At, On, and Through

There’s a delightful little Sesame Street segment, in which Grover is demonstrating the ideas of Around, Over, Under, and Through by interacting with a set of saloon doors. (Click on the link under the image if you’d like to see the skit!) I’d love to have a similar skit for my students, and it would be called At, On, and Through.

These three little words, At, On, and Through, are ways to describe the depth of your strike, whether it’s a punch or a kick. Simply:

  • At” describes a strike that is completed on the surface of the intended target. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have force. A large percentage of cobra system strikes, for example, focus on “at”. These cobra strikes are at vital nerve points, though, and can be very effective.
  • On” describes a strike that transfers a significant level of force into the target and results in the target moving as a result. A strike “On” can cause bruises or breaks.
  • “Through” describes a strike that is not only forceful, but is delivered with the intent of traveling a significant distance past the intended target. Think of a good hook punch in a boxing match or a battering ram blasting through a castle door.

Don’t confuse the depth of a strike with the power that is delivered. With a “through” strike, the opponent’s body moves a large distance (my friend Jim might say they are punched or kicked all the way to next Sunday). In a technique executed “On” the target, the opponent will fall down backwards or be moved away in the direction of the strike. But in a perfectly executed “at” punch, the opponent will fall either forward or drop straight down. My teacher, GM Joe Manley, once did an “At” strike by touching my upper arm while I was sitting down. I barely felt the impact, but nearly fell out of my chair!

As you develop your skills, you’ll want to start with “Through” until you know you can deliver power and don’t let your mind stop you before the strike makes contact. (Board breaking demonstrations generally utilizes “through”). As you develop your sense of range and timing, your strikes can migrate more to “On” or “At”, if that’s the direction you want to pursue.