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Self Defense Strike

Self Defense: The Strike

Self defense is about defending yourself. We’ve already covered how to try to avoid and exit a situation before it becomes violent. We’ve also covered how to block an attack from an opponent.

In the end of that article, we briefly covered the simple punch. Here, we’re going to do a deep dive on how and where to land a punch – in case that’s what you have to do to keep yourself safe.

Self Defense Strike

It Starts with a Fist

The punch, and some blocks that we introduced in another of our self defense articles, starts with the humble fist. The fist may just sound like the lump at the end of your arm, but if you don’t have a proper fist, you can end up with a broken hand.

Start with a flat hand. Bend ninety-degrees where the fingers meet the hand, then at the next knuckle. That’s it. It can be tempting to tuck your fingertips into your fist, but with this formation a punch can drive your fingernails into your palm.

Your thumb should be curved and laying over your fingertips. If your thumb is on the inside of your fist, it can be broken or dislocated when the punch lands. If your thumb is sticking out of your fist, it can connect before the fist does. The prospect of describing the consequences of that particular mistake is enough to turn my stomach. 

Your fist should be in a straight line out from your elbow. When a punch lands, the same force going into your target travels back into your fist and arm. If your wrist is at the wrong angle, you can dislocate the delicate bones that make up the wrist and the base of the hand. In fact, that’s fairly likely to happen even if you have good form. But, we’ll get back to preventing that.

On the topic of force, a punch – or any strike – does its best work when it delivers maximum force through minimum surface area. The area of the fist that you want to touch the target first are the knuckles.

Strike stance by Tom Bloom Youtube

You’ve Got to Know How to Use it

So, you’ve got your fist. Next on the checklist is delivering it. “Prep” your fist by bringing it to your side with the fist “upside down” – so that when you look down you see your fingertips rather than the top of your hand. Turn your body at the hips toward the fist that you’re prepping and have the opposite foot forward.

When you punch, punch with your whole body. Step into the punch while unwinding at the hips. As your fist moves forward, rotate it from the elbow so that when your punch is done your fist has “flipped” so the top of your hand is on top.

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Under the Skin

This blog has been getting into self defense titles recently, but let’s get back to our roots for a moment and talk about the muscles involved in the perfect punch. That way, if you want to throw yourself into self defense, you can target these muscles in your workout.

We know that we told you to “punch with your whole body” but we’ll just focus on the upper body muscles because the lower body muscles are just involved in the action of stepping forward.

As for the core, the oblique muscles, deep to the lats and abs and running around the sides of the body, are primarily responsible for the rotation at the hip (Caciolo, p.16).

Further up the body, the pecs in the chest, the traps, delts, and other major muscles of the back, and the muscles that make up the rotator cuff are heavily involved in throwing and directing the punch.

Once we get into the actual arm, the tricep that runs along the back of the upper arm is a major player (ibid, p. 4). The muscles of the lower arm would be almost completely uninvolved, but the concept of rotating the punch as you throw it incorporates these muscles as well.

So, the moving parts in a punch work in terms of physics to put more of your weight into your attack. At an anatomical level, they work in more muscles generating more force than would be the case if you were simply throwing a punch from the shoulder while standing still. It’s details like that that make martial arts more than simple self defense.


Perfecting Your Punch

Now that we understand the muscles that make up the perfect punch, here are some workouts that the self defense-minded individual can do to make sure that, that punch delivers.

The Russian Twist and the Bird Dog are both exercises spelled out in our article on core exercises. Essentially a modified crunch and a modified plank, respectively, these exercises workout your obliques.

For your upper arms, Rowing and tricep extensions are particularly valuable for developing your shoulders and arms. Rowing also works the back and core. Pec flies, if done properly, can also work out your chest as well into your shoulders and upper arms.

A pushup modification that puts your weight on your knuckles is particularly good for getting your knuckles and lower arms used to bearing force. They also help to condition your knuckles, as does heavy-bag work. If you continue down the road of self defense, the heavy-bag should definitely become your friend.


Learning More about Self Defense

If you’ve been following along with our other self defense articles, you know that we draw heavily from martial arts. So you may be wondering: punching isn’t all that there is, is there?

Of course not. Most martial arts have a few basic hand-strikes and a rich arsenal of kicks. However, getting a powerful, well-aimed kick is incredibly hard and it’s better not to throw one at all than it is to throw one and not have it land.

While we’re sticking to the simpler stuff in this article, we encourage you to explore more advanced techniques in a studio with an expert. Gyms, dojos, fitness centers, community centers, and colleges across the country host classes where you can learn and practice more advanced self defense techniques. 

Check your phone book, local newspaper, or favorite search engine for self defense education opportunities near you.

Further Reading

Caciolo, C (ed.) “Total Body Workout.” Men’s Health. 2007.

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