Two To The Head

The brain, they say, is the most complex object in the universe. So when you punch it, it’s a big deal. It’s not made for that. We need to protect it. We need to be aware of what our opponents may attempt, and what we can do about it.


The skull can take a lot of impact, relatively speaking, but the brain cannot: it takes less force to injure the brain than to fracture the skull.


The neck and head are designed to disperse energy by moving on impact.  We are well equipped to perceive and evade head strikes.



But it’s still an issue:


According to one study an Olympic boxer’s punch delivers about 3,427 Newtons of force.  It takes less – about 3,200 Newtons of force – to break a brick.  (A “Newton’ is a measurement of force. It is used in physics, engineering and in studies of athletic performance.)


If you are a karate practitioner breaking multiple bricks you are hitting harder than that. The power of your front punch is more than enough for a knockout. And its power does not stop there.



When the head gets hit the brain gets shocked. That is injury one, concussion.


In addition the energy of the contact is transmitted from the impact site through the brain mass, distorting and damaging the brain. That is injury two, contusion.


Then the brain matter travels to the far edge of the inside of the skull and hits it, like a passenger hitting the windshield in a car crash: the car stops, the occupants keep going, into the glass.


In the case of the head punch the cranium stops in its travel away from the force of the impact, but the brain matter continues, hitting the interior of the cranium. That is injury three, the countrecoupe.


One head punch generates at least three energy vectors, each causing injury.


If you hit the target twice it is more than twice as bad, because you are attacking structures that are already damaged.



If you hit it with a double punch – not two single punches but a double punch – the effects are multiplied geometrically. Since there is inadequate recovery time between the two impacts the tissue structures of the brain can be simultaneously compressed and sheared.


In addition to the shock to the material of the body structures, the senses are disoriented and the usual balance-recovery and shock-recovery systems, that automatically kick in when we are destabilized, may not function properly.


With loss of consciousness the injury is compounded; not just to the brain and body structures but to the organs and vital systems.


In addition to the physiological effects on the target the double punch technique offers tactical advantages that a single attack or series of single attacks may not offer. That will depend on the proximity of our weapons to our opponent’s briefly exposed targets and the momentary unsoundness of the opponent’s body structure and balance.


To make the most of the fleeting opportunity in the dynamics of a combative exchange, the double punch is a uniquely potent tool.


The double punch appears numerous times in our kata. This technique was important to the Okinawans who devised the kata.


It has variations. For example, it is sometimes led by a short punch with a full range punch follow-up, sometimes it consists of two full range punches. It can be used to body targets. But its use to the head is devastating.



For indicators of this in the Okinawan combative curriculum consider:


  1. The move in the kata that precedes and sets up the double punch;
  2. The Okinawan use of makiwara training;
  3. Insights from the use of the one-two punch in boxing; and
  4. Possible alternative uses for the double punch suggested by techniques that follow the double punch in kata.



  1. Preceding Move


We do not use the double punch toward a high target on an alerted and stable opponent because raising our arms would expose our mid-body to attack.


The double strike techniques in our kata are deployed parallel to the ground, toward a target at the level of our torso.


This technique is useful when the opponent is bent over, his head in a lowered and exposed position, and momentarily destabilized.


The set up moves that directly precede the double punches in our kata (Pinan Yondan, Wanakn, Ananku, Rohai, Gojushiho and Kusanku) all drop the opponent’s head to your torso level and have him off-balance as well as bent over.


The techniques that set up the double punch include either a wrist counter grab that locks the elbow and rotates the shoulder by an ulnar hyperextension at the wrist or a cavity or nerve strike to head followed by a kick or punch.


If your katas use the double punch see if they are set up with a similar manipulation or strike combination.



  1. One-Two punch


We might overlook applications of our double punch because most of us do not strike to the head in training.  This key technique may be hiding in plain sight.


Since one of the objectives of kata design was to enable practical self-defense in a deadly force conflict, the application of an incapacitation or knock out is worth considering.


We intentionally avoid head trauma as we train over the years.  This is good, it is essential for safety. But as we stay safe it is useful to recognize what the double-strike techniques in our kata are teaching and the effect we can produce with them in the event that they are warranted in self-defense in a deadly force confrontation.


There are differences between boxing and karate. We do not use our double punch tactically the same way as a boxer uses a one-two punch.  But we can learn from what they do.  The destabilization effect of the first punch of the pair followed immediately by a full power technique is very similar. We might consider the parallels and see if there is something there for us – in training and in practical self-defense application.



  1. Makiwara


Makiwara is useful in conditioning our hands to project power into any target we select.  But it is indispensible for conveying maximum power to a hard target without absorbing a damaging amount of power in our own fist, and running the risk of injury to joint capsules and metacarpals, as boxers and other fighters do if they are not wearing wraps and gloves.


Makiwara conditioning is essential for striking hard targets because of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Forces come in pairs. Always. That is: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.


If you punch your target with a lot of power then, on impact, an equal amount of power is coming back into your hand and arm.


It will apply even if you are skilled in projecting ki into your target.


The difference in the effect of the punch does not come from the amount of power in the action and the reaction – they are equal – the difference in effect comes from the structure of the target and the structure of your fist and body at the moment of impact.


If the fist structure is stronger than the target structure then the force of the technique damages the target and not the fist. The forces exerted on each are the same.


A tight fist alone may not be adequate for an effective strike to a hard target.  For that we need the kind of hand conditioning that we get from makiwara – conditioning we demonstrate when we do brick breaking.


Striking the makiwara mimics the physics of hard target strikes. The attenuation of the forward motion of your fist is sudden, on contact with the makiwara, as your fist transfers (and, according to Newton’s Law, absorbs) force and kinetic energy, instantaneously.


Because of the steep pressure curve of the makiwara strike you get training specifically adapted to strikes to hard structures.


The waveform of energy transfer for a heavy bag is more gradual. It mimics a strike to the body – that is for penetrating any soft-tissue structure. It is valuable training. But not the same as the training makiwara provides. It does not have the same application.


The makiwara also makes it possible to sustain resistance after contact with the target, which a bag does not, because the makiwara stays put, while the bag moves away.


Because of these characteristics good makiwara training can be used to develop follow-through under resistance, while avoiding the habit of instinctive short, shallow strikes that, on unfamiliar contact with a hard target, may protect the hand from injury but which will yield less effect.


The bag is a great training tool. But it is not the same training as makiwara.


The rice-rope-wrapped-over-wood construction of traditional makiwara is similar in impact characteristics to hard targets on the human body.



  1. Alternate Targets – Subsequent Move



If you look at the technique that follows the double punches in your kata you can find indicators of the intended targets of the double punch.





Concluding note:


When you see a damaged skull at a crime scene or on a steel table in the morgue it is grotesque, even if you are used to it.  People have a different look depending on their manner of death – if they died from a fall, a crash, or as a result of a violent assault.


After the fact, from a distance, in a protected, clinical setting, you do not see the battle, the technique, the failure, shock, despair, rage, terror, struggle, misfortune, the right and wrong, good and evil, triumph or disaster, heroism, courage or anything that preceded this person’s final moment.


You see someone’s body reduced to material; you see the broken parts of a human being.


There are times and places in our world where violence is familiar.  People are oppressed by it, repelled and horrified by it. Some people are energized by it, take refuge in it, take it for granted, seek it out. Some try to overlook it. Some try to eliminate it.  There is no one attitude that a martial artist will have. That is up to each of us.


In analyzing our martial art, we may take its lethality in stride. When you handle anything dangerous for long enough there is a danger of becoming casual. We cannot afford that. We cannot afford to sever technique from its implications.  It’s not healthy. And it doesn’t work.


This is a description of a lethal technique in traditional Okinawan karate that is sometimes overlooked.  I hope that because of this description and training suggestions you can understand it better, and defend yourself against it more effectively if you need to.  I hope you will never have to use it.








Double punches appear in these Shorin Ryu White Crane kata:


Pinan 4, twice


Wankan, three times


Ananku, twice


Rohai, three times


Gojushiho, twice


Kusanku, once


The double punch usually follows a rotational joint lock of the wrist that locks your opponent’s elbow and shoulder, breaking his balance momentarily, bending him over, and dropping his head to the height of your chest. That destabilization is transitory so the first punch of the double punch may be launched from short-range, from contact with the opponent’s wrist of forearm, for example.




Optimize your ability with this technique by developing strong bilateral power, not accepting bilateral asymmetry as a reason to be weak in any range of motion available to us. The usual pattern in our kata has the second technique, the power move of the double punch, coming from the right hand, which is the power hand for most people. This resembles the way many boxers train their one-two punch. You can also train this technique by reversing the power hand.



Post by Jeff Brooks

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