If you’re a traditional martial arts point fighter, you could go your whole life without experiencing a good hook punch.
If you’re a street fighter, you could see it on any given day.
There’s something about the hook punch that is naturally ingrained in the human combative complex. When tensions raise and the body experiences a dump of adrenaline, some instinct in the primordial part of our brain knows how to throw a hook punch.
Of course, a lot of the panicked and sloppy “bombs” we see are hardly efficient, but that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective. Sure, a drunk street punk may sprain his wrist while swinging his fists wildly, but all that body weight and tension can hurt or kill if it connects.
What is a Hook Punch?
Let’s step back for a moment and define what a hook punch is. I think this video featuring Anderson Silva lays it out nicely in just over 1 minute:
You’ll notice the crucial element is that the strike engages the target from a side angle rather than straight on. The punching arc can range dramatically from ultra wide, to just slightly bent.
The modern day understanding of a good hook punch derives mostly from American Boxing. The footwork (pivoting the front foot, settling on the rear, creating a snapping action) is a hallmark of good boxers and fighters like Silva.
The major difference between good boxers and street attacks is the execution of the technique. Boxers keep the hands tight in and use the hook punch when in mid-close range. The punch snaps out and back in order to maintain proper coverage of the body. Street attacks are often deep, committed swings with lots of body weight behind them.
Why Are We Assuming Hooks Are So Prevalent?
As any good geometry student will tell you, the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. Wouldn’t it stand to reason then that most attacks occur in a linear path, like a lot of TMA striking?
The reality is…no. The arc of the hook punch feels strong to novices and therefore comes out more naturally. Furthermore, American Boxing is still a very deep part of western culture and most youths grow up with a dad/uncle/friend who is willing to show them a few moves. Therefore, in times of stress, people go back to the experience they have.
Don’t take my word for it though, just observe a handful of untrained attacks (sucker punch and street fight). I think you’ll notice a distinct trend (warning: real violence in the following videos. Nothing deadly, but caution advised).
I didn’t have to dig deep into Youtube to find these videos. If you type in “street fight” or “sucker punch fight” you’re going to see plenty of examples.
Why Is The Hook So Neglected In TMA Training?
The reality of the hook punch in real engagements, especially when sucker punching, is evident. Just as evident is the lack of proportional focus in traditional martial arts.
In a lot of TMA, we are taught the efficiency of linear striking. It stands to reason that when we work partner drills, we use those same linear strikes as a means to continue our training and development. The attacker strikes linear so as to practice his/her punch, and we defend in one manner or another.
Even TMA that are much more circular can fall victim to this because they maintain good technique when attacking. A powerful circular ridge hand or quick mawashi geri is not the same as a huge haymaker from a tense and lunging opponent.
The study of bunkai for demonstration has increased the problem as well. In order for bunkai to look orderly and organized, the attacks must be laser accurate and in time with the defender. Slapping and windmill punching from the attacker would be troublesome for the demonstrator, and disrespectful to boot.
Traditional training can be beautiful, but it can also distract from reality at times.
How Can We Avoid the Neglect?
If we conclude that the hook punch is an oft used weapon in real violence, then we should make an effort to improve our ability to handle it. Doing so is fairly easy if we take the time. To integrate more hook punch practice into your martial arts life, follow these steps:
1. Assess the amount of time you spend dealing with the hook and determine if you could benefit from more practice.
2. Learn how to throw a hook punch well…and poorly. Use the videos above and elsewhere online if you don’t have an expert in your dojo.
3. Communicate your desire to focus on the hook punch with your partner, show them the proper& improper ways to throw it, and have them attack you with it.
4. Attack slow at first so you can begin to analyze which of your techniques work and which are dangerously ineffective against the new arcs of attack.
5. Increase the speed and impact of the attack so as to feel the body weight and momentum.
6. Receive the attack from unspecified hands and at unspecified times. Remember, a sucker punch is tough to see coming so you want to practice natural response defense, not just thoughtful defense.
The longer I train the more I realize the importance of wellness.
Of course, wellness may be the least glamorous part of training. After all, eating vegetables and legumes doesn’t make for an exciting youtube clip.
Luckily I get to hang around a bunch of experienced practitioners who tell stories from time to time of their tough training. Personally, I’ve been an uke since age 11 and am becoming more acutely aware of how repeated impact affects the body.
It’s because of these realizations that I recently read The Okinawa Program, a book describing the Okinawan way of life and how the Ryukyuans became the longest lived people on the planet. And fortunately, thanks to the good people at YMAA, I was able to follow up that research with Western Herbs: For Martial Artists and Contact Athletes.
Western Herbs is a unique addition to my library.
The Okinawa Program deftly lays out the lifestyle and diet of the Okinawans. Most other books regarding traditional Chinese medicine, including The Bubishi, discuss herbal concoctions that you will most likely never encounter. Western Herbs, on the other hand, takes that same pharmacological approach and applies it to vegetation and growth readily available in western countries.
Have you ever wondered how Aloe Vera works, and how to utilize it’s full effects? Did you know the capsaicin in peppers (when prepared properly) can help relieve back pain and arthritis?
This is stuff that doesn’t require a shady trip down back alleys in Chinatown. The best part is that this book grades each herbal claim via a 5 leaf system. Zero leaves means the claim of effect is completely unsubstantiated, while five leaves means you are good to go and can rely on the results.
The author, Susan Lynn Peterson, is a trained martial artist as well as researcher (she has a real P.H.D., not the weird “professorship” some martial artists prescribe themselves). Her approach is non-mystical with no heavy-handed desire to prove that eastern healing methods are the exclusive answer to all health problems. She mixes east and west in an approachable and fact-friendly way.
The book is broken up into digestible pieces that teach you…
- how to utilize herbs from a novice perspective.
- how to create various kinds of tinctures and concoctions.
- how to handle each of the most important herbs.
- how to assess your needs and safely begin herbal treatment.
- how to not make yourself dead by doing something stupid.
There’s no question I won’t be able absorb all this book has to offer in one sitting. That’s why I intend to keep it nearby as a resource to access as I slowly increase my ability to understand and improve my own wellness.
“A self-help author who led a sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona was found guilty of three counts of negligent manslaughter on Wednesday…Jurors in the case against James Arthur Ray began deliberating after a four-month trial.
More than 50 people participated in the October 2009 sweat lodge that was meant to be the highlight of Ray’s five-day “spiritual warrior” seminar near Sedona. Three people died following the sauna-like ceremony meant to provide spiritual cleansing, 18 were hospitalised, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene.” – The Gaurdian
James Arthur Ray is a rather well-known and successful self-help “guru”. He has published bestselling books and has appeared on multiple television programs including The Today Show and Larry King Live.
On top of that, James is CEO of James Ray International and allegedly went to South America to study “traditional methods” like sleep deprivation and glass walking.
So to sum up. Ray’s got:
- Traditional training in exotic locales
- Hollywood appearances on TV and in movies
- Success in business
- Published books
- Tough-nosed approach to personal success
That’s a thick, powerful resume. Given his natural charisma is it any wonder that people in need of guidance fell into step with him?
The shocking thing is how such a seemingly robust career could be built upon a lethally flawed mindset, supported by questionable credentials revolving around “tough love” and “spiritual warriorship” . The bad part is that this isn’t a one-time misstep for Ray:
“Critics say Ray is a charlatan who preys upon the insecurities of the rich who are looking for meaning in life. They say he operates without regulation or oversight to verify accurate claims or safe methods. According to Grant Cardone, James Ray consulted him for methods in 2000 to increase sales at business seminars, and was warned to teach only sound business practices. After this time, Ray began incorporating sleep deprivation, fasting, fire and glass walking, and sweat lodge methods after studying in South America.
Former attendees of Ray’s seminars have reported unsafe practices and lack of properly trained medical staff in 2005. A New Jersey woman shattered her hand after she was pressured by Ray to participate in a quasi-martial arts board-breaking exercise. After several unsuccessful untrained attempts, the woman sustained multiple fractures during the seminar that was held at Disney World.
Participants of a Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” exercise in 2006, after signing waivers, were told to put a sharp point of an arrow used in archery against the soft part of the neck and lean against the tip. A man named Kurt sustained injuries during this exercise as the shaft snapped and the arrow point deeply penetrated his eyebrow.” – Wikipedia
Now the Obvious Question…
Does any of this seem familiar?
Ray is playing off of a concept known as “shugyo” in Japanese. Shugyo refers to a polishing of one’s spirit through considerable effort, pushing through self-imposed boundaries and finding deeper levels of enlightenment. Shugyo is sometimes an event that an individual undertakes, such as running a great distance or training in kata for hours until a new level of understanding reveals itself.
Different cultures express shugyo in different ways, but the core concept is an important part of many ancient societies.
What Ray did was collect what he thought was shugyo concepts and carelessly thrust individuals into the middle of them, creating a sink-or-swim environment that all too easily led to disaster.
The Martial Version
Ray’s transgressions are extreme, but this kind of behavior is more prevalent that you might suspect, especially in the realm of martial arts.
Uber-tough guys (and girls too) can be found in any given martial system. Glance around and you’ll find some gnarled old guy ready to tell you about how he used to knock people out, fight for 12 hours, sign blood oaths of dedication, etc etc. Look the other way and you’ll find some young guy with everything to prove, talking about choking people out, training until he pukes, etc etc.
These examples pale in comparison to Ray, but are still symptoms of the same ego-driven perversion of shugyo.
Pushing oneself hard during training is a critical part of growth, but can quickly become mentally and physically dangerous without proper guidance and a healthy amount of experience. Things truly become problematic when individuals take dangerous, misguided habits and attempt to apply them to others.
Even the most thickheaded martial artist has an idea of his/her own limitations. When they apply fierce training to themselves, they instinctively know when to pull back. What they don’t realize is the incredibly different needs and abilities of every single individual they come into contact with. Martial art schools are not Marine boot camps. The individuals coming into a dojo are not all going to be excellent physical specimens, carefully tested and guided to withstand extreme conditions.
Sure, you’ll find one or two pure athletes that can handle just about anything; but you’ll also have a whole bunch of people with full time jobs, kids, health conditions, fears, weight problems, social anxiety, injuries, and more.
The dojo can easily become a pseudo boot camp as led by the alpha-dog, weeding out the very individuals who need training and guidance the most.
Worse yet, the dojo can become a base of operations for a persuasive leader who hides behind things like shugyo to manipulate and abuse students, sometimes for money and sometimes for personal satisfaction.
When persuasion meets perversion we find situations like that of Harry Cook, a famous European martial artist and author who was arrested on multiple sexual assault charges (facts here, opinions here).
Stopping It the Only Way We Can
We can’t control the minds of other people, but we can control ourselves. It’s possible (with careful introspection) to identify when we allow ego, greed, and other natural human elements to creep up and influence us. We can observe cases like that of Ray or Cook and carefully learn from them.
Once we identify what the martial way is not, we can more easily guide our own training and assist those around us.