one that delivers the weight at the fastest speed possible.
So why then, do boxers not punch in the same way? Watch a good middleweight or heavyweight boxer; the shoulders are often high, muscles tense – the polar opposite to a karate punch. When I think about it the punching is completely different, instead of relying on bodyweight being behind a punch, it uses the core muscles and a firm foot plant to generate torque. Obviously there’s more to it than that, and it’s not to say that TSD never punches that way – anyone who’s done some decent focus mitt drills can testify to that – but the point is that they’re a very different style of striking.
Jeet Kune Do has again, a different style of punching. Being called ‘way of the intercepting fist’ should give you some clues that it’s going to be done differently, but how exactly? JKD works on the principle of having the strongest hand forward and attacking with it, whereas most other arts will work with the strongest hand backward. The way I’ve heard throwing a JKD lead punch (the cornerstone of JKD as I understand it) is to imagine throwing a whip or a chain with a ball on the end. How many karate practitioners have ever intentionally thrown a power punch that way? Does it work? Undoubtedly.
All of this is before we even consider other things like the alignment of the fist. The vertical vs horizontal debate has raged on for probably as long as the martial arts have. I’m not going to get into that here, I can see why the proponents of each type prefers it, but that’s for another day. Now that I think about it, the reason this has been on my mind is probably because of the UFC event on the weekend when James Toney fought Randy Couture. I remember thinking ‘If that boxer gets in range to strike, he could end it quickly’, but why would I assume a boxer can hit that much harder than a MMA practitioner? Is there truth behind it or is it just a preconception based on well-planted people thumping one another? I’m still not sure .