Monday, October 25, 2010

How To Develop Bone Crushing Strikes!

A Practical Guide to Iron Hand for the Modern Martial Artist and Combat Athlete.

(this article is a re-write of another piece I did a while back. I feel this current work is a better starting point)

Developing the ability to deliver powerful strikes is essential in the martial arts. Even if you have a high level of skill and conditioning you won’t get very far in a fight if you don’t have the stopping power needed to take your opponent down.


Most people who train in a martial art or other combat sport already spend time doing skill work, strength training, and conditioning work. Typically, when delivering strikes lack of strength and technical skill aren’t the problem. For most fighters the limiting factor for delivering powerful punches is a weak striking surface – hands, shins, and elbows – or weak supporting structure (wrists and forearms). In this post we’ll focus on how effectively and efficiently strengthen and condition the hands so you can deliver and endure maximum force when striking.

There are 3 components that are essential to a proper “Iron Hand” program:

1. Training your Internal Energy – I went over the importance of proper internal training here. However, I think a few things bear repeating. Done properly internal training will improve blood flow, improve nervous system function, and improve muscular function. This makes internal training an essential part of any performance enhancement program as well as a key element in the recovery process.

2. Training the Musculature –This can be accomplished through the use of specific strengthening exercises exercises.

3. Training the Underlying Bone Structure and Skin – This can be accomplished through specific types of impact training.


Internal Energy Training

I encourage you to visit the Internal Training Page so you can have a better idea why this type of training is important.

The following exercise is used specifically to bring your "Qi" to your hands – which is the foundation of a proper “Iron Hand” program.

Open and Close the Gate Qigong

Begin standing up, spine neutral, and with your feet should width apart. Your arms should be held out in front of you at chest level. Your palms should face each other and be about a foot apart. Place your tongue to the roof of your mouth. You will be breathing in and out of your nose in the Buddhist manner* for both of these Qigong.

First, place your attention on the back of each hand. You should be able to feel the back of your hands with your mind. Inhale and begin to open your arms as though you are about to give someone a huge hug. You will open your arms fully until you are in a cruciform position. At this point you will begin to exhale, reverse the movement, and switch you attention to your palm as you begin to close your arms.

Once your hands are about 6”-1’ apart you will to inhale and, once again, place your attention onto the backs of your hands. This time, however, instead of opening your arms you will turn your palms so that they face away from you and you will be drawing your hands in towards your chest. Make sure to keep your elbows down as you do this. When your hands reach about 6” away from your chest you will reverse this movement and push your hands away from your body. Remember to coordinate this final movement with you exhalation and to place you attention on your palms.

When you have returned to the starting position you will have completed one repetition of this qigong. You will need to complete a total of nine (9) before moving on. Remember to always coordinate your physical movements with your breathing and stay relaxed.

Strengthening the Hands

There are certain exercises which you as a martial artist or fighter can use to strengthen your hands. The following drills will strengthen the bone structure, musculature, and ligaments/tendons of the hands, wrists, and forearms.

1. Fingertip and Knuckle pushups – Fingertip and knuckle pushups aren’t complex enough to require a detailed description. You simply need to do your pushups on either your fingertips or knuckles. However, keep in mind when doing knuckle pushups you will place you weight on the last three knuckles with most of your weight on the middle knuckle (structurally this is the strongest knuckle).

When doing fingertip pushups you need to make sure you keep your fingers bent in a claw shape. Attempting to keep them too straight will result in poor conditioning. Also do not allow your fingers to bend backwards as this will result in unsatisfactory conditioning. It may be very difficult to complete a proper fingertip pushup at first. You can progress from static holds in the kneeling pushup position, to kneeling fingertip pushups, and finally progress to full fingertip pushups.

2. Forearm Roller – You’ll need to get a your own forearm roller (definitely worth the investment). The tool is simple to use. First, attaché weights to the rope. Then simply grip the roller and begin twisting it. This will cause the rope to wrap around the dowel it’s attached to. Doing this will lift the weights until they reach the dowel.

Most guys hold the implement out in front of them and twist the weights. This method is fine with light weight but you’ll soon find that your forearms can handle more and more weight which makes it difficult to properly hold the weight out at arm’s length. You’d be better off standing between two chairs and twisting the weight up while holding the forearm roller down by your hips/upper thigh area. You’ll be able to use heavier weight, thus achieving better results.

3. Grippers – You’ll also need to start working with hand grippers. Don’t bother with the cheap, plastic-handled variety you buy at sporting goods stores – these aren’t strong enough to really develop your hand strength. Instead you want to get the heavier grips sold by IronMind or Heavy Grips.

Conditioning the Hand with Impact Training

Striking another person with any surface (hand, shin, knee, or elbow) has the potential to generate significant amounts of destructive force. Without proper conditioning you could be putting your own body harm’s way. Proper impact conditioning will increase the density of the bones in your hands, wrists, forearms, and upper arms. It will also strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your hands, wrists, and arms while also conditioning the skin and making it less likely to break upon impact. It is for these reasons that you must take up some form of Impact Training. Below I’ve listed the best exercises.

1. The Heavy Bag – Training with the heavy bag is the single most important thing a martial artist, MMA Fighter, or striking-focused combat athlete can do when training alone. With the exception of sparring and focus mitt work, heavy bag training is the most “sport specific” activity a fighter can do. Heavy bag work is also the most important training method for conditioning a fighter’s hands (and body) for delivering full power strikes.

A good session on the heavy bag will strengthen the muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons in a fighter’s hands, wrists, and arms.

Tip* - Don’t waste your time with boxing gloves (unless you’re a competitive boxer or Thai Fighter). Use bag gloves or MMA gloves instead. They’ll save your skin but still allow you strengthen everything else.

2. Phone Book Iron Hand – In his book detailing Enshin Karate, Kancho Joko Ninomiya stresses that one should train with both the heavy bag and a makiwara. Among other things Ninomiya notes that makiwara training is well suited for toughening the skin. I definitely agree with him on this point. While the heavy bag is a dynamic method for strengthening the fighter’s body for striking it isn’t great for toughening the skin in an effective manner. In fact, I’d say that if one were to attempt to train “bare knuckle” on a heavy bag they’d do more harm than good as a heavy bag tends to cause a lot of trauma to bare skin – even when striking at a moderate level of force. A much better way to go about strengthening the skin (and even do some additional strengthening for the hands, wrists, and arms) is the makiwara.

Now, I don’t think it is necessary or practical to go out and get an authentic Japanese makiwara. All you really need is a thick telephone book placed on a hard surface. To get started: get an old, thick telephone book and some sort of stand to put it on (two cinder blocks stacked vertically works well for me). Whatever stand you use should be tall enough for the telephone book to be at your navel level. Make sure it is nice and sturdy. You will be striking the telephone book with the following hand surfaces:

a. Palms

b. back of the hands

c. knuckles

d. knife hand

Some feel it is best to simply drop the hand onto the striking surface while others feel it is best to add some power to the strike. I feel the most effective way to develop the iron hand is to actually strike the target (as opposed to simply dropping your hand on the striking surface). As long as you take it easy in the beginning and slowly work your way up to striking the telephone book harder and harder you should never encounter any health problems or real injuries.

Now you have to keep in mind that you will never be striking the telephone book as hard as you can. Even the Japanese Karate-ka, who are famous for their amazingly conditioned hands, never hit their makiwara as hard as they can. You should never need to hit the striking surface with more than 60% - 80% of you power.

For each surface of the hand you will need to complete 25-50 strikes or 100-200 strikes total. I like to start with by conditioning my palms and the backs of my hands. I start with my right hand and strike with the heart of my palm, then immediately strike with the back of my right hand. I repeat this with the left hand and keep it up with a nice rhythm until I complete 25-50 reps. Then I shake out and stretch my hands before moving on to the next hand surface. Make sure to shake and stretch out your hands after each set of hand surface conditioning.

Putting it all together –

The most effective way to start an “Iron Hand” program is by finding ways to fit it into your existing routine. Here are some simple ways to accomplish just that:

• Include “Open and Close the Gate Qigong” in both your warm up and cool down.

• When doing pushups always do them on your knuckles and fingertips – don’t waste time doing them on your palms.

• Work your Forearm Roller and Gripper training into the end of a strength training session 2-3 times a week.

• You should already be training with a heavy bag. If not get started – now!

• Finish your heavy bag sessions with “Phone Book Iron Hand” training.

• After any training session where you condition your hands finish by running some hot (not scalding) tap water over them for a few minutes. After that let them soak in cold water for a few minutes. Finally dry them off and rub witch-hazel or dit da jow all over your hands and allow them to air-dry.

This guide is intended to help become a more powerful striker and that is how you should approach your training. Sure, using the methods I’ve outlined will improve your ability to break stacks of boards, concrete slabs, and even bricks – but that isn’t the point of martial arts training. Breaking or tameshiwari has its place but you’d be much better served spending the vast majority of your time really training how to be a better martial artist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide. Look forward to other posts on “Iron Body” and “Shin Training”.



Train Hard,

Josh Skinner (donjitsu2)

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