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Best Pre-Emptive Strikes and Palms vs. Fists

By Lito Angeles

Photo: Rick Hustead

The criteria I used to determine the best pre-emptive strikes are encapsulated in 10 questions: Is it simple? Is it direct? Is it powerful? Is it adaptable? Is it versatile? Can it instantly knock out or incapacitate an adversary? Has it been proved effective in harsh real-life conditions? Is it “real-life practical” for the average person to employ? Is it psychologically palatable for most people?

Two strikes meet all these criteria. The first is a Western-boxing-style hook punch to the side of the jaw. (It’s the best target to attack when you’re unarmed because it’s the best route to producing a clinical knockout.) The temple, the area behind the ear, the side of the neck and the base of the skull are also vulnerable targets for the hook.

For the average person, it’s optimal to use the dominant hand from the rear side. If you’re a well-trained martial artist and/or combat-sport athlete who’s proficient at throwing hooks with either hand or if you stand with your dominant hand in front, you can certainly initiate a pre-emptive hook from the lead side.

In terms of what “tool” to use it with, most martial arts instructors and combat-sport coaches teach using the fists. I, on the other hand, advocate using the palms. I’ll explain why in the second part of this column. The reason the hook is No. 1 for me is it’s a proven shot that has produced countless knockouts in all arenas of combat sports and in real-life engagements. In nearly all sports that include striking, the hook is arguably the predominant one-shot knockout blow.

This applies to real-world street fights, as well. No matter what arena we’re talking about, a decently powerful and reasonably accurate hook has the ability to render anyone instantly unconscious by shaking the brain and torquing the brain stem in a severe way. It is, along with the No. 2 shot on my shortlist, the highest-percentage practical technique for producing an instantaneous one-shot knockout, which is the primary objective when using a pre-emptive strike for self-defense. It’s one and done — in the blink of an eye.

Remember that in self-defense, nothing is more simple and direct, as well as effective and efficient, than a one-shot knockout. If you doubt this, go to YouTube and search for combat-sport and street-fight knockouts. You’ll find countless videos taken in both venues that showcase the potency of this strike.

The No. 2 pre-emptive strike is the Western-boxing-style dominant-hand rear straight punch. It’s often referred to as a cross or straight right (or left) in boxing parlance. Like the hook, the rear straight can be executed using a fist or palm — and, as with the hook, I prefer using the palm. The targets are the side of the jaw, the temple, the side of the neck and the area behind the ear. Excluding the hook, the rear straight has produced more one-shot knockouts in combat-sport matches than any other technique or maneuver. Both the hook and the rear straight are great options for self-defense.

On a related note, I believe that Western boxing is the best system of barehanded combat to learn and master first for unarmed self-defense. There is nothing more effective and efficient than being able to instantly knock out an adversary with one strike when you have to get physical to neutralize a threat. There is nothing better you can do with your empty hands to ensure your personal safety through physical means. Reinforcing this point, boxing-based blows have been scientifically proved to be the most biomechanically powerful strikes you can execute.

While other martial arts/combat sports such as kickboxing, MMA and muay Thai incorporate Western boxing strikes in their arsenals, I recommend most people who are strictly interested in self-defense start with boxing so they can focus on mastering its hand strikes first and foremost.

As I mentioned, the head is the best target for unarmed self-defense (combat sports, too),

and boxing-based hand strikes that use the palms or fists are the most practical choices

for the average person. Back the rear straight: Notice that I didn’t include the chin or throat as target areas. They were deliberately omitted. When you strike the chin at its center point, the probability of producing a one-shot knockout is low because at that straight-on angle, the chin/head/neck will act like a shock absorbing car bumper and neutralize the impact.

Often when this happens, your adversary will stumble backward but remain upright, which then necessitates a seamless transition to a follow-up barrage. For this reason, you should angulate your rear straight at 15 to 45 degrees (depending on your range and position relative to your adversary). This will enable you to strike the side of the jaw, which is the best way to twist the head and potently rattle the brain to produce a clean knockout.

The throat is not a practical target to attack with a fist or palm, either. Most people will have their head/chin in a naturally neutral position or tilted slightly downward. In either case, the opening to strike this target is too small for a fist or palm to hit cleanly. You’ll likely make contact with the chin if you go for the throat, and I already covered why a chin strike isn’t a good one in terms of effecting a one-shot knockout. These two strikes — the hook (from the rear or lead side, with the palm or fist) and rear straight (with the palm or fist) — are unequivocally the top techniques for pre-emptive striking. These are the ones I recommend for anyone, male or female,who has the attitude and aptitude to learn.

For those who don’t have the prerequisite attributes, there are other options and alternatives, and they will be addressed in a future column. There’s one more thing I must mention: The hook and rear straight are both height- and direction-adaptable, as well as versatilely repeatable. That means you can execute them with either hand against taller or shorter adversaries and even against multiple assailants.

With that said, they aren’t the only techniques that are effective for pre-emptive

striking. There are seven other strikes that are valuable, but they don’t satisfy all the criteria listed above because of certain limitations that put them in a category below the hook and rear straight. Nevertheless, I will cover them in a forthcoming column.

Lito Angeles is Black Belt’s 2022 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year. To order his bestselling

book Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts, visit

This article first appeared in 2022 edition of Black Belt Magazine.

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