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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