When I was a kid I used to watch old karate movies and I used to see the master punch the bad guy and he would go flying! As a gullible kid it seemed that karate punches were almost magical. As I grew up and learned a bit of karate – I learned how to break boards and bricks and thought I had a good punch. I mean all of the board and bricks were scared of me.
That was always the argument when I first got into karate – did boxing or karate have the most powerful punch. Boxers thought they did and the formal karate guys thought the did. Well I’m not going to sway any boxers opinions here but in this article I’m going to discus boxing vs karate punches, where the power is generated and some differences. And I will give away my secret to throwing a really power punch… relax.. more on that later but first here is a video that frames the question very aptly.
Well you probably recognized Bruce Lee’s narrative there speaking the differences about Jeet Kune Do vs Karate. Luckily for me some of Bruce’s fighting tactics came to the Tracy’s organization through Joe Lewis. But here is the thing – ideas are not stagnant and progress. So what Bruce Lee is stating in this video has been understood by some in the martial arts and improved over the years. I don’t think you can put a name to it but I think Bruce would have been proud of the progress in martial arts as he was a very forward thinker.
So here goes. Most people think that to through a powerful punch you have to be really strong. I think a non-fighter thinks you have to be strong and then really tense up and throw the punch. Kinda like Batman and Robin use to do to the Joker and Riddler. Or the old cowboy days where they would find a guy cheating at cards and the next thing the whole bar would be fighting!
To throw a powerful punch you do not have to be strong! More on this later but lets continue with the assumptions.
Many boxers think because they can throw a hard hitting cross or hook – that their top half (shoulder rotation) with some foot pivot makes the punch stronger. Sure but it is not as strong as it could be – more on that later.
Many karate practitioners think because they can chop and punch through their target and break boards – their punches are really powerful! Maybe but there is room for improvement also.
So if you do not have to be strong to throw a punch, is being really strong like a body builder bad for power punching? Yes. I’ll start answering the questions. Being really strong as in bulky slows a fighter down. Fights are all about how hits who without getting hit back. So if one fighter is really strong and the other is just average strength but can relax and do the moves right – the average build guy can actually hit harder than the bulky guy if it is done right.
Why? To answer that question and the others I’ve posed – let me tell you how to throw a powerful punch.
To throw a good and powerful karate (generic term nowadays) punch here are the elements:
- relax your body, you do not tense up anything until the moment right before impact.
- as you punch, pull back the other hand – this is the push/pull or snap back and Mr. Lee is mentioning.
- as you punch you twist your body meaning your punching side is moving forward and the pulling side is moving back.
This takes a lot of practice as it is almost impossible to do this right and your are a bit vulnerable for a split second until your body snaps back for next attack or cover. It is a really hard concept to master relaxation. If you tense too soon your body does not twist nor get any extension.
If you tense up too soon your punch will not be powerful!!! So even if you were able to hit something (remember you tensed and did not extend (punch, twisting body), your punch would have no stopping power.
The ideal is how I used to throw my lunge and reverse counter punches. It did not matter if I was attacking, standing my ground or retreating, I would loosely twist my body with full relaxation and at the moment of full extension I would tense my fist and wrist (using muscle memory to line up my bones so I did not break them). Then immediately after the punch (where my punching side was fully extended and my opposite side was fully behind me) – I would then fully relax again and snap back to the next move or move to the next attack.
But here is the thing. A karate punch done right is more powerful than a boxing punch because you only have the push/pull of the shoulders/upper body in boxing whereas you have the whole body twist in the karate punches.
Do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying I would want to trade a boxer inside with karate hands. I have no intention of staying inside for long unless I have an advantage. Boxers are superior at inside fighting. But they punches just do not have as much of the body behind them as a karate punch has.
So now that I have told you my secret, let me give you an example. When I was a new black belt I went to a tournment in Chula Vista CA. I was matched up in the heavyweight division as I was at 175 pounds back then. It was common to have two weight divisions in smaller tournaments back then. While the rules states groin and face shots were legal – you could only use kiss contact to the face. Back then schools still taught students how to kick the groin because that is one way a smaller man or woman can best a larger attacker. So what I’m saying is it was hard to kick the groin – everyone expected it.
I was not a typical black belt fighter. I did not exclusively become a head hunter because everyone else was trying to do that. I could do that but found that most people did not expect a body attack since most people did not do that well. The rules that preventing hard shots to the face did not care about hard contact to the body. So that was my early niche back then. Body shots and lots of them.
The guy I fought first was kind of unnerving. He looked to be 30 pound heavier than me and a body builder. He took the extra steps in his tank top before the match wrapping his hands (ostensibly so he could hit harder).
When the 2 minute match started we moved around for a bit feeling each other out and then when he was not expecting it – I threw my lunge punch at his bread basket! I was fully relaxed when I threw it and had great extension and snap back. I ended up dropping him in place for a couple of minutes before he was able to continue. I finished that match easily only because I caught him perfectly with relaxation, extension (my how body), tensed for the instance of impact and then totally relaxed as I was snapping back.
So at 165 I was a very wimpy looking power puncher. That’s the point I am trying to let you know – you don’t have to be strong, mean looking, intimidating, or a super star. All you need to do is practice all of the parts of a proper punch.
Oh yeah – speed equals power. It really does in karate. But honestly most beginners don’t ever learn this until later if they get really good… and then it occurs to themselves… why didn’t I listen to my instructor when he told me this. I’ve had plenty of those moments.
So now that you know all of the secrets to a powerful punch… journey on grasshopper into the world of power punching!