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I've been attending a few Krav Maga classes at a MMA gym. Recently, I was told (by another student) that the proper way to punch would be with the thumb knuckle facing up for the the three basic punches - jab, cross, hook. (no rotation of the wrist)

Is this correct? What are the advantages of punching this way?

I've dabbled in a handful of martial arts, all of which emphasize rotation at the end of the punch except wing chun. It took a bit of adjusting on my part, but it made me wonder in what situations this type of punching would be useful.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

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.

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.

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In my experience a twist when done correctly can generate more power. The thumbs up is faster, and easier to throw correctly.

When in doubt ask the instructor.

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Well depending on the Krav Maga school it may or not be right. As far as I know from attending some IKMF training the punch is not rotated but it is not perfectly vertical either. The way to do it as I have been told was the position the you get when you raise your arm straight in front of you in a natural position and clench the fist. Bas Rutten, a former MMA champion also favored this type of punching and presented it in his DVDs.

If I am not mistaken the vertical punching involves some different back muscles in the striking process, removes the twist which may make it faster and fits better between the arms when someone tries to cover up.

Anyway it would be best to ask the coach how should it be done correctly so that you are sure.

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This question about vertical-fist punching might help you. I'd say that keeping the fist vertical for a "jab or "cross" makes it an entirely different punch with a dubious connection to boxing or MMA.

As for this specific situation, I think the salient point is that a fellow student of unknown expertise is giving you advice that contradicts your instructor's. Unless this guy has some as-yet-unnoted expertise, I recommend strenuously ignoring him. I even make a point of saying "nah man, I'm gonna do it the way Coach said...I don't want to get confused."

If this guy persists in pretending to be an instructor, I might passive-aggressively bring it up to the instructor: "Hey coach, Billy said to punch like this. Is that a secret advanced technique that you've been keeping secret from me?"

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I'd back that up. Aikido schools don't allow students to teach each other, because Billy 4th kyu doesn't know enough to get it right, and doesn't have instructor training either. It's about safety, and about the quality of what we're doing, and also about separating the aikido you do from the aikido you should teach, which are not necessarily the same. I'm sure the same applies to most martial arts, so whenever you're in doubt about something like this ask your instructor, ignore your advisory comrade and, if necessary, avoid training with them. –  Matthew Walton Aug 2 '13 at 13:39
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