Monday, July 18, 2011

Kung Fu Throwing

Kung Fu throwing or Ninja throwing is a system developed by Mike Caldwell and I in 2005. I wanted to come up with a structured throwing plan to help developing throwers. As the only two Fish who lived on Capitol Hill at the time, Mike and I would meet often to throw. I solicited him to help me with this and to our surprise we found that it was an excellent system for established throwers. (We were in our 7th and 9th years on Sockeye.) We did KFT once a week the entire season and my throws were more consistently on than any other year.

The philosophy of the KFT seeks to improve a thrower in three ways. First and simplest, repetition. The entire program takes about an hour and features ~450 throws. Second, it seeks to challenge the limitations of a thrower by pushing them to throw beyond their comfort. Not so much in terms of distance, but in range of release. Lastly, the central portion of the program tries to articulate the different components of a throw. It separates the wrist from the arm from the shoulder from the hips from the feet. Young throwers are often limited to a single forehand where the handwristarmshouldertorsohipsfeet have to all be doing the same motion every time. What if a defender takes it away? What if you need to get around a marker? Really great throwers make adjustments large and small to their footwork and release points in order to beat defenders.

A warning about KFT: it is very physically rigorous. Mike and I felt taxed by it and we were in incredible shape and our bodies in ultimate frisbee conditioning for years. KFT should be treated like a workout and you should pay attention to your body. Pay attention to the upper hamstring on your step leg (not your pivot leg) because that is where most of the stress of this workout goes. Also consider a partial workout to begin. Cut the 25s down to 15s or even 10s to start.

Here's the workout:

Part I Warm Up w/ 25s
Throw 25 forehands, backhands and hammers at distances of 10, 20 and 30 yards
Throw 25 full lefty forehands, backhands and hammers at comfort distance (usually ~15 yards)
Stretch 5-10 minutes
Be disciplined about distance. The 10 yarder will feel way too short. You may not be able to throw hammers at the full 30. Try. When Mike and I developed it, my shoulders were wrecked and I couldn't throw a 30 yard hammer and so I just threw a mix of weird forehands and backhands. Throw the lefties. It is tempting to leave them out, but this workout really exacerbates the blacksmith syndrome inherent in training for ultimate and the lefty work will help balance you out.

Part II The Kung Fu
At comfort distance, throw 10 forehands and backhands...
1. As low as you can release
2. As far as you can release from your body
3. As high as you can release
4. Compass throwing. Imagine a compass with your pivot foot at the center. Pivot N and throw. Pivot NE and throw. Pivot E and throw and so on around the compass. Go four times around, twice throwing forehands and twice throwing backhands.
5. Rinky-dink. Throw 100 throws at a distance of 2-yards. The goal is rapid catch and release. Aim your throws to be easily catchable, but placed in such a way as to allow your partner to practice a variety of catches. Don't regrip! However you catch, you should throw. If pancake, throw hamburger. If you claw-catch over your head, upside-down backhand.
6. Optional Throw 10s at comfort outside in and inside out.
Completion rates should drop in this section. Mike and I had a focus goal of no turnovers the entire workout, but we never counted this section. The point is to challenge your technical and physical limitations, not to be perfect. Your throws in this section should feel awkward. The optional piece is there if you want. It makes the entire workout a bit long, but it is a nice extra piece of work.

Part III Hucking
Huck for 10 minutes.
Skip this part if you and your throwing partner are very unbalanced in power.

Part IV Pivoting and Focus
25s with pivot at comfort
Fake, pivot, throw. You are working on a snap fake and quick grip transition. Forehand to backhand should be one handed. Backhand to forehand should be a small off hand check. If you are working on a particular move, now is the time to practice it.

Part V Stretch again.
Do it. All the recent press about in ineffectiveness of stretching has to do with the effects of stretching before working out. The science on stretching after is still solidly pro-stretching.


  1. Is the s in 25s, 10s etc seconds?

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  2. I think it's "twenty-fives," as in throw 25 of each throw. See the last part of the introduction: "Also consider a partial workout to begin. Cut the twenty-fives down to fifteens or even tens to start.”

    Thanks for posting this, Lou!

  3. thanks. looking forward to better throws in a few months:)

  4. @Richard: as Daniel says, it is indeed 25 of each throw. Good luck.
    Also, I just remembered a step. In the Kung Fu part, after compass throwing we throw 100 2-yarders as fast a possible. You'll want to mix up the catching and throw placement to avoid a whole mess of hamburgers or push passes.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Lou. :)

  6. For the compass, are you supposed to go in any "Southern" directions? Additionally, are you supposed to do both throws for "east" and "west", or just each throw on their natural side?

    Just got back from doing this and it was pretty sweet. Thanks for posting this!

  7. @Doobs: You'll want to do all 8 directions (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW) for both forehand and backhand. Some will be a bit awkward, but the South in particular are very useful.

  8. "Backhand to forehand should be a small off hand check. "
    what does check mean?
    shouldn't this be one-handed too?

  9. How does one perform a SW right hand flick?

  10. @booo: There are very few throwers who go backhand to forehand without using both hands. A forehand grip is pretty delicate; unlike a backhand it is almost impossible to self adjust it quickly. I put some work in trying to one hand the btf pivot and too often I was throwing a wrong-grip forehand. However, if you could get the move down, it'd be a big advantage.

    @Eric: Start with your pivot-foot in the middle and your step-foot due East. Swing your step-foot back behind you and place it on the SW spot. Drop your weight to balance your hips (i.e. bend your knees) and then let your elbow do the work of throwing the forehand. This is a really great exercise for separating motions because it really eliminates the foot-hip-torso from the throw.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this, Lou! It get's more difficult to get creative with throwing practice once you've "mastered" all the basics. This is great. Speaking as an experienced handler, this gives me some great new things to work on and will add some spice to my throwing practices :)

  12. Hey Lou,
    thanks for the post, it's great! My teammate and I are doing this now and we wanted to ask about the 30 yard 25s - should these be thrown as if they were being thrown to an in cut (like chest height)? seems like if you're throwing to a 30 yard in cut you'd have to have excellent spacing in the stack to avoid a poach. not to mention really strong deep throws (50 yds plus).

  13. @UltiBlerg: A throw does not have to be used in a game to have value. You want your 20 yard comeback cut throw to be consistent and to get there you will need to work beyond that range. One of the things KFT tries to do is improve throws by pushing you beyond your comfort zone.

    When MC and I were doing this regularly, I liked to throw 10s flat and hard, then throw another set of 10s where I was working on something (bladey flick or IO backhand for example) and then finish with 5s flat and hard for focus.

    I usually didn't challenge myself physically too much at this point (with a really low release) because this was still the warm up phase.

  14. I'm really excited to start doing this workout. Thank you for the post!

  15. I would love a printable version to take to practice with me.

  16. Looooouuuuu,

    I actually found the time to try this workout...because I ended up trying it on my own. Difficult situation to put myself in for throwing practice but if I had to choose, I would consider the lacrosse goal I worked with as my best option of target being as it is similar to the catching range of a player at stand-still. Needless to say, it's also quite humbling this way since accuracy is easily measured when I go up to collect my stack of discs. Obviously I can't do rinky dink but that was it out of the workout. Hucking/pulling time was a beautiful moment for me in terms of shape/power/distance...I saw that as a result of working with range of motion and grip so much beforehand. I look forward to getting someone else out with me for the next time and I also look forward to getting a callous on my hand where I rubbed a raw spot in my forehand/hammer grip...another humbling experience of the workout:) Keep up the great posts and in particular, the ones like this where you set forth some particular skills/workouts.

  17. So getting back to the compass thing, when you are throwing doing your pivot do you just keep going round in the same direction with your arm on the same side of your body or are you allowed to step over so your torso remains facing your target the whole time? Basically I am just a little confused as to how it works...

  18. I finally got around to doing this with my friend and wow! my throws were spot on the next day when I played. It felt good to throw such crisp hammers again.

    Thanks again for the post!

  19. Idaho showed up something similar over here in Oz a few years back, it's great.

    FYI, static stretching got the bad press for pre-activity warmups. As you said, it's still vital post-activity recovery. However, in lieu of static stretching pre-activity, it has been recommended to work on (gentle) dynamic stretches and exercises to prepare your muscles and body for work.

  20. Some great new ideas for stuff to put in my own practices. Thanks for sharing!
    Just a quick question though. When throwing lefties, which pivot foot do you suggest to use? I prefer to still use my left foot as pivot foot, so I can also use those lefty throws in a match. (I love lefty-backhand-give-and-go's, or lefty-indoor-break-side-hammers.) But if you want to be fully balanced, you should of course mirror everything, and thus use your right foot as pivot foot. What are your ideas on this?

  21. When throwing lefties you should use your right foot as the pivot foot. The reason for throwing lefties is to balance strength and flexibility of your muscles. i.e. so you're not only doing lunges (stepping out) with your right leg.

  22. The King Fu workout looks good and all, and the blog commentary solid, but the real gem of this blog is clearly the cute little boy in the profile picture with Lou!

    I have done many many throwing workouts in my 30+ years chasing plastic, I have to say this one looks great. It's more rigorous than most (which is a good thing)and has the necessary reps to hone muscle memory.

    Every other sport in the world has workouts where the athletes focus on lots of reps (Volleys, BP, Driving Range, &c.) and they all clearly work to improve players skills. Ultimate is no different, throwing this many times is guaranteed to improve your accuracy and distance. Kudos to Mike and Lou for developing this system, I look forward to starting a Kung Fu Throwing regimen this week with my friend MIke

  23. So 25 lefty backhands, lefty forehands and lefty hammers?

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