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Well first and foremost karate and combat are percussion arts and therefore how can you measure the effectiveness of your technique if you only ever kick or punch thin air? Also by never testing your technique you risk injuring yourself through poor training habits such as bent wrists or loose fists. As an example let’s take a punch, we always teach to punch with the first two knuckles (saiken), but if you do not strike a focus pad or similar object then how can we test this?
Secondly it is scientifically proven that impact training increases bone density. This is extremely important as it will help to prevent diseases such as osteoporosis (soft and easily broken bones) and encourages stronger bones. There are other factors that can affect bone density such as diet, but we will not discuss these here.
As modern martial artists we have the luxury of tools such as focus pads and also kick shields. Many traditional styles argue that use of these modern training methods goes against tradition. What they fail to realise is that the traditional past masters used makawari boards and other items to help condition their hands and bones. Due to technological advances we have the luxury of modern pads and kick shields instead of using slightly more primitive methods such as kicking a bamboo tree to achieve the same goals. In traditional Japanese dojo’s the art of tameshi (breaking) was also practiced. This allowed martial artists to condition their hands by punching through either wooden boards or clay tiles and also to test their force without causing injury to an opponent. As an example you cannot exactly walk up to a training partner as say ‘hey can I punch you as hard as I can in the ribs to see if I can break them?’ How many partners would agree to that? Even if they did agree how long before you can practice it again?
In conclusion, testing impact on modern tools is an important part of any martial artists training. It increases the effectiveness of their technique and allows the effectiveness to be tested safely.