General gear and personal equipment needed to practice different martial arts.
Boxing, kickboxing, muay thai, MMA, etc.
Learning how to hit is just part of learning to fight. The best way to learn to fight is to fight, but hitting and other things are also part of the training. You can be shown proper form but your body will also teach it to you just by hitting things.
As far as practicing full contact unarmed blows: A training partner is the best way to go. A pair of focus mitts are nice but get a pair of Thai pads and you can stronger punches as well as kicks. Squeeze the receiver's neck and shove that knee up. Hold the thai pad against the thigh for low roundhouse kicks. Don't forget that the person holding the mitts can also pop the mitt forward a bit for a stronger blow. Sometimes have the receiver set the pace so the attacker as to respond. Sometimes have the receiver "attack" so the attacker has to void or receive a blow. Move around while you do this: Don't fight statically. Do combos 3 minutes, rest 1 minute, and repeat. Start with simple combos of jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts for punches and front/rear leg front kicks and roundhouse kicks with knee or shin. For example: For 3 minutes the receiver says "1" and the attacker jabs; then the receiver says "2" and the attacker does a jab, cross; "3": jab, cross, hook; "4" jab, cross, hook, upper cut. Rest one minute. For 3 minutes: 1 jab, knee; 2 jab, cross, knee; 3 jab, cross, hook, knee; 4 jab, cross, hook, cross, knee. Try various combos with other techniques but those basic blows are always good to practice.
But of course a training partner isn't always convenient, so bags and other things will have to do. 3 minute rounds also works for target striking. Start with the heavy bag and don't worry about the other bags. If you have access to them give them a try. Speed bags keep your hands up and work on timing. 2-ended bags work on timing and accuracy. Tear shape bags are good for upper cuts and knee strikes. With banana bags you can work on targets from ankle to head. Of course in karate we had makiwara which are wooden posts with a pad and just enough give. I've never tried the Chinese Muk Yan Jongs (wooden dummies) long enough make a judgment call. The modern Western dummies that look like a peach person aren't too bad [aka "BOB" = Body Opponent Bag]. There are modern systems which have flapper targets that you can set at different heights and angles. In general, I don't like equipment that's too fancy or gimmicky. I like a basic heavy bag that doesn't swing around too much. I suppose a heavier banana bag anchored top and bottom might be ideal but it's not common.
Most people don't have the room for all this equipment. I would find a gym, dojo, etc. with some of this stuff. I'm fortunate enough that the Chicago Fitness Center is such a gym. It happened to be nearest MMA school near my kids school, plus it's also a workout gym, which is why I couldn't resist signing up there myself. However, if you're not part of such a gym, then try the public parks like the Chicago Park District. This page http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/parks.results/fac_id/5675B716-93F3-4730-A306-75267D4E3722*Boxing.cfm lists the parks with boxing facilities. I'm surprised that Welles Park isn't on the list because the boxing program there was pretty big when I was a kid. Ahh the smell of sweaty leather! And the memory of having to fight Mexican kids that were way too muscular and scrappy for their age. Actually the CPD has weight lifting at very cheap rates too. Geez, this is a great city!
Also you can practice blows to some degree isometrically. Place your fist or elbow or whatever against an immobile object while in a supportive stance, then tense your whole body into the blow. Try it, for example, with a long punch, a shorter punch, and a close punch. It works for blocks and grips too. You may see me doing this at a bus stop some time. Some karate folks skip the immobile object and try strongly tensing the body either as an isometric exercise or a slow isotonic exercise, partially simulating impact or receiving blows. Some folks like to do that tension to practice receiving blows too. Or perhaps the sensei just likes to thump his students for fun! Ha ha ha, those lovable sadistic bastards! We also exchanged thumps to practice receiving blows but that's not this thread. Also throwing a fast blow and the pulling it "hard" (instead of "soft") works on control but also does some blow simulation.
O also, don't forget to wrap your hands and wear bag mitts. MMA gloves actually evolved from padded bag mitts. In general get the180" wraps instead of the 108" wraps. Learn how to wrap yourself. I find it a nice ritual. I've hit a lot of things with my bare hands but I don't do that anymore. I'm thankful I don't have hand arthritis and I hope it doesn't show up later.
O and don't worry about starting easy. Build up. Everyone's a baby in a zillion different fields. A journey of ten thousand punches begins with ten punches.
See places like http://www.gungfu.com/cart-htm/apparel_other_uniforms_gear_filipino.htm for the mask and gambeson.
Grappling, wrestling, sambo, judo, jujutsu, BJJ, etc. If Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), see Full contact.
Karate, taekwondo, kung fu, etc.
For official FIE competition requirements, see FIE.ch (or BritishFencing.com for the FIE rules in English). Note also that the masks, lames, and gloves vary depending upon whether the event is foil, epee, or saber.
ScholaSaintGeorge.org/equipment.html is a good page on equipment needed for WMA.
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