Violence is not always the answer to an escalating interpersonal conflict, but it is an answer and a mighty effective one at that. While it is almost always in your best interest to avoid, evade or defuse trouble before the fangs come out, that is not always an option, or just not prudent.
Depending on the severity of the situation, a plain, old-fashioned, honest-to-God punch is the only thing some people will understand.
Preppers are often weapon-centric when it comes to dealing with a violent attack. If accosted, many of plant to shoot, stab, bash or spray our way to the end of the fight and our summary escape.
While this is a good idea generally, it does not take into account several variables, namely the appropriate level of force for dealing with less-than-lethal attacks on your person as well as situations where, level of force be damned, you just don’t have time or opportunity to access a weapon.
In these types of encounters, you’ll have to resort to your first weapons: your fists. While you can clench your hand and swing for the fences hoping for a good outcome, that way most often lies painful, even deadly defeat.
Just like any other weapon or tool you employ, knowing how and where to use it counts for a lot. In this article, we’ll cover nine anatomical targets you should target with your punches for maximum effect.
This article is not to be treated as legal advice. The author is not an attorney.
Neither SurvivalSullivan.com, its principals, owners, operators, contractors, or employees, or the author of this article, claim any criminal or civil liability resulting from injury, death, or legal action resulting from the use or misuse of the information contained in this article.
Any comprehensive self-defense plan will include preparing for the legal aftermath of any self-defense encounter. The reader should hire and consult with a competent attorney as part of their preparations.
Punching someone is not to be construed as anything less than a serious defensive act. If you are still of a mindset that fighting is fun, cool, and exciting (and it is) you need to work that out in a boxing club, MMA gym, or martial arts dojo, not on the street, in front of a bar, or elsewhere.
The consequences, physical, legal and financial can be deleterious to your life. If you want to skip $10,000 plus in legal fees and perhaps avoid a felony on your record save the brawling for legitimate defensive encounters.
While a punch is, in most circumstances and in most places, not considered patently lethal force people have suffered irreparable injury and life-altering wounds from being on the receiving end of a particularly vicious (or lucky) punch.
While a far sight in seriousness, most times, from shooting or stabbing someone, even pepper spray is viewed more favorably in most places than socking someone in the head with your fist.
Sure, once upon a time “honorable fisticuffs” might have been a reasonable way to settle otherwise irreconcilable disagreements between two men with little chance of serious and lasting harm, but those days are past.
A fistfight can be ugly enough on its own and may escalate with no warning; weapons or backups may be introduced, and you could find yourself overwhelmed and the guest of honor at a beat down you’ll have serious trouble defending against.
More germane to our discussion though, is the varying effects of punches. Not all punches and their targets produce the same damage. A stiff jab to the nose and a haymaker to the base of the skull are in two different solar systems when it comes to effect on the recipient.
The latter can certainly be construed as lethal force. The point of all this exposition is to remind you that engaging in physical violence, even when completely justified morally and by law, is never without risk,
Think Big Picture
Last thing before we get to the list: consider the effect that punching someone will have on you. No, I am not talking about some sissy frou-frou “we are all one tribe” B.S.- I am talking about your damn hand!
Most effective targets for a punch are located about or near the head. Throwing any punch worth its salt is going to entail significant force on your part.
So, in the end, we are curling up our hand, one of the most vital body parts we have for interacting meaningfully in our world and one of the most delicate, and launching it at the single hardest structure on the human body and one of the hardest structures found in nature.
All those delicate bones and the interplay of tendon, muscle, nerve, and sinew that makes your hand, literally your manipulator for running all kinds of tools and gear is highly vulnerable to serious damage should it strike a little cockeyed or with too loose a fist or simply connect too hard.
In most cases, lacking the conditioning of a real fighter and the accompanying protective gloves your hands will come out the far side of a fistfight damaged.
Jams, sprains, fractures, lacerations, and more will all make doing things with your hands much harder on the back end of punching someone; this will impact your ability to do everything from using your phone to running a gun or applying first aid.
Even if you deliberately aim for “soft” targets you can expect things to get sideways. People move, things go awry and simply stated shit just happens. Make sure you are accounting for that before you swing for the fences.
The 9 Best Places to Punch Someone
A shot to the nose is sort of your all-in-one move at the advent of hostilities, assuming your foe does not qualify for truly massive retaliation. Any good whack to the nose will produce considerable pain, severely teary eyes, and plenty of bleeding.
A jab here is rarely debilitating on its own but is a great setup for a stronger punch. A stiff cross can break the nose, upping the ante. This impairs breathing and is shockingly painful.
The effects of this are threefold: One, this will separate the groupies from the true hardasses, as your milder souls will usually decide they have had enough fun if they get busted in the face, hard, one good time.
Second, a stiff punch to the nose says “back off!” in every language, so an assailant who presses their advance after that is officially qualifying themselves for worse to come.
Third, it is difficult for all but the most locked on-fighters to keep their cool when their nose gets smashed. Someone who is enraged is usually sloppier, something you can use to your advantage.
Make a punch to the nose your opening move in situations where physical force is warranted, but not quite at play-for-keeps levels.
There is of course a great reason why all fighters worthy of the name and every boxing and MMA coach from here to the moon will constantly chide pupils to keep their chins down.
The chin itself is a great target (more to come on that in a minute) but more importantly, doing so helps protect a really vulnerable target: the throat.
Do not punch someone here unless you seriously want to incapacitate them. The risk of death is definitely non-zero. A punch to the throat can crush the larynx, cutting off breathing, and in any case, is a very painful blow.
Most folks who are struck hard in the throat, even with the larynx left intact, will think they are choking and struggle to breathe.
Any hard blow to any facing of the neck also carries with it a significant chance of damaging the spine or disrupting major nerves and a selection of major veins and arteries, further causing harm and going a long way to taking the starch out of someone. If someone seriously threatening you shows you their throat, go for it.
The Side of the Neck
Similar in effect to targeting the throat, but the side of the neck is harder to protect with the head.
The side of the neck has the jugular vein, carotid artery, and major nerve clusters that travel all the way into the trunk directly from the brain, all near the surface and ripe for a pummeling.
A sharp blow to any of them can cause unconsciousness or at the least significant upset of equilibrium and grueling pain.
Worse yet (for the recipient) is the vertebrae in the neck are highly vulnerable to shearing forces: while the neck enjoys good mobility in the rotational and tilting axes, it does not cope at all with lateral strain.
A good neck punch or chop can dislocate these vertebrae or damage the especially sensitive discs between, resulting in, you got it, blinding pain and even physical incapacitation.
The neck is easily attacked with a hook or straight on from the side if the opportunity presents itself.
Remember that while the head itself is equivalent to an armored command center, the neck is the barely reinforced tunnel leading to it.
It is an easy thing to take out the former by attacking the latter. Again, this is a terribly serious blow, one you should use judiciously.
The Base of the Skull
The infamous and reviled rabbit punch, so named for its similarity to a common maneuver used by hunters to quickly dispatch clean fashion rabbits caught in the field.
This punch is completely illegal in almost all forms of combative sport and is surely considered lethal force when aimed with intent.
Real quick: feel the back of your head for that little bump and notch in the middle. Feel the bump? Great, now lay three fingers in that little hollow right below it. That’s the bullseye.
A punch here has a high chance of severely wounding, even killing, the recipient. Damage to vertebrae and the spinal cord are high. A powerful punch might even detach the spine from the brain, almost always resulting in instant death.
If you are presented with this target and the fight is dire, aim small and hammer them. A punch here goes a long way to take the fight out of someone, sometimes permanently. That being said, you should never, ever strike here if you are not prepared or justified in using lethal force.
The last of our targets on the head before we head south, the jaw is the classic boxers target when aiming for the head. The “buzzer” or “button” is a known and favored knockout point.
The jaw, for all its ruggedness, is vulnerable to damage and displacement. Striking the chin from below or the side will easily result in knockout compared to other locations, though a person’s propensity to being knocked out in this way varies for physiological reasons.
Striking the jaw near its hinge, where it connects to the skull, is a great way to dislocate it, causing immense pain and enhancing the effect of follow-up strikes.
An uppercut will produce a similar knockout effect while also crushing the teeth together with perhaps the tongue between them. No matter how you connect, if you connect solidly and with force you will probably rock your opponent on their heels.
Attacking the jaw is not without its drawbacks. For one, the face and head are the most likely to be protected by the hands of your opponent.
The jaw and mouth also contain sharp teeth, which get even sharper when broken or knocked out by, let’s say, a punch!
If you miss or your opponent bobs you might strike them in the mouth. Painful for both parties, but not as effective as a good, hard punch to the jaw.
One thing to keep in mind when striking to knockout a foe: should you score a good knockout blow and put them out on their feet, their head has a long way to go before hitting the ground, and it will be completely uncontrolled and unarrested to boot.
This is a predominant cause of major injury and death, so take care.
The Celiac Plexus
AKA the solar plexus. The celiac plexus as a target is attacked by striking the centerline of the body midway between the belly button and the nipples.
The celiac plexus is a radiating network of nerve fibers in the abdomen, conveniently located near a big intersection of arteries, just in front of the diaphragm.
When nailed hard, this region responds with two typical protests: spasms in the diaphragm and searing, nauseous pain. If you have ever had the “wind” knocked out of you, this is the likely culprit.
This causes significant difficulty breathing until the effects pass, and a really good shot may even disrupt, if only briefly, organ function in the vicinity, meaning more pain and distraction.
To my knowledge, no one has died as a direct result of being struck here, so a punch to the “gut” like this is another good intermediate-force option.
The temporary loss of breath resulting from a blow to the celiac plexus, especially when already exerted, can cause panic even in tough guys.
If you are delivering body blows, make sure you are aiming for this location or a little higher (just beneath the sternum) but don’t go so high that you strike the rib cage head-on; the ribs are designed to protect the chest, and do a good job of it, even against hard punches. Make your shots count!
For those who have endured an injury, impact or ailment involving the kidneys, the pain endured will never be forgotten. Among all the organs of the body, few rival the kidneys in sensitivity to damage.
A punch to the kidneys is usually a target of opportunity as anyone facing you and on their feet will not present them as a matter of course, but nonetheless, if you have an opening, carpe them diems, and punch those suckers!
The pain from a good kidney strike is blinding, breathtaking, and incapacitating for all but the hardest of the hard.
The pain is so searing and intense that it is nothing short of exquisite.
Only the highly trained, extremely tough, or fanatically motivated will persevere through the tsunami of agony that engulfs them when they suffer a blow to either or, gulp, both kidneys.
Contrary to popular scientific wild-ass guesstimations about the location of the kidneys in another human, they are not down low near the mid back or hips.
The kidneys hide, safe and sound, up under and behind the ribs and are further buttressed on either side by the spine.
This is not an easy punch to land and even if you have a clear angle the geometry is not such that a good connection is assured. But if you do, boy oh boy, will you have left your attacker something to remember you by!
You knew it was going to be on here. Our last stop is the classic nut shot (or clam slam, against women), a favorite of any-dirty-trick-in-the-book brawlers and street fighters the world over.
The reasons are elemental and visceral: for men especially but women also damage to the reproductive organ is immensely and cripplingly painful, and the added psychological distress caused by the very literal attack on their ability to bear offspring is tough to deal with.
The delicate tissues and organs are home to countless nerves that are inordinately sensitive to pain and damage. A solid blow that impinges on any of the above will buckle most folks with agony, adrenaline be damned.
Chances are you will not be punching down at the groin while standing, but if you are forced to your knees or are striking while standing you can easily lash out at the breadbasket.
Another option is attacking this target as a “finisher” on a downed opponent to make sure they stay down for a time.
Once more, while I do not know of anyone who died from being struck in the groin, there have been plenty of reports of, ah, gruesome injuries over the years, so make sure you are fighting for keeps.
Your liver is a huge, wedge-like organ positioned between your ribs and lungs on the right side of the body.
It’s important for removing pollutants from your circulation, making bile to break down fats, and manufacturing clotting factors.
The liver is our body’s largest organ and can store up to 1 pint of blood at any one time. It’s also one of the most damaged organs in our bodies, especially from blunt force injuries.
Like a brutal body blow, for instance!
If someone sustains blunt force trauma to their liver, it might induce one or more of the following types of damage: hematoma, resulting from damage to a blood vessel and leading to the collection of blood outside the blood vessel itself
Tearing of the liver, which can be relatively minor and cause no bleeding, or it can be deep and cause heavy bleeding or even total loss of blood supply to the liver.
None of these are good outcomes for the poor recipient!
A clean strike to the liver is the crown jewel of body shots. A sharp blow to the liver can cause paralyzing, blinding pain that only the toughest folks can fight through.
The liver is located on the right side of the body, just below the ribcage, meaning it is a great target for low-line hooks or brutal uppercuts.
Whenever you see a big body blow stagger then collapse a fighter, it is likely he just got his liver walloped.
You can exploit this vulnerability to your advantage while protecting your hands from serious damage at the same time.
When standing up and facing off, the liver is pretty well guarded against punches but when the angle of attack changes or an opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate!
Keeping Your Hands Intact While Punching Someone
One thing to keep in mind when doling out a beating with your fists: the tiny, fragile bones of the fingers, hand, and wrist are incredibly vulnerable to damage.
If you screw up your punch, or strike a hard target, your hand could be mangled but good. At the very least, you could fracture one of your own fingers in the process. And you don’t want that!
This is particularly important in the greater context of defense because a badly injured hand will have an awfully hard time running a gun, opening a folding knife, typing on a keyboard, turning a steering wheel, etc.
One errant punch could have lengthy, even life-long consequences for your manipulator. The risk of using such a comparatively delicate bio-mechanism as a weapon is simply unavoidable.
So how do you keep your hands in one piece while punching someone?
You have options, and you can harden your hands against injury with a few techniques. The following are things you can do to minimize the risk of injuring your hands while punching someone:
- Condition your hands. Hardening your hands against impact can be done through a variety of means, including weightlifting, grip training, and even the use of a hand wrap. The more conditioned your hands are to resist impact, the less likely you are to injure them when punching someone. Obviously, practicing your strikes on dummies, bags, and sparring partners will help over time.
- Use an open hand rather than a closed fist. This will help absorb some of the impact, and reduce the chance of breaking bones. A palm strike packs a mighty wallop, especially when directed against the head.
- Keep your punches short and sharp, rather than swinging wild, big-bomb haymakers. This will also help avoid causing too much damage to your hands by reducing impact forces overall.
- If you do happen to aim for something hard, like a face or a skull, try to keep your fingers and hands tight and deliver the strike using the first knuckles of the index and middle fingers. This will deliver maximum power while minimizing the chances of fracturing or dislocating a finger.
- Strike your opponent’s body and softer targets with a closed fist, not the head unless it is a high-percentage shot. The majority of blows should be directed at these “gentler” vulnerable areas, rather than the stereotypical target of the skull and jaw.
Looking like Billy Badass is easy until you have a bag full of mangled chicken bones on the end of each arm. Condition your hands now and learn to take care of them as best you can in a fight.
Two Places You Should Not Punch!
While the human body is ripe for dismantling via fists alone, there are a couple of places you don’t want to punch on purpose under any circumstances.
Aside from low damage output, the chance of significant injury to your hand and wrist makes these no-go targets.
❌ The Forehead
The human forehead is a massive, strong, thick armor plate and nothing more.
The frontal glacis of the skull has a better than the marginal chance of stopping or deflecting handgun bullets; what do you think will happen to your fist when it crashes into that wall?
Uh-huh: crunch, crackle, snap. While you might ding a guy’s bell doing so, it is very unlikely.
Don’t just take any shot you can get- make sure your target is worthy and less likely to hurt your hands. You’ll need them later!
❌ The Mouth
I am specifically referring to a direct shot to the opening of the mouth/lips area.
As I mentioned briefly earlier, however appealing the idea might be of knocking an assailant’s front teeth out and leaving him with rock-eaters is, you do not want to risk the lacerations and surefire infection that will result from a “fight bite”, i.e. getting a cut to the hand from the assailant’s teeth.
If you want to loosen teeth to leave them cursing your name, swing for the base of the jaw like we talked about above.
Ready For Some Punches?
Wild flailing and a volley of haymakers might, with luck, get the job done when you need to defend yourself with fists alone, but it is not a recipe for success.
Just like we take the time to learn where the high-value targets are in the body so that we may direct our gunfire and knives there, we can do the same with our punches.
Combining boxing skills with a working knowledge of this combative anatomy will turn you from a flailing brawler to a surgical pugilist.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.