In this article I would like to focus on the components of a front punch. I will try to show the basic mechanics of our body when punching. Our interest will focus on the following four key points of our body:
- Fist – positioning the fist in relation to our target and the natural set up of the wrist and knuckles.
- Elbow – the setup of a safe position to make use of our body’s natural cushioning mechanism and effective transfer of energy.
- Shoulder – in relation to our target and our hips, allowing the most power delivery.
- Hips – angle of the hips when striking to improve power transfer.
I will skip leg setup and the use of the back and front legs. I will come back to this in other article.
First we have to look at the natural set up of our arms, trunk and hips. As you will probably have noticed our limbs when relaxed are not fully extended, this anatomical adaptation is to protect our joints from injury. We try to replicate this setup when punching. To understand this natural setup let your arm drop to the side of your body in a relaxed position and have a look in a mirror to see this natural posture. Now clinch your fist. You should be able to see that your shoulder, elbow and wrist create a ‘zigzag’ pattern. Now if you raise your arm and point to your target you have a safe and properly setup arm from shoulder to wrist (please see pictures below).
[Arm in a relaxed position]
[Arm creating a zigzag when fist is clinched]
Why is this set up the best? All of the bends in our joints (especially the elbow) create a cushion. When our fist impacts a target a shockwave is generated that goes through the target and back through our arm. A bent elbow allows us to absorb this energy – if we had our arm completely straight, all of the energy from the shockwave goes directly up our arm to our shoulder, which increases the possibility of damaging our joints.
Fist clinching – there are a few schools of thought on this and I will focus on the two methods that are best for me.
The first method is with all of the fingers tucked in with the thumb covering index and middle finger.
[Fist method 1]
The second method is with the index finger resting on the base of the thumb. As a result of this change the thumb is now only covering index finger. This setup gives me a firmer base for the front knuckles, but it is a bit slower to do.
[Fist method 2]
The rest of the setup for the wrist is the same for both fist methods. Looking from the top of the fist we should notice that fist is not strait but bend outwards.
[Ideal arm setup when punching]
Why? If we had our fist straight the punch would be delivered by only the middle knuckle, which might cause unwanted movement in the wrist and sprain it. There is also no cushioning effect.
[Wrist straight in relation to target, resulting in middle knuckle making contact]
[Unwanted movement caused by punching straight that may lead to a strained wrist or broken knuckles/metacarpals at the ring and little finger]
When the fist is bent both the first and second knuckles land on target, giving the most efficient transfer of energy with maximum stability.
Another very important angle is the vertical wrist position in that the wrist should be slightly bent downwards, which results in the first dropping slightly.
[Ideal vertical wrist angle]
This position allows us to land two knuckles when punching at head level or higher. By bending the wrist we expose the knuckles. If we have our wrist vertically straight our punch will land with the middle joints of our fingers, which may cause injury. Note that there is a technique where we hit with these knuckles (hiraken), but the position of the hand is changed significantly to provide support for this.
[Straight vertical wrist angle leading to punch landing with middle knuckles]
Now onto the elbow. The elbow’s relaxed position is at a slight angle – if we relax our arm, the elbow rarely straightens completely. This is our body protecting our joints. When we punch we want to use this mechanism for our benefit.
[Relaxed elbow position]
Apart from the safety risks, having a straight elbow when punching causes our shoulder to turn towards the center of the body as the shoulder is unnaturally lifted up, which results in power loss. This elevation of the joint also tenses the trapezius and neck muscles which reduces the speed of the punch.
[Straight elbow causes shoulder lift and direction of force to move away from the target]
To insure the most powerful strike our hips must be directed towards the target. This allows the direct transfer of energy through the trunk, shoulder, elbow and wrist to the target. If the whole system is correct we will have minimal losses in energy transfer.
[Ideal hip and elbow setup ensures that the energy of a punch is directed at the target]
If we turn our hips too much we will increase the reach of the punch, but it will lose a lot of energy as the hips provide the direction for the power. A simple exercise to test this is to place your fist against the wall in a punch position. Now push your body weight into the punch with your hips directed forward. You should feel supported by the two first knuckles of your fist with your shoulder in a comfortable position. Shifting your hips towards the centre of the body (pushing the fist further forwards) causes the rotation of your trunk and you should feel the change in direction of the energy. Moving your hips changes the direction in which the shoulder is pointing as it moves with your trunk and so the energy is directed in line with the hips. Therefore the punch does not impart the maximum power. This position may also cause shoulder injury.
Ideally, the hips should be directed to the target (for a front punch) and lifted up to help with the contraction of stomach muscles. Then the energy of the punch will flow through the shoulder, elbow and wrist, exploding via the first two knuckles.
I hope this explanation will help with understanding the components of a punch from Shin ai do karate point of view.
All of the mechanisms described here are best tested and trained on a makiwara (punching flexible board) or a heavy punch bag under the supervision of qualified instructor.
About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.