Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Karate Lunge Punch for Self Defence Training

Karate is one of the most popular forms of self defence training. Although Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and a few other arts have gained a great amount of respect and popularity since the MMA boom (and quite rightly so), Karate is still one of the most popular martial arts for learning how to defend oneself. However, there is one main flaw which must be carefully considered if self defence is the main priority of your Karate training.

The typical karate lunge punch is the most basic of all techniques. It is a technique which is taught so as body mechanics, timing, balance and concentration can be developed. For self defence situations however, it is not very practical to always practise defences too.

In the street the chances of being attacked by a person performing a lunge punch are virtually zero. As mentioned it is a technique which is taught in the dojo. No untrained person will attack with a stepping lunge punch and yet a lot of the times karate self defence training is carried out from a lunge punch attack.

The lunge punch requires fighters to start at a distance away from each other. This is so the person attacking can step forward into a long front stance extended there punching arm nearly fully to perform the technique. The reality of fights on the street is that nearly always the first technique which is executed is done at close range. Maybe verbal exchanges are given from a distance but techniques rarely are. For this reason it seems unpractical to practise all of ones self defence techniques from a lunge punch attack.

It is more likely that self defence techniques on the street are performed in defence to attacks such as wild swing punches, grabs, tackles, head buts or swings and slashes with weapons. Also, the attacker will probably not just attack with one technique but will keep attacking over and over again.

For these reasons above it makes sense to practise self defence techniques with your partner using these types of attacks rather than the basic lunge punch. By learning to defend only against the lunge punch one will develop a false sense of security, thinking because they can defend against this attack that they can defend themselves on the street which is wrong.

The lunge punch does have its place, especially when just starting out or when trying to practise a defence which is unfamiliar, but as one progresses, they must start practising defences to the common street attacks, so as to be prepared as much as possible if the situation occurs where one must defend themselves.


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Anonymous said...

The lunge-punch is not the only flaw in karate: cocking the hand back to the hip during each strike is just as much a liability. Now I know you’ll say this is just for basic-training and it’s not meant to be used in a real fight but the truth is you fight the way you train and if you’re doing kihon all the time in a real fight sooner or later you’ll retract the hand and then you’ll be wide open to both body and headshots.

Also: wide stances do have their uses (in the clinch, while wrestling) but they severly curtail your mobility and if you cannot move properly (both in attack and defence) you’ll be easy prey for a more mobile opponent. They also signal both your background and your intention to your opponent: if you’re standing in zenkutsu-dachi you’ve made it clear that a) you have a karate or taekwondo-background and b) you intend to attack for which he’ll be prepared.

Another big issue for me is kata: while I do not dispute they are useful (at least up to a point: kata teaches you to move, control your breathing and it’s a good training-tool for when you’re alone) I do question the depth of knowledge/understanding of most modern karateka concerning kata.

If you do not know the bunkai or application behind the movements in the kata (and apparantly most karateka don’t, even high-ranking blackbelts) then what’s the point? It’ll just be pointless movement, not unlike dancing. In my opinion the main problem with karate (at least in its current form) is that it’s neither a true combat-sport (like kick –or thaiboxing which have proven their usefulness in the ring countless times) nor a true self-defence art (at least not anymore).

If they’d just go back to their roots and study the bunkai properly (preferably under the proper guidance, like under a sensei from Okinawa), cut down on the show-element (e.g grunting like a waterbuffalo, high-kicking…) and adjust the training to more modern standards (e.g using realistic attacks that actually occur in the street now, not hundreds of years ago) it’d be a wholly different story.

To further illustrate this point: my Sensei practiced karate for years (he got up to 4th kyu in both Wado and Goju-ryu karate) but then he abandoned it completely in favor of Jeet-kune-do, thaiboxing and panantukan. Today we rarely ever use karate-techniques in our training (except certain elements of kicking) and in my opinion it’s quite an improvement. Covering up and parrying beat hard blocks any day and always moving back and forth exchanging blows gets old pretty quickly.

Another story: a friend of mine practices ninpo and koryu ju-jutsu and one day they had a visitor in their club: a rather arrogant, boastful kyokushinkai-practioner (a 3th dan) who just had to run off his mouth claiming ninpo was useless etcetera. Rather than proving him wrong by actual combat (which would have been ugly: ninpo-ka do not play around nor do they play fair) the sensei arranged the following: first he could spar with the white-belts, then the others and if he managed to defeat them all he would fight himself. Guess what: the karateka couldn’t even touch one single white-belt (meaning they had studied there for less than 6 months), not once.

My friend’s analysis: that’s what you get for all but ignoring proper tai-sabaki. Meeting force with force is foolish and if you cannot move you cannot fight. That is a truism in unarmed combat but even more so when armed: no-one (not even the strongest, most well-trained individual) can avert a knife-attack by force alone and if you do not get out of the way of a sword-stroke it will take your head off. In ninpo the first thing you learn is tai-sabaki: tai-sabaki and breakfalls before anything else (punches, kicks, locks…), the result of that approach speaks for itself.



MARKS said...

Zara - I must say that the outlook you have on Karate is completly understandable. The way kata is performed today, pulling the non punching fist back to the hip and not knowing why, blocking strikes instead of covering up which in true reality is very hard to pull off, never kicking below the belt etc. Karate today is practised in a very watered down way compared to how it was in the past. However, this is becuase of the people practising today who have not understood or been instructed the true meaning of karate movements and how they are to be applied.

The truth is that each kata holds techniques in them which help in a street fighting environment, but few know the principles of the bunkai in order to apply them. Karate stances definitly have there place in fighting, but many use them in situations when they are not appropriate or even needed and as for karate students going into other schools and being disrespectful, well that is just a silly martial artist running his mouth and the art itself should not be to blame.

Karate is a very useful and effective form of fighting, but only if one has been instructed correctly on its principles and on how to use them appropriatly. Unfortunatly many nowadays do not know these principles, just like practising defences to the lunge punch nearly all the time.

Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marks,

I think we both agree on karate being an effective fighting-art if practiced and taught properly. The techniques contained within Bubushi and the kata’s are proof of that. Retracting the arm when punching, if properly understood and applied, does have its use (like the wide stances): hikite or pulling the opponent multiplies the force of the strike and makes it more difficult to defend against it. Naturally this can only be done effectively while defending. Like I said we do use a couple of techniques/methods from karate (typical karate-techniques along with more general ones like knee-strikes or elbows which are pretty universal).

One of the most effective means of countering or defending a straight-kick or mae-geri is this one: step-out to the outside of the kick, grab the leg (with a hook-like motion of the hand) and kick the groin. I think this one is from Wado-ryu, do you happen to know from which kata it is?

As you said in another article every art does have something to offer (more or less in terms of the desired goal), sometimes I get a bit carried away in spotting the weak points of a system or style (and every style has at least one weak point) while ignoring their strong suits. The parabel of the cup of tea is a good lesson. A certain degree of humility is a virtue (in the martial-arts and beyond) and I still have much to learn.



MARKS said...

Zara, I think we all have much to The groin attack you are referring to could be one of many applications found in Pinan Yondan and Kusanku.

BSM said...

Marks -

All martial arts - even the watered down variety - can teach you some self-defense. The real question here is why is a given person in a given martial art? Want fitness, socialization, a dash of tradition, confidence-building, and some self-defense? Then Karate or Taekwondo might be for you.

Want to compete in a ring? Then boxing or MMA might be for you. (newsflash folks but MMA is still a sport)

Are you in this totally for self-defense? Then you better find a reality system like Krav Maga or PPCT.

I always answer that question with this question because it's not a fair question! The fact is there's an awful lot of good reasons to practice many martial arts and it's not always self-defense.

The bad news is that many schools sell themselves as the be all and end all to self-defense. Heck, some of the high belts don't know about this distinction.

As for the lunge punch in Karate or Taekwondo...

At my last school we practiced the "circle game". One person the circle and everyone attacks with a technique (street, other martial art, TKD, etc.) It showed you really quick what worked and what was harder to pull off. It also showed that TKD is weak if things go to the ground.

Some schools add realism to their training but most, I fear, do not. One of my biggest beefs with TKD and Karate was instilling the very bad habit of keeping your hands down. At least in my old school the jab was also taught. I know some Karate schools will add non-chambered strikes too and some flavors of Kung Fu totally mix chambered with non-chambered. (i.e. Northern Praying Mantis)

That whole "one punch, one kill" died on the battlefield that still had soldiers wearing lacquered armor.


epicmartialarts said...

The lunge punch is almost completely useless in the form it is usually practised, as has been referred to previously. However, the movement is not completely without worth, but it takes an 'open mind' to see it.

Rather than moving from ZKD (long stance) to ZKD for the lunge punch, if you were to move from short to long to short, the actual lunging part is a method of gaining ground on the opponent, and because you are shortening the stance on arrival you are in position to fight at close range.

So while most karate schools use the lunge punch as a long range attack, if we think of it as a method of entering an opponents space, it has greater value.

The standard karate approach advocates literal translation of technique, and as such most of the 'good stuff' is lost. Karate needs some lateral thinking!

MARKS said...

EPICMARTIALARTS - Completly true. Karate is a very interesting art in the fact that each technique has an application which has to be uncovered by the karate ka, which in turn takes some serious study and thought. Unfortunatly, only a handfull actually take up this hardship of uncovering true effective karate techniques.

I have always seen the step from stance to stance for the lunge punch as a possible straight knee strike. When stepping from zenkutsu to zenkutsu the back leg steps forward and the knee is bent. This could be interpreted as a knee strike to the groin/thigh.

Grandmaster Rick Rockburn Ph.D. said...

Styles have good points and bad. True self defense with no rules is an attitude. The fighter has to know what will work against street techniques, sudden lunges, combinations, etc. Speed and knowledge decides who wins or loses. The attitude is calm, mean, no hesitation concerning morals and legal issues and the will to survive when someone is trying to rearrange your skin.

Grandmaster Rick Rockburn Ph.D. said...

Any lunge is telegraphic. It is best used when the opponent is attacking and staying within a middle range. Before his attack is complete, lunging in and taking opponent off balance. Going to the ground is not always necessary--it;s your choice.

KarateStudent said...

KarateStudent("KS") on Karate Lunge Punch for Self Defense:

KS believes MARKS (this)post covers the lunge punch issue thoroughly from a number of angles. The commentators also make good points on different, related topics.

However, KS thinks too much concentation on analysis has caused the commentators (eg. Epic Martial Arts and Grandmaster Rick Rockburn, Ph.D., others)to miss the total picture about the Lunge Punch.

The applied goal of martial arts is to overcome you opponent in a (potentially for the academics)physical confrontation. Im my case this is the art of Tang Soo Do ("TSD") karate.

KS will use GM Rockburn, here to illustrate, that when you go into a fight, you need to have a pretty good idea of what you are doing. He says this more eloquently than KS. But ... Clearly get my point.

The value of the Lunge Punch is that is the perfect representation of karate and what it does for you. The Lunge Punch itself does not describe, is not (all of) karate.

Practiced and polished, the (kihon [Japanese for basic] karate) Lunge Punch can give you the power to hurt your opponent (re: the applied goal). Does it work well? Of course not (TIC)!

MARKS literally gives the perfect example on his post on the Raschad Evans knockout of Chuck Liddell; Chuck essentially making the same, traditional defensive mistake as the 'Lunge Punch user'. In contrast, KS will post a situation where the 'Lunch Punch' succeeds, also with Chuck Liddell but with Chuck coming out ahead.

In summary, the applied goal EFFECT of the Lunge Punch is to be able to reach out and hurt your opponent. In TSD (front middle punch) and with KS, the applied goal of my front middle punch is to reach out with the effect of smashing the butt-end of a rough-cut 2 X 4 into your body.

On of big, big advantages of TSD or some of those useless other karates, is that you don't need a Ph.D. or degree in sports medicine to learn it and apply it.

It seems I'm poking fun at Grandmaster Rockburn, others, but the fact is what you do have to with karate is train it; intense analysis of rudimentary techniques risks being like too many reps in weightlifting. Look for KS's next comment on MARKS post about Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki's Wayo-Ryu karate training.

On an unrelated subject of Aggression, KS will make a highly complimentary reference about GM Rockburn on MARKS post, "Aggression in the Martial Arts."

Karate Training Schertz said...

Such an informative post about martial arts! Thumbs up for sharing.

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