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Are Punches Really For Self-Defense?

I recently received some excellent comments from Glenn Olson, a Power Punching Guide customer after publishing an aricle on kicking and knee strikes. 

He wrote,

“In my experience women and children should normally avoid hitting with the fist, as they can’t seem to maintain proper form under stress or just don’t have the mass. My orthopedic surgeon often says that martial artists are his best customers due to injuries through improper striking.”

That raised an issue that I’ve been meaning to discuss.  Perhaps now is as good a time as any.

I have written many times that the most common injury sustained in a street fight is “broken hands.”  Unless you are a highly-trained, highly-conditioned fighter, there is a good chance that all that power that you will generate can cause as much injury to you as the person you are hitting.  So lets take a look at that.

The reason I am such an advocate for punching is that it is, in my opinion the best way to implement ongoing combative training to condition your body and develop athletic qualities that will carry over into self-defense. 

I consider proper punching skills to be the foundation of a combative training system. Punching allows you to develop skills and qualities that are extremely important in a fight… and they can be incorporated into sparring with boxing gloves and hitting heavy bags, focus pads, Thai pads etc.

When we do that type of training, what is the first thing we should do?  PROTECT THE HANDS.  It would be silly to participate in this type of training without the protection offered from bag gloves, boxing gloves and hand wraps. Accumulative trauma and injury to the knuckles, wrists and structures of the hand would be inevitable.

That’s got to tell you something about punching someone in a street fight. 

I’ve been in a my share of scuffles in the real world and you know what?… I’ve seldom blasted someone in the head with a clenched-fisted punch that didn’t hurt.  I’m not saying I was injured… but I sure thought I was at the time. Youch!

So, why don’t we consider open-handed strikes for Combative Training? 

Some times I do.  In particular for women… Many women feel more comfortable delivering a palm strike than a clenched-fisted punch.  So I let them.  You can easily deliver the straight punches and hooks with open hands, making contact with the heel of the open hand.

However, my experience has been that open-hand training on impact equipment doesn’t work so well.  Blasting a heavy bag, for example, with a palm strike is OK once in a while but if you do it too often you’ll quickly stress the small bones in your wrists and it will lead to chronic injuries.  Most men don’t have the wrist flexibility to deliver this type of strike any way.

So here’s what I’m telling you… the fist is the best “weapon” to use in training because it can be protected with combative equipment like hand wraps, bag gloves, boxing gloves etc.  Accumulative injury potential can be kept to a minimum during training.

Learning to punch teaches you the fundamental body mechanics of ANY upper body strike, whether using your palms, forearms, elbows, or a weapon.

Here’s an example from law enforcement.  I found the progress of police officers improved DRAMATICALLY in baton training when I spent some time teaching them how to punch first.  Stance, balance, weight distribution, body rotation, coordination, power generation, cover hands, breathing improved as a natural consequence of the combative training drills I put them through… By the time we got the the “traditional” law enforcement techniques, they had a strong foundation of movement and power generation. 

Baton skills for example improved dramatically if the student developed solid punching basics first.

So maybe the point that I’m meandering toward here is this… Punching is the best way to train the dynamics of your striking skills.  However, in a street fight, those body mechanics, will serve you well when modified to striking techniques more suitable in a street fight.

Here are some examples of how you can modify some existing punching skills in a street encounter.

Replace The Fist With A Palm Strike

With very little modification, impact in a lead punch, cross and hook punch can be made with the open hand.  Draw the fingers back, tuck the thumb in along side the hand so that it doesn’t get jambed and make contact with the heel of the hand.

An open handed “hook punch” with the cupped palm across the ear can also have a devastating affect (broken eardrum) in a street fight with a low injury potential to the striker.

Use Brachial Stuns

The brachial stun is a technique used in law enforcement that overloads the brain with sensory input that can result in a knockout or semi-consciousness.   In this technique, the forearm is driven into the cluster of sensory nerves on either side of the subject’s neck.  This results in a “mental stun” that will allow you to regain control of the situation with a low likelihood of injuring either the subject or the striker.

Guess what boys and girls… The brachial stun is nothing more than a hook punch, where the arm is extended and contact is made with the wrist or meaty part of the forearm.  Other than that the striking dynamics are the same.  If you have a solid hook punch, you’ll have a solid brachial stun.

Consider the Hammer Fist

I might be letting the cat out of the bag here, but I’ll be adding another striking technique to the power punching manual. (included in future versions of the guide)   It’s called the “hammerfist.”  The hammer fist is a striking tactic that can be delivered in various fighting positions and at various angles… (many that wouldn’t be conducive to other types of punches).

It works great in impact drills on the heavy bag and focus pads.

The advantage of the hammer fist is that you’re making contact with the muscle tissue at the bottom of your clenched fist.  This allows you to generate significant impact without the bone-on-bone contact of a knuckle strike.

Use Your Forearms

In the Power Punching Guide, I discuss forearm strikes for a very deliberate reason.  First of all, they’ll teach you how to master body rotation and whole-body striking dynamics fast.  Secondly, they are EXCELLENT street fighting techniques.

The forearm is a far more durable striking weapon than ANY hand strike and is excellent in a close quarters encounter either standing or on the ground.

This is not the same as an “elbow strike” though. In an elbow strike, contact is made with bony point of the elbow itself.  If your elbows aren’t conditioned and you bonk someone on the coconut with it, you could chip the bone.

Also elbows cut.  Even light contact to an opponent’s head and face with your elbow will split your opponent wide open.  And in the rare exception of a multiple attacker scenario (where you are trying to psyche out the rest of the pack by inflicting a painful and visible injury), cutting someone open in a street fight is not a great idea.

It doesn’t nothing to control the opponent, makes him as slippery as a bar of soap and you now run the risk of catching whatever infectious critters that the guy might have floating around in his blood stream.

Punch Smart

Oh yeah, if you think you’ll hurt your hand punching someone in the head, don’t hit’m in the head…  With all that I’ve said about these simple, common sense modifications… there’s nothing wrong with punching in a street fight if you know what you’re doing.

If you practice what I’ve written about in the Toughen Up Manuals (or you are actively involved in a combative system of your own), you’re going to get pretty damn good at punching.

You’ll have the punching power, accuracy and precision to land those sledgehammer shots just about anywhere any time you want. 

Punch the side of the opponent’s jaw.  This is a flat surface and because the head and jaw rotate, the “snapping” of the opponents head to the side will amplify the striking energy and rattle his brain.  It will most likely K.O. the bastard.

In a life or death encounter, punch the neck. This should be reserved ONLY for serious encounters where deadly force can be legally and morally justified.

Punch the torso.  A solid punch to the chest will knock your opponent back, a punch to the solar plexus (the cluster of nerves at the base of the sternum… where you gut meets your rib cage) will have your opponent gasping for air.

A punch to the front of the shoulder (brachial plexus tie-in) while inflict tremendous pain and will temporarily incapacitate the assailant’s shoulder, arm and hand.

Use A Weapon

There is little mystery about fighting with weapons.  A weapon is merely an extension of your empty handed skills.  I am constantly asked about using kubatons for example… I used to sell them at my self-defense seminars.  The best way to use oneeffectively is not to learn a bunch of exotic kubaton-specific techniques… but to hold it tightly in your hand and punch with it.

I have been teaching weapons for decades and carry an ASP baton on duty as a police officer.  That baton is the middle ground between my bare hands and my firearm… I’d better be able to hit with it.  In order to do that, do you think I pound on a heavy bag with my baton every day?

Nope… I don’t have to… My punching practice gives me all the striking skills I need with a baton, a kubaton or any other kind of weapon.  So my point here… If you get yourself into a serious, life-threatening situation… consider a weapon.

So here’s what I’m saying… Punching is the best way to learn striking skills that can be used safely as an effective means of ongoing combative training.  However, when you hit in a street fight… hit smart. Modify your existing and well-established striking skills by opening the hands, using your forearms, and punching more vulnerable and strategic parts of your attacker’s body.

In the meantime… take care, PUNCH smart and stay safe…


About Randy LaHaie

I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.

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  • Cody

    Good post.

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