How Can Someone Half the Size Punch as Hard as Someone Twice the Size
A powerful punch is a combination of an understanding of basic physics mixed with a flow of energy that begins at your toes and flows through a body utilizing proper technique. The punch culminates into an explosive blast of power when understood and performed properly. When it comes down to it, four basic types of punches exist: the jab, the straight (includes cross), the hook and the uppercut. The two most utilized punches in taekwondo are typically the jab and the straight so those are the two explored in this article.
The Basic Theory
During leadership class at the Auburn Martial Arts Studio, Chief Master Dan Lovas reminds us constantly that the only way to properly create power is to understand that power is a combination of 1/2 mass times acceleration squared. Speed alone cannot generate power. Therefore, in order for the punch to strike hard the whole body must be engaged to properly to create the mass needed for the equation. Engaging the whole body also means that greater acceleration is created when the legs and hips are engaged to generate more tork as the body twists.
Engaging the Whole Body
To engage the whole body you need to start with a solid stance. The feet should be planted just wider than shoulder width. The knees should be just slightly bent and the chin should be tucked just slightly. The hands start at the face and finish at the face after the punch. In a ready position the shoulders, arms and hands should be relaxed. The hands should be held in fists but not tightly.
When punching, always lead with the knuckles of the pointer and middle finger. A great way to get used to the correct hand position is to hold out a weight with a handle or a gallon jug with a handle. The arm should extend out straight in front of the body but do not lock out the elbow (ever!). As the jug or weight is held out, the individual will notice that the hand naturally tilts down just a tiny bit. This is the ideal position for delivering a proper punch.
The more muscles that can be engaged as the body moves through the motions of the punch the stronger the punch will be. Remember the equation power equals one half mass times acceleration squared? Engaging the hips by pivoting onto the toe of the same foot as the hand that is throwing the punch is the first ingredient to the acceleration squared equation. Do not lift the foot fully of the ground. The hips twist to generate additional power and body weight should shift down slightly into the knees to provide extra driving force. The upper body should rotate with the hips but should never lean into the punch. The shoulder of the punching arm raises slightly as the muscles engage and twist the arm out, this gives you the acceleration squared. The arm should never be overextended so the body has to reach out. The hands are flexed into solid masses at the end of the punch and turn over horizontally creating more tork and a straight line. The elbow should not lock out, go out to the side or turn up into the air but rather the point of the elbow should remain under the arm for maximum power.
A jab is a punch used to gauge distance and keep an opponent away. It is a quicker punch and is usually accompanied by lead leg step forward (not a lunge).
When aiming the straight punch, distance should be learned without a step. Know it well, too close or too far will affect the power in the punch. When aiming a jab, Johnny N. writes in his article How to Punch Harder on ExpertBoxing.com, that the punch should not be aimed directly in front of you. He states that the most powerful spot is found by standing just to the side of the bag so when the punch is thrown the body can fully rotate through the punch. He also emphasizes the importance of timing. He explains that there are three ideal times to punch: when an opponent is punching, when an opponent is not expecting it, or from an angel.
10 Most Common Punching Mistakes:
Telegraphing the attack: There are a couple ways to telegraph an attack. One is to pull your arm back before punching. Another is lunging forward before moving the arm.
Lifting the foot off the ground or keeping the rear foot planted while punching negates the body's ability to create maximum power.
Reaching with the punching arm.
Forgetting to use the jab. The jab is essential for spacing and setting up powerful punches.
Improper elbow positioning. If the elbow goes out to the side or top it will disrupt the flow of power.
Punching too fast: eliminates the use of the body and negates power.
The punching arm arcs to the side while punching: telegraphs the move and negates power.
Having one foot in front of the other: Otherwise known as railroad tracking. It negates the ability to fully rotate through the punch. You don't want you feet on the same rail.
Locking your knee on the front leg and holding your leg straight negates the tork creating needed for a power punch.
Weight Lifting: This is a controversial topic but Johnny N. states in his article that weight lifting makes the body stronger at moving slowly. It also limits range of motion and creates unnatural muscles that tire faster.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
In his article, Johnny N. has some great practice drills. Do a slow punch at one half speed and power on a heavy bag. The practitioner should do a deliberate two second pause in between punches. Swimming is a wonderful way to engage all of the muscles in the body and tone them naturally. Finally Johnny suggests isometric training. The practitioner should make a fist at a wall while leaning against it. Then push the fist into the wall like the punch is "stuck." He suggests doing this with full effort for ten seconds and repeating with the other side. This trains the body to store energy like a rubber band.
Make use of a mirror. The mirror is the practitioner's friend. Everyone gets sloppy and form must be constantly rechecked. This is easily done in a mirror. Watch out for the common mistakes. The foot should pivot and the body should twist at the hips and then at the arm. The straight line should be maintained. The body will always seek the easiest way to perform a movement but that might not be the correct way. This could lead to loss of power or worse yet, injury.
David, et al. “How To Punch Harder.” How to Box | ExpertBoxing, 24 June 2008, www.expertboxing.com/boxing-techniques/punch-techniques/how-to-punch-harder.
Christensen, Loren W. Solo Training: the Martial Artist's Guide to Training Alone. YMAA Publication Center, 2016.