I had a great realization about training the punch from Sifu Mcinnes this week, that’s further down below. But first, earlier in the day, when I was really dragging, I took a lesson from Spongebob. That first.
Despite very good training and positive things going on for me, I’ve been feeling a bit down the past few days. Sometimes when I get really tired in training my emotions just become volatile, to the point that I’ll cry for absolutely no reason at all. That’s a bit awkward, but I can train through it and my trainers don’t seem to mind too much as long as they know I’m okay. But today in padwork with Kru Mutt I was on the verge of tears and feeling bad about myself, so on my way over to Petchrungruang for my second afternoon session I tried to find a way out of my emotional ditch. There are studies on manipulating facial expressions and this kind of thing – you force a smile and your mood lifts a bit – but I’ve never had much success with that.
Out of nowhere, I remembered the Spongebob Squarepants episode Kevin and I had watched the other night. Spongebob is singing as he walks to work, basically just singing in narration that he is walking to work. He’s an idiot. But he’s a blissful idiot. I laughed and started singing his song, changing the words for my own situation. It made me feel better, honestly – I was riding my motorbike and singing. I was feeling sad for no reason, so I could feel happy for no reason also. If there’s a why to your emotion then it’s harder to just change it by singing a song or being goofy; but for this case, it worked. Now I have to figure out how to do that while being punched in the face. Maybe I’ll just narrate being punched in the face in song form.
my vlog update about it below:
Street Fighter – Don’t Shadow box with Loose Hands
And then later that same day I got completely pumped by something Sifu McInnes taught us in Karate class. Sifu is an incredible teacher with a lifetime in Martial Arts, so over that time he has distilled some of the best lessons about being a fighter into these very simple concepts. They’re easy to miss because they’re so simple, to the point that a fool would say, “I already know that.” Do you? Maybe you do, but how well are you applying it? That’s the difference – Sifu may tell you something you think you already know but you discover you’re not doing it and suddenly you’re steps above where you were before he said it. It’s so inspiring.
On this day he was explaining something I didn’t already know, but once I realized it it really struck me: how you use shadowboxing as a mental training exercise, convincing yourself that you can destroy someone with your hands. With one punch. I got absolutely stoked (and exhausted) as we applied this during class and when I came home I was ranting at Kevin, who was bright enough to grab the camera and tell me to start over. In visualizing being able to wreck someone, I immediately thought of a videogame from my childhood: Street Fighter, in which your avatar gets bonus points for how well you can demolish a brick wall or a car in the time alotted for the task. Visualizing myself, my real self, in the stead of Blanca (who I always played as; he’s good for button-mashing) was illuminating. I feel like it changed my entire approach to shadowboxing, bagwork and padwork in a single moment. You don’t see the world as it is; you see the world as you are. So be a fucking wrecking ball.
A little about balling your fists, intention and being tense. Some redditors on Reddit protested that balling up your fists makes you tense, and the point of shadow boxing is to relax. This is true, there is a lot more tension involved in making a fist than there is in having open, relaxed hands. But the point of the clenched fist, as Sifu was having us practice, is to mentally focus all your power right in the end of your knuckles – basically turning your hands into stones with which you can shatter your opposition. With some mindfulness and experience, you can focus your tension almost entirely into your fists and a bit of your forearms, which will not tire you out as you shadowbox. If you have unfocused tension, riding all the way up into your biceps and shoulders and affecting your breathing, you will certainly tire quickly and struggle to shadow like this for very long. However, in the Karate class where Sifu had us practicing this, we shadowed for well over 15-20 minutes like this, with some breaks for explanation in between – it wasn’t a problem.
The second part of the difference between the loose hand and the tight hand for shadowboxing is what intention you are practicing. You do not spend all five rounds of a fight with tightened fists, chasing after your opponent. You clench the fist when you are going to power-strike and what you’re training in the exercise of focusing all your intention into your fists is how to wreck someone with a single punch. You are shadowing power punches. Just as many folks shadow with a loose hand for speed and movement and relaxation, you wouldn’t try to knock someone out with a loose hand like that. You’d risk breaking your hand. Some degree of tension is needed for effectiveness and protection of your own wrist and little hand bones.
Neung at Lanna, a former WBC western boxing champion, taught me how to punch with a semi-open hand, so that only the front knuckles touched and good GOD, it hurts. It’s pointy and sharp. But you hurt someone with very little force behind it; these aren’t power punches that Neung was teaching me. They were how to cause pain with very little force. When he would punch hard, he would clench his fist. Some of the comments on Reddit have been to the effect that you are relaxed all the time and then tense your hand only at the last moment before impact. That makes perfect sense and indeed, when I’m trying to explain clinching to new training partners I have to express over and over again that you’re not muscling around the whole time. It’s relax, relax, relax, then sudden tension to move someone or jerk them in a direction for a knee. But, but, your state of relaxation as you move around in the clinch is not a limp noodle kind of relaxed. It’s still very strong, but it’s a sustainable degree of tension. I remember the first time Sylvie Charbonneau grabbed me for the clinch a few years ago, just the power in her “neutral grip” alone made me think holy shit! I have that now; it’s very strong, it’s very powerful, but it’s not a draining kind of tension. That’s the kind of tension you’re putting into the ends of your arms and fists when you shadow power punches. You can add more tension at the last moment of impact, but you’re not a limp noodle at every moment before that. That kind of shadowboxing can be meditative in a different way, but unless you’ve already got some advanced, stellar footwork to go with it, you’re not training bringing body weight with any of those punches. You tense up an arm to form it into one piece for a body hook and your whole body has to come with it for execution. That, to me, is a good thing to practice.
The mentality of this exercise is what got me so excited that I freaked out in this video at home. It’s very, very hard to think to yourself that you’re going to punch through a wall with a loose hand. But I do have to add that this exercise is designed for a bare fist. Sifu’s style of Karate is practiced in competition with no gear; no gloves. So the tension in the hand, as I mentioned before, is very much needed to protect the bones and the wrist. Indeed, when I try to clench my fist this hard inside a glove, it’s difficult. My thumb can’t wrap over the fingers the way it can in a bare fist, so the tension is different. The tension is actually more of that tiring sort (so far). But the mental intention can remain because I’ve visualized crashing through those walls, breaking bones, dropping my opponent with a bare fist. Your wearing grooves and pathways in your mind. If you’re convinced you can break through a door with a bare fist, you’re probably pretty well convinced you can do it with a glove on.
In any case, this is a work in progress, and I like to inform you all of what I’m working on as I develop it, so you too can experiment with it if you like. I’d love to interview Sifu about this balling of the fist and how it develops power punching, hope to have that soon. He’s helped develop some very powerful strikers, among whom are Peter Aerts and mini-Tyson Yodsanan.
And yes, “Sifu” is a Chinese honorific. Sifu McInnes has his roots in Chinese martial arts, and teaches Shorin Kempo Karate which is based on Chinese principles.