When Speed and Power Tangle…

speed1aThe record for fast punches was established, not surprisingly, by a Wing Chun practitioner—the famous William Cheung as I recall. It clocked out at a startling 7+ punches PER SECOND! Of course, being hyper-critical martial artists, we used to say, “Sure, but each punch was only as powerful as a butterfly’s wing flap.” And let me assure you that we were not referring to Chaos Theory at the time.

I’ve know practitioners from some styles who’ve had the problem of balancing speed and power. They were fast and fluid but lacked authority and needed to hit someone more than a dozen times to take him down. In a manner of speaking, every martial artist tries to find a perfect balance, a merging of two qualities despite the fact that they often seem locked in a tug-o-war.

The mirror image of the first paragraph is the powerful, but toe-tapping, punch that takes so long to arrive that the fight seems to be forging through molasses. Another variation on slowness is the punch that is actually respectably fast but can only be thrown after an overture of locking muscles and adjusting stance. Practitioners who employ such punching patterns sometimes think they have adequate speed because they only count the punch from the launch-moment, not from the first instant it is plainly perceivable to an opponent.

Mastering the right mix of speed and power is the type of fine adjustment a martial artist will make the length of his or her career. The problem boils down to the fact; a punch that is too fast may arrive with little effect and a punch that is too slow may never even arrive.

There are all sorts of balls to be juggled when seeking the Proper Punch. Here are a few of the trouble spots I’ve observed over the years.

speed2Shy Body Weight: When we first learn to punch we are taught in a way that prevents us from toppling over. Straight back, locked legs, tightened arms: my teacher used to grab me at the moment of punch extension and pull on my arm to make sure I didn’t stumble forward. At the time this was good basic, appropriate for that level of skill. Now, rather than resist, I would just advance another step and borrow the power of falling for a second punch. Real punching requires not rigidity but momentum. Mark this one as not enough power.

Uneducated Torso: Anyone can synchronize a body turn and a punch. To instantly throw another blockbuster, or to suddenly change the angle of the punch without losing the power demands a flexible, educated torso where each punch—long or short—commands some sort of engagement from the entire body. Often people have the correct idea but not enough experience. Moving that torso back and forth, up and down like a belly dancer, keeps this error from either dampening your speed or stealing your power.

Bad Back-Path: The temptation of making that beautiful noisy bag jump around is just too much. People often throw their all at the bag or target. Entranced by the jingle and jangle they just ignore where the punch should go next. After all, the opponent will be devastated and probably just a handful of dust like the wicked witch of the west, why worry? This is not to mention that once the punch is thrown, it may be instantly recruited into the next punch, and the next. Training the angles of entrance AND exit allows more commitment which translates into more power. But the body is surprisingly smart, in its own way. If you haven’t convinced it that the exit path is natural and expedient, the punch often has to pay the price by being too cautious, or inhibited.

speed3Bad guard stance: The exact way your take your guard position is unique to you. No one does it quite the same. The guard stance should be a happy marriage of defensive posturing and attack-directed freedom. Even a tiny movement can change it from mostly defense to decidedly aggressive. The scale is just that sensitive. Power and/or speed can evaporate if you force the right punch from the wrong position. The guard stance blends power and speed, unlike some of these other concerns it is always about the intersection of power and speed. The difficulty is how much, when and where.

One-trick Power: Some people are natural at whipping actions, some at thrusting. There is a distinct tendency, sometimes aided by the flavor of a particular style, to fall back on your favorite power action: a certain punch, an impressive snap, a flexible whipping strike, whatever. This is an example of the Russiand proverb, “When all you have is a hammer, treat everything like a nail.” But it has been wisely said that the search for Kung Fu, or any fighting, mastery is a combination of finding out what you can do naturally (“I like this move.”) and what must be trained into you to expand your martial range (“I hate this move.”) Continued research and experimentation pretty much sums up the master plan or, as it might better be called, the “mastery” plan.

One Response to “When Speed and Power Tangle…”

  1. Wonderful insights, now all I need is a training partner, or to move to Santa Cruz!

Leave a Reply

What do you have to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.