|Centered Punch by Hironishi Motonobu (L), Off-Centered Punch by Funakoshi Gichin (R)|
When practicing kihon (basics)–which carries over into kata practice–there tend to be two schools of thought on where to aim punches. One says that you should aim to the center, as if your opponent were standing directly in front of you, so that you can work on your targeting the nose, solar plexus, or bladder, even when you do not have a physical target to hit. The other says that you should punch off-center, more in line with the shoulder, because it is more powerful and bio-mechanically efficient. I learned the first method when I started training in karate, and then had to switch to the second method when I transitioned to Shorin-Ryu. I actually still have trouble with that, to this day. While both approaches have merit, I do feel that the former method has a couple flaws.
|Punching to the center against an opponent (L) versus punching in line with the shoulder against an opponent (R)|
The biggest issue that I see with the center-aiming approach is its inherent assumption about positioning. By training your targeting in this way, you assume that your opponent is directly in front of you when you are punching them. While this may happen, on occasion, it is not ideal, and should not be your goal. One of the key concepts of karate is the use of tai sabaki (body evasion) to move off-line from your opponent’s attacks. You should be orienting yourself at angles to your opponent whenever possible, in order to avoid your opponent’s power and get to a more advantageous position. When you do this, you will find that your opponent’s targets are more often lined up with your shoulder (or the side of your body, in general) than with your center line. In the image, above, you can both approaches illustrated with a body silhouette to represent the position of the opponent.
Finally, we get to that “bio-mechanically efficient” comment I made earlier. When you throw a punch, you are extending your arm. Even though a proper punch starts from your feet and transfers energy from the ground all the way through your body to your fist, you still have to have the ability to extend your arm quickly and powerfully. If you don’t have the strength in your arms to support the power generated by your body, then your arm will collapse when your punch lands, and you will lose a lot of that power. When you extend your arm toward the center, you lose strength compared to extending your arm in front of your shoulder. You can quickly confirm this by doing a diamond push-up, and comparing it to a regular push-up. Which one was easier? The regular push-up, with your hands beneath your shoulders! Everyone is built slightly differently, but the basics of the human body remain pretty much the same, and the way we are built effects the way we function. The way we function should effect the way we train.