Heel up or heel down?


One of the first things you learn in boxing is to pivot on the balls of your feet and punch with the rear heel up. Mike Tysons knockouts are filled with committed, rear heel up, punches. 

But should we ever strike with the heel down?

That depends. Let's establish a few concepts before breaking down why you might choose one or the other. 

Power comes from the MATS. Why MATS? Because we all know power starts from the ground up so we start on the mats we sweat on when training. But MATS stands for more.

MATS = Mobility, Alignment, Torque, and Speed

I am hardpressed to find anyone who disagrees with these basic principles of power generation. Even the esoteric Chi power believers don't deny MATS. But how does that play into the heel being up or down? 

One of the statements Dr. Ron Chapél* often makes is, "The heel is for stability, the ball of the foot is for mobility." And biomechanically speaking he is, as usual, spot on. When we sprint the heel is up. When we deadlift massive weight the heel is down. One requires alignment while another requires mobility. 

In an ideal situation you use all 4 components of power generation to their fullest.

But that's not always possible. As fighters we are always trading one for another depending on the environment. How close is the attacker? Is there a wall behind you? Are you in a phone booth? You may use Mobility more than Speed. You may use Torque more than Alignment. Or Alignment more than torque. 

The primary source of power depends on the situation.

So which component of power does the heel up contribute to?

The answer is Mobility. When you can move your mass into the target you will generate more power. Watch Mike Tyson's knockouts. Notice that he uses his calf to push his body, which includes the fist, forward. Tyson punches so hard his rear foot leaves the ground, but not before using the power gained by pushing through the ball of the foot. We've all heard someone say, "Hit with the car, not the bumper of the car". Your fist is the bumper. Your body is the car. Hit the guy attacking you with the entire car. 

But what about the heel being down? 

So the heel supports Alignment, right? If you are trying to hold back a heavy car, not push it, you will drive your heel into the ground. It's instinct. Why hold something heavy on your toes? You won't. Just like you wont sprint on your heels.

When you drop the heel you lose Mobility. 

When we lose Mobility we have to make up for it somewhere, right? In this case we make up for it with Alignment. With the heel dropped our structure is more solid. It is Aligned. 

Who cares? Why would I want to be less mobile? 

Because sometimes you don't have a choice. Imagine this scenario. Your standing around chatting with friends in a small, crowded room.  Some stranger just wants to fight (we've all seen this guy). He is so close you can't move forward at all. All you want to do is hit the guy, but you can't use Mobility to your advantage. You can't move forward to hit him. 

So what do you do?

Step back, jam your rear heel into the ground, and execute any variation of a punch (I'm not advocating a karate style punch. The picture is from a form and is for training purposes). What you lose in Mobility you make up for in Alignment. 

I used to wonder, "Why is my teacher allowed to pivot on the balls of his feet and I'm not?". Well he wanted to teach the ability to generate power through Alignment before trying to add the complexity of Mobility. It's hard enough to get new students to pivot their hips much less do so while moving forward. I've watch class after class and seminar after seminar with teachers saying, "Move your body". But still, it's not easy. Some get it because they are ready. Some don't so they have to wait.

No situation is ideal. But exploring the different ways to generate power will help you understand why your teacher has you lifting your heels... or not.

Until the next article.... get on the MATS. 

*Dr. Ron Chapél - Educator and pioneer in Martial Science Applications, noted student of Ed Parker Sr., and 35 year public law enforcement officer.

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