"If there is one thing that you MUST do for your karate, it's
The Importance Of Impact Training!"
From: Jason Stanley, 3rd Dan Shitoryu
A few year's ago some friends and I
went to a demonstration to see some supposed "black belts"
demonstrate their skills. I was very disappointed not to mention
startled at how ineffective their technique was considering their
rank. I should point out that these practitioners were not
traditional karateka, but studied another martial art which will
Why was I startled? The effectiveness of their punches was minimal.
About six black belts lined up and one after the other, hit a pad
held by another black belt at the front of the line. I didn't see
any drive from the legs, any hip rotation and as a result minimal
impact. As I picked my jaw up off the floor, I pinched myself to
make sure this was really happening. Questions started shooting
through my mind such as....
- What rank were they really?
- Where did they get those black belts?
- How long had they been training?
- Did they actually practice hitting anything
other than fresh air?
Seriously I have seen students who have been
training only a couple of weeks hit with more force than these guys.
Quite simply it was embarrassing. We then had to witness the
ineffectiveness of the kicking demonstration which again lacked
I realized how lucky I was to have learned how to
punch effectively. And while many styles of martial arts and schools
are fantastic at teaching theory about punching effectively, many
only practice fresh air techniques. If you are only learning to
punch the air, how on earth are you going to be effective when you
have to really hit something or someone?
If we take a step back and look at karate history
we see that the effectiveness of technique was traditionally tested
and practiced in several different ways.
Firstly, the makiwara was developed for students
for exactly this purpose. A makiwara is a punching board. The head
usually has layers of straw padding, bound with rope and covered in
canvas, while the other end is buried and held in place by the
When struck the makiwara provides some give as the
board moves because the head isn't secured. Students would spend
hours perfecting their technique on a makiwara.
Of course there weren't any "bag gloves" used when
doing this, so if you punched off line or grazed the makiwara, you
would often tear the skin on your knuckles. (A good incentive to
focus and punch straight!) The other important aspect of makiwara
training was the requirement to focus or develop kime.
After much practice the only thing the student
would be focussed on is the makiwara and nothing else when
delivering the technique. At the point of impact the mind, body and
spirit become one and the effectiveness of the technique reaches its
Secondly, technique effectiveness has been
measured historically by breaking bricks, tiles, wood or ice. Again
this required a high level of focus. The item being struck is held
in place by another training partner or supported on a stand in
which case the person breaking the item usually strikes downwards.
Thirdly, technique effectiveness was measured in
battle! This was one sure way to know if what you practiced actually
worked. If your focus or technique was ineffective, your adversaries
would surely take advantage!
Turning to these methods for present-day training,
we see they pose some problems:
- It's stationary and not easily moved around.
- Difficult to use for kicking.
Wood, bricks, tiles or ice
- As above plus...
- If you do not hit correctly it can take
months to get over the injuries you might sustain.
- Sometimes the position when breaking these
items is not related to a combat situation so it can be argued
there is little point practicing something that you won't use.
- It's illegal!
- It's dangerous!
So if all of these historical methods aren't
really an option to improve the impact and effectiveness of your
technique, what else is there available? Punching bag? Speed ball?
Ceiling to floor ball?
Yes, all of these are options, however they also
have their downfalls.
- It's stationary.
- Too big and bulky to measure technique
- Doesn't measure impact or correct punching
technique, only speed.
- Have you ever seen anyone hit a person they
way they hit a speed ball? (cartoons excluded!)
Ceiling to Floor ball
- Excellent tool for foot work, body movement
- Not great for measuring impact.
Given the downfalls of all of these training
tools, a good training tool for measuring impact must have the
following qualities. It must:
- absorb the shock
- be reusable
- be mobile
- minimize the chance of injury
- be able to measure the effectiveness of the
- be able to be struck by both hand and leg
For those of you who study Shukokai/Shitoryu you
will be aware of the following training tool that meets the above
criteria. It was developed by Kimura Sensei and is widely used today
in Shukokai/Shitoryu schools throughout the world.
The Impact Pad
The impact pad is made of dense foam rubber
material (4 pound, closed cell polyethylene) similar to the material
that is used to make swimming kickboards or body boards. The pad is
roughly 30cm square and 5cm thick. Two or more of these are placed
together and bound by a belt or strap.
To use an impact pad all you require is a training
partner to hold it for you. When practicing punching, the "target"
holds the pad firmly against their chest and stands square on, in
yoi dachi (feet shoulder width apart). The "punching person" then
takes their stance and hits the pad in much the same way as striking
a makiwara. ie. with complete focus hitting the center of the pad.
The best thing about the impact pad is its
versatility. It can be held against the chest for punching or
striking with other techniques, such as ridge hand (haito uchi). It
can also be held against the stomach area for front kick (mae geri)
or the "target person" can stand side on to the "kicking person" so
they can practice mawashi geri. In fact just about all techniques
can be practiced using an impact pad.
One of the key benefits to using an impact pad for
impact training is that when you do an effective technique you will
know immediately. The person holding the pad can give you direct
feedback as to the direction and force of your technique. They can
tell you immediately if you are a little off line or if your
technique has power.
The impact pad is also an excellent tool because
it's held in the exact positions that you would strike if you were
striking a person. Therefore you can instantly see if your technique
was effective as the "target person" should be physically moved by
the force of your technique. (Be careful to strike and not to push!)
It's also a great tool for improving speed and
effectiveness with multiple attackers. You can use multiple pads in
drills and exercises with three or four people surrounding the
"striking person". Each "target" can hold the pad in different
positions and on command the "striking person" must hit each target
effectively, one after the other using different techniques.
Finally you can use the impact pad with a mobile
target. The person holding the pad can move around and then stop,
giving you a target to hit. eg. chest for punching, thigh for
roundhouse kick, or stomach for front kick. This is a great way to
test your impact with a moving target. Hitting a moving target or
hitting while you are moving, is a whole new ball game compared to
when you and the target are both stationary!
Here is a summary of the benefits of using an
- it absorbs the impact of the technique
- it is reusable
- it is versatile
- it is mobile
- the chance of injury is minimized
- it is a good way to measure the effectiveness
of your technique
- provides realistic resistance as though
hitting a person
- the cost to make one is far less than buying
a bag or makiwara
Impact training should be something that you practice often.
Refining your technique and constantly putting it to the test will
ensure the quality and effectiveness of your technique continues to
develop. For if you only practice hitting fresh air, then you will
only be able to hit fresh air really well.... not so great when it
comes to the crunch!
As with anything, before you rush out and attempt
to use an impact pad, you should practice it under the supervision
of a qualified and experienced instructor. Injury can result if used
incorrectly. With that said, when done correctly, impact pad
training is one of the best ways to improve the power and impact of
just about all of your karate techniques!
I hope you enjoyed this article and that you can use impact pad
training at your school. If you teach then perhaps you can introduce
the impact pad to your class (with the permission of your sensei of
course). In future articles we'll look at the exact methods to get
the most out of your training with impact pads.