How To Block a Punch


It was suggested by WordPress that I write a blog article on the topic of how to block a punch. My first response is to learn at a proper school or from a qualified instructor. This is one of those areas that shouldn’t be learned on the internet. However, for purposes of discussion and supplemental training, I decided to take this on as if I were being asked by an adult student. Note: Nothing will replace proper instruction from an expert instructor or qualified coach, hard work and a humble learning attitude. Hopefully this might get you thinking about ways to avoid the dreaded faceblock.

“Before I learned martial arts, a punch was just a punch and a kick was just a kick. When I studied martial arts, a punch was no longer just a punch and a kick was no longer just a kick. Now I understand martial arts, and a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.” – Bruce Lee, founder Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do

Is a Punch Just a Punch? Some Ground Rules
First I need to find out why you want to know how to block a punch. A punch can mean many things and as a professional consultant on safety and personal protection, I am reluctant to offer a recommendation without a proper diagnosis. Is it for Military, Law enforcement, Security, a family man, business traveler, domestic abuse situation, co-worker problem, out of hand associate? What is the context? Without that information it is difficult to answer such a broad question. My professional advice will depend on several variables including determining the defenders (intended target) capabilities or previous training.

Are you a senior citizen with limited mobility? Are you a former wrestler? Do you have martial arts training? How much time do you have to invest into learning this? What punch are you avoiding… the local pub jerk? A trained boxer? MMA match? Those answers would guide the advice and tactics. However, I will give it my best shot for informational and discussion purposes. I’ll presume an average person of average intelligence and ability for the sake of this article.

Second, to prevent giving overly specific advice I will stick to concepts and principles as the core of the discussion. I’ll start in more general terms about how to block a punch or how to handle someone trying to punch you, then move into some physical options.

Philosophical: How To Block a Punch
I teach a system rooted in preventing, detecting, de-escalating, deterring and defending situations. I firmly believe in the ancient battle field strategy of Chinese philosopher and strategic genius Sun Tzu,

“The battle avoided cannot be lost.”

My first recommendation would be to follow the USA Martial Arts rules of engagement for self-defense:
A. Remove the opponents will to punch (Motive/Intent)
B. Remove the opponents opportunity to punch (Opportunity/Availability)
C. Diminish the opponents ability to punch

Ninja Magic: How To Block a Punch
This may come in the form of a distraction, “Tell it to the Police Officer standing behind you.” Then you disappear. Or maybe you could use something like, “I’ll meet you at 4pm in the alley.” When he looks or shows, simply don’t attend. Ninja magic. (Keep in mind you didn’t resolve the problem, you just may have delayed it.)

Wise Martial Arts Master, “Why do we learn to punch?”
Martial Arts student, “So that I can defend it.”

Training Good Guys Not Bad Guys
I realize that it’s unsatisfying to read “avoid the situation” but that is precisely my recommendation. I study and teach my martial arts and self-defense students that our training is so that we may “walk in peace”. Our fight is for inner peace and to better understand ourselves. If we begin with the end in mind then we must presume that you do not wish to engage in a fight, rather to end this situation peacefully.

Verbal Judo: How To Block a Punch. Winning The War often starts with Words
One of my favorite training videos to use when teaching law enforcement and private security is a bouncer in Europe who is a KICKBOXING champion. He is dealing with an upset guest trying to bully his way into a club. The bouncer calmly engages him and assertively but kindly answers his questions in unexpected, non-confrontational ways. With outstanding VERBAL JUDO skills he bouncer separates him from his friends, asking him to “talk to him like a man”. The bouncer then appeals to the loud mouths selfish interests informing him that he will tell the loud mouths brother and diffuses the situation in short order. A clever use of redirection and appealing to selfish interests to resolve the issue. Brilliant psychology and conflict avoidance chess.

Win a Battle Lose a War
You may successfully defend against this punch but do not presume the attacker will not go get a tire iron, wrench, pool cue, broken bottle or gun and come back for retribution with his buddies. It’s best to preserve another humans dignity and de-escalate situations intelligently, taking the high road.

Strategic: How To Block a Punch?
Most punches are the result of social verbal contracts breaking down or an individuals inability to express their inner feelings or desires adequately enough to get what they want. The pre-contact stage usually starts with verbal communication and non-verbal communication (body language). These pre-contact cues are critical skills to have if you want to prevent and avoid conflict.

1. The “up down” look – a quick assessment to size up another. Testing the target. [Assessing likelihood of success and or getting hurt or getting away with it.] Assessing.
2. Puffing up or peacocking, an attempt to draw attention and appear to be bigger or more of a threat. Displaying.
3. Antagonistic communication marked by short syllable words, gestures, sudden change in volume. Testing.
4. Owning space and scanning (predatory postures and sometimes pacing or pecking-sudden jerky movements)
5. Tension in jaw, neck and shoulders (you can often see the shoulders visibly rise)
6. Eyes do not blink, widen or tense
7. Respiration increases or suddenly changes
8. Wind up
9. Clenching a fist
10. Shoulder dip, moving into range

When the verbal skills break down or don’t work, some individuals will continue to communicate through physical action . This can be in the form of shoving, slapping, punching, chest bumping and so on. This is still communication – just anti-social physical communication.

Knowing this “language of escalation” and pre-contact or “pre-assault cues” are powerful tool we teach to law enforcement, bodyguards, military, and especially bouncers, coolers and doormen who do security at rougher nightclubs requiring such security. If you see it as communication, you are more likely to be able to avoid being emotionally compromised and can view the situation more objectively. Furthermore you can pre-empt, prepare and stack the odds in your favor by getting the jump on the often oblivious aggressor.

Tactical: How To Block a Punch

___ Can you create a diversion and escape via the nearest exit?
___ Can you call in security for an intervention?
___ Can you offer to buy them a drink, snack or make a gesture of peace?
___ Can you find humor in the situation and/or de-escalate it with verbal means?
___ Can you recruit friends and bystanders to help you?
___ Can you use physical barriers around you to avoid contact (tables, pillars, chairs, people etc.)
___ Can you feign illness or use an unexpected tactic to disrupt the aggressors pattern?

Physical: How to Block a Punch
A common saying in my school is,

The Best Block is to Not Be There!

Physical defense is like the rest of personal security and self-defense and should be built in layers.

___ Can you simply walk out?
___ Can you run away?
___ Can you side step or evade in such a way that compromises the aggressors position?
___ Can you use the physical geometry of the room as a weapon of opportunity? For example: Throw something, cover their eyes with a towel, throw a drink in their face, intercept the punch with a hard object?

Disrupt The Attack: How To Block a Punch
Depending on the appropriate use of force you could flinch into a defensive position holding a pen, fork or seemingly innocuous object and let him ram his fist into it. I teach my students to use elbows and knees this way to intercept and destruct/damage the attackers punching limb. (If you’ve ever cracked your fist on a hard elbow point full speed you’ll get why this one works really quick.)

Proper Use of Force: How To Block a Punch
Of course I am duty bound to advise using only the minimal amount of legal force necessary for you to escape the danger and get to safety. It is a judgement call you for which you will be ultimately responsible. This advice is generic and designed for entertainment and discussion only.

Another physical option for dealing with a punch is simply changing range. Move out and in like a boxer. Imagine your torso is a spring to allow head movement. (Be careful not to swing your head into a hard object of course.)

“Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” -Ali

You might also consider changing level; that is, ducking, bobbing, weaving, slipping and of course, covering. Good level changes come from bending your legs, not usually bowing unless highly skilled.

Improve Your Position: How to Block a Punch
Another option might be that if you do not detect the punch early enough that you try to roll with it and transition into a better position to prevent subsequent damage. Try to get to a position of advantage and protect your vital areas.

Flinch Cover: How To Block or Avoid a Punch
Your body is hard wired to flinch away from an attack such as a punch. Once perceived, the hands will extend up to shield the head with palms facing out. A good trainer will help you use this as your starting point that transitions into your next move.

Put your hands up and assume a strong stance. Hands up means shielding your face and chin. You’ll need to be able to run interference like a fence or barrier.

A strong stance means knees bent over toes (off heels), feet apart like standing on the corners of a box, comfortably about shoulder width and a half or so apart (width and length). Like a good boxing or MMA stance you may have seen.

RAM HORN/RHINO HORN Shield: How to Block a Punch
One of my preferred ways of covering the knockout zone on the human head is using a double rams horn cage block. The best way I can describe it is raise the elbows up and in at the level of the face, tuck the chin in, shrug your shoulders to protect the neck (carotid, trachea, mandible area), now place your palms over the tops of your ears and squeeze the elbows together in the front like you have RAM HORNS that form into a RHINO SPIKE on the front. You should still be able to see with movement. They key to this techniques effectiveness is not just the structure of the shield movement, but the change in level (height) and range (usually moving inside).

Stopping a Punch and Preventing Others
Remember that you are usually not out of danger just because you slipped or avoided the first attempted punch. You may have even eaten it. If you’re still conscious, you might be able to clinch by driving forward and using a hold. The key here is to pin down the arms, usually at or above the elbows and use driving, pulling pressure to upset the attackers balance.

Dirty Trick: How to Block a Punch
An old school trick to block a punch is to headbutt it. Presuming we’re talking about a head hunter punch, you may be able to drive the hard part of the skull (the apex point used in soccer) to strike the metacarpals of the hand. The ensuing collision can do serious damage to an attackers hand. Keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will stop attacking you or that you are out of harms way.

Pre-emptive Maneuver: How to Block a Punch
Another way to stop a punch would be a pre-emptive maneuver such as a double palm knocking them back. A push kick or front stomping style kick can work due to the longer range of the leg. You could also simply shove his face back. Whichever way, remember that if you are close enough to make contact with them, he is close enough to make contact with you. Make sure you are prepared with defense at all times while targeting the key parts of his anatomy to disrupt and thwart the attack.

Force Multiply: How to Block a Punch
All of these ideas are really irrelevant without understanding the context of the situation. The situation will always dictate the appropriate response and physical intervention is always a last resort. In my experience the person with the most friends, compassion and good manners usually has the advantage. Be nice until its time to not be nice. Everyone has a fundamental God-given human right to defend themselves. Training gives options. The old adage is true,

Better to know it and not need it than need it and not know it.

About John Nottingham
John Nottingham is a 6th Degree multiple Black Belt holder and founder of the USA Martial Arts chain in Arizona USA. He owns Nottingham Sword & Shield Security, a Bodyguard, Law Enforcement and Military Training Company specializing in protective security.

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