Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Kime Confusion

When I set out to write this post I was planning to explore the concept of kime. This was a word I have heard banded around a lot but only vaguely understood its meaning. Kime means focus, right? Other definitions of kime I have met during my research include "decisive" and "finish" -as in finishing the technique.

However, focus is the most common definition of kime I have met and here lies the confusion. What do we mean by focus? Paradoxically the meaning of focus appears to be rather nebulous! I have read around the subject quite a lot and some martial artists refer to 'focus' as being the 'target' you are aiming for with a punch i.e. the 'kime point'. If you focus all your energy onto the kime point then you will hit your target hard. Others use the word focus to mean a mental attitude, i.e. you need to 'focus' or concentrate fully on executing the punch. Yet others are using the word focus to mean tensing and then relaxing the muscles in rapid succession just at the precise moment you make contact with the target. However some of these people are referring to the muscles in the punching arm and fist whereas others are referring to the muscles in the 'dantian' region in the lower abdomen. No wonder I'm not quite getting it!

What people seem to agree on though is that kime is necessary to produce maximum power in a strike or kick. However there seems to be some disagreement in how this is achieved. People seem to divide into one of two groups. Those that believe you can describe and analyse a punch using principles of physics such as mass, force and acceleration and those that believe you cannot apply such principles to the execution of the 'perfect' punch. I have read forums in which physicists have declared that you cannot apply equations such as force = mass x acceleration to a human punch because these equations were designed to explain what happens when one inanimate object hits another one, e.g. when a ball of one mass hits a ball of a different mass. Apparently humans don't behave like balls! I am no physicist so I have no idea who to believe.

However, which ever group people fall into I have extracted two principles that everybody seems to agree on to hit the 'perfect' punch:

1. Speed is essential. The faster the punch the harder it will be.

2. The target aimed for should be about 4 or 5 inches behind the actual target. i.e you aim 'through' the target not for the surface of the target. This is related to the first principle because maximum speed is achieved at around 70 - 80% of arm extension (according to physics). This means you need to hit the target before your arm is fully extended otherwise your arm will be decelerating.

Is a boxing punch harder than a karate punch? This is a question often asked and debated about. It seems that the answer lies in what you mean by harder, or rather, what your punch is aiming to achieve. In boxing you may be aiming to knock your opponent clean off their feet or even knock them unconscious. If that is what you mean by harder then clearly a boxing punch is harder than a karate punch. However, in karate you may be aiming for your punch to exert maximum pain and damage to your opponent by sending a shock wave through them or breaking a bone. In this case it is important that they are not knocked off their feet since that dissipates the energy of the punch. In this context a karate punch is 'harder' than a boxing punch.

This boxing versus karate punch debate is relevant because a point of contention in deciding what makes a perfect punch is how long a punch should be in contact with the target. In karate it is taught that the punch should be withdrawn as soon as it makes contact with the target, i.e the muscles must be immediately relaxed. This prevents you from 'pushing' the opponent and dissipating the energy. However in boxing the aim is not to cause maximum damage to the opponent (its a sport after all) so a punch usually has a follow through which necessitates the fist to make contact with the target for longer, dissipating the energy and pushing the opponent backwards. The perfect punch is different depending on whether you are boxing or doing karate. It is like comparing apples with pears.

Many exponents of karate argue that new karateka should not practice punching against a heavy bag but should practice against a strike pad or makiwara post. This is because striking a heavy bag encourages you to 'push' your punches to make the bag move (it looks more impressive). An experienced karateka will know that his punches are more effective if the bag does not move so could probably safely practice against a heavy bag.

Other areas of contention I have found are whether or not one should tighten the fist at the moment of impact. A karateka is taught that the muscles of the arm and shoulder should be relaxed right up until the moment of impact and then the fist twisted and clenched, and the arm muscles tensed on impact before quickly being relaxed and withdrawn. This is what I try to do but I have read some commentators that say clenching the fist adds no extra power to the punch as long as the punch is fast. In fact some say that clenching the fist acts to slow down the punch because it tenses up antagonist muscles that essentially apply the 'brakes' to the punch.

A final area of contention is whether the arm should be straight when delivering the punch. In karate we are encouraged to punch straight with the arm fully extended when hitting the target (but not hyper extended). In boxing the arm will often be bent as a cross punch is delivered. Does it affect the power of the punch? Many karateka argue that a slightly bent arm can deliver the same power as a straight arm. In fact as I said before the maximum speed of the punch is achieved at 70 -80% extension, so perhaps it is preferable for the arm not to be straight?

In this post I have not tried to tell you how to do a perfect punch. How could I, I'm just a student? I have just tried to point out the issues that everybody agrees on and discuss those that people don't agree on - and let's face it, everybody is convinced they are right! You are undoubtedly more an expert on punching that me, so what is your advice - what factors do you believe make the best punch? Help me find my kime.


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Felicia said...

Howdy, Sue...

How funny is it that we were talking about straight vs. bent arm and "pushing"/punching in class last night? Quite timely...

But back to kime for a moment; I've mostly heard it used when preparing to deliver techniques - particularly when preparing to spar. I've understood it to mean mental focus - sort of the pre-cursor to other focusing needed - but the other definitions seem logical to me as well. Hmmm. I get your confusion... *scratching head*

Thanks for making me think today - and providing me with a few "something new" things to add to my knick knack box :-)

Anonymous said...

The main reason why boxing doesn’t produce serious injuries (besides brain-damage) is because boxers wear gloves, they do not ‘push’ someone away for safety’s sake: if you push someone you’ll never be able to knock them out and that still is the main aim in boxing. In boxing you hit through your target and retract as soon as possible: any boxing-trainer will tell you the hand must go back to the guard asap or else you will get counterpunched. I don’t know where you got the idea that boxing is about dissipating energy and pushing someone back, if you don’t get a snap in your punch (meaning rapid acceleration of the fist and equally rapid retraction) you’ll never get the head to snap back violently enough to smack the brain against the skull which usually results in unconsciousness. Getting hit by someone trained in boxing is pretty painful (even in sparring) and boxing-punches can and do break noses or jaws, especially when the gloves come off.

If a boxer aims his punch to the nose he’ll break it just as a karateka would, the only reason why he doesn’t is because he knows an experienced fighter can still fight on with a broken nose and pain alone is usually not enough to stop a truly determined opponent high on adrenaline or another stimulant. A good hook to the jaw could shatter it; with a bare fist a boxer is just as capable of breaking someone’s jaw as a karateka since only the gloves prevent this from happening in reality. As to the perfect punch: I do think boxing-punches are faster than those thrown by a karateka since a shoulder turn is added causing extra acceleration and thus generating more power. I saw an episode of fight-science on National Geographic where they measured the force exerted on crash test-dummies and of all the styles the boxer was able to hit the hardest. To me the classic boxing-cross is the single most efficient way of punching with the fore fist since it offers maximum power (using the entire body: legs, abs, hips, shoulder and arm) coupled with the best protection (the head is tucked in behind the attacking arm with the left hand protecting the other side of the face or the front if necessary).

This is the reason why karateka started incorporating boxing-punches when full-contact kickboxing was invented back in the seventies: punching in the classical karate way is way too vulnerable in a confrontation with a trained opponent who’s throwing combinations all the time. I always found it funny when all the stuff karateka learn in kihon goes flying out the window once they start to spar: as soon as they get hit the hands come up and there really isn’t all that much difference with a kick boxer anymore. That being said karate has quite a few techniques that are very effective in a street-confrontation: knife hand is still one of my favorites and you really don’t want a nukite jammed into your throat. Always boxing with wraps and gloves masks bad habits in punching: in reality a lot of boxers (even Tyson) break their hands in street fights because they do not align the knuckles properly with their arm, I think karateka are way better in this since they usually train bare-fisted and on the makiwara. Both have advantages but for me boxing will always be an important part of my arsenal and being a man boxing is what comes natural in confrontations.

I believe the power of punches can be objectively measured and calculated, however a lot depends on distance, accuracy and the action of the opponent the moment he’s struck so the exact effect it’ll have on any given person is not so easy to predict. Some people will fall over at the slightest touch while you can hit others full-force and they simply won’t budge. The best punch is the one that does the job but all things being equal I do think some methods are more biomechanically efficient (and safer) than others.


Sue C said...

What a coincidence that you were discussing the same stuff that's in my post! I would love to know what conclusions you came to about "push"/punch, straight vs. bent arm etc, or what advice you received about this in your class. Perhaps you could comment or even post about this?

Zara, Hi - a challenging comment as usual! I admit I forgot to mention that boxers wear gloves for safety - the same reason we wear them in karate sparring. I have no doubt that boxing punches are very powerful but the point I was trying to make is that boxing and karate punches are not really comparable because they are trying to achieve different things. I didn't say that boxing is about dissipating energy its just a consequence of the punching technique rather than the aim of it.

The reverse punch (gyaku zuki) in karate is a very specialised punch that if executed correctly by an expert will transfer all of its energy into the opponents body setting up a hydrostatic shockwave that is felt throughout the body, and which can cause damage to internal organs and lead to death. He may not even be knocked over by the punch (karateka even talk about being 'sucked onto a punch') The original aim of karate was to 'kill with one strike'. The efficacy of this punch comes from the very rapid acceleration followed by a rapid decceleration over a very short distance. There is no equivalent punch in boxing (the closest is the cross punch but this is stylistically very different)but then the aim of a boxer is not to kill his opponent.

I do not think that karate punches are superior or more powerful than boxing punches - they are just designed to transfer the energy in different ways and to achieve different purposes.

I agree whole heartedly with your final sentence: "The best punch is the one that does the job but all things being equal I do think some methods are more biomechanically efficient (and safer) than others".

Neal Martin said...

Excellent post, Sue and great comments so far, especially from Zara. The only thing I have to add is that great punching comes through diligent practice. I have recently started training for a knock out punch to use with pre-emptive striking in a self defense situation. I practice just one punch right hook), over and over again on the focus pads. Each time I punch it is with full power and focus, rather than the tap-tap type of punching that many people do when using pads. The thing I have found is that the more you practice the more power you are able to summon up each time. I also pay careful attention to technique, making sure to engage the hips and legs, punching up from the ground. It takes 10,000 reps to master a technique and that's what you should aim for in perfecting a punch, just do it over and over but do it with full concentration.

Sue C said...

Hi Neal,
Thanks for commenting. I absolutely agree that constant practice is the way to develop the 'perfect' punch. I would be interested to know why you chose the right hook as a punch to use in pre-emptive striking. Is this punch the same as a roundhouse punch in karate (mawashi zuki)? Do you regard 'practising with full concentration' to be the definition of kime?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Neal. Practice does make perfect: this is as true in the MA as in anything else and the main difference between a beginner and a master is the thousands of reps the latter has behind his belt. Boxing truly is awesome and it's still one of the best and most reliable ways of putting someone down fast, pre-emptive striking is about the best strategy there is in violent confrontations (interception on intention or sen sen no sen) since it offers the best chance of victory. Too bad it is frowned upon by the law, at least in my country: basically he could have insulted you all he wanted and invaded your private space all he wanted, for some reasons judges here seem to think whoever struck the first blow must be the guilty party, especially if you're a martial-artist. Go figure...

Lately I've been thinking about a curriculum for my own club, purely for fun of course since I still need to learn alot before I can even start to think about accepting students and all the rest that comes with it, and boxing would certainly be one of the main ingredients. To me the single best combination is a 1-2 or jab-cross, it's one I spend alot of time on in both offense and defense and it's an excellent way of achieving a knockout. Punching with full force and concentration on the mitts is indeed the way to go and it's quite exhausting too. The jab, the cross and the combination of the two would be the three techniques I'd teach beginners before all else, in most situations it's all you really need (besides the basic parry and a few ways of escaping grabs and strangles maybe), add a swift kick to the groin and you're ready for the street. Lets not tell beginners this, shall we? Who needs years of classical training when you could teach this stuff in less than three months ;-)

Great e-book, I read it only recently but it's good stuff and solid, reality-based advice.


The Strongest Karate said...

I can't believe that such a great article has only received 6 comments (excellent comments, though they were!).

You're right, too, that boxing punches and karate punches have different goals and I liked how easy you make that for even a white belt to understand.

The only thing I could possibly add is that karate does have one advantage over boxing in that without any "push through" there isn't an arm for grapplers to latch on to and throw you by!


Sue C said...

Hi Brett, wow you must have dug deep to find this old post! I'm glad you liked it. I still pretty well stand by what I said then and your comment about not leaving an arm out for grappler's to catch is important. However, in class we've recently been experimenting with wave-form striking techniques which tend to turn everything you ever learned about classical karate punching on its head! You leave the punch in contact with the target with this one but with practice they are hard punches I have to admit. They are probably better used when you are very close in and can't throw a straight punch, but like we both agree, different punches have different goals - it's about selecting the most appropriate punch for the situation I suppose..


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