Years ago I studied Kenpo karate.
I made it all the way to 3rd degree brown belt before my music travels started to really conflict with my karate studies. Unfortunately, that meant it was bye-bye Kenpo.
But like most students on a martial arts journey, I had spent quite a lot of time learning about the legendary Bruce Lee.
Now any serious martial artist has studied and dissected the teachings and techniques of Bruce Lee. He’s required knowledge, like reading the works of Plato and Socrates for philosophy majors, or learning “Johnny B. Goode” and “Smoke on the Water” for rock guitarists. It’s what you do.
Fast forward to a guitar lesson with a student. We were working on a particular technique when, all of a sudden, the spirit of Bruce Lee entered the room. He said, “Teach this guitar player about the One-Inch Punch.”
So I did.
The One-Inch Punch
Bruce Lee was famous for many martial arts techniques, but one of his most legendary is the “one-inch punch”.
He demonstrated this move often at karate tournaments and seminars. Holding his fist about one inch from his volunteer’s solar plexus, he would punch him. From that short distance, the master would knock the volunteer clear across the floor.
The technique is significant because most folks recoil their arm to generate momentum and deliver a punch. Bruce demonstrated that, if you can generate enough power through the torque in your hips and legs, you can deliver an effective punch with little to no recoil.
Let’s Cover Some Ground
Bruce was doing some serious damage while covering a very short distance with his right hand. Of course, Bruce was the man, and the one-inch punch is an advanced concept.
Advanced guitarists would probably tell you to imitate Bruce and be more economical in your movements. As a matter of fact, I used to preach this same thing in my guitar classes. My mantra was, “Small movements”.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my guitar students – who were not advanced – needed bigger movements.
When picking, you need to move your hand through space. These bigger movements will help you to really feel the difference between the downstroke and the upstroke.
Many of the problems students encounter with picking is a result of not feeling that difference. They will miss strings or get caught between strings. Their notes may sound weak. These things can often be attributed to movements which are too small and indecisive.
They are taking a one-inch punch approach when they haven’t yet learned to control the pick or generate power in the attack.
Experienced guitarists will move their strumming hand as wide as the song allows – that is, the slower the song, the wider the strumming path and vice versa. But less experienced players have a tough time gauging this, and will often err on the side of strumming too small of a path.
I say, go big or go home! Cover some ground with a wide strumming path. You can always dial it back when you’ve learned to generate a solid strum.
Disclaimer: Very fast strums cannot be effectively played in a wide path, so use common sense when “go(ing) big”.
Takeaway point: Whether picking or strumming, exaggerate your right hand movement a bit and move the pick through space. This way you can clearly “feel” the nuances of the movement and generate some power.
Sometimes a guitarist will look like they are correctly hammering-on a note, but the result winds up sounding very weak. His/her lack of power minimizes any chance of that note being heard. And most often, the problem is simple: Our guitarist is trying to use a one-inch punch!
Don’t start with your finger too close to the string. This will put you in a position of weakness, not strength. Instead, reach back and use distance and momentum to generate velocity, and therefore, power.
Takeaway point: You may not yet understand how to generate velocity to the string within a short distance. So reach back with your hammering finger and slam the fingertip down hard on the string. Don’t be shy about generating power here.
But I Wanna Do the One-Inch Punch!
As you become more comfortable with generating power in your playing, feel free to shorten the distance you cover. This is the next stage of technique development: learning to maintain the power you developed while delivering it from a short distance.
This is especially important on fast songs. A fast tempo will simply not allow you to move the pick in a wide path or hammer from any distance you please. It requires more efficiency in your movements.
Takeaway point: Efficiency is built into our movements slowly, step by step. First we learn to generate power by covering more distane. Then we learn to maintain that power while decreasing our distance covered. End result = efficiency of movement, aka the One-Inch Punch!
QUESTION: What is the quality of your technique? Are you delivering a One-Inch Punch when you need to cover more ground? Leave me a comment below!