Tag Archives: punching power

Stances and applications

When a new student starts in a martial arts class they tend to focus on what their hands are doing. This is maybe linked to how me move in everyday life, we do more with our hands that we do with the rest of our body.

I was no different, but as I have continued to study the martial arts my focus has been taken away from what my hands are doing and more in to the hips and feet. This has also affected my teaching so that I now tend to teach a lot more stances and footwork than I used to. This has also shown that a large number of new students are disconnected with their bodies. This may have always been true in the martial arts or maybe it has become more of an issue with the amount of sitting that people do these days.

In a lot of TKD training that I have had been a part of, the stances were not really broken down. There was a lot of focus on footwork in a sparring sense but not in the traditional application of the patterns. Students are generally taught the dimensions and weight distribution of the stances but not the purpose so much.

Here I am going to break down 3 of the most common stance in the TKD curriculum, their uses and how they can sometimes hold the key to applications


‘L’ stance

This is largely a defensive stance, our weight on the back leg shows that we haven’t really committed to anything yet. We are finding a way in often using knifehand guarding block to clear and secure limbs. Our weight is lesser on our front foot to allow weight shifting forward when the time comes.

In forearms guarding block, we keep our weight back to help prevent being thrown and to better use the front foot to kick or trip our attacker at close range.

So we can maybe suggest that all movements in an ‘L’ stance are not completely aggressive in nature. For example are the punches in Hwa Rang really punches?


Walking stance

The most common stance we have and opposite of ‘L’ stance, walking stance is an aggressive committed stance. Any movement done in this stance even if is labeled a block should be seen as forceful. We are moving our body weight into our opponent. Most commonly in punching we can see this but it is equally true for double forearm block, even though it is called a block the nature of the stance that is it performed in changes the application quite dramatically. I discuss this more here


As you can see the difference in the application is more connected to the weight distribution than to anything else. So it should be studied in depth. The standard stances are not there to be copied exactly but to give access to this concept of weight back and weight forward.


Sitting stance

To my mind sitting stance is the most misunderstood of the basic stances. Often it is used as a strength exercise than a fighting stance. Often we see student being asked to assume this stance for a period of time to increase strength. However, when we see it isn’t the forms it is of a very different purpose. Certainly while in the idle of a fight is not the time to start strengthen your legs but dropping in to a sitting stance.


I think the demotion of the sitting stance to a strength exercise is mainly due to it’s static nature. With this particular stance we are pretty much rooted to the spot, which in a competitive TKD environment it is exactly what we don’t want.

In my mind sitting stance is a stance based on throwing, tripping and sweeping applications. These are times when we may want to have a stronger and maybe even a bit of a lower stance. If we look at the opening for Yul Gok, W-shaped block from Toi-Gye, and scooping block in Gae Baek, they can all be applied in tripping, throwing, or controlling the opponent. Not that these movements are exclusively for sitting stance, there are throwing application for many stances. However, sitting stance is particularly suited to the purpose.


So there you have the three basics stances as I see them. So what about the other stances? Well for a good deal of the time they are variations on the basic three, for example low stance, fixed stance, or rear foot stance can all be seen as variants of either walking stance or ‘L’ stance therefore the applications can be seen in the same broad terms i.e. defensive or aggressive.


For me, viewing the application from a stance perspective shed new light on some of the movements that I had been struggling with. I hope it does the same for you.

Tactical Taekwondo Pad work

Padwork is an integral part of TKD training. It is often seen as only having sport application but with a little bit of imagination we can make it suitable training aid to pattern application and self defence.

The drills I am going to talk about are hand orientated I am going to leave the leg drills for another time. Before we get to the drills I think we should look at some equipment prefrences.

The Pads and The Holder

I personally like stiff focus mitts to train punches. I find with softer pads you don’t get the same feedback. Feedback is also important when learning to hold pads for someone. There should be a small amount of tension in your arms when you are holding. Just a little bit of resistance when the punch lands so the puncher can feel how hard the strikes are. If too much the punches can be jammed or the holder can end up generating more power than the puncher. If too loose there is a danger to both the puncher and the holder for injury and strikes will never be delivered at full power as there is nothing to absorb the power. It takes time to get the skills for holding but it is an important aspect of training.


There is some discussion about whether to wear gloves for pad work or not. For me it is a matter of what your goals are in a particular session. If you are going to be working for a long time at your max power then maybe you should protect your hands a little. If you are working on technique then I suggest you go without gloves, this helps better with the form of your hands and hand conditioning. A while back I found after working with gloves for too long that the form of my fist hand changed and still to this day I can spot people in my classes that have maybe over used gloves in their training.

The drills

These are a few examples of drills that I use in my classes. Before doing these drills you should have basic abilities in punching so that you can train safely. Time should be spent just going through basic punching combinations. This is good for the puncher and the holder to practice.

The first two pad drills are taken directly from the techniques shown in the patterns

Stripping and clearing

This drill is essentially to train your non punching hand. The drill starts as normal with the holder presenting the pads to the puncher. Jabs, straights, hooks, and uppercuts can all be used. Randomly the holder also has the choice of holding the pad for a punch but covering it with the other pad. The puncher should then clear the obstructing pad with their non-punching and then delivering the strike. I like to call for multiple strikes each time this happens, you have just cleared a pathway may as well make the most of it.

Pad control

This drill is also based on keeping both hands active. Instead of letting the holder dictate the strike used, the punch takes control of the pad by holding from behind. Essentially grabbing the holder’s hand. The puncher then moves the pad and delivers three fast strikes, then shifts the pad and delivers another three fast strikes. The strikes again range from, jabs, crosses, uppercuts, hooks, and can also include downward hammer fist and various elbow strikes. The changes and strikes should be fast, after all the puncher is punching their own hand the pad is merely in the way.

When you are well practiced at this you should try the same drill with your eyes closed.

Last three strikes of your life

This is for developing power. Once a variety of strikes have been practiced. The holder calls for a strike or punch. The Puncher then deliver three of the prescribed strikes as hard and as fast as possible. As soon as they have finished then another strike should be called. This continues till the power or form of the strikes starts to drop. Then either the partners switch roles or the puncher gets a short break and goes again.


Similar to a boxing drill, during a punching drill the holder can attack the puncher with the pads. They should be strikes aimed and the head and the puncher should cover. The reaction of the puncher should be to either grab, clear or grapple the holder. Not just to ride out the punches and continue.


The holder engages the puncher in conversation. At a random moment the holder bring up the pad and shouts at the puncher. The puncher should respond as quickly as possible in an appropriate manner ie. Striking and backing off. The more relaxed each person can be before the strike is called the better the practice is. This can also be done with multiple people

These are just a few of the pad drill I use with my students to practice movement straight from the patterns. Of course nothing beats live practice but I find padwork an invaluable part of my, and my students, development. I hope you try some of these drills and see how they work into the TKD self defence system

The Pyramid of Skills

With all the styles that are being openly taught now, and the great trend for MMA and cross training, Students can be like a kid in a candy store about what styles they want to take. A striking style, a grappling style, a traditional or modern style, of course part of this choice will be somewhat dictated by what is available and training goals. But if you live in a larger city with a lot of choice and you are looking for practical self-defence what should you train in?
The phrase ‘no style has all the answers’ is used a lot and is as true today as it ever has been. Beyond that we can also say no teacher has all the answers, take 2 or three teachers in one style and of course you are going to find differences in them. So we should sometimes not be looking at picking a style but also picking a teach within a style.
In my opinion there is an order that things should be trained and training should focus on some skills more than others. I refer to this as the ‘pyramid of skills’ which can be broken down as follows

At the base of the pyramid we should have striking; this is the foundation and also covers the most area. Meaning not only should it be the first thing that you study but should also be the biggest part of what you do. Read any interview by some of the leading self-protection experts in the wold and most, if not all of them, advocate developing very powerful striking ability. However, it is not just about hitting hard, although that would be the base of the level, but also about distancing, timing, grabbing and pulling limbs, and other support skills. In short everything that you need to be able to deliver hard strikes punches, knife hands, kicks, head butts, to your opponent

Now a lot of people never move off the first level of the pyramid and certainly there are many good fighters out there who have only trained in striking. But to become a more well-rounded martial artist and develop skills you need to continue to build on those skills. With that we can move on to the next level of the pyramid

Grappling, again this is a very large part of the pyramid and a very large topic; we can break it down to stand up grappling/clinch fighting and groundwork. Although for self-protection we don’t need the depth of knowledge of an MMA competitor, by that I mean we don’t need to know how to tap people out on the ground. For self-defence however we do need some skills, to throw and attack from the clinch and to get up from the ground. The strong strikes that you have trained in the first part of the pyramid can also be integrated into the skills you learn here.

At this point in the pyramid there is a divide, the striking and the grappling side of the arts are huge and in themselves make very complete and competent martial artists. However, to then go on to say that those two huge skill areas are the only things of any value in the arts, does a great disservice to a great number of teachers and other skill within the martial arts.

The final two sections of the pyramid are given over to some ‘higher skills’. I use the term ‘higher skills’ not to imply that people that know these skills are in anyway superior to the ones that don’t. But more because for these skills to employed effectively a practitioner needs a good solid grounding in the two lower sets of skills. You may also notice that because this is a pyramid, not a tower, the area taken up by these last two sections is considerably smaller than the previous two. Meaning that there should be less emphasis on these skills.

The next section on the pyramid is for joint manipulation, whereas during the grappling section and possible even the striking section there is some overlap in to limb control, this area would be looking deeper into things like wrist locks and finger locks etc. strangely when people go to self-defence courses it is mainly techniques form this section that are taught, maybe because they make the teacher look good and complex so people think they are getting value for money. It is due to this complexity that puts joint manipulation in to the higher section. Unless you have the distancing and timing skill of striking and the close in range holds etc. of grappling you will find it very difficult to apply any sort of locking or small joint breaking technique. Also without the training in the other two sections you may find yourself at a loss as to what to do after you have the lock. A lock in itself is not usually a fight stopper but can be used to place your opponent in a position for some follow up attacks.

The last part or the pyramid and therefore the top and the smallest part is point striking. Whether you believe in pressure points or not the fact is you have to be a very skilled martial artist to hit a single point or a number of points in sequence during any sort of a fight. You would need all the skill from the previous levels of the pyramid to apply point striking. The distancing, timing, body control, small joint control and grasping techniques would all come into play. Without them you would be resigned to demonstrating your point striking ability on compliant, non-active opponents i.e. your students or friends. Something that I am sure you have all seen

So there you have it where the main skills fit in as I see it. Of course you don’t have to fully complete a section before moving on to the rest as there is always some overlap. You also, as mentioned in the article, don’t have to go all the way to the top of the pyramid. But if you are working on some of the skills in the upper levels of the pyramid you should be asking yourself if you could make it work in a real situation, and have you built yourself a good enough foundation in your own personal martial art.

Punching Power

One of the most important things for self-defence is being able to hit hard. A fast hard punch or strike should be on everyone’s list of things to achieve. Sometimes in competition sparring we sacrifice power for speed and because of the rules of some competitions we continually have to pull punches. To counteract this we need to spend time developing power. Not the power for breaking, but power on the move. For this we need to spend time on the heavy bag and also pad work with a partner. Below are some tips to develop power in strikes.

All movement and power is about structure, structure starts with a foundation. A good solid foundation means that you can produce maximum power. Your stance should be low enough to give you a good strong root, i.e. if you punch something you shouldn’t fall backwards, and also be dynamic enough for movement. This is maybe different for each person according to weight and size so some time should be spent doing moving and punching drills. Practice punching on the move at different heights, closing distance and exiting to find that balance between power and stability.

Sometimes we can get in to the habit of playing for a heavy touch rather than a strike. One of the big differences between the two is the alignment of the arms. If we are going for a heavy touch we can ignore good solid alignment to a point. When you start developing power, however, good alignment can make all the difference.

For me when I am practicing hard punching I pay particular attention to my elbows. They need to be right behind my fist, forming a good line. They shouldn’t be flaring in straight punches or dropping on hooks. Take some time to practice air punching and getting some muscle memory to get used to the feeling of where your elbows should be. It should be the feel of strong structure that can take pressure the on the end of your fist without collapsing.

Relaxation is often talked about when practicing punching. The instructor tells the student to relax, the students shoulders drop a little bit and then away they go. Whereas this is a good start there is so much more to relaxation.
Maybe it is because people are so tense generally, that even a little dropping of the shoulders feels like we are relaxed. But what about the rest of your body, the large muscles in your core and legs also need to relax to let you produce as much power through your body as you can.

The best method I have come across for relaxation is the standing mediation from the Chinese internal martial arts. There is not enough space here to fully describe this practice but basically it involves holding a position for a length of time, usually people aim for between 20-40 mins, and relaxing your body into that position. Through this we get a kind of ‘active’ relaxation.

From there you can try moving in that ‘active relaxed’ mode, similar to taiji. You can do your patterns in this way or just shadow box. Then try to bring that relaxed movement in your pad work. You should find that your strikes feel more powerful and heavier. Also your short range strikes, elbow, knees, etc. will be stronger and need less wind up.

For a punch to be hard you need to put your body weight behind it. The part of your body that is responsible for moving you weight is your hips. There are three main ways to move your hips for punching, these are: up and down, pivoting from the centre, and pivoting from the side. My preference is pivoting from the side for just punching, but if I am pulling and punching I like to pivot from the centre as I get power/body weight going both ways.

Different styles advocate different ways of moving and there are advantages and disadvantages of each. But you need to concentrate on moving from the hips for each. To move from the hips we have to fist locate them and practice that style of movement. As well as relaxation mentioned above, doing large dynamic exercises like ‘tenkan’ from Aikido can help. If necessary you can place your hands on your hips to isolate them in the movement at the beginning and then move to a hip generated punch later

We spend a lot of time tensing up the stomach muscles when we punch, we can help the power of the punch but crunching slightly at the end of the punch. Doesn’t have to be a big movement as you are already in motion but a little crunch at the end can give your punch a good snap at the end and make sure that you have a good amount of tension at the moment of impact as well as activating as many muscle groups of the body as possible.

There are many other things that can help your punching, but these are the things I have felt most useful. It takes time to incorporate each of these ideas into your movements but with working on them and working on the heavy bag you should feel your punches getting tighter and stronger.

Happy training