• Sensei Izzie

Punches - What, Why, When and How? (Article)

Last time we discussed kicks, their purpose, and when and how best to use them - and so we'll also look at the different types of punches now and how they can be used most effectively.

First, let's think about what we do when we fight- or rather, should do.

When we fight with arms and legs, they're the weapons that we have available.

If you think for a minute that instead you have a rubber dagger and a sword to use, then there's a big difference in the distances that those will reach, and a difference in the way you would use them - if your opponent is a distance from you, then the rubber dagger is no use because it won't reach the body- and if the body is close to you then the sword is too long and heavy and difficult to manoeuvre -and so isn't usable either.

So you'd choose the rubber dagger if your opponent was close up because it's short and light and easy to flick around into any position - and the sword to reach out and make contact right over there.

..but we don't have those weapons, we have fists and feet and they are on the ends of arms and legs. Bend your arm a lot and the distance from your body to hand is extremely short, start to stretch it out and that distance gets longer and longer- and the same with the legs.

So probably you're getting the picture- the arms are like the dagger (sort of), covering a short to medium long range - and the legs are longest (but also heavy), like the sword, and can cover the most distance of all.

We have different types of punches then for different purposes. Some will reach further than others, some are designed for very close range. Some are intended to punch straight forward, some to bend around and hit a target at the side, and some aren't intended to make contact at all.. why? because they're intended to confuse the opponent.

So let's look at all of the punches we use in our kickboxing discipline and work out what they're for.

1. Jab

Jab is always launched from the hand nearest the opponent and directly from guard- it's the 'leading' hand - and because we're always in a stance which is diagonal on to the opponent, is also seen as the 'front' hand. It doesn't have a great deal of power itself but if it's quick enough, power doesn't matter so much. It's purpose really is stay up by the face and snap out very fast and back to guard, keeping the opponent at bay while you use it to work out the range (distance between you and him) and set up a more powerful punch as your next move.

Jab comes from a hand that is end on in guard (with curled little finger showing to the opponent), rotating as it comes out so that it's palm is facing down, fingers curled in and thumb across the fingers, and it strikes with the the top knuckles. Immediately then it snaps back in to guard. Usually this is aimed towards the face but can be used to the body as well, with other punches backing it up.

2. Cross

Cross is a straight punch to head or body which is always thrown from the rear arm. It does not cross the body, but punches straight forward, as does the jab. As punches go, this is long range (and mid range overall).

The cross is extremely powerful if the technique is good, but it relies on the weight of the body being thrown into it. The shoulder leads the punch, and lifts slightly to help cover the side of the face,and the force of the weight coming forward should twist the body naturally, allowing the back heel to lift and the knee to bend. Once it's made the connection, it should also come back to guard.

3. Hook

Can come from either arm to the side of the head or to the ribs, but again, as with all punches and kicks one coming from the back will always have more weight than the front. In the same way as the cross, if this comes from the back, it should be lead by the shoulder, into the side of the body or head and the fore arm should be parallel to the floor.

Either way, it should be a short movement (it's one of the shortest range weapons you have) and should not be telegraphed by the arm flinging out or back first. From the back arm, with the shoulder up and forward and the weight being thrown into the punch (and again with the body twisting and foot coming up onto the toes), this can be a real deal breaker.

4. Uppercut

Again is very close range. It can't be executed effectively even from mid range-, so you have to get up and personal or it doesn't work. Uppercut from the front arm is fairly weak by comparison, but from the back, with the shoulder and flexed bicep driving the fist in and up - the body being allowed to twist fully and get behind it- and not forgetting the knees bending and quads dipping to get underneath (if this is going into the stomach), this is pretty awesome.

Lifting Uppercut is basically an uppercut to the chin of a very tall opponent. It isn't a jump exactly, but right up onto the tip toes plus a little bit more in order to reach.

5. Back Fist

Another front or back arm punch. It's very fast- and it flicks out from guard to strike the opposite side of the opponent's face with the back of the hand, and a clenched fist. The notable difference is when this comes from the rear arm and the body needs to twist from the waist almost into the opposite stance to allow the opposite shoulder to lead in. Back Fist can have quite a reach, possibly even longer than the jab or cross if it's done properly.

6. Bolo Punch

Bolo punch always comes from the rear arm, never from the front (leading). It's purpose is to strike the bridge of the nose. Imagine hurling a ball over-arm, or, if you're lucky enough to have a good front crawl swimming technique- that's the position you want. From guard, take the fist back and right over the head, catching the shoulder and bicep against the ear, and drive the knuckles in a curve downwards to the nose area. If you do this in grading, it's a good idea to have an imagination (as it always is really in kickboxing), and stop the fist at the relevant position as thought it bounces off the target, and then bring it back into guard. Highly effective, mid-range technique.

7. Spinning Back Fist

This is the one where footwork practice really pays off.

This is banned from a lot of competitions because power, technique and spinning momentum make it very dangerous in a proper 'win or lose' situation, but we can use it in sparring so long as it's carefully controlled.


Stand in left stance, guards up. This is how you'll start.

Now switch to right stance and backfist with your front arm. This is how you'll end up.

Go back to left stance.

Imagine a drawing compass (see below) It's purpose is to draw a circle with a pencil -

The needle point that sticks in the paper is your front foot. The pencil is your back foot.

You're going to pivot backwards and the back foot is going to follow the orange arrows round half a circle, until it puts you in the opposite stance. This also means you move forward. Yep? Practice!

So once you've mastered the footwork, as soon as you set off, your fist starts to fly out towards the target, leading you round until it strikes. The fist needs to lead because otherwise a) you telegraph the move and b) you have no flying fist to protect you.

Once you get the gist of the footwork, it becomes less like a circle and more just like picking up your foot and moving round. Don't forget to get your fist back to your face as quickly as you can afterwards.

Double Punches

Are to be doubly sure! Double jab is the most commonly used and the first jab retracts back half way before going out again for more impact.

Stepping Through / Moving Forward / Moving Back / Twisting Jabs

A stepping through jab changes stance for you while closing distance. It sets you up to throw a cross off your favoured fist if you happen to be in your least powerful stance.

From left stance, use your back leg to take a natural step forward, jabbing with you right hand and land in right stance.

A moving forward jab simply steps forward (or even leaps, slightly, depending on the distance needed to close) with the front foot to attack, dragging the rear foot back into stance position. but leaving the weight slightly on the front leg- so this can easily lead to another punch from the leading arm, or a kick from the rear leg.

A moving back jab is, of course, the exact opposite of that- it takes a step or slight leap backwards (as if the opponent is lunging at you) and in defence (and simultaneously) jabs at the opponent's face with the leading arm. Since the weight is now slightly on the back foot, depending on their distance from you, a front kick or roundhouse from the leading leg might naturally follow it up.

Twisting Jabs.

Imagine you're sparring left stance with someone face on who suddenly takes a smart diagonal step to your right side and now he's no longer in front, he's over to your right. There's no time to move away or even move your front foot, so you pivot on your front foot shifting the back foot 90 degrees clockwise (turning right, to face your sneaky opponent) and jab him in the nose? That's a twisting jab.

One last thing-


Feints are punches (or kicks) that aren't real- are set up and stopped short to make the opponent think there's a jab coming to the body ( making them react how you want them to react) when you closely follow it up with a stinging hook to the jaw- or a feint roundhouse to the body (dropping their guard deliberately) followed by a real hook to the head instead which makes contact because the guard is low, and protecting the feint. Good to practice these combis!

by Sensei Izzie Kirk copyright 2020

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