Having a powerful punch is the most useful weapon that anyone can have.

It is great for close-quarters combat (CQC), and unlike any other weapon, it is always available since it is part of you. But there are many misconceptions about what it takes to deliver a powerful punch, and even more about the best method to train to deliver one. Use the methods and techniques that follow to be as effective at striking as possible. You will be better prepared whether you have a weapon or not.

My relationship to martial arts and desire to be as powerful as possible in unarmed situations is directly related to my own experience being a victim of violent crime. It has been 27 years since that time, but there are a few things that I took away from that experience. I have carried them with me throughout all of my martial arts training.

There are a couple things that I will always remember from the attack. It was sudden, and they were close. Even if I had a weapon, I doubt that I would have been able to draw it and use it effectively. Had I known how to punch properly, it may have been a different experience. The assailants were close.

How close? They were so close that I could feel their hot breath on my face. Their faces were inches from mine. For myself and my students, I always emphasize that when you train for power and application, you need to keep everything close, as that is the nature of a real-life encounter.

As tempting as it may be for the reader to just dive into the combinations that follow, to get the most out of this piece you should pay particular attention to the drills and instruction section before trying the applications. The applications will not be as effective if you don’t train your body for the proper mechanics and form. The next thing to remember is that the applications are merely examples; there are many variables in situations and modifications to techniques.

Powering Up For A Punch

The physical technique involved in generating power for a punch in a small space is not complicated, but it does take time and attention to train your body to do it. Some of the specific movements that are required will feel strange to you at first until you get used to them and build muscle memory. The methods and techniques used in this piece for delivering a powerful punch are derived from the Chinese internal martial art style of Xing Yi Chuan. Xing Yi is a style best known for its power and close application of striking techniques with both an open hand and a fist. Xing Yi is not fancy, but it’s very effective.

There are a couple principles that you will need to remember as you practice. The main thing to remember is that your punch starts moving toward the target ahead of the body. This will take some getting used to, and it will feel strange at first. Initially, you may want to move your body first, so be sure to check yourself. Use a mirror, a friend as a spotter or film yourself to make sure that you are doing everything correctly. The next thing to remember is to use your whole body when you punch or strike. You will do this by taking a step in the same direction when you strike, and your foot will land after your strike. The strike happens before your foot lands. This will ensure your whole body is behind the punch. Lastly, you need to visualize striking through your target.

The target for your punch should be beyond the point of contact. Aim just past the target so that you strike through the contact point. For example, if you are punching the opponent in the abdomen, aim your strike at an object behind it. When you focus your strike on the area beyond the target, you will deliver a stronger punch.

Striking Up Close

A heavy bag is great for training so that you can feel what it is like to hit an object with some mass. You can get a better idea of how hard you hit, and you can also test your technique more honestly. Practice slowly at first and only add speed as your technique improves.

  • Start with your hand close to the bag.
  • Relax and punch through, stepping with your opposite leg.
  • If you punch right, step left, etc.
  • It is important to drive off your back leg, and that your front foot land after your strike.
  • Strike with the first two knuckles of your fist.

Your training will only be as effective as you make it. Look for mistakes. Be as critical as possible about your execution of the punch as well as looking for the things that your opponent will see. You will likely have some hitches or telegraphs that give away your punch. Some things to look for are cocking, shoulders rising up, facial tics or leaning forward before you punch. You will need to really study your movement. Remember not to be easy on yourself, as whatever you see, your opponent sees as well. You want to hit as hard as possible, but you don’t want them to see it coming. Don’t give your opponent any advantage.

There are some fundamentals that need to be followed for punching with power. Powerful punches and strikes utilize your full body weight and proper bone alignment. To train the necessary alignment and feel the weight in your strikes, use the methods that follow.

Knuckle Push-Ups

The most basic way to line up your bones properly for punching is the old-school method of knuckle push-ups. Though tempting to do them on a soft surface, be sure and use a hard one to make sure that everything is lining up properly. Do them with your palms facing your feet and with your palms facing each other so that you train both types of fists. Focus the contact for your fist on the first two knuckles of each hand.

While knuckle push-ups will help train your hands and arms, you will want to also get the feel of your whole body behind your punch. Like the previous concept, the idea of having your body line up correctly will take some training, but you will find that it is the best way to deliver a powerful strike.

Two-Person Training

The following two-person exercise is a great way to feel how much power is in your punch when you use your whole body. Follow these steps.

  • Stand with one foot forward and one hand on the middle of your partner’s chest.
  • Pick up your front foot and let the weight transfer into your hand, which will ultimately transfer into your opponent.
  • Your partner will feel your weight transfer onto them and will move back.
  • Don’t let your front foot go backwards. Keep your front foot in front of you so that you transfer all of the weight onto your hand.
  • If you don’t have a partner, use a wall and feel the weight transfer into your hand.

Proper Footwork

There isn’t any fancy footwork required for powerful punching beyond stepping forward. Timing it with your strike is the important part. The foot work is simple: Use a full step or half step. A full step is simply stepping forward as you would normally step when you walk. The strikes should most often coordinate with your opposite hand and foot: punch right, step left, etc. A half step is accomplished by simply stepping with your front foot and then adjusting your back foot so that your feet are not too wide. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.

In the applications that follow, you will see examples of both stepping techniques. In each case, you will be driving with your back foot to propel your body forward behind your weapon. The stepping pattern is always dictated by your opponent. Stay close to them. You should step to deliver the strikes and close the distance as they move. Use full or half steps as they are needed.

Putting It All Together

I have strung together some sequences that are examples of striking and moving forward with the opponent in the following applications. I have included other hand weapons to show the variety that can be employed. Fists, claws, palm-heel strikes and more can be used without changing what the practitioner does with their body. You can put any number of effective hand weapons at the end of your arm to deliver powerful strikes. Obviously, the objective is stop your opponent with any one of the punches. But the practitioner must be prepared to keep punching and moving with the opponent until the threat is gone.

Application 1

  • The opponent attempts to attack youwhile you are facing them.
  • Deliver a punch to his gut.
  • Follow up with a punch to the jaw, then another punch to the gut.
  • Punch his jaw again and send your opponent to the ground.

Application 2

  • You aren’t aware of a man lurking behind you, and then he attacks.
  • You drive off of your feet (assuming you were seated) and deliver punches to his abdomen and follow up by clawing his eyes.
  • You land another powerful strike to the solar plexus and the attacker goes down.

Practice the exercises and techniques provided in this piece to start cultivating stealthy and powerful punches. I recommend practicing diligently to perfect the simple punch to the abdomen most of all, as it has a great deal of applications. You can use a sudden punch to the gut to stun an attacker while you go for your weapon, or you can continue your defense with your fists and end the confrontation then and there, as shown in the previous applications.

The most important thing is to remember to train very slowly at first and only add speed as your technique improves. If you start going too quickly too soon, you will likely develop bad habits, and you will have to train them out anyway. The only way to train out bad habits is to go back to the beginning. Save yourself time and do it right the first time. Train hard.

This article was originally published in “Personal & Home Defense” issue #204. To order a copy and subscribe to that magazine, visit

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