The Punch: Common Errors and Misunderstandings
This needs a lot of illustrations to show better, but I simply didn’t have time this time. It’s already very late getting out. I’ll consider editing it at another time.1. There is a whole bunch of errors right at the start.
a. The fist needs to go directly to the centre, and not wander over slowly nor any attempt at speed and power. Just placed there. And it needs to be on the centre, and not to one side. Many students start off the centre, not realizing it. It must be on centre. See the picture.
b. The fist needs to be against the sternum, with the wrist bent and the long bones of the hand pointing at the ‘enemy’. A lot of people start with the fist too far out. It should be close. Starting correctly but a bit far out is not too bad a mistake, though it should be done correctly anyway.
c. The fist needs to be facing the right way. Some people start, not out to the side or pointing up. Many people start with the punch pointing into the air. It is better to start with the punch aiming at the target, or even slightly below the line of the target, so the wrist can be canted up at impact, enabling more penetrating strikes, and adding more power. If you start with the fist pointing in the wrong direction, you can’t do this. See the picture.
d. The fist needs to be relaxed, not clenched. A clenched fist moves much slower and is harder to accelerate. Try it for yourself. See the picture.
e. Students often start with the punch too high on the chest. If you start with the punch too high, you will have several problems. One is that grapplers will be able to smother the punch if they move before you are able to hit them. Starting lower will give you the power to hit harder for the entire length of the punch, and not just at the end of the travel of the punch. This is a common error with punching.
This guy is off centre and his back (right) hand is pointing into the sky, so he won’t be able to cock his wrist on impact, or not without moving down first. It will probably also result in a downwards hammering movement instead of a forward thrusting movement, and risking injury to his elbows. It will also reduce the trust of the punch and so reduce damage potential. The fist is also too tightly clenched at the start. The ending position of the left hand is ok, though, and his elbow is locked out.
2. The cocking of the wrist – three main errors.
a. Failing to cock the wrist at impact distance. The timing has to be just right for maximum efficiency. Usually, people do it too early, although some do it right at the end after impact.
b. Cocking the wrist too early. Often people cock the wrist up too early, or start with it cocked already. This means that at the point of impact, there is no way that the student can cock the wrist through the opponent’s body, thus not being able to continue the acceleration curve of the punch. This means that the strike will not penetrate as well, into the enemy’s body.
c. Cocking the wrist too much. This is very common. It means that the impact will not be on the flat of the bottom knuckles but instead will impact on just the bottom knuckle. This is more likely to injure the student than the enemy as it impacts just on the point of the weakest knuckle in the hand. The correct amount is just enough to line up the bones of the hand with the elbow and forearm, making a single straight line. The elbow, as it straightens, drives this through the target until it is a straight line from knuckles to shoulder. It really isn’t cocking upwards, but rather bringing the knuckles into line. The best way to do this is to let the natural shape of the two bones of the forearm cant the hand up at the correct distance. It happens naturally, and to the right degree. There is no real need to do it deliberately.
3. People often lean into the punch to get more power. Do not forget that for the whole of the first form, you do not move your body at all. Just the hands move. The body and posture remain stationary, like a statue, and the hands and arms move.
4. “Snatching” at the punch on the end. Some people start with the fist too open, especially with the bones of the palm pointing outwards or the wrist too bent, rather than in line with the target. If so, they will ‘snatch’ the punch at impact, losing force and risking injury to fingers and wrist, and likely impacting with the middle knuckles of the fingers rather than the knuckles at the base of the fingers. This was common enough that WSL changed the start of the punch to a loosely clenched hand, instead of an open hand with fingers pointing at the target.
5. Failing to fully straighten the arm. It is necessary to completely straighten the arm with the punch. Failing to do so will have many effects. One is that in a fight, you will not hit the man as hard as possible – you will more than likely start pulling your punches. Making it a habit to straighten the elbow means you will reflexively hit as hard as you can no matter what. You should also punch hard as you can to ensure that this becomes a habit as well.
6. Another bad habit is to let your elbow point outwards. If you do this, you will not be able to automatically block and trap punches on the way out. It will not sufficiently protect your centerline while you are punching, and will lose some of the energy of the strike as well. See in the picture here that Donnie Yen has both his back hand too high, isn’t square and his front hand is not fully extended, and his elbow is pointing outwards and not downwards. His fist is incorrectly made as well, with the knuckles not supported correctly (for VTK) by the folded fingers of the hand. Although he just an actor, he is supposed to be Yip Man, so I feel it is OK to criticize him, but I feel the fault is not his, but whoever advised him.
7. Manner of movement of the punch. The manner of movement is vital for all parts of VTK, especially in SLT. Moving too fast at the beginning of the punch means you will not practice acceleration. Moving too slowly for too long, and then going fast suddenly half way out practices wrong acceleration. The punch should be done so that it accelerates continuously for the whole movement, getting faster throughout the entire movement. So, the correct way is to continuously accelerate throughout the movement, neither going too fast at the beginning so you can’t accelerate well, nor discontinuously accelerating by moving slowly at first then rushing halfway through. Continuous. To do this well, start the movement quite slowly, and smoothly increase the speed in such a way that it is clearly visible until it is going visibly faster at the end. No need for flat out. Just move correctly.
8. Failing to clench the fist hard at impact. This is an obvious error that many people do anyway, simply due to bad habits such as trying too hard to be relaxed. It results in a bad habit that will end up either in a weak punch or maybe a broken hand. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to punch a wall bag that is filled with something hard, like gravel or ball bearings. If you do this daily, then the bad habit will go away or become irrelevant.