Not literally… I mean, what have bricks ever done to you? But the bag comment stands. And for a bit of clarity going in, I’m referring to a punching bag, not just any random bag in general. Punching bags are a fun and easy way to blow off some stems and relieve stress but they’re also an integral part to learning your techniques and actually executing them properly.
When performing forms or kata, we learn techniques, strikes and blocks through repetition and muscle memory. Form teaches us proper movement, proper bone alignment, proper footing, proper steps and proper technique. When done properly, doing forms will help you to work up a sweat and can be a fantastic workout on their own. The only downfall is that you’ll eventually hit a wall (pun fully intended) by combating a phantom opponent through form. Eventually, y’all gotta hit something…
And this is where a punching bag comes in. I got this thought during a karate class last week when we took a break from forms to try and accurately executed a certain double-handed strike. It involved slide-stepping in and striking with the blade of both hands. The movement is a bit awkward, I’ll admit but the problem comes from needing enough flexibility in the wrists to prevent tensing while striking with the appropriate area of the hand.
After a number of attempts by some of the students who were trying hard to work at it, I recommended that it be applied to a punching bag. After all, this is intended to be a strike, so it should/could be developed by actually striking. This is something that I’ve often done when I find that trying to perfect a technique isn’t quite working. It’s pretty effective since, in order to prevent injury, you’re more likely to strike properly against a surface like a pad or punching bag than you will be when doing form.
Techniques in your forms may look pretty and smooth, but they hold no value unless they’re effective while being used. Let’s also not forget that if you spend years practicing and training without ever ACTUALLY striking something, you may get a nasty surprise if/when the day ever comes that you physically have to strike an actual opponent. After all, you may have been playing Grand Theft Auto for years but it doesn’t mean you’re ready to get behind the wheel of an actual car.
The same can be said of striking. I’ve lost track of how many students train and train well, maximum effort, developing their strikes and doing the best they can. Then, they step up to someone holding a strike pad or walk up to a heavy punching and try those same striking techniques only to have their shoulders sink back, sprain their wrists or perform a completely ineffectual strike. Then they’re right back at square one and have to re-learn the strike.
Punching bags are reasonably inexpensive, unless you go all out and buy some Cadillac of equipment. But even most big-box retailers will have some inexpensive options. Finding a second-hand sporting goods store can also be ideal, since people will often get rid of their strike pads or punching bags even if they’re still in excellent condition. The point is, if you’re going to learn something like karate, your training can only go so far until you start practicing your strikes on an actual surface. Food for thought… ☯️