Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

How To: Perfect Patterns Punches

Taekwon-Do punch 1

If you tally up all the hand and foot techniques used in the patterns, I would be surprised if anything is used more often than the good ol’ punch. I suppose that makes sense: a good punch is easy and effective.

To form a proper fist, tightly curl your fingers into your hand and wrap your thumb underneath the middle joint of the index and middle fingers. The point of contact for the forefist is the base knuckles of those same two fingers.

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The first bone of your thumb crosses the index and middle fingers.

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Hit the target with these two knuckles.

Try to keep your knuckles in a straight line. Don’t put uneven tension on the pinky-finger side of your hand. This will make your fist deform.

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Putting too much tension on the pinky side of your hand will twist your fist into a gnarled mess.

Move your fist slightly toward your outer forearm so all of your bones align from your punching knuckles through your hand and wrist to your forearm.

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Keeping your bones in line will help protect your fist.

Also, don’t bend your wrist up or down. Keep it aligned with your forearm.

All this aligning helps you deliver as much power as possible into your target and, more importantly, helps keep you from hurting your hand or wrist.

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Don’t bend your fist upward.

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Don’t bend it downward, either.

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Keep it straight, like this.

You don’t need to keep your fist tightly clenched throughout the whole punch—this will just slow you down and make you look stiff. Instead, keep a slightly relaxed fist shape throughout the punch and clench at the moment of impact. The same goes for your arms and shoulders: they should be relaxed throughout the technique, only tensing at the last instant. Once your punch has reached full extension and has stopped, relax your body again.

Your fist starts at your hip, with the backfist facing the ground, and will rotate 180 degrees as it travels (so the backfist will finish facing the ceiling). Much of this rotation will happen at the very end of the punch, when your arm is almost fully extended. Your opposite fist (a.k.a. the reaction hand) does much the same thing, but in reverse. It will rotate to finish at your hip with the backfist facing the ground.

The punching hand and reaction hand should travel at the same speed, in opposite directions. So your reaction hand should reach your hip at the same time that your punching arm is fully extended.

Let’s first walk through the punch in a sitting stance, to take stepping out of the equation. We’ll punch with the right hand, so start with your right fist at your hip and your left hand extended. As your knees bend for the first “down” portion of your sine wave (don’t worry, we’ll get more into sine wave in other articles), your right fist will move forward slightly and your left arm will bend slightly. As you rise up, your left arm will straighten most of the way and your right hand will pull back slightly behind your hip. As you start to settle back down into your sitting stance, your right hand will make a tight arc up to your ribs and shoot straight forward. The path your fist travels is like a narrow ‘J’ shape.

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See how the punching hand moves forward then back before punching? Likewise, the reaction hand moves back and then forward before pulling back to the hip.

For a middle punch, your knuckles should finish at the same height as your shoulder. For a high punch, they should finish at the same height as your eyes. In both cases, the punch should finish on the centreline of your body (in a vertical line with your nose).

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Your forefist should be in line with your nose.

Try to keep your back straight. You shouldn’t be leaning forward or backward. Your shoulders should also be in a neutral position. Don’t let your punch pull your shoulder forward.

Punching in walking stance

When performing a middle punch in a walking stance, your fist should make a vertical line with the end of your big toe. Because a high punch is on an angle, it will be a little farther back.

If your punch comes from the same side of your body as your bent leg (i.e. your front leg), it’s called an obverse punch. For example, if your right leg is bent and you are punching with your right hand, that would be a right obverse punch.

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An obverse punch. When performing a middle punch, the fist forms a vertical line with the toes.

If you’re punching with the opposite hand from your bent leg, it’s called a reverse punch. For example, if your right leg is bent and you punch with your left fist, that would be a left reverse punch.

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A reverse punch.

Punching in L-stance

“Obverse” doesn’t always refer to the front hand. In the case of an L-stance, your obverse punch comes from your rear hand because that’s the leg that’s bent more. When performing an obverse punch in L-stance, make sure to keep your body in a half-facing posture. Your fist still finishes on the centreline of your body (under your nose) and your arm should be parallel to your front foot.

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An obverse punch in L-stance comes from the rear side. I’m making a mistake here, in that I’m looking at the camera, not in the direction of the punch. My bad.

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A top-down diagram. No , this person isn’t shooting lasers. That’s the angle of both your front foot and your punch.

A reverse punch in L-stance comes from your front hand. As with the obverse punch (and all techniques in L-stance), keep your body in a half-facing posture. This time, your arm is not parallel to your front foot. Rather, it shoots straight forward.

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A reverse punch in L-stance comes from the front side.

The same rules apply for punches delivered from rear foot stance, vertical stance and fixed stance.

Now go and perfect your punches!

  • rocket

    I was informed that the back foot in L-stance should point slightly forward, not straight to the side as in your picture above. I can’t make it work. The body is supposed to lean back 70% to the supporting foot (which is fine), but they want they want the support foot pointed slightly forward which is in conflict with the body leaning backwards. My body mechanics protests at this incompatibility.

    • You’re right. I didn’t notice that. I should re-take those photos. The angle of the feet is small (only 15 degrees). The easiest way I find to learn the proper position is to start by standing with your legs straight and feet pointing straight forward/to the side (at a 90-degree L-shape). Then turn your feet to the proper angles. Let’s pretend your left foot is in front: your left foot would turn 15 degrees to the right and your right foot would turn 15 degrees to the front. Measure those angles from the big-toe side of your foot. And remember, 15 degrees is not much. From there, bend your rear knee and push your hip back to get into position.

      It may very well be the case that your body just won’t let you do it. If so, keep working at it, but don’t stress over it. Most instructors will understand when a biomechanical issue simply won’t let a student perform a technique the way it’s described in the Encyclopedia. Staying safe and injury-free is much more important than getting flawless pattern technique.

      • rocket

        I can do it, but it’s an unnatural position compared to the one in your picture above. Isn’t it pretty indicative when, without knowing it, you put your foot to the side as well, and not 15 degrees turned, despite 3 dan and so much experience. I was curious about your opinions of the body mechanics involved in the stance. Walking stance however is much more natural.

        • Oh, I agree. Turning the *front* foot doesn’t feel unnatural to me, but I still have to consciously think about the rear foot sometimes. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable or anything, it just gets lazy and doesn’t want to turn, even though I think it’s in the right place. I’ve never heard an explanation of why the feet are supposed to be turned in L-stance, and I honestly have no guesses. I don’t feel any more or less stable or mobile with my rear foot straight vs. angled.

          I just cracked open my Encyclopedia out of interest and noticed two things. 1) The photos also seem to show a straight rear foot. I suspect part of it is just the perspective from the angle of the photos. 2) It says it’s “recommended” to turn the feet in about 15 degrees, not required.