These days, everywhere you look, martial artists are incorporating basic Western-boxing techniques into their fighting repertoire. Although some traditional stylists have resisted this trend, there are many good reasons why it continues and why you should jump on board.
Having evolved in the laboratory of combat, boxing techniques are practical and effective. They’re deceptively powerful and rival even the powerhouse punches of classical karate in the force of their impact. They’re adaptable and combine gracefully with the strikes and kicks of the martial arts. Finally, they’re relatively easy to learn and apply even under the stress of competition or self-defense.
In boxing, the ability to hit hard doesn’t correlate to any particular body type. Knockout punchers come in all sizes and shapes. Although a few fighters seem to be naturals, for most people, boxing is a skill that must be learned. This means understanding and applying biomechanics, learning about how the body moves and generates power, and, of course, investing in plenty of practice.
Types of Movement
In studying how the body generates power, you’ll discover the importance of three types of movement. The first is the movement of the bodyweight as it shifts from one leg to the other in the direction of the action. This is essentially the movement we use to bump a heavy door open with our arm and shoulder. It’s called translation.
The second is the movement of the body as it twists around an imaginary line passing through the top of the head and down to the body’s center. This twisting is driven by the rear leg turning the hips and by the muscles of the trunk turning the shoulders. It’s called rotation.
The third is the movement of the wrist and elbow as they straighten, which is coupled with the flexion of the shoulder. It’s called extension.
Effective punches must combine all three movements at the proper time. This requires that translation — inherently, the slowest movement — begin the sequence. Rotation, being faster, joins in a split second later. Extension, being the fastest, joins in last.
When all three movements take place quickly, with correct timing and with a solid connection of the fist to the bodyweight (what trainers call leverage), the punch has knockout power. Correct timing can be felt more easily than it can be seen. When everything comes together correctly, all three movements will reach their peak power at the moment of impact. Everything feels right.
Punch No. 1: Lead Jab
The first punch a boxer learns is the lead jab. It’s a good place to begin applying the principles of biomechanics discussed above.
The jab is a straight punch made with the lead hand. It fires directly out to the opponent’s face or midsection, then snaps directly back.
Most of the jab’s power comes from translation. It’s created by a small step forward with the front foot as the rear leg drives the body. This is why trainers say, “The jab comes from the rear foot.” The arm, relaxed at first, whips out from the shoulder and tightens for a split second at the moment of impact. By that time, the fist should face palm-down. It then snaps back to the starting position.
Power is added by rotation, a small but rapid twist of the hips and shoulders in the direction of the punch. To maximize it, the torso leans slightly to the side of the rear leg.
More power is added by extension, the rapid straightening of the arm and wrist and the flexion of the shoulder. The key to making this action effective is keeping the shoulder loose so it hangs back for an instant as the torso turns. Contrary to logic, the shoulder actually moves backward in relation to the body for an instant, effectively cocking the shoulder joint. Then, at the last moment, it flexes sharply, and the arm and wrist straighten to fire the jab out to the target. This snap of the shoulder is too quick to be seen, but it can be felt.
A good jab is loose, well-timed and quick. The key lies in practicing until you get the feel of the punch, then practicing a lot more until it becomes second nature.
Punch No. 2: Rear Cross
The next punch is the rear cross. It’s a straight blow effected with the rear hand. Using the principles of biomechanics in the fullest possible manner, the cross fires directly out to the opponent’s face or midsection, than snaps back.
The cross draws some power from translation — much like the jab does — but most of its power comes from the rotation of the hips and shoulders. This is the key to a good cross. Extension of the arm and wrist and flexion of the shoulder, coupled with a loose, quick snap, top off the sequence. The cross lands with the fist facing palm-down.
Photos by Rick Hustead