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It’s a situation that gets glorified in popular media, but one that you probably want to avoid in real life. Someone gets drunk or angry and starts throwing punches. You can get into a brawl but the chances are high that you’ll just end up in cuffs too. The best thing you can do is avoid the fight. That doesn’t mean that you need to let them beat on you, though. What do you need to know to block a punch and avoid injury if someone’s fists start flying?
Read Body Language
Humans convey a lot of information through the way they move and hold their bodies. You can tell if someone is open if they have their arms at their sides or are talking with their hands. On the other hand, if they stand with their arms crossed and shoulders hunched, they aren’t interested in whatever you’re presenting.
You can use these body language tells as a tool to learn if someone is angry too. Watch the upper body. A person will drop their chin to protect their throat — an instinct left over from our lizard hindbrain days. They may drop their shoulder as they windup to punch. They may also step back with one foot, creating a more stable base and dropping their center of gravity. If you start seeing these tells, you’ve got a chance to remove yourself from the situation before fists start flying. Otherwise, prepare yourself to block if there’s no way to prevent the fight.
Wax On, Wax Off
Wax on, wax off. Paint the fence. All the lessons that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel Larusso in the iconic 1984 film The Karate Kid might seem silly. The movements come from Gojo-Ryu karate’s styles. The goal is to deflect a punch away from your center mass and away from your head.
Don’t take The Karate Kid as martial arts gospel. Daniel’s iconic crane kick is pure fiction. The blocks and the techniques that Miyagi uses to teach them can be handy. The novelty of the lessons makes them stick in your mind, so while you don’t need to paint an entire fence, practicing those movements helps to make them second nature. You want to be able to tap into that muscle memory if someone decides to throw a fist at your face randomly.
Redirect Their Momentum
Blocking a punch isn’t always possible. Either you respond a second too slowly or they throw a punch faster than you anticipated, or whatever. At that point, your best bet is to redirect their momentum. Martial arts like aikido work by teaching you to absorb and redirect the energy of an attack. Aikido isn’t the only technique that uses this, but it is one of the most well-known, focusing on things like throws, locks, and pins to discourage or disable your assailant.
You’ve probably seen this featured in fighting games or popular media. The main character will sidestep a punch, throwing the attacker off-balance and flipping them over with their own momentum, leaving them breathless on their backs on the ground. Sometimes, knocking them on their ass is enough to end the fight before it begins.
Watch for Telegraphing
Most of the people who will throw hands in a bar fight randomly aren’t trained fighters. They’re just people that got too big for their britches and decided that they needed to pick a fight to secure their place in the pecking order. They will often telegraph their moves — looking where they plan to strike, and giving other physical tells — that make it easier to avoid or block.
It takes some practice and some understanding of body language, but you fairly accurately predict when and where someone is going to throw a punch. If you’re going to fight back, it’s also good to be conscious of this, so you don’t telegraph your strikes. It’s also important to note that this isn’t always effective against anyone who is a trained fighter.
Don’t Be There
The easiest way to and most effective way to block a punch is not to block it at all. Just don’t be there. Put together everything that we’ve mentioned so far, from watching for telegraphing to studying body language, learning how to block or redirect punches, and putting them all together. Dodge, ducks, or sidestep to get yourself out of the way of your attacker’s fists.
Quite literally, the best way to block a punch is not to be there. It’s as simple as that. Dodge.
In most cases, we don’t want to get into fights, but if it happens or someone starts throwing punches, you need to be able to protect yourself. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to become a black belt in martial arts, learning how to block and redirect can save you a lot of hassle and injury in the long run.