Why "corkscrew" your punch?

In my view the reason so many martial arts utilise the standard "corkscrew punch" (eg. karate, taekwondo, many shaolin schools, etc.) has little to do with a conscious effort at enhancement of power/stability, or because of fashion or aesthics.

It is simply a function of our biomechanical design.

Consider a very short, close range punch into the ribs - with an uppercut type action. Your palm will naturally face upward.

Think of a handshake where you are middle distance (ie. your elbow is not fully extended). Your palm is side on and you have what is known as "vertical fist" punch.

Now think of an extended "raise your arms in front" (as a doctor or physiotherapist might ask you to do) - or even a pointing action - ie. where your elbow is fully extended. The most natural position is palm down. Hence when you have a fully extended punch it will naturally end up with the full corkscrew.

The standard "karate-type" punch covers all three of the above "stages"; at the beginning of the punch the palm is facing up. As the elbow clears the body the palm starts to turn to vertical fist. At its absolute maximum range it is turned over fully. Most of the turn from vertical happens in the very last few centimetres (or last inch or so for you Americans).

We practise a "full" movement when we practise basics. However when you hit, chances are you will not be landing a fully extended punch, hence it will be something in the spectrum of what is essentially a natural way of extending a hip chambered hand.

And yes - it does "add power" and "add stability" to do it this way, provided you are turning over the punch at the correct stage of your extension. Why? Because you are moving in a biomechanically efficient manner. Conversely, moving in an inefficient manner will reduce your power.

For example, it won't help you one iota to corkscrew your punch too early (ie. a short punch with a full corkscrew); rather it will be detrimental (the old "rabbit punch" is not something one associates with a trained fighter).

Now try doing a fully extended punch without turning your fist over at all (ie. palm up all the way).

Both of the above examples are seriously dorky.

Most punches we land are mid-range (in what I call the centre of the "melee") hence they will be vertical fist or slightly turned over from there. A full basic punch should cover all the stages as part of learning a natural movement.

It is important to note that a fully extended vertical fist punch isn't too bad (there won't be much difference in measurable power), but it still isn't as natural as a palm down. I emphasise "fully extended" because it really should be the last inch or so that most of your turn occurs.

That turning action at the end also grinds your knuckles in causing more damage - an added bonus.

It is also important to note that my comments above apply only in relation to the standard karate-type "corkscrew" punch.

There are other ways of punching utilising different principles.

For example you will note that I "bend the rules" in the video below (albeit using an open hand strike - but it could easily be turned into a punch at the last second):

I demonstrate suri ashi a type of sliding foot action together with an open palm strike

Much depends on how you load your strike/punch (or, rather, your “start position”). If you are using a high chamber, for example, there will be no "corkscrew" action at all.

I demonstrate the "kosa zuki" or cross as done in karate

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic