I’ve noticed lately that during my personal training time, I tend to default to a few combinations when it comes to working the heavy bag or ude makiwara. I may reshuffle the various techniques into different orders, but after awhile the same 4-5 strikes manifest themselves. Straight left, outside right hook, lead uppercut, hammer fist on the return, etc. There’s nothing wrong with having a few specialty techniques ingrained from doing lots of bagwork and from sparring experiences, but at some point a habit becomes a limitation.  A problem made itself obvious: how can I incorporate a degree of randomness into this training time, thereby moving outside of certain habits, without becoming unproductive? I’ve also noticed that people learning karate generally learn best when they have “discovered” something for themselves rather than being given every minute detail and then told to master it all.  So how to incoproprate this into my solo training, as well as for working with others?

In between rounds on the heavy bag last night, my mind wandered to thinking about getting some index cards for making flashcards of each unfamiliar word or phrase that I come across as I read through a collection of Latin American short stories in Spanish (another summer project).  Look it up, use it in a variety of contexts, combine it with what I already know, learn it . And as I went back to the bag, I wondered “why not do that with striking combinations?” So I grabbed 50 or so index cards and wrote a different strike on each one:


Reverse punch

Shovel hook

Outside hook


Palm strike



Forearm smash

Elbow smash

Rising elbow


Reverse backfist

Front kick

Roundhouse kick

Knee Strike

For each strike I also included cards with simple variations, such as front hand/leg, rear hand/leg, low and high, to address all of the variables for using that technique. I also threw in some ‘wild cards’ that read “switchback,”  “turning,” and “shifting” to incorporate some basic footwork into the deck. The result? A very effective way to train combinations and force your body to work in ways that you might ordinarily neglect. Below are four samples of random combos that I drew while training yesterday evening:



In these FOD (Flashcards of Doom) I found a very effective answer to my problem. Partner or not, I can shuffle through the deck and stretch both my brain and body a bit. I had a couple of willing students try them while doing some pad work this morning, with very good results. By the end of it they were moving through even the most counter-intuitive combos with fluidity and power.   Give it a shot- just get a packet of index cards and write out your vocabulary of strikes and footwork. When you come across techniques that are new to you, or that you are uncomfortable with using freely, add them to the deck. Shuffle thoroughly and you’ve got hours of fun on your hands. Well, maybe not fun, but you will find yourself working combos that you’ve never thought of, and realizing that you have certain bad habits (dropping your hands between techniques, bad balance in transitions, pausing when throwing continuous strikes from the same limb etc). And you’ll be suprised at how much the random combo training eimproves the rest of your practice.