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Horizontal vs. vertical fist


Which is better, punching with the fist held horizontally or with it held vertically? Taekwondo uses the horizontal fist, as do most martial arts. However, vertical fist advocates think the rest of the martial arts world is wrong and that the vertical fist is the proper way to punch.

Smoke and mirrors

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the martial arts. Outrageous "facts" from "masters" are quoted as the truth, and wild theories that go against science are put forth as proof of the "facts." Mumbo jumbo is used to confuse reason and hide the truth. The following illustrates how a clever rearrangement of the facts may confuse the truth.
Three men shared a room at a hotel. The price of the room was $30, so each of them paid $10 for his share of the room. Later, the hotel clerk realized the price of the room should have been $25, so she gave the bellhop five $1 bills to return to the men. The bellhop wondered how to divide the $5 equally between three people, and he came up with a solution. Since the men did not know the cost of the room was actually $25, he told them that the cost of the room was $27, which meant that each man should have only paid $9 for his share of the cost of the room. So, the bellhop gave each of the men a $1 refund and kept the remaining $2 for himself. This means the men paid $27 for the room. The bellhop kept $2. This totals $29. What happened to the other $1? It disappeared!
Answer. Later in the day, the men learned that the price of the room was actually $25. Since they had originally paid $30 for the room and were only refunded $3, that meant they had paid $27 for the room, $2 more than the $25. They demanded and received the remaining $2 from the bellhop. $25 plus $3 plus $2 equals $30; the missing dollar reappeared!
Sometimes a "master" gets something right in the explanation of a theory, however, this doesn’t make his or her entire premise correct. Even a bind golfer sometimes hits a hole-in-one. For example, in December 2005, Zohar Sharon, a blind 53-year-old Israeli golfer whose caddy gives him verbal directions, hit a hole-in-one. A broken clock indicates the correct time twice a day. Likewise, even a pseudo-master may sometimes say something profound, but that does not mean everything he or she says is correct.

One area of the martial arts where false facts are presented, or true facts are misrepresented, misinterpreted, or misunderstood, is in punching. One question about punching is, “Which is the best way to punch, using a vertical fist or horizontal fist?”

When dealing with the “arts” part of the martial arts, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Just as in other arts, such as dancing, where some people like ballet and others like to salsa, people have different likes and dislikes within the martial arts. Some people move quickly and gracefully and enjoy soft styles that use graceful movements. Some people move slowly and powerfully, so they enjoy hard styles that use powerful movements. When it comes to the arts, there is no best art for everyone, only the art that best pleases the beholder or practitioner of the art. Each martial art may have its own unique theories, movements, and techniques, which may or may not be effective in fighting, but as long as the art’s practitioners enjoy practicing the art, that is all that matters to them.

However, dealing with the “martial” part of the martial arts is a different story. This is where the art ends and reality begins. No matter how beautiful the art or how relaxing or how much fun it is to train in the art, the techniques promoted by the art must be able to be used simply, effectively, and efficiently by anyone (large or small, fat or skinny, etc.), under any conditions (wearing gym clothes or a tuxedo, wearing a tee shirt or a winter coat, in the sun or in the rain, against a single attacker or multiple attackers etc.), or in any location (alone in an alley or on a crowded bus, on a smooth tiled floor or in a glass strewn alley, etc.). Fighting is not complicated; it has been used by humankind since Cain killed Able.

If I want to know if an object someone is trying to sell me will float, I do not need to measure it, weight it, or analyze it; I just throw it into the water and see if it floats. The person may make all kinds of claims, show me the history of the object, tell me how it has floated in the past, show me how beautiful it is, etc., but the bottom line is—when I throw the object into the water, does it float.

Pros know

Professional boxers make their living from punching; their hands are the tools of their trade. The primary thing that boxers fear is a hand injury since it will interfere with their livelihood. Therefore, while boxers continue to train to develop the most powerful punches, they are also seeking ways to prevent hand injuries. They pay trainers thousands of dollars to find and train them in the best punching techniques. This being the case, why don’t boxers use vertical punches that are purported to be “safer” “more powerful” than horizontal punches, since vertical punches are permitted within the rules of boxing?

Professional full-contact fighters, with the exception of those in some full-contact styles, such as muay thai, may use any style of martial art they choose and they are permitted to use pressure point strikes, vertical punches, and sticky hands, etc. To make a living from fighting, a professional fighter needs to knockout or submit opponents, or at least impress the judges with their superior fighting skills enough to win a decision; therefore, one would assume that a fighter would use techniques that have been proven to work. I have never seen or heard of any professional boxer or full-contact fighter who uses any soft martial art techniques in the ring, other than Brazilian jiujitsu, whose locks, bars, chokes, and pins may be considered soft and are used in MMA fights. However, MMA was created to highlight Brazilian jiujitsu techniques.

Any martial art works well when demonstrated using non-aggressive students of the same style. The true test is whether the art works well against aggressive students of another style. For example, in the few times when pressure point arts, such as dim-mak or combat-ki, have been used against persons other than their own practitioners, they failed miserably.

Does it float

My goal in teaching a martial arts class is that, when the students walk out the front door after class, they will be better prepared to defend themselves than when they walked in for class, this includes the very first class they attended. Intricate, complicated, and unnatural movements, exotic techniques, and weapons that are useless in modern society may be a part of the art of a martial art (and taekwondo has its share of them), but, they should not be confused with the martial part of a martial art. Taekwondo primarily uses hard blocks but when it comes to sparring, good fighters do not use hard or soft blocks, they evade or use the forearms in a tight guard to block attacks that were not avoided; hand and foot attacks are coming to fast to block. My chosen martial art is taekwondo so I teach the art of taekwondo, however, no matter its source, be it from Chinese gung-fu or Icelandic glima, if a martial technique floats, I teach it.

When I throw the concept of vertical punching into the proverbial water, it sinks. In taekwondo, and most other martial arts, such as shotokan, shorin-ryu, and goju-ryu, the fist rotates (twists) during a punch; even boxers use a twisting punch. However, a few martial arts styles, such as isshin-ryu and some kung-fu styles, don’t use the twist; their fist stays vertical during the punch and the thumb rests atop the fist rather than folding underneath.

Each side, horizontal or vertical, has explanations as to why their method is stronger, faster, and better. My argument in punching is to look at natural movements and to look to those whose livelihood depends on the speed, power, and effectiveness of their punches—professional boxers. Boxers fold the thumb underneath and they twist their punches. It is a natural way to make a fist and the natural way to punch.

In this article, I discuss the reasons vertical punchers give to justify their saying their punches better than horizontal punches and the reasons horizontal punchers give to justify their saying their punches better than vertical punches. Since twisting, or the lack of twisting, is a part of the performing the two punches, it is included in the discussions.

Thumb position

Vertical punchers say their thumb position is stronger. 

Some vertical punchers say their punch is stronger because the thumb is placed on top of the fist instead of folding under the fingers, thus making the wrist stronger. If this were true, then any gain in wrist strength is offset by a loss in fist stability.

Try it yourself, make a fist with the thumb on top, and then squeeze the fist as tight and solid as you can. Then try the same thing with the thumb folded underneath in a natural position. Which fist feels more solid?

If the thumb on top would prevent injuries to the hand, then professional fighters would use it. Boxers fold their thumbs underneath, for fist stability and because they worry about thumbing (the thumb poking into an opponent's eye) and the thumb being snagged and sprained by being pulled backward. When free-sparring, a slack thumb on top of a fist may lead to an accidental thumbing of the opponent or the thumb being snagged on the opponent's sleeve or grabbed.

In reality, wrist strength is not affected significantly by either of the thumb positions. As long as the wrist is held straight and locked, it will probably not be injured in a punch. The wrist is strengthened by punching, so years of punching with either method will strengthen it to perform the desired punching method.

Punching speed

Vertical punchers say their punch is faster. 

Some vertical punchers say their punch is faster because there is no twist. If we assume this is true, how much faster is it? Sparring is not drag racing or downhill ski racing, it not judged by thousandths of a second. A few hundredths of a second in speed will not make any difference in whether a punch is blocked or not blocked since the hand is quicker than the eye. Once you see a fist move, it is too late to block or avoid it. To block or avoid a punch, you must detect the punch before it moves by reading the opponent's body language. Therefore, a punch that strikes harder will be more effective than one that is a millisecond faster.


Vertical punchers say the twist causes a weak wrist. 

Some vertical punchers say that when an opponent moves in as you are punching, a twisting horizontal punch may buckle, and the wrist may be more damaged than the target. However, in reality, the opponent is always moving in one direction or another; opponents usually don’t stand stationary and get hit. Twist punchers train to punch from any variety of ranges and movements. In 50 years of martial arts experience, I have never seen anyone injure a wrist because of twisting a punch. I have seen wrists injured because they were not locked, but that would also be a problem when vertical punching.

Horizontal punchers say the twist increases resistance to blocking.

The twist on a punch resists attempts to deflect the punch. When a punch does not twist, all the forces in the punching arm are directed straight at the target. It is relatively easy to deflect a punch that does not resist other than with the inertia of its movement toward the target so the non-twisting punch may be easily deflected. When a punch twists, the twisting forces are moving perpendicular to the straight line to the target as they corkscrew down the arm to the target. The twisting motion of the twisting punch resists any attempt to deflect the primary movement of the arm toward the target, which means a twisting punch is much more difficult to deflect than a non-twisting punch.

Compare a punch to the travel of bullet. When a bullet is fired down a smooth bore, it does not spin and is easily deflected by external forces, such as by the wind or a twig. When a bullet is fired down a rifled bore, the grooves in the bore cause the bullet to twist along its axis toward the target. The spin helps the bullet resist any forces that may deflect it from its course to the target. Also, compare a punch to a thrown football. Without a spiral (spin) motion, the ball is unstable and easily deflected. With a spiral, the ball flies straighter, longer, and is not easily deflected.

Vertical punchers say that when the fist is held vertically, a block to the outside of the arm will be absorbed by both the radius and ulna bones, while in the horizontal punch, the radius bone takes the full impact. True. However, as discussed in other topics, the smaller the striking area, the greater the concentration of striking force. If the block strikes the wide top area of your forearm as it would in a vertical punch, the less pain you may feel from the impact, but the blocker will also feel less pain.

The whole point of your attack is to cause the opponent pain. If the block causes the blocker a lot of pain, whether the block stopped the attack or not, the next block by the opponent will probably be more tentative in an effort to ease the pain. As the attacker, if you are afraid of pain, then you will be tentative in your attacks and your attacks will not be as forceful as the could be. When you block with bone, it may hurt but little damage is done, and you can punch again. When you block with the muscles and tendons on the top of the forearm, and they are damaged, you may be unable to punch again.

In horizontal punch, the punching arm is protected by bone against an inner or an outer forearm block. In a vertical punch, the soft inner forearm with all its arteries, veins, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, etc. is fully exposed. In a horizontal punch, your arm is protected no matter how the opponent blocks. In a vertical punch, the inner forearm is fully exposed. When fighting a vertical puncher, I would block their punches outward so I would strike their inner forearms, and I would treat these block as attacks to their inner forearms.

Horizontal punchers say the twist increases resistance to grabbing. 

The last time I checked, my wrist would have the same circumference no matter from which side or direction it is grabbed. Therefore, the only thing that would make grabbing the wrist during a horizontal punch or a vertical punch is the angle of the wrist. It may be a little more difficult to grab the wrist of a vertical punch because you must angle your wrist to make the grab and the greater the angle, the weaker the grip. However, the point is moot since it is practically impossible to grab the wrist of a punching arm unless it is moving in slow motion or it is happening in a movie. If a punch was coming toward your face, would you try to grab it?

If the wrist is grabbed for some reason, twisting can help you escape the grip. Stand in your fighting guard position. Have someone grab the wrist if your lead arm. Now, try to vertical punch at the person. Your arm is locked in the grip and difficult to move. Now, perform the same punch using a twisting, horizontal punch. The punching arm spins within the grip and is able to punch; weakly, but it is able to punch.

Horizontal punchers say the twist adds power.

The twist on a punch adds power. Try a very short one-inch vertical punch and then try it with a twist punch. Which one generates more striking force?

Some vertical punchers, such as “Master” George Dillman, a pressure-point proponent, claim that the horizontal, twist punch was devised by early karate masters, such as Funakoshi, to make punches less effective and less dangerous for the lower ranks. The more powerful, vertical punches were reserved for the higher black belt ranks. Of course, like most everything he says, there is no evidence to support these claims.

Very little force is generated by the twisting motion itself, the added power comes from the transfer of body mass down the arm as the mass is snapped into the punch using the hips and sometimes more power is added by dropping the body mass into the punch. The twisting of the arm makes the arm an integral part of a striking force that extends from the fist through the body and supporting feet to the ground. It has been said the striking force of a bullet is equivalent to that of a speeding locomotive because of the bullets high speed and its small striking area. Scientifically this may be true, but which strike would you stand a better chance of surviving: a speeding bullet strike to the leg or a speeding train strike to the leg?

Elbow position

Vertical punchers say the elbow bows outward in horizontal punching.

Vertical punchers also say that in a horizontal punch the elbow is turned outward leaving the body more vulnerable.

Make a fist and hold your arm straight out in front of you in a punching position. Rotate the fist to a vertical position, then back to the horizontal position, etc. and observe the motion of your arm. The fist and wrist rotate 90-degrees, while the elbow rotates very little. No matter the reasoning used by vertical punchers to explain how the horizontal punch leaves the body more vulnerable because of the rotation, any increase in vulnerability is negligible since any elbow movement is negligible.

When one stands in a standard fighting stance and extends the lead arm forward in a horizontal punch, there is a slight outward bend in the elbow because of the way the arm is constructed. When the fist is rotated to a vertical position, the natural bend is still there, except it is now pointed downward. There is no more body mass behind a vertical punch than there is behind a horizontal punch since both have the same alignment with their common point, the shoulder. When punching with a horizontal punch, one could choose to bend the elbow more, but one could also choose to do the same thing when using a vertical punch; excessive elbow bend is not desired in either punch. The elbow’s natural bend is not affected by whether the fist is held in a horizontal or vertical position.

Vertical punchers say that, with the elbow angled outward, it is more susceptible to injury than it would be if it was angled downward. 

They say the outward elbow also abducts the shoulder leaving it vulnerable to anterior dislocation. This may be true, but it only matters when you are punching in slow motion, as is done during a demonstration. At full-speed, it would be unlikely that the elbow would ever be hit in such a way to cause damage.

For the maximum power of a punch to be transferred to the target, the arm must be aligned properly. Try this experiment. Have a partner perform a slow, basic middle punch at your midsection and hold it there. Then put your hands around the puncher's shoulders and pull the puncher's fist into your abdomen. Usually, the person's elbow will bend outward and start to collapse. This means the elbow was positioned in a way that all the power of a punch would not have been transmitted to the target, but instead, some of it would be absorbed by the weak elbow. Usually, this is because the elbow was pointing outward to the side. 

If the elbow is rotated slightly downward, as it would be in three-quarter twist punch, the arm is much stronger. If the shoulder rolls inward to give the punch a full-twist, the elbow will point outward and lessen the power of the punch. In addition to adding more power, this elbow position has a secondary advantage; it protects the elbow from an attack from the side that may hyperextend it.

Vertical punchers say that angling the elbow outward exposes the floating ribs and the pressure point in the pit of the arm.

 When your arm is extended in a punch, the difference in coverage offered by a downward elbow and an outward elbow is negligible. It’s like a runner saying she lost the race because she had her car keys in her pocket and the extra weight slowed her time.

Which is more natural?

Vertical punches say the vertical punch is more natural.

When you irritate a small child, he or she will ball his or her fist and punch, not with a vertical fist, but with a horizontal fist. It is the way humans are constructed. If you walk up to a random number of people on the street and ask them to extend their arms to the front, how would most of them extend their arms? I have not done this on the street, but I have done it with groups of new students. When extending their arms, they all extend their arms with their palms downward, thumbs pointing inward (hands horizontal). This is a natural movement; the arm is relaxed, except for the tension required to hold the arm up. To rotate the hands until the thumbs are pointed upward (hands vertical) requires a conscious effort and requires conscious effort and muscle tension to keep them vertical. If the muscle tension is released, the hands return to a horizontal position.

Holding hand in full pronation (palm downward) or full supination (palm upward) position requires the use of some intrinsic muscles of the forearm known respectively as the pronators and supinators. In the uppercut punch hand position (palm upward), the hand is in full supination, while in the horizontal punch position (palm downward) the hand is in full pronation. Vertical punchers believe that, when the hand is held so the palm is inward, the two sets of muscles are in a balanced position and thus make a punch more powerful.

One example they give to prove that the vertical position of the hand is more natural is that this is the way the hand is positioned when reaching out to shake hands with another person. However, in this example, they are confusing cause and effect. They think that the hand position in the handshake (effect) is caused by the way we naturally extend our hand. However, the way we extend our hand for a handshake (effect) is actually caused by the way we must purposely position our hand to shake hands.

Try this:
  • Stand with your arms hanging naturally at the sides.
  • Keeping your hands and wrist motionless and using only your shoulder muscles, raise your arms in front of your body to shoulder height.
  • Now close the hands into fists.
  • What is the position of the fists? They are horizontal. Now rotate them into a vertical position. Notice how this takes a lot of motion and effort.
Now try this:
  • Stand with your arms hanging naturally at the sides.
  • Using your shoulder muscles, raise your arms in front of your body to shoulder height while rotating the hands so the palms face inward.
  • Notice the extra effort this rotation takes and the muscle tension down the entire arm.
  • Now close the hands into fists.
Notice how you must use muscle tension to maintain the vertical fist position. Now release the tension and notice how the fist naturally rotates inward toward the horizontal position.

Think about this while your arms are outstretched. If you had to hold your arms outstretched for as long as possible to beat other contestants for a million dollars, which palm position would you chose, palms facing inward or palms facing downward?

When the people are told to make fists with their extended hands and to keep their wrists straight, the first two knuckles of the fists are naturally in a straight line with the wrists and the forearms, therefore, when punching an object with the wrist straight, the first two knuckles will naturally strike first. Any force applied to the front of the knuckles will be transferred in a straight line down the hand and through the wrist to the elbow and on to the shoulder. If the fist misses its target slightly so that the last three knuckles strike the target first, since the wrist is locked and straight, the line of force through the wrist has only a slight bend in it, so the off-center punch will probably have no adverse effect upon the wrist.

Ask any non-martial artist to push his or her hands against a wall. In which direction are the fingers and knuckles of the hands pointed? They are always pointed upward! This is not a behavior learned from training in a martial art; it is the natural way the body is constructed. To turn the hands so the fingers are pointed outward takes a conscious effort and it feels unnatural and awkward. If the same person were told to make tight fists and push against the wall, he or she would push with the knuckles upward in horizontal fists, not with the knuckles outward in vertical fists.

Two knuckle punches

Vertical punchers say striking with first two knuckles is dangerous. 

Some posit that, even though striking with the first two knuckles concentrates the power of the punch in a small area to cause more damage to the target, the concentrated forces would also damage the knuckles. If this were true, then there would be more fractured hands during board breaks than broken boards.

Stand in front of a wall, get into your fighting stance with clinched fists, extend your lead arm in a horizontal punch, and move forward until the fist contacts the wall. Usually, the middle knuckle makes contact first, with a slight adjustment the first and second knuckles make contact. If you rotate the punch to a vertical fist, the first and second knuckles make contact. The only way the last three knuckles make contact is for you to angle the wrist or bend the elbow consciously.

Any supposed benefits gained from striking with the last three knuckles are negated by the bent wrist. To change the striking point of the punch to the last three knuckles, you must bend the wrist toward the thumb side. With the wrist bent, the line of force from the last three knuckles is again in line with the wrist and forearm, but it takes a conscious effort to bend the wrist and keep it bent. If the fist misses its target slightly so the first two knuckles strike the target, the bent wrist will put a large angle in the line of force through the wrist that may result in an injury to the wrist. Since it takes a conscious effort to keep the wrist bent in the vertical punch, any lapse in concentration will allow the angle of the bend to decrease, resulting in something between a vertical and a horizontal punch, which will probably be useless.

Some vertical fist punchers also use an upward tilt of the fist on impact as a supposed way to increase power.

Let me understand this, to increase the power of the punch, you powerfully, snap tilt the fist upward just before impact. Why don't you try this: Punch a board with a vertical fist and tilt your wrist up at impact. Then again, if you need your hand to eat with, maybe you shouldn't try this.
  • The tilt takes the wrist out of alignment with the forearm, which weakens it and makes it more susceptible to injury.
  • The tilt makes the smaller, bottom two knuckles the impact point instead of the larger, top two knuckles
  • This small range of movement will not add any significant power.

Target coverage

Vertical punchers say the vertical punch hits more of the target. 

For example, a horizontal punch to the mouth would only damage the mouth, whereas, a vertical punch to the mouth would also damage the nose. Using this logic, a vertical punch to the nose would also mean half the punch would be wasted due to it also hitting the forehead. Since the head is vertically oriented and its vertical length is much greater than its width, it makes a small target for a vertical punch. A horizontal punch has a greater probability of hitting the head than a vertical punch would have.

Palm heel strike

Vertical punchers say the palm-heel strike illustrates the superiority of the vertical punch. 

When performing a palm-heel strike straight forward against a vertically oriented target, such as to the solar plexus, if the wrist is bent backward with the fingers oriented upward, the wrist is stressed and the technique feels unnatural. Whereas, if the wrist is bent backward with the fingers oriented outward, the stress on the wrist is eased and the technique feels natural. Vertical punchers think this evidence that the vertical punch is superior to the horizontal punch since, if the hand in the first unnatural feeling instance is folded into a fist, it forms a horizontal fist while, if the hand in the second natural feeling instance is folded into a fist, it forms a vertical fist.

If the palm-heel strike is executed downward, such as to the back of the neck of a downed attacker or to break a stack of blocks, the palm is held with the fingers oriented upward, if they are oriented outward, the wrist is stressed, and the technique feels unnatural. Does this mean this is evidence that the horizontal punch is best?

If someone throws an object at your face, your hand instructively moves in front of your face to protect it. How does the hand naturally position itself, palm upward or palm outward? The natural position is palm upward or inward, not outward. Tell someone to push against a wall. Do they push with the palm turned upward or outward? The natural position is palm upward, not outward.

The truth is that neither palm-heel hand position example proves anything about the superiority of either the vertical or horizontal punch. The hand position in a palm-heel strike is totally unrelated to the hand position during a punch.

Power transmission

Vertical punches say more power is transferred to the target when using a vertical punch. 

To be effective, the force of a punch must be transferred from the body into the upper arm, forearm, wrist, hand, and into the target. This force is generated by muscles, but it is transferred through bone. Without bones to act against, the power generated by muscles would be useless. If the bones are misaligned at the joints or the joints are not angled properly, the force transfer will be reduced and injury to the joints may occur.

For this discussion, we will consider just the bones in the arm. The single large upper arm bone, the humerus, makes contact at the elbow with two forearm bones, the radius, the larger of the two, and the ulna. The contact the humerous makes with the radius is larger in area, much stronger, and more stable than its contact with the ulna so the radius transfers more force down the arm than the ulna. At the lower end of the arm, the contact the radius makes with the wrist is larger in area, much stronger, and more stable than the contact area of the ulna so the radius transfers more force to the wrist than the ulna. When the fist is extended, the radius is naturally in line with the first two knuckles of the hand. The wrist cannot be positioned to make the radius align with the last two knuckles. The ulna is in line with the middle two knuckles. The only way to line the ulna up with the first two knuckles is to bend the wrist drastically, which is would cause injury to the wrist in a punch. The only way to line the ulna up with the last two knuckles is to bend the wrist, which means the radius is not effectively transferring its greater force.

Muscle usage

Vertical punchers say the vertical punch uses the correct muscles. 

Vertical punchers claim the vertical punch uses the triceps muscle, which is mostly used for pushing, or punching, while the horizontal punch uses the bicep muscle, which is mostly used for lifting, not punching. This claim is absurd.

Forearm exposure

Horizontal punchers say their forearm is more protected against blocks. 

When the fist is horizontal, any horizontal blocks against the sides of the forearm will strike bone. Downward blocks will strike the double bone top of the forearm. Upward blocks will strike the more vulnerable bottom of the forearm, but upward blocks the weaker of the blocks.

When the fist is vertical, the underside of the forearm is exposed to powerful outward blocks that can damage pressure point nerves and blood vessels that are near the surface of the skin and are unprotected. Animals instinctively know not to expose their vulnerable undersides.


It does not take a lot of input from the instructor or a lot of practice by the student for the student to learn to punch in a natural motion. To gain any effectiveness from holding the hand in an unnatural position requires a lot of instructor input and student practice.

As I have stated before, my goal in teaching is that each student leaves a class better able to defend him or herself than before he or she entered the class. When a first-day beginner leaves my class and is attacked in the parking lot, he or she will be better able to perform the natural horizontal punch that they were born with and will not be confused with trying to punch vertically.

If you practice any technique enough, you may become proficient at it and it may get the job done, but that does not make the technique the most effective and efficient way to get the job done. A well-trained ballet dancer using ballet kicks will probably win a fight against a lesser trained fighter in taekwondo. An example of a practically useless technique used in fighting is the boxing bolo punch, which is an uppercut performed in a large circular motion.

The boxer Ceferino Garcia is credited with developing the bolo punch in the late 1930’s. When asked how he developed the punch, he said it came from the upward swinging motion he used to cut sugarcane as a youth in the Philippines. The bolo punch is usually used as a feign to distract the opponent from another punch, but if struck by a bolo punch, you will probably be knocked out. It was used effectively as a punch in the ring by Kid Gavilan in the early 1950’s.

Two of the most famous cases of a fighter using the bolo punch were when Sugar Ray Leonard avenged his loss to Roberto Duran and when he defeated Thomas Hearns in their second fight, but in these cases, Leonard only used the punch to distract. If practiced enough, the bolo punch may be used effectively under certain conditions, but it is not taught by reputable trainers since it is practically useless and is usually only used to “showboat” or to be different from other fighters.

If vertical punches work for you, that is great. However, I contend that it is only because you trained yourself enough to be good at vertical punching, not because vertical punching is the best way to punch. I contend that if you had spent the same amount of time training with horizontal punches instead of with vertical punches, you would have been an even better fighter. Of course, this is impossible to prove either way, but it is a viable contention considering the facts.

Just because grandmaster “whoever” said something, it does not make it true. The hundreds of believers who drank poisoned Kool-Aid in Jonestown believed their master, Jim Jones, who said they should drink it, and he believed it was the right thing to do. The followers of Heaven’s Gate leader, Marshall Applewhite, followed him in suicide believing his hype about a spaceship that was hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet was coming to get them. One who uses reason, logic, and common sense is seldom lead astray.

Sometimes martial artists who present evidence to explain their theories of fighting methods distort the facts or rearrange the order of the facts to justify their conclusions. The evidence they present is factual; it’s just not presented in its intended order or it’s taken out of context.

The easiest and most natural way to do something is usually the best way. Trying to change the natural movements of humans is usually man’s effort to show his superiority over nature or simply to be different from the martial art being taught next door.

Vertical punchers have been preaching their cause for over 100 years with virtually no converts. Why? If vertical punching is so much better than twist punching, why aren’t boxers and other martial arts converting to its use? Is it because of tradition? I think not! Tradition has always been a low priority American society. Change is more the norm; so much so, that some seek change just to be different. This seems to be the case in respect to vertical punching.

  • Ruzicki, T. (2003). From Bare-Knuckles to Modern Boxing. How Gloves have changed the Art of Pugilism.
  • Pfrenger, K. (2005). A Discussion of Boxing Stances Through History. [Online]. Available: [2005, December 18].
  • Historical Pankration Project.  [Online]. Available:
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