A simple straight punch (choku tsuki) can tell a lot about you as a karateka because delivering a good punch with decent power is not easy. It requires a good understanding of body mechanics and thousands and thousands of hours of practicing correctly.

This post covers five principles that you should follow to maximize the power of your punches including having a solid base, involving whole body mass, relaxing, transferring power through, and practicing punching hard objects.

When you get all the basic elements right coupled with a lot of practice, you’ll be able to whip out impressive snappy punches with devastating power that look effortless.

Table of Contents

Have a solid base from which to launch your technique

The first thing you need to do to maximize the power of your punches is to have a solid base from which to launch your technique.

This is because the power of your technique does not originate from the arms or the hips but comes from the ground up.

Accordingly, in order to harness the power from the ground, you need to have a well-rooted stance to start with.

In order to understand this, think about pushing a car forward with your hands. If your feet are slipping in the sand and hence you have no solid base, you will have no pushing power. However, if your feet are able to grip a hard ground firmly, you will definitely have a lot of pushing power.

According to the legendary instructor Yoshimi Inoue, studies had been done to show that when professional boxers and karateka are suspended in mid-air with no contact with the ground, their punching power is gone and reduced to the power of the arm only.

You can test out this principle yourself by trying to punch in the following situations and see the differences in the power of your punches:

  • When you are suspended in mid-air or lying on the ground
  • When you are on one foot
  • While you are stepping
  • When you have both feet on the ground.

I bet that the most powerful punch you can produce is when you are in a well-rooted stance with both feet on the ground.

When you practice your karate punches from a natural stance like heiko dachi or hachiji dachi, this will not be a problem.

However, problems may emerge when you practice moving basics (kihon ido) or kata and don’t pay attention to getting your stances right first before executing your techniques.

For example, when transitioning from a heiko dachi to a zenkutsu dachi to punch, people have the tendency to step and punch at the same time. Some beginners even punch before they complete the transitioning move. Both approaches will significantly reduce the power of your punch.

The correct way is to step first and get into the stance or at least partially complete the stance (e.g. the stepping foot already touches the ground) before punching.

You may think that stepping first and then punching will slow you down but it does not in any significant way.

You just need to have both feet on the ground for a millisecond before punching to maximize the power that you can harness from the ground.

With lots of practice, any delay will be very little and hardly noticeable.

There will be fighting situations where you must punch while standing on one foot or when you are suspended in mid-air and you just have to do what you can in such situations. But at least you know that in those situations your punch is not the best it could be.

Involve as much muscle mass as possible

The second thing that you need to do to maximize the power of your punches is to involve as much body mass as possible.

You may be familiar with Newton’s second law of motion which states that the rate of change of velocity of an object is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force applied and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.

Newton’s second law of motion is formally written as a = Fnet / m but is often rearranged into a more familiar equation below:

Fnet = m • a

Where Fnet is the net force, m is the amount of matter in an object and a is the acceleration rate or rate of change of velocity.

You can see clearly in the above formulae why you need to involve as much body mass as possible to maximize the power of your punch or any other karate techniques (we’ll talk about the second variable, the rate of acceleration, below).

If you just punch with your arm without involving the torso at all, there will be about 5% to 6% of total body mass involved and there is very little power produced there.

If you involve the shoulder and the arm, the power of your punch will increase substantially because around 20% of the body mass is used in generating the punching force.

If you use your tandien or the center of gravity to whip out a punch and hence involve almost the entire body mass (70-80% or more), your punch will have incredible destructive power.

The force of your punch will increase around 10 times by involving the whole body compared to using just your arm.

And to involve the whole body mass in a punch or any other technique, you need to work on your hip rotation.

Think of your hips as your engine that drives the punch. Your hips are what initiate the punch, not the punching arm itself.

By rotating or driving the hips in the direction of your punch, you harness the power from the ground and transmit it to the punching arm and to the opponent.

Some even pull back the hips slightly before thrusting and driving the hips forward to further increase the range of movement and the power of the punch. This is similar to pulling the string of a bow before releasing and shooting an arrow.

In the video below, Masaaki Ikemiyagi Sensei, a 9th dan Goju-Ryu master, demonstrated punching the makiwara for a reporter.

Ikemiyagi Sensei said that he’d use all the muscles in the body including the waist, hips, and legs and the feeling would be like crushing the enemy’s bones with his punches.

And he broke the makiwara after just two punches!

He commented afterward that it was not easy to break a makiwara (we absolutely believe you, Sensei!) and that sort of incident didn’t happen very often but that was the result when he used 100% of his power.

You can clearly see that at 5.28, he pulled his shoulder back and applied the whole body mass in his punches.

Empty your mind and relax your body

The third thing that you need to do to maximize the power of your punches is to empty your mind and relax your body. This is the muchimi concept unique to Okinawan karate that refers to a flexible, relaxing, and fluid way of generating power.

Tension in your mind means tension in your body and tension will slow you down, reduce the speed of your technique and ultimately reduce the power of your punches.

Similarly, when your muscles are tense and rigid, it takes your nervous system longer to transmit electrical stimuli to the muscles and nerve fibers. This will impede the speed of your techniques and adversely affect their power.

Instead of thinking about how to be faster and stronger, think about relaxing your body and letting go of all your worries and thoughts and speed will come naturally.

Breathe naturally. Relax your shoulders, your hips, and your arms. If any part of your body is tense, it will impede the transferring of power from the ground up to your torso, then to your arm and your fist.

In the formulae derived from Newton’s second law of motion mentioned above, the acceleration rate or rate of change of velocity is what matters, not speed itself.

However, the same principle still applies. By relaxing and removing all tension as well as practicing a lot, the punching motion will become natural to you and you will be able to accelerate at a faster rate and increase the power of your punches accordingly.

Transfer all of your punching power through

In order to maximize the power of your punch, you need to aim to transfer all power through to the opponent at the moment of contact.

This is also a concept practiced in traditional Okinawan karate.

If you want to punch someone in the face, aim for the back of his head, i.e. your fist needs to go all the way through, past the initial target, and hence transfer all the power of the punch through to the opponent.

If you think of contraction and pulling back at the moment of contact (taught by some Shotokan instructors), you will reduce the destructive power of your punch.

Instead, there should be a feeling of expansion to let the power go through freely and never a feeling of contraction or pulling back at the kime moment.

In the above video, Masaaki Ikemiyagi Sensei mentioned that he had the feeling of crushing the enemy’s bones with his punches. Well, you won’t crush anyone’s bones if you are pulling back or contracting when you make contact with the opponent.

Yoshimi Inoue sensei also compares punching with throwing a ball or a car crash.

When throwing a ball your arm would go through all the way before letting go of the ball. There is no stopping of the arm. What stops the arm to go any further is the body. What stops the punching fist to go any further is also the body, not the fist itself.

Similarly, when you crash your car, the car (analogous to the body) stops, but the driver (analogous to the punching arm), continues to travel forward.

You can watch Yoshimi Inoue’s demonstration of this principle here.

Practice punching the makiwara or other hard objects

The next thing you need to do is to put all the above principles together and practice punching a real object, be it a makiwara, a punching bag, a padded tree trunk, a homemade sandbag, or a willing training partner.

You can air punch thousands and thousands of times and your punches may look snappy and fast but the only way to test out the actual power of your punches is to actually punch a real object.

I think the best tool to use is a makiwara because it provides feedback and progressive resistance that punching bags can’t. The harder you punch a makiwara, the more it bends and bounces back whereas punching bags provide consistent feedback.

If you don’t have a makiwara, any hard object is still way better than thin air.

If you can’t afford a punching bag or can’t install a makiwara at home, you can easily make a punching bag yourself. Cutting out the leg of an old jeans and filling it up with sand and you will have a very sturdy bag to work on. Wrapping some padding on a tree trunk is another alternative.

If you are worried about damaging your hands while punching the makiwara or other hard objects, try to work on it slowly but consistently.

On the first time you practice with a makiwara, if you punch with 100% of your potential power, you are likely to injure your hands or wrists because they are not yet conditioned to deliver such power.

Therefore, go for 30% to 40% power and punch for about 5 minutes only at the beginning and then build up from there.

As the strength of your arms increases and your hand knuckles are more conditioned, you can progressively increase the power of your punch as well as the duration of your practice.

Some karate masters work with the makiwara for 30 minutes every day but you don’t have to do that if you are worried about arthritis or other problems in old age.

You can practice with the makiwara every other day or once every few days only.

You can also practice punching mostly with about 60 to 70% power and only occasionally punch with 100% power to test out the maximum of your ability. That way you know what you are capable of when you actually need it.

When you have trained with it [the makiwara] for several months, your fist is well capable of crushing several roof tiles and wooden boards with a single blow.

Choki Motobu

Practice punching a lot

Neither great tips, correct principles, nor the best sensei can do a lot to help improve your punching power unless you practice punching a lot, gradually understand body mechanics, and create muscle memory in the process.

With a lot of consistent practice and, hopefully, correct practice over a long period of time, powerful punches will become natural to you. And when the time does come, you will be able to deliver powerful and explosive techniques without much effort.

The best you can do to become a good karate fighter is to train regularly and to work hard for a long time.

Perseverance means talent in karate. You are good at some things not because you were born with it, but because you have the one talent you need — perseverance.

Good students are always those who train a lot.

Masaaki Ikemiyagi Sensei, Hanshi 9th dan, Goju-ryu

Soto Uke Technique and Applications

Karate vs BJJ: Which One Is Better for Self-Defense?

How to Improve Your Kata Performance: 5 Surprising Tips

This One Tip Will Massively Improve Your Karate Skills

How to Systematically Improve Your Karate Sparring

Shotokan’s Complete System of Kumite Practice (Part 1)

Shotokan’s Complete System of Kumite Practice (Part 2)

Shotokan’s Complete System of Kumite Practice (Part 3)


“Returning to the source” by Joe M. Fraguas, Fall 2012, Martial Arts Masters

Force, mass and acceleration

Masaaki Ikemiyagi Sensei

Tsuki – Wikipedia