Heel Up or Heel Down (video)

In this video I address the well-worn topic of whether it is better to have the heel up or down when punching. Cards on the table, I can see good tactical reasons for both methods. Heel down gives greater stability when needed. Heel up allows greater rotation and hence generates more power.

The second point is often disputed by some. The argument put forth tends to be that you need the heel down to resist the “back shock” or to “redirect the energy back into the enemy”. As I explain in the video, both of these premises are demonstrably false and are in violation of the laws of physics. The choice of whether the heel should be up or down is predominantly tactical.

Proponents of “you need your heel down to generate power” frequently point to Newton’s Third Law of Motion:

“When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.”

This is often paraphrased as “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. Proponents of the “mandatory heel down” myth misunderstand this to mean “if X units of force are going into the target, then X units of force are also coming into you, and hence you need to be braced for that”. However, that’s not how it works.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that:

“an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.”

Your fist would therefore go on forever unless a force slowed it down and, on a good punch, it is the “equal and opposite reaction” of the impact that provides the force that brings the punch to halt. On a punch that misses, or where distance has been misgauged, it will be the tethering of your ligaments, tendons and muscles that bring the punch to a halt. Ideally, we want it to be the enemy’s body that absorbs the vast majority the impact though.

We don't need to brace for impact. If this wasn’t the case, kicks would see us propelled backward every time they hit the target (we are on one leg and hence have no stance to speak of). We know this does not happen when we kick. Cannon balls don’t come flying back toward the cannon when they hit the target for the same reasons. Boxers hit with the heel off all the time, and they are not forever falling backward because they are unable to deal with the “back shock”. And so on. You don’t need to brace for “back shock” on every punch. That’s not how things work.  In the video, I explain why I think this misunderstanding has developed. 

You may need stability for tactical reasons, which would mean the wise choice in that given moment would be heel down. However, to say heel down is a must for power generation is demonstrably false.

Heel up is not best if stability is needed when you and the enemy are connected. Heel down is not best if you are not connected and need maximum impact. As with so much in the martial arts, the answer to the question of what is “best” is most accurately answered with “it depends”.

I hope you enjoy the video and find it interesting.

All the best,

Iain

PS The YouTube link can be found HERE

Practical Kata Bunkai: Heel Up or Heel Down?