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There is vertical fist punch in Hapkido as well as some Chinese martial arts and in older styles of boxing, but I see it a lot less in modern fighting and sparring.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a vertical fist (where the wrist never parallels the ground) versus a straight punch (which turns over)? Where would one choose to use one over the other in an actual fight?

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11 Answers 11

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I have done some Wing Chun; I do love the vertical punch - it's very fast, powerful and precise

The vertical punch is the most basic and fundamental in Wing Chun and is usually thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body.

Wing Chun favors the vertical punch for several reasons:

  • Directness. The punch is not "loaded" by pulling the elbow behind the body. The punch travels straight towards the target from the guard position (hands are held in front of the chest).
  • Protection. The elbow is kept low to cover the front midsection of the body. It is more difficult for an opponent to execute an elbow lock/break when the elbow occupies this position. This aids in generating power by use of the entire body structure rather than only the arm to strike. Also with the elbow down, it offers less opening for the body to be attacked while the forearm and punch intercept space towards the head and upper body.
  • Strength and Impact. Wing Chun practitioners believe that because the elbow is behind the fist during the strike, it is thereby supported by the strength of the entire body rather than just a swinging fist, and therefore has more impact. A common analogy is a baseball bat being swung at someone's head (a round-house punch), as opposed to the butt end of the bat being thrust forward into the opponent's face (wing chun punch), which would cause far more damage than a glancing hit and is not as easy to evade. Many skilled practitioners pride themselves on being able to generate "short power" or large amount of power in a short space. A common demonstration of this is the "one-inch punch", a punch that starts only an inch away from the target yet delivers an explosive amount of force.
  • Alignment & Structure. Because of Wing Chun's usage of stance, the vertical punch is thus more suitable. The limb directly in front of the chest, elbow down, vertical nature of the punch allows a practitioner to absorb the rebound of the punch by directing it through the elbows and into the stance. This is a desirable trait to a Wing Chun practitioner because it promotes use of the entire body structure to generate power. Whereas, the rebound of a horizontal punch uses only the arm to strike. In this elbow-out position the hinge-structure directs force outwards along the limb producing torque in the puncher's body.

When executing the punch, you must relax and not use your shoulders. If your shoulders gets tired from using the punch, you did something wrong. The punch comes from the body and not the arm.

The punches may be thrown in quick succession in a "straight blast" or "chain punching". When executed correctly, it can be used as a disorienting finisher.

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Can you clarify the baseball bat analogy? I think any reasonable person would prefer being hit with a baseball bat end-on, rather than hit with a swing. –  Dave Liepmann Dec 16 '12 at 17:36
    
@Dave Liepmann : of course, if your target is stationery and defenseless the conventional swing would work better, but if your opponent blocks your swing - what will you do? On the other hand, if that baseball bat does not actually move anywhere (the center of mass stays in place) but turns - that would be much quicker and harder to block. In short, it's a balance between power and speed; I haven't seen anyone able to do 10 "traditional" full-blown punches per second. –  Steve V Dec 16 '12 at 18:06
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The "directness" and "protection" argument can be contested as many other martial arts and combat systems include punches that do not require loading or winding up to be effective and can be used to great effect in setting up more powerful punches that have more chances to induce a knockout (from the spin induced by the blow to your head) than a straight vertical punch while also maintaining a very adequate defensive position. Your other two points, however, perfectly describe how this punch works better for Wing Chun than other arts: it has great synergy with the stance favored by Wing Chun. –  Dungarth Dec 18 '12 at 20:39

As an instructor of Krav maga and Israeli Combat Systems (ICS), I can tell you there are very specific reasons for not turning at the end of a punch (at least for Krav Maga and ICS).

Krav Maga and ICS are meant to teach people quickly and effectively defend themselves in a street fight. Unlike a tournament or cage fight, anytime you get into a street fight, your skills will deteriorate slightly from the way you trained them due to the stress of a real fight. Because of this, we teach people to punch with a vertical fist to insure that even under high stress situations, several things will occur.

  1. You always hit with the top two knuckles:

    • in just about any martial art, when punching, contact should be made only by the top two knuckles of the hand. The reason for this is they have much more structural support when it comes to taking impact. If you punch something hard with the bottom two, you will likely end up with a boxers fracture. When your fist is positioned horizontally, it becomes much more difficult to protrude the top two knuckles, and you may end up hitting the person with the whole hand. In the stress of a real fight, the fine-motor skills required to punch correctly while turning your wrist often fail. If you break your hand mid-fight, it will likely put you out of the fight, the consequences of which are much worse than in any cage mach. Putting your hand vertically allows you to more easily protrude the top two knuckles making for a safe, effective punch, even under stress.
  2. You don't telegraph the punch:

    • Punching with your fist vertical makes it easier to keep your elbow down, thus avoiding telegraphing the punch. The number one thing I see among new students learning straight punches is this exact mistake, The will bring their elbow up for what almost looks like a sort of convoluted version of a superman punch. I can see the punch coming a mile away, and so can any trained attacker on the street. If you were to do a punch with the fist horizontal, the correct way to do it would be to start out vertical until you're fist is about 2 millimeters away from the target, then you can twist. For higher levels, a horizontal punch is actually valid, however, it is not taught to beginners because for them, the difference in timing is too difficult to distinguish, and hard to properly execute without telegraphing under the stress and fatigue of a real fight.

Because Krav Maga and ICS are intended to be effective in real life scenarios, and not everyone has the ability to train in a more traditional martial art for decades, punches are taught with the fist positioned vertically, to minimize the risks of telegraphing and injuring the weaker knuckles under the high stresses and fatigue that will occur in a street fight. In terms of other martial arts, the ideas are still the same, the only difference may come in that many train for years to become effective, at which point they may be able to more easily control their fine motor skills. However, under any high stress situation, such as a street fight, it is generally a much safer option to keep your fist vertically

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Vertical Punch Action

Vertical punch is typically used in arts that tend to use a guard that uses a lot of cross parries with the palms - escrima, wing chun, etc. The movement efficiency is that all you need to do is close your hand and punch straight as less action.

The more valuable aspect is about line of force with punches. The line of force for your arm is along your ulna - the bone in your forearm along the 'knife edge" of your hand. Punching with the ring and pinky finger knuckles, although smaller knuckles, simply lines up better with the direct force and a vertical punch does this well.

Corkscrew Punches

The corkscrew action is supposed to add some extra force to the punch as you now add the strength of the forearm muscles (which rotate the the ulnar and radius). It definitely works better for altering the striking surface on downward, or hooking punches.

Modern boxers use this, so it clearly has some value regardless of whether the corkscrew actually adds more force or simply alters the striking angle. Even with these I personally prefer to keep my striking surface to be the last two knuckles, rather than the two large ones, but that's me.

My simple view of it is use either type as feels best to you given the art and movements you use. The more complex part is if you use both, consider what your defensive movements are, what your usual lines of attack are, and which works best in a given case.

I study a style of silat where we use a lot of different angles of attack so we have a lot of different punch options, but usually you find yourself personally picking 3-4 that you default to all the time based on how you move and what's natural for you.

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All the answers here come from karate guys and whatnot so here is a boxing/kickboxing answer:

It doesn't matter if you rotate your fist or not, as long as you keep your wrist and arm straight and hit the target with your index and middle knuckles. Look on youtube how Bas Rutten punches.

The advantage of vertical punches is sometimes they are straighter and don't encourage as much 'flick' motion but just a straight drive, which is what you want.

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I'll consider that you're not talking about the upper cut but instead about the punch where the wrist turns. Practice the straight/piston punch and the outward spin/tornado punch and you'll realise the differences. First, some principles:

  • spinning movements carry more energy (universal law)
  • energy is lost with every joint from the centre of the body, the shoulder delivers more force than the elbow and the elbow more than the wrist
  • the smaller and harder/denser the hitting area is, the more penetration it will have on the hit area

With a tornado punch, your entire arm spins outward and gains momentum, the knuckle always face the opponent and can be pushed in and finally there is no piston contrecoup.
With a straight punch your knuckles are never facing the opponent unless you hit the opposite side, or bend (and break) your wrist or raise your elbow (less force). It should be reserved for punching downward or to the sides.

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"What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a vertical fist (where the wrist never parallels the ground) versus a straight punch (which turns over)? Where would one choose to use one over the other in an actual fight?" The vertical punch has been utilised simply because it creates a straight line from the fist, through the arm to the elbow.In other words it is a straight punch.The bottom 2 knuckles are in a direct line with the lower edge of the forearm. The most efficient use of a vertical punch is upon the centre line of an opponent, utilising the 'chain' punch. It can be used to strike many targets, but it is usually used as 'hardness' against 'softness'. A punch where the fist turns over is commonly referred to in karate as a 'reverse punch'.The 'hook' in boxing is a good example of such a punch. Have a look at the world title fight of many years ago with Jack Dempsey knocking his opponent out with a very short left hook that few people even saw! A left lead, followed by an overhand right cross to set up the opponent by means of 'tai subaki' (body shifting), and the swiftly executed arcing punch that turns over as it strikes downward over the 'mind point' of the opponents jaw. This beautiful technique enables very small people to knock out very big people. A vertical type punch can be used as a lead punch, typically targeting the nose. Gov V 26, the cheek bones, the eyes, and the throat or neck areas. The fist that rotates is used for striking to the Temple, the ears, floating ribs, side of the jaw and head, and also down into the lower abdomen and pubic joins, as well as the same targets as above and vice versa. The advantages and disadvantages of each are when you choose the right target that presents itself to you ( ala BURMESE BANDO) or you don't. One punch will work in one situation and one in another. It is relative to the way you fight, and who you are fighting. In response to the Isshinryu practitioners very assertive statements - Oh dear. Hips and shoulders knees and toes. All are connected. Of course the hips are used, as is every part of your body! If you persist in separating the parts you will become dis-jointed, and inevitably suffer injuries. Where do the Hips get activated from? We've done plenty of left and right hooks in boxing, and sundry martial arts fighting. If the force, that comes from your toes; then through your legs; then through your hips; then through your body; then through your shoulders; then through your arms and wrists, and then through your punch is not synergistically synchronised as a complete and harmonious unit, in a split second, then I'm sorry but there would appear to be something causing a glitch in your training. "You DO NOT use your shoulder to follow the punch through." Have you had to flog a very heavy bag for 60 seconds without putting your shoulders into it?. You would be told very quickly to 'get stuck in' or have an early shower. You can very distinctly hear a bag being hit hard and one that is simply being tapped by someone without shoulders. Oh! by the way I have seen one of our girls drop a 20 stone man with a massive punch driven by her hips AND her shoulders. When asked by Sensei where she felt the power come from she said "From my toes!!!! I just launched it and BAM!!!!" Of course she was named student of the year at our dojo in 1991. That's my beautiful wife Irene, she was 41 at the time. Peace Mad Merlin

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Please use paragraphs and format your posts legibly. –  Dave Liepmann Nov 13 '13 at 8:58
    
Multiple answers are okay in certain cases, but please consider only writing one complete answer. –  Matt Chan Nov 14 '13 at 3:09

I have trained Isshinryu for a very long time here's some answers. Yes you punch with the top too knuckles. Why? It has more force. You wouldn't want a flat knife because then stabbing wouldn't work. Every force has an equal and opposite force. If you punch with your whole fist you are spreading out the force on both ends. With the top two knuckles you can concentrate that force. You DO NOT use your shoulder to follow the punch through. You use YOUR HIPS. You hips is what give you the "hook" boxers have. And you don't have to expose yourself. It is quicker and as any high school student would know W=1/2MV^2. Velocity of the punch is more important than your mass.

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But wouldn't all these attributes of the vertical punch also apply to a horizontal punch? –  Dave Liepmann Nov 11 '13 at 18:48
    
I agree with @Dave. Specifically, you only ever punch with the first two knuckles - if you are using the 3rd/4th knuckles then you are doing a more specialised technique which is not delivered like a normal punch. –  slugster Nov 11 '13 at 23:24

As the young Master BRUCE LEE often asked "Is it effective? Does it work?" "yes?" Well he didn't really care what it looked like. As to the point of "When executing the punch, you must relax and not use your shoulders." Bruce Lee liked to use the **"ball on the end of a chain" analogy for this type of punch when he said it would go "WANG" !!!! His student, Dan Inasanto showed a very effective way of developing, and testing the 'one inch punch'. Apparently Bruce Lee (I HAVE seen ALL of his training videos, interviews, and read all of his books) utilised a common weight lifting bar with a weight collar attached to one end, leaving enough room to hang on to it out in front of the body as in the ready position. He then placed a 2.5 - 5.00 Kg weight on the bar. First he would drop his wrist, which would emulate the shape of the vertical fist. The weight would give out an audible 'clack' His next action was to move his elbow forward, which would activate the delivery system. This would give off an audible 'clack' as well. However, if you heard 2 'clacks' you would need to apply the technique more correctly so that the wrist drop AND the elbow thrust produced only 1 'clack'...VERY IMPORTANT..becoming synchronised..in unison. The final step was engaging the shoulder!!!! You would also need to hear only 1 audible click....VITALLY IMPORTANT !!!! TRY IT - it is the most powerful punch training I have done, as it has enhanced every type of punch I have - and made them more powerful and effective from any range or direction. I have also witnessed many, many street fighters etc. break the knuckles and other bones of their fists. Explains why boxers effectively strap their hands B4 putting on the gloves - also why many martial artists use hand protection etc. It is mandatory requirement at KOSHIKI tournaments. I can tell you truly, you can still have soft hands AND a very effective punch, but if ALL YOU DO IS PUNCH, then you better wrap them up!!!! The 1 inch punch may well be delivered from the centre of the body, but simple physics will dictate that it will and must connect with the shoulder if you are to extend your arm to drive 'through' the opponent. We saw a magnificent example of this when GRAND MASTER ERNESTO PRESAS and SENSEI MICHAEL D'ARCY represented our art at an international multi discipline tournament in Germany a decade ago. A small WING CHUN man gave a demonstration of the classic 1 inch punch whereby he struck a huge German ARNIS man holding a 1 inch board. There was no sound as he went through the board like it wasn't there, struck the ARNIS man in the middle of the chest and drove him back 2 meters. The German martial artist's feet had left the ground !!!!. I did notice that the WING CHUN man fully engaged his shoulder when executing this strike. the punch only travelled 1 inch to strike the board, it then went straight through it and......the rest is, as they say, history. Peace Mad Merlin

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please consider updating your answer to address the question above. You are going off on a tangent here on the technique and execution without explaining what the advantages (or disadvantages are) for using a vertical fist. –  Matt Chan Nov 4 '13 at 21:02
    
"As the young Master BRUCE LEE often asked "Is it effective? Does it work?" "yes?" Well he didn't really care what it looked like" I thought was a concise answer to the fact that it really doesn't matter what sort of punch is used as long as it is effective. The advantages of one punch over the other then becomes redundant. Or don't you 'get it' when you read some thing that may too far out of your comfort zone. –  Mad Merlin Nov 9 '13 at 4:19
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@MadMerlin - You are being snide and condescending to a long time contributor and fellow martial artist. Apart from him having a valid point, was this how your sensei taught people to act? –  JohnP Nov 13 '13 at 13:41
    
John P, I was not, as you say, being snide and condescending to Matt Chan. I had in fact addressed the question of advantage and disadvantage of one punch over the other. I stated that either type of punch can be advantageous in any given situation, as long as you can execute it efficiently. You absolutely right John P, my sensei ALL taught me to ACT not RE-ACT! Sometimes a mind can become clogged with seemingly important trivia and one needs be step back and return to the void, so as to avoid penny anti name calling and cat a walling PEACE - Mad Merlin. –  Mad Merlin Apr 29 at 10:00

We usually call this Sun Fist Punch.

Basically it comes down to efficiency. While it is rare to find someone proficient at jabbing and vertical punching, but someone who is good at both will always have a faster vertical punch.

Why it is efficient? The fact that you are relaxed and only tense your arms muscles at short intervals means you can go a lot longer without noticing any fatigue.

Also with universal style punches, a lot of the force from the punch can go back into your shoulder, causing your back muscles to tire our, and out through the back of your shoulder. With a sun fist punch all the striking force and recoil is kept on your centerline and if you have a strong stance, this goes into your opponent. So unlike a jab, all of the energy you put into the punch will hit your opponent.

Also important is the flick of the wrist at the end of the punch 「which a lot of people do not know about」 the difference in a rams head punch 「the standard punching style」 and a sun fist punch is like the difference between a solid bullet and a hollow point.

With a rams head punch, you hit with the palm knuckles of your index finger and middle finger, this is sharp and the force shoots through your opponent. The sun fist punch hits with the palm and middle knuckles on your middle, ring and little fingers. This is more like a flat surface, transferring more force into the target.

The flick of the wrist i mentioned is where as you make contact with the punch, you bend your fist up so instead of pointing at 0 degrees, your fist points 10 or so degrees above horizontal. The purpose of this is to direct the shock diagonally, meaning the kinetic energy will travel through more flesh before dissipating into the air.

I personally prefer sun fist punch as wing chun is my main style, but you can never get nearly as much power as you would in a full range hook, cross or any other heavy punch that is chambered and then launched.

As for deciding which one to use, pick one and stick with it. Mixing a rams head punch with a sun fist is a horrible idea. Do not do it in a fight.

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Your mileage may vary, but generally, the choice of fist position has more to do with the ergonomics of the punch.

The distance and the height of the target and the angle of the punch seem to be the major aspects that contribute to the choice of the fist position.

When I punch above the chest height I usually prefer either open palm (I am a taijiquan practitioner) or horizontal fist position. Below the solar plexus I definitely prefer vertical fist position. Lower than dantien, usually means that the fist turns back horizontal.

Also the angle of the punch, the distance to the target and use of boxing gloves (or not) does influence it.

To me it has more to do with how the energy of my punch travels from the source of the punch through the structure of my body in to the target.

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Isshinryu karate emphasizes the use of the vertical fist punch; it is a trademark of the style. Here is my perspective as an ex-Isshinryu practitioner who now (occasionally) trains boxing and muay Thai for striking.

Purported Benefits

The spiel I gave when I taught Isshinryu was as follows: the vertical fist is part of a rising punch that:

  • fits into the upside-down V shape of the sternum
  • protects the wrist as the punch does so,
  • allows the top two knuckles (of the forefinger and middle finger) to make contact instead of other, weaker knuckles, and
  • is supposedly faster than a corkscrew punch

I have also heard other Isshinryu practitioners claim that such a hand position more efficiently transmits force to the fist.

Why It's Irrelevant for Most Practitioners

If one is training to get proficient in hitting people, the overriding concern one should have is achieving fluency in what Matt Thornton calls the "delivery system" of striking. Or as Daisetsu Suzuki put it:

Technical knowledge is not enough. One must transcend techniques so that the art becomes an artless art, growing out of the unconscious.

This means that we should evaluate training systems not by which one has a better checklist of reasons why they use a certain fist alignment (a comparison in which Isshinryu might win), but rather which one more consistently produces proficient strikers (a comparison in which boxing and kickboxing would win).

When choosing a style, it is dramatically more important to hit pads, work with the heavy bag, and spar with hard contact in a permissive ruleset than to worry about vertical versus horizontal fists. Avoid premature optimization--vertical versus non-vertical punches should be one of the last things to worry about in one's training. If a student was executing horizontally-oriented body punches, I wouldn't say that switching to a vertical fist was at all a priority.

That said, boxing does align the knuckles vertically during some punches--a lead hook comes to mind--but there is much less emphasis on this being a different kind of fist or a different style of punch.

Evaluation With These Considerations in Mind

I don't mind the straight vertical-fist punch for strikes to the body, but I don't see its usefulness for striking the head, and I don't think it's really that different from turning the fist over.

I'm no longer convinced by the idea that the vertical fist makes much of a difference for wrist stability; I would argue that if that is a concern for a trainee, that person should get stronger and hit the heavy bag very carefully and more frequently. I'm also not convinced that "fitting into the V of the sternum" matters very much. The xiphoid process might be somewhat easier to hit, but knocking the wind out of people seems more reliant on footwork, tactics, accuracy, and speed than on how the fist is positioned.

I flat out don't believe that the vertical fist is faster than other punches, or that one can't hit with the correct top two knuckles using non-vertical punches, or that it transmits force more efficiently than non-vertical fist positions. I just don't see any credible evidence for these claims, though I mention them because I've heard them.

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If you strike with your forefinger and middle finger, you are not doing the vertical punch correctly. As for striking the head, there are two reasons for it's usefulness. 1 the flick of the wrist i mentioned in my post causes a painful jerk and whiplash in the neck instead of pushing their entire body back. 2 unless you have time to land a heavy strike 「which will not always not knock someone out」 you are better of with 4 strikes to the bridge or temple causing serious disorientation in half the time it takes to land a heavy blow. –  曾気青昭雄 Jun 24 '13 at 16:06
    
@曾気青昭雄 I don't believe the claim that one can land 4 strikes faster than one heavy strike, unless you're comparing a jab to a looping overhand right or similar. And I don't know what you mean about the forefinger/middle finger knuckles: that is correct per Isshinryu's vertical punch. –  Dave Liepmann Jun 24 '13 at 16:22
    
Well you can hit harder with the knuckles i said. Using two knuckles to hit someone in the head will break your knuckles. Hitting them with 6 knuckles and a flatter surface will not damage your hand. –  曾気青昭雄 Jun 24 '13 at 20:40
    
@曾気青昭雄 I'm not sure what you're advocating. Hitting someone in the head with a closed fist has been shown repeatedly to be a major risk for breaking the hand regardless of which knuckles are the striking surface. Boxer's fracture is in fact most commonly of the 4th or 5th knuckle, not the 2nd or 3rd. –  Dave Liepmann Jun 24 '13 at 20:44
    
Boxers break those knuckles because they do not strengthen them. It does make a huge different hitting with 6 joints and a flat surface, the impact it dispersed over a large area. I have never even slightly injured my hand with a sun fist even on head strike 「and i am mainly for wing chun so my boxing punch is not strong as my sun fist」 the one time i fought boxing style and made contact, i broke 2 knuckles. –  曾気青昭雄 Jun 24 '13 at 22:59

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