Guns & Ammo Network

Collapse bottom bar
Defend Thyself Personal Defense

How Effective Is Punching in Personal Defense?

by Richard Nance   |  May 4th, 2012 69

Woman punchingChances are, when you think of a “street fight,” images of two combatants with clenched fists, each trying to knock the other’s head off come to mind. Certainly, punches are the most prevalent technique in fights but are they the most effective? It’s no secret that a well-placed punch could be a fight stopper, but if things go askew that haymaker punch that works so well in the movies could do more damage to your hand than the attacker’s head

Hollywood and combative sports like mixed martial arts (MMA) and boxing reinforce our perception that punches are highly effective. Of course, movie fights aren’t real, so there’s little chance of the star — or his or her stunt double — breaking a hand during a fight scene. In competition, fighters wear gloves more to protect their own hands than their opponent’s head.

Since the metacarpal bones in the hand are miniscule compared to your attacker’s skull, solid fist-to-head contact is likely to injure your hand. If your fist isn’t perfectly formed and right on target, you could sustain what’s commonly referred to as a “boxer’s fracture.”

What about an experienced puncher? Is someone who has trained to deliver punches, such as a boxer or martial artist, less likely to injure their hand when punching? Yes and no. While a trained puncher understands the mechanics of throwing a proper punch, including how to form their fist and which part of their fist is most capable of withstanding solid impact — the knuckles of the index and middle fingers — a trained puncher might actually have a greater chance of injury. How is this possible? Simply because the trained striker is going to generate considerably more force than the novice, resulting in greater impact. And the skull tends to fare better than the hand when this collision occurs.

Am I suggesting that punching is ineffective? Absolutely not! But if you’re going to punch, you’re better off targeting areas of the attacker’s anatomy other than his head. Sure, if you land a telling blow to the face, the attacker might be down for the count. However, if your punch is off-target due to a slight miscalculation on your part or due to the attacker’s actions, you could severely injure your hand. If it’s you’re dominant hand, drawing your firearm would be difficult in the event you needed to resort to a deadly force option.

To summarize, if you’re going to punch, make sure you understand what you’re doing — from forming a fist to delivery, including what portion of your fist to strike with and what anatomical targets to strike for maximum effect, with minimal risk.

In many cases, striking with the heel of your palm is a pretty good substitute for a punch. The body mechanics are the same. The power in either strike is generated from hip rotation as opposed to sheer arm movement. If you’re targeting the throat, solar plexus, groin, etc., punches are the way to go. When targeting the head, striking with your palm is the safer bet.

What are your thoughts on punching in personal defense?

  • Bob Meluskey

    at 6 ft 3 and 295 lbs most people don't want to get in a fist fight with me in fact they are better off using a gun if they aren't man enough to stand up and fight

    • lover not a fighter

      what an arrogant ass

    • Strident

      Only pathetic, insecure losers speak the way you do

    • Karl

      The question was punching. And not a fist fight. A lot can go on. If a smaller man slapped your testicles with an open palm first and THEN started pounding, you might not ever get a chance to fight back. Stuff happens. And there are a lot of small, strong, mean dudes out there. Your size alone will not save you.

    • Thor Hedges

      It's not the size of the man in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the man that counts. That said, at 5'10" and 210lbs., I'd give you so many lefts that you'd beg for a right and you would not hear the man count 10.

    • Killer

      Not always true I have gotten into fights "because of" my size,6'1'' and 285 lbs

      • Alan_T

        You're right Killer , especially when some drunk developes " beer muscles " and is trying to impress people .

    • Tim

      Wow, I'm 6'3 and 235 and I feel like a fatass. I feel sorry for you.

    • Robert

      At six-foot plus all it means is you have longer way to fall. Size is one of the least important aspects in a serious combat situation.
      Two fingers or thumb put you down for the count much faster than anyone hitting you with even a baseball bat.

      The big plus as to your size is that for the most part it will intimidate most attackers because most attackers are basically cowards in the first place in the second place they're looking to prove something to themselves. That's why they get so much trouble.

    • Alan_T

      @ Bob Meluskey
      Gosh ….. it must be wonderful to be you Bob , you make the rest of us look like such girlie – men !

    • Ron McDonald

      Especially since you are such a bad ass…on the internet.

  • J.R. Verdugo

    Good info! It depends what you're training for. Boxers practice on the "bags," and wear gear while sparing. Some Martial Arts train to harden the bones of the knuckles, feet, etc., and practice every day. Boxing is well known as a sport, but some other forms of Martial Arts use the phrase, "self defense." Sometimes it is not used for its intended purpose, which is why many municipalities require that a student register with their local police in that their hands may be viewed as lethal weapons.

    • Karl

      Where, please tell, is such registration required of such deadly hands?

      • Todd

        If you attain certain levels or belts in martial arts or have had specific training it used to be required; weather or not it is now I'm not sure.

        • Limper

          No, that's not true. Never has been.

  • Karl

    It's a fight. Someone is gonna get hurt. It is also self-defense. If landing a punch gets you away from or stops a threat, a broken finger is better than a broken head. Open hand is OK but fingers are just as vulnerable to missed strikes when open. Maybe more. I have broken fingers twice while grappling. Do what you must to win the fight. Hit what you can with whatever you can. Get a heavy bag and light work gloves. Learn to punch by punching something heavy.

    • Killer

      Thay are not talking about OPEN hand they mean fold your first two knuckles down tight and strike with the heal of your palm,and it is very effective if done properly.

      • Philip

        No, I take it to mean exactly that….open hand! I am only 5'9 and 170, but I have used my hand like a cup on the jaw, and KO'd many of bob's. [It is a popular WChun strike]Also using it properly on a return strike to the Vargas will usualy drop the guy. Folding in the knuckles IMO, will result in damaged fingers!

  • Karl

    However, I do have an ASP Key Defender pepper spray kubotan type device. Lovely thing that fits nicely in a pocket. I REALLY don't want to get hit, stabbed or anything else so the 6 foot reach of the spray is nice. If I have no choice but to hit, it makes a nice little hard point in a hammer fist that would likely crack a skull if needed as well as a nice "hand pack" for punching. Pepper spray is plan A for all sizes especially 6'3" 295.

    • Alan_T

      Yeah ….. unless you come up against somebody wired on PCP or CRACK or METH or ( insert name of any number of other drugs here ) or SOMEONE WHO IS PSYCHOTIC and then you're going to find that , that little can of pepper spay isn't going to do you much good and may actually enrage your attacker .

      • MacTex

        Sorry, but you are wrong. Regardless of what type of chemical an individual has taken, the eye will still repond the same way to the irritant of pepper spray – it will water, swell, sting as the sinus begins to close and tear. The 'hopped up' individual may still attempt to attack you in a rare case, but they will not be able to see, so they will be ineffective if you do your part. IT is an automatic reaction for the eye as it attempts to expell the irritant with tears.

        • Alan_T

          No offense intended MacTex but you're wrong and if you do a little research , you'll find that I am right .

          • Bud

            Alan's right , Ive used issued pepper spray a number of times while trying to arrest suspects on meth an some other drugs, they dont feel it an all it did was piss them off.

          • Zack

            I work with Bud and we've both seen it. I've seen it happen with tasers too. It just don't work on some of these guys on meth or pcp, just makes them pissed. One time I seen a guy on meth get sprayed and tased both and it still took 9 of us to put him on the ground.

        • Alan_T

          Here;s a link for you MacTex … you can read what Dave Spaulding has to say on the subject of pepper spray !

  • John


  • Paul House

    Your article is spot on. Would I use my fist? Absolutely. Have I trained to use my fist? Absolutely. I will offer a slight correction to your assessment of a palm heel strike, not the palm of the hand, but directly the heel of the hand. You WILL impact your wrist bones, however, especially if you make contact directly with the skull. Either strike is more effective against a cheekbone, nose, jaw, etc. than the actual skull itself. Even MORE effective would be a palm heel strike against the side of the neck. Shock trauma to blood flow and the nervous system will likely end the fight early.

    • spike1point5

      Good advice

  • John

    punching works, humans have done it since we figured out how to make a fist… as pointed out above, its a fight somebody is going to get hurt, train and you are less likely to be that one….

    That said, open hand striking works well if you train that… You are much less likely to bust up your hands if you use palm strikes. Starting your car to drive away will also be easier, escalating to a higher level of force if needed is also easier.

    As also said above, punch something heavy, then take it another step, find a local gym go inside and start learning. Give Krav Maga a shot or a boxing gym also mix in grappling. Combine those skill sets with your handgun skill set and you are another step closer to safe….

  • Will Carry

    I'll bite, gouge your eyes, thumb your throat, kick, grab your nads and yes I'll punch and use the best weapon I can get hold of. I will also run away if I can. There are no rules.

    • You Pussy

      You forgot scream, cry, pull hair, menstruate…

      • spike1point5

        what a dick you are. The man is completely right, it's not about looking manly, it's about getting out of Dodge as fast as you can. The best defence in a fight is not to be there.

    • Alan_T

      Damn right Will !

  • Daniel Kenoyer

    The most effective action is always the most violent action. If you can't generate anything more violent than a punch, you punch.

    • ToryII

      Our hands are legal everywhere we go. Pepper spray, and most other objects are banned in one place or another (especially in parks).

      After the Westmont, Illinois police banned CHAIN (dog chain) in city parks, it was also banned by the SS in Tampa for the GOP convention.

      • ToryII

        Wespons are always banned by POLICE.

        • nunyadambizness

          When the totalitarians are in power, they'll do their best to eliminate the possibility of them being removed from power–so, yes. Effective weapons are always banned by someone.

          • Todd

            You forget the fact that the most deadly weapons known to man are all legal. The mind; the mouth, the heart, hands, and feet. They may not always be instantaneous but they they are the most lethal legal weapons we have without having a physical tangible weapon.

  • Bruce

    Wow, I am glad I have gotten older, well let's just say these days I like a bit of lead proceeding the fight. However back in my hayday, I grew up on the streets of New Orleans. There wasn't any particular style of fighting, most of the time you just got lucky and ended up with less injuries than the other guy and delared suvivorship. I guess my point is use what ever you have because and adult fight doesn't end with a bloody nose. Don't quit and give it your all but seriously there are very few winners in a street fight. I think I lost more that I ever won but I am paying for it today. Arthritis everywhere and I can tell you where it all came from. Some places are a fight looking to happen it is best to avoid them.

    • Karl


  • spike1point5

    Punches are, as you so rightly say, a mixed bag. I've done a LOT of CQC stuff, and personally my favourite technique is nutting someone (a headbutt, for those of you perhaps unfamiliar with this term). This is even more of a double-edged sword, as if you deliver it properly it's brutally effective, but if thrown incorrectly it'll do a lot of damage to yourself. On the other hand, it has a HUGE psychological effect, far more so than a punch.

    My main piece of advice is not to trust the various "self-defence" gurus who constantly advise things like palm strikes etc. These are lethal if used properly, if not, they're just a slap. Simple. I would say it's more a matter of WHERE you hit defining HOW you hit. Edge of the hand to the throat, Knee to the crotch, foot to the inside of the knee and out, head to nose, elbow to solar plexus…For those not experienced in CQC, punch only to soft targets, like the stomach. If you feel you have to punch the head, go for the septum, or hook to the side of the temple. Even better is what I know as a phoenix fist, with the mid-knuckle pointed, delivered either to the septum or just under the ears, right behind the jaw.

    First instinct though should be to run away. Like the atom bomb, the best defence against it is not to be there when it kicks off.

    Just my two cents. I flatter myself that I have a bit of experience in this area, I've been active Lethwei and Sambo for over 10 years, and I was a Royal Marine. Everyone is welcome to their own opinion though


    Went to a self defense course taught by Bob "Thunder" Thurman–eight time world kickboxing champion. To my surprise he taught exactly what this article says. Unless you're well-trained, use the heel of your hand to the face, fist to the throat, knee to the ribs while pulling them down by shoulders. Ripping the 'nads (or ringing the bells) is a legit technique. Do everything you can to avoid a confrontation but if it's unavoidable (i.e. you're attacked), strike quickly, with no mercy, and get away as fast as you can.

    • Killer

      My philosophy exactly

      • Alan_T

        Mine too Killer .

  • Antonio

    Interesting piece. I've always understood that boxing gloves are made to protect the hands, not the other guy's face. Ask any doctor, those small bones on the top of hand tend to break when you punch something hard enough. Close up, elbow strikes are powerful and stump kicks to the knees are difficult to see or block. Far out, considering getting out of there (unless you're protecting someone) — I don't know about you guys, but I've paid enough legal fees in my life time, and I hate being in front of a judge because you never know what s/he is going to decide.

    • Philip

      Yes, I agree…gloves are to protect the hands. Only times Ive punched "heads", was when I put myself off centerline and the target was the side of the head [about ear area]. I don't consider the jaw as "head", but aside from that it appears this was a "duh" article. If a nitwit decideds to punch a head they deserve a swollen hand.

  • Michael

    Hi out there @guns and now live in the Information age and Ego's are welcome but not needed,know One knows Who we are behind the PC World we talk Sh*t and think we have won the
    battle,NO SIR, people who attack on the net are Insecure born losers always trying fight there way out of a simple situation and Words are a 2 edged sword.The Topic is the reality of the Punch Not Some comment how bad ass you or we are!

    I know my place in the world and reality is, Who is watching me or you from above Watch what we say to each other is common respect.


  • oldsmartcop

    I hate to fight, but I did end up with my shares of contact as a police officer, many years ago. I had an instructor that once told me that you should learn every technique you can, but take one or two moves and practice them until they are so natural that you could do them in your sleep. I did and therefore I hardly ever had to "fight" anyone. When you have a wife and four kids, the idea is to get control of the situation fast, and not get hurt.

    On the other hand, I have found a couple of great shots that work in those very frightening situations that you might find yourself in. At least they work for me. One is using the side of your hand like an ax, swivel your hip like a pendulum, and strike the guy in his collar bone. Use enough force that you want to feel that you are going to exit out his back. The swiveling of the hip will give you that extra momentum. The collar bone breaks very easily. I think it only takes about ten pounds of pressure to break it. Once that is broken, the bad guy will be out of commission. Nothing worst than a broken collar bone grating when you try to use your arm.
    The other one that I have found effective is by using the side of your foot or the heel of your foot to kick the guy's leg at the side of the knee, trying to dislocate or break the knee at the joint. That is a weak position on most folks and even if it doesn't break, it will put the guy down so that you can either run or stomp him. If you kick like you are breaking firewood, in a downward, and slightly angled direction it should do the trick. As a cop, I never had to do that. I have used the first technique using my kel light as a baton to the collar bone. There was no more fight left in the guy after that.

    I am no expert at fighting. I use scenarios and practice just a few techniques. Now, I carry concealed and hope that I never have to use my piece. I am too old to fight, but that also gives me the element of surprise.

    • Antonio

      Good points. I've noticed that when people are in trouble they use what is most natural to them, not what is the best technique for the situation. That's why so many people through wide-arcing hook in fights — it's what they know and feel comfortable with.

  • TimothyJ

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned using an elbow strike. Even delivered full-force there's not much chance of injuring yourself, and it's devastating. It's shorter range than a punch, but unlike a punch it can be delivered even if you're being grappled.

  • Ryder

    Well said Michael
    You never know who you are going up against and therefore assumptions may be dangeous.

  • 2nd Fundamentalist

    Actually, I've heard where a bouncer used a palm heel strike to a miscreant's head. The bouncer put the miscreant down, but he broke his hand or wrist. I think the palm heel strike is overrated. In judo, you are trained to never stick your arm out to absorb your fall. When you do so, you hit the ground first with the palm of your hand. That breaks the wrist. I would think the palm heel strike is similar. I would condition the fists, both the tae kwon do knuckles (index and middle fingers) and the Kung Fu knuckles (middle, ring, and pinky fingers) against concrete, lightly at first, gradually building power.

  • sifu

    A lot of good point and a few idiots here. I'm not a big guy (5'11" 210lbs). As far as size being a deturrent…usually works the opposite. Especially when alcohol is involved. I have a large friend (6'3 265lbs) and in our younger days his size usually meant that someone wanted to prove their toughness by challenging him to a brawl.
    As to the point of head punches, i'm with the author sure its way more self satisfying to knock someone out with a head punch but also harder to do correctly than you think. I broke my hand on a guy about 8 years ago and i have had training in both MA and boxing for many years before it happened.
    if your defending yourself against a larger opponent close the distance and go for soft tissue. if a smaller opponent close the distance and grappleand break something. If your an mma fighter same rules..remember there is no ref when your defending yourself on the street.


    The writer is correct about a head being harder than a hand. What they miss is that the good martial arts teach many striking techniques. The Okinawan art I've studied for 30 years teaches 12 hand weapons, but the idea is hard against soft and soft against hard. So, palm heal against head is good, not s much fist, unless you've got great aim and conditioning on the makiwara. The 300 pound loudmouth poster is the perfect example of why we teach body attacks first. I don't care how fat you are, or how many situps you do, if I hit you hard in the lower torso, (betwwen the ribs and pelvis) you are going to feel it. After we soften you up, take down, or running away is easy. Please consult a real martial artist for your posts. Of course my father was in the pacific during WWII and he says karate lost against a .45 every time.

    • Von R. Lute

      Right on the money!

      (MSgt, USMC, Ret.)

    • Alan_T

      Especially your opponent's right side ( liver area ) , NHRUNJUMPTHROW .

  • Frugal Professor

    There is an old karate saying, "Soft against hard: hard against soft." The hard bones of a fist against the hard bones of a skull is not a wise move. A fist against a soft target is safer for the hand. An soft open hand against a hard skull, in the area of the ear drum, has a good probability of stopping an attacker. A fist stiking a jaw from the bottom corner may at first appear to break this rule, But the real target is soft: the spinal chord. It is the fast twisting of the neck that knocks out your opponent. Your goal should be to stop the attack and then leave in one piece – including your hands. If your attacker has an accomplice, you will be glad to have both hands intact.

    • Alan_T

      Amen !

  • Alan_T

    I have always found that elbow strikes , hammer fists and thumbs are the best options if you absolutely have to physically fight . Turning your block into a hammer fist and striking the chest , then extending the thumb of the fist and sliding your thumb / fist up into the throat is a guaranteed fight stopper .

  • John

    I am an old geezer now (70) and would only use physical force in an act of desperation to save myself or my wife. Though I fought in the ring in the '60's and well know (knew) how to fight, it didn't go too well with age. About 20 years ago I was confronted by a well built "stud" smartass who thought he was in his prime (19 or 20?) and I would not let me retreat. I put everything I had into a straight right to his nose. He ducked and I hit him between the eyes on the forehead. He went down and stayed there…fortunately. I then drove about two miles to my home, got out of the car, and fell to my knees…almost blacking out with pain in my hand, forearm and elbow. If the fight had lasted more than one punch, I would have been toast. Now I carry a piece and will only use my index finger to fight with…exerting 3 lbs. force on a tuned .45. Don't mess with an old geezer…he probably won't fight…he'll just kill you.

    • Alan_T

      Amen !

  • Mick327

    When you think you're a bad ass, remember Kimbo Slice, the baddest street fighter out there. He went on the Ultimate Fighter and got is ass handed to him. No matter how big and bad you are, there is ALWAYS someone out there badder.

  • mike

    This is the first time in my life I have ever replied to an online article, but I just had to give me two cents here. This article is ridiculous. Is a punch effective? Hell yes, if done properly and you hit the right area. Now I will be the first to tell you that if you have piss poor form, or just don't know how to throw a punch then yes, you might hurt your hand. But if you keep a straight wrist and a tight fist you should not break a hand on someone's face or head. Now if they block it with their elbow or knee that is another story. But to say that someone that is trained is more likely to hurt themselves is laughable. I have punched people as hard as I could in the head, forehead, temple, face etc in a few street fights and have never broken my hand. If you connect with the jaw and hit them square on the button (chin) it only takes 7 pounds of pressure to knock an individual out. Hitting this target is obviously another issue. Now are there better techniques to use in a fight than a punch… it depends on the circumstances but sure. How about a forearm strike, and elbow, or like the author mentions an open palm. A kick to the knee can also be effective. And people in MMA wear gloves to reduce the cutting that knuckles will do to a forehead or face, not to protect their hand, you can break a hand with poor wrist form too. A bare knuckle strike will cut someone's head down tot he bone with one punch, the glove elongate fighters' careers as well as fights by reducing these cuts. You can still break your hand on someones head wearing an MMA glove if you have poor form or a loose fist.

    • Antonio

      I usually don't disagree with folks on-line, but this statement that broken hands are a result of poor form doesn't cover all the bases. Broken hands are common in fights to the point where there's a term for it, "Boxer's Fracture." Even Mike Tyson broke a bone in his in a street fight with Buster Douglas. Now, I know there are some really tough people out there, but those bones on the top of your hand are awfully thin and the joints compress terribly when landing a solid punch (that's why we wrap our hands when boxing, right?). So there's nothing wrong with considering alternatives like stump kicks, elbow strikes, 45's, etc.

  • Ron McDonald

    Frankly you are better off learning something like Judo or Wrestling. You want to put them down so you can get the F out of there. It takes YEARS to train in a martial art to the point where you are a mediocre, in not passable, fighter. Nor are most people MMA fit to the point where they can go toe to toe with someone for several minutes. The authorities and the law usually frown on people engaging in fisticuffs. Better to lay someone out or choke them silly and then exit the area before the guy's friends show up.

  • Tom .C

    I'm an old Judo guy so I would be likely to roll some 6'3" butterball down a hill instead of hitting them.

  • @HoustonGunBlog

    punching is effective if you do not have a weapon, or are not authorized to use deadly force. unarmed tactics are considered force, not deadly force (unless you are chuck norris).
    the hammer fist is highly effective and will usually result in the least amount of damage to the users own hand. Palm or heel hits can be hard to complete successfully if you are not experienced in throwing them out.

  • cbadillo1

    The best defense is to avoid the situation all together. That being said, punch to the soft spots is good advice. But I would use what ever was at my disposal, punch, eye gouge, bite, knee kick, stomp the foot, head butt the nose, like the man said it's more about where you hit and how much damage you can do. The most damage with the least effort. Once you start attacking you don't stop until they are done. Like the saying goes; If they are going to kill me with my gun they are going to have to beat me to death with it cause it will be out of bullets by the time they get to me.

  • 101st ABN

    I trained one on one for 10 years or so, beginning with Okinawan Karate. It moved up from there into more "real world" techniques. All the fancy stuff was to enhance flexibility, not actually to use in a fight. Bottom line, stick to the basics, hands, elbows, knees and feet, pretty don't count. If possible, guiding your attacker head first into something solid is satisfying as well. I know hundreds of ways to get my butt kicked, however.

back to top