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.
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The other day I revisited a cartoon I used to watch as a kid. After about 10 minutes I realized I was gritting my teeth and wondering what the heck was going on.
The plot was nonexistent and the voice acting made me want to find the mute button in a hurry. Nevertheless, when I was young this cartoon made all the sense in the world and I loved it.
Was I wrong as a kid to hold it up as greatness? Am I wrong now for seeing it differently? No. I simply have a different mind today than I did all those years ago.
Of course, growing out of a cartoon isn’t a very monumental personal development. But there are more subtle examples of how the mind can develop year to year, week to week, and day to day.
Books, in general, are read once and then filed away. Every now and then one stands out to each of us in such a way that it demands closer inspection. Most prudent martial artists have a few specific books about the arts that they deem exceptional, and have revisited them from time to time.
The important thing about special books isn’t the raw information but the complexity of the concepts; the depth of the insight that reveals more over time, and improves as the reader’s experience improves.
The cartoon of my childhood was entertaining, but it lacked depth. On the contrary, I can watch certain movies that I grew up with and experience them like they are brand new, filled with powerful emotion and drama.
I’m not suggesting you should go reread old books (although you should). Nor am I suggesting you should revisit old movies (although you could). What I’m saying is that every day you have a new mind. Sometimes the difference between yesterday and today is infinitesimally small. But of course, the depth of that development is entirely on you.
Every time you step into the dojo you are bringing a new set of experiences, a deeper wisdom, and a broadened outlook. Just how much of that growth you supply is dictated by your desire to learn new things and keep an open mind.
This reality is critical when practicing the fundamentals of your system, sometimes called “basics” or “kihon”. Every time you execute a technique you have a chance to see it in a new light with new context. Your mind today can see with better potential than you could yesterday. Of course, not every repetition will result in spontaneous enlightenment, and if you get entirely lost inside your own mind you’ll soon feel mental fatigue. As in all things there should be balance. Indeed, sometimes quieting the mind through pure physical expression can be more valuable than analysis. Regardless, the decision should be conscious and aimed at higher goals.
If you find yourself settling for “knowing enough” or going through the motions, then you’ve allowed yourself to become stagnant. Participation without thought and emotion is a waste of Today’s Mind, and a disservice to yourself.
After a hard evening’s workout, a sweat drenched student approached her instructor. She shuffled her feet for a moment, then asked, “Sensei why do we always do our blocks the same?”
The sensei replied, “Because that is how my sensei always taught them. We are carrying on tradition.”
The girl asked, “But why did he do it that way?”
The sensei replied, “Because that is how his teacher taught him! You know, I’ve explained the fundamentals of our blocks, the physics of our movements and how each block compliments our stances. I’m surprised you don’t know all this already! Certainly by your rank you should know.”
The girl responded, “Yes, but I was just wondering if there is no better way to do it. Are we sure we are doing it the best way?”
The sensei replied, “Yes of course. This way has always proven effective for me and those that have gone before me. Are you doubting your own system?”
The girl responded, “Not doubting, just curious.”
The sensei learned a valuable lesson that evening.
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