Where the Rubber Meets the……gyaku-zuki?
by Paul Willoughby
In this article, I will describe how to construct and utilize a simple and inexpensive training device constructed of looped-together bicycle inner-tubes that has helped my punching form, speed and power by correcting several of my punching maladies. It can also be utilized to help ones kicking and stepping speed but for me, it has been primarily a punching aid. I first learned of the device when I attended a seminar by Dr. Elmar Schmeissar, a former student of Hidetaka Nishiyama, the author of several books on Shotokan Karate and the Chief Operating Officer of the International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do (ISOK) organization. Before I go any further, I would like to include a disclaimer that junior students under high-school age should only use the device under the supervision of an instructor or another adult.
The inner-tube training device consists of 5 or 6 bicycle inner-tubes looped together so construction is quite simple. Your local bicycle shop will have a stack of used inner-tubes lying around waiting to be recycled and will let you have them either for free of for a nominal charge. If possible, pick through them and choose inner-tubes that are fairly clean and don’t have any major tears or dry rotted spots in them. I recommend obtaining 1 or 2 more than you need just in case something goes wrong in the next step of construction. For example, the first time I made these I obtained 12 inner-tubes and ended up with two 5 inner-tube length devices. Carefully remove the stem from each inner-tube with a sharp knife and then loop the tubes together and you are ready to go. It should be noted that a similar device could be constructed out of surgical tubing. However, I doubt that it would have the same elastic characteristics as the inner-tubes and will also cost more.
I have primarily used the inner-tubes to train punching either with a partner or by myself. If using this with a partner, have them get into a forward stance and loop one end around their calf just below the knee while you hold the tube in your punching hand at your hip, moving forward into a half facing forward stance stretching the inner-tube so that it doesn’t rest on the floor. See figures 1. Now, rotate your hip to front facing and perform a reverse punch to test the tension. See figures 2 and 3. If there is not enough tension for you, move forward a bit and try again. If there’s too much tension, move back a little. There should be enough tension to tax your arm after 30 or so repetitions but not enough so that you cannot fully extend your punch through its full range of motion. Once you have the desired tension, perform a set of 50 punches on one arm and then switch and do 50 on the other side. Now change so that you loop your end around your leg while your partner does a set of 50 on each arm. If a partner is not available, the inner-tubes may be looped around a sturdy support such as a tree or deck leg. I would recommend starting with 200-300 punches in your first session and then increase from there. A good regimen would be to do 1,000 punches over the course of a weekend. You can also perform exercises to improve kicking by looping one end of the inner tube around the foot and ankle and then practicing front kicking or stepping against the resistance. I also like to use the inner-tubes to help develop a quicker initiation of stepping. Loop the inner-tube around one ankle and then take a forward stance such that the inner-tube leg is your rear leg. See figure 4. Now, execute a half step gyaku-zuki by quickly drawing the rear leg towards your front leg into “kosa dachi like” stance while executing the punch. See figure 5.
Beyond the obvious aerobic and strength conditioning value, you will be made immediately aware if your elbow leads your punch or you allow your elbow to swing away from your body as you punch (a common problem). The inner-tubes will not allow any oscillation in your punching arm and will force your elbow to stay behind and in-line with your fist as you punch. As you go deeper into your reps, the next thing you might be made aware of is that you are initiating the punch from your shoulder with your hip following rather than actually driving the punch from your hip. As fatigue sets in, you will find that the inner-tubes will force you to initiate the punch with the larger muscles of the legs and buttocks connected through your hip and will not allow you to lead the punch with your shoulder, at least not with any real success. Please note: I recommend that you do not do any full speed air punches after your inner-tube work out without a rest period in-between. By pulling the rear leg quickly towards the front leg against resistance, this exercise helps you develop a quick initiation of your step by forcing you to feel the proper muscles required to pull your rear leg quickly towards your front leg. This should also benefit the initial movement of your front kick because the same muscles are involved in pulling your leg to the chambered position. Of course, I admit that there are no scientific studies in exercise physiology or kinesiology to back up by claims of the benefits of this type of training. I just believe it to be so because it works for me. Try it. If it doesn’t work out for you, it won’t be like investing in expensive sports equipment…..