Back to basics: punching

Introduction: the basic chudan zuki (chest level punch)

Following my recent "back to basics" theme, I thought I'd touch on that most archetypal basic of karate (and many Chinese martial arts), namely the corkscrew punch.

The basic punch is often aimed at chest level, however this should not be confused for a striking target. Rather it is a basic angle relevant to teaching brand-new beginners. In particular, beginners need to learn to punch in a straight line (ie. without unintended sideways deviations or up and down wave-like movements). They also need to learn to punch without any other extraneous movement. The basic chest-level thrust (chudan choku zuki) is ideally suited to teaching these concepts - both from the teacher's and student's perspectives.

Step 1

Start with one hand (in this case the right) in the pull back position, the other (in this case the left) in the finishing position.

For more information on the pullback, see my article "Chambering punches".

The finishing position is achieved when your left arm is fully extended, your palm is down and your index and middle knuckles point at the target, which in this case is at the height and position of your imaginary opponent's right nipple.

The shoulder should be relaxed and rounded, however you should not be leaning into the punch (your shoulder position is identical to that when you are doing push ups - see my article "Punching: alignment and conditioning").

Care must be taken to ensure a correct fist shape. For more on this topic, see my article "A fistful of details" (on how to make a fist).

Care must also be taken to ensure the correct alignment of the knuckles, wrist and forearm. For more on these topics, see my articles "Punching: alignment and conditioning" and "Punching: alignment with the forearm".

Step 2

Start punching out with your right fist while simultaneously pulling back your left. As your right elbow clears the body, palm up, your right fist is being pulled back in a "vertical fist position" as indicated in the adjacent image.

Step 3

Continue punching with your right fist which moves into the "vertical fist" position when it is approximately one fist away from its fullest extension. Simultaneously pull the left fist back further so that the palm is up.

Step 4

Punch out the last 15 - 20 cm with your right fist, turning it over fully so that it is palm down. Simultaneously complete the pullback with your left.

This will mean that you have completed a full "corkscrew" action with your punch. For more information on this topic, see my article "Why "corkscrew" your punch".

The next steps

Once a beginner is comfortable with the basic punch, we (in the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts) move the student on to variations - eg. using the hip to throw a reverse punch (as my brother Nenad demonstrates below).

Nenad demonstrates the reverse punch

After these and other "formal" punches are mastered, the student is free to punch with a greater degree of "informality" so that punches are ultimately thrown in a manner that resembles (but is not identical to) punches in combat sports such as boxing. It is really only at the basic levels that traditional martial arts punching appears "different" to more eclectic punching. It is important not to confuse basics with how punches are ultimately intended to be applied.

Further reading:
Hitting harder: physics made easy
Karate punches vs. boxing punches
Kime: soul of the karate punch

Copyright © 2011 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Hey Dan

    So at impact the fist is supposed to be vertical? Don't you want to finish the corkscrew at the time of impact?


  2. Hi Elon. If you finish your rotation as you impact your punch will be too shallow (or you wiil have rotated too soon, performing a "rabbit punch"). Remember that for a punch to be effective, it must travel about one fist depth further after impact. Given that the natural rotation of your fist occurs at the very end of a full range punch, you can see there will necessarily be some rotation after impact. Thanks for reading and for your question!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Karate punches vs. boxing punches

Zhan zhuang: grounding, structure, intention and qi

"Combat tai chi"? Seriously?