I know my title may have enticed some folks to think I’m talking about being quiet or shutting one’s mouth, but as you can see from the categories, this will actually be a martial arts post. One of the things I used to enjoy about regularly attending karate class is that it always provided me with plenty of material to write about. In some ways, a lot of ways, having studied karate for as many years as I have puts me at a disadvantage because I’ve reached the stage where trying to figure out something to write about that the average practitioner requires correction on, is difficult. But since I am now studying a new style, a lot of that perspective is making a wild comeback.
This situation describes something that happened during drills last week and happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves. I know that some practitioners may have a different view and I invite an open discussion on that view in my comments section. But the pet peeve I’m referring to is the propensity some students seem to have to punch with a loose fist. By “loose fist,” I mean that they’re throwing a punch or a technique without their fist being properly clenched shut, leaving the fingers loose and vulnerable in the event of an actual impact.
Most beginners can’t be faulted for adopting this habit, since leaving the fingers loose means there’s less tension in the arm, making for better speed when practicing a drill. For a beginner who believes they need to keep up with more experienced practitioners, this may seem like a good idea. But the cost will always far outweigh the benefit. For one thing, muscle memory is an important aspect of karate. One of the most important ways to ensure you can properly defend yourself is by developing your muscle memory to ensure that if someone attacks you, you don’t have to stop and think about what you’re going to do.
My point is that if you continuously practice your punches with a loose fist, you’ll be more inclined to do it that way in a practical setting and you’ll likely break all your fingers on the point of impact. The human hand contains over two dozen bones, with the carpals containing about eight, the metacarpals containing five and the fingers and thumb hold over a dozen. That’s a lot of fuckin’ bones that you could potentially fracture or break against someone’s skull or sternum, if you punch incorrectly.
I’m reminded of something that happened last week while performing a punch/block drill with a brown belt. The drill was pretty simple; one person would punch to the belt line and the other person would do a low block to intercept. In this instance, we were building up speed and the drill seemed to be going well. Then I made a mistake… That’s right, ME! I anticipated the punch, which is a terrible thing to do but I had almost completed the block when the brown belt’s punch came in. The result is that our fists impacted each other.
I’m talkin’ knuckle to knuckle, bone on bone, full speed impact. It was painful but manageable since my fist was firmly clenched. My partner however, not so much. There was a sickening sound as his loose fingers crunched against my fist. He backed away, doing a little hippity-hop dance and cradling his hand. Luckily, he didn’t appear to break or fracture any bones but I like to think it taught him an important lesson; especially at the brown belt level.
Some styles actually train to adopt a loose fist during the throw, only clenching the fist at the moment of impact. There are a lot of conceptual thoughts behind this, including increased speed and the ability to switch up one’s technique at the last moment. It’s a matter fo preference, I guess. Certainly no disrespect to other styles who practice this way. I’m just not a fan of potentially breaking my hand because of a last moment mistake.
Karate is a life-long commitment that requires precision and practice. It’s important to take things one technique at a time and practice, practice, practice… properly. Short cuts will get you nowhere. Even if it seems as though you may be getting to your goals faster in the moment, the cost will easily outweigh the result. After all, you shouldn’t practice until you get it right; Practice until you can’t get it wrong. ☯️