Learning to punch is at the beginning of most fighters’ training. A simple straight punch, once mastered, gets turned into hook, uppercut and myriad other punches. It’s a basic move, but one we all have. It also looks cool and can be effective at the right moment.

This post isn’t a hate on punching. I’m a big fan of punches. My left hook is wicked and I’ll sneak it into pretty much any sparring match. However, it’s not always the best pick, particularly when you’re up against someone significantly bigger.

As most heroines in urban fantasy and YA books tend to be smaller than their generally male attackers, it’s important to think about what would actually work in those fight settings. Smaller women can absolutely win a hand-to-hand fight against larger men, but a punch to the face isn’t going to be your fight opener because reach (a.k.a. actually punching directly to their face without having to reach upward) will be an issue.

Let’s talk about why we see scenes in books and movies that include punches to the face, and how we can better achieve those in an underdog scenario.

1. It looks so cool in the movies!

First Rule of Fight Club

We see it in action movies all the time, and it looks awesome. Naturally our minds go there. We can translate those same aesthetics to the page and the world will be in awe. Right?

Yes, you can translate those same scenes to the page, but often the combatants in those scenes are of similar size or at least height. You don’t see anyone stretching upward to land knuckles to nose.

You have a lot of strength in your legs. Your attacker’s legs are directly in front of you. This means no reaching up to make a strike. Many people don’t think about kicking first, and this adds to the benefit of the strike. Not only could a low strike be devastating, if your attacker isn’t trained they won’t expect your feet and legs coming at them out the gate.

I promise: You strike someone’s knee with your shin they will remember you forever.

Black Widow Goes to the Foot First!

Black Widow Goes to the Foot First!

2. Oh, the blood!

Okay, you have me there. A fist to the face can have very bloody results. There are benefits to this—mostly mental benefits. It offers distraction and creates a mindset of real injury as your attacker may now have blood in their eyes.

We can create a similar mental effect with a low strike. It doesn’t need to be fancy, and your main character doesn’t need to be a trained fighter. A groin strike is effective. Imagine kicking a soccer ball. Do that same act now with the lower part of your shin connecting with someone’s groin. Painful. It’s wicked against attackers of either gender. (I know this personally. Swear.)

You’ve hit someone in a highly sensitive area. A place we’re all taught to protect from a young age. That’s mentally shaking. It hurts, of course, but it seizes the brain. A kick that like (or a knee, for that matter) will buy your character time to come up with a plan. It also makes for a nice break for internal dialogue and character exploration within your scene.

3. The face is an obvious target. I mean, they’re probably talking smack and a punch could fix that.

You're Going to Get Punched...

I’m all for quick problem solving. There’s something to be said for striking the source of the stress, after all. If your antagonist is taunting or, worse, monologuing, it makes sense to want to knock off their block.

However, a harder, faster strike is going to shut them up, too. While a cross is certainly a hell of a punch, but angles matter. If you’re straining to reach someone’s face–and probably having to get through their hands—you aren’t using the full strength of your body. That means your punch is weaker.

In the event you’re going to ignore my “don’t punch as your first strike” post (it’s okay!), please note that your punch’s power comes from your hips and core, not your arms. You want to leverage the torque within your upper body as you turn your hips over when you throw that punch. That way not only do you improve your reach, but also puts the strength of your full body through your hand.

4. Punches are fast. Bam! Done!

Punch and Twirl may not be a proven technique, but I like it.

Punch and Twirl may not be a proven technique, but I like it.

Totally true. Snapping your arm out is a fast motion. But that same argument could be made for just about any strike.

Kicks can be lightning quick, too. Some of that comes with training. If your character has any self-defense or fight training, they should be able to snap out a rising or low roundhouse kick without the attacker seeing until it’s too late.

Not trained? Stomping on the top of someone’s foot is far suckier than we ever give it credit for. It won’t be a game-ender, but it may put the fight into your favor.

5. TKO. My punch can be a fight ender.

Your punch can—and in the right situation should—be a fight ender. What makes for a more plausible scene (and the point of this post, mostly) is to open with a low strike that will bring your opponent down to a level of easier access.

It doesn’t matter if that’s a kick, a knee or a stomp. Using your legs first to bring your attacker down is a smart, plausible opener. A groin strike will often make a person bend over. What happens when they bend over? Their face will be wide open and much lower. This is when you punch to the face.

By forcing your attacker to come down to your level, literally, you’ll have access to throw punches that can end the fight.

In short: Plausible fight scenes come down to recognizing the size differentials, and then tailoring the strikes to make the most sense for your characters. If she’s small, it’s better to use low hits to bring the big guys down to a level that allows her to utilize all her strength and correct body mechanics to punch those vital game-ender targets.


Important note: These posts are provided as informational for writing fight scenes. If you want to learn self-defense techniques, I highly advise taking a Krav Maga class. Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to handling stress situations.

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