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I'm not yet strong enough in the legs to talk about precision, so I'll stick to punches.

Firstly, what is the upper limit of precise punches, how precise can I get them to be? Within millimeters of the target? centimeters? Mine vary upto couple inches, maybe more.

And how/what do I exactly practice for precision? I've been told "repetition is the key" which I whole-hardheartedly agree with, but is that all I could do? what else?

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6 Answers

What is precision?

There's a misconception about what it means to be precise, so to illustrate, let's examine two options:

OPT1: A direct punch going straight out.

OPT2: A punch that follows the target.

If we attempt to strike a given moving target, it is the natural inclination to want to follow the target (OPT2) as we strike. This extends the length of the strike beyond optimal, and decelerates into the target. Therefore, simply hitting the target is useless – we may hit the point we wish by following, but the strike becomes ineffective.

If we take OPT1, we have to assume there is a likelihood of missing our target, as we are punching where we are aiming, and our target can move. This is because we have a tendency (largely early in training when we're removing bad habits) to train commitment to the punch going to our target with full commitment, despite the fact it may move.

Precision is the culmination; the ability to connect with our target by striking straight and true. Therefore, we have to understand precision is the ability to strike a moving target with optimum impact.

Training for Precision

Training for precision is a progression. A precise strike moves straight out from the body toward a target first with maximum impact.

The Straight Strike

At the lowest level, we practice striking using the whole body. For this purpose, the heavy bag is extremely useful, and the shuddering of the bag without swaying lets us know the force is being kept inside the bag. In this way we train to throw hard strikes.

We need to also train to throw to where we're aiming, and we do this by punching past the target, albeit minimally. Our target, then, in this stage of training will not be a point on the body of our target, real or imagined, but a point in space in relation to us that is 1-2 inches past the current placement of the point we'd like to strike. In doing this we are training commitment: the strike going to a point in space, not on the opponent. When this becomes natural, we apply this targeting to a point in space where the opponent will be; either by his will or ours.

Small, Moving Targets

Sadly, the heavy bag is a stationary target, and there comes a point where we have to target something that's moving. A buyu of mine taught me a drill that I use to keep my reflexes sharp, and I practice it as an eye strike (like a punch, but the fore- and middle-fingers flick out at extension). Take a small square of black electrical tape and put it on a light drape over a window at about eye height, and toward the edge of the curtain. Let the curtain blow in the breeze and time your strikes to hit where the tape is going to be. You're still practicing a straight strike here, and you need to learn to anticipate an opponents movements. The nice part about training like this is that you're aiming for a very small point, and if you were punching, the motion is otherwise the same.

Tying it Together

Of course, at some point we have to bring it all in together, and the best practice is against a live target. Unfortunately, training against an opponent usually means that you've got to smack the bejesus out of them, and partners don't usually enjoy getting hurt. For this purpose, I recommend training armor. Whether you use something like Century's line of "martial armor" or "sparring gear", or any other line, the point here is to get you used to the less predictable (but still very predictable) nature of human movement, and striking with good intent and force to your targets.

Suggested Drills Against Live Opponents

1.) Have the opponent or a third party call out points to strike. Opponent moves but does not counter or block.

2.) Mark small targets on the opponent's armor using masking tape. Quickly strike what is available at a given time. Opponent moves and blocks but does not counter.

3.) Mark small targets on the opponent's armor using masking tape. Opponent moves, blocks, and counters.

4.) Mark small targets on the opponent's armor using masking tape. Opponent is openly aggressive.

Remember that we're trying to progress to build confidence in capability. Throwing a new student into the deep end and watching them get pummeled is not the right choice here, it's just setting them up for failure. I view drill 4 above as advanced training; it's full out live sparring with the added stress of training to strike specific targets; students need to be able to achieve a sense of mushin for this level of training.

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Knowing which MA you are studying is important in tailoring your precision techniques, as with anything else relating to a particular MA style. However this only becomes more crucial at the stage when you are already an advanced student in that discipline. Here is why:

I guess you would agree that what you really mean is how to hit a target with precision. The reason why I am saying this is because in a fight you will be hitting a moving target. This involves more than simple precision, but also control (very important one), movement prediction and, of course, luck: your opponent can move 1mm away from your punch; in this case, even though your punch would have had a 100% precision (a 0mm hit from the target) you would still have missed it, and therefore missed the main goal, which was to simply hit the target. So answering your first question, simply put, to be precise you will want to hit the target at the 0mm mark. Anything greater than 0mm is a miss; this is precision. if you just train to get your knuckles at 1mm from a static target without considering that a) your target will likely move his head slightly; and b) that 1mm away from the target is not a hit, you are wasting your time. Stopping at 1mm is not precision as such but control: a little semantic difference in there (sorry for being pedantic); what I am about to share below covers both, precision and control. You can be precise but not have control of your movements, but this precision will be based on luck rather than conscious movement.

Thus, when throwing a punch against a moving target you also want to have a sort of prediction as to where the target will/could move to, so this should be incorporated later, when you have already gotten into a pretty good level of the original precision you have mentioned (against a static target). In the end, if I were to choose between being precise on my punch (hitting it at the mark 0mm) versus having control (consciously stopping my punch at the 0.1mm mark) I would choose the former, because I can at least cause some damage. So in summary, actually hitting the target becomes more critical than simply being able to place your punch at the 1mm or the 0.1mm mark.

You are spot on when you said that repetition is the key. However, the tricky bit that not many people tell you (or get it right) is how you train your repetitions. Efficiency Management becomes your vehicle, otherwise you would waste hours repeating something that might not bring you any benefits.

So to finally answer your question, “[...]is that all I could do? what [sic] else?” I would say that in order to improve at something, you need to provide the necessary environment for it. For example, people in Bushcrafting like practicing fire-lighting techniques to get good at quickly making fire with basic natural materials, under wet conditions, etc. As for the fire you need heat, oxygen and fuel. Once you have those elements in place, you find combinations and formulate hypothesis on how you can go about making fire more efficiently. We can apply the same knowledge to MA; more specifically improving precision/control.

Because I have spent a lot, but not nearly enough, time also practicing this, I can happily share my experiences and findings about it; in no way do I consider myself as the keeper of the truth about it, but here it goes:

1 – Your Elements

Energy Conservation

Not Telegraphing your Intention/Movement

Releasing Tension in your muscles

Breathing Correctly

2 – Your Environment

Very, Very Slow Motion

Very Slow Motion

Slow Motion

Normal Speed

Faster Speed


If what I have said so far makes any sense to you, and if you would like me to share my further thoughts on it, please post a comment saying so and I shall be happy to expand further on items 1 and 2.

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My punching training was really simple. I had two strikes:

1. Straight punch to the solar plexus

2. Uppercut to below the chin (going up and forward)

I did these for ten years. I never worried about punching to the face, or to the bicep, or to various nerve clusters, or other weird targets.

Then I met a friend who used a ton of targets I'd never thought about, because, well, I was already pretty efficient with the limited vocabulary I had. I was highly surprised to find that the simple training of punching to the solar plexus all the time, and punching below the chin all the time, translated to a variety of angles and targets completely transparently. My body-mind had built all the right connections.

Every single time you punch, do so mindfully. Aim and focus. The rest will follow. Your body and your mind will adapt better than you might think.

Like everyone else, I'll say that repetition is key. Mindful repetition. Swordswmen practice the simple vertical strike up to 1,000 times a day. If you throw 100 punches a day you're doing alright. If you can throw 1,000 and remain mindful, you'll be getting tons of extra training in things other than punching.

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For straight punches, i had my friend hold a pad and move it about. First circle it then move randomly, but smoothly and not too fast. This better trains your mind to continuously correct punch trajectory before the target is hit.

Distance is important, if you are too close it is harder to determine the impact point, and if too far you go past the optimal contact point and is harder to control where you connect with your opponent.

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Limits to punching precision

The limit to punching precision is precisely hitting your intended target. Many boxers, kickboxers, MMA fighters, karateka and so on do this regularly. Watch Matsui's 100-man kumite, or an Anderson Silva highlight, or a Floyd Mayweather match. They hit their targets, period. Their accuracy is 100% on many punches.

You aren't going to get picometer precision because your target is never going to be defined in picometers. "Hit him under the ear with my top two knuckles" is just about the limit of precision, and is entirely achievable.

Methods for improving punching accuracy

To improve punching precision, I'd train on all the boxing apparatus: a heavy bag, mitts with a partner, and particularly a speed bag and double-end bag. Some karateka work on hitting a tennis ball that's been hung by a string; to me this sounds productive but also like a poor man's speed bag.

Make sure your conditioning is top-notch so your punching accuracy doesn't decrease too much during a workout. (But don't believe the myth that you need to train while you're exhausted; simply focus on staying fresh during your workouts.)

However, if you're missing by "a couple inches, maybe more", then you should simply focus on training more frequently.

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You improve punching precision in the same way you improve driving precision or your precision with a tennis racket or baseball bat: you learn to stop aiming for your opponent's head in general, and start aiming for the tip of his nose or chin (if allowed of course). You need to simply learn to attack with deliberate calmness and focus. Don't just aim for the side of the head, aim for the temple or ear, or back of the jaw, as your needs require.

In short: the smaller your target, the greater your precision.

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