Contact in Training – Part One


Contact in training is useful for the following reasons:

Prevention of joint injury

Development of correct distancing

Development of power and stability while executing a technique

Conditioning of striking surfaces in order to be able to execute a technique in reality if necessary

Psychological Conditioning

Prevention of joint injury

Executing techniques at speed against thin air, particularly in the early stages of martial arts training, can lead to the hyper-extension of joints.  The knees and elbows are particularly vulnerable to this.  Similarly incorrect alignment of the ankle and wrist joints (so that they would buckle and result in strains, sprains or even broken bones) can be grooved into the memory when training against thin air, or continuously pulling techniques.  Progressive contact along a force continuum eliminates alignment problems at an early stage and the act of making contact significantly lowers the risk of hyper-extension.

Development of correct distancing

By striking against pads (and people in body armour) students gain a completely accurate picture, both visual and tactile, as to how close they need to be to a person to execute a technique in order to get the desired result.   By using a pad, shield/bag you get immediate feedback on just how close you need to be to a static object to get the desired amount of penetration on each type of strike used.  There is no doubt that point contact sparring works many useful skills, but it does neglect two fundamental principles of combat:

  1. When you hit a real person, as opposed to just make no contact or light contact (about 1 inch penetration), they move, and this movement affects the nature of any follow-throughs that you may or may not have to do.
  2. You get good at what you train for.  There are many point sparrers who would have no difficulty in transferring their skills to a contact arena at the drop of a hat.  The majority of these have probably had to hit somebody for real at some point in time while growing up and have a practical knowledge of the difference between training, competing and reality based upon experience.  Alternatively they may have extensive experience of kicking through pads.  There will be a large proportion however who, without necessarily intending to do so, will execute beautiful techniques in real life that fall just short of their target, or fail to connect with sufficient power, because that is what long hours of training have programmed them to do.


Development of power and stability while executing a technique

By striking against pads (and people in armour) students quickly learn if their technique isn’t working.  Impact exposes flaws in body alignment, stances, and general biomechanics directly to the student.  A good instructor can spot flaws in the practice of techniques against air, and attempt to explain the correct positioning.  Through impact a student can feel that something isn’t working, and also feel the difference when it is.  This form of direct feedback adds an entirely different dimension to the efficacy of the coaching process.  When making impact students can start to quantify the power of their strikes to a greater degree.  They receive tactile and visual feedback of improvement in a manner that is not gained by striking the air.  Touch contact training, or no contact training can help develop speed, and increases in speed and accuracy can be observed, but speed does not necessarily equate to power, stability, or penetration – in those key areas contact does not lie.

Impact training does take on a different dimension with regard to stability when a student switches from striking a static target to hitting a moving target such as a person in body armour.  Unless training solely for a fight that begins and ends with a sucker strike to a static victim, in a real fight (or competitive fight) the targets can be expected to be in motion.  This movement will again have implications for the platform stability or otherwise required to land an effective strike.

Physical Conditioning

Most people have been hit at some point in their lives, whether accidentally or deliberately, sometimes indirectly by objects and sometimes directly by other people.  We tend therefore to have an idea in our minds that being hit hurts although we may not have a full appreciation of just how much different strikes hurt and how much damage they can do (of which more in the next issue). Fewer people though have a realistic appreciation of the fact that hitting something hard can often hurt.  Depending upon whether you are training for competitions or training for self defence, you may be training to hit using just your fists to any part of the body, and you may need to prepare to use anything from full padding across your striking surfaces to no protective equipment at all.    Here in making contact in practice we are looking to desensitize the striking surfaces of the body slightly so that pain is either minimized, or at least not shock and recoil inducing on the part of the striker.   There is a significant difference between striking a target with the fist  while wearing wrist wraps and 16oz gloves, and performing the same strike with the bare hand.  It is easy to forget how the aforementioned tools can be slightly more forgiving of imprecise hand and wrist alignment than the bare flesh can tolerate.

Psychological Conditioning

There is a difference between striking the air, striking pads and striking a real person.  Many people do have difficulty with the latter, and I have actually known people to have difficulty in hitting pads knowing that they are training to hit a real person.   The vast majority of people, unless supported by a group, or overly practiced through group absolution and upbringing in the infliction of physical violence, are more inclined to gesture, posture and shout in an attempt to ‘win’ without fighting rather than engage in physical violence.  Although there are factors that are conditioning increasing numbers of young people to be more comfortable with the execution of violence, which combined in some societies (particularly the UK) with increased availability of alcohol and social indifference to drunkenness  make an unpleasant mix, many people have a natural aversion to hitting things.   Just as the genetic impulse for adventure, risk taking, danger and fighting in some has led to some of mankind’s greatest discoveries and advances, the genetic impulse to avoid danger and hide has been responsible for the survival of the species as a whole.

Training to hit pads develops the factors listed above, all of which are required for practical application.  But all of this is to no avail if the student cannot actually bring themselves to hit a real person.  While physical practice on its own is not an absolute cure for this situation, training to hit a suitably padded person can begin to break down any barriers that a student may have in their mind.


The above points all illustrate the many advantages to making contact in training, the weaknesses they can help eliminate, and the injuries that they can help avoid.  Unsupervised and untrained use of pads and body armour can however result in the very injuries that their use is designed to prevent ‘thin air strikers’ from receiving when first  encountering resistance.  The golden rule to reduce injury is, as always, start training slowly, strike lightly in a static fashion before increasing contact, and when first transferring to mobile targets, again start slowly with a progressive force continuum.  If a professional boxer such as Mike Tyson can break his hand through throwing an unprotected punch hard at a hard target when not wearing gloves or wraps, then there is every possibility that you or I could do the same.

Train safely.


  1. […] the training can involve making contact on a striking surface, with all the benefits I described here, or nothing more than yourself and an empty space in which you can move. There are considerable […]

  2. […] to try, and accept the potential offered by the change. As I have written in short blog posts about contact in training, six things you should do in your training and speed in training, variety and different training […]

  3. […] them. Combinations should take this into account. This quickly becomes apparent when you are making contact or receiving contact in […]

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