On Her Own

Mythbusting: “I’ll Just Punch My Way Out”

“I’ll punch them.”

Speaking of rosy views of yourself, how many times have you heard someone put forth that as a complete plan for self-defense? It’s definitely popular among men, but I hear it from women too.

Just punch them and then….I don’t know what the expected result is? That the bad guy is knocked out? That they’re stunned enough that they’ll stop or that you can run away?

It’s a rather vague strategy and it’s actually not a great one for a number of reasons.

In order to effectively hit someone, you need to be able to deliver sufficient force through your hands (or feet – kicking is similar) in a way that won’t end in you hurting yourself. Technique matters, but so does muscle. Anyone can learn how to make a proper fist and direct it in a way that isn’t likely to end up in broken fingers or knuckles when it meets something solid, although the reliability of those techniques can be less certain in the melee of a fight when hard objects can end up in front of your hand unpredictably. Most folks can learn how to throw a punch to a bag or a pad with as much power as they are able to generate, using the muscles they have as efficiently as possible and getting their weight behind the strike. Those are all necessary to using your fists to hurt someone.

However, you still need to be able to hit them hard enough to cause damage because as we’ve talked about, pain alone isn’t enough. Causing damage is a function of strength and mass, not just technique. For women especially, it’s difficult to near impossible to generate the power to seriously injure somebody by hitting them. We can see this by looking at professional fighters: the number of women who are capable of punching out even another woman of the same size and weight are so few that they’re constantly pointed out as the exceptions to the rule. Most of them would have less of a chance of being able to knock out a man of the same size, let alone one who is bigger. And I can tell you from just my jiu-jitsu gym, most of the guys are bigger than most of the girls. Knowing how to hit, even where to hit, matters, but so does being able to do so with enough power to stop or even pause a fight. Large people need to be hit harder, and when you’re that much smaller than they are, you are very likely to not have the mass to do it.

All of that assumes that you can get in a perfect hit, with perfect technique. In the chaotic mess of a fight? Not likely. In self-defense situations when you are defending yourself against an attacker, these things often happen up close and personal, without the kind of range that allows you to wind up and strike with your full body weight telegraphing through your fist. Instead, limbs may be tangled up together and the best you can do is a short jab that carries through just a fraction of your already lesser strength. If you can even get a punch in at all, and aren’t struggling to get your arms free in the first place.

In addition, the speed and confusion of a fight makes it difficult to target your hits to best effect. Some places hurt more than others to get punched, and some spots are more likely to end up causing the kind of actual damage that will stop or slow down an assailant. It’s great if you can hit someone on the tip of the chin or across the temple, but back to the professional fighters? Even they find it challenging in a fight with a whole lot more rules and mutual strategy than what you can expect. Sure, they’re working against someone who is trained to avoid being knocked out, but unless you’re training to throw punches on a regular basis, odds are pretty good that your attacker is better at that than you are.

Another way to make a punch more effective is by using a tool to cause more damage than just your knuckles. I’ve already talked about why keys are bad at that, but so are a lot of other tools that people like to recommend like various forms of brass knuckles and kubatons or striking sticks (plus some of them can be flat-out illegal where you live, work, or play). It’s not that they can’t be effective, but they still rely on the ability and opportunity to hit someone and they add the complication of getting that tool properly in hand. You also need to be aware of what makes those tools more or less safe and effective, as no small number of “this will make your punch hurt more” tools really mean “this will hurt you more when you try to punch someone” and can cause significant damage to you and not your opponent. Force multipliers used for hands-on contact only help when you have technique and some force to begin with, and when they’re correctly designed to work without hurting you while hurting the other person.

I’m not saying don’t learn how to fight with your fists. I’m saying you better be good at it, and be prepared for the fact that it might not work out like you imagine. So maybe have a different plan than just punching your way out, or at least a backup plan?

Hi, I'm Annette.

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