How Fast Should You Punch?

So how fast should you punch?

As fast as you can! Well…yes and no. Let’s breakdown this question a bit. (Hint: Is it even the right question?)

At first, I was surprised to get comments on our videos which critiqued our punches as slow. Slow? Maybe we were slowing down for filming purposes. No. Perhaps we couldn’t move quickly enough. Uh, nope. This bothered me until I identified the underlying misconception.

Viewers were confusing two related, but unequal, variables. Yes. They were talking about velocity when they meant frequency! Ah-ha. There is a crucial distinction.

Ok, I agree that velocity is how fast you move. But, frequency is how often you do so. Acoustically, that is why you hear various sounds as higher or lower-pitched. Electromagnetically, this is the reason you see discrete colors of a rainbow (along the visible spectrum of ROYGBIV). When you switch between radio stations, you are tuning in to different frequencies as well.

The international system of units measures frequency in cycles per second (hertz), whereas velocity is measured in meters per second (m/s).

Here’s an illustrative story. Imagine you are hitchhiking on a desolate desert road. Don’t ask me how you got there. A car drives by every hour at 100 kilometers per hour (km/h). The frequency is 1 per hour (in cycles per second, that is a mere 0.000278 hertz). Then imagine you are standing on the overpass of a busy highway. Make sure it’s not during rush hour. A car drives by every second at 100 km/h. The frequency is 1 per second (or 1 hertz). The second situation has a frequency 3,600 times that of the first. However, in both scenarios, driving velocity is 100 km/h.

More or Better

Now, let me rephrase our original question. Are four punches a second better than one punch a second? What about eight punches a second?

We must define better. When quantity is priority, eight is better than four. In other words, more is better. True…to a point. For instance, if called for, one punch is better than no punch. But when does more become worse? There is a certain threshold beyond which quality is sacrificed for quantity.

In economics, this is described by the “law of diminishing returns“:

The law of diminishing returns (also law of diminishing marginal returns or law of increasing relative cost) states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will at some point yield lower per-unit returns.

In idiom, this is known as “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Learn to defend yourself against flying culinary utensils. Or leave the restaurant.

Exactly what is being sacrificed? Muscular force and, therefore, power. Physiologically, there is such thing as moving too fast. To me, that’s “physio-illogical” motion. Study this colorful graph:

Albeit this is for in vitro muscle, notice velocity at maximum power is not maximum velocity. Understand that maximum velocity differs from optimal velocity. The latter coincides with maximum power. Power drops off as you approach minimum or maximum velocity.

There is also another issue of moving too frequently. In animals as diverse as humans, fishes, eels and frogs, the relationship of optimal cycle frequency to power output similarly expresses as a bell curve. A representative example is heart muscle in rats:

Furthermore, according to overall size of the creature, optimal frequency versus maximum power varies. The smaller the animal (or constituent part), the higher this frequency. The bigger the animal, the lower this frequency. Of course, it also depends on the given activity, such as cycling, walking or punching. For example, during pedaling optimal frequency appears to be about 100 revolutions per minute (or 1.67 hertz).

Unchained Punches

In generic wing chun, so-called “centerline chain punches” are so ubiquitous as to be synonymous with the style. By contrast, IAW WingChun practitioners almost never punch along the centerline (which is a separate discussion), let alone try to do so as frequently as possible. At most, we plan to launch two punches. The intention of the first and second punch is to stop and break the opponent, respectively. Lin Wan Kuen (Linking Punches) is our terminology for this binary technique. This pair of punches is timed to maximize their individual power. Both punches should be close to the power of a single punch or Tsong Kuen (Thrusting Punch). If not, increase the preparation time (i.e., decrease the frequency) between the two punches of the Lin Wan Kuen. Their total duration will be greater, but so will the power of each punch.

Via empirical trials with his students, Sifu Klaus Brand has determined an approximate optimal frequency of one punch per second (or 1 hertz). This is rounded up from one punch per 1.05 seconds (or 0.952 hertz), which is the mean of the observed range of one punch per 0.8-1.3 seconds (or 0.769-1.25 hertz). Frequency correlates to physical type, weight and proportions. Smaller, shorter, thinner, lighter people tend to cycle faster. Bigger, longer, thicker, heavier people tend to cycle slower.

Remember, punch speed is not equivalent to punch frequency. WingChun punches may be the same speed as wing chun punches, but are just executed less frequently in order to preserve power. If I were to coin the “law of diminishing punch returns”, it would state that:

Increasing punch frequency, while maintaining punch speed, will at some point yield lower power per punch.

This relative trade-off between frequency and power (labelled as amplitude on the y-axis below) can be graphically depicted as:

Simplistic instruction to punch faster betrays ignorance of muscle physiology and human biomechanics. Conversely, I recommend slowing down during the training phase. Don’t add much speed nor frequency until you are able to develop power as one unit. Your arms can move too quickly (excessive speed) or often (excessive frequency) for your body and legs. In order to holistically incorporate the greatest effective mass into your punch, proper coordination is essential. Usually, that means your arms must wait for your body and legs to catch up. Otherwise, your punch will mainly involve your arms, rather than integrate all that you are behind it.

So by “fast” do you mean speed or frequency? Ultimately, no one can tell you precisely how speedy or frequently you should punch. I’m sorry if you think the title was misleading or left unresolved. You are free to choose your most important value. If you want to prioritize speed, please do. If you want to prioritize frequency, go ahead. If you want to prioritize power, synergize the principles above to find and feel your own optimal flow. Allow me to close with some germane experiential wisdom from my teacher. He succinctly stated the following during a Technician Seminar:

“Too fast is weak. Too slow is risk.”
— Sifu Klaus Brand

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7 thoughts on “How Fast Should You Punch?

  1. Dear Sihing,
    It’s easy to get lost in the theory of movement and disconnect from the practicality of movement. In your article, you provide the theory and support it with clear graphs and scientific explanations. At the same time, you emphasize that there is no definite answer to the main question that can be derived from theory or scientific research. Rather, maximizing power will be different for every person and is something that each person has to discover for themselves by feeling the movements. Your paper elegantly integrates theory and practical application and clearly illustrates how they relate to optimal punch speed/frequency.
    I liked the way you presented the information through graphs. Although hard to understand at first, once I clicked on the graphs and saw the full picture it was much easier to see details and understand your analysis. I find that people often do not have a clear distinction of power and force. This distinction is essential to understanding this article. Power = Force x Velocity whereas Force = mass x acceleration. Although one can increase power and force by accelerating to high velocities, mass plays an essential role and must not be forgotten. After reading this article, I’ve realized how some of my techniques have been lacking because my arms move too fast for my legs and body and, therefore, I am not able to deliver the most mass into my techniques. Thanks for the great article and look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mariano.

      I briefly mentioned effective mass, which is the amount of mass incorporated into generating force. We increase that by using our entire body, perhaps 60 kilograms (kg). But if only the arm is used in isolation, effective mass may reduce to only 12 kg or 20% of maximum. Simply, effective mass should approach body mass.

      In this article I did not want to address acceleration. The discussion was getting dense enough! But let me say we do apply that variable intelligently in our motion. I’d like to explain that in the future.

      — Sihing

  2. Having done my very best to absorb this article, I personally think due to ones body mechanics the subtle combination of punch power/frequency will inevitably vary. I feel the best “rule of thumb” is to do one punch per second and each punch being 100% in power.

    Of course, this overlaps slightly into the issue of preparation time. I think if the punch is not prepared before it attacks then it will be too weak, likewise if the punch is prepared for too long it will be an instant risk to the practitioner. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • Hi Adam, indeed the reason we don’t punch too frequently is exactly because of preparation time. There is a finite duration we need to properly coordinate our full physical, emotional and mental resources for unified action. Anything less is less substantial. Good observation!

      — Sihing Paul

  3. thank you and i couldnt agree more especially because time on target equals energy transference . And i also arrived at the two punch for chain punching for three reasons . power , reaction , and avoiding a counter . what is youre take on this . my question is this though if i attack at a constant frequency say 1 punch per second am i setting my self up for a counter on a halfbeat or broken rhythm . maby there is a better method you could explain to us for application purposes .
    thank you for youre time respectfully michael

    • You’re welcome, Michael. I did not talk about energy transference, which in mechanics can be considered work, or force over distance. It is also interpreted as change in kinetic energy of an object subjected to a force. I kept things as simple as possible by focusing on the direct contrast of velocity and frequency.

      Nor did I mention constant frequency. Perhaps the last graph confused you. That was meant to depict a pattern of relationship between power and frequency rather than imply that we move at a set frequency, although it is helpful to do so in the learning phase.

      In application, our motion is asynchronous. This means we learn to strike at the right moment. Yes, I recommend consecutive techniques have an interval of approximately one second. Yet because this is dynamic, the opponent cannot know my timing, let alone calculate a half-beat.

      I reiterate, we do not “chain punch” in the IAW. That implies repetitive, and therefore predictable, but not necessarily relevant movement. At most, we link two punches together, otherwise we almost never repeat the same action twice in a row. This is not just semantics.

      Hope this helps. Thanks for reading!

  4. …Time and space are relative, the rest is just interpretation with its legal translation.
    Where and when you position yourself (in this variable) and which language is suitable or used to describe phenomenons (from a human point of view – it is called perspective)

    In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single continuum. With the appreciation of matter and anti-matter it is easy to conceive an infinity of continuum. Modeling is the action to make visible any of its phenomenons.

    After all, everything reminds in our own “preference” (shape, color, taste etc…)

    Sometime, during my class, I realize that I spend to much time to “explain” some aspect of the Art. Because of the IAW’s quality, it generates a great enthusiasm… And each time, when I over lap the “speaking time/ over the practicing time” I remember what Sifu say “stop talking, Work!”

    It is not because I suddely see the shadow of Sifu asking me to shut-up… (smile)
    No… I look into the eyes of my student and suddenly remember that, passing a certain limit, it becomes a monologue… (smile again)

    Coming back to the topic:

    In term of frequency (in our continuum) The less is the best.
    In term of speed (“) > the most appropriate is the best. Collusions give each time the action of preparation, a new dimension (within its technical limit)

    It is always possible to speculate on what/who/where/how/when (dialectic is just another false mirror) Internet itself is a mirror, and also its opposite…

    One thing is undeniable, when the hands of the Clock become the arms of Sifu, you automatically forget any of those speculations… During this moment, we Become

    Greetings from Penang,
    Nathan

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