Power of the Karate Punch

(Chinzo Machida | Bellator 170)

(Chinzo Machida | Bellator 170)

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

The Machidas are a family of karate practitioners in MMA. Here Chinzo Machida, Lyoto Machida's brother, applies a traditional karate technique, the reverse punch, for a knock out. So where does the power come from and why is it effective?

Though the finish took seconds, unpacking it will take longer.

First notice their distance, it doesn't at first appear that Machida can reach his opponent with his right hand since it is so far away, his lead arm cannot even reach his opponent's face. This is that karate point-fighting distancing, also known in kickboxing as striking from distance.

Notice also how Machida's right hip faces away from his opponent in frame 1.

Machida's left arm, what first appeared as a means to measure distance, was in actuality a set up to grab his opponent's left arm to lower his guard. (Something Fedor Emelianenko often does.) An unseen part of engagement, hand fighting. Some fighters are good at this, while some are oblivious. It all depends on the fighter's sensitivity, it's subtle and some fighters only notice what hits them over the head. More on that...

From here you will notice several things happening simultaneously, Machida's right arm corkscrews and his right hip faces his opponent. The power comes from the hip, Machida pivoting off his back foot where he is slightly kneeling, in boxing this is called sitting down on the punch. Notice how Machida doesn't overswing, where his back foot comes off the floor. Since the power is coming from the hip, his foot must stay planted on the ground to send the kinetic force from his foot to his hip to his shoulder to his fist to his opponent's face. In fighting, power comes from the ground up, that is the nature of gravity.

Notice a similar punch from earlier in the fight, but this time the opponent reads the threat of the punch because of how close Machida is standing, his arm is up read to parry. Machida's back foot lifts off the ground, losing some power. He does this to reach his opponent, which is a dangerous game since it makes him lean in with his face. In a proper karate strike, the head remains relatively above the hips. The whole body comes with you or it doesn't. And that's exactly what happened in the final knock out punch. The hip is the key to karate strikes, or good strikes in general, as then the opponent can't read if it's a kick or a punch. They all look the same and generate power the same. The hip is a better creator of force than the shoulder, the the shoulders should accelerate the force of the hips.

The opponent throws a kick to Machida's lead leg, displacing Machida's momentum, and also increasing the impact of the kick. The opponent flicks his right hand out, forcing Machida to angle off as he punches, his hip can't fully face his opponent, deflecting more power. Sometimes this is enough to knock an opponent out but it is not as clean of a strike as the previous. Like a sniper, it is about aim and precision and the less obstacles on the path of the strike, the fuller the impact.

Now notice Machida rotate where his right shoulder passes his left, this is how Machida is able to reach further with his back arm. Not only that but he gains extra power, not just from punching with his arms, but the rotation of his back foot, his hips, his shoulders, and his fist. Forcing coming forward and then rotation.

So imagine, stabbing someone with a knife straight through, then do the same thing and turn the knife after you stab. The difference is wound or kill. That's the difference from just punching by extending your arm and what Machida is doing, rotating everything, which includes the fist.

This is the concept of one strike, one kill in karate. Load everything up and drive with your hips through your fist. This makes sense to the era, since machine guns had not yet been invented, sword fighting made the best analogy. (Though the best are able to mix both concepts: volume and power.)

The opponent drops to the floor, but Machida, as he has been trained, keeps his eyes on his opponent and stays in fighting stance.

The karate man looks for that one gratifying moment. And in that way, we are all karate men (and women).