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Toaster's picture
Heavy bag combinations that are effective in self-protection

Hi all,

I'm currently listening to Ian's latest Q&A podcasts (on part 2 now) and I had a question that regards solo-training on the heavy bag.  I work on the bag a couple of times per week and would like to start drilling some combos that are effective in a self-protection type situation.  I know that circumstances will always dictate the techniques you will use in a given situation, but I'm looking for some good combos that can work in a variety of situations (with perhaps a little modification to target, etc).

Does anyone have any suggestions?  I typically do more tournament style techniques (punches, roundhouse and spinning kicks, etc) on the bag (primarly because they are fun to do and I can hit with decent power and accuracy), but am starting to add in slaps, palm-heels, low kicks, etc. I'd love to build some "muscle memory" for some good technique combinations that can flow nicely and be effective if I should ever need to use them.

Thanks all!

deltabluesman's picture

Sure, I'll throw out a few things that I do.  For self-protection purposes, I usually keep it pretty simple with the combinations.  Apologies if I end up saying things you already know.  But the first place to start is of course with your preferred preemptive strike, whatever that may be.  I would work that from a couple different "neutral" positions.  Then, once you have the preemptive strike landing with solid power, you can branch out into whatever follow-ups feel most natural to you. 

Here's some other ideas that I use.  I like to work with "check hooks" as an opener.  The check hook is a lead hook that is followed immediately by stepping off-line.  It is ideal for an enemy that is charging into you.  Simple in theory, but in my experience it is a challenging punch to get good at (and I personally have a long way to go before I master it).  I like to use it once the bag starts swinging.  As the bag swings into you, launch the check hook and get out of the way,  (Here's the first video I found that demonstrates the concept, please ignore the trippy music:  https://youtu.be/F08rjwM-6vk?t=141.)  You can throw closed hand or open-hand.  In application, it would ideally be thrown proactively.  On the heavy bag, you can follow it with the right cross.  I sometimes like to instead use a karate-style datum setting follow up (which I of course picked up from this site).  So that would be:

1)  lead hand check hook as you step off-line

2)  reach out with lead hand to make contact with bag

3)  launch power punch.  

You can also start by "shoving" the heavy bag with both hands (keeping power controlled so it doesn't fly around too much) and then check hook as it comes back in, etc. 

Other combos that spring to mind . . . if you are right handed, maybe drill the double or triple cross.  This mimics the situation where you lead off with a strong preemptive right hand power punch.  You land the punch and the enemy is momentarily shocked.  So you throw a second punch with the same hand.  Enemy staggers, then you pick him off with the third punch. 

Also, close-range elbow and forearm strikes.  Kind of like this:  https://youtu.be/yVreIgu_GnQ?t=40.  I'm right handed, so sometimes I will throw the right forearm strike as an opener, then launch open-handed straight palm strikes while moving at an angle on the bag.  Or right forearm strike to the body, follow the bag as it swings back, secure a clinch-like grip (may be hard depending on shape of the bag) and throw a few knees.  (I do know some gyms that ban the use of elbows on their heavy bags and only allow punches with gloves, so if you're doing it at a gym, might want to check on that.)     

Lastly, here's another video that I found very helpful:  https://youtu.be/21mf8WvrCGU (just general advice on working the heavy bag).    

Those are my suggestions.  And the usual disclaimers of course--I am not an instructor and I don't want to hold myself out as an advanced striker.  This is just what I have found helpful for me.


Wastelander's picture

I always like to approach my training methods in wide varieties of ways, so I don't use the heavy bag for just one type of striking, myself. I use a lot of kickboxing/MMA-esque fighting combinations on it, of course, because it lends itself well to that, and is a fun workout. I also use it just for working power strikes, generally by themselves, although sometimes I do short combinations of power shots. I like to use it for strike flows, as well, such as throwing a hook, following that arm through to strike with the elbow, then bringing the elbow back into the target, then whipping a backfist into the target on the way back. One of my favorite things to do with it is to either tie a belt/rope or attach a resistance band to the bag, so that I can include limb control and joint locking methods into my combinations, which lends itself much better to the self protection techniques of kata. I give a few quick examples in this recent video:


Another somewhat obscue use for the heavy bag that I like is using it like a sagi-makiwara--this video of Onaga Yoshimitsu Sensei shows the classic version and a few uses for it:


When I do it, I like to work on developing muchimi and tactile sensitivity, staying connected with the bag and either resisting and controlling its weight, and then yielding and trying to move around it without affecting the bag's movement, mixing in strikes here and there. I recorded a little bit of that a couple years ago--sorry about the blindingly pale, doughy body you have to suffer through if you watch the video, but it was very hot in my garage, lol.


Other times, I just like to throw it around :P:


Josh Pittman
Josh Pittman's picture

I have some similar thoughts. First of all, I love using the heavy bag!

I suggest getting your combinations from forms, then practicing on the heavy bag to get used to power generation and impact.

I like to use the heavy bag to practice "power endurance," or the ability to fire as many power shots as possible in a given time (e.g., https://youtu.be/A_oN5q7N4HY).

Also useful for self-defense is using the heavy bag as a makiwara, for bone density training. I even think the heavy bag has an advantage over the makiwara in that it can also be used to condition the shins. To use the bag in this way, hit the hardest part of the bag you can manage with the appropriate part of your fist, arm, or leg. Don't overdo it, though. You might want to start with hand wraps and gloves, then remove the wraps after two weeks or so. Only practice barefisted if your bag isn't made of material that will tear the skin off your knuckles. Not only does that hurt, but it also makes you unable to continue training for a while. I don't do this more than twice a week, and I always make sure to drink milk and eat something with Vitamin C afterward (good for joint health).

If you already have good striking skills, practice flowing into combinations you already know from a preemptive strike. But, focus on high-percentage knockout strikes and avoid high kicks. A bad habit I picked up from point sparring is the flicking backfist. To make that more practical for self-defense, I sometimes convert it into a hammerfist and sometimes use it as a range-finder and setup for a more powerful cross (like Iain's interpretation of the knife-hand strike from horse stance in Kushanku and Bassai Dai).

Practice clinching and using shoulder bumps, bicep bumps, and eye gouges to create space and set up more powerful strikes, like elbows or headbutts. I did once overdo the headbutts, though, and I think I might have given myself a slight concussion.

Obviously, you should put all these things into the "training matrix" (Iain) to "eliminate training scars" (Andy Allen). Let us know if you come up with anything creative!

Anf's picture

I think there's too much obsession with punches and kicks in the context of 'self protection'. Punches and kicks are not for self protection. They are for beating people up.

Of course they have their place. A punch might deter or buy some time. Might even result in a knockout, in which case the next phase of self protection is to practice convincing a magistrate that your knockout punch was proportionate.

If I were using a heavy bag in a self protection context, I'd be looking at very close quarters. I'd imagine that the bag is the assailant and he's fully closed the gap. Then I'd be looking at elbows, knees, forearms, and generally techniques aimed at breaking away. I wouldn't just practice from facing the bag. How hard can I strike it from a position of my back actually against it. How can I even strike it from that position. What about from the side? What can I do from being laid on the floor right next to it? Can I kick it with any force from that position? What if I kick it then see how fast I can get back to my feet while guarding my head?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Anf wrote:
Punches and kicks are not for self protection.

Kicks have a limited role, but low kicks definitely have a role to play. Punches are definitely a HUGE part of self-protection. To practise punches realistically stay close until escape and avoid fighting footwork. Tying a belt around the bag can help get the non-striking hand involved. Putting clothing on it can too. Practising pre-emptive punches / hand strikes on the bag is also important.

All the best,


Josh Pittman
Josh Pittman's picture

Wastelander wrote:
 Other times, I just like to throw it around :P:

I like this a lot. Have you ever used a shorter bag for this kind of drill? Since I only have a short bag, I end up with this kind of exercise: https://youtu.be/wSf0iSkxQq8

Good for conditioning, but more of a sparring movement. When I try more self-defense kinds of take-downs, I end up with something like this: https://youtu.be/yE0aVhPADFU

The weighting is kind of off, though, so I  can see how it might develop bad habits.

The point is to ask whether you (or anyone else) have ideas on how to set up a shorter bag to practice the throws with more realistic weight distribution. Thanks!

Wastelander's picture

Josh Pittman wrote:
I like this a lot. Have you ever used a shorter bag for this kind of drill?

We made a point of buying 6ft bags for the dojo, and that's what I have at home, as well, but before we had the 6ft bags, my Sensei and I threw around some of the smaller ones, as well. We tied a belt through the rings of the bag and used that to hoist it up to our hips or shoulders to do the throws. Not quite as smooth/comfortable, but it gets the job done.

Toaster's picture

Great stuff here.  Thanks all. I especially like the idea of the belt/resistance band around the bag.   I'm going to try those! 

My bag is not the floor standing type, but the hanging style.  Not sure if it will work quite as well but with a try!

Wastelander's picture

Toaster wrote:
My bag is not the floor standing type, but the hanging style.  Not sure if it will work quite as well but with a try!

I much prefer the hanging bags for pretty much everything--I only used the free-standing one in that video because we don't have a hanging bag in that room in the dojo :P