T Nation

The One-Inch Punch


Fantastically interesting piece.

What say you guys?


"Forget all those broken boards and crumbled concrete slabs. No feat of martial arts is more impressive than Bruce Lee's famous strike, the one-inch punch. From a single inch away, Lee was able to muster an explosive blow that could knock opponents clean off the ground. Lee mastered it, fans worldwide adored it, and Kill Bill "borrowed" it. But if you're like us, you want to know how it works.

While the biomechanics behind the powerful blow certainly aren't trivial, the punch owes far more to brain structure than to raw strength."



Bruce Lee was the ultimate power guy!

as a non-fighter the one inch punch looks like the ultimate expression of power. You've got a fraction of a second to figure out how to generate force with your whole body, before your fist connects.

You can recreate this "feeling" with plyometrics. Step off a low box, then as soon as you land go into a broad jump. Make an effort to keep your feet on the floor for as short a time as possible. Your body has to "figure out" how to develop maximum force, at a funny angle, in minimal time. After a few sessions, you can feel a difference as your body learns to be more explosive.

Plyometric pushups work the same way. Start with hands elevated 2-3 inches, "drop" off the box onto the floor, and into bottom pushup postion, then forcefully drive up and "hop" your upper body up and land on the boxes again.

Power Cleans or snatches from blocks/pins in the power rack. There is an instant where you start your explosive pull, but the bar is still on the support. During this fraction of a second you have to develop maximum force. It only takes a couple reps to "train" your body to figure out how to do this.

It seems like you could wind up like you were gonna throw a right-cross. Then shuffle up to a wall or post or something. Place your open palm on the wall, then kinda jump/push yourself back as your extend your arm like throwing a punch. Over time try this with a straighter and straighter arm. This is pure speculation tho.

Maybe you could just throw the shot-put?


it's cool to see but is it any more than a gimmick?

in a real situation even if you were capable of this you would likely be unable to get near your aggressor to do it and even if you could you would be safer throwing an arm distance shot anyway.


If someone was crowding/pressuring you, throwing really short, really powerful punches would super-help you.

also, don't focus on the actual punch. Think about the full body torque developed developed in such a short time/distance.


You guys should probably read the article BEFORE you comment.

The piece isn't so much about the one-inch punch itself (or how to develop it) as much as it's about how the amount of white brain matter you have influences how you can put together your movements efficiently.

This might be why some guys have such a hard time throwing for power, even though their body looks like it should be plenty powerful. Or why some small guys can hit like trucks, even though they look they shouldn't be able to.


"Roberts says the white matter changes in his study's participants can be traced to the concept of neuroplasticity?the brain's ability to fundamentally rewire itself to cope with new demands. The more karate experts practiced these coordinated moves, the more the white matter in their supplementary motor cortex adapts."

Did you read the whole thing?


I always been intrigued by his one inch punch, but I think all parts are equally important not just the brain. White brain cell matter which is a common theme. High amounts of coordinated movement are recommended for the older population to keep their brains healthy. Majority of time it's dancing, but tai chi and martial arts are a high second due to all the various movements they have. Add to that the 10k repetition theory, nerves build pathways, and he's building pathways through a large portion of his body, which makes it something everybody could gain from studying.

The punch technically not a one inch punch. This is a punch where the maximum power is an inch away from the original location. The punch itself is a few inches. His windup is incredibly fast, but he does pull it back an inch or more. This allows him to add a significant amount of power from the stretch reflex. I say this to say it adds an expect of timing and understanding of max velocity. A friend pointed this out to me when playing bball a while back, noticing this guy could blow by people with ease. He always took a step back, that was kind of his wind up. Natural instinct would tell you to just go forward to go around somebody, not that stepping backwards could actually make you faster than somebody.

This is incredibly useful and probably already in the arsenal of boxers that stick and move well or with solid uppercuts. It may be coming from different angles but the principals are the same, a quick windup, a lot of torque, a lot of power, and a very short space. First thing that comes to mind is Iron Mike's upper cuts in his prime. Then Manny, and Hatton quick power strikes a few years back. They both could get step to the outside strike a quick power punch.

Last part is truly my own theory, but forearm power is highly underrated. Both static in holding a fist, and dynamic torque in rotating it. I had an african drum teacher that could strike drums barely moving his arm with 10x's harder than I could flailing my arms. Similar to the article the strike was a very short time frame with a high burst of power.

It's like a true martial arts lesson where you get to learn a bunch of principals from one little thing you do over and over. Think I'm a go paint a fence


Right, but I take that to mean "practicing punching" - which we know already.

Like I said, far more fascinating was the idea that white matter controlled these precise sequences of contractions that create the power, allowing a little ass guy like Lee to generate tremendous force.


As someone who researches neuroscience (albeit cognitive neuroscience) and recently took up martial arts (see: my training log), I find this article very intriguing. I already know quite a bit about neuroplasticity. The brain changes with each new experience in life. I wonder now if neuroscience can provide insight into how best to train martial arts such that the mind and body become most coordinated. My personal guess is that the best trainers/instructors' methodologies already work to maximize this effect. But it sounds fun to look into!


I agree - they probably maximize it, but then the trainers themselves don't know WHY. They just know it works.

I though this article begged the question of whether or not we have a genetic proclivity towards power punching. We all know some people that come out of the womb being able to break down walls with their punches, and people that, no matter how hard they train, can't crack an egg. Furthermore, as you said, I wonder if we can train around that - or if we have some sort of genetic limit on the amount of force we can generate?


Good point, we knew practice punching to get better at punching.

Now there is actual science that validates this gym-rat knowledge! I love when this happens!

So how can we use/exploit this scientific principle? What can a non-martial artist do in the gym to mimic these full body, coordinated moves and increase white matter?

What exercises can a fighter use in a addition to throwing punches and kicks to get even more white matter?


Very interesting. And true.

I have noticed that a lot of ex-boxers - those not dribbling from taking too much punishment, of course - stay in excellent physical shape as they age. And often I see their trainers last FOREVER - think Cus D'Amato, Ray Arcel, Angelo Dundee, and Manny Steward (who was in amazing shape for 68, and if the cancer hadn't gotten him, I believe would have hit 90). I think it's the combination of getting the work in without taking the absolute punishment.


Absolutely agreed. My punching power increased dramatically when I started doing a lot of grip work. It's not a coincidence.

You'll see the same thing with mechanics.


Bro-science, VALIDATED.


Now we're on the same page.

This is fantastically interesting.

As a fighter, you'd want to train for max-power output all the time. Other athletes could use a conjugate approach, training max strength and max power at the same time. Or they could use the block system, training for mass then strength then power in sequential short cycles.

What would be more effective for an athlete? Try to develop slow strength and power at the same time? Or to "peak" in strength and then "peak" in explosiveness, reaping extra "beginner gains" right before competition?


Somebody (Brooks Kubik? Matt Furey?) once wrote an article about doing 100 bodyweight squats the night before a wrestling match. Then, during the match he always felt really fast and explosive.

How fast can I start to increase white matter? How many workouts till I can "turn on" power?


I can't find this in your log - what do you do and how often?


It's a common theme in the history of philosophy: science later validates something some philosopher said hundreds of years ago. I think it's true when it comes to training philosophies too.

I'd say it's 50-60% genetic. Again, this is based on my background in cognitive science/neuroscience. But that seems to be the case. That said, who knows what the disparity is in natural talent between the most and least gifted. I would never discount the power of will to overcome the difference IF the less talented person has much more of it.


While it's pretty clear that some people have naturally better coordination, strength, speed, power, endurance, etc...than others I didn't get the impression that the article was suggesting that the Martial Artists that they studied (or Lee) were genetically superior in the white matter category but instead that due to their countless repeated efforts had developed far more white matter than the untrained individuals studied; suggesting that white matter can be increased through practicing skills.

I would say that coordination/white matter is just one of many physiological factors (along with muscle fiber make-up, bone density, mass, age, and leverages) that contributes to punching power potential. Like Shallowseason said though correct practice of the skill and understanding of it's mechanics is going to make up at least 50-60% of punching power. Given correct instruction/guidance and assuming you aren't at some sort of insurmountable genetic disadvantage (like Osteogenesis Imperfecta or something) anyone can learn to develop decent force while punching, most people can develop serious power in their punching, and those at the higher end of the gene pool can develop frightening power in their punching. Those who don't simply don't really understand the mechanics involved (and therefore practice incorrect mechanics), or don't put in the practice to develop them. And to be honest, most of the instructors and trainers that I see teaching stuff on YouTube don't really understand the correct mechanics or cannot articulate their knowledge effectively either, so it's not just the practitioners faults that they fail to develop their power effectively.

Regarding Lee's punch, what the article said about it being a well coordinated kinetic chain of movements is spot on. As some of you know GM Joe Lewis trained directly with Bruce for several years (in fact recent inspection of Lee's personal notes indicate that he logged more one on one training time with Lee than any other student of Lee's with the possible exception of Ted Wong) and Bruce personally taught Joe the inch punch. The difference was that Joe was 200+ lbs of solid explosive muscle so when he used to do it for demonstrations he would often have to avoid his unfortunate demonstratee's feet kicking him in the chin because they would literally go airborn upon impact.

Joe taught the inch punch to my primary instructors (and in fact I had the privaledge of being at a special "What Bruce Lee Taught Me" Seminar that Joe held a few years back in which he taught all of us in add tendency Bruce's 1 Inch Punch) and one of my other instructors (who interestingly enough had a background in Wing Chun, but broke away and developed his own Method of Combat which is based on correct understanding of human biomechanics, much like Bruce's JKD path) basically figured it out on his own (and who of course confirmed the mechanics were the same when he later met and trained with Joe).

So, I would say my understanding of the punch is relatively well educated.

As FistsFarmer suggested above, the purpose of the 1 Inch Punch is to demonstrate the need for "short power" and to demonstrate that through correct musculoskeletal alignment, sequencing of movement at the different joints of the body, and correct signaling of the agonistic muscles and relaxation of the correct antagonistic muscles involved in throwing a punch, that it is still possible to generate significant amounts of kinetic energy/power. Of course you aren't going to walk up to someone and do an "inch punch" to them in a real fight, but if you can develop significant power over a very small distance, then you are going to be able to generate even more over a larger distance.


Sento! You totally get me!

If your opponent stumbles, and leans in off-balance with his chin stuck out you have a brief instant to connect before he recovers/moves. You don't throw a straight right or a hook, you throw one of those kinda looping shots from waist height. You don't have time to move your feet, adjust your hips, then throw the punch. You just kinda "hop" into place, turn your hips, and throw all at once. You have to get your feet and body into position, as your fist is moving, but BEFORE you connect.

You land that powerful shot "through correct musculoskeletal alignment, sequencing of movement at the different joints of the body, and correct signaling of the agonistic muscles and relaxation of the correct antagonistic muscles."

Like Airtruth says, the wind-up has to be incredibly fast. To be really fast, the "wind-up" has to be short.

Watch some tape of young Tyson. He swings hard, but its more than that. He is always generating maximum power PRECISELY as he lands, not right before or right after, and guys heads bounce off his fist like kicking a basketball. Tyson said in his book he worked out in prison, but he really "lost his timing." He specifically called it timing, not power.

There is a similar "instant" in olympic weightlifting. After you "pull" the bar is weightless as it "flies" up. During this brief time, you go from driving everything up, to dropping your body underneath the bar. You reverse the way your body moves. Your "wind up" has to be really fast and short.

Now, as a lifter, its too late for me to go throw 10,000 one inch punches to develop this kind of coordination.

For you fighters, it would be silly to waste your gym time doing 10,000 power snatches.

It would even be silly for me to do the 10,000 power snatches. Only a short portion of that lift really creates the feeling we're after.

There must be some drills or exercises or lifts that maximize "white matter stimulation," which would lead me to be more powerful and explosive all around. I'd be better at ALL punches without practicing every specific punch, or a better lifter without practicing every specific lift.

Are you guys familiar with that move Eastern Fighters use where they kinda bounce around on their toes while pumping a barbell back and forth in front of themselves at shoulder level? Maximum bounce at the bottom, with barbell close paired with maximum tension at the top and the barbell at arms length. I saw Fedor and his brother doing it a few times, and they hit pretty hard.

I hope you guys don;t mind me, as a non-fighter, cluttering this place up.


I really don't think there is any such exercise as the brain's neuroplasticity is task specific. So for instance if you were to practice the crap out of the Olympic Lifts I'm sure you would have more white matter in the motor cortex than an average Joe who was mostly sedentary. But you would probably still lack the movement specific skill, coordination, and timing to generate a maximum power punch. Likewise if you practice punching power till you get really good at it you will probably still not have the skill specific timing, coordination and accuracy to be able to hit a 90 mph fast ball out of a major (or even minor) league park.

That said I would expect that the more complex and power oriented the movement the more white matter the body would build due to it. So things like punching, Ilympic Lifts, Track and Field events like Pole vault, and Gymnastics/acrobatic skills would all likely result in considerable white matter adaptation, but that's just a hypothesis on my part.