Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Taekwondo Punch vs Boxing Punch

One of my students asked me a brilliant question the other day. "Why do we bother learning and practising "The Taekwondo punch" when we start doing "boxing punches" in sparring? Is it not a complete waste of time practising one method of punching when we really use another method?" Why is this a brilliant question? It is brilliant because this clearly shows how unrelated the basics/forms on one side is vs sparring on the other side. Remember I wrote a few posts back on the gap that has developed between Poomsae and Kyorigi (Forms and sparring)? This is it. The students of today only experience Taekwondo combat through sport

Unattached punching

Attached punching (note the pulling hand)

First look at a Taekwondo punch (it is labeled Karate punch but they are essentually the same):

Note that the punch starts from the hip, that the non punching hand gets pulled back to the oposite hip and the corkscrew motion of the arms. Also note that most of the power is generated in a whipping motion from the centrifugal force of turning of the hips. Also notice how the performer seems to "tense his body" on completion of each punch. In shotokan this is labelled "Kime" or focus. I am not aware of a standard Korean term for the tencing upon impact but in Taekwondo many students are taught the same tensing as a part of their teachings.

Now lets look briefly on a "boxing punch".

The key points here is to see a lot more shoulder investment in the punch, the boxer moves on his toes (difficult to see in this video I am sorry but you got to believe meO:-)  ) and this allows more hip investment than what is seen in normal Taekwondo basics. The punch starts from a guard position near the boxers face, and is retracted back to this position as soon as contact has been made. Watch the video once more focusing on the lead hand you will see that it does absolutly nothing. It stays near the face to guard for counter attack or to follow up the first punch. There is not tension in the boxers body on impact, at least not so much as the normal Taekwondo/Karate punch dictates. 

Now here is the thing most people who asks this (or similar) question do not get. The different methods are for different situations. Take the "Taekwondo" method: in the post on the pulling hand (click to read it) I pretty much explain the practical application for the non punching hand being pulled back to the hip as well as why we reach out with the non striking hand before punching with the punching hand. You grab "something" and pull the oponent off balance and strike them with your hand. This is something extremly natual and you will see this done in many "street fights". This stylised approach with the twisting etc is actually just a little more sophisticated method than that of any bar brawler will be using not realising that he is doing it at all. The method was developed to end a fight with no rules in as little time as possible.

The boxing punch on the other hand has been developed for optimal usage in its place of operation "the ring":-) The usage of gloves inhibits the boxers to use the other hand for pulling the oponent, clearing of limbs etc so it is not used to do these things. Also the ruleset forbids the boxers to grab each other so naturally there is no usage of the non striking hand to pull using a grab. On the other hand the glove can be used effectivly to protect the head from the oponents punches as they can absorb a lot of the incoming punches power. Therefore the other hand is held at the boxers head for protection.

Taekwondo has since its infancy in Korea 40s-50s been using both methods of punching. I think this is great but really these are not two different methods to punch it is simply doing the best out of each situation. If you can grab the oponent and use all the advantages described above and in the linked post I have written before you should deffinatly do so, but if the distance of engagment is a little longer or for some reason you can not grab or maybe your grab failed you should keep your hands up to protect your head. One guy on a internet forum described the methods as "attached punching" and "unattached punching". I think those terms say it all. Not thinking about it as "Boxing punch" and "Taekwondo punch" but just a punch with a grab or without a grab is more productive. In Taekwondo we have always used both methods as the "unattached punch" was superior in sport sparring. This is not strange as the unattached punh was developed for sport sparring (boxing) and not specificly for self defense or combat with no/little rules as the attached punch is. In normal Taekwondo sparring there is absolutly no grappling allowed and therefore pulling you non striking hand back to your hip is an open invite for a broken nose.


  1. A loosely thrown roundhouse or jab complements the relaxedness needed to fire an 'expansive' long range kick and is an appropriate staple for a practitioner intent on trading blows. It's what you'd expect from two opponents using a sparring session to trade blows and test their techniques. The roundhouse punch also is able to reach out and over the opponent's shoulder, giving some tactical advantage.

    The punches you see within forms are punches that create power from linear acceleration of the body, and work really well for practitioners who keep their center of gravity low to the ground and know how to 'surge' - it is a skill that few Taekwondo schools teach nowadays. While these punches are chambered at the waist/ribs, the power of these strikes derive power from transmission of mass through the body core. They work surprisingly well when the gloves come off because a practitioner is more likely to strike with the front two knuckles (where the roundhouse punch may expose the lower knuckles and fingers). It's hard to practice this during sparring without hurting the opponent badly.

    As for the reaction hand - if there is nothing in your hand, there is little tactical advantage of drawing it back to your hip. As you say, it opens up the face and is not the wisest combat move. The reaction hand was developed as a training method and not a combat move. For instance, you can generate massive amounts of force on a striking post without drawing the opposite hand back - so long as you can transmit body mass quickly through the core and into the striking weapon. Not many people understand this, and I highly recommend anyone who is serious in their pursuit to think about including a traditional striking post in their workout bag.

    Cheers. Good post!


    1. Thanks Colin. I totally agree that including a traditional striking post in the training is a good thing. To many Taekwondoin spends most of their time striking air, not knowing how to generate power (or how to not injure themselves while striking something other than air). To often I watch "master instructors" on Youtube with their wrists bendt when punching etc.

      The striking post or the act of Kyopka (breaking hard things with parts of your body) fixes these errors in techniques very fast:-)

      You write that the reaction hand was not developed as a combat technique but as a training method instead. I would love to hear more on this.

  2. Yeah, I think the reaction hand to the ribs primarily is part of training methodology to help with line drills. Here are my thoughts:

    I hit the striking post - and hit it solidly with a reverse punch. The front hand however can be left in a guarding position without any reduction of power.

    I can also perform a lunge punch - that's a throwback to the Karate oizuke, and rather than the opposite hand drawn back to the hip, it acts to trap or it controls the opponent. The linear surge forward provides more than enough power to the striking hand.

    The idea is that the reaction hand should have something in it before being dragged back - hair, or clothing, or skin. If it comes back to the ribs/hip empty it defeats the tactical purpose of the pull back motion.

    Funakoshi said that you should draw the pull back hand as forcefully back as your punch goes out. Again I think this is of value if you're grabbing on to the opponent. In terms of power however, a lunging strike which has a flight path that originates somewhere along the side of the body (from either the hip OR the shoulder) BUT has a flight path close to centreline and then striking with good body position will line up the body's skeleton and therefore deliver a force that would surpass any need for you to solidify the upper body with a tensed up lat or rhomboid muscle (which occurs when you have that perfect pull back hand).

    I think it's a legacy move from karate. Of course I
    can't prove it.

    Some related posts:


  3. Here's a video from a recent class ...


  4. Ah saw that video some time ago. I really like the way you use the whole motion and not just some part of it.

    When I first started Taekwondo I was taught that the pulling hand was to develop more power as you then used the whole body and not just the "outgoing hand". Later I learned that it was because we tense up our muscles to be able to transmitt power better. Then I learned it was to create the natural reaction (newtons law) etc. Now when I teach I say to beginners that the reason for the pulling hand is to grab something and pull it toward us while striking/blocking with the other hand. Somehow the students accept this and I have seen that they put more attention to the pulling hand now than before when they got "confusing" explanations.

    One minor issue with this is that they often develop a habit of opening and closing their fists as they include the grab in their movements. This is not inline with Kukkiwon standards, but a quick speach of how Taekwondo has been stylised and that Poomsae is a recipy not the real deal sort this out. And for those who activly compete in Poomsae it is enough to say that this will cost you points.

    How do you answer the question when a rookie asks you their first training session?:-)

  5. It is also a wonder that boxing in Korea did not have a more deep influence on Taekwondo's formation of techniques since boxing in the Korean peninsula goes back historically to 1925, including Japanese boxers during Korea's occupation. Boxing is EXTREMELY popular in Korea and was especially in the 1980's, the height of Korean boxing.

    1. I think Boxing did influence Taekwondo greatly when we are looking at early competitions. The footwork is very boxing like, and in the early days (late 50s-early 70s you will find that the footwork, the guard and the punches of boxing during competition are all there. The notion of continous full contact sparring is also something I think the pioneers got from Boxing because Karate did not have this at the time.

  6. Interesting. I wrote an article a year or so ago on why we chamber our punches in Taekwondo and what is the use for them.

    There are 4 points of beginning for effective punches. Each shoulder, and both sides of your hip with each arm. You should learn to punch above from the shoulders as well as at the hip.

    Chambered hip punches work very different muscles. and other same muscles in different ways. Ask any boxer or a MMA guy to do 3 minutes of straight chambered punching in horse stance. I dont think he will right away be able to keep doing it for more than 1 minute. He will get really tired and sore. He has not worked the muscles.

    Chambered punches also are the self defense version of punching. Body walks around with their hands up naturally. We always have them down. If someone strikes at us or grabs our body it is quicker and more effective to punch from the hip really fast then bring your hands up first to punch. Much of hoshinsool is useful in this respect.

    Chambered punching represents a pulling motion as well with the opposite reaction force principle. You could be pulling the enemy into your punch from a self defense situation as well.

    It helps with coordination and limb control to learn to punch from the 4 starting points.

    1. Could you provide a link to your original post please? Sounds like one that I might have missed but it sounds interesting. Punching from where ever your hand is at any given time is a great skill to have and one that all the pioneers mention in their books (at least Henry Cho, Son Duk Sung and Choi Hong Hi does).

      Dan Djurdjevic has a great blog on the Chinese martial arts and Karate where he talks about how in traditional eastern martial arts we make use of the full range of motion in our basics to practise all the muscles while in application the situation determines how much of that motion is used. His blog is called way of least resistance and if you have not read it yet I believe you are going to enjoy it. You might not agree with everything he says but you two seem to have similar thoughts on that issue :-)

  7. Great article. I've read it once before and came back and read it again! I believe boxing can be used powerfully for self-defense (and historically was bare knuckled and served a similar purpose), another reason why it is optimally designed for the ring nowadays and not self-defense is because it teaches you how to punch so hard that the structure of your hand cannot handle the load. Ergo, the gloves.

    1. Its been a while since I wrote this :-) My understanding of the Taekwondo/Karate traditional punch has become a lot deeper after I started studying With traditional impact equipment (Makkiwara/Kwon Go/Dallyon Joo) so if I wrote his post today it would contain a lot more on the differences in power generation and structure it still holds true as it is even today (for me anyway). Thank you for your positive feedback :-)

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