Why Do We Chamber Our Punches In Taekwondo?

*Authored by White Dragon. 

        You heard it a million times by all of the combat realists out there, “Nobody would ever punch like that in a fight or even stand that way so why do you still do reverse punching from the hip!” Believe it or not there is actually a purpose for why most traditional martial arts punch with a chamber. Karate, Kung Fu, and Taekwondo all punch from the hip in their forms and even have students practice basic blocks and strikes from a chambered position of the fist on the hip or ribs. For Taekwondo we hold our fists on our belt which is on our hip.

        All basic level students need to learn to punch from the hip as well as punch from a standing guarded position (sparring stance or boxing style). Both starting positions for blocking and striking can easily be taught to a white belt level student and should be, but also a heavy emphasis on the chambered punch position is necessary to develop the idea of self defense striking and blocking. This also aids in perfection technique with better control of body movements and proper body mechanics. Basics practice helps a person move their arms more gracefully, more accurately, and helps the muscles tense properly and also gives strength to the limbs.

        I have heard it said that chambered, or reverse, punching develops more power than a regular boxing punch. This is not actually true. Some instructors claim that punching from the hip, as well as the twisting motion the wrist does, develops way more power than a standard boxing punch. Cho (1988) explains,

“While some varieties of martial arts recommend rotating the fist while delivering a punch, very little seems to be gained. Physicist J. Walker calculated that the fist rotation adds about 0.4 joules of energy to a punch (one joule is the energy needed to lift one kilogram 10 centimeters). Since the energy contained in a good punch, according to Walker’s calculations, is about 150 joules, Walker concludes that fist rotation makes a negligible contribution.” (p. 41)

So why do we rotate our fist then? First of all it is comfortable to do so. Starting the fist upside down in a relaxed position resting on the hip makes it easier to punch. Holding your first right side up causes muscle tension and awkward feelings in the wrist and elbow joint. The twisting of the fist is a natural movement of the bones, tendons and muscles connecting from the shoulder to the elbow and wrist into a faster and still powerful strike. The twisting of the fist allows for natural body alignment of the joints that protect them with a sturdier landing on impact as the arm, wrist, and fist tense as the last second. Without twisting your, and instead keeping your fist right side up, the punch will be slower since the turned wrist would be tensed up at the start (try it yourself and see how it feels. Hold your fist palm up on your hip, then hold it palm down and see which feels relaxed). A tensed up wrist has a less stable impact on landing that is not as good for the joints.

        The idea that twisting causes more power at the last second of a punch might be a myth or a misunderstanding from oldschool Karate and Kung Fu masters before such studies were made, but it still helps make punching easier from the chambered position. Another way twisting could help is if you have very well conditioned and gnarly knuckles with rough skin that really scratches surfaces. The twist could add some last second friction that would hurt someone’s skin by drilling and scraping with a twist. But of course how many people have such knuckles and how much pain would this cause? Not much but as comedic as it sounds it is still something that is plausible.

        Hip rotation does generate a lot of power in a punch as well as any strikes and blocks within Taekwondo. But I personally have found that boxing punches can generate just as much power, if not more, simply by shoulder and hip rotation. Both boxing and Karate/Taekwondo punching uses hip rotation, and in a lesser sense both use shoulder rotation, yet boxing uses a lot more shoulder pressure and rotation into each punch as well as twisting the knee and sitting on the toe for added power.

        Boxing punches from the top of the torso, while Taekwondo chambered punching punches from the bottom of the torso. Hands raised in a guarded position is punching from the top, standing in a traditional stance such as horse stance or long front stand and punching from the belt level, or hip, is punching from the bottom. Both are necessary for a strong control of limbs, hand eye coordination, and dexterity. You will be more well rounded in controlling your arms if you move in many different ways and do not strictly stick to the 5 basic boxing punches. This is hard for the beginning fight enthusiast student who begins training in Taekwondo. He wants to punch like the UFC fighters and finds traditional training boring. But if the instructor knows why we punch from a chambered position and can easily explain and demonstrate it then it could open the students mind to taking traditional basics seriously.

        The opposite reaction principle is used in traditional strikes. Opposite motions create more power. The famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton’s (1642-1727) Third Law of Motion states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is true in Taekwondo. When one arm is extended out and the other is chambered on the hip you are ready to perform this Law of Motion. When you throw your punching hand out and the extended hand immediately retracts at the same time there is opposite reaction power going on. Throwing one arm and punching does not have the same amount of power as when the opposite arm and shoulder also rotation backs in a pulling motion. This is why in horse stance or doing forms the Taekwondo fighter has a guided hand that always pulls back with each strike and block. Opposite reactions of the arms and shoulders and hip twist cause greater power for greater injury to the attacker. This is important to understand. Within Taekwondo traditional basic striking and blocking there is more power from opposite motions for single powerful strikes than if you just do boxing style punches. On the other hand, boxing punches also use the opposite reaction principle in a tighter form that is still very powerful and devastating to an attacker. The large Taekwondo movements will have more power in a self defense situation from hands down position than if you first raise your hands up before reacting to the attack. You can also punch from the hip as well as slightly raise your fist to medium torso before punching which is more powerful than a simple boxing punch. Stopping to raise your hands like a boxer first is a slower reaction and less powerful. This is true from a casual standing position much like how you will stand when randomly attacked. Now in a squared of position when a fight is going on the boxing stance is a lot more practical and powerful in the middle of a fight. There is a difference.

        The most practical reason Taekwondo punches with a chamber on the hip is in my opinion because of the self defense oriented nature of the Martial Art. Learning to punch with your hands down or lowered will help a person in  performing self defense a lot easier than if he only trains to fight in a ring with gloves up. In real life, outside of combat sports people walk around with their hands down and do every day activities. When a person is attacked they are attacked usually wit their arms down and not in a guarded position. Learning to punch from the bottom of the torso will allow for faster striking from such a position; and efficient power to devastate the attacker by striking vital areas will be easy to perform. You must not first raise your hands like a boxer in a guarded position, then, and only then throw a punch or block. That would be slow and a waste of time when the danger of the attack is imminent and already occurring. It is my philosophy that chambered punching is “self defense” punching. Blocking and striking both from this makes perfect sense when thinking about self defense techniques. This could be grabs, punches, kicks and holds from 1 or more attackers.

        This is one reason practicing forms is helpful. Forms are various self defense techniques combined in a pattern and designed to be used as individual techniques for individual circumstances. Forms help the Taekwondo practitioner move their arms and strike and block from various angles from the chambered (self defense) position. The fight fan, MMA trainer, or average guy on the street who claims reverse punching is out of date and stupid is just ignorant and does not understand the nature of self defense positioning. If someone grabbed my shoulder on the side and was about to hit me, and my hands were down because I was minding my own business I believe it is much faster, more efficient, and more devastating to throw a hard punch to his ribs or solo plexus from the hip than it is to raise my hands like a boxer and then punch him. This is self evident.

        Now once you react to an attacker from the chambered/reverse punching position then of course common logic would say that you should immediately raise your hands in the guarded position (like a boxer). Once the fight is on and you get out of something and are ready and squared off it is common sense to raise your hands and start your kickboxing skills firing away. Only a stupid person would keep their hands on their hips and stand in front of an attacker and think he will fight in horse stance. This idea that a Taekwondo fighter would do that is pure ignorance and created by people who know nothing of martial arts or self defense. It is usually promoted by wannabe MMA fighters who jump on the anti-traditional martial arts bandwagon.

This is how traditional striking and blocking basics should be practiced. Notice the slight hip rotation and the tightness and speed. There is much power in each strike from opposite reactions. Pulling and thrusting motions. 

        Traditional strikes and blocks can easily be transferred into a more sparring or guarded position like a kickboxer. In a real world self defense situation attacks can come from all kinds of crazy angles. Anywhere from low, high, medium, from the sides and more. Sometimes straight forward and sometimes swinging from the side. So knowing how to low block, high block, outside block etc is important and these types of traditional blocks can easily be transferred into a tighter more quick position for blocking and striking, with the hands guarded up. And this is the point of these techniques to be used. You should modify your traditional Taekwondo techniques for a faster, quicker, tighter fighting position.

Notice the traditional blocks such as high block, down block, inside block etc. They are modified for a tighter style that will be useful when squared off and already fighting. The boxing punches and Taekwondo blocks work effectively together. There is still speed and power from opposite reactions. 

        There are situations for more large movements and also smaller movements. We exaggerate our movements in poomsae and basics training because it gives a fuller body workout stretching the full ranges of muscles and thus working out the body more fully than if we only practice in close tight boxing punches. But both are necessary for a true Taekwondo fighter. None should be neglected as both work the body out in different ways and both have combat effectiveness.

        Chambered or reverse punching is important for self defense and overall for a complete martial artist, especially the Taekwondo fighter. Learn to do both, master technique and practice in all the various ways and be ready to fight when you have to.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

White Dragon is a 3rd dan Taekwondo Black Belt with over 19 years experience in the Martial Arts and head instructor of the White Dragon Dojang Martial Arts Training Program. 

Works Cited

        Cho, H.I. (1988). The Complete Black Belt Hyung W.T.F. Hee Il Cho: Los Angeles, CA.

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