Image showing a Karate punch

When people think of karate the common thought is people dressed in white pyjamas standing in lines punching the air with one hand chambered by their side also known as the karate punch. The most common question in the dojo (training hall) from students is why do we have to practice punching in this fashion?

To effectively answer this question we need to look at the components that make up a punch or the karate punch and how can we effectively increase efficiency of these individual areas to increase the efficacy of the punch or strike. The punch has three main stages, and these are: the trigger, free flight and impact. By practicing punches in the air you can develop the trigger and also free flight (to a degree), however to develop and obviously test the impact phase you have to hit things (pads, boards, people).

By practicing punches in this ‘karate’ fashion it allows the student to develop this trigger phase as this is the principle phase where the power is generated. Similar to an arrow being fired we must have some tension in the muscle fibres and tendons to give the punch that explosive acceleration. This tension is achieved from pulling the elbow back while the body moves forwards. Once the tension is developed in the muscles the punch is then released into free flight accelerating towards the target. In a more practical or combat scenario we would be crazy to withdraw our hand before punching for multiple reasons and so in this scenario we throw our shoulder and body towards the target and this develops tension and the punch follows.

The second stage of the punch also known as free flight involves the punching arm being as relaxed as possible. Generally this is possible, however the human body has an innate self protection mechanism where by it will not allow you to perform a movement that will cause it harm. So without a solid target being in sight your brain will not allow your arm to reach maximum acceleration and effectively remain tension free.

The final stage also known as the impact phase involves connecting with a target. So either hitting pads, boards or people. Obviously punching the air does not develop impact and so here at Gakusei karate we get students to practice techniques in the air and also while striking pads, boards and occasionally each other too.


So now when you are next in a karate dojo don’t look at this form of punching as a waste of time, instead look deeper below the surface and look at why you are performing these movements and also what principles can be learnt from practicing in this fashion. The above stages do not just apply to straight punches, they can be applied to hooks, uppercuts and even strikes such as backfists too. 

When you next see someone throwing a straight punch you can tell them the components of the so called karate punch.


If you enjoyed this article why not check out our article below palm strikes v punches.