Summary of a few controversial (and thus useful!) articles about basic martial arts and fighting things.

Punching & the hollow, vertical fist

Punching - Everyone knows how, Right?

a hollow fist

Bob advocates the “hollow fist” (fingers straight, not curled, thumb on the side) as such a fist isn’t physically and mentally “locked” and it is much easier to switch to grabbing. He also recommends to impact with a vertical, not horizontal fist and hit with just the middle knuckle since the wrist etc. are better aligned (making it stronger and safer) and it has a deeper penetration.

A great advantage of the vertical punch is that it keeps your elbow down. This gives you a much stronger punch because, through the entire line of the blow, your fist is aligned with your elbow, shoulder, and hip. Horizontal punches simply do not line up that way. Moreover, combining vertical punch delivery with good structural body alignment (fist, elbow, and shoulder, with hip, knee, and foot — what we label as six points of alignment) results in really effective power delivery.

Bob also stresses the importance of speed and thus shuns “chambering” the punch (bringing the fist back before firing it off) and focuses on relaxation - which is another reason why he prefers the more relaxed hollow fist over a tightly clenched one.

[..] experience shows that there are much better weapons for empty-hand striking than the fists. For example, slapping can be surprisingly effective, and elbow strikes are, well, not so surprisingly, extremely effective.

(He also mentions that palm-heels are equally effective and much saver for the fighter.)

Strong-side-forward stance and asymmetrical training

Bob recommends, in accord with e.g. Bruce Lee, standing with the strong side forward, i.e. in the right lead for the majority (contrary to the common left lead). It is both natural to have your strongest weapons closest to the opponent - and, as long as everybody practices and is only used to left lead opponents, it gives you an important advantage (which is why he recommends right lead even for left-handed fighters).

He prefers “asymmetrical training” over the common practice of training both sides equally. Since each side is controlled by a different hemisphere, it takes reportedly twice the time to learn a movement on both sides as the neural paths are completely different. And you won’t overcome your natural tendency to prefer your strong side. You will tend to underuse your “weak” hand, preferring the other, no matter your lead leg. So it might make more sense to rather focus on making one side really good. Bob claims that left-handers forced to use rather their right side learn to prefer it - and eventually become easily ambidextrous. So he suggest that training exclusively the opposite side than the one you would use naturally for a particular movement - so much that it becomes the preferred side - and only then training also the other one yields much better results. “To make this work, the fighter must initially be made to train and fight in one lead all the time.

Further, choosing a lead that places the dominant, strong-side forward provides an excellent platform from which to develop different but equally powerful strikes that can be delivered from the otherwise less-dominate often under-utilized “weak” side.

One workable solution to the training both sides equally problem was reportedly suggested by Dan Inosanto, and is that instead of training both sides equally (or even strong-side forward), he has engrained a suite of reflexes and movements that work well for him when he is in a left lead, and a completely different suite that work equally well for him when in a right, strong-side forward position. Sounds like a pretty good solution to me.

An interesting observation about body asymmetry:

This is because the length, mass, and thickness of practically every muscle on the right side is different from those on the left. Those differences affect how you stand, walk and move, as well as your balance, coordination, and a multitude of other factors. While physical execution of kicks performed with both left and right legs may look identical to the casual observer, they are, from the nerve paths through the brain right down to the very muscles they trigger, quite different.


The contemporary, narrower, boxer-type stances with the back leg slightly bent (frequently on the balls of the feet) that prefer mobility to stability are stronger both in offense (as you can turn the body and hip more into a punch and you can use the mobility to add a footwork and put the whole body momentum and speed into it) and defense (being more agile helps to absorb a blow by moving back). This “soft-bow” stances also have a disadvantage:

Punching proficiency from the soft-bow, for example, takes longer to attain. The factors that make the stance effective — motion, momentum, directional harmony [the whole body moving with the punch], and timing — are more slowly learned.

However, practicing the “hard-bow” stances has also its value:

The classical hard-bow with its locked back leg is useful because it strengthens and conditions the legs, develops stability, and creates an excellent platform on which to build. […] the beginning student will never fully appreciate the subtler points of the narrower (back leg bent) soft-bow without a firm grounding in and understanding of the basic hard-bow.

(Also see an excellent article on the evolution of boxing stances and how much they are determined by the current rules by Ken Pfrenger.)

Why study forms?

Bob has some really good arguments for teaching (good and well-taught) forms. According to him, well-taught forms give you: Strategic thinking - you learn to face multiple opponents, move from one to another, set up and continue techniques, and an Ability to move well.

Good teachers seek, explore, and study forms they have found to be “good,” breaking down every movement and technique for themselves and their students so that all see and practice their forms with understanding.

On movement and motions:

“Learning an art’s movements” involves much more than simply learning to put the hand here or the foot there. It also means developing a thorough understanding of, for example, a movement’s purpose, mechanics, and underlying principles.

On strategic thinking (and movement):

[..] learning to flow naturally from defense to offense, stance to stance, and foe to foe. [..] transitioning smoothly through various assaults in a variety of ways

(See Bob’a example of a well-taught form.)

He also explains why forms are often different from real-life fights and actual applications and why it is OK. When used in self-defense, the technique has one and only one objective: disabling your opponent. When practiced in a kata, however, its purpose is broadened to serve the following additional functions. Thus, forms strengthen and condition (develop flexibility, strength, balance and coordination), teach effective self-defense techniques, and ingrain principles of motion and movement suitable for self-protection. (Movement involves stances and how to move from position to position smoothly – left, right, off-center, spinning, and so on. Motion, on the other hand, is how we strike with our elbows in, say, a half-dozen different ways.)

That’s why it is OK to kick to head-high in a form, while in a self-defense situation it is mostly too risky.

Classical forms also include techniques intended for circumstances that are not relevant today (e.g. an attacker on a horseback, or with a specific heavy weapon, or in an armor) and thus are nowadays ineffective.

Techniques or principles?

Rather, they [techniques] should be used as a means to an end — a vehicle to bring the student to an understanding of the principles involved.

To grasp the underlying principle of any technique we have to change our thinking in two ways. First, we must realize that every technique can be broken down into basic movements. Basic movements are like the letters of the alphabet. [..] This brings us to the next change that must occur in our thinking. Armed with the concept that a given technique is made up of basic movements, we zero in on the technique’s objective. Is the goal to send your opponent flying 10 feet away? Is it to dump him at your feet? To bring him to his knees? Control him? What? Is the objective to place yourself behind him? To place him between you and someone else? To strike as a setup for another move? Here we take a broader look at the technique.

Consider this: Raise your right arm. That is a movement. Is that movement an upward block or a strike with the forearm and hand? My teacher would answer that, with a “yes,” meaning it can be either.

There are really only so many ways that the hand can come — crossing, straight, over the top, uppercut, whatever. Obviously, allowances are made for variances in angle, but there are still only so many ways that hand can come. Likewise, kicks can come from outside, straight in, over-the-top, up from the ground, etc. And again, there are minor variations in angle, but, like the hand, there are only so many ways that a foot can come at you. Train to recognize this smaller number of movements and quit thinking that, ‘if he does this, I’ll do this. If he comes with that, I’ll have to …’ The problem with having too many techniques is that they clutter your thought processes. Too many choices means too many decisions.

By learning general principles rather than specific techniques, fewer decisions are needed in reacting to a situation. Moreover, because there are far fewer principles to learn, assimilation and subsequent development of spontaneous repetition are greatly accelerated.

When practicing self-defense techniques, focus on the basic movements and principles of defense (response to an attack). Likewise, use the technique to analyze and understand the basic movements and principles behind your opponent’s attack. In other words, take the macro view.

[..] don’t fall into the trap of seeking to learn hundreds of techniques in the hope of being a better fighter or more capable martial artist. Realize that with a thorough understanding of movement and principles of movement you can create hundreds of your own techniques.