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How to Defend Punches Better

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How to Defend Punches Better

Defend Punches More Effectively

This past week, I got the chance to meet up with an old friend and training partner for some practice and discussion. It just so happens, Sensei Ando (as he goes by in his online persona), has a successful martial arts blog (www.senseiando.com) and YouTube channel (click to visit), and he asked if I’d be willing to share some thoughts on a topic for his latest post. Not one to turn down an opportunity to share my opinion, I naturally accepted. Watch the video below to check out what we came up with, or scroll down to read a summary on what we filmed.


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In the early stages of our training, most of the movements we practice are larger or more gross motor. Regardless of style, this is a typical behavior:


  1. It’s easier to teach and comprehend bigger movements

  2. We tend to have more “flinch” responses that lack refined motor skills.


Many styles even incorporate this notion from the get-go, anticipating the larger movements as a starting point to learn effective responses.


Training with the expectation of larger movements is helpful when learning new skills and is part of what comprises the “beginner mindset”. The problem here is that in time we must actively change our approach, both emotionally and physically, to match our training as we progress through more intermediate and advanced levels.


Punch Defense 1


The “intermediate” mindset is a bit of a grey area. Clearly we understand and associate what it feels like to be a novice...and we can identify others around us who we perceive as more “advanced”, yet we often struggle to find footing within the gap ourselves.


What makes someone more advanced is their ability to control their movements in a more refined manner. They appear to achieve big results with less effort. It appears more “natural” to them. In fact, that’s exactly right but it wasn’t always that way. They had to figure out where their efficiency could improve, and then train countless reps and hours to hone new habits.


Here’s a tip:

Consider a ratio of “wants” versus “needs”. How much do you WANT to move, versus how much do you actually NEED to move.


Take defending from a straight punch for example. A beginning student will learn to deflect or redirect the punch with a large pushing motion across their center line using their arm or hand. Their intention is to get that punch as far away from them as possible as quickly as possible.


This is a completely adequate response but the reality is, if you do this, you’re DOING TOO MUCH! You want that punch to not hit you but it’s way more than you need.


A miss is a miss. You only need to have that punch miss your head or body by fractions of an inch. That might be far closer than you’re comfortable with, especially at first. The more you move one way, the more you’ll inevitably have to move back. This translates to wasted energy through unnecessary motion. You’re also taking your body’s alignment off balance, losing valuable opportunities to maximize your counter response or escape.

If you become more at ease with closing that gap between your wants and needs, you’ll be more efficient and more controlled in your movements.


So how do we close that gap?

Grab a partner and start slowly. Have them begin throwing slow straight punches toward the center of your chest. Rather than using your hands or arms to initiate a defense, keep them perfectly still and simply rotate your hips so that your shoulders move your arms into the oncoming punch. You’ll quickly notice that you won’t need to move very much in order to not get hit. Practice rotating left and right with each punch and start picking up the pace as you see fit. Then raise the target to the head and repeat...don’t forget to raise your hands too.


Punch Defense 2


In due time, you’ll begin noticing that the hands are actually not even a necessary component of this defense. The body’s rotation is what gets you out of the way. The hands are just there for assurance, and later, additional tools for controls and manipulations. If you haven’t begun learning slips yet, this is a great time to do so. As the punches come towards your head, rotate the opposite shoulder toward the punch and add a slight dip, allowing the punch to pass right over your shoulder.


So there you have it. A simple partner drill to gain more confidence in your ability to recognize what you need to do versus what you initially might want to do. The more you do this, the more you narrow the gap in the wants:needs ratio. As you avoid the punch, what you do with your body and hands is entirely open to your interpretation.


Of course, there are many ways to defend yourself from an oncoming punch. This is merely a single drill to hone your comfort and response to become more efficient in your movement. The more efficient you can become in your response, the more options you give yourself to counter or get away. Stay safe out there and keep training, learning, and living for a better life!

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