Of the many benefits associated with the martial arts, being able to train by yourself is likely one of my favourites. In fact, karate is one of the very few methods of training that you can literally do anywhere, anytime and with minimal equipment requirements. Given the current state of the world and the need for everyone to self-isolate, this is a comforting aspect to something familiar that I’ve been doing for most of my life.
But one of the things that is often lacking in some students’ workouts is a fundamental aspect of the martial arts… You need to hit something. Regardless of your reasons for training in the martial arts, you need to ask yourself: Have you ever punched someone? Have you ever initiated a technique and made contact with a solid object, be it a punching bag, board or a brick?
Depending on who you talk to, board breaking has been a topic of hot debate among martial arts practitioners for decades. For some practitioners, board and/or brick breaking is a pointless exercise. In the words of Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon, “Boards Don’t Hit Back.” I’ve never been a fan of “breaking” something in order to develop my strikes properly. I’ve always been more of a bag or pad kind of guy. This is because you can practice and develop your strikes ad nauseam on pads, where boards and bricks require clean up and replacement.
But all jokes aside, you can train by yourself to your heart’s content. But honestly: YOU NEED TO HIT SOMETHING!!! How can you properly train in a striking art without actually striking something. Form and drills are fantastic for building your stamina and developing a technique. But in order to avoid injury in the event you ever ACTUALLY need to hit someone, you need to experience the feeling of your strikes making contact with a solid object; preferably something that won’t yield or give when you strike it.
This is the 8×8-inch punch pad I installed on my basement wall last Wednesday. Believe it or not, I only paid 10 dollars for this bad boy from a shopping website. I mounted it onto a piece of pressed wood, then I bolted the entire thing to the wall stud beneath this gnarly-looking 70’s clapboard. I placed it at chest height, allowing me to practice my punches, elbow strikes, knife and ridge hands. If I were still in my younger years, I’d probably even try doing my roundhouse kicks on this puppy.
Before finding this pad, I was looking into making one of my own. All you need is a square piece of high-density foam. Wrap it in canvass, leather or vinyl and stitch it shut. Then mount it on a backboard and decide where you’ll bolt it. Some of that green foam used for fake flowers can work pretty well as long as dense enough and it’s properly wrapped.
If you can’t get your hands on a punch pad or bag, and don’t feel you’re skilled enough to make one of your own (what am I, a seamstress?), another option is sand punching. Used in a variety of martial arts including karate, fill a bucket two thirds of the way with a fine grain of sand. Then you can practice punching into the bucket in order to build strength in the forearms, wrists and knuckles. If you want to add a little density to the mix, add some water to the sand.
Although fine grains of sand are generally used, my Sensei used to have a canvass sack of crushed rock hanging from a chain in his gym. I’ve never used it, but I can imagine he has. Density and type will depend on your preference and how you want to develop. You just need to be mindful of technique so that you avoid potential injury.
The bottom line is simply that even if you’re training to get in shape or learn to defend yourself, you can’t strike empty air indefinitely. Eventually, you gotta get in there and hit something. After all, you can play Grand Theft Auto until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t qualify you to drive. You need to get behind the wheel of an actual vehicle to do that. That same can be said for your strikes. ☯