How to Defend a Punch

Defending yourself against a skilled fighter is difficult without training. Luckily for you, most people are not skilled fighters. A little knowledge of form and tactics will greatly increase your odds of avoiding injury. Your goal in most self-defense situations should be getting in a blow that disorients your attacker, then using that time to escape and find help.


  1. 1
    Present a profile to your attacker. Turn so one shoulder is pointed at your attacker, instead of facing him straight on. Keep one foot slightly toward him, and the other turned out and slightly behind you. Stay light on your feet so you can move quickly in any direction without losing your balance. Your attacker now has a smaller target, with fewer vulnerable areas.
  2. 2
    Keep your distance. Try to keep a cushion of space between you and the attacker, without getting backed up against a wall. It's much easier to evade a punch that's coming at maximum range.
    • This is your goal while the other person is approaching, not while he's already launching punches. Keep reading for dodging tactics.
  3. 3
    Put your hands up. Bring your hands up in front of your face, with your elbows held close against your sides. Adopt one of these two positions:
    • An open palm is more effective at deflecting a punch. However, deflection is difficult without training, and you could break your fingers if your hand is struck.
    • A closed fist, with the thumb on the outside, makes it easier to return a punch. This is often your best chance to wind an attacker and get away, especially if you have not practiced advanced defense.
  4. 4
    Dodge with feet, shoulder, and head. The best way to defend against a punch is to avoid it completely. You'll react much faster if you've practiced this in advance, but even a partially successful dodge can turn a brutal blow into a glancing one. Try to see where the punch will land and make three motions to avoid it:
    • Step out of the way.
    • Swing your shoulder back to pull your torso away.
    • Turn your head out of the punch's path, preferably away from the center of the attacker's body.
  5. 5
    Push aside the punch. As you step aside, sweep one arm outward. Your goal is to strike the attacker's forearm with the outside of your own, deflecting it away. If you succeed and use enough force, this may even knock your opponent off balance.
    • This is most successful against a big, swinging punch. Deflecting a fast, direct punch will take considerable skill.
    • Use only one arm. Keep your other hand free to block a punch from the attacker's other fist.
    • Some martial artists, including karate practitioners, learn to deflect the punch with an open palm instead, or the back of the hand. This can be very effective, but is difficult to do untrained.
  6. 6
    Push high punches upward. If the punch is aimed at your face, point your wrist outward and throw your arm up against the incoming arm, pushing it upward. Remember to step aside and turn away at the same time if possible.
  7. 7
    Grab the attacker's arm. If you succeed in deflecting the punch, immediately turn your arm and grab the person's wrist. This is difficult to do, but if you can manage it, you have an opportunity to end the fight, or to buy yourself enough time to get away:
    • In a serious situation: Bring in your other forearm and strike the back of it hard against the attacker's elbow. This should hyperextend or break the arm, allowing you to run while the attacker is in pain.
    • In a "friendly" fight or practice match: Instead, throw your weight against the attacker's arm as you pull him forward. With luck, she will fall over or at least lose her balance enough for you to strike.
  8. 8
    Fight back. If the arm-grabbing maneuver does not seem within your ability, fight back with a direct attack to a vulnerable area instead. A hard blow or gouge may disorient the attacker long enough for you to escape. These are the ideal targets:
    • Eyes
    • Groin (if attacker is male)
    • Solar plexus
    • Temple
    • Point of the chin
  9. 9
    Take the punch. If you don't have time or room to dodge, try to turn so the punch lands on your shoulder, arm, hip, thigh, or butt. This will still be painful, but you have a much lower chance of serious injury than a blow to the abdomen or face.
  10. 10
    Adopt the helmet guard. If you are trapped in a corner and don't have room to defend yourself, this position will minimize damage to your head:
    • Bring your forearm to the ear on the same side, pressing it against the side of your head with your wrist.
    • Grip the back of your head with your fingers.
    • Bring your elbow up so your forearm is parallel with the ground.
    • Pull your arm in flush against the side of your head.
    • Turn slightly away from the punch without exposing your back.
    • Clench your teeth and push your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
  11. 11
    Avoid common mistakes. However much you plan, a prolonged fight will put you in a situation where you need to improvise. Try to stick to this advice as much as possible, and avoid these mistakes in particular:
    • Do not lean forward more than necessary to block the punch.
    • Never move your head toward the punch.
    • Don't try to run straight back from a punch. Stepping aside and moving in puts you in a position to fight back, which is your best chance to escape.
    • While ducking is sometimes your best option, don't forget that this puts you within range of the attacker's knee or foot.


  • Practice, practice, practice... then practice some more. No matter how much you read, you're likely to freeze up and waste time thinking if you're not used to the actual situation.
  • To see a punch coming sooner, watch the shoulder of the person punching.


  • Know the self-defense laws in your area. In some places, you can be charged with a crime if you fight back when fleeing was an option.

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Categories: Self Defense