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Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Drill for Very Straight Punches

Even though this trip to Korea wasn't part of the 50 States Challenge, I would be remiss if I didn't come back with a Takeaway Technique for the blog.  

The idea of economy of movement is not a unique one.  In a life-and-death situation, a fraction of a second can make all the difference in the world, so the idea of not wasting any time during your movements is just common sense.  

When Grandmaster Park talked about this, it boiled down to a simple phrase that I have heard from him many times, "Straight is fast."  You can get very academic about proving that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but really it just means your punch is faster when it goes directly to its target.  

Eh... I just can't bring myself to crack a joke about Grandmaster Park.

He liked to draw an analogy to Wild West shootouts.  He said that gunfighters had to learn to draw their weapons very quickly in order to survive, and they did so by very straight direct movements.  The shootouts from movies are a creative interpretation of historical fact, but drawing a weapon as quickly as possible has obvious benefits, and not just in the Old West.  So for the sake of Grandmaster Park's explanation, imagine the quick draw from the stereotypical Western shootout, which is convenient for its simplicity.  The gun was likely holstered on the hip (not the leg) of the shooting hand.  The very fast movement to remove the gun and shoot from the hip is intended to optimize speed.  Presumably those who weren't as fast as their enemies died and were unable to pass on their technique.  The surviving technique involves a very fast, very short movement with the elbow tucked in, which you might notice, does not look terribly different from a punch from the hip.

The moral of the story is that straight is fast, and keeping the elbow in toward the body keeps the movement straight.  Even people who conceptually understand this mechanic sometimes have trouble adhering to it.  Twisting the fist from palm-up to palm-down necessarily moves the elbow, and for many people it naturally drifts away from the body during that movement.

Master Jang from Sunrise Taekwondo (who I should mention is not Grandmaster Park's student and, to my knowledge, they have never even met each other) showed me how he teaches students to keep their punches straight.  He breaks it down into three steps:

Master Jang teaching, because he always seems to be doing that.

1.  Start by holding both fists out in front of the body to be aware of alignment in the end position.  Without twisting the arm at all, pull the hand halfway back to its starting position on the hip/belt/floating ribs/etc., according to your style.  During this movement, the forearm should brush against the side of the body.  Pause, then complete the movement. Ignore the punch, and reset the hand at the punch's end position and repeat the return movement.  Practice one side only, then practice the other side.

2.  Now add the punch.  As the returning hand pauses in its intermediate location, the punching hand should pause next to it.  It shouldn't twist at all in this stage of the movement, and the forearm should again brush against the side of the body.  Complete the movement and end in a punch with the back hand returned.

3.  Now take out the pause in the middle.  It should be a normal, full-speed punch at this point.

Here is a video of Master Jang demonstrating the progression.

And the same thing viewed from the side.

To my thinking, this drill provides three main benefits to the student.  First, it emphasizes brushing the arm against the side of the body, which will straighten out a punch all by itself.  Second, the pause in the middle allows the student to check their technique at the point where the mistake is usually made, whereas performing the punch at full speed can obscure the mistake.  And finally, it delays the twisting movement.  

This delay is correct according to the styles I have learned, though I'll certainly concede that others may teach punching differently.  But setting style differences aside, delaying the twisting movement allows for a straighter punch.  The elbow simply can't move very far laterally when the arm is more extended.  As an experiment, give this a try.  When your fist is near your body, it is easy to rotate the elbow, though you run the risk of looking very silly.  If you try the same shoulder movement with your arm most of the way extended, you can probably only move your elbow by a few inches.  So even a mistake in the shoulder movement can be minimized by delaying the twist.

It's a very specific drill to address a very specific problem, but if you happen to have that problem, I hope this helps.

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