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Self Defense/Taking head punches



I have a question about taking punches.  From what I've understand, there's two main schools of thought.  

1. Clench your jaw and tense up your neck muscles to stop the head jarring from the punch and rattling your brain around in your skull.  I've seen a video of Oscar De La Hoya explaining that the reason he had such a good chin was because on impact, he would bite down hard on his mouth guard.  He even said that he's been known in fights to bite right through his mouth guard.

2.  Relax all the muscles and roll the head with the punch to dissipate the force of the punch.  I've seen videos of Russian martial artists/Systema guys that demonstrate this....such as the first 40 seconds of this video..

What's your personal theory on taking shots to the head (other than don't get hit :-).   The relaxing and rolling with the hit makes sense on some level, but so does the tight jaw theory, being that it stops your jaw slamming back into your skull and also stops the head from jarring violently.

I've seen in one of your books how you talk about turning the head on the central axis to shed the blow, but is your neck and jaw tight, or loose and relaxed?

Thanks in advance

ANSWER: The answer is I've done them both. Both work. But in the immortal words of the original Karate Kid:

Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I guess so.
Miyagi: [sighs] Daniel-san, must talk.
[they both kneel]
Miyagi: Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later
[makes squish gesture]
Miyagi: get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do "yes" or karate do "no." You karate do "guess so,"
[makes squish gesture]
Miyagi: just like grape. Understand?
Daniel: Yeah, I understand.
Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I'm ready.

Either rolling with the punches or locking things up so they bounce off you -- work. And they work good.

What doesn't work so good is doing a mushy combo. That's like walking down the middle of the road.  

So the answer isn't either/or, it's know how to do both.

But it's very much about knowing how to do both correctly and not just try and figure it out yourself. (that gives you the mushy versions.) There is a kata called Sanchin that really helps in learning how to control your muscles independently. It isn't that you lock up everything and become a block of ice, it's you just lock up the muscles around where the punch is landing

There's also a third way to it, but that takes way more practice and that is to transfer the energy through you body. I referred to it as grounding in my first book.It's way more common in tai chi and those kinds of systems. But it takes years to be good at.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: ah Karate kid, I knew that movie word for word when I was younger :-).

Just a couple of follow up questions.  You said - lock up the muscles around where the punch is landing.  I can see how that works for body shots, but what about head shots?  I mean if I get smacked in the left side of my jaw, what muscles do I lock up then?  Just try clench the left side of my jaw while keeping my neck loose?  Or clench the whole jaw and neck area while keeping the rest of the body loose?

Lastly, how do you determine which one you should use?  Do you yourself use different methods for different body parts?  Such as, loose and rolling for head shots but tight for body shots?

Unfortunately, it's a process that needs hands on teaching by someone who is qualified. As Most of the crap out there on Youtube gets it wrong.

You do it starting with the basic form and then an instructor tweaks and refines it as you go.

The other question you asked can only be answered 'with experience.'

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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