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Where I used to train, I was taught a reverse punch was performed with the opposite fist to the forward leg, while stepping forwards.

So, for example, if I stepped forwards into a left hand front stance (left leg forward), the reverse punch would would be done with the right hand. (This is in contrast to the froward punch being done with the left hand in this scenario.)

Where I am training now, I was told that a reverse punch can only be performed when stepping backwards. So as the right foot moves backwards (leaving you again in a left hand front stance), the reverse punch is done with the right hand.

In both scenarios, you end up in a left hand front stance, with the right hand punching forwards. But in one scenario, you are stepping forwards. In the other, you are stepping backwards.

Is there a right or wrong way to do this?

Or should I just shut up and do what Sensei says?

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That's a weird distinction. What is it called when you step forward and reverse punch? What rule is broken, according to the person teaching you, that makes it not-a-reverse-punch? –  Dave Liepmann May 15 '12 at 13:01
    
That's interesting. Sounds like it's just a case of semantics here where both meanings are valid. –  Matt Chan May 15 '12 at 13:15
    
I would recommend asking your current instructor. Something as simple as "Why do we step backwards with the reverse punch?" might bring you the answer to your question. If you feel unsatisfied, see if you can talk with him/her after class for a few minutes. –  Trevoke May 15 '12 at 14:43
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In my experience they are both a reverse punch, or gyaku zuki, which is done on the same side as the rearward leg and is one of the most basic foundation techniques taught in traditional karate styles. You should practice it stepping forwards and backwards, you never know when you are going to need it. In terms of co-ordination it is certainly harder to perform correctly while stepping back.

IMVHO I do find it odd that your Sensei is firm in his belief that it is the act of stepping back that defines that particular punch, or that it can only be done while stepping backwards. By all means follow his instruction, however you could also ask him: what's it called or what is the difference when performing the same punch while stepping forward?

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It is quite odd, yes but I think it's worth looking into the tactical implications. Do we see the forward stepping reverse punch in something like the Sabaki Challenge? If not, that could indicate that you might only want to do it while stepping back. –  Robin Ashe Jul 5 '12 at 4:19
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Answering from a taekwondo perspective (I suspect from your question you're more interested in karate):

The reverse punch is less commonly performed while stepping forward during forms - forward- and double-punches are much more common. You do encounter the reverse punch while stepping backwards, but it's not until more advanced forms where you use a single reverse punch while walking forward.

It's certainly done, though: see, for example, taebaek (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpxC61tNJSQ - you'll see several at around the 0:20 mark). If your instructor is adamant that the reverse punch is not performed while walking forward, it may be an idiom of the particular style; he may have an alternative term for it; or he may simply be unfamiliar with that aspect of his style (which strikes me as the most likely alternative).

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Stepping forward+reverse punches are actually fairly common in the hyung forms. The comment around stepping backwards+reverse punch being reserved for more advanced forms is consistent between the two styles. –  rjstreet May 15 '12 at 11:14
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They are both valid. The difference stems from how far from the opponent you are, how far you need to be, and what kind of movement the opponent is doing (including what kind of movement you are making him do).

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Jack Slack has an interesting post on the use of the straight rear which I think is relevant to this question. There's a clear advantage to using the reverse punch while stepping forward if you want to clinch, so in absolute terms, no, you wouldn't want to only step backwards, as clinching is sometimes a very good goal (especially if your opponent is a better striker than you are).

On the other hand, if you want to keep a good distance so you can continue attacking with strikes, or without getting clinched yourself, stepping in with the reverse punch might not be tactically sound.

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