How to Practice Good Strike Targeting

A little while back I discussed the importance of good strike targeting in my post The Difference between Fine & Gross Motor Striking Skills. But how does one improve their targeting skill? Here are 3 different ways to actively improve your strike targeting:

1. Make Contact. Whenever safe to do so, make contact with your intended target. It makes it a lot easier see if your targeting is accurate rather than doing your strike “in the air.” While this is not possible to do safely for all targets, like the nose and eyes for example, with most targets, you can make light contact in a safe manner. Nerve motor points (i.e. solar plexus, brachial plexus origin, lateral femoral, etc.) can easily be practiced safely, restricting the amount of force applied to 5-10% depending on your uke. You can also make light contact to the ribs with an elbow. If you’re receiving strikes to the solar plexus or rib area, make sure you tense your abdominal muscles and breathe out to lessen the effects of the impact because even a light strike can cause you discomfort if you’re not expecting it. If the students in your dojo wear groin protectors like we do, strikes to that area can also be practiced with contact. If contact cannot be made safely, just make sure your strikes are well placed and that if you were to follow through, you would clearly be making contact.

2. Communicate. The beauty of making contact is that your uke can help you improve your targeting by letting you know when you’re on or off target and by helping you to make adjustments so that you improve. People should not be shy or arrogant about doing so, nor should people be embarrassed if they’re not perfect. It is all part of the learning process. You don’t even necessarily need to talk much about it, you can let the partner know even just by taking their striking surface, whether it’s a fist or an elbow and repositioning it casually.

3. Practice on Moving Partners. Once you’ve started getting a good sense of targeting on a static, compliant uke, you should move on to practicing on moving, non-compliant uke. So rather than having your uke bear hug you and just stand there, like you would when you were just a beginner, you should have your uke bear hug you and pull or push you around more so that his targets are harder to access. Another way you can practice on the move is by reacting to your attacker as she moves in rather than waiting for the grab.

Actively practicing good targeting is important because when you’re in the mud and the blood and the beer, you ideally want your strikes to hit accurately instinctively, without having to think about it. But when the combat stress is high and your adrenaline is pumping, the less well trained you are, the less likely you are to hit accurately. Something to think about…

Comments (6)

6 thoughts on “How to Practice Good Strike Targeting

  1. Very true, this is why it's important to only select broad surfaces and weak anatomical locations rather than going for specific pressure points that are only an inch wide and will do nothing if you don't hit them accurately. An exercise we sometimes do (my teacher picked it up from his karate days) is to have the uke just stand there while tori throws strikes at every possible target as fast and as accurate as possible, this goes on for 2 minutes and it involves rotating around your opponent, moving back and forth… This way you're focussed on the target itself and not bothered by the need to perform a whole sequence. Especially with beginners you have to make sure they place their strikes accurately: if you give a backward elbow it should land on the solar plexus, if you miss even by a few inches it'll likely not do much, especially if the guy's pretty muscled. A great way to improve accuracy while still being able to hit hard is to use the focus mitts and/or body protection and a helmet: with the focus mitts you'll immidiately feel and hear when the strike's not right in the center, the body protector is great since you'll be able to just go nuts on him without causing injuries. The helmet is nice to simulate the effect of a good strike on the attacker, although it's still quite possible to knock someone out even while he's wearing a helmet so care should be taken.

    Good post,


    PS: when praticing strikes to the face you should try to stop as close to it as you can and your partner feels comfortable with. What is especially important is not to extend your arm all the way as if just making skin contact is enough: for a strike to be effective it should go THROUGH the target, not just graze it. Just how far you should aim behind the opponent's head is a matter of controversy: I've heard anything from 5 to 20cm. What's your opinion, Lori?

  2. Thanks for your comments Zara. As for your question, it depends on the strike and the reach of the person throwing the strike.

    You don't want to aim too far past the target because the resistance of the body you're hitting will prevent you from getting full follow-through and therefore, full use of your muscles & body structure, which gives you the full power of your strike. With a punch, for example, you don't want to aim to strike all the way to the back of the body, you want to aim so that you can extend about one fist length past your target (the distance from your wrist to your knuckles when making a fist).

    This is stuff I mostly picked up from training in boxing then applying the theory to a variety of strikes in Jiu-jitsu.

  3. Strike targeting is often more challenging than many people think. A simple way to illustrate this is to use the focus mitts. Try to strike the mitts as your partner moves them slowly around. You'd be surprised how slow the movement can be that makes you miss.

    Off this topic, congratulations on your wedding. We make and enjoy a wonderful group of friends during the study of martial arts. I am happy you have found an even stronger bond.

    Off that topic, great post on women's self defense strategies for dealing with someone you know. Too often, not enough time or thought is given to the stages leading up to the combat response stage. It is always challenging to provide advice on the dynamic of this type of violence or assault. Well done.

  4. In JKD there's a semi-advanced drill witht the focus-mitts: you try to jab the mitt while your partner tries to move it away at the very last moment… This teaches you to be less telegraphic and to fake once in a while while your partner learns to anticipate the strike. It also teaches you to avoid locking out the elbow, which can provide for painful results when you're not making contact. Also, you shouldn't always strike with full power: a jab or a fingerjab should land first and foremost, damage is secondary since that should come primarely from the follow-up.


  5. Journeyman, thanks for your comments and your congrats. Always appreciated!

    Zara, I like the idea of that JKD drill. Many people don't realize that every strike is not going to be a "money" shot and using too much force at the wrong moment can leave you vulnerable and can even cause you injury. Excellent point!

  6. I couldn't agree more on that, striking practice should hit. Even though it have to exercised with care, this is a good way in achieving the full potential of benefits in a practice.

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