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Knockout Power: Unleashing the Best Punch for Self-Defense Scenarios

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Everyone on the planet has seen what a punch looks like. We're all familiar with it. We base our understanding of punching on what we see in films, television, and sports, like boxing. People might throw punches as part of their boxing routine or cardio kickboxing class. This is all perfectly fine and good, but if you want to use punching as a part of your self-defense tool kit, there are some important things you have to know first. In this article, I'm going to share with you the best punch for a real self-defense situation, in my opinion, and how to avoid the most common punching mistakes.

Tip 1: Gloved Punches vs. Bare Knuckle Punches

Punching with gloves on and punching with bare knuckles are two totally different approaches. If this sounds obvious to you, then great. For those of you who may not understand the implications of this, let me explain. Consider boxers. Boxers will wrap their knuckles with yards and yards of protective tape and place it inside thick padded gloves to protect their hands. Protect them from what? From getting broken. And even with all this protection, boxers will often sustain injuries to their hands, even breaking them after a fight. Why? Because whenever you punch someone in the skull or face, the risk of breaking your hands is high. This risk quadruples when you punch without gloves on. The truth is, nature did not design the bones in your hand to absorb powerful hits to the skull. The hands were never meant for that. Look at your hand and make a fist. Now imagine smashing that against a brick wall. That's similar to hitting someone's skull.

Does this mean that you can't throw punches in a fight? Not at all. It means you need to understand that punching techniques you throw when wearing gloves, like in boxing, need to change for a bare-knuckle fight. Now think about this: every self-defense situation is a bare-knuckle fight because none of us walk around in everyday life wearing hand wraps and boxing gloves. Now let's get to specifics.

Tip 2: The Power Line Punch

According to Jack Dempsey's book, "Championship Fighting" (see image),

the most effective contact points on the fist when striking are the bottom three knuckles, towards the pinky finger. Most traditional martial arts teach students to hit with the top two knuckles (these are knuckles closest to the thumb). I have to disagree with the latter. I believe Jack Dempsey knows what he's talking about. You know who else agrees with Jack Dempsey? Bruce Lee, Wing Chun teachers, like Ip Man, and Wing Chun practitioners. This proper alignment is called the Power Line. You create a straight line from the shoulder to the elbow to the bottom three knuckles, leading with the pinky knuckle.

"The Straight Lead is the safest and most effective bare-knuckle punch you can use in a street fight because the Power Line acts like a shock absorber and generates incredible force through the target."

The image above was taken from Jack Dempsey's book and it shows a vertical fist punch. If you look at Bruce Lee's images, he use the same exact punch. Why? Because both men discovered that the vertical fist, or Straight Lead, is the safest punch you can use with bare-knuckles. It absorbs the recoil and return energy of the punch by placing the bottom three knuckles, elbow, and shoulder in a straight line. By contrast, hitting with the top two knuckles does not create a straight line. Instead it creates a bent wrist, which is vulnerable to injury when punching.

Tip 3: The Bai Jong Stance

To produce the necessary force and power from the Straight Lead, you have to start with a stable and well-balanced foundation. This base must be strong and mobile at the same time. That's why we use what we call in Jeet Kune Do the Bai Jong stance (see image left). Notice that Bruce Lee has his right hand in front in what we call a Power Side Forward position. Notice that the lead hand is held lower than the rear hand. Notice that the rear foot has the heel raised up by an inch and the weight is on the ball of that foot. Notice that legs are balanced in a 50/50 weight distribution. Notice that Lee's chin is held down to protect his face. This stance is made for offense, made for launching attacks. The lead hand's job is offense - to hit first. The rear hand's job is defense - to defend the centerline and the face. The legs are coiled like a spring and the feet are light and fast. Once you have all these details of the Bai Jong down and you're ready to go, then we can launch a Straight Lead punch.

Tip 4: The Push Shuffle and Bodyweight Punching

To launch the Straight Lead, aim the knuckles of your lead hand at his face, but try not to be too obvious. Relax you hand and forearm. Keep your lead elbow pointed straight down. The power from the Straight Lead comes from the push off from the rear foot. The rear foot acts like a sprinter's rear foot in that it sends the whole body exploding forward. Push off hard from the ball of the rear foot and launch yourself straight ahead to your opponent. Once you've pushed off, you will launch into space in front of you and penetrate through the target with the lead hand. This resembles a fencer scoring a hit with his epee. Once your lead hand gets close to the target, clench your fist tight and hit through.

Make a fist right before impact on the target, but not before. Making a fist too soon will create tension and slow you down. That means your punch has less speed, therefore less power. If you do this correctly, you would have used your bodyweight to create the force you need to be effective, as opposed to just arm swinging.

Here's an easy tip for you, if you're wondering what to use in a real fight situation:

Hard to soft, soft to hard - Use hard knuckle punches to the body, and use palm strikes to the head. I'll write another article on this specific topic. This is the 100% safest way to strike effectively while avoiding injury.

Tip #5 - Common Mistakes to Avoid

Here are the most common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Never chamber your punch before you throw it. Why? Here a two reasons:

a. When you chamber (see image left) your punch, or pull your arm back before you punch, your opponent will see it coming a mile away and avoid it, block it, or grab your arm. In Jeet Kune Do, we never pull our elbows backwards before we punch. We punch from where we are so the opponent can't see us coming

b. When you chamber, you're wasting energy and time. People often chamber before they punch because they think that punching power comes from the arm pulling back, then moving forward. This is proven false.

The source of power for punching are the legs, glutes, and hips. It does not come from chambering the arm. If you want better punches, do squats, deadlifts, and glute bridges.

2. Never throw arm swings or round swings.

Swinging an arm to connect with a punch will waste time and energy because it's too damn slow, not to mention it's ineffective for causing any real damage.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so if you punch, punch in the straightest line between you and your target. Avoid round, swinging punches.

3. Never drop your punching hand after you hit your target. Return it back to your face.

After you punch straight, return your fist as quick as you can back to it's original position, which is your chin and jaw area - in a straight line - and protect yourself. Straight is fast and smooth, so hit straight from the chin, then return back to the side of the chin. If you throw a jab or cross, and your drop your hand, you're open for a counter-attack, and you will get hit. Remember that your hands attack and also defend your face.

Proper Bare Knuckle Punching is a Skill

Punching bare knuckled is a skill and therefore can be learned, perfected, and honed. You can train to be pretty damn good at punching, and give you a big edge when it comes to self-defense. If you're interested in learning Jeet Kune Do style punching, or just self-defense that works, please contact us at Tandez Academy of Martial Arts.

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