Like learning any new skill, you have to walk before you can run. In martial arts, that often means learning the form and technique before adding the spirit. In this post, we are going to look at a logical way to progress through form, accuracy, power, and finally speed. I’ll have some examples of drills you can use to practice each of these attributes as well.
Form is the first, and arguably most important step in learning anything new in the martial arts. Form is making sure your entire body is in the proper position when executing a technique. Start with this, drill this, get this right. Proper form not only leads to correct and effective technique, but it is essential for practicing safely as well. I like to tell people that the average adult could break a board if they tried (they have the power), but they would likely hurt themselves in the process. Form is proper punch alignment, form is hip rotation, form is posture. Without these things, power and speed don’t matter.
Drills for Form:
Practice in the Air – This is the majority of how we practice Kata, Patterns, or Forms. It is also a great way to drill basics. However, to improve your form you can’t just do mindless reps. Beginners need instructors to correct their form until the corrections are internalized. Advanced students can practice in the air slowly and use their learned awareness to make the adjustments they need to.
Practice with a Mirror: Mirrors are a martial artist’s best friend. Check your posture, check your hand positions, check everything! The mirror doesn’t lie. If you over-rotate your punch, the mirror will tell you.
Once you know how to correctly throw a punch, you need to be able to hit the target! For that you need accuracy (the ability to aim your moves). A lot of people will want to hit fast and hard after learning a technique, but remember, neither speed nor power matter if you miss!
Drills for Accuracy:
Small Pads – This is a great way to start. Small pads are bright, safe, and they make a great noise when you hit them. There are many types of small pads, from boxing mitts to square targets to clapper targets – try them all! Make sure you drill punches, kicks, chops, elbows, knees and any other move you can think of.
Partner Target Practice – Do this slow and do this with control or no one will want to do this with you! A great way to practice accuracy is to literally take your move and place it on (or very close to) the right target. If you’re practicing a sidekick to the ribs, execute a slow sidekick and touch your partner’s ribs with your knife edge. Again, slow is the important word here!
Board Breaking – The king of all accuracy drills! You should be able to hit a small target with precision before attempting this. If a student can’t hit a square pad correctly and in the same spot repeatedly, they are not ready for board breaking.
You learned to punch, you can hit the target, now you need to make sure the punch will hit hard when it lands. That’s where power comes in. For martial arts, power is the ability to inflict damage on a target. Why do we practice power before speed? Because the fastest punch doesn’t matter if it doesn’t stop an attacker.
Drills for Power:
Heavy Bag or Kick Shield – Any large, stable target is a good judge of power. If you hit the bag and it moves, congratulations, you have the power! If you hit the bag and you fall backwards, maybe it’s time to work on form a bit more.
Aiming Through the Target – This is a mindset you should have whenever you want to hit hard (which should be always). Look at the bag/target and picture a point a behind it. This is where you truly want to aim. Instructors: Try holding the palm of your hand a few inches behind the pad, tell your student to aim for your hand, not the pad.
Strength Training – This is where those dreaded push ups come in. If you want to hit harder, you can increase your strength by cross training. To punch hard, you need to develop your pectorals and triceps. The chest press, push ups, and triceps extensions are just a few examples of exercises to increase your strength there. To kick harder, work your quadriceps. Another way to kick harder is to practice jumping. A jump kick might not be the most practical self defense technique, but if you can jump kick well, your standing kicks will be much stronger.Talk to a fitness professional to learn more about strength training.
Form – Wait, I thought we covered form already? Well the truth is, form creates power. If you don’t rotate your hips, your punches won’t be as strong. Use the mirrors, check your feet, make sure you engage those hips.
Last but not least – speed. You can punch, you can aim, and you can hit with power. Now try to do that on a moving target! For that, you need speed. Speed has both a physical and mental component. You can drill basics all day and get your body to move faster, but if your reactions are slow it won’t matter. Let’s look at some drills that will speed up both your mind and body.
Drills for Speed:
Red Light/Green Light – Not exactly the children’s game, but it’s a fun drill for both younger and adult students. One person holds two pads with their fronts together (red light) and will suddenly turn the pads towards the other person (green light). That’s the signal to strike those pads as fast as possible.
Pad Drills with a Counter – Speed at the beginning is important because it gets your strike to the target, speed on the pullback is also important because it keeps you from getting hit back. One person has two pads, the other strikes one pad and must pull back and get out of range before the pad holder can swing their other arm at them.
Free Sparring – Nothing puts your speed to the test like a moving, bobbing, and attacking opponent. It keeps your mind sharp and really shows you how fast you are. See what techniques you can land and which ones feel slow against a real person.
So we all know doing Kata or Forms in the air is good for training, we all know hitting a target is good, and that kicking a bag is good. We all know sparring makes us fast. The important thing I hope people can take away from this is that there is an optimal order in which to prioritize things.
Get the form right.
Hit the target.
Hit it hard.
Hit it fast.
If you try to do these out of order you can end up with injuries… or at best ineffective training:
Speed First – Hyper-extend your joints, strike with no control.
Power First – Miss the target and waste energy, or hit the target incorrectly and injure yourself.
Accuracy before form – You can place your hand on a pad, but it won’t resemble a proper fist.
So look at your workouts and see what you prioritize. Start with your form and work your way up. If you’re a teacher, make sure your white belts get the form right. Speed can wait.
Walk before you can run.