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Stevenson
Stevenson's picture
The Vertical versus the Horizontal Punch

The seems like the best place to ask this question...

I have been thinking hard about the vertical versus the horizontal karate punch lately - especially since doing a seminar with Kris Wilder.

As we know, the technique of punching is best performed starting from hikite with the wrist facing up, and finishing with the elbow pointing down, having passed as close to the body as possible. In traditional karate the wrist twist occurs at the very end, but for some people, myself included, twisting the wrist all the way over to horizontal engages the deltoid, something that Kris Wilder advised strongly against, and for good reason.

I have found, or suspect, that the horizontal punch is slightly less powerful, and in my case a tiny bit shorter. Certainly I find it impossible not to pronate my elbow sightly in order to make the punch horizontal. The way Kris Wilder described is that the deltoid should feel like "over-ripe fruit", at the end of the punch - meaning completely relaxed. This was in the context of a seminar almost exclusively on power generation and especially Sanchin kata. We were adivsed to focus on engaging the lats to pull the shoulder joint down, locking into place at the end of punch so that no energy could escape through the recoil of the shoulder joint on impact. His advice was "don't look for bunkai in Sanchin kata, look for sanchin kata in your bunkai". It was one of those major light bulb moments that furnish the karate path.

I note that Goju pracitioners often use the vertical punch as well as Wing Chun. Are there any other styles that use it? Do they use it exclusively? What are peoples thoughts on the vertical versus horizontal punch?

I have heard one theory regarding the benefit of the horizontal punch, which is that the twist on impact, can impart energy, and cause damage. I am not convinced...yet...I would love to hear peoples thoughts. It is, after all, a mainstay in traditional karate.

One other point to make about the vertical punch is that if you are punching head level, you are much less likely to damage your fingers should you strike the chin or the jaw, since they are aligned in the same direction. If you punch the chin with a horizontal fist, you may end up striking with the delicate finger bones rather than the knuckles. Obviously, palm heel strikes are ideal for striking that area, but they are a good 2 inches shorter than a fist.

So lets have it. Dying to know what others think about this question.

Wastelander
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In both karate styles that I have practiced (first Shuri-Ryu, now Shorin-Ryu) we punch with an angled fist, rather than a horizontal one. That angle, rather than trying to turn the fist all the way over, results in a strong forearm structure (radius and ulna wrapping and supporting each other) and helps you keep your elbow from flaring out, but also still allows you to flare the elbow if you need to punch in more of a hooking motion.

Shuri-Ryu does include the use of vertical fists, however, so I do use them in my training.  Most of my punching is done with the angled fist, but when I jab I like to use a vertical fist because it fits between people's guards a bit better, and I do just about all of my hammerfists and backfists with the thumb-on-top vertical fist (though I realize that isn't what we are talking about, exactly). When I get an opening for a quick shot to the side of the face I typically use a vertical fist, as well, because it lines up better with the side of the jaw and temple so I'm more likely to land and not just graze the face. Every now and then I will use them for twisting shots to the body because that particular movement is ingrained in me from Anaku, which is the first kata in the Shuri-Ryu system that uses vertical punches.

nielmag
nielmag's picture

My personal experience came trying to do Peter Consterdine's double hip punch on a heavy bag.  I am a traditional shotokan stylist who twists at the end.  I found when I am in close quarters, best to keep fist more vertical.  If im at "boxing distance" I tend to twist on things like jabs and crosses.  Ironically, I worked out with an amatuer boxer last week, and he said on straight punches, he likes to twist the fist, on his hook punches, he tends to keep fist vertical.  Not saying this is the only way, but its what I found works for me, and happenned to find a boxer who felt the same! 

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Interesting - thanks for the comments.

Funny - the angled fist is where I am at the moment - a compromise so that I don't let the elbow come out. But I usually use the vertical fist in sparing. So I wonder if this is a personal thing.  In Shuri-Ryu is the straight punch taught with a vertical fist?

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Disclaimer: I train with Kris when possible, so anything he says would overwrite my opinion...lol.

Anyway, I think it's really just a question of the right tool for the right range and angle, the method of learning seiken tsuki isn't just learning one punch, it's a way of training mechanics of a punching strategy, included in this are using the fist at different angles and distances.

On a really simple level, if you stand directly in front of someone, attacking the body or head as in "cannnon punching" a vertical punch might be the ticket, however, trying to hit someones jaw from a 45 degree angle doesn't seem to fit quite as well with the vertical punch. If you are on the side of someone trying to hit the ribs at close range, then you do ura tsuki..which is the first part of the seiken punch.

Good mechanics don't really change no matter how you hold your fist, all the stuff Kris teaches (in my experience at least, i'm certainly no expert on anything) can apply to almost any variatiion of punching or striking...that is one of the things that makes his stuff such valuable information - it is a strategy and fundamental structure rather than a series or exclusive set of techniques. I don't think that how your fist is turned etc. can be answered categorically by some kind of "correct" technique, the context will determine that...what IS important is the mechanics backing it all up.

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Stevenson wrote:

Interesting - thanks for the comments.

Funny - the angled fist is where I am at the moment - a compromise so that I don't let the elbow come out. But I usually use the vertical fist in sparing. So I wonder if this is a personal thing.  In Shuri-Ryu is the straight punch taught with a vertical fist?

The straight punch is taught with both an angled fist and a vertical fist for different purposes, but when you first learn it you learn the angled fist version.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture
@Zach If you are on the side of someone trying to hit the ribs at close range, then you do ura tsuki..which is the first part of the seiken punch. Did you mean "shito tsuki"? Yes I agree that the optimal mechanics are what should be focussed on, and certainly the traditional method I learnt is correct in this regard even if it doesn't teach some of the detail that Kris discusses that can help to fully understand it and therefore improve it further. What I am more concerned with here is why the horizontal punch is taught at all compared to the vertical, which strikes me (pun intended) as slightly longer and slightly stronger and more efficient in its use of structure and musculature. Is there an element to it that I might have missed? For example; - Does the engaging deltoid is to protect the joints by stopping the puinch when practising in line drills when you're less experienced? - Does the extra twist that comes from the deltoid impart extra energy if you apply the technique correctly? - Is the twist an exaggeration that has caught on like chinese whispers? - Is maybe the angled fist the most ideal? - Is it down to an individuals physiology? This isn't just some arcane minutiae of no real consequence, it's a fundamental technique. There were important details to this technique I picked up at Kris Wilders seminar that I didn't know before that have really improved the power of my punches, and I am wondering if there is some kind of similar detail I am missing with regards to horizontal punch.
organic
organic's picture

I found this quite interesting on the subject:

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
I have been thinking hard about the vertical versus the horizontal karate punch lately … Dying to know what others think about this question.

Personally I teach and practise the horizontal punch, the vertical punch, the three-quarter punch, etc, etc. All have their advantages and disadvantages (particularly when it comes to the specific target being impacted).

Stevenson wrote:
I have heard one theory regarding the benefit of the horizontal punch, which is that the twist on impact, can impart energy, and cause damage. I am not convinced...yet...I would love to hear people’s thoughts. It is, after all, a mainstay in traditional karate.

One often overlooked advantage to the horizontal punch is that it relaxes the biceps and the reduction in tension can make for a harder hit. Bent your arm and turn the palm up and down a few times and you can see that palm down is when the biceps is most relaxed. The shoulder also relaxes more too as the arm extends. Ask anyone to reach forward as far as they can and no one will do it with palms up! Palm down can give greater extension and a more relaxed arm which can mean greater impact. I’m certainly not saying a horizontal fist is always better; but it does have its uses and benefits. The point in the above video about finish points vs. impact points is also very valid in my view.

It’s one of these discussions that can get very “academic” I feel; a bit like the old “front two knuckles or back three” debates. The facts people are not perfectly flat, can move and are soft in places makes the argument practically of very little value. There are lots of variables here too and hence I don’t think we can pull out one fist position and make it a universal winner.

All the best,

Iain

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Quote:
The shoulder also relaxes more too as the arm extends

Well that was the very thing that Kris Wilder was encouraging us to avoid. The idea was to 'lock-in' the shoulder at the moment of impact by engaging the lats, which is what Sanchin kata is designed to train. The reason for that is that when the shoulder is relaxed, it recoils when you make impact and that energy escapes through the shoulder joint.  It probably is acedemic if you are heavily built and/or your arm is heavy. Force is a function of mass and acceleration - so if your arm is heavy you can release the kenetic energy into the target. But by slowing down the rate of deceleration, or put another way increasing the time the force is acting, you get higher impulse which can be achieved if you can prevent your shoulder joint from recoiling.

Quote:
There are lots of variables here too and hence I don’t think we can pull out one fist position and make it a universal winner.

For sure! I was just wondering what I had missed with regarding the horizontal fist since it seemed structurally weaker than the vertical. But the point about finish points is what makes sense - that was the missing bit of information - plus the twist to create extra damage. It was never clear to me exactly why there was an insitence on having the twist raight at the very end of the punch. "It makes it stronger" didn't quite convince me.

But I get it now - and thankyou very very much for your reply - and to organic for posting that clip. I can go away now and not have this itch in my brain bothering me about this question.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

For what it's worth, I have been learning stuff from Kris for something like 6 or 7 years now, and I don't recall learning about any kind of special mechanical thing regarding vertical punching, if you do it vertical it isn't different from horizontal, it is the same principles. It's possible I have just never asked the right question of course.

Again I think the different fist formations and types of strikes are more a question of adjusting tactics when needed to countour to the body you are attacking, rather than any concept of one punch being objectively 'better' than another. It could be said that certain principles are definitely more ideal (if you've felt Kris' punch there's no doubt here lol), but the physical expression of these takes alot of forms. For instance the locking down the shoulder thing applies to nearly any punch or strike, you can even do something like a furi-uchi (swinging strike) of a shuto that moves at a downward angle, and it is much more powerful if you apply the sanchin principles than if you let the shoulder disconnect and try to do the strike with a lean into it, this is quite a bit different  type of hit from a seiken thrust, but the same principles have a huge effect.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Hi Zach,

The issue I was having, is that having worked at understanding the mechanical structure of the punch to a more refined level with Kris, it left me wondering what the point of the horizontal fist was, since it was clearly comprimising the structure Kris was emphasised was so important. He doesn't talk about whether the punch should be horizontal or vertical, he just talks about perfecting the mechanics.

So since the horizontal punch is synonmous with nearly all forms of karate, I had to wonder. There is a reason, and I do buy it. But it's important to really fully understand the biomechanics to inform your training.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Well I don't want to sound like i'm speaking for Kris or have some special insight into his method, but I train with him as regularly as I can, as well as bugging him with my own questions about similar things semi-regularly, so i'll try to give my perspective again:

while it's true that Sanchin does things a certain way, and teaches you certain habits, I'm not sure the intention is to limit the way you punch, or to teach you one correct way. I think it's more about learning to apply these principles however you happen to be punching For instance, isshin ryu people use a vertical punch, and can still utlilize the same principles. Obviously you cannot always throw a perfect seiken, it would be nonsensical to think you will always be able to hit the same every time with real life application.

So if you're looking for the "why" of a vertical punch, again...contouring the body, hitting certain targets from certain angles..In the time i've spent playing with this stuff it really seems like the Sanchin stuff is a framework or a set of principles to do a bunch of different stuff, rather than an exclusive set of "correct" techniques.

Also, you can definitely "do" the same stuff with vertical punches, i've felt punches from Kris, his teacher, and some other people that were vertical punches that made me almost vomit through two phonebooks..so if it's not working for you keep messing with it;)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Stevenson wrote:
The idea was to 'lock-in' the shoulder at the moment of impact by engaging the lats, which is what Sanchin kata is designed to train. The reason for that is that when the shoulder is relaxed, it recoils when you make impact and that energy escapes through the shoulder joint.

There is more than one way to hit hard and there is no doubt that Kris (who is a good friend of mine) hits HARD. He’s even punched me in my own living room, so I speak from experience :-) While Kris and I do have a lot of views in common, we do have differing approaches to power generation i.e. I place a big emphasis on hip rotation whereas Kris does not. When discussing power generation once Kris remarked to me that, “You don’t put Ford parts on a Peugeot car” meaning that everything needs to fit together as a whole. So in my case, it is better to relax the shoulder in order to get maximum drive through the target. The “back shock” (resulting from Newton’s third law of motion) is not really a concern as the magnitude of the forward force is such that the “back shock” will simply slow the strike down as it makes its way through the target. I don’t need to “brace” for it. There will be a “muscular locking” if the arm was to near full extension in order to “slam on the brakes” and avoid hyper-extended joints; but before that point any tension would be counter productive. I won’t try to speak for Kris, but he has a different methodology to me. It works well, is logical and consistent, and he hits very hard. However, I’d like to think the same could be said of the alternative method I use … and as a wise man once told me, “You don’t put Ford parts on a Peugeot car” :-)

All the best,

Iain

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Thanks Iain. I remember him using that analogy too, it's a good one.

There sure are different methods of power generation - I have subsequent to Kris's class been looking at the double hip action, which I have yet to fully understand, and also a scientific paper that compared the long reverse punch against the "power" punch similar in technique to the one Kris advocates.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17943591

In the above experiment, they concluded that the reverse punch (and I am presuming it is the hip rotation that is the key here) was the most powerful, but the power punch had nearly as much impulse, and it's virtue was to unbalance. The biggest virtue I see in the power punch is the speed with which it can be initiated. You can go from standing in a neutral stance to full power in the blink of an eye - and way faster than anyone can react. I did really like it.

Actually whilst trying to find the link for the above article, I came across this:

http://www.24fightingchickens.com/2008/12/21/karate-as-a-science-a-comme...

In which the question I posed was examined sceintifically. I thought it was quite interesting.

Again I really appreciate the replies I have had to this. I feel much clearer about something that was really bugging me.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I'm just posting this because I think it's interesting:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/51061708/45997124-Bak-Mei-Kung-Fu-Manual

I'm not one of those "Karate is kung fu" guys..but if you look through this ,manual, you can see an example of set of mechanics somewhat similar to the Nahate stuff that also does not rely much on hip rotation....just thought it'd be a cool thing to throw out given the subject matter. Some of the studies were interesting..I'm wondering whether the '3 inch punch' they measured against was thrown off the front leg or back, would have  abig effect on the results I would think.

Another thing you alluded to Stevenson, overt "power" is only one dimension of what matters in a punch or strike, and can be a poor indicator of efficacy when taken in isolation. I'm pretty sure that I could throw a "punch" that would be combatively useless for a variety of reasons, but might hit harder at the moment of impact than any trained punch i'm capable of doing.

Something like how you throw a baseball, up on one leg, transfer weight slowly forward to the other and let my hand swing wide in a wide, exagerrated overhand arc, I suspect we could all throw a punch of this sort that would hit exceptionally hard on measuring equipment, but combatively i'm not sure I could ever hit someone like this without major modiifcation. likely of the kind that would reduce some of the measurable power in the punch.

For these reasons, I often find scientific testing of power of punches, effect of weapons on static targets etc.  abit questionable, most of the time the models used are too simplified to tell you anything about combative effectiveness...or so it seems to me.

I definitely feel there is more than one "correct" way to generate power, and certainly more than one correct set of martial mechanics..in addition, I sometimes I wonder if an informed, yet subjective viewpoint of personal experiences is  better for figuring out which punch is "best" for us than some of these attempts at objective scientific study are.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

interesting thread. As in my school we only teach "boxing" punches not "karate" punches, the mechanics of the punches is slightly different, but finish is the same.

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

Quote:
Another thing you alluded to Stevenson, overt "power" is only one dimension of what matters in a punch or strike, and can be a poor indicator of efficacy when taken in isolation.

Zach, I know exactly what you mean.

As I mentioned to Iain, someone with whom I train occasionally has been exploring the double-hip action punch that Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson advocate. That's pretty thorough endorsement right there...but I can't help thinking that while power is obviously important and useful, the punch should simply be 'powerful enough'. By that I mean it should serve its strategic purpose - is it necessary to bring a howitzer to take out a fly? 

What I like about Kris Wilder's approach is that you can get maximum power from minimum movement. The same whipping action occurs as a series of muscles and bones align in a certain order, but its really minimalistic and internal. You really project the power through the target and its really controlled - there is no telegraphing the moevement before hand, and no over-balancing afterwards. It's very controlled and focussed - so while you may sacrifice maximum power, it is still sufficient to achieve the strategic goal (I believe at at the moment) and you gain in speed and control.

And I really don't mean for this to be a purely academic issue either - at my stage of karate development I am really trying to bring together the many strands of knowledge and training I have been exposed to into a strategy and approach that works for me. Mixing up power generation strategies - or at least not being clear what they are - would be unwise I think.

PASmith
PASmith's picture

is it necessary to bring a howitzer to take out a fly?

I think (to extend the metaphor) when it comes to self defence it does pay to bring a howitzer because you don't know, from appearances, if you are hitting a fly or a buffalo.

Better to overkill a fly than underkill a buffalo and have that buffalo come back at you. Might as well have a howitzer because it will kill a buffalo too. smiley

And, as Iain has said at one of his seminars I went to, adrenal stress will rob you of power in a real go. You may think you're shooting a howitzer, when hitting the bags, but for real it'll turn into a shot gun. As far as I'm concerned you should cultivate a hard strike because you never know when you'll need every ounce of that strike and every ounce may count when it really matters.

When I develop a hard strike I'll let you know. frown

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Quote:
What I like about Kris Wilder's approach is that you can get maximum power from minimum movement. The same whipping action occurs as a series of muscles and bones align in a certain order, but its really minimalistic and internal. You really project the power through the target and its really controlled - there is no telegraphing the moevement before hand, and no over-balancing afterwards. It's very controlled and focussed - so while you may sacrifice maximum power, it is still sufficient to achieve the strategic goal (I believe at at the moment) and you gain in speed and control.

Mixing up power generation strategies - or at least not being clear what they are - would be unwise I think.

Yeah, I started training with Kris purely on the results of the stuff he teaches..and the fact that he is just a good guy, not based on the theory, which I really found hard to get at first - punching with no hip twist seemed crazy when I first saw it..but the results are undeniable! Since I do Goju there is really no disconnect, in fact when I started to learn the stuff from him it was of full "aha" moments that explained why we do certain things in kata etc. that I had never gotten before. It was a bit hard to unlearn twisting my hips and and a couple of other habits..but my Karate is definitely much more honed than it was before doing the stuff he teaches, and it has more internal consistency than it did when I tried to do Goju with hip twisting, it seems to me. Mind, totally subjective experience, other's results may vary!

I don't know how his stuff would play out for someone who primarily does Shorin Ryu, where hip twisting is sometimes a given..but I can say that the Shorin kata which I still do is Naihanchin, and there the Sanchin stuff Kris teaches still seems to apply quite well, the difference is that with naihanchin your target is to the side rather than directly in front of you..the stuff I have learned from him in fact added a whole new 'dimension' of grounding and a vertical aspect to the naihanchin movements I had never messed with before, as a result I can do a really hard 'naihanchin' punch now, much harder than before exposure tot he Sanchin stuff..so while I know "you can't put Ford parts on a Peugot"..somehow this Nahate stuff that Kris teaches also has helped the one Shorin kata I still do, and related abilities.

I also don't find it limits me to one set of stuff either, i've gotten alot out of Iain's dvd beyond bunkai DvD in particular, I imagine I am doing it differently mechanically to some degree, but I have not found that it has prevented me from utilizing these "other parts". So while I get the analogy about car parts, sometimes I do wonder where it really applies, and where it doesn't.

Thoughts?

Stevenson
Stevenson's picture

That's a really good post - Zach. I think we have had similar experiences. I have a mixture of shotokan and GoJu background - and while I am drawn to GoJu primarily, there things in the Shuri-te style - especially the things Iain teaches that I really like - very direct, effective, and easy to make work. It'd be a shame to not know katas like Empi or Kanku-dai, or not have shuto uke as a 'go to' defense technique.

The same as you, I have found that applying the sanchin concepts really brings alive a lot of karate regardless of its style. For example, zenkutsu diachi suddenly is stronger and more purposeful viewing it as a 'long' version of sanchin daichi. The same or similar muscles are involved structurally, and the same or similar principles involved. I find the idea of 'locking' in a structure at the end of the technique allows me to think of relaxation and tension in a way that makes sense and I can hold onto in my mind, regardless what kata or technique. It works for me, I get it and as Kris says - don't try to find bunkai in Sanchin kata, try to find Sanchin kata in your bunkai. Man that's really good advice.

Knowing which muscles to focus on for tension, and which to keep relaxed has been the key. Shuto uke doesn't really turn up much in GoJu, but if you apply the principles from Sanchin kata, say for the arm hold in shuto uke, where the back hand is pinning an arm, and engage the same muscles as you would in uchi uke from Sanchin kata and with those principles in mind - it's stronger and more purposeful. Or the hikite hand - in Shotokan style teaching, students are often told to not let the elbow stick out. Sanchin kata shows you why, and how to fix that and understand what it is you are trying to achieve by keeping it in.

@PASmith

Quote:
I think (to extend the metaphor) when it comes to self defence it does pay to bring a howitzer because you don't know, from appearances, if you are hitting a fly or a buffalo.

I know and agree it's a consideration, but if we extend the analogy even further - if you are trying to hit a mad buffalo running around chaotically, it's going to take time to aim the howitzer. You might fire off a round and miss and then the buffalo is upon you. Your mate standing next to you with an elephant gun has enough power to take the buffalo out and has a much better chance of hitting it between the eyes.

Or if you are playing pool, you could take a long stroke of the pool cue and give the white ball a chance to smash into a coloured ball int he hope of pocketing it, or you take a smaller more precise stroke in the hope of targetting more exactly.

 

God my analogies are rubbish. Sorry.