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When training combinations on a heavy bag or pad, or working combos in sparring, pay close attention to what your hands and arms do immediately following and between strikes. A few tendencies are very common:

  • dropping the hand to waist height in between strikes with a bent elbow
  • pulling the hands all the way past the lateral line behind the body
  • letting the entire arm hang straight at the waist

These are common habits, especially among people who are new to training, bag work or successive sparring. People who train in arts that emphasize a “pullback” motion in tandem with every strike are especially prone to it, and it’s a habit that should be discouraged. I understand the utility of a pullback to create a force-couple with the target, but it is absolutely useless unless something is actually being grasped and pulled back- keep the other hand near your face, where it can serve a purpose (keeping your face from being rearranged).

Ideally, you want to train in the habit of returning the hands to a guard that covers the face following each strike. I prefer a higher guard, but the happy medium between people’s personal preferences is one that places the hands someplace between the chin and temple. If this is something that you or a student has a hard time doing, try the following strategies:

  • Adopt the habit of keeping your thumbs or palms in contact with your temples. You may not prefer a guard that is quite this high, but the tactile feedback of the thumb contact often works better than repeated verbal coaching about the location of the hands. Once you begin returning naturally to this position, thumb/skin contact with the temples is no longer necessary.
  • Put your bag near a mirror (or a mirror near your bag) so that you can watch what your hands do.
  • Ask a trusted training partner to slap you lightly in the face when your hands drop during a drill. Touching may get the idea across, but a few light slaps will provide quite a bit more motivation to keep your guard up between strikes.
  • Take a resistance cable or band with moderate tension and wrap it across your upper back, in line with the shoulders. Grasp the handles at roughly chin height. As you strike the bag (lightly) the cable will produce higher tension, providing an external motivation to return them to your face as opposed to dropping. Don’t let the tension cause your elbows to flare too wide from the body.
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"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin

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