August 24th Update: Shadow boxing, and getting into a groove.

Today is day three of the week, and the first training day this week around that actually felt really, really good. I woke up with a decent night’s sleep of roughly over eight hours, started my day with the first cup of coffee since the weekend (was withdrawal my problem all along?) got work done and even played the violin — but what really highlighted this Wednesday and set it apart from the rest of the week was the fact that I kickstarted my striking training.

Striking training, you ask?

A month ago, if you’d asked me why I don’t just drill katas and watch Taekwondo how-to videos to start off with, I would have told you that learning without a teacher and regular sparring would be a waste of time as I would develop terrible technique.

That might be true for kicks and grappling, but not necessarily for punches and footwork. Why? Because I’ve already learned how to move, weave and punch. All I needed to do was refresh that, and get it back into my regular training.

It hadn’t occurred to me to do that until I heard a particular segment in Joe Rogan’s latest Fight Companion, from August 6th, where he and his friends were talking about the training of one particular boxer who began his training routine with a slow, systematic and perfected shadow boxing session. Every jab, cross, hook, and uppercut was done slowly, methodically, snapping only at the last second to train that impact.

Starting my shadow boxing journey. 

From there, the group discussed the benefits of starting shadow boxing and shadow kicking in the air in practical slow motion before beginning bag work. Muscle memory, it was — to help fighters master their movement, focus on each aspect of every individual strike, and finally, snap through the air so by the time they get to bag work, their attacks go through the bag rather than bouncing off it.

Then, a little later, they went off on a tangent about how impressive the boxer’s technique was, specifically because he nearly perfected a movement that absolutely anyone can do — even with the most basic of flexibility, throwing a punch just right is pretty much a matter of direction for any able-bodied person. A kick to the head, on the other hand, requires more hip drive, intense power, better flexibility, and in the more acrobatic cases, the ability to explode and recover over and over again. That’s when I realized that all I had to do to start getting into striking before getting a coach or finding a local class with sensible training times was basically perform kata — shadow boxing, shadow kicking, hold kicks, doing everything slowly and methodically for five to ten minutes, before spending the next ten minutes training speed and footwork.

As per my updated training protocol, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. In the mornings, after my first batch of articles, I’ll do my HIIT circuit and then move on to shadow boxing and holding kicks. Then, on weightlifting days, my 10-minute warm-up will be followed up by shoulder rotations and some more shadow boxing. Finally, snappy footwork drills and slow punches between sets — not enough to get me out of a rested state, but enough to imprint the movement into my brain.

The key to good striking. 

My first martial art was Taekwondo, and I sucked massively. I got kicked in a sparring session once and literally ran away. I’m not sure what’s changed since then, but over the next decade, I developed a love for training and eventually martial arts. When I finally did get a teacher, he made sure to tell me over and over again what was most important in learning how to land a good strike — repetition.

The cheesy quote of the day is Bruce Lee’s famous saying: “I fear not the man who practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Now, I’m not sure if there even are 10,000 ways to kick, but the sentiment is clear — if you train your body to move in a particular way, it becomes part of your nature, a reflex, a part of you. You no longer have to go through the individual motions to perform the kick or punch — all you need to do is tell your body to kick, and bam, foot meets face. Call out for a punch, and watch your knuckles connect perfectly. Muscle memory — which means train, train, train, train.

Throwing a punch.

I’m an amateur at all forms of combat, but I do understand the basics of throwing a punch. Stance matters. Your lead hand is your jab hand, for straight punches — these are fast, snappy, never overextended but always fully focused on speed. You don’t move your hips, you don’t jump around. Just a basic jab.

Your other hand is your power hand. You use it for a cross — a straight punch led with your hips. Your feet move first, then the movement travels up through your torso, twisting into your shoulder, as you corkscrew your back fist into the opponent.

The hips are key. You need to screw your body for a proper punch. Drop your weight and center down into the ground, and weave through the opponent’s strikes.

The other important trick is to be sticky. No jumping, unless you’re far enough to be that light on your feet. When you’re up close and defending or attacking, your feet slide and drag over the floor, making sure that even when you move, both feet are one with the ground.

Then, there’s the most important part, and the toughest part to ingrain into your conscience — you need to relax. If you don’t, you’ll get tired very quickly, and you’ll rob your punches of their power. Don’t flex and stiffen until the very moment of impact, at which point your relaxed hand should form a solid, strong fist. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. As a beginner, I’ll stick to patterns — once I get used to proper uppercuts, jabs, crosses, and hooks, I can start getting creative.

Flexibility for kicks. 

While my shadow boxing journey will be really simple — just shadow box whenever I can, and turn it into a ritual, and focus on the basics, kicking requires a little more flexibility. I have horrible hip flexibility. I mention this over and over again, and it’s really true. I can’t get anywhere near a side split, and my full split is a distant dream.

That won’t keep me from stretching daily until I get to where I want to be — the full split high kick. It’s a bit theatrical, but it’ll guarantee that I’ll have the flexibility to use these ridiculously long legs of mine to launch foot assaults to the head. And it’s a picturesque, classic martial arts goal.

It’ll be a while until I get there, but I’m excited nonetheless. Onwards!

Currently listening to: Power — Kanye West