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Follow-through is the theory that you should continue the motion of an attack after it contacts the target, as a hook punch making a complete arc. This theory conflicts with the theory that an attack should be made with a snapping motion where the arm or leg immediately snaps back to guard after contact is made, as with a jab or a front snap kick.

The follow-through ensures a longer contact time with a relatively constant punching force, thus transferring more energy; however, the extra motion increases the time you are exposed to a counterattack. Whereas, the snap releases most of the force of the attack immediately and then gets you back to guard before a counterattack can be mounted.

Don't other sports use follow-through?

Follow-through is taught and encouraged in other sports, such as when batting or throwing a baseball, swinging a golf club, or throwing or kicking a football. However, these are individual actions done once every few minutes. Whereas, in the martial arts, blocks, kicks, strikes, and punches are constantly being executed by both opponents.

When sparring, if you keep your arms in a proper guard, bob, and weave your head and upper body, and constantly move your lower body using proper footwork, an opponent will find it difficult to hit you with any type of attack.

It is when you block or attack that you create an opening for an attack and an opportunity for the attack to get through your defenses and hit and hurt you. This means that most blocks and attacks must be quick so the arm or leg performing them returns to the guard position as quickly as possible to close any opening created by the block or attack.

Follow-through is dangerous

Some martial art practitioners mistakenly always use follow-through, and some may even be taught to do it, but it is a dangerous practice. For example, if you fire a hook punch toward the opponent’s head using follow-through and miss the target, your fist and arm will continue in an arc until they reach the limit of movement, and then they return to the guard. This extra motion exposes your head and ribs to a counterattack for a greater period than would be if a snapping motion were used.

Also, if your opponent leans back to avoid the hook, as Muhammad Ali did, all he or she must do is return to an upright position and fire a jab or straight punch at your exposed head or torso. Also, not only are your lower ribs exposed, with your body twisted into the hook, your ribs are under tension and unable to flex properly to absorb a blow to them; so, they are more easily damaged. Likewise, if you fire a round kick with follow-through, you will not only expose your head and upper body, you will also expose the support leg which is under tension due to supporting all the body’s weight.

Follow-through limits your options

When follow-through is used in an attack, it is difficult to fire the same attack again or to fire a combination attack. You may continue a follow-through attack into a spinning attack, such as following a left hook with a right spinning back fist, but if the opponent has closed the range to make a counterattack, then a spinning attack will not be effective and may expose you to even more counterattacks since the opponent has moved inside your follow up attack.

Snap is the better option

Although there may be times when follow-through is the best option to use, such as when administering the finishing blow, for most attacks, the snap option is the better choice to use.
It is best to focus attacks to reach full extension and full power at a specific point in space. The attacking hand or foot stops at that point and then quickly snaps back to the guard. This means you are in full control of the technique. You are in control of where the attack is going and how much damage, if any, it may cause.

Damage control is accomplished by the position of that focus point in space. When you are no-contact sparring, that point is 1-inch short of the target, so no damage will likely be caused. When light-contact sparring, that point is on the surface of the target, so only light damage may be caused. When full-contact sparring, that point is 1-inch behind the target, so heavy damage may be caused. When you are in a self-defense situation, that point is inches behind the target (which is a form of follow-through), so maximum damage may be caused.

When snapping an attack, the hand or foot quickly retracts to guard, so it, or a different hand or foot, can be quickly fired again. You are only exposed for the split second it takes to extend and retract the arm or leg.

You should train for achieving quick, powerful, focused attacks that may be fired in rapid succession or combinations.

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