Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chest punches in traditional martial arts?

We were sittin' around the campfire one night, after the horses had been fed and hobbled, and Pokey the cook had heated up some beans, when I turned to Clem and said, "It's awful quiet out there." Clem nodded his head sorta serious like and said, "Yeah, too quiet."
Attacking the head in
Saifa kata.

So I was reading posts on the Internet again.... I ask myself, why do I do that?? I'm reminded of something I once read. I think it was a criticism of the telegraph by Henry David Thoreau. My goodness, what a wonderful invention it must have seemed. It connected the whole country. People in Maine could suddenly talk to folks in Texas. The only problem, it seems, is that they had nothing to say. Radios, telephones, the Internet. I recently got a smart phone. Whenever I text someone I find that the phone is so smart that it knows what I want to say before I say it! It's truly amazing. Or maybe it's because we don't really have that much to say...or that much that needs saying.

So I was reading this blog post and it was discussing chest punches in the traditional martial arts. The suggestion was that traditional martial arts show so many chest punches--and when you look at the classical kata of Goju-ryu you will find only chest punches--because, and I'm paraphrasing here, it's safer and teaches one to train "at the correct range" (the poster suggested) and in so doing we are sort of forced into "making [our] training more realistic and practical" and thereby "doing it with reasonable safety from injury."

So let me get this straight. The original creators of kata put in only chest punches because they were safer, right? But if that's true, why didn't they make all of the other quite deadly techniques safer to
Attacking the head in
Seiunchin kata.
practice against an opponent? Actually, I'd rather turn that around a bit. Why preserve something in kata that's not the actual technique? Are the chest punches supposed to be "hidden" head punches--that is, you practice chest-level punches in kata but you're really supposed to raise them to head-level in reality, but that's too dangerous in the dojo so we practice chest-level??? And our dojo partners, what are they practicing? Are they practicing blocking a chest-level punch that in reality would be to head-level and so all of their practice of chest-level blocks is sort of pointless? Boy, this gets confusing. Does all of that make sense? Are you making something "more realistic" and "safer" at the same time? What about it is "realistic"? Is it that we allow ourselves to throw "realistic" punches with full power and speed at someone's chest but not at their face? But aren't we supposed to be practicing control in the dojo as well?

The same blog post prefaced this rather lengthy discussion with this: "I believe the answer is rather more simple.  It's all about training at the correct range...." Well, it is simple, but it's not about "correct range." My goodness, as we get more skilled, we should be able to punch to the face at close range and not paste each other!!!

If you want simple, consider that the closed-fist punches are all chest-level punches because they are to the head!!! It's just that the head has been brought down to that level. In Goju-ryu classical kata, we practice blocking/receiving techniques against the upper-level punches of an opponent. But receiving techniques (uke) are predominately circular, so this may be hard to see at times. And then each receiving technique is generally followed by a controlling or bridging technique. These
techniques generally go for the opponent's head or neck, and, sometimes alone or coupled with a kick, they are most often used to bring the opponent's head down. Once the head is brought down, this is where you will see the application of the straight, closed-fist punch. In order to really see any of this, you have to see that the Goju-ryu classical kata are composed of combinations of techniques--all of the combinations start with a "block" or receiving technique and end with a finishing technique. If you see a straight punch to the chest in kata--as you do at the end of Saifa kata, for instance--you should assume that it's a punch to the head and ask yourself how you got the head into that position. Then back up the sequence until you find the initial block or receiving technique. Simple, right? Well, yes, at least he was right about that.

And with that, I spread out my bedroll, said goodnight to Clem and Pokey the cook, and caught some shut eye, thinking maybe tomorrow we'd come across somethin' a wee bit more interestin'. 


  1. Interesting. So have you found a way to trace back to pulling down the head on all those many sets of 3 sanchin punches?

  2. No, because I don't believe Sanchin is a bunkai kata. That is, it's not intended to show fighting sequences or fighting scenarios. You were referring to Sanchin kata, weren't you?

  3. I was referring to all the iterations of this at the beginning of the other kata as well. Just a calling card back to sanchin?

  4. So by iterations you mean the repetition of threes at the beginning of Shisochin, Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei, I guess. Structurally those threes don't seem to be linked to bunkai sequences but rather seem more like the practice of "basics" that occur at various places in the kata. In some cases, like Shisochin or Sanseiru, they seem thematic. I'm sorry if this seems unnecessarily cryptic, but to explain my reasoning in any sort of depth would take a lot more space. Alternatively, when you see how logical the bunkai sequences in the katas are, these strings of three "punches" begin to stand out as aberrant. After all, not all of the Goju classical kata have these stuck at the beginning--like Seipai, for example, or Kururunfa. So back to your original point: we seem to practice middle-level punches because that's the way the straight punch occurs in kata. And when you see it in kata, it's in the middle or at the end of a sequence where the head has been brought down. Now that said, we don't always think of the fist as the contact point when you see a straight "punch" in kata. Heavens, I hope I didn't offend anyone by being so adamant about all this!?