Commando Boxing

The Art of Counter Punching


Let me tell you a story.

There was a beginner boxer who walked into a gym one day.

He was in fairly good shape but by no means the biggest guy in the gym.  Immediately upon entering he noticed this huge muscular boxer working over the heavy bag and instantly thought about turning around and walking out the door.  The idea of getting in the ring with something like that was none too appealing. 

New boxer decided to stay and give the trainer a chance.  The trainer got him working some basics but more intriguing was this huge guy beating the crap out of the heavy bag.  He couldn't take his eyes off him and could not help but wondering if he would ever have to box something like that.  Surely anyone who did would end up dead on the floor.


A little while later the same day,  the coach, who was a small guy, kind of pudgy and not the typical stereotype of a boxer called huge guy into the ring to spar.  The beginner boxer thought to himself the coach must be crazy and watched with the curiosity of someone waiting for a beating to occur.  A beating did occur, but it wasn't the coach who got the beat down, it was huge muscle guy.  Every time huge muscle guy would go to throw a punch, the coach would beat him to it and completely throw off his attack.  It got to the point where huge muscle guy was frustrated so much he started flailing wildly, bloodied, and hurt.  Not one of those punches hit its intended target and it was quite obvious the coach could have knocked him out whenever he felt like it.  To the beginner, it was a miracle the coach was able to slip, weave, dodge, and frustrate this opponent.

Long story short, huge muscle guy got outboxed.  That was the last time huge muscle guy came to the gym, by the way.  As it is with a lot of people, one punch is enough to completely shut them down.  The humiliation of losing can be devastating to someone who's ego doesn't allow them to handle criticism and defeat.  A lot of people go to the gym but even fewer decide to keep going.

What has this got to do with counter punching?

Counterpunching is the bridge between boxing offence and boxing defence.  An effective counterpunch can help you regain the initiative and put the fight in your favour.  At all times, you want the initiative.  You want to maintain momentum and control the fight.  Counterpunching ensures the fight stays in your corner.

Counterpunching is a style of its own.  Some boxers, like the coach I described above, use counterpunching (counter attacks) as their main strategy.  He was so good at it, it was nearly impossible to get a punch thrown, let alone land one.  His timing was perfect and he knew every little thing to look for to uncannily sense when a punch was coming.  If, by chance, he didn't have time to react to it, or a flurry came at him, his defence was good enough that it didn't matter.  He could slip, weave, and dodge anything coming his way.

If you want to learn to counterpunch, you have to force yourself to do the following:

  1. Never take your eyes off your opponent's hands.  The best way to do this is to pick a spot on his chest and use your peripheral vision to tune into what his hands are doing.
  2. Make a mental note very early on of any tell tale signs a punch is coming.
  3. Visualize and time your punches to be thrown a split second after an incoming punch is thrown.  This means exposing yourself - so you need some balls.
  4. Never back up.

1.  Your eyes and his hands.

The obvious reason for watching your opponent's hands is so you know when they are coming towards you and you can get out of the way.  The first few times I was in the ring I always found myself watching my opponent's eyes.  Sometimes he forcasted what he was going to do with them, but more often than not he held my gaze taking my concentration away from his hands.  I then could not see what was coming. 

Eventually, and I swear to God this is true, watching their hands slowed the fight down like the Matrix.  If your slipping and defence is good, you can literally see his punches coming, move out of the way, and watch them go by.  The first time this happened to me, I had to stop the fight and exclaim it.  I was sparring with my coach and he usually pummelled me pretty good, but this time I focused on his hands and I saw everything coming.  Not only was it like someone took the blindfold off my eyes, it was like someone tied rubber bands to his hands and was making him punch in slow motion.  The difference is that obvious.  I still couldn't hit him back, but at least I wasn't getting hit.

2.  Make mental notes early on.

If you've never boxed your opponent, you don't know his little nuances so you have to pick them out quick.  Everyone has their little quirks.  Some people drop their hands before they throw, some turn a shoulder, some look where they are going to hit, some don't.  It's up to you to pick these things out so you can give yourself a little warning that something is coming.  Be careful, though, this is the art of the feint.  The better boxers will intentionally forecast the intention of doing something so that they can do something else.  Don't get tricked.

To do this takes practice and there are certain signs that will always be there.  Shoulder muscle will tighten just before a jab for instance.  You can even lure your opponent into throwing something by creating an opening for him.  This is the mental part of the game where you plan moves ahead of your opponent.  For instance, you think to yourself, "Self, I'll open up to allow him to throw a left hook to the body at which time I'll deliver a right to his head followed by a ..."  Obviously this mental game occurs a lot quicker, but you get the idea.

3.  Visualization and timing.

The ability to counterpunch relies on your ability to throw a quicker, cleaner punch than your opponent because you have less time to do it in.  You will be starting to punch when your opponent's is already on its way.  The essence of counterpunching is to hit your opponent when he opens himself up delivering a punch.  

Sounds impossible?  It isn't.

As an example, if you notice your opponent about to throw a straight right, a crisp jab will stop him.  If he's throwing a left hook, one of your own will either land as well or beat him to it.  If he's throwing a straight right, you can throw one right back, tapping his hand out the way on the way to your target.  It's all a matter of timing.  You have to visualize the situations in your training and then practice them in the ring.

4.  Never back up.

While backing up seems like a good idea because it gives you time to react, nothing can be further from the truth.  I've made this mistake and it has cost me fights.  You can't counterpunch while moving backwards.  You can't punch at all while moving backwards.  The best idea is to stick to your ground and never give it up.  This may mean going toe to toe with someone.  That's okay, get used to it.  

When you train, train in slips and weaving.  Slip then punch.  Weave then punch.  Feint then punch.  Everything you do should be followed by a punch and a combination.  The best defence in the world will only be good for a limited number of punches.  Eventually you will get hit.  If you let your opponent deliver a six punch combination, maybe you can slip the first five, but the sixth will land.  A better option is to slip one or two and then counterpunch and begin your own combination.  Doing so will effectively stop his offence and put the game in your favour.


Here are some scenarios and possible counterpunches for them.  For all, I indicate what is coming in and what you can hit back with.  In all cases, what you hit back with should be the first of a combination.  It is much better to deliver multiple punches.

Incoming Punch
Your Counterpunch
Slip, Left Hook
Slip, Left Hook to Body
Step Left, Straight Right to Head or Body
Straight RightParry the Punch, Straight Right
Straight RightLeft Hook
Straight RightSlip, Straight Right
Left HookLeft Hook (likely both punches will land)
Left HookDuck, Jab
Uppercut (left or right)Step Left or right, Jab or any punch.

This is by no means a definitive list, but will definitely get you started.  Feel free to add more to this thread as a comment.

A Final Note:  Protecting Against the Flurry

Ever fought someone and they come at you, arms swinging wildly, no sense of form, and no adherence to everything you thought a boxer should do?  Yeah, it happens, a lot.  Flurries occur for many reasons.  Usually it is because you irked your opponent and they got mad forgetting everything they ever learned and just want to kill you.  Sometimes it's because your opponent doesn't know how to box at all and will expend all of their energy in one giant hailstorm of punches.

Don't be afraid of the flurry, use it to your advantage.

When your opponent does this it not only reveals his inability to box, but he is going to expend a crapload of energy really quick.  As well, a well timed counterpunch can end it all just as quickly as it began.  As mentioned above, do not back up and do not let him bully you into backing up.  Stick to your ground, cover up if need be, but do not take your eyes off of him.  Yes, you will get hit a few times, but look for that opening and when it comes, do not hesitate, hit back and deliver a combination, not just one punch when you do.

When your opponent is in that blind rage, they are not thinking at all.  Picking your opening and hitting back will stun them.  It brings them back to reality and for a split second you have the advantage.  It will also make them think twice about doing it again.  Letting them continue their flurry let's them control the fight and that is not how you want to fight.  Remember, you want the initiative and you want to maintain/control the momentum of the fight.

It seems easier said than done but think of your reaction when you see a flurry coming.  Immediately, I can guarantee, that 99% of people think to themselves "Oh Crap, here it comes" and they immediately begin backing up and taking a defensive posture.  Instead, catch yourself before it is too late and posture more like a matador waiting for the bull to come.  When it shows up, step aside or slip and then stick the sword into the bull (counterpunch).  It's the most effective way for dealing with the situation.

Control your fear.  Control your panic.  You will prevail.

About the Author Coach Aaron

Coach Aaron founded Commando Boxing in 2003. When he's not boxing, he's running ultramarathons or using data science/blockchains to create mixed reality HoloLens applications.