Sunday, December 12, 1999

BOXING: Frank Benn - Some tips and concepts related to the jab

Some tips and concepts related to the jab -- cultivating the technique, and applying it.

Some Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Considerations For The Jab

Closing the Distance

One of the most important skills in all of martial art is the ability to land a lead weapon attack on the opponent, initiating it from outside of his reach. This is the beginning of any heavier attack -- the mobility, ranging, and timing of the lead.

Always train the quick shuffle from out of the opponent's reach (even when shadowboxing or working the bag) to get into the habit of closing distance quickly and properly when setting up your combinations. Too often, fighters and martial artists will train their technique from a standstill, throwing punch after punch, angle after angle. I always tell my students, if he's close enough for you to do that, HE'S HITTING YOU TOO.

Weapon Moves First

When initiating and closing for the attack, your weapon moves first. If your feet move first, your attack is now telegraphed, and the opponent moves. Train against a light target, at first closing just a short distance, concentrating on moving your lead hand first -- before your feet. From there, increase the distance -- without sacrificing good form and posture. DO NOT OVEREXTEND. There's no power in it (making it a waste of time) if you do, and you will leave yourself open.

Varying Your Head Position

A common liability in most fighters' styles is predictability. Most people, when throwing the jab, tend to put their head in the same place every time. A thinking, adjusting opponent will adapt to this and exploit it. Vary your head position when you jab. This comes heavily into play as well when you do a lot of stop-hitting. In this case, your change of head position is designed to make him miss while you're scoring your jab, and setting up other things.

In general, you want to vary your head position in these ways:

  • Slipping or sidestepping to your back (to the "outside", IOW to the left if you're a left lead), lining your chin up with your lead.
  • Head inside your jab (to the right if you're a left lead), roughly in line with your rear foot.
  • Head center positioned in normal boxing poise.
  • Head center low. 

The important thing is that you concentrate on shooting that jab out there while the head is changing position. If a good fighter knows you tend to leave your head in the same place when you jab (and furthermore if he anticipates that you won't follow your jab up with something damaging), he is going to throw a cross or overhand right over top of it as he bobs. Lights out. You can prevent it, though, if you vary your head position. For instance, I've caught people with jab hook combo's quite often because they got too confident with that cross over the jab. Their cross misses, and as it recovers, there's that hook on the chin. BTW, against opposing leads, the hook works in a similar way, and you also have the option of throwing a cross instead, or a rear hand uppercut. Depends on how you time it, but they all work.


Speed is a major aspect of a good jab. To develop speed in your jab, start off by not trying to hit "hard" with it. That builds tension in your forearm, lead shoulder, and back, and will just slow you down. Tension is the opposite of speed.

Try to "sting" him with your jab. When you punch with good follow-through, body alignment, and timing, the power is there already.

Ali used to say the jab was his "fly swatter".

Good tip for speed in the jab: Think of only the retraction. That is, the amount of time from "in" to "out" doesn't exist, and the first unit of time expended occurs on the return ("out" to "in").

Throw multiple jabs with movement in all directions: Circling, Slipping, Sidestepping, Advancing, Retreating, Ducking, etc.

Weight Is On The Lead Foot

That's when you have a jab -- when you shift your weight onto the lead foot. This puts body mass into it, and extends your reach in the direction of your target.

Put Some Starch In It

Align your body and arm correctly, and you can knock a man off his feet or at least stun him with a good jab. Add some good nontelegraphic speed, footwork, and timing, and you've got your bread and butter right there. Tighten the fist only on the end of the punch to make it hit solidly, while not slowing it down with that old opposite of speed -- tension.

The Jab Provides Its Own Cover

One of the few moves in all of martial art that provides its own cover -- the jab. Lead shoulder protects that side of your chin. Rear hand up. Look down the barrel of the gun.
If you jab with your chin up in a real fight or full contact sparring match, you'll soon see why it's not a good idea.

The Jab In A Boxing Match

In boxing, depending upon your personal style (boxer, puncher, boxer/puncher, etc.) you might end up throwing up to 70% or more jabs as a percentage of total punches thrown. The jab is actually that important. There are few punches you can throw that a good jab won't improve -- either by virtue of setting up your timing, establishing a feint that he reacts to, helping you gain the necessary distance, or giving you the change of angle you need to line up that power punch.

The Jab In A Fight

The jab's function in a streetfight is not so artful as it is in a boxing ring against a good boxer. You want to master the "one-two". Trust me on that, if you've never been in a real fight before. Your jab is the "one", and your cross is the "two" (also can be an overhand -- depends on the situation). Put the "one" and the "two" as close together temporally as possible. Remember, your jab is the can opener, and your cross is the spoon. The opponent is a can of meat, in this metaphor.

As A Probe

The jab is how I find out important things about my opponent. Which direction is he prepared to move? Throw a jab, and find out. Is he a good counter puncher? Throw a jab or two with movement, and find out. Which hand does he initiate with? Is he trying to box me, or just punch me? Throw some jabs, and find out. Where does he open up, where I can follow-up to? Throw some jabs, and find out. For instance, get him to draw that rear hand high to cover your incoming jab, and round kick his ribs on that side as his arm opens them up. Even if he counter crosses, this move will work even better as you lean away and tenderize the meat with that kick.

As An Insert

Use it to break up his attack. One of the worst things that can happen to you is to face an opponent who is constantly attacking you, or is faster than you, and you don't want to open up with a power shot for fear of his counter. The jab is one way to break up his combos, and create gaps that you can move on.

As A Setup For The Cross

This ties back to the use of the jab in a streetfight -- not to mention the same use in sparring. Cultivate a solid and quick "one-two", and "one-two-one". Then move. Do it again. Move again. Don't just stand there. Stay mobile, and re-angle that "one-two". This is something anybody can master in a relatively short amount of time (as compared to other things, which might take many years), and you know you've got it when you need it.

As A Setup For The Hook

Many boxers will try to work their hook off of the lag punch, the Dempsey roll, the Shoe-Shine, or the cross. But the elite hitters can do it with the jab. Roy Jones against Vinnie Pazienza is a study on hooking off of the jab, for example.

As A Setup For Kicking

Many people use boxing to set up their kicking, but the converse can also be very effective. This is because you might have your opponent in punching range, and he may back away out of range -- RIGHT INTO YOUR KICKING RANGE. Throwing multiple jabs is often a good way to get the opponent to back up into my kicking range where I can punish him while he retreats.

Other times, I'll be in punching range, and I'll lean away and finish my punching combo with a jab and then in comes the lead round kick, catching him in his blindspot. This is VERY effective.

As A Setup For Entry To Grappling

BJJ stylists like this one, and it does work. Your jab can draw the opponent's hands UP, which opens the door for a mid to lower body shot, leading to the takedown.

Along these lines, jabbing can also get him to throw a solid counter punch, which you will come inside of, outside of, or under to get your clinch. The opponent is easiest to get ahold of (at the torso) when his arms are extended. This use of the jab to get him to punch establishes these conditions very well.

Establish the Jab BEFORE You Feint With It

The lead feint is a great subterfuge for setting other things up. But, remember: You have to sting him with it first, so as to make it believable. Otherwise, like I said before, he'll come right in over top of it and nail you, because he knows it's a fake. When you can sting with it early, and do it with blinding speed, it'll be too fast from then on for him to tell the difference between a feint and the real thing.

The trick to a good feint is to use good committed body mechanics -- the body mechanics are what really trick him. After all, the hand is moving too fast anyway for him to tell what's real and what's not. It's the body (shoulders, hips, footwork) that tells him what's real and what's not.

Also, regarding feinting: It is a great way to conceal (yet at the same time facilitate) the load up for your other power punches.

So there you go. These are some important tips for developing and implementing one of the most important weapons in any martial artist's arsenal -- The Jab. This information is not easy to come by, so I hope those who read it appreciate it. I must be feeling generous today.

Good luck.

Frank Benn
Integrated Arts
Austin, Texas

My deepest gratitude to Frank Benn for his kind permission in allowing me to archive his article he posted to rec.martial-arts on 4/1/1999 12:00 AM to my old archives. Posted 2/10/13 as of 12/12/1999 to mirror my old archives.

Frank Benn's contact info:
Phone: 512-663-4242

Integrated Fighting Arts Academy
University Towers Business Center
715 W 23rd St.
Suite Q
Austin, TX 78705

Other Frank Benn articles posted:



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