When beginners start learning about fundamentals in martial arts, they’re told what armchair coaches on social media tend to parrot. After all, seemingly esoteric knowledge for beginners and casuals is surface level information to longtime martial artists. Those tidbits on why you should keep your feet planted and turn your hip as you punch or kick are mostly true, although not the complete truth. The power does indeed come from the ground and from the hips, but not really. Knowing the whole truth can help practitioners take their punching power to the next level.
Martial arts teachers practically “lie” to their students in order to have their bodies move the right way. It’s not a conspiracy, but the most efficient way to teach a wide variety of students. It’s rare to encounter the proprioception of someone like Jon Jones, who can practically learn a move from just watching a YouTube video. Meanwhile, most people barely understand the difference between their left and right hands and feet, much less how to move different parts of their body in sequence to execute a technique.
When a beginner then becomes more advanced and progresses in their training, they may then eventually learn the complete truth, but still see the partial truth as the key to their technique and mechanics. This is most evident with how even experts view the source of punching power.
Punching Power Does Not ONLY Come From the Ground
Let’s be careful here because punching power does manifest when you have both feet planted on the ground and you push off while turning your hips, but that’s only the partial truth. Martial arts technique is a bunch of different things happening all at once to do a specific thing, whether it’s hitting someone’s face, hyperextending one of their limbs, blocking off their carotid arteries, or so on. It’s never just one thing that does everything.
The fancy term that got thrown around in the late 2000s through those martial arts and “sports science” shows on Discovery and Spike TV was kinetic linking. That’s how they described generating power from the ground up — from the feet, pushing up the legs, through the turning of the hips, then the turning of the body, all the way to the extension of the arm, and finally the connection of the fist to the target. It was a fairly simple way of explaining punching power.
The “from the ground up” model of punching mechanics has always been the standard for explaining how punching power is generated. However, that alone doesn’t explain the whole story. Punching isn’t just pushing from the ground alone.
Punching Power Comes from the Spine
All of those movements done in sequence all result in the explosive twisting of the whole body to throw a punch. The side of the punching arm goes forward and the side of the other arm goes back in a split second. The speed and degree of movement of the punching side is affected by the speed and degree of movement of the other side. Therefore, it’s just as important to throw the other side back as explosively as the punching side.
All of those movements are centered around the spine.
You can watch the most prolific power punchers throughout history and you will see how much of their mechanics are focused on turning their bodies violently from one side to another. That’s most evident with Mike Tyson, whose peekaboo style has him standing square and throwing hooks with such velocity that he cracks a sonic boom with every swing.
On the other hand, George Foreman, who was perhaps the most powerful arm puncher ever, still turned his body into his shots to generate that bone-crushing, face-numbing power.
This “from the spine going out” model (core) of punching mechanics is not meant to replace the “from the ground up” model (lower body), but to complement it. Everything comes together to generate maximum punching power.
You can divide the human body based on its axes of movement — the coronal (stepping left and right), sagittal (stepping front and back), and transverse (turning left and right) planes. Different punches move along one or two of these planes at a time, and the really powerful punches move along all three planes at once.
The “from the ground up” model involves the coronal and sagittal planes while the spine model involves the core explosively moving the body along the transverse plane. If you’re able to involve two or three planes of movement at once with your punches and work on both body mechanics and physical strength, you’ll likely increase your punching power.
That’s what it really is. When punching mechanics are deconstructed to their very essence, it’s the torso twisting explosively from one side to the other to deliver force. You then extend what you want to strike with, whether it’s a punch, elbow, or shoulder bump. It can also be applied for kicks, but you have to do more steps to execute a kick off these basic mechanics.
Therefore, you can train to increase your punching power by practicing shoulder bumps on a heavy bag. You can isolate the explosive twisting of the torso while keeping your feet planted as you hit the bag with your shoulder. Once you’re able to hit that shoulder bump hard on the bag each time, you can apply the same mechanics to your elbow strike and rear straight punch.
You can then apply the same mechanics to hooks and uppercuts with modification. Many of these details were discussed in Jack Dempsey’s 1950 boxing treatise, Championship Fighting.
However, it takes more than just pushing to add more power to the punch.
The Pull Makes the Push Stronger
You’d focus so much on the push that you’d likely neglect the pull on the other side. Remember that punching is not just pushing, which is why you need to pay attention to the negative of the movement as well as the positive. That means you need to make the pulling motion on the other side just as explosive as the pushing motion with the punching side.
Traditional karate is pretty good at teaching this with the way they practice their punches.
Wearing a crispy gi that makes a sound when you do the technique right can be helpful.
We’re starting to see more emphasis on the training of the negative and of antagonist muscles in order to further improve technique and strengthen the agonist muscles involved. You can take that training philosophy further and follow the training regimen of The Kneesovertoesguy. After all, who would’ve thought that strengthening your tibialis can make your calf muscles much stronger and your knees less injury-prone?
Are you saying the steel cables of a suspension bridge keep it stable? Isn’t it only the stiffness of the bridge alone that keeps it up? What a crazy thing to say.
You can also do other things to make your body more capable of doing that explosive twisting motion. Not only can you strengthen your core muscles to be able to take the stress of such violent movements, but you can also increase the flexibility of your spine. After all, if you can increase your range of motion, you can build up even more velocity in your punches and decrease the difficulty, thus giving you even more punching power.
There’s a reason why in yoga, the warrior poses are named as such — they’re attack positions.
It’s a helpful mindset to look at any movement and pay attention to not only the primary motion, but also the supporting motions. You then look for ways to improve each of those supporting motions, even if you can only improve them by 1%. Those single percent improvements add up and also can yield additional benefits since the human body is a complex system that rarely depends on only one thing for every function.
Punching Power is Amplified by the Hardness of Your Weapon
Even if you can throw punches with the power of a pneumatic piston, it won’t do much damage if you have the fists of an infant and the structural integrity of a house of cards. You can’t drive a nail into wood with a Fisher Price toy hammer, but you definitely can with a real carpentry hammer, and you can go overkill with a big sledgehammer.
Having a big and hard weapon to hit with is just as important as having raw power.
Bone conditioning is an often neglected part of martial arts training in the modern age. Even top-tier professional fighters care more about conditioning the rest of their body in order to maximize their strength, speed, and stamina; but they only passively train the very weapons they’re fighting with. If they ever condition their fists, it’s just from hitting the heavy bag, and their focus tends to be mostly generating power instead of toughening their weapons.
Wolff’s law is treated as something that just passively happens during training.
Meanwhile, Muay Thai re-popularized the concept of bone conditioning thanks to the iron shins of Thai fighters whose kicks can chop down banana trees, snap ribs and femurs, and turn flesh into bloody goo. But then, people do silly things like pressing sticks down shins to “deaden the nerves,” which is missing the point. It’s not about not feeling the pain when you hit with the weapon, but hardening the weapon to make it hurt the target more than it hurts you.
Once again, traditional karate does really well in emphasizing this, especially with the makiwara.
Doing this kind of training also reminds you to align your strikes properly and throw your punches and kicks with proper technique so you don’t end up breaking your weapons.
Having fought and sparred with different practitioners from various walks of life, I found that the hardest punchers tend to be skinny, lanky guys. You may think they’re walking toothpicks at first until you get up close and see their sinewy muscles and sharp-looking bones. Then you find out that they’re pro-ams — either professional fighters or amateurs on the verge of turning professional. They train all the time, and all that hitting bags and pads toughen their weapons.
They then clean your clock within a single round, their punches reverberating throughout your soft, pudgy body. You then question your life choices, forget your fantasies, and move on to doing weird things like event hosting and ring announcing. You then get picked up by a fledgling pro wrestling promotion and you’re still doing it six years later.
There’s a real hazard of focusing entirely on one thing and neglecting all the other elements that go into it. Fuck it, even your health and sobriety are important for punching power. You can’t fight if you’re desperately ill and can’t even stand up straight.
Of course, punching power won’t accomplish anything if you’re unable to land a punch on the target. Let’s not discount the importance of accuracy, but this blog post is all about what I’ve learned about punching power over the years. Everything is crucial, but alas, most online arguments between strangers tend to ignore this.
Online martial arts discourse is full of middle-aged guys parroting half-truths.
Whatever you do, whether you believe in the things I said here or not, you’re way better than those schmucks who pretend to know what they’re talking about as long as you train consistently. Maybe you know something about punching power that I don’t know of. As long as you’re putting that knowledge to practice, you’re doing martial arts.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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