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Martial arts techniques range from blocks, hand attacks, and kicks to locks, chokes, strangles, and falls. Many techniques are designed to immobilize and disarm attackers who are armed with weapons such as a knife, sword, club, or staff, as well as releases and take downs from holds and grappling attacks. Practically every martial art technique is effective under the right circumstances, but it is difficult to assess which technique is best for a specific circumstance. Generally, no one technique, no matter how effective it is, will defeat an opponent. Therefore, you should have a repertoire of effective techniques that you may use until your opponent is defeated.

Martial arts students are guided by ethical motives; they try to defend themselves without unduly hurting others. With practice, effective self-defense becomes possible without the necessity of inflicting serious injury on an aggressor. To accomplish this, martial arts students must be proficient with as many defensive and offensive techniques as possible.


Techniques may be classified as useful, not useful, and useless.
  • Useful. A technique that works a multitude of events or situations.
  • Not useful. A technique that is so specialized that, if not executed perfectly, it may not work.
  • Useless. A technique that is not based on any recognized logic, theory, principle, or concept. It never works. These are techniques are fraudulent and are used as ego boosters.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Techniques may be placed into three categories, quick (the good), powerful (the bad), and deadly (the ugly).
  • Quick. Quick techniques are used to convince the attacker that his or her present course of action is not in his or her best interests. These techniques do little damage or cause little pain to the attacker, but they are so quick that the attacker either does not see them or is unable to prevent them from occurring. Since there is little danger of serious harm to your attacker, he or she is not likely to seek retribution either by later attacks upon you or by pursuing you criminally or civilly.
  • Powerful. Powerful techniques are used to terminate an attack by rendering the attacker unable to continue the attack. These techniques may cause serious damage and much pain to the attacker. Since the attacker is damaged and in pain, he or she may seek retribution, either by later attacks upon you or by pursuing you criminally or civilly.
  • Deadly. Deadly techniques are used to terminate an attacker who is intent on killing you. These techniques are likely to kill. Although the law may seek to punish you for your actions, or a friend or relative of the deceased may seek retribution, either by later attacks or by pursuing you criminally or civilly, the attacker will no longer be a threat to you—ever.

Primary/secondary techniques

Each primary technique should have a secondary "back-up" technique. The primary technique will cause the most damage if it connects. If not, the secondary may connect. If the primary connects, the secondary may also connect, and may then be considered a primary technique. The secondary technique may also be used first to manipulate the opponent by opening the torso center line, shifting or disrupting balance, interrupting footwork, locking, twisting, or jamming joints, or to inflect pain. Attacking a skilled opponent without first (or simultaneously) neutralizing him by applying one of these manipulations is dangerous and useless. In addition, the act of initiating a simple secondary attack itself may open you to counterattack.

Sun Zi, in the "Art of War" says to not attack a prepared and ready opponent.
"If the opponent has no gap or slack to take advantage of, how can you overcome him, even if you are well equipped? The time to go out for the attack is when the opponent is in a vulnerable position or state of being."
The secret to combat success is to coax the opponent into a vulnerable position by using secondary techniques.

Points of attack

  • Balance. Without balance, power generation and movement are difficult or impossible. When an opponent's center of balance is moved so that it is no longer directly over the and between the feet balance is lost.

    Balance may be attacked in a variety of ways. The foundation (legs and feet) may be attacked by locking, nudging, sweeping, kicking, or kneeing. Balance may also be attacked by manipulating the extremities (usually arms) or torso. Since the head is critical to maintaining balance, it may be manipulated to disrupt balance.
  • Torso. The torso contains many vital striking points and it contains the center of balance. Attacking the center of the torso disrupts balance. Vital areas may be attacked by strikes or pressing and the same points may be used to disrupt balance. Downward pressure applied to the torso "grounds" it, making it difficult for the opponent to move.
  • Extremities. Extremities may be struck, locked, twisted, and fractured. Extremities are normally the first targets that come within range in a fight and are usually poorly protected because many people do not view them as potential targets. Attacking the extremities allows you to shorten the range so you may attack the torso without being struck, or if you are struck, to weaken the blow. The great boxing champion Rocky Marciano was known for punching his opponent’s arms until he couldn’t effectively use them, and them punching the opponent’s head and body until he went down.


Techniques are executed from the guard position. The guard is a defensive posture where the arms are held up in front of the body to protect against attacks. Hold the lead hand a little higher than the trailing hand. Hold the lead fist high, but where you can still see the opponent’s feet over the fist. Hold the elbows close to the body so they may block attacks.


Techniques may be executed by the lead or trailing arm or foot. The hand or foot that is in front (closest to the opponent) is the lead hand or foot. The hand or foot that is furthest from the opponent is the trailing hand or foot.


Many times, you will hear the term reverse used in describing a technique. Reverse does not mean the same thing in every usage. It has three definitions depending on its usage. It may mean:
  • The inverted version of an attacking weapon. For example, in a reverse knife hand, the hand is inverted, and the attack is made in the opposite direction.
  • A trailing arm attack, such as a reverse punch.
  • Moving in opposite direction, such as reverse turning kick or reverse hooking kick.


All techniques, either by hand, foot, elbow, knee, or head, are executed using either of two actions, using a snap or a thrust.

In a snapping technique, the foot, hand, etc. is quickly whipped out at the target. After it makes contact, it is just as quickly retracted. A thrusting technique is like a snapping technique except that extra motion is added to make the technique penetrate the target. The snap is quicker than the thrust, so it makes it quicker to execute a follow-up technique.

To illustrate the difference between a snap and a thrust, imagine kicking a drywall in a room. A snap kick will break through the wall quickly with minimum penetration. A thrust kick will break the wall and penetrate beyond the wall, possibly breaking through the drywall on the opposite side of the wall.

Students are usually first taught thrust actions using hand techniques, while snap actions are usually first taught using kicking techniques. As students progress, they are taught thrust kicks and hand snap techniques. Both methods are effective, and each has its place and time to be used.

What moves first?

To punch or kick with power, the arm or leg must first be chambered (cocked). Otherwise, the hand or foot is just being moved toward the target, it is not being thrust at the target with the mass of the body behind it. If our fighting stance is with the arms hanging downward, then to punch with any power, the elbow must move first so it may give some chamber to the arm before the punch. However, since any good fighter fights with the hands held up in a guard position, the arm is already cambered, so the first thing to move in a hand attack is the hand, with the elbow and body moving behind it.

Since we cannot float in the air, while we are in a fighting stance our legs are always hanging below the body. Therefore, the first thing to move in a kick is the knee, so it may give chamber to the leg before the kick. Otherwise, it is just a weak kick. A non-chambered kick may score a point in a tournament, but it will seldom do any serious damage to an attacker.

Power versus speed

If you attack with power, you will be slower and may give the opponent time to move out of the way. If you attack with speed, the opponent may not see it coming and may get hit; maybe not with as much power as with a power attack, but at least the opponent gets hit. If you are good with fakes and feigns and reading your opponent's actions and reactions, you can set up combinations that cause the opponent to move away from one attack and into another attack. The combination of your speed and the opponent moving into the attack means that the opponent will get hit with more power.

Second effort

Second effort is a method of executing techniques such as punches and kicks. It involves executing a technique as normal except that it’s stopped short of its target and held there for a second. This first effort is used to cause the opponent to block the technique. Usually, the opponent will then withdraw the blocking arm, or at least relax it, after the initial block. When this occurs, the attacker makes a second effort and plunges the technique to the target. A second effort technique may lack power, but it works.

Technique target areas

Vertical orientation

SECTIONS (general areas)
  • High section. Area above the shoulders; includes the clavicle
  • Middle section. Area between the shoulders and the waist
  • Low section. Area below the waist
HEIGHT (specific areas)
  • High. To the head of an opponent of equal height to you.
  • Middle. To the solar plexus of an opponent of equal height to you.
  • Low. To the groin of an opponent of equal height to you.

Horizontal orientation

  • Centerline. An imaginary line down the front of the body from the nose to the genitals.
  • Right. The right side of a section’s centerline.
  • Center. The centerline of a section’s centerline.
  • Left. The left side of a section’s centerline.

Target aim

There are several different ways to aim (focus) an attack:
  • During training and competition, for safety reasons, students are taught to aim at a point on the surface of the target, or just short of the surface. 
  • To damage the target, the technique must be aimed at a point just behind the surface of the target. Target penetration should not be so much that the person is pushed backward. When this occurs, it means that the technique contacted the target too early so instead of striking the target it pushes it; all the energy of the technique is then wasted during the push.
  • Sometimes students are taught to aim at where the target is at the moment. 
  • Sometimes students are taught to aim at the point where a target will be after it stops moving (leading the target). 

In, over, around, under

To get through or around a guard, there are four ways to strike most targets on an opponent’s body:
  • In
  • Over
  • Around
  • Under
For example, when punching to the head, you may punch with a jab (in), an overhand punch (over), a hook punch (around), or an uppercut (under). When kicking to the head, you may kick with a side kick (in), an axe kick (over), a hook kick (around), or a front snap kick (under).

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