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Punching Drills – Form Or Function?

Many martial artists cringe at what the fitness community calls “boxing.” The problem isn’t so much improper punching as unsafe movement, period. When done correctly, boxing exercises also develop strength and reflexes. Here are some exercises and pointers to make your workouts safe, fun and effective.


A proper punch comes from the whole body, not just the arms. I’ve seen too many seminars and aerobics classes where the strokes are more like random arm swings. It might get your blood pumping, but you also risk injuring your elbows and shoulders.

When punching, the fist should be rolled into a tight ball and held tight when punching. Hand wrapping is a good idea when used properly. Out of a hundred good blows, even one careless blow can twist an unprotected wrist. A pair of bag gloves is also useful for hand protection. They are relatively cheap and protect the skin on the fingers. I used to go very cheap with gardening gloves. 10 years later I had bloody knuckles and a recurring injury.

Some thoughts are to exercise without wraps and gloves to strengthen the wrists and harden the wrists. I have done both over the years and recommend using the equipment. I also recommend buying and using your own wraps and gloves. It’s much more hygienic and comfortable than wallowing in someone else’s sweat.

The position

The basic boxing stance is to have your feet shoulder width apart with one foot about a step forward. You should stand with your feet comfortably on either side of a 2-by-4-inch piece of wood. You want enough space between your legs to move forward, backward, and sideways. A common mistake is to stand with one foot behind the other, like a skateboarder. This makes it difficult to use both hands.

Turn your body off to show about ¾ of your profile to the target. Raise your hand or “guard” so that your front hand is roughly over the front leg. For a right-handed person, the front hand is the left hand and the back hand is the right hand. Left-handers follow the exact opposite. Holding the front hand with the wrists up and slightly forward. The back hand is held by the chin. The next step is to hit from this position. With a solid stance and good body mechanics, you can punch faster and harder than average without hurting your fists.

Straight punches

Mathematically, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So a straight punch with a swinging “haymaker” punch. The problem is that nature likes to swing. Cats and bears make flapping movements. Humans naturally make striking movements. So the straight punch must be taught. If you program your body to hit properly, it will feel easier.

The Jab

Start in the starting position with the first hand forward. From there, extend your first arm (to the left for right-handers) so that your arm is at about 95% of its extension. The elbow should be in line with the fist. Then return the lever to the ready position. Avoid overextending the arm. Young women especially have this problem of overextending their arms so that it looks like a boomerang.

Do the jab so it’s quick. Thump, poke, nudge. This is a quick punch designed to set up the target of other punches. At first, the jab will be very tiring as you try to push and pull your arm back and forth. Eventually, it will snap back quickly, snake quickly.

A more advanced punch is called a straight left. In this case, the front left hand is bent hard, with the body behind it. Designed to deliver more performance over shorter distances. Some forms of martial arts, such as Jeet Kune Do and Hung Gar, use the first hand to deliver powerful blows. I once saw a friend of mine knock out a guy in a tournament with 3 straight lefts. If you are left-handed, you can do this with your right hand forward. During training, you can develop sufficient strength with both hands forward. For now, just focus on the jab and speed it up. It works.

The cross

The cross is also called a straight right or sometimes called a “power punch”. This stroke is somewhat similar to the shot put. Power comes from your legs, hips and shoulders. As it twists its body, it extends its rear arm and punches the target. After making contact with your target, return your fist to the starting position. Again, be careful not to overextend your arm at the elbow.

The stab is usually followed by a cross. But if you see an opening, deliver your cross hard and fast. Since most brawlers like to finish with a “hay beater”, you need to be able to “hit them”. You can do this by training your cross to come from near your own chin, straight to the opponent’s chin, throat, heart, solar plexus, or whatever.

I used the cross when a drunk rolled and hit me. He pulled back his right fist haha. But first I got a straight right hand on the chin and he went down like a sack of potatoes.

His buddy stuck too close to straight punches, so he had to…

The hook

A hook is a close range strike that is launched with a bent arm. Some instructors insist that the palms are facing down, while others say that their palms should be facing you. Either way, it’s important to keep your wrists straight. The palm down method is more suitable for this.

To throw the hook, bend your arms 90 degrees and rotate your hips and shoulders to swing the punch toward the target. Your shoulders and hips should lead slightly, like when you’re swinging a baseball bat. Be sure to follow through and keep the arm bent.

A common mistake is for people to straighten their arms when hitting. They usually have to move closer to the target and keep their arms bent, even after making contact with the target. Another common mistake beginners make is to just swing their arms across their body. They have to put their body behind each stroke.

The upper cut

The uppercut is basically a rising hook. It usually targets the rib cage and sometimes the chin. Like the hook, start with a bent arm, palm up. As you punch, rotate your hips into the punch and lift your body into the punch.

Common mistakes in punching are:

1. Raise the club arm like a push-up. This generates power from just the biceps and gives the target a smaller slap.

2. Extending the arms while hitting. This is even weaker and gives the impression of a 60s dance.

Using focus pads

Before learning hooks, work on straight punches. Your training partner must be balanced. They have to hold the focus pads to the side of their head to learn to hit such a close target. You also need to hit the far focus pad, which forces you to get closer to the target. Hit the focus pad on the opposite side of your training partner, left hand to left hand and right hand to right hand. This will force you to twist your body into the punches and work your abs.

Many people tend to keep focus pads away from them. This is suitable for beginners who are afraid of hitting but little to teach the hitter about distance. By holding the focus pads close to the head, the training partner learns to:

1. You don’t need to flinch from incoming blows

2. Stay alert

Many new students make the mistake of holding back their punches or grazing the surface of the pads. You have to train yourself to “hit” the target. Again, if you do it right, you’ll be using more of your “body” behind the punches and twists, and you’ll be using your lower back more. He becomes more coordinated and trains more.

To practice straight punches, do the jab first. Push it until you get used to the focus pad. Don’t just push the pillow. Connect well to the stroke so that when it makes contact with the focus pad, it moves away suddenly. It’s like playing pool when a cue ball hits another pool ball.

If you are comfortable with the stab, follow the cross. The cross usually extends about 3 inches longer than the jab (even though it arrives a fraction of a second slower.) Hit the target again and return to guard.

Now you can mix up your combinations. Try the following:

Jab cross. Jab-jab-cross. Jab-cross-jab. Jab-jab-cross-jab. Jab-cross-jab-cross.

Try it for 1 minute. Shake out your arms and shoulders if you feel tight. Then work until you feel tired but relaxed.

Then move on to hooks and uppercuts. For hooks, the training partner should hold the pad in the center of the body, not to the side. For the uppercut, hold the pillow at waist height, close to the body, and turn your head away from the pillow when it pops up. For God’s sake, don’t hold the pillow to your chest while looking down at it. You’ll find out why in a hurry.

Start with hooks only, then uppercuts only. Then start the combos with all the punches. Hit for a minute with a minute break. Increase the punching time to 3 minutes, with one minute in between. Set a clock or use an egg timer. We used an electric timer or a cassette player, on which music played for 3 minutes and there was silence for one minute. I quickly learned how to take that sip of water and prepare myself for when the music started again.

Once you get the speed and stamina to hit the pads for 3 minutes straight, you can move on to the reflexes. The training partner can change the position of the focus pads and hold them up for about 2 seconds at a time. The puncher must react quickly or he will miss the opportunity. This is a great practice for performing on an opening. It’s usually a little comical at first, as the puncher is almost always confused at first and throws punches rarely seen on the planet. The training partner should be consistent with the position of the focus pads to avoid confusion. The puncher also needs to be alert as sometimes the puncher can get confused (or frustrated) and knock out the training partner. I speak from experience, it is rare, but it does happen. So “be alert, stay alive”.

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