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Be Positive

Stay Focused:
The Continuing Development Of Your Offensive Arsenal At Home


This article was originally published in the May 1993 issue of Karate Illustrated.

By Scott Shaw

As it is true that the student who effectively studies their school work at home excels in the classroom, it is also true that the martial artist who not only mentally goes over the techniques he or she has learned in the martial art school but practices them physically outside of the dojang becomes the most competent practitioner of his martial art system. With this is in mind, we must set about and develop a practice schedule that will aid us in becoming more competent martial artists.

A common form of home practice involves what has come to be commonly known as, “Shadow boxing.” This involves randomly punching or kicking at imaginary targets in the air. Though this can be an effective way of warming up and getting your cardiovascular blood flow going, there are several less than desirable results attached to this form of practice; certainly not the least of which is the damaging of your own body.

Punching at imaginary targets in the air loosens your upper body up and when used in a controlled manner can exercise your shoulder and arm muscles. This undirected punching, however, should not give you the mistaken impression that you are actively developing focus with your hand strike techniques. Quite the contrary, in fact. Though you may believe you are directing your fist where you want it to go, as you are punching haphazardly into the air, you have no actual way of measuring the effective strike point of your punching attack or whether or not you actually made contact with the target you had in mind.

Powerfully punching towards a mirror is another method many budding martial artists employ at home with the hopes of honing their punching skills. Though we can develop more precisely styled hand strike techniques by watching our punch from start to finish in a mirror, again beyond this we have no actual measure of whether or not we have actually hit our desired target.

Certainly, most of us believe we can direct our fist and make impact with our chosen target. This is no doubt the truth, if our target is stationary and does not move. But, how many times in a physical confrontation does your opponent remain stagnant and allow you to effortlessly punch at him; as is the case with imaginary, “Shadow boxing?” From this simple example, we can learn that though, “Shadow boxing” may be an effective tool to help us loosen up, it is not an efficient training method to make us a more competent fighter.

Let’s put the “Shadow boxing” aside for a moment and look at the home development of our kicking techniques. The common thing many martial artists do once they have learned the basics of the various kicks, is to throw these kicks randomly, uncontrolled, and powerfully into the air. Though this method of kicking development is also commonly taught in martial art school, it is no doubt one of the most damaging things you can do to your knees, hips, and ankles. By powerfully launching a kick into the open air, you snap your leg up and out, generally as high as your current level of stretching will allow your leg to go. By doing this, not only do you not develop any degree of focus with your kicks but your leg joints can easily be damaged, as well.

For example, by propelling your leg forward and up in a front kick fashion, you are forcefully snapping it out at your knee. As time goes on, this type of powerful snapping to the knee will cause your cartilage and ligaments to unnaturally stretch and possibly tear. For some, this may take a long time to occur; for other it may occur much more rapidly.

Very similar practices are used with the various other kicks. The powerful air driven side kick, for example, puts a great deal of pressure on the tendons in your hips. The powerfully launched, into the air, roundhouse kick, can damage both your hip and knee joints.

Any of the air-driven jumping kicks, not only puts unnecessary pressure on your hip and knee joints, but you can damage your ankles as you come down on them, as well. Therefore, these attempts at powerfully launching kicks into the air, is not a good method of training.

As the two primary reasons for training in the martial arts are physical fitness and the ability to successfully defend ourselves if we ever encounter the need, we must refine our training methods to answer both of these criteria: physical fitness without injury and focused striking impacts.

The question is obviously asked at this point, “What type of effective home training can be practiced when I do not have a place to hang a heavy bag and there is no training partner to hold a focus glove for me?” There are several safe and very effective methods for the development of your fighting skills, which can easily be done at your home, even if you live alone in an apartment.

To begin our understanding, let’s first come to know what type of open air punching and kicking is safe and effective for focus development. As an open air punch is controlled by the very strong back and shoulder muscles, the ability to safely launch these random punches, for warm up, can be done with little worry of damaging your body. Again, we must remember however, this imaginary training is limited in its effectiveness and we should not believe it is actual target training.

As you begin launching these, “Shadow boxing” punches, the first step you should take is to loosen up your arms and shoulders. This can easily be accomplished by moving them back, forward, and around. From this point you can go into your open air punching.

Ideally, what you will do is find a target to focus at. This does not have to be a target you will impact. It can be a physical object some distance from you, which you simply aim your punches towards. By punching at an object, instead of at the open air, not only will your focus improve, but you will be able to immediately notice if your hand strike would have made contact.

Most likely, in the beginning of this focus training, you will be amazed at how often the power of your arm will throw your punch off its intended target. As time goes on, and you continue this focus training, you will come to understand how to effectively deliver your punches to compensate for your arm muscle strength and you will eventually begin to always make contact with their intended imaginary target.

Now, let’s examine open air kicking. Whenever you perform one of the open air kicks, your kick should be executed slowly and driven precisely where it is desired. The reason most people want to kick powerfully into the air is that the momentum gained by forcing their legs into the air, with sheer muscle strength, sends the kick higher than it will normally go.

The height of the kick has no bearing on the outcome of any physical confrontation, however. If a kick is not properly delivered to your opponent, it will prove to be ineffective in a street encounter. For these reasons, whenever you perform an open air kick; be it a front kick, side kick, roundhouse kick or the more advanced kicks, by doing it slowly and repeating it numerous times, you will come to a clear understanding of the actual elements which make up the specific kick. You will come to understand which leg muscles are used in its application, and the proper body positioning to always remain balanced when performing it. These are all things that no one can teach. Though an instructor may attempt to explain them to you, it is only through very conscious repeated practice you will develop the deep understanding it takes to always perform each kick properly and precisely.

The open air leg kicks should be performed slowly, as discussed, and they should also be focused on a physical target; which, as in the case of the, “Shadow boxing,” you do not even need to make contact with.

Through continued practice, you will find that you will have developed so much control through this type of focus training that you will be able to make very light contact with any physical object and not damage it or your body.

This type of kicking control practice should be done at least ten times with each leg, per day, for all of the basic kicks; i.e.: the front kick, the side kick, and the roundhouse kick. As these are the kicking techniques which all of the advanced kicks are based upon, their continual development is very important to your progression as a martial artist.

To develop a true understanding of each kicking technique, each kick should be launched a minimum of ten times per leg. Once these ten per leg kicks have been done, you can then effectively move forward onto the more advanced kicks you are working on.

The next step of home training that can increase your focus and give you added timing is to suspend an object from your ceiling or doorway and use it as a striking target. This type of focus training is ideal for both punching and/or kicking techniques.

There are many companies which market striking balls, which are generally the size and shape of a basketball and suspend between the ceiling and the floor. When you strike at these types of targets you instantly know if you have struck them with proper control, power, and focus. For if you have, the ball moves in a linear line, back and forth. If you have not, the ball spins awkwardly out of control.

This type of striking ball home training allows you to develop focus and proper striking technique with either your hand or foot assaults.

If you do not wish to purchase one of these striking balls, an inexpensive alternative is to buy an ordinary small size ball and run a long string through it; tying a knot in the position where you desire the ball to hang between your ceiling and your floor. Once you have done this, you can attach it in one of your home’s doorways and develop your striking focus with it.

In many ways, this suspended small ball is an ideal training target, as it is so little it highly focuses your attacks. The refinement in your strike ability you will gain by aiming at a small-suspended object with your fist or foot, is because of the fact that these targets are highly defined in their size and their shape. Therefore, you must become very precise to make impact with them. Through continued training you can achieve this, thereby, when you encounter an opponent in the street you will have the ability to effective launch an attack at him, which will impact your desired strike point, no matter how exact that target may be.

Whenever you position one of these striking balls, or any other target for practice, you should always locate them in a position which is equivalent to that of a location you would actually strike on your opponent’s body. For example: the head, the solar plexus, or the groin. By locating these targets in approximate strike locations, you will learn which offensive techniques are effective and can be powerfully delivered to each region of your opponent’s body.

As we have come to learn, to effectively progress in the martial arts, we must forgo the ritual of launching erratic and inefficient punches and kicks randomly into the air. Instead, we must continue our conscious focus training at home, in order that we may become more efficient martial artists who have the ability to deliver powerful and precisely focused attacks on our opponent, if ever the need arise.

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