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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Ten Keys to Developing

Powerful Punches and Strikes

By

Joseph J. Truncale

Rokudan Shotokan Karate

 

Being a karate student for more than forty-two years has been a rewarding experience.  Learning is a lifetime activity and the following article is the result of my own research for my books and manuals.  My focus is primarily in the practical self-defense field rather than tournament training.    Numerous factors both physical and psychological contribute to developing powerful punches and strikes.  The following should be considered merely a brief introduction of some of the important factors required to develop strong and powerful strikes.  Each of these keys can be an article in itself. 

1.               BALANCE:  One of the great training benefits of practicing Shotokan Karate and other martial arts like Judo and Jujitsu is the emphasis how to maintain good balance.  You cannot deliver powerful strikes when you are off balance.

2.               STANCE:  Directly related to balance is having a strong and solid stance.  Again, Shotokan karate is known for its deep, strong stance.  It is a known fact, that if your stance is weak, your punches and strikes are weak.  Power comes from delivering strikes from a strong base.

3.               HIP/WAIST ROTATION:  In spite of what some karate people think, not only hip rotation but also waist rotation contributes to power.  Many Shotokan Karate people have powerful punches; however, the truth is boxers as a group have the most powerful punches.  Unfortunately, there are many myths (See Martial Arts Myths: Fact and Fallacy about the Martial Arts and Law Enforcement book: Café Press) floating around the martial arts field when it comes to punching power.  One of the keys to developing more powerful punches and strikes is learning how to turn your hips and waist in coordination with your strikes.  Your instructor should be able to guide you in this area.

4.               SPEED COMBINED WITH MASS:  In general, it is true that the faster the punch the more powerful it will be.  However, if speed alone were the key to powerful punches, that lightweight boxers would have the hardest and most powerful punches.  What is missing in this equation, which karate people sometimes ignore, is the importance of mass.  The fact is, even though the heavyweight boxer’s punches may not have the speed of a lightweight boxer, the heavyweight’s punch will be more powerful because his mass, combined with his own level of speed, is what produces the most powerful punch.  You must combine your speed along with your body mass and momentum when delivering your punches and strikes.  This principle is followed when doing the lunge punch (Oi-Zuki), which is why years of practicing Shotokan Karate can develop powerful punches.

5.                RELAXATION BEFORE DELIVERING A STRIKE:  It is not only beginners in karate who fail to understand this principle.  If you look at the best punchers in karate and boxing, you will notice they all have the ability to relax their muscles the instant before they strike.  Watching some of the old timers in early Shotokan Karate, you can see how relaxed they are the split second before delivering their Gyaku-zuki and Oi-zuki.   What of the techniques I stress to my students is to think relax just before delivering their strikes.  This has helped them develop not just faster, but more powerful strikes.

6.               PRACTICE STRIKING THE MAKIWARA:  In the early days of karate, Makiwara practice was done on regular basis as part of a class.  Master Funakoshi would practice striking the Makiwara thousands of times a day and had his students do the same thing.  Unfortunately, for the most part, Makiwara practice is not done as part of a regular class session.  Even at my advanced age, I still practice striking the Makiwara everyday 300 to 500 times for six hand technique areas.  In this respect, it is up to each individual student to practice striking the Makiwara.

7.               PRACTICE STRIKING HEAVY BAGS, BODY SHIELDS AND

FOCUS PADS:  One of the reasons boxers are known to have the most powerful punches is quite simple.  THEY ALL PRACTICE ACTUALLY HITTING SOMETHING ALL THE TIME (EXCEPT FOR SHADOWN BOXING PRACTICE). They hit the big bag, focus pads, speed bag and body shields ALL THE TIME.  Hitting the Makiwara board IS NOT the same as striking a heavy bag and other equipment.  The simple fact is, JUST PRACTICING PUNCHING THE AIR IS NOT ENOUGH TO DEVELOP TRUE PUNCHING POWER.  

8.               MENTAL FOCUS ON SPEED AND POWER:  There is nothing mystical about delivering powerful strikes.  There is no “magical internal power” involved in developing speed and power.  The so called mystical “Ki” and ‘Kime” often talked about in some karate circles, is merely the ability to coordinate your body, mind and spirit in one split second of time at the end of the strike.  By following scientific training principles, combined with mental focus on becoming faster and more powerful, anyone can develop more speed and power in their strikes.

9.               PROPER FIST ALIGNMENT WHEN PUNCHING:  Karate experts have debated this subject for many years.  Some claim the fist should always end with the palm down at the end of a punch.  Some supposed experts claim the vertical punch is the best method. Some have used science to show that the fist should end up in a 45-degree angle at the end of the punch for proper fist alignment.  Finally, some experts insist beginners should practice the full reverse punch until they become more experienced.  Once rank is achieved, students can do the 45-degree angle punch.  From my own limited research, it appears the 45-degree angle punch is more physiologically sound and more powerful.  As someone who believes in striking bags to develop power, I have found the 45-degree angle punch faster, stronger and more natural to throw than a full turn reverse punch.  We must be careful to combine tradition with the facts of reality in order to honor our beloved art of karate.  Since each person is different, practice various methods of punching.  You will discover the truth yourself. 

10.           THE WINNING MIND-SET:  The most powerful weapon you have is your mind.  The Japanese Samurai understood the importance of maintaining the proper mind-set for battle.  Contrary to what some believe, the winning mind-set is not constantly thinking about winning.  The Samurai knew he only had three results of a battle.  He could defeat his enemy because of his superior skill. He could be beat by a superior enemy. He and his enemy were of equal skill and they would kill each other at the same moment.  Following this philosophy, the Samurai felt he was two thirds dead already.  In real life self-defense, when great bodily harm or death is involved, you must be as ruthless and violent as required to defeat your assailant.  Delivering weak and ineffective strikes in a battle is having a losing mind-set.  Yes, we are all familiar with Master Funakoshi’s rule that “There is no first strike in Karate.”   However, we know that a well-trained experienced Karate Ka can sometimes sense an attack the moment it occurs and can counter-strike before his attacker can land a blow. 

In conclusion, if this article has made you think more deeply about Shotokan karate and self-defense, it will have achieved its purpose.

VERY BRIEF BIO:

Joseph J. Truncale is a retired police officer with more than 29 years as a full time officer. He has worked in all areas of law enforcement, but his specialty is police defensive tactics and weapons. He is also a lifetime student of the martial arts, earning Black belts in Karate, (Rokudan) Jujitsu, (Kudan, Bushi Satori Ryu) Judo (Godan) and Kobudo (Sandan).  He has more than 400 papers (articles, essays, reviews, poems) and 40 books/manuals published.  He writes several columns for law enforcement publications and publishes his own newsletter (The Samurai Heart) He actively teaches police, security and citizens’ karate jujitsu and self-defense.