Power Punching; Is This a Myth?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: karate, kick boxing, Self-defense
15 Jan 2011

I was in Junior High-School when the Navy guy at my friends out imparted some fighting tactics to me. You see he was a black belt in Tang So Do Karate and was trying to impress us kids for some reason (and after ingesting a couple of beers). I was playing the what if game with him.

I asked him what would he do If I tried to punch him. He said, “I would chop your arm – breaking it and then chop your neck!” Wow I thought… Then I asked what about if I tried to kick you? He said, “I would chop your leg – breaking it and then I would punch your ribs – also breaking them.”

I asked him how he could break my arms, legs, or ribs and he simply said he would punch through the target. I had heard of punching through the target from my Okinawan karate instructor as he was teaching the moves. The idea was instead of aiming at the proximal (or close – on top target) one would aim 6 inches deep into whatever you were aiming at.

In this post I am going to discuss what punching through a target really is and why it is not used much today. Lets take a quick look at a video that shows some of the mechanics of how to surface punch a target.



Looking at this video the part they got right was to rotate as one is throwing a reverse or counter punch. Actually they got more wrong than right. First off if you are not worried about getting hit back we can suspend disbelief and not cover as one is throwing the punch. The video guy kind of torqued half way but stopped short and just twisted the upper body some.


What I would have liked to see is a 180 degree torque and let the rear shoulder loosen up and get some extension and then instead of aiming at the surface of the gut – aiming six to eight inches through the target!


Why adjust the aim of the target? Well as one example when I was young and dumb – I used to break boards and about anything else that was challenging when I was a teen. I quickly learned that if I aimed at the surface of the board – it did not break. One had to aim through the target if one was going to have any chance at breaking it. Let the inertia of the hand or foot overwhelm the target and do maximum damage!


Remember we are still suspending disbelief and the guy is able to do this full torque while relaxing and punching through the target. What happens if you miss? Well let me say that you are hanging out to dry. You might as well paste a sign to your forehead that says – Free Shot!


What I mean to say is you will be exposed, off balance and unable to recover for a second… more than enough time for your opponent to launch an effective counter.


So here is the deal. Lets say you have to cover up. Why would you take a chance at throwing such a bone crushing punch if it might go south? Because it is a fight ender! If you hit a guy in the ribs – you are breaking a few ribs. If you hit him in the bread basket – he is rolling around in the dust for a while.


So to describe how to set this up – here is what I used to do. I would spar a bit with a guy and try to get a sense of his timing – when he would come in at me or how he transitioned stances and such. I would start to get a feel when I could take a chance.


One of my favorite moves was to either do a lung punch with initial movement (meaning if he was in range – he was getting hit before he could react) or take a half step back and launch an overextended counter punch as he was coming in. Either case he was eating my fist. The only question if I timed it right was how hard was I going to hit him.


Well here is where I have a confession. I use to train with a couple of beers in me. You see I have it on good authority that a couple of beers will not change the shape you are in and they do loosen you up. I mean if you want to punch past your target – you will have no tense muscles to contend with and your punches will be very hard indeed!


Unfortunately I have had the experience of breaking someones bones in a fight that I will not go into the specifics of because is serves no purpose. To this day, I wish I had not had to be in that fight but I will say that absolutely punching through the target while totally relaxed and torquing 180 degrees leads to a very fast and  powerful punch!!!!


So lets talk specifics of targeting. If you are aiming at the groin with a snap kick and you are fighting for your life. Throw your relaxed snap kick aiming through the groin and into the abdomen. That will break – separate the bones and cartilage around the pubis area and render your opponent unable to walk.


If you are kicking  a leg – don’t aim for the leg but rather the other side of the leg… that will have the effect of breaking or severely bruising the leg  and make the opponent unable to stand. You will have to relax and throw the kick properly… just aim through.


If you are trying to throw a powerful punch or kick it might not work. This is because most people equate tension with power. I think it is because in order to life a heavy object – one has to tense. But in kicking or punching the opposite is true. If you tense up your punch or kick is slower and therefore weaker. Even if you punch through the target tense – you are not going to do much damage and become an easy counter target.


Relaxing while fighting has other benefits such as increasing ones stamina. I used to fight all of my students and many peers by totally relaxing and only increasing the effort at the moment of impact.


So power punching is not really a myth but many people do not understand it does not have anything to do with power per se but rather technique. Just having a good power punch or power kick in your arsenal with not help your fighting unless you land it but you have to have other stills of course too.


I will end with an example of how I was able to win a match with a power punch in the 1980’s. I was lined up against this big guy in National City and was trying to impress some kids but after looking at this guy taking 10 minutes to wrap his hand and the guns he had – I was beginning to think I was going to have some egg on my face. :)


Well anyway I was a fighter and one thing you can say about most successful fighters – they don’t care so much about the other guy – the only thing that matters is what they can do in the ring. This guy came at me and I worked some angles at first to feel him out. After a minute he was transitioning stances (a queue for me to attack while he was vulnerable) and I threw a very relaxed inverted lunge punch from just inside the critical distance.


The result was I connected threw his bread basket and my fist must have penetrated a couple of inches into his stomach briefly and I felt him buckle before I saw it. He fell to the floor and could not get up for several minutes. I won the match as this was the old days – one could not get disqualified for a body shot.


One question you may have is why don’t we see more power kicks and punches in kick boxing and MMA today? Well I would guess that answer is the fighters that make it into that arena are very highly conditioned athletes and do not want to go off balance for an instance when they know the other guy will take full advantage if they miss. The end up fighting more of a defensive fight and don’t cut loose until they have the upper hand. One does see some follow through power punches karate style that seem to come out of left field… they are fun to watch when they happen.


So throwing very hard punches is not about how strong and powerful one is but rather if one had the relaxation, torque and extension to pull it off (and punching through the target). Power punching is how an old guy like me could stand up to a bunch of thugs in a fight. I’m older now (53) and I know I have maybe two minutes I could go toe to toe with anyone before I peter out. The thing I would depend on is I know how to relax and take guys out easily with some fighting strategy and the street thugs probably don’t. Anyway I don’t intend on giving them a chance if I can help it and I will even use the ever mythical Power Punch!

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16 Responses to “Power Punching; Is This a Myth?”

  1. Martial Arts News – 1.16.11 | Striking Thoughts Says:

    […] Zimmer takes on the power punch. In this post I am going to discuss what punching through a target really is and why it is not used […]

  2. Matt Klein Says:

    Thought-provoking post John. It is amazing how many schools still teach the “chamber the other hand on the hip” mentality. I mean, what are you protecting there? And how long does it take to get that hand up to your face if the other guy counters?

    Great point about penetrating the target. That is crucial if you want to get any power behind your punches. I really like to lead with the backfist as it causes the opponent to bring hands up, leading the breadbasket wide open for the reverse punch.

    Love your comment about having a few beers beforehand. Is that what they mean by “punch-drunk”?
    Matt Klein recently posted..Just Start Drawing- Kids Karate Sensei Becomes White Belt Again–Part TwoMy Profile

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt,

    I started out in karate learning the low horse stances with chambered punches along with formal types of step fighting. Later I transitioned to studio sparring, point fighting, boxing and then kick boxing. Each type of contest had its +’s and -‘s but the low horse – chambered punches gave me a good foundation for everything else.

    Having said that I think knowing how to throw a series of punches with the high-chambered, push-pull action of punches (kind of like Machida does) is still useful to a point. The takeaway I still use is with my inverted lunge punch… was one of my specialties.

    One cannot do this all of the time or you would be left hanging out there with your ribs exposed so waiting for the opportune moment is a good thing. :)

    Totally with you on penetration. The thing I see being missed even if penetration is covered is relaxation to allow the full extension possible before tensing up… a point many have never learned how to do.

    Back when I was a good high kicker – I learn from Lap Napoleon how to relax my hip while throwing the wheel kick from the back leg to get an extra few inches so I would kick some people that thought they were out of range.

    Backfist/jab – reverse punch was always one of my favorites. :)

    Yep – punch drunk and not afraid to use it… err I mean the punch. I learned the hard way there is a point of diminishing returns. :)

  4. Anthony Wagner Says:

    My instructor would always tell me to relax and fight. I never knew what it meant until him and i sparred. Yes, he demolished me. The reality is my strikes got faster when i just relaxed and let my body mechanics do the work.

    Great post..

  5. Jon Law Says:

    The balance between overextending and being off balance and punching with sufficient penetration has to be mastered otherwise some of the problems you cite will occur.

    There is also the need to make the punch withdrawl rapid. One of the unfortunate effects of trad karate training is to end up holding the punch out in space, which is related to the attack role of ippon kumite and the like, this isn’t good.

    Rapid retraction, emphasising the pull rather than push, greatly enhances the punch, ‘leaving’ the force applied in the target. Of course, if this retraction occurs before full force has been achieved it is more akin to points fighting contact, with the force left being limited.

    However, if full force is reached and the fist is accelerating at contact and penetration then everything is good. Rapid retraction will leave the force in the body of the opponent.

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Anthony,

    The same thing happened to me. I never knew how much effort was wasted in nervous energy until I did learn to relax.

    Hi Jon,

    I’m totally with you on getting it out and back quickly.

    While I’ve not focused so much on the retraction per se – it is very important to NOT lock out the punch because you are exposing yourself as well as having a lost opportunity for subsequent strikes.

    What I used to concentrate on was the relaxed full extension until the moment of impact and full return as fast as I could with out cutting the extension short.

    Thanks for clarifying this because traditionalists might not realize the importance of the rapid return.

  7. Matt Klein Says:

    The quick recoil is key for point sparring as well. It makes the punch look twice as fast.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Kids Martial Arts Classes- Your Child’s First DayMy Profile

  8. Matt Says:

    In classical Okinawan karate the hand on the hip was used as an element of tuite. When the hand is extended it intercepts a punch with slight body shift (tai sabaki), and then pulls the attacking arm inward in order to off balance the opponent. The hikite (withdrawing hand) also rotates palm up which rotates the opponent’s arm, further causing off-balance and revealing interior vital points.

    At the same time this hikite action is happening the practitioner is striking with the opposing hand.

    In kata this dual motion is often followed up by a “block” which is in actuality the next logical place to strike in quick succession.
    Matt recently posted..Guest Post- The Birth of Sai from the Mists of MythologyMy Profile

  9. Dr. J Says:

    No question technique rules! Besides with karate, I learned this from playing tennis with 5’3” inch woman on the Florida national championship team who could hit the ball twice as hard as I could!

  10. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    Hey John,
    “Low horse stance and chambered punches” brings back memories of almost long forgotten times.
    I agree with everybody who noticed the advantage of being relaxed and just letting your body (mechanics) do the job.
    What really boggled my mind and took my punching abilities
    to the next level (again years ago!) was punching through
    the target in Jeet Kune Do classes. I was dumb-founded.
    Great post. Enjoy the journey!
    TheMartialArtsReporter recently posted..UFC 126 Or Curitiba Vs Rio De JaneiroMy Profile

  11. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt @ Ikigai, I did study Okinawan karate for a brief time and I remember the attention to stance transitions as well as some breathing exercises. Thanks for adding insight for the multi uses of the push – pull action. As happens so many times each system has a little different way of doing something that adds value to the overall move.

    Hey Dr J! That must of been some tennis game to watch. I have and do pay attention to technique as I need every edge I can get. :)

    Hi Tiger, I remember getting into the advance hands of Lima Lama so many years ago only to have the Master on a visit admonish us for neglecting our basics. As I recall we did not have a solid foundation before doing the more advanced stuff and it showed.

    I too cannot remember the last time in sparring I chambered my hands but I still practice it in punching drills in my very low horse stance. To the untrained eye that looks useless but it has done me well over the years. I’ll give one example.

    Back when I was on the door – a guy ordered talls instead of doubles and got mad at the bartender when the drinks were weak. He started getting unruly and I had to pick him up and give him the bums rush out the back door. I thought I was done with him.

    As I was walking back towards the door (about 20 feet from the back door where I left the guy) I heard one of my friends warn me he was attacking. I spun around and saw the swing with the empty drinks being thrown at me.

    I had little time to react so I ducked my head in a forward stance while throwing double inward blocks. The two glasses shattered on my forearms but I was ok. I charged and quickly dispatched the guy after I got a hold of him.

    That is one example how ones training can take over in a pinch. Great observations Tiger and yes changing the focus can make all of the difference. :)

  12. Devin Says:

    The problem with a full twist punch, or 180 degree punch, is that it is naturally a weak punch to use. The two bones in your arm cross each other, making it easier for your wrist to bend (the harder you it). Thus, this is how people can break their wrists by punching something with full force. Boxers use exercise methods to strengthen their wrists, so this will not happen.

    A full twist punch was taught in Japan to elementary children, so they would not hurt each other in practice. In reality a 3/4 twist punch is more dangerous, because it allows for a smaller (sharper) part of your fist to impact the target. This is why martial arts works better for smaller people. Because you have smaller and sharper finger, joints, knuckles…etc. to attack an opponent.

    However, if you punch with a 3/4 twist (not a full 180 degree) your bones in your arm are naturally aligned, making it much harder to hurt yourself by hitting something full force. Thus eliminating the need for boxers to do wrist exercises. (if only they knew!)

    There is good in every style of karate, you just need to know how to interpret it. It is like reading a book that is of a foreign language. The more about that language you know, the easier it is to translate. I cringe at most of the garbage that “teaches people martial arts from home” via the television.

    BE WARNED! A full twist punch WILL greatly increase your chances of injury to yourself!

  13. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Devin,

    This is the first I’ve ever heard about the twisting causing injury and I’m not inclined to agree.

    Firstly let me say that in formal karate – chambering one hand while striking with the other create a twisting, push-pull action greatly increasing the power of the punch. This coupled with twisting the body and stepping (or rather landing) at the point of impact has the effect of transitioning the entire weight of one’s body into a couple square inches of the two largest knuckles of the striking fist (hopefully tightened and properly aligned).

    I don’t know anyone how would argue that is realistic in a real fight as covering with body movement is far more effective than blocking and formal punches… but that is where we came from in martial arts.

    I don’t agree that twisting is problematic unless one attempts to do the twist late. Then I would agree there are too many forces going different directions at the same times and the fist and forearm is in flux – easier to injure ones self.

    Having said all of this – I agree that one would not do a full twist in a real fight for the reasons I mentioned.

    Let me know if I’m missing something here and thanks for your comment.

  14. Ryan Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article! I am really interested in the topic of punching through the target. I can see how it works.

  15. Al Hernandez Says:

    John, Great Post, (As Always!!!) Manny Thanks, Hi To Sly, Sharon And Others!!! PS. Wrote Reveiw/Todds Studio, Please Veiw/Comment, Thanks Al

  16. P Corn Says:

    Great information about the power punch. I’ve just started using some of the techniques associated with the power punch. I would recommend. Keep up the good infomration.