Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chon-Ji 2: The Front Stance Middle Punch

If you have not read part 1 yet, you may find it here.

A lot of arguments about the utility of forms can be traced around the front stance middle punch -- sometimes referred to as the “lunge punch” in karate. Because, let's be honest, who punches like this?

Taekwondo of course is filled with “official” answers as to why we perform the front stance obverse punch the way we do:

Why do we circle our foot in before moving forward? Because it allows you to maintain balance (equilibrium) by bringing the foot in.
Why do we reach out with the back hand before closing it and pulling it in towards our hip? You reach out to track your target. You pull back in for reaction force, strengthening the punch
Why do we punch from the hip? For power, or to practice full range of motion.
Why do we keep our hips and shoulders square? To avoid over-committing to the punch.
Why do we sink into a front stance? For stability or to increase the power of the punch.

While there is some truth in these explanations, they still seem unsatisfying, because the downsides to this type of punch simply outweigh the benefits. Isn't just stepping forward faster? Is the extra power from “reaction force” worth dropping your guard? Doesn’t the front stance decrease your mobility and leave you vulnerable? And the bit about avoiding over-commitment seems silly given that the move includes quite a bit of over-commitment already.
Boxer's jab

The lunge punch is often compared to a jab, but the truth is that the two moves are nothing alike. Boxers aren't afraid to put their hips and shoulders into their jab, for example. And despite the lunge punch's reputation as a "power move", it really isn't all that powerful. I'd trust a good reverse punch over it any day. That's probably why some suggest that a lunge punch is really supposed to be a reverse punch with a following step.

It is my view that -- similar to basic blocks -- we’re not training a punch so much as we’re training a motion, which can be applied in various ways. Honestly, the technique should probably be called “forward forefist pressing motion”, but that’s a bit of mouthful compared to “punch”. While "reverse punch with a following step" is a possible application for the motion, there are several others.

With this in mind, we can stop trying to pretend that the move works well as a punch (it doesn't) and try to see what can extracted from the elements of the move.

Why do we circle our foot in before moving forward? Circling the foot can represent circling around one of our opponent’s legs, usually for an outside trip or inside trip throw.
Why do we reach out with the back hand before closing it and pulling it in towards our hip? The setup hand has multiple uses: it could represent a parry before striking, pushing down an opponent’s arm, or grabbing the opponent to pull them.
Why do we punch from the hip?  The movement isn't just a punch, it could represent any sort of "push" motion. Many throws are executed body-to-body, and thus having the strength to push from the hip is important.
Why do we keep our hips and shoulders square? To keep our body upright in a grappling situation; any loss of balance makes us vulnerable to a throw.
Why do we sink into a front stance? The front knee can be used to "wedge" into the back of an opponent, unbalancing them.

And old-school karate takedown.
Like the basic blocks, this motion is a template for multiple applications. As such, you will not use all elements of the move all the time.

But the point of this post is not to enumerate all the possible uses of the front stance middle punch. Instead, I'm going to look at its use in Chon-Ji, and try to come up with something that I believe is more reasonable for self-defense than what is usually provided.

Chon-Ji: Deflecting inward

Let’s use the two applications I discussed for low block and inner-forearm block in my previous post, and see how the front stance middle punch would apply as a follow-up in either case. After striking the groin with the low block, the next move may be used as a throw.
  1. Opponent throws a straight punch. Step outside and parry inward, before passing and trapping with back hand (low block chamber)
  2. Strike opponent's groin with hammerfist (low block)
  3. Circle your back leg forward. Due to your positioning, you are actually circling behind your opponent's leg (movement into front hand punch)
  4. Use the setup hand to grab the back of your opponent's shirt (setup for front hand punch)
  5. Simultaneously pull the back of their shirt into your hip while pushing them over your leg with your front arm (front hand punch)
  6. If this fails to take them to the ground, sweep out their leg by moving your front foot back in (movement into next low block)
I call this an "outside trip throw". It's a common throw in karate and taekwondo, and has several variants. Instead of grabbing the back of their shirt, for example, you might use the setup hand to press on the small of their back, as in the gif below.

Outside trip throw, pressing the small of the back.
Personally I prefer the pull-push version. It feels more like the way we do the form. The closest equivalent Judo throw is o soto gake (large outer hook).

Following the inner-forearm block

The other combination in Chon-Ji -- that often receives less analysis -- is an inner-forearm block followed by a lunge punch. Near the end of the form (moves 15-17), we performed an inner-forearm block followed by two lunge punches. What’s going on?

If we use the parry-pass application for inner-forearm block, then you can’t use the o soto gake throw from this position, because you stepped forward with the inner leg. Instead, we just follow up the block by using front stance middle punch as (wait for it) a punch to the floating rib. The pulling hand in this case traps your opponent's shoulder so they can't retreat from you as you punch.

Trapping and using a punch after the inner-forearm block
Why the step forward? In the video where I take the above image from, it's suggested that the opponent retreats for a better position after being grabbed, so the step is following them. In our case we have another reason: positioning. We are now in a position to use the o soto gake throw, represented by the second front stance middle punch. After this we begin moving backwards; which, as I mentioned above, could represent sweeping out the opponent's leg.

Another example. Parry-pass-strike, followed by outside trip throw.
So to recap, these two applications to Chon-Ji are:
  1.  Parry pass a straight punch stepping outwards (low block chamber)
  2. Strike the groin (low block)
  3. Circle behind their leg and throw (front hand punch)
  1. Parry pass a straight punch stepping inward (inner-forearm block)
  2. Step in and punch (first front hand punch)
  3. Circle behind their leg and throw (second front hand punch)
What about the end of the form, where we perform two front hand punches moving backwards? Although I'm not certain, I think these can represent a counter to an outside trip throw. Stepping back into something resembling front stance is, in fact, a common counter to the Judo throw o soto gari. You do this to deny your opponent the off-balancing they need to throw you. You then perform a counter-thrown, which amounts to moving backwards with your other leg.

O soto gari counter. Step back into front stance with free leg to maintain balance, then counter-throw with caught leg.
As I mentioned in my post on Joong-Gun, sometimes a form will provide a counter to a technique earlier in the form.


If you were to construct a martial arts system, what self-defense techniques would you want a white belt to know? Would you want the first thing they practice to be a defense against a front kick, or against a punch? Would you teach them to counter with an awkward, highly rigid lunge punch; or a hit to the groin? Would you forgo a finishing move, or teach them a simple but high-percentage throw? Would you construct a form where only a small portion of the movements have a purpose, or a form where nearly every movement mattered?

I'm not saying that mine are the "right" applications, but I believe it's worth thinking up better applications than the standard ones usually given.

Dan Djurdjevic's two excellent posts on the lunge punch 

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