by Jeff Anderson
My first martial arts instructor, Master Ron LeBlanc, had a unique style of teaching how to block a punch…he’d stand you up against a wall and punch you! No gloves…no padding…nothing but air between his knuckles and your face.
If you blocked it, great. If not, you got punched (with reserved power of course).
But we’re not talking about just one single punch. He would throw punch after punch from all angles and wherever he saw an opening to get in and tag you.
As “realistic” as this extreme version of training may seem, it still does little to mimic a real punch in a real fight.
In the dojo, I knew a strike was coming…our positions remained fixed…and if one punch landed, it didn’t hit hard enough to keep me from thinking about the next strike…all luxuries you most likely won’t have in a real street fight.
You may have heard the saying “action is faster than reaction” and this couldn’t be more true than when applied to a real street defense scenario.
Master LeBlanc drilled into our heads over and over again that, “No matter how much you train here, 90% of the time, the person who gets the first punch is going to win the fight.”
By the time your attacker has made the decision to punch you, he’s already gone through his “strike analysis”. He knows HOW he wants to hit you…WHERE he wants to hit you…and WHEN he wants to hit you. All that’s left is to simply HIT YOU!
By the time YOU see the strike coming, you’ve barely begun your own “blocking analysis” of how you’re going to not get hit and there surely isn’t enough time to pull out Block # 57 from Kata # 12.
Unless you’re dealing with a drunken idiot who goes for a slow-motion haymaker from left field, you’re most likely NOT going to be able to block a punch, at least not in the “traditional” sense.
Fortunately, our days of wearing loin cloths and running from predators instilled in us the natural reaction of MOVEMENT.
Once your eyes and brain identify that a strike is coming, your natural reaction (like “no thought – instant response”) is to simply MOVE, and the best way to not get hit is to NOT be where the punch is.
Your attacker had a target already picked out. It may have simply been the “vicinity” of your head, but he already loaded the freight train and once he let it leave the station, he had no further control over it.
So even if you move just a few inches, that punch isn’t likely to hit you with any great force and this gives you an opportunity for a counter.
Countering a punch is a whole other article I’ll get to, but for now, here’s the lesson…
The sooner you can identify a punch is coming, the sooner you can MOVE to nullify that punch (or launch your own “first strike”).
So learn to identify your attacker’s body language that signals a punch is coming.
Here are some red flags to be aware of:
• He begins to grit his teeth or you notice his jaw moving “angrily”
• He clenches his fists
• His breathing becomes shallow and forced
• He suddenly shifts one foot in front of him
• His chin “drops” (this is a natural reaction to protect the throat)
• His shoulder “drops” (the first phase of the “windup” for the most common punch)
• He turns his body to the side (away from you) but the fight hasn’t been diffused yet
Jeff Anderson is a 10 year veteran of the U.S. Army, a Master Instructor of Close Quarters Combat self defense, and President of the International Society of Close Quarter Combatants. A full time self defense author and instructor, Jeff has trained military, law enforcement, and civilians in advanced close quarter combat tactics for “real life” self defense. Get weekly close combat videos and other “reality based” training at Jeff’s website More Real Self-Defense Combat.