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Sparring punches


Hand attacks, primarily punches, are your primary offensive weapons; humans like to punch other humans in the face. Under the right conditions, kicks may kill; however, even under the wrong conditions, punches may kill.

About punching

Keep your punches at about the same level as your head. You may need to even drop your head to the level of your target when punching, this includes when making body shots. If you don’t do this, you are leaving yourself open to getting punched. Some say you should keep your eyes at the level of where you are punching; others say to keep at level with the chin or shoulders.

Practice punching from all angles, such as from close range, from a squared face-off position, or when the opponent moves to inside.

Basic punches

In all punches, keep you guard up before, during, and after the punch. Sit down into your punches. This means bending your knees to drop your mass into the punch; not too much, just enough to keep you strong and stable. For most punches, remember to rotate the body into the punch for added power.

These are the five basic punches but there are many variations of them. They can be thrown with either hand but the following description only discusses using the power hand.


The jab is the workhorse of punches. It is used more than any other punches, both as an attack itself and to set-up for the use of other punches; however, its effectiveness is underrated. They may not be the most powerful technique, but they can still hurt and a series of jabs can do a lot of damage.


From a basic fighting stance, quickly thrust the lead fist at the target while rotating the palm face down and just as quickly snap the fist back to guard. Keep the shoulders pressed down away from the ears and the elbows tucked in at the sides of the ribcage. You may add a step or lunge with the lead foot for increased distance and power; however, avoid leaning forward.

Tips on use of the jab

  • Jabs disrupt the opponent's timing since he or she is constantly having to react to it. It’s a close range, explosive technique. It can be used in defense against an opponent’s lunge punch or foot sweep. It can be thrust forward into the opponent’s mid-section to nullify an attack and spoil their distance and timing. Using a job this way requires courage since you are essentially countering without blocking.
  • Remember, the jab is your can opener. It precedes the use of most other utensils. You can insert it into any gap or use it to probe the opponent's reactions.
  • Use of the jab range from pawing with it to load up your cross (such as used by Mohamed Ali) to using it to conceal your low entry (such as used by Chris Byrd) to using it as a damaging tool that will make your opponent see stars (such as used by Larry Holmes). 
  • Hurting an opponent with your jab has to do with how much you bring your lead hip in line with the shot, and how much you shift your weight into it.
  • Jab like a fencer. A jab is a controlled lunge using coordinated footwork to achieve the right range. Some use the jab like it was a projectile being fired at the target, while others use it like a fly swatter to keep a pest away. 
  • Most people do not put much power behind their jab so it is not respected by opponents; as you throw the jab, an opponent may come over the top with a cross or may slip inside the jab and catch you with a hook. Before you may use your jab as a feint, you must make it believable. Once you have a credible jab that is feared by opponents, then you may start to use it with techniques.
  • A great way to get an opponent to lower the lead hand and expose the chin is to use a jab to the stomach. If the opponent does not lower the lead hand, just hit the floating rib with penetrating power.
  • Use the jab as you slip outside or sidestep.
  • Watch for your opponent’s reaction to your jabs. Throw a jab at the opponent’s face to see the reaction, then you will know what follow-up techniques to use. Often, an opponent moves to make you miss a jab but then has no other place to go; be ready to follow-up as you may catch the opponent flatfooted at this time. Many opponents lean away from your initial jab; be prepared for this and follow-up with more attacks. 
  • Jabs help keep you established as the aggressor. They help keep your opponent on the defensive and they show judges you are on steadily on the attack.
  • Constantly keep throwing jabs in the opponent's face. They flash in the opponent's eyes and keep him or her on the defense, which allows you to mount an offense.
  • Jabs help make holes in the opponent's guard for more powerful punches to be used. Thomas Hearns jabbed at his opponent's forehead to lift the chin for a knockout right cross. You can jab to the stomach to lower the guard, then right cross to the chin, followed by a left hook to the liver.
  • Jabs show you have no fear and help establish your dominance. You are showing you are not afraid to mix it up.
  • Jabs allow you to dance. Since the jab is the only punch that does not require the total commitment of the body in some way, you have full control of your movements and footwork.
  • Jabs are a good counter to an opponent's jabs. When the opponent attempts to engage in a battle of the jab, keep one step ahead by working off his or her jab. For examples, when opponent jabs, slip left and fire an inside left hook, or slip to the right for a body jab and use an overhead punch to catch a lazy left hand, or slap down the jab down with the right hand and come straight with a right cross and move forward to offset your opponent.
  • Jabs help force your opponent to attack, so you may then counterattack. Jack Johnson once said that, as a counter puncher, he would use his jab to force his opponent to attack so he could counter.
  • Jabs are relatively safe. Beginning and ending combinations with a jab helps keep you protected. They mark the end of a combination and give you a second to regroup. Exiting the danger zone with a good jab helps to extinguish the opponent's counteroffensive.
  • Jabs help conserve energy since they require the least energy of any attack, hands, or feet.
  • Jabs let you out-finesse your opponent. By using finesse in the jab to change the timing, double up, or move up and down or down and up you appear to be the better fighter to judges. You may also confuse your opponent.
  • If your jab is robotic or predictable, a smart opponent will time it and launch an attack around it. Be shrewd with your jabs and make them unpredictable to confuse your opponent.


The cross, more commonly known as the straight, is a mid-range to a long-range punch thrown with the trailing fist directly at your opponent in a straight line. It’s the second most commonly used punch after the jab.

The cross:
  • Is easy to use independently and it leaves you in a good position to follow up with other punches.
  • Is a powerful punch. When you are not on the inside, it the quickest way to deliver a power punch, which is useful when not using any follow-up punches.


From a basic fighting stance, quickly thrust the trailing fist at the target while rotating the palm face down and then snap the fist back to guard. Rotate the trailing side of your body (shoulder and hips) into the punch while rising onto the ball of the trailing foot. This adds the mass of the body to the punch and connects the fist directly to the floor.

Tips on use of the cross

  • Don’t give any indication that you’re about to throw a cross by cocking your arm back.
  • For maximum power, fully extend the punching arm.
  • For maximum power, pivot the rear foot on the ball with the heel up, rotate the body about its centerline, bend your knees and settle into the punch, and lean forward slightly as the cross is thrown. Don’t overextend the punch and inure the elbow, Don’t overextend the rotation and lift the rear foot from the ground; it will cause a loss of power and instability. Don’t transfer too much mass to the front foot so that you are falling into the punch. If you do this and the opponent moves or ducks, you must take a step forward with your trailing foot to maintain balance or risk falling or being open to counter punches.
  • Keep your guard up.
  • Rotate the fist palm downward just before you hit the target.
  • Keep your chest facing the opponent before and during the execution of the cross. throwing the cross.
  • You may want to dip your face to the outside of your lead foot as you execute the cross. It lets you rotate a little more; thus, gaining more power. It also helps you avoid any counterpunches and puts you in a better position to follow up with a powerful lead hook.
  • After throwing the cross, don’t step forward with the trailing foot unless it is intended since it will cause you to switch stances.


The hook is one of the most difficult punches to throw, but it can devastating to the opponent. It can be thrown by using your trailing fist but it is usually thrown with the leading fist.


From a basic fighting stance, bend the left arm at a 90-degree angle and swing the fist toward the target in a hooking motion. As the hook is thrown, pivot inward so that leading knee and hips face toward the trailing side. Rotate the body into the punch and pull the fist back into the guard after the punch.

Tips on use of the hook

  • A horizontal fist (palm down) works best in close and a vertical fist (palm toward you) works best from a greater distance. 
  • Don’t stand too straight, you will not get enough power in your hook and you will be easier to knock off balance.
  • As with all punches, keep your non-punching fist up in a guard position. A common mistake when throwing a lead hook is to drop the trailing guard, which leaves the fighter open for a counter hook and a knockout.
  • Keep the wrist locked when to prevent a sprain or a break.
  • If your opponent is out of range, move-in closer else you’ll either have to reach or lunge in with the hook which will leave you off-balance and reduces your power.
  • Turn the lead heel out when using a lead hook; turn the rear heel out when using a trailing hook. Always shift your weight to the pivoting to increase power. 
  • When you double hook, such as a low hook to the body and then a high hook to the head, do not turn your heel out until the second hook, the first hook is more of a diversion. If you turn your heel out on the first hook, you will lose the power for your second one. 
  • A lead arm hook travels horizontally and tight as if you are grabbing one of your friends around the neck with your arm.
  • Rotate the hips for power but cock them back since it will telegraph your intention.
  • Keep the punching elbow at or near a 90-degree angle to maximize power. 
  • Don’t cock back your arm before the punch and telegraph your intent.
  • Remember that when rotating the body to rotate the head with it. This adds to the power and helps the head avoid punches or at least roll with them.
  • Keep your center of mass between the two feet. With too much weight on your front foot, if you miss your hook, you may fall into your opponent. With too much weight is on your back foot, if you miss, you can easily be knocked backward.
  • For most punches, it’s not a good idea to follow through; but, with the hook, if you want knockout power, you need to throw your punch through the target, not at it.


The uppercut is a power punch thrown from the waist upward underneath the opponent’s chin or the solar plexus area of the body. Mike Tyson’s uppercut was brutal. It’s mostly used when fighting on the inside since it loses power quickly as the range increases.


From a basic fighting stance, rotate the trailing hip forward and pivot on the ball of the trailing foot as you loop and swing the trailing fist upward and drive the fist up under the opponent’s chin.  The punch comes up from the waist and has the rotation of your entire body behind it. The hook is useful in setting up quick and powerful combinations.

Tips on use of the uppercut

  • Since the punch comes in an angle that is out of your opponent’s eyesight it may catch them unaware, which will make the punch even more devastating. 
  • Help your left guard up to protect your chin.
  • Don't make a scooping motion with your arm and don't swing higher than the opponent’s nose or you may leave yourself exposed and off-balance.
  • If you miss the uppercut, it may leave you off balance and exposed to counterpunches or a simultaneous punch from the opponent.
  • Don’t always go for the head, body shot can be just as effective,


The overhand punch is a mid-range punch thrown using the trailing hand, which arcs over your shoulder to the head of the opponent. A great counterpunch that can easily catch your opponent if he or she doesn’t move his or her head. It’s often used by brawlers and punchers.


The overhand is like a straight that travels up and over over the opponent’s guard and then down to hit its target.

Tips on use of the overhand

  • Like the uppercut, it comes from the back, so it’s not in the opponent’s line of sight and may catch the opponent unaware.
  • It can generate a lot of power because your entire body is behind the punch.
  • Because the overhand comes from the rear, it takes longer to reach the opponent so he or she may have time to avoid it by duck under it.
  • If you miss your target, it will often leave you off-balance and open for a counter.
  • It’s difficult to use from an open position because of the greater distance to the target. 
  • As you throw the overhand, lean to the outside of your lead foot to put more body mass behind the punch and to help avoid any counters. Don’t’ lean too far to the outside of your lead foot or put all your weight on your front foot or you risk being off-balance. 
  • Keep the target in sight at all times, either directly or peripherally, even when you are leaning to one side.
  • Bend your knees as you throw the punch to sit into the punch for more power.
  • To increase the punching power, pivot your trailing foot as you throw the punch.
  • Don’t use at close-range; it won’t work; you can take a step back to get more range and then punch.
  • Don’t use from a long-range; it will leave you off -balance, which will reduce the punches’ power of the punch and leave you open for counters.+

Other punching techniques

  • Reverse punch. The reverse punch is a major scoring technique in competition. Increase its reach by lowering your stance and driving hip toward the opponent. In defense, use a palm sweeping block while pulling your upper body and face backward and moving your weight over the rear leg; then drive forward off the rear leg and attack before the opponent returns to a defensive position.
  • Shoeshine. The shoeshine position is an excellent way to gain momentum for your punches in close without creating an opening or telegraphing your intent. For the shoeshine position, keep hands up, palms toward you, knuckles almost touching eyebrows, head down, and elbows in and then bob and weave. It’s a great position from which to fire hooks and uppercuts. It keeps you moving and keeps the opponent guessing.
  • Shoe in the bucket. This is a failure to shift the weight off of one foot and onto the other when throwing a power punch. A classic example is when using the cross. At full extension, your rear foot should rotate up on the ball, allowing the weight to shift to the lead foot and that hip to move forward. If you don’t rotate the rear foot, you lose power, and it’s like that foot is stuck in a bucket. This contradicts the planted rear foot that some traditional martial arts use in their reverse punch.
  • Lead hand uppercut. When using an uppercut with the lead hand, turn the lead heel outward to rotate your hip and shoulder into the punch. NEVER uppercut a person whose head is above yours; you lose too much power, so it is not worth the effort.
  • Barrel of a rifle. A common mistake for fighters is to leave their chin open on the side of the arm they are punching with. To prevent this, look down your punching arm like you are looking down the barrel of a rifle to provide cover for your chin on that side while you are punching. Depending on your style, it may also help to turn your thumbs downward to help bring the shoulders up and provide better cover. Your arms are like two soldiers guarding a fort. When one of them leaves the fort to attack the enemy, he has to build a wall to protect his post while he is gone. In keeping with this analogy, during this time, the other soldier must be extra vigilant.
  • Lunge punch. Stepping forward when using a lunge punch may be too slow and may telegraph your intentions to an opponent; instead, use a front stance with a bent back leg to assist forward movement. To increase your reach, the front foot may land in line with the rear foot, twisting the torso so that the chest is facing sideways. Time the punch to hit when the foot lands, stomping the floor to “apply brakes.” Alternatively punch before or after landing your foot to upset the opponent’s timing, making it more difficult for the opponent to block. Avoid pulling back the front foot before punching; it increases distance and telegraphs your intentions to the opponent.
  • Back fist strike. Use a back fist as a counterattack only against an inherently weak but very fast attack. In defense, parry the strike and turn the parry into an attack with a spinning technique.
  • Lag punch. The lag punch is a boxing technique where you load up your hook to draw the opponent's attention to that hand and then strike with the other hand. Sugar Ray Leonard’s bolo punch is an exaggerated example of this technique.
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