The 8 Best Strikes for Self-Defense

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

Truer words were never spoken, we all like to think of what we would do in a self-defense situation – usually with no experience in dealing with those situations.

A big part of self-defense, from a physical standpoint, is striking. Punching and kicking are standard parts of fighting, but what are the best striking techniques to use and where do you put them? Well, let’s find out.

senior throwing a punch

Before we get into it, however, it’s important to understand that these strikes are NOT the proverbial silver bullet. One blow isn’t always going to knock the other guy out, it may just agitate them further, which is why you’ll need to make every shot count.


Difficulty: Beginner

A jab is a punch thrown typically with the lead hand, which has a couple of different uses. It can be employed offensively to score a point or stun an opponent, or defensively while moving backwards to create distance.

You can also use it to feel out your opponent and find their range/striking distance. The best use for a jab, however, is to set up other, stronger strikes.

If you want to put power into your jab, a quick step forward or pivoting your foot to throw from your hip will give you a significant boost.

Unfortunately, stepping forward does take you out of your guard position which leaves you vulnerable to a counterattack. Throwing a jab from your hip adds a lot of power but sacrifices speed.

Striking Targets

There are a variety of targets for a jab. These include:

  • The face (including eyes and nose)
  • Jaw
  • Head
  • Throat
  • Chest/Body
  • Shoulders/Arms

Punching an opponent in the face is painful and causes the eyes to water, leaves a nasty bruise, and can be very disorienting. Nobody really expects to get punched in the face so it’s quite a shock to the system when it happens. Resulting injuries can be a black eye, split lip, and a broken nose.

Punches to the head leave the guy on the receiving end with a nasty headache, dizziness, a possible concussion – the brain isn’t anchored down in your skull after all – and disorientation among other things.

I should also point out that punching the other guy in the head isn’t advisable as there’s a serious possibility of breaking your hand.

The cartilage that makes up your throat isn’t meant to take too much force so a strong enough blow could cause it to collapse.

Otherwise, it’s painful and leaves you short of breath. This is also why your chest is a good target. For one thing, getting punched in the chest hurts but it can also leave you winded.

As far as the arms and shoulders go, jabs/blows to the arms can leave them numb and make it difficult to swing. That’s something which I can confirm, your arms and shoulders go numb, and you lose a lot of mobility.

Straight (Cross)

Difficulty: Beginner

The old one-two, a cross is often thrown after a jab with the opposite hand (left jab, right cross) and thrown across the body – hence the name.

You can move either forwards or backwards depending on whether you want to be offensive or defensive. It’s easy enough to use and can be quite a powerful strike to use.

With that said, there is a slight drawback in that it doesn’t really have as much reach or speed as a jab, but those things can be worked out with practice.

Striking Targets

There are a variety of targets for a jab. These include:

  • The face (including eyes and nose)
  • Jaw
  • Head
  • Throat
  • Chest/Body
  • Shoulders/Arms

Upper Cut

Difficulty: Intermediate

An upper cut is great for close quarters fights and is super simple. From your shoulder, keeping your arm bent at 90 degrees, shoot your arm out in a circular motion upwards. It’s a powerful strike when thrown correctly with enough power behind it. It’s an easy enough strike to use but it has a very limited range

Striking Targets

  • Chin
  • Diaphragm
  • Stomach
  • Groin (if you’re on the ground)

While an upper cut is a good, simple technique in theory, the execution can be a little more…difficult. For one thing, your opponent isn’t a heavy bag or a focus mitt – those don’t hit back and they’re not trying to blacken your eye.

Having somebody trying to attack you is an intimidating experience and when it goes from a verbal to physical encounter you must be comfortable fighting in close range.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t throw an upper cut if you’re uncomfortable in that fighting range but being comfortable with being close to an attacker means that you can focus more on fighting back and putting power and weight into your strikes. You’re not going to sit there wondering what to do; you’re just going to do it.


Difficulty: Advanced

Hooks are great for close combat, like the upper cut, your arm is bent at a 90-degree angle but unlike the upper cut, it’s thrown horizontally in a circular motion.

A powerful strike in your arsenal, you do unfortunately have to be very close to your opponent to pull it off and missing your target leaves you vulnerable.

Striking Targets

  • Side of the head (temples, ears, cheeks, jaw)
  • Shoulders and arms
  • Ribs
  • Kidneys

Like the upper cut, a hook is easy to throw – in theory – in execution…not so much. Your arm and wrist have to be in a straight line with each other in order to avoid injuring your wrist (something that’s all too common in training).

Additionally, because you’re striking on or under your opponent’s guard, there’s a risk of smashing your fist on their elbow; there’s also a certain level of precision needed to ensure that your strike hits its mark.

Hammer Fist

Difficulty: Beginner

Ah, the hammer fist! Simple yet devastating, this one involves swinging a closed fist as if you were swinging, you guessed it, a hammer.

You can swing horizontally and get your hips into it for a power blow to the side of the head and/or neck or you can drop it vertically and get the top of the head or shoulders. Either way, it’s a painful and sometimes debilitating blow to receive and the other guy isn’t going to be very happy with you.

Striking Targets

  • The head
  • Shoulders and arms
  • Ribs
  • Neck
  • Throat

Looking at the list of targets, it’s understandable why this one is so popular. The only real difficulty with the hammer fist is judging how much strength to throw into it – not that you’re really going to care about that in a self-defense situation.

Putting too much strength in can get you into a certain amount of legal trouble, putting in too little strength and all you’re going to do is irritate the bad guy. Like I said, though, if you’re in a self-defense situation you’re just going to throw it and put every ounce of strength that you have into it.

Palm Strike

Difficulty: Beginner

This is a personal favorite of mine because you can limit the amount of damage done…sort of.

The strike itself is self-explanatory, it’s an open-handed strike with the palm of your hand. It’s easy to pull off but it isn’t as versatile as some of the other strikes on this list with a much smaller selection of targets available.

Striking Targets

  • Sternum
  • Throat
  • Underside of the chin
  • Nose

So, what do I mean when I say you can limit damage? Well, for starters, an open hand is more flexible than a closed fist; the force/impact is spread out over the whole hand rather than focused into a concentrated spot like it would be with a fist.

With that said, you can still cause serious damage to the body if you’ve put enough force into a strike.

Elbow Strike

Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced

Your elbow is a piece of solid bone, if it connects with anything it’s going to hurt. It’s an extremely powerful strike that can do a lot of damage, everything from minor bruises to fractures and/or concussions.

As powerful as it is, however, it’s a very close-quarters type of strike which can make you very vulnerable even if you don’t miss your strike.

The limited range of an elbow strike is a problem, but you can throw it in a couple of different ways which can, in some cases, get around that issue.

Striking Targets

Targets for the elbow strike are somewhat limited due to the short range of the attack. These include:

  • The face (eyes, nose, chin, etc.)
  • Throat
  • Head
  • Solar plexus

Easy to throw, an elbow strike can be very difficult to land, requiring a lot of precision (depending on the target) to increase its efficacy.

Now, an elbow is going to hurt whatever it hits but smaller targets are harder to hit than bigger ones; the head is smaller than the chest and that’s where your body’s supercomputer is located – which makes it a logical target.

The Grade School Trio

Difficulty: Beginner

What’s the grade school trio? Thanks for asking, the grade school trio is three simple, childish strikes that happen to be very effective.

These strikes are the foot stomp, shin kick, and groin strike/kick. I call these techniques childish because this is what you see on kindergarten playgrounds, but I can’t deny that they are oftentimes very effective.

Stomping on someone’s foot is going to hurt and can sometimes lead to fractures. A kick to the shins is also going to hurt – sometimes it’ll hurt both the giver and the receiver. Something to keep in mind is that your shin is a piece of solid bone; kicks to the shins can result in bruises and, in some cases, fractures (ouch).

The one doing the kicking doesn’t get off scot-free either, they’re also at risk of fractures.

As for the groin…do I even need to explain this one? You’ve got lots of nerve clusters in your groin, getting hit or kicked is obviously going to hurt!

There are, of course, exceptions; any normal, sober person is going to collapse in a heap after being struck in the groin (unless they have a very high pain threshold). If, however, they’re drunk, high on drugs, or worse, both; they may not feel it.

As weird as that sounds it’s true; their brains aren’t going to fire the way they normally would so the pain receptors may not fire correctly to send the appropriate ‘ouch’ signal.

Possible Injuries

So, what are some of the possible injuries that one can incur from these strikes?

Well, as previously stated; punches/strikes to the face are generally unpleasant. Blows to the face can result in a black eye, split lip, fractures of the nasal cartilage, cheek, jaw, and orbital bones (the bones around your eye). They can also cause minor shock, dizziness, disorientation, and are obviously painful.

Punching your opponent in the mouth is… not advisable. There’re all kinds of freaky things in your mouth which can lead to infections, why would you want to risk infection from someone else?

Strikes to the head are dangerous in general. Apart from causing dizziness and disorientation, they can also result in concussions of varying severity, headaches, swelling, skull fractures, and serious injuries to the brain. You can also damage your opponent’s neck resulting in neurological damage, fractures, and other nasty problems.

The throat is another target to worry about, a light shot to the throat can result in a bit of minor shock and disorientation as well as a shortness of breath; these are things which can buy you a few seconds to get away.

A harder, more forceful shot could possibly cause the cartilage around trachea and larynx to collapse which, if left untreated, will be fatal.

Body shots (sternum, solar plexus, ribs, etc.) are generally unpleasant and can result in bruising, loss of breath, fractures, and, in some cases, damage to the internal organs.

Last, but not least, the groin. Injuries to the groin are excruciatingly painful – as I said before there are lots of sensitive nerve clusters there. Now, in addition to being painful, a shot to the groin can be a serious injury.

For one thing, it may or may not result in reproductive problems and erm…performance issues. Worse still, you may – if you’re a guy – end up with what’s called testicular torsion. This is where the spermatic cord leading to the testicle spins around on itself and cuts off blood flow to the testicle – resulting in the testicle dying.

Nasty Strikes for Nasty Situations

Self-defense situations are terrifying, but usually you can avoid trouble with a bit of quick thinking and common sense.

With that said, it’s always good to know a few things for those rare instances where a fight is, for lack of a better descriptor, unavoidable.

The strikes I’ve talked about here can be very nasty and using them isn’t going to be easy on you either physically or mentally – fighting is never pleasant.

I hope you guys and gals enjoyed the article and found it informative. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you for the next one. Take care, and stay safe out there!

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1 thought on “The 8 Best Strikes for Self-Defense”

  1. Hi Greg,
    Great article for beginners and intermediate defense.
    We like the hammer fist strike downward on the bridge of the nose. This technique stop me from getting further injured.

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