Taekwondo's Strategy Against the Street Punch
By Scott Shaw
This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Taekwondo Times.
The common punch is undoubtedly one of the most universally used offensive weapons you will run up against in a street confrontation. Taekwondo has a number of blocks that are designed to defend against the punch. There is the in-to-out forearm block, the out-to-in forearm block, the one handed knife hand block, the two handed knife hand block, and so on. Though most schools of taekwondo teach these various formal blocks to encounter an opponent’s punch; this type of expected training is far too sterile for the wild and random punches an opponent will throw at you on the street. For this reason, the taekwondo practitioner initially studies the various blocking elements of the arm in order to come to a rudimentary understanding of how to block a punch. As he continues forward onto the advanced levels of this art, however, the practitioner then advances his knowledge and comes to master techniques that will actually be very effective against the wildly thrown punches he may encounter in a street confrontation. In this article we will discuss these advanced options.
Studying the Punch
To begin the study of the punch we must initially view how to most easily deal with the two basic types of punches that exist: the straight punch and the more common roundhouse punch. To achieve this understanding it is most effective for you to work with a training partner. When you do, first have him launch his punching attacks at you slowly and then speed them up as you become more familiar with their individual paths of attack, limitations, and how they are most effectively dealt with.
Understanding the Straight Punch
First of all, have your training partner perform a straight punch directed at your face. What is your initial course of action? What you will most likely do and, this is no doubt the leading mistake made by most novices and long trained taekwondo stylists alike, is that you will attempt to forcefully block it. Though this is the generally prescribed method in virtually all one step sparring techniques, there is a very big problem with this style of self-defense.
Blocking the Straight Punch
To illustrate the folly of attempting to forcefully block your opponent’s on-coming straight punch, allow him to strike quickly and forcefully at your face with a straight punch technique. Ideally, you will have him wear boxing gloves during this stage of your practice. As he punches, attempt to block his punch with whatever traditional technique you may have been trained in. What happens, nine out of ten times is that, when you attempt to block his strike in the traditional manner, you will be hit.
The straight punch by its very nature is linear in design and application. Its force is derived from the expelling of power from the central axis of the body. The well-delivered straight punch is not only one of the most powerful elements in the advanced taekwondo stylist’s hand arsenal, it is also one of the hardest punches to effectively block, as well. And, this fact is true no matter how precisely developed your blocking technique may be. The reason for this is due to the fact that this punch drives forward on a linear path from a directed central point onto a specific impact point and it does not require much developed motion to deliver a powerful impact. This being said, there are effective defensive methods that the advanced taekwondo practitioner uses in order to effectively deal with the straight punch other than by simply attempting to block it.
Blocking the Straight Punch: A New Understanding
Let’s try viewing the oncoming straight punch in a new manner — not simply as something to attempt to forcefully block or get struck by, but simply as an oncoming object that we would want to consciously avoid.
This time, have your training partner attempt a straight punch at you. Now, instead of directly encountering it with a traditional blocking technique, simply rapidly side step the punch while it is moving forward towards you. As you have learned from the advanced taekwondo practice of stepping out of the path of an oncoming kick, this is one of the most effective methods to deal with any oncoming linear technique; i.e. the straight punch.
By side stepping out of the path of the straight punch, first of all the punch will miss you. Secondarily, the momentum developed by the force of your opponent’s straight punch causes him to continue through with his own momentum, leaving him in a vulnerable position for a counter attack. As you have stepped out of the way of the oncoming punch, no injury occurred to you or any part of your body and you used virtually no energy in your defense against it. Now, you can launch a counter attack in the form of a powerful straight punch to his face or a roundhouse kick to his midsection.
Understanding the Roundhouse Punch
Now that you understand the basic elements of straight punch defense, let’s shift our attentions to the most commonly used punch on the street, the roundhouse punch. Have your training partner perform a roundhouse punch directed towards your head. As he performs this punch, quickly step back and out of the range of the oncoming strike. With this, the punch misses you and the momentum your opponent has developed causes him continuing through with the power of his own momentum. Again, leaving him prone for a counter attack.
The roundhouse punch develops its power through circular movement. The distance between its initial swing and impact point multiplies its force. Therefore, by stepping back out of its range, this allows the punch to develop full power. Once it has missed its target, (your head), the punch’s own momentum causes your opponent to clumsily continue through with his own motion.
No Forceful Blocks
What the advanced taekwondo practitioner comes to understand from the previous two illustrations is that there are often times no need to forcefully block a punching assault from your opponent at all. Just as you learned from advance taekwondo kicking defense, it is not only simpler but far safer to quickly move out of the way of any oncoming punching technique -- allowing it to miss its impact point on your body altogether. Furthermore, by not actually forcefully blocking a punching attack, you have seen how the momentum your opponent developed by launching the assault against you forces him to continue through with his own momentum, leaving him open for a rapid counter attack.
Certainly, it must be understood that with the wildly thrown punches that commonly occur in a street confrontation you may indeed need to forcefully block them at times. But, it must also be understood that this is the last line of defense for the advanced taekwondo practitioner as he or she prefers to deal with these forms of assaults in a far more expedient manner.
When a Block is Necessary
In the event a block is necessary against an offensive punching technique, your first attempt should be an interceptive punching block that actually deflects your opponent’s energy rather than directly encountering it. By deflecting your opponent’s energy, instead of encountering it head-on, you may again utilize your opponent's own expended energy against himself; which is always to your advantage.
Understanding Punch Deflection
Deflection is accomplished in different ways with different punches. For example, in the case of a straight punch, it is most successfully implemented by initially following the procedure described earlier and simply side stepping the punch’s impending force. Do this, as you step slightly forward, towards the outside of your punching opponent. While doing this, you should deflect the punch with either an in-to-out forearm block or an in-to-out knife hand block — using the arm that is closest to your opponent. The reason you use the closest arm is that this will be the fastest element of your body to reach his punching arm. In addition, it requires the least amount of expended energy on your part. Once your opponent’s straight punch is deflected, he will then continue through with his own momentum, as previously described.
The reason that you should move slightly forward as you deflect a straight punch is due to three primary reasons. First of all, this forward motion aids in your opponent traveling forward with his own developed momentum. Secondarily, it leaves you in the least vulnerable position for him to launch a secondary attack. Finally, it places you in a superior positioning for counter attacking.
It is imperative when deflecting an opponent’s attack that he is not only left in a less than optimum position for launching a secondary attack on you but that you are left in the superior positioning to make a successful counter attack on him. Therefore, what gives you the advantage in a street confrontation, when you are encountering a punching opponent and deflecting his attack, is that you have come to understand, through partner practice, what techniques effectively deflect each punch. This will then leave you in a better position to taken control of the confrontation.
Deflection Leads to a Counter Attack
Try this example with your training partner. Your training partner throws a roundhouse punch at you. Again, step slightly back out of the range of the assault, as previously discussed. The moment the punch has missed you, rapidly move in on him and push his striking arm into his body, at his elbow level. If he attempts to move it, apply more pressure onto it. As you will see, this simple technique allows you a large amount of control over your opponent’s body. It additionally allows you to effectively and powerfully counter strike, as you will be able to hold him in place for a moment.
Deflection Verses Blocking
Certainly no one believes you will always be able to simply step out of the way of a punch or deflect a barrage of oncoming punches from a wildly driven opponent. However, to insure your own safety, as your first line of deflective defense, you should always remember to always step out of the way of the oncoming punch. If this is not applicable, due to environment or physical constraints, then your next form of defense should be to deflect oncoming punches. If your opponent continues on with his attack, and your initial deflective defense have been unsuccessful then, to save yourself from being hit by impending strikes, block the punches by any means possible.
If simply moving out of the way of a punch is not achievable, and a forceful punch block is necessary, the key element to remember is to always block your opponent at his elbow region. For if you control your opponent’s elbow, you control his entire body.
Successful Defense Against the Roundhouse Punch
The design of the roundhouse punch allows it to be seen long before it is actually executed. As previously discussed, the power of this punch comes from the momentum it gains from its swing. As this is the nature of the roundhouse punch, there are times when you will see it coming and want to block it as near to its inception point as possible.
To gain the proper understanding of the timing involved with actually blocking the roundhouse punch, allow your training partner to strike at you with a roundhouse punch. This time, do not move back out of the way of the oncoming strike but quickly step into it, blocking the punch in a in-to-out fashion either with a knife hand or forearm block to the inside of your opponent’s elbow region. Again, you will witness how you have gained control of his arm.
To gain optimum results in directly blocking the roundhouse punch, it must be encountered as close to its point of inception as possible. With this, your opponent will not have had the opportunity to develop much force in his swing. Therefore, the block will be much easier to perform.
In the case of blocking a roundhouse punch to the inside of the elbow, your opponent may then attempt to strike at you with his other arm. This is a natural reaction in a street fight. Therefore, you must be prepared and be able to move into further defense against another punch, with a similar blocking technique, if necessary.
The final way of quickly, easily, and effectively dealing with a punching opponent is to rapidly rush in on top of his attack. Thus, leaving him no room to punch. By doing this, you not only crowd his ability to develop any power in his punching offense but it will no doubt throw him off balance. As this type of crowding defense is rarely used, few have the ability to quickly recover from its onslaught. The draw back to this type of punch defense is that if you do not immediately launch a counter attack, your opponent may grab a hold of you and you could end up in a grappling match on the ground, which is to no one's advantage. Therefore, you must rapidly move in ready to execute a knee attack or perhaps a palm hand strike to your opponent’s face.
Advanced Taekwondo and the Punch
At the advanced level of taekwondo, no defensive technique is ever performed without the appropriate counter assault being immediately launched at your opponent, as a street confrontation is generally never won simply by avoiding or blocking your opponent’s attack. For this reason, you must always be prepared to rapidly counter attack your opponent.
It is important to understand how easy and effective these counter attacks can be in punching defense situations. To this end, again square off with your practice opponent and allow him to punch at you. In regard to the straight punch, once you have deflected or side stepped the punch, you are in an optimum position to easily side kick your opponent to the side of his knee. In the case of the roundhouse punch, once you have stepped from its reach, you can either front kick your opponent to his groin or rapidly move in on him, checking his elbow, and straight punch him to his face.
Dealing with Multiple Punches
If your initial counter attack is ineffective or if your adversary continues on with a barrage of punches, you must rapidly deal with the situation so his continued strikes at you will not have the cumulative effect of his winning the confrontation. Therefore, if a wild punching attack ensues, step rapidly back away from the impact of the continuing punches, allowing at least one punch to pass in front of you. From here, rapidly move in and powerfully strike him with your most powerful hand or leg technique. For letting a confrontation continue longer than is necessary is only to the advantage of the aggressor.
As you now understand, once you have mentally defined the elements that make up the various street punches, they are easily and effectively dealt with. For this reason, all advanced taekwondo practitioners make self-defense a science and not simply a method of learning contrived techniques in order to deal with whatever attack may occur. By making your self-defense a science, you have not only become a more competent fighter, but a better martial artist, as well.
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No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.