How Effective Is Punching in Personal Defense?

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?

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