What is chain punching?
Chain punching is one of Wing Chun’s brutally effective punching techniques. It consists of straight line punches, done in quick succession, that target the opponent’s centreline. Typically they are aimed at the sternum region and focus on hitting this area over and over again. I’ve outlined the chain punching drills I’ve used to develop both speed and power.
For those in a rush, this is what I practice on to increase the speed and power of my punches.
A great example of chain punching can be seen in the video below.
video from YouTube
When would you use chain punching?
This punching technique is designed to be used at close quarters to maintain space when an opponent is trying to close in on you.
In sparring, I often found that when I threw a single punch, my opponent would either block it and counter punch or slip my strike and move in to throw me.
I found that my karate training left me very vulnerable to this close quarter type of fighting. I was okay keeping my opponent away using my kicking techniques and my longer range strikes. However, if my opponent managed to get into my guard, I simply didn’t know what to do.
When I was karate sparring and my opponent got too close, the Sensei would step in and separate us, before allowing the fight to continue. This is great in the dojo but after a couple of years, I wondered what I’d do from a self defense perspective.
If someone, rushed me in the street and got into my close personal space, I wouldn’t have a single counter and there wouldn’t be a Sensei to come into rescue me.
In my view, this is one of Karate’s weaknesses. It doesn’t really cater to the close fighting range.
It was then when I started to look at other fighting styles for ideas. I was inspired by Bruce Lee who used a similar approach and famously said:
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
It was then when I came across Wing Chun’s chain punch.
I spent several months practicing the punch privately at home using the techniques I’ve outlined below.
I remember the look of shock on my opponent’s face when I tried this technique in my karate dojo. They had blocked my Gyaku Zuki (reverse punch) and had stepped forward ready to deliver a counter strike. I instantly started chain punching. They managed to parry the first strike away but the second, third and fourth made contact. The sensei the stepped in and reset our positions.
My chain punches must have had some success because when the fight resumed, my opponent was a lot more hesitant about getting closer and moving in.
Since this first application, I’ve used the technique in the dojo on many, many occasions. Each time it has the same effect whereby I successfully landed the majority of my chain punches and moved my opponent out of my close personal space.
Can chain striking be used in a self defense environment?
Absolutely. When I spoke to my opponents after using the chain punching technique, they all commented that the punches were surprising hard; several even commented that their sternums hurt even after only a few strikes.
They also commented that they were completely taken by surprise by the rapid onslaught of punches and felt that they could only really respond by moving away out of range of this technique.
Chain punching maintains pressure on your opponent’s centre line. This is an imaginary line running down the middle of the body. It includes your nose, chin, throat, sternum, solar plexus, stomach, and groin. In other words, many of the vulnerable points of the body.
I found that my opponent may block one or two of the punches but you’re able to strike again so rapidly so that the majority of the strikes make contact. Because you’re striking at a point on the centre line, these punches really hurt, especially if you’ve practiced the techniques below. It’s like a rapid fire machine gun cutting away at your opponent; it drives your opponent backwards.
If you’re taken by surprise in a street environment, it’s highly likely that your attacker will end up at close quarters. You need an effective technique to be able to drive them backwards so that you can make your escape or create space to use another technique.
What are the advantages of chain punching?
Chain punching is a relatively simple technique that doesn’t require a huge amount of skill to learn. It takes minimal practice to be able to perform this move correctly. As a result, it’s easy to learn.
When thrown, one or two of your punches may be parried or blocked but, because of the continued onslaught, several will make contact. Chain punching involves trying to hit the same target area of your opponent’s body. It’s like a rapid firing battering ram hammering down a door. It’s this that makes the technique so effective as this continued onslaught on one particular area really hurts!
The technique instantly puts you on the offensive and your opponent on the defensive. As they say, the best form of defense is attack. It forces your opponent to try and defend themself. This gives you the advantage as they have to react to you, rather than the other way around.
When not to use chain punching
You shouldn’t try to use chain punching when your opponent is too far away. It is a close quarter fighting technique, and should only be used at this range.
If used at distance, your attacker will be easily able to move out of the way and you’ll have lost the element of surprise.
I always wait until my sparring partner moves inside of my straight arm punching range. It’s the equivalent point at where you could start using elbow strikes. It’s designed to be used when your opponent tries to close in on you.
You should also avoid using this technique if your opponent is on the ground. In the movies, this technique is often shown with one fighter bending over the other whilst they chain punch their downed opponent.
Bending over your opponent puts you in a very vulnerable position. It doesn’t take much for you to overbalance, or for your opponent to sweep your legs from underneath you. In a self defense scenario, if your opponent is on the ground, you should immediately try to run to safety.
What to avoid when chain punching
There are a number of things to avoid when throwing this type of punch.
When chain punching, your punching arm and retracting arm don’t move back and forth along a straight line, but rather around the circumference of an oval shape.
One of my early mistakes was to make this oval shape too wide so that it looked more like a circle. It almost looked like I was training on a boxing speed ball. This reduced the speed of the punch, which also reduced its power.
I also noticed that there’s a problem if you punch with your arms too stiff. I had to focus hard not to do this, particularly coming from a karate background where you tense your body after each strike (called ‘kime’).
If your arms are too rigid when you punch, then if your opponent vigorously blocks your strike, your whole body can be forced to turn sideways. This leaves the side of your body exposed to counter attack.
I had to concentrate on keeping my arms more relaxed. This allowed me to instantly follow up with another chain punch if my initial strikes were blocked.
It’s also important to keep your elbows in line behind your fists. This, in part, is where the power from the punch comes from. It’s as if your whole power of your upper body is being channelled forward down the line of your arm. If your elbow is out of alignment then this energy will not be transferred fully to your fist.
It’s worth experimenting with different elbow positions when practicing the exercises below. You will easily be able to feel that the correct elbow positioning allows you to strike using considerably more force.
The other thing I found myself doing on occasion was leaning in.
My opponent would move in to my guard and I’d initiate my chain punch. As they retreated, I would lean my body in to increase my range, effectively chasing after them. This leaves you out of balance and susceptible to your opponent’s attacking techniques.
Don’t chase your opponent with this technique when they move away. Rather switch to another attacking move such as a straight punch or kick: it’s critical that you remain upright and balanced.
Also be mindful that you make correct contact with your fists when you strike.
I found at the beginning that I was doing some sort of strange backfist when I was using the technique. It was only after I really concentrated on my technique that I realised my mistake.
What equipment do I need to practice?
Before we move onto the drills themselves, I thought it would be useful to describe the equipment I use.
Wall bags are a must when looking to practice Wing Chun chain punching.
This has to be my favourite striking bag that I’ve used. It’s made of a really heavy duty canvas, which is typical of this type of striking pad. What makes the difference is that each pad is fronted be a leather square. This help to prevent the skin getting grazed on the rough canvas.
The three pads at different heights allow you to practice chain punching targeting different heights without having to readjust the striking bag on the wall to lower or raise it each time.
I filled the bags with beans which formed a hard and relatively solid target to strike. I picked mine up for about $30 but you can check the price here on Amazon.
Chain punching drills
In order to get better you need need to punch a lot, consistently over a period of time.
Use the wall bag to practice your chain punching. I fixed mine on my bedroom and would wake up 15 minutes earlier to practice my chain punching.
I was very targeted in the way I trained. I wanted to see how many quality punches I could throw in a 20 second time period. I figured this would build up my endurance but wouldn’t be so long that my form would fail.
You never want to train using bad form. When skill training you need to ensure you are programming your mind using correct technique. You are trying to create a “groove” in your neuro-muscular architecture so that you can perform the movement without thinking. If you are training using poor technique, then your technique will be poor when you perform it.
When you tire, your form tends to degrade. You therefore never want to practice a particular technique until you tire. If you do, you’ll be programme your body and mind with improper form.
Twenty seconds was just long enough so that I could maintain good form throughout the time period.
It was also sufficiently a long for me to concentrate and refine my movements to ensure proper form.
I would periodically record my training on my phone and afterwards, I would count the number of punches I’d been able to throw. I was determined to increase my speed and sure enough I did.
Rather than focus on just speed, I also concentrated on the power aspect of the punch. It’s no good having a fast chain punch if it doesn’t inflict any damage.
In order to do this, I really slowed the technique down and focussed on directing power into the wall bag from my punch. I would momentarily pause after each punch to mentally review how hard my strike had been and whether my technique was correct:
- Was I leaning forward?
- Was my elbow in line with my fist?
- Was I hitting the pad with the correct part of my hand?
It was through this continuous feedback that I was able to refine my technique to be able to deliver quite significant power in each punch.
I would spend about 5 minutes working on my power drill before moving back to several rounds on the speed drill.
In this way, I was eventually able to have a chain punch that was both extremely fast but also powerful. I hope this technique works for you as well.