Also known as Gyaku-zuki!
This is probably the most practiced, most used and most renowned technique in traditional karate… so why are so many people so bad at it? The answer lies in the style of training now undertaken by most clubs.
Traditionally a student would be expected to stand and perform this technique over and over for hours at a time… in the air, on a pad/punch bag or a makiwawa board. This incessant repetition with the different levels of impact would produce a punch that quite literally not be rivaled. Today’s training for many does not come close to this, rarely do people strike anything but air and most of the practice of this technique is within syllabus techniques where it is rushed. What can be promised is that once you gain a good level of competency with this technique you will also improve a vast number of other techniques by applying the same principles.
So, assuming you have read this far I will also assume that you are prepared to take your training to extend of high volume repetition and pad-work… so what do you need to look for and do in order to improve the technique?
As with most things, it all starts with how you connect with the floor. You are essentially pushing to increase the distance between the floor where your rear foot (specifically heel) is connected and your two fore-knuckles, and whatever they are connecting with! Your stance should NOT be comfortable for this practice, when you are preparing for the punch your legs and joints should feel coiled like a spring with all joints in the legs being pulled into position and held their by all muscles that control it. To be more specific, your rear foot should be pointing in the same direction as your front foot, or as close as possible (turning out up to 30 degrees is acceptable, but you should not aim for this or be satisfied with it). Your rear knee must be pointing forwards, with the maximum extension in the back of the ankle to create an acute angle between your shin and the floor. The front foot should be pointing forwards (or the more advanced of you may turn this inwards by up to 30 degrees).
The front knee should be directly above the ankle causing the shin to be practically vertical on all planes. There should be a feeling of both opening and compression on the inner thigh of the front leg, pushing the knee into the correct position and pulling the femur into the hip socket.
The hips must be fully open and level, no learning forwards of the pelvis and no tilting (the old adage of the bowl of water in your pelvis, with the aim of spilling non, comes into play here!). The only way you can achieve this is to bend your rear knee. Ensure that your quadriceps in your rear leg (the front thigh muscles) are pointing forwards, causing a twisting of the femur in the hip socket.
Your stance is now prepared for the punch (incidentally, this is the stance that should be adopted for standard basic blocks that are supposed to be performed in front stance).
Now for your core preparation. The key is posture, raise your rib-cage, extending the space between your sternum and pelvis but NOT to the extent of stretching the abdominal muscles. Tense the full length of your abdominals concentrating upon pulling your lower area in towards your spine, to about 40% of maximum. There should be support but you must still be able to move.
Relax your shoulders down and raise your back hand until your forearm is horizontal and parallel with the floor. Ignore any previous instructions on how high your fist should be and how far it should be pulled back, the only thing that is important is that your shoulder is down and in joint, your forearm is horizontal and it is all being pulled into place with 80% effort from the bicep.
The position of the front hand or arm is irrelevant.
With an intake of breath you are now ready to practice the punch!
As you inhale ensure that all compressed muscles are pulsed into a tighter state, increasing the spring. Simultaneously kick/push BOTH heels backwards into the ground (so that all movement can only travel forwards) AND begin pushing your rear forearm forwards AND begin your exhale. From this point there should be NO MOVEMENT OF ANYTHING FROM THE KNEE DOWN on either leg.
The rear hip socket should travel forwards with the forearm, to achieve this you simply straighten your back leg maintaining both the pushing through the rear heel and the height level of both hips (the front hip socket does not move and is the pivotal point for the entire body).
As the forearm moves forwards it should never lose contact with the side of the body, be careful not to allow your fist to follow the path around your body, the fist has to travel the most direct straight line directly to the target. At no point should the shoulder raise and tension should be kept in the top of the arm to ensure that the elbow faces up through the entire technique, which forces the shoulder to remain down and keeps the humerus tightly pulled into the shoulder socket (the latissimus dorsi goes into full compression upon the kime point at the end). From the point where the hand leaves the body it should commence its twist, with completion timed with the impact (completion does not mean full twist as this will depend upon the distance of the target, for the sake of practice without a subject to strike this should be assumed to be at full extension of the arm with a full twist of the hand). It is important to feel the twisting within the forearm muscles as the wrist and elbow rotate in in opposing directions.
Throughout the punch the opposite hand should return to the hip in the reverse action of the punching hand. A full compression of the latissimus dorsi, bicep and fist should result in a balancing of the body upon impact.
The final part of the punch involves the completion of the twisting of the fist and the kime (locking together of all joints associated with the chain of bones linking the fist to the floor through the compression of the controlling muscles). This should feel like a major pulse going through the body as you become one with the ground and you aim to fully tense the abdominal muscles. At no point should your posture be compromised, the body should remain upright and your should not lean at all, although it is very tempting to gain distance in this way it will change the angle of the arm as it joins the shoulder and will weaken the technique (additionally there is little value in reaching to gain impact as there would be little power by the time it strikes the target!).
As soon as the impact has reached its terminal penetration the exhale should be complete and the entire body should relax back to the levels experienced in the preparation stage…. ready to perform a choku-zuki or other technique if it were required.
Final point on your punch, the two striking knuckles should be placed in line with the two bones of the forearm (radius and ulna) so that all bones are aligned. The top of the fist should be in line with the top of the forearm and the thumb-side of the fist should be in line with the inside of the forearm.
Take a breath in as you return to the preparation position…. and go again!!
Feel free to contact me with any questions etc. (I will add photos to this post when I can in order to help understanding).