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"If there is one thing that you MUST do for your karate, it's to realize....
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 remain nameless!



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 severely.

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 earth.

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 peak.

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:

Makiwara

  • 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.

Battle!

  • 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.

Punching bag

  • It's stationary.
  • Too big and bulky to measure technique effectiveness properly.

Speed ball

  • 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 and timing.
  • 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 technique
  • be able to be struck by both hand and leg techniques

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 impact pad...

  • 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.
 

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