How to Take a Punch to Minimize Damage

I recently wrote an article about the best places on an assailant’s body to target with punches if you want to dish out pain and even serious damage. Knowing when and how to strike counts for much in self-defense; wild haymakers make for dramatic Hollywood fisticuffs, but they aren’t often a recipe for success in a live fight.

As much as we wish it wasn’t so, a garden-variety punk or serious badguy will not stand there like a punching dummy and let us tee off on him to our heart’s content. He gets a vote in the proceedings also, and five will get you ten that his vote is “punch the shit out of this guy.”

Knowing how to defend against a flurry of punches is an essential element of hand-to-hand training and so is knowing how to take a shot that you cannot avoid or block.

In another article, I shared various tips, techniques and procedures to help you weather a solid punch, maintain your bearing and carry the fight back to your attacker.

First Things First

Invariably, the best single piece of advice when it comes to getting punched is “don’t.” Laconic, pithy, appropriate. While consistently following the Five Ds of Dodgeball and dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging again will keep your award-winning good looks intact and your teeth straight and in place there is just one minor and often overlooked detail with that plan of action.

It is not reality.

In a physical fight, you have to plan on getting hit. End of story. Yes in a boxing ring or MMA cage there may be some fighters who so outclass their hapless opponents they appear to be constantly one move ahead of them, feinting, dipping, slipping and weaving in a display of dazzling ability and technical skill that keeps their mugs unmarred and provides plenty of openings for return fire.

Chances are that isn’t you, even if you have significant pugilistic practice or training. So while your skills will certainly give you an edge, especially against a like-minded “practitioner” you must assume the wild and wooly scrum of a street fight will see you taking a shot or three. The best remedy is to accept it and plan accordingly.

Some of these preparations will be physical and others will be mental (just like everything else we do to prep!) but if you are serious about acquitting yourself well in a real-deal fistfight you should be treating all them seriously.

And the fight will be serious: sure, you might simply need to bust some deadbeat low-level dirtbag’s nose one good time with a hard straight to send him scurrying home with tail tucked, but you may also need to withstand an assault from a jacked and seasoned hardened con, a real killer who is as comfortable in a brawl as you are in the shower.

Most Importantly

One last thing before we get to the list. Assume nothing. If you have never been in a real fistfight and I am not talking about a middle school slapfight, either, then you won’t quite have your own measure of what you are capable of, how you’ll react, and what kind of blow you can withstand before you are hearing bells ringing.

I am of the opinion that every, single man on Earth thinks himself a peerless fighter with catlike reflexes and the speed of a mongoose. Furthermore he is beyond assured of his own innate capability to take a falling grand piano on the chin with no ill-effect.

This is understandable, but foolish and very misguided. Tough talk and banter is fine but will not cover your shortcomings in the brutal arithmetic of a fistfight.

Train hard, practice accordingly. It is the only way to know for sure.

Ways to Minimize Damage from a Punch

1. Keep your Damn Chin Down!

A surefire way to increase your chances of getting knocked out is to keep your chin up. As I discussed in my companion article to this piece, the chin and mandible is a priority target since a solid punch to either will “hit the buzzer” and set the recipient wobbling on his feet or heading to the pavement all ready to get tucked in for night-night.

Don’t let that be you! And it will, too, if you keep your chin up and begging to be picked off. The jaw thrusting, chest bumping come-at-me-fu that most dipshits and frat bros engage in is not a strategy. If it is time to fight, fight: don’t talk, don’t posture and tuck that chin!

There is actually something worse that getting punched in the chin and that is getting punched in neck. A shot to the neck will be, of course, extremely painful, but damage to the larynx, nerves and major blood vessels located therein can also see you knocked out cold on your feet, or even killed. Tucking your chin down allows more bones to protect this softest of targets in nature.

2. Clamp Your Jaw.

Remember what I said about shutting up in #1, up there? It isn’t just allegorical: close your mouth! Clamp your teeth together firmly to prevent broken chompers, a sliced tongue and increase your knockout resistance.

If the jaw is moved sharply in a lateral direction too quickly it can dislocate or fracture, neither of which are going to feel as pleasant as your momma’s kiss.

Experiment with the fine positioning and fitment of your teeth against one another, and try to ensure that they are as centered and secure as possible. Your teeth will always suffer when you take a punch to the mouth or jaw, but having them resting askance against one another will make for more damage come impact.

Lacking a mouth guard, this is the best you can do to protect and reinforce structures in your mouth. Talking, mouth breathing and leaving your mouth hanging slack is a no-no, one you’ll be punished for.

3. Move, move, move!

A moving target is always harder to hit. Since your face and head are the targets, keep them moving in a fight. Pay attention to any professional fighter in any discipline next time you catch a bout. Notice how they bob, sway and shift?

Part of that is for rhythm but most of it is for defense. Even a move as small as a few inches can rob a punch of much of its impact, saving you a ton of pain and potentially keeping you on your feet.

When moving in this way, don’t lock into a pattern that a savvy opponent may recognize and exploit to deliver a powerful blow where you will be. Instead make your movements- distance, depth, speed, etc.- random and let that be part of your defense, as well as sowing a little doubt into your opponent’s mind at the same time.

If an opponent moves to strike you, and you bob out of the way while delivering a counterstrike, that will start to corrode their confidence in short order. After all, the best defense is always a good offense! Don’t leave your head hanging there like a piñata!

How to Take a Punch

4. Focus on the Fight.

Keep your eye on your opponent. An old boxer’s maxim goes something like the punch you don’t see coming is the one that knocks you out. There is a lot of wisdom in that one! If you see an incoming punch, or at least are only able to read the signs of your opponent “chambering” it, you will be able to (hopefully) react in time and defend appropriately to lessen the damage.

This takes practice and training to learn how to read the ebb and flow of the fight. You aren’t just looking into his eyes, and you aren’t just watching his shoulders, or hands or belly or whatever. All of those things in totality will usually betray intent and preference, so take the time to learn the “sweet science”.

Reacting with the incorrect countermeasure to a feint or an actual punch will set you up for more harm. Likewise if you learn to read an opponent’s range, moves and intent you won’t be jumping at attacks that cannot harm you but could get you to cover up or overreact.

5. Block!

Keeping your hands between an opponent’s punches and your body will lessen the severity of impact drastically and also affect their targeting. Blocking is not just throwing your hands up or wrapping your arms around your head, as improper blocking is less effective and reduces your visibility, making you vulnerable to follow-on punches.

Unless you have to weather a storm of powerful blows by tucking tail, you want to block and return your hands to your fight stance.

Skilled fighters will use a flurry of attacks to send a defender into their shells, using the opportunity to setup an all-powerful blow, pull a weapon or something else equally nefarious. By learning to block properly and briskly, you can stuff a punch, deliver your own and maintain awareness of your foe and the area around you.

Don’t just stand there and take it: block incoming punches that you cannot dodge and rob your assailant of the satisfaction of landing one squarely.

6. Roll With It.

Rolling with the punches is not an admonishment to just accept whatever comes your way. Not this time! Rolling with a punch that would otherwise connect squarely will rob it of a good bit of power if your other defenses failed or if you simply did not see it coming until it was too late.

To roll with a punch you start shifting your body/head in the direction the punch is moving when you see it coming or feel it. This serves to do two things: one, it aligns your body in a way that is applying a load consistently with the pending impact and two, it robs the punch of power.

Think of it this way. A speeding box truck travelling at 60mph smashes into another car parked in an intersection and another, identical truck travelling at the same speed smashes into another car travelling in the same direction at 50mph. The second truck would deliver a bump to the car whereas the first smashes the car to pieces.

That is the difference in comparative impact. Rolling a punch correctly confers the same benefit to you, the punchee. Rolling a punch takes practice and skill, so make sure you are working it alongside your footwork, blocking and other defensive HtH skills.

7. Develop Your Neck Muscles

The neck is more important to preventing serious injury and knockouts from impact than most people give it credit for. I especially like Pat McNamara’s take on this.

The inimitable PatMac describes the head and brain as the body’s command center, and all good attacks will target the enemy’s command and control faculties. Ergo, we punch each other in the head to knock them out. The only way to prevent this is to prevent an attack on the command center entirely, or harden the command center’s defenses.

The neck supports the command center, and by strengthening the support structure the command center is hardened. This is easy to understand when you understand how brain injuries happen. A concussion occurs when something moves the head so violently that the brain, sloshing around wetly inside, is slammed into the interior wall of the cranial vault.

These nasty concussions come in two flavors: coup and contrecoup. A coup injury happens when the brain hits the wall of the skull at the point of impact. A contrecoup injury happens when the brain smashes into the wall of the skull opposite the impact as a result of momentum carrying it on when the head comes to rest from the initial blow.

A real haymaker or frying pan swung by your ex has enough force cause a coup-contrecoup injury, or as you have doubtlessly surmised, both in one go. Any of them are serious injuries and can easily result in a knockout and lingering ill-effects.

You can prevent the rotational or lateral movement of the head that may result in one of these brain injuries by strengthening the neck to resist impact.

8. Brace Up!

Most people won’t need to be told about this one. Anytime something is heading for your soft middle, what do you do? Most people clench and brace for impact! And so you should: abs will get you dates and whistles on the beach but in a fight abs are armor.

Even if you have more a dad bod than hard bod, you can still reduce damage by bracing your core muscles in preparation to soak up damage.

Failing to do so is much more likely to result in you getting the wind knocked out of you (that pesky celiac plexus again!) or result in serious harm to your delicate internal organs.

There is a fine line on technique here: most folks “bottle” when they brace, meaning they hold their breath in their lungs while clenching their core muscles as hard as they can. This is not ideal. A better technique is to clench the core muscles in isolation; you should still be able to breathe.

This takes practice, but the results are worthwhile as your diaphragm will be under less stress load and less likely to spasm, resulting in the aforementioned loss of breath. If you do get punched hard enough to lose your wind, don’t hold your breath; blow it out!

This sounds a little esoteric, and it is, but if you get drilled in the belly you’ll be left gaping like a fish on the shore. Don’t do that! If you are able blow out hard immediately after impact. This will help you recover faster and get oxygen moving back into your body.

How to Take a Punch in a Fight

9. Get Hit.

Say what?! You are probably thinking I have suffered one too many sharp blows to the noggin myself, eh? I am not espousing the mythical and forbidden Their-Fist-to-Your-Face style of fighting, but I am suggesting you go get hit more often in practice.

Especially for the ever increasing number of boys who were never in fights who then grow up to be men who were never in a fight this is essential homework. If you have never been full on punched before you don’t really know what kind of mettle you have.

Learning how to deal with the pain, mental fallout and other physiological effects of getting socked in the head or punched in the gut is invaluable. You sure don’t want to be doing the same for the first time in the middle of a real-life fight with real life consequences.

The only way through this door is walk through it. See the elephant, as it were. Join a boxing or MMA gym with a serious emphasis on sparring, and real sparring, not half-ass katas.

Start off with headgear and heavier gloves and then progress down to no headgear and lighter gloves. You might think those big, marshamallowy boxing gloves would not hurt that much if you have never been hit with them, but you’d be wrong.

What you’ll notice once you’ve been starched a few times is that it does not hurt as much as it used to, all things being equal. It is surprising what the body and mind can adapt to given time.

Part of this is getting over the “novel pain” effect, where anticipation and a new negative stimulus serves to magnify the effects in the recipients mind.

Once you have greased that particular groove a few times, nothing short of a properly damaging punch will move you off your bearing.

10. Wear a Helmet!

Hey, this is a prepping site, not a boxing site, what did you expect? In seriousness, if you are worried about getting punched in the head, be it from a rapid mob or just a few random assailants you can give you noggin maximum protection by donning a helmet.

Most helmets rated for sporting and workplace safety all afford good protection from impacts to the head delivered via fist. The king by far is the common motorcycle helmet with whole-head protection. This makes it essentially impossible for the attacker to even reach your head with a punch, and will easily stymie all but the most powerful or accurate blows.

One major word of caution, especially with full-face helmets or ones with shields, masks and similar accoutrement: A canny attacker will use the helmet against you by grabbing it to either twist it around and blind you or in an attempt to move you or take you down (where the head goes the body follows). If you decide to wear a helmet you must be alert to this risk and pay extra attention if it limits your field of view.


Taking a punch is not something that gets any easier or more enjoyable the more often you do it, but it is something you must prepare for.

Physical fights are far more common than any weapons-based confrontations, and knowing how to both dish out a beating and just as importantly absorb or avoid one is a fundamental prepper skill.

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