The Importance of Contact for Developing Strike Targeting

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.

Comments (4)

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Contact for Developing Strike Targeting

  1. A lot of people agree with you on this, but there are some who disagree. These people think that full contact should be used all the time as this is what is used in real combat.

    I persoanly think that full contact should NOT be used all the time, but definitly should be used regularly. Light contact keeps training safe fo people who cant afford to take days of work becuase of injury and cant afford to look like they have been mashed by Tyson. Good article.

  2. I agree you should know exactly where to hit and what the effect would be, if you always pull your punches then that's what going to be burned into your muscles and this is what you'll do in a fight. If you're going to strike someone you should always aim about 10 to 15 cm behind your intended target, this way you'll strike through him doing real damage and not just making superficial contact. I've even seen blocking exercises where the attacker punches the air in front of the defender's face instead of actually trying to hit him or her. This is totally ridiculous and useless (why defend when there's no way he'll be able to hit you) and teachers that encourage this habit (or even worse teach it) are incompetent and are not doing their students a favour. When doing blocking-exercises you should wear boxing-gloves and use light strikes: that way you can actually go for it and try to hit his face (simulating a real opponent) without doing damage when you do land a hit. A hit to the nose is never pleasant but at least it'll help improve your defensive capability (your block or evasion clearly wasn't there), something you'd never learn if all your partner does is waving a hand in front of the your face with no chance of actually scoring.

    I do not agree on full-contact as a training-method: this is dangerous and foolish and will most likely result in neck-injuries and/or brain-damage even with protective gear. Even pro-boxers do not spar full-contact so why should you? They know better than to risk serious injury before a fight and they only accept these risks when they're actually getting paid for it.

    Besides if you're training for real fighting with no rules you don't want to limit yourself to closed-fist strikes and there is no reliable way to spar open-handed without one of the participants getting seriously hurt. Just imagine the effect of a full-on strike with the handsword to the neck or throat and you'll know what I mean. People who actually like getting hit in the head with full power are either very brave or very stupid, still I fail to see why full-contact is better than light-contact.

    In any case a knock-out teaches you exactly nothing: the only information you gain from this is that your opponent was obviously better than you and that you need to work on your defense, a light-contact strike to the chin or jaw will let you know the same thing without acquiring brain-damage in the process.

  3. Yes, full contact sparring at full intensity is pointless in day-to-day training. Totally not worth the risks of injury.

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