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…
In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we first emphasize the importance of gross motor skills in our core curriculum as it makes the techniques easier to learn and apply in a real self-defense situations. That being said, if all we ever trained in was gross motor skills, there would no long term development for us as martial artists.
It’s all well and good to learn to aim strikes for broader surfaces we you first start to train, like the head/neck areas or center body mass where there is a good chance of hitting a variety of potent targets. But as you train, you ultimately want to start aiming for specific target locations to increase the effects of your strikes. This is one aspect of striking that I consider to be a fine motor skill that we teach. (more…)
I’ve been to lots of different dojos, some that were the same art (Jiu-jitsu) but a different styles, and some that were different martial arts altogether. One concept that I have come to appreciate in my own style is that of training strikes with light contact.
One of our training rules that we apply every time we’re on the mats, is that when we train with our ukes all strikes should be practices with light contact, about 2-5% power (to start with) depending on the person’s strength. There are several reasons why, which I would like to elaborate on in this post.
1) Targeting. A number of the targets we use are nerve motor points (i.e. brachial plexus origin, solar plexus, lateral femoral, anterior femoral, etc). These targets all have very specific locations and are by far more effective when accurately targeted. Anyone who has trained these targets knows that, in some cases, the difference between being on and off target can be as small as millimetres. The only way to develop an intuitive feel for the locations is to get feedback from your ukes all the time. Eventually, your muscle memory takes over and you don’t have to intellectualize it. And that’s when the use of those targets becomes really useful. This also applies to some targets that are not nerve motor points, like the groin. Of course, we wear cups so that we more safely practice our targeting, but even with the groin protection, it’s important not to use much more than 2-5% power for obvious reasons.
2) Time-On-Target (TOT). This concept makes strikes to nerve motor points even more effective. When we strike these types of targets, we emphasize leaving the striking surface (whether it’s your elbow, knee, fist, forearm, shin bone etc.) on the target location for 3/4 of a second. This allows the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into the target, increasing the effects. Think of it like hammering a nail. If you hammer a nail and pull the hammer back as it strikes, the nail doesn’t go in as far. Conversely, if you hammer the nail and leave on the nail head, the nail drives in much further.
3) Understanding the effects. If a student doesn’t understand the effects of their strikes from the uke’s perspective, they won’t be able to help other students with their targeting. Also, when a student knows what it feels like to receive blows to the various nerve motor points, it gives them respect for the power that comes from their use. Nerve motor points like the lateral femoral, anterior femoral, radial nerve, etc. can cause great pain. While points like the brachial plexus origin can knock a person out, and the solar plexus can leave a person winded and breathless. By training with contact, students will understand and respect how effective striking to nerve motor points can be and will not be as likely to “goof around” with them amongst their non-practicing friends and family.
I can understand many dojos’ reluctance to train with contact. They fear that it might get out of hand and that students will get hurt. And even if students don’t get hurt, they may find the process altogether intimidating and not want to train. But contact need not be injurious or intimidating. Students should start by doing very light contact at slow speeds, gradually increasing the speed and power levels as they come to understand the effects. I’ve used this method with even the meekest, mildest individuals with positive results.
Without any contact training… well, I’ve seen high level martial art practitioners doing strikes with little to no understanding of the targets that they, in theory, are trying to affect. And from watching these people strike targets, it’s easy to question whether they would be able to affect an attacker in a real situation in the way they intend.