Theory, misunderstandings and errors of the wrist roll

 Theory of the Wrist Roll

  1. It strengthens the wrist and the elbow, same as the stance does for the knees and ankles. Boxers tape their wrists, but we can’t do that in a fight, so you must increase your wrist strength to withstand the kind of punishment it will have to take when you hit people hard, or if and when you make a mistake. To give you the idea, if you punch a heavy bag, usually you sprain your wrist if you haven’t done it for a while. You wouldn’t want this happening in a fight.
  2. There is also the fact that these days, with Jiu Jitsu and grappling and MMA and so on being popular these days, so a lot of people know how to do wrist locks to one degree or another. Most martial arts have some kind of wrist locks. You need a strong wrist to withstand them for long enough to counter them. As they grab and flex the wrist, you might need to straighten your arm or wrist, or flex it out of harm’s way. You need a strong and resilient wrist to do this, and a strong and resilient elbow that you can control.
  3. You also need a strong wrist if you hit something like a face at the wrong angle, and your wrist bends, whether by design (for example biu ji style punches) or by accident during fast movements (this will often happen for example if you hit a hanging punching bag incorrectly). It will hurt, even if only for a few seconds, and if you do not have a strong wrist, you will be unable to punch for that period of time. A fight can be won or lost several times over in those few seconds.
  4. The straight elbow not only increases the strain on the wrist, making it stronger, it also strengthens somewhat the elbow itself, including the muscles holding it together and the ligaments and tendons around it. It helps the elbow, a very vulnerable point, resist attacks such as arm bars, for a moment or two to do something about it. Also, being able to hold it straight when it wants to bend is a part of learning how to control each joint separately, which will become a useful skill at high levels.
  5. You need a strong and supple wrist to do huen sau properly, along with many other techniques including the wrist cocking of the punch.
  6. You need to do a complete circle because the weakest part of the circle will be the bit that gives way, rendering the bits a student did correctly pretty much useless.
  7. There is also the factor of “long arm bridge strength” which Barry didn’t put much truck in, but helps you to have power far out from the body. It is more a factor in advanced training, but the training for all these things begins here, at the very start.
bad huen

Elbow bent in wrist roll, wrist not on centre, shoulder not square

Misunderstandings and Errors

  1. Students think the wrist roll is some kind of technique, so they do it like one, with arm bent and trying to do it fast. It isn’t. It’s just an exercise, but a very important one. A slow one.
  2. Students don’t complete the punch; that is, failing to straighten the elbow at impact, or if they do, they fail to keep it straight. This is very poor technique, and results in weak punches that don’t penetrate, and can’t knock down the opponent either. This idea is popular in commercial schools due to fear that students will hurt their elbows and sue them. However, you only hurt your elbow if you do it incorrectly, and a good teacher should be able to teach it so the student can do it right. But as far as inclusion in this section is concerned, you cannot do the wrist roll correctly without a straight elbow, so it means you start from an incorrect position.
  3. Bending the elbow for the wrist roll after the punch. This will result in reducing the effectiveness in the strengthening of the wrist, and will fail to strengthen the elbow. This is a very common problem. Quite often, the student finds it very hard to keep the elbow locked. Apart from anything else, it also increases penetration power of the punches as well.
  4. Not doing a complete circle for the wrist roll (vertically first is usually missed, as is the end on the outside.)
  5. Failing to do it hard and firmly. Usually, people just flick it in a circle, completely wasting their time doing it. This is very common indeed. It should be performed slowly, firmly, and completely.
  6. Students don’t pull back the elbow correctly i.e. hard and fast, but instead pull it back softly. This is covered in more detail elsewhere, in the section on setting up the stance.
  7. Students don’t finish in the correct training stance position at the end. Hands can be in all sorts of incorrect places. It’s a good idea to stop at the end of each section when you get into the training stance and mentally check it for correctness before beginning the next section.


After learning this section, some time should be spent covering drills appropriate to this level. Each section of formal training has drills appropriate for that level, and drills for self-defense, and theory. The drills and self-defense will be covered in other blogs and articles, as will the theory and design philosophy. The ideas in this section should be fully understood before moving to the next section of the form, but the depth given in these articles isn’t necessary for a beginner, but instead a goal for students over time. How much detail at any one time is up to the teacher, but I would recommend more rather than less. This is so the student can have a better picture in their heads to emulate as they attempt to improve their technique. On the other hand, if a teacher doesn’t know the majority of this already, he or she should not be teaching.

Usually, this much is given in the first couple of lessons, so there is obviously a limit to the amount of detail that is practicable to give the student. After just one or two lessons, we move onto the next section.

However, before moving onto the next part of the form, we must discuss the key training part of the form, the neutral stance.



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