Add PUNCH to Your Action Scenes

You can use fighting terminology to make your action scenes more interesting.  More specific words can add power to your pages.  This post will focus on punches and other hand strikes.  I’ll cover kicks another week.

The first thing you need to know is that fighter will generally angle her body away from her opponent to give the opponent fewer vital body targets. One foot will be slightly ahead of the other.  Fists will be raised to the chin to block any income punches, and mimicking his stance, one hand will be ahead of the other.  If the fighter is right-handed, she will generally put her left shoulder to her opponent. This leaves her dominant hand in the rear for power striking.  More on power later.

Visualize this.  If you stand squarely in front of another person, your entire body is facing his.  Your most vital organs/targets are in a straight line from your nose to your groin.  If you turn your body on an angle, your shoulder, arm and hip naturally block these areas.

There are four basic punches, which are put together into combinations.

jab – a short punch with the lead hand.  Since it’s not the most powerful strike, it usually goes to a weak area like the chin or nose.  Or it’s used to set up another punch.  Stepping into the punch makes it stronger by utilizing the fighter’s forward momentum.

cross – a stronger punch with the hand farthest from the opponent. The fighter’s body twists, driving forward from the hip, to generate additional power.  Common targets are the nose, chin and solar plexus.

hook – a punch that circles around to strike the opponent from the side.  Can go to the head, chin or body.  Because of the circular path, hooks to the body often connect with the ribs.

uppercut –  An inverted fist that drives up into the opponent’s chin or solar plexus.  The blow will originate in the hip area. A fighter will sink down a bit and use her legs to increase power.

Watch this Muay Thai kickboxer train her jabs, crosses and jab/cross combinations.

An experienced fighter will always keep her non-striking hand near her head/chin to block any incoming blows.

heel palm – A female fighter will use the heel of her hand instead of a fist when striking bony areas like the nose or chin of a male opponent.  This is because the bones of her hand are thinner and will likely be broken if she bare-knuckle punches a thicker-boned man in the face.  Unfortunately, if he punches her, it’s the bones of her face that will give.  Think of  a collision between a VW bug and a Yukon.  Doesn’t matter which car hits which, the bug is the one that’s going to get squashed.

Yes, I know, the women on TV punch men in the face all the time, but we’re talking reality here.

Other less common hand strikes include:

backfist – hits with the back of the knuckles

Hammer fist – strikes with the bottom of the fist in the same way you swing a hammer

chop – outside blade of the hand

thumb strikes/finger darts – eye strikes

half-fist – fingers bent at the second knuckle, fits nicely in the throat

claw – fingers curled in a claw, usually rips a soft target like the face or groin

elbows – extremely strong strikes

If you’d like to see these strikes in action, try searching on YouTube for videos.

To finish up, here’s a short excerpt from one of my many WIPs that uses some of these terms.

Shock and a vicious sense of deja vu suspended time for a few seconds, just long enough for Jimmy’s sloppy hook to glance off her cheek. Pain, bright and sharp, burst through her face with a kaleidoscope of colors. Rachel stumbled backward. One hand caught the banister, kept her upright.

A glance at her sister’s broken body jolted her into movement. The pain in her face evaporated as her adrenal glands shifted into high gear. She raised her hands to her chin, twisted her torso and plowed an uppercut into Jimmy’s soft solar plexus, using her legs to drive the fist home.

Jimmy grabbed for her throat. Her ears strained for sirens as she shoved a heel palm under his chin. Jimmy’s head snapped back.

11 responses to “Add PUNCH to Your Action Scenes

  1. Great post. I do have one question. Do you ever come across a scene where what you wrote made perfect sense to you, but after you read it a second time, you find that a someone who may not know martial arts may not understand what is going on?

    I have encountered that several times. When I get to specific, I find that what I wrote fits what I know to be correct in my style. Yet, someone else may be left wondering what the heck I just wrote.

    Also, differences in martial arts styles can cause problems. General terms like punches and blocks are fairly universal. I noticed that what you describe as a hammer fist is called a hammer strike in my style. This is to distinguish it from the hammer punch which is like a standard punch but the knuckles are kept in a vertical position when the fist hits its target.

    I find that I have to be less specific in order for others understand what I write.

    Dennis Clarkston
    AKA Clark Stone

  2. Hi Clark. That’s why I have critique partners that let me know if anything in my scene is confusing. Terms like hammer punch or hammer fist get the meaning across, but I wouldn’t use a term like dragon palm, which is too obscure to picture without being familiar with the term.

  3. Melinda,

    Among the plans you have for future posts, will you cover an unarmed individual facing an armed individual?

  4. Hi, Melinda!

    Nice post and I’m sure one I’ll refer to again. Assuming a woman (who has little training) is attacked, what type of punch might she use to ward off the other person I guess what I’m asking is what is most instinctual?

    Thanks. I’ve added Attacking the Page to my Yahoo reader and will return regularly!


    • Kelsey, the easiest hand strike for a woman to learn is the heel palm (striking upward with the heel of her hand to the attacker’s nose or chin). Any basic self-defense class would cover this. A knee to the groin is also very basic.

    • Kelsey – I’d say open hand techniques would be the most instinctual. I’ve never researched this, but I’d think a woman without any training would slap or scratch rather than punch with a closed fist.

  5. Melinda,
    Love this post. And yes, we tend to strike with palm heel, fewer broken knuckles that way. I teach my classmates and students to go for the knee or instep of the foot over the groin. Harder for them to chase you!


  6. Pingback: Writing The Fight Scene « Attacking the Page

  7. Pingback: Reading Action | Attacking the Page

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