Under: martial arts
6 Sep 2009


When I used to fight tournaments and have to get into fights at the bar (in my capacity as the bouncer), my favorite punch was my counter or lunge punch! Imagine if you will, an attacker rushing you. He already has the advantage of speed and power (speed and mass equal power)! You have a split second to formulate a plan and put it into action! What do you do? Well the answer for me has often involved using my counter punch!


In this post I will compare and contrast reverse and right cross punches from Boxing, Muay Thai and Karate. I will note similarities and differences and how one might use one to their advantage. I will also relate  one instance where three counter punches helped me when I was attacked by six guys when I first started working at the bar. But first lets look at a boxing right cross.



When I was training for kick boxing in the early 80’s, I had a boxing trainer because karate hands did not seem very effective for close fighting. I learned the jab, cross, hooks and uppercuts and I was happy to have these weapons in my arsenal. Karate hands were still effective but only as bridging the gap (from outside to inside) types of moves.

Did you notice that the boxer here said that the power of the punch should come from the twisting foot, hips, and shoulders but when he sped up the power seemed to be coming from his shoulders? Also the boxers fight from a forward stance because of the shortened distance.

When I sparred in boxing, I did not ever really get good at fighting on the inside but rather used some karate style lunging jabs to bridge the distance so I could throw my right cross! I threw the right cross boxing style because I could not afford to be caught inside the distance with my arm extended!!!

What do I mean? Inside fighting is very fast paced so if a boxer actually twisted their hips to get more power, they would also have to twist the hips back just as fast! That means boxers do twist their hips a little for power but not so much they cannot recover fast. This is why I believe you noticed the real power coming from the shoulders.

Muay Thai is similar to boxing hands and admittedly I have never trained in this martial art. Please let me know if I get any of this wrong as this is the good thing about blogs and exchanging information. Take a look at this video about the Muay Thai right cross punch.


The thing I noticed right away is there is more of a foot and body twist in the Muay Thai version of the right cross. Perhaps this is because in this this type of fighting, kicks are used. I’ve watches Muay Thai boxing matches and have noticed that while the distance is farther than boxing, it is still closer fighting than karate for the most part.

I would like to highlight an Okinawan Kempo Karate reverse punch now to see how some traditional stylists throw the counter punch.

Now you probably noticed that the rear foot did not pivot but their was a new element introduced – did you catch it? Yes! The push-pull motion of formal karate! At very basic levels in karate, students are taught when one hand punches out – the other hand chambers or is pulled back. This instructor wisely noted that in sparring, pulling back the other hand to a cover position is a better practice.

My critique of this formal style of counter would be that the punch did not extend as much as the Muay Thai right cross did. So far let me review what is best about a counter punch:

  • twisting the rear foot
  • twisting the hips
  • twisting the shoulders
  • getting the push-pull motion for maximum power
  • distance or actually hitting something with your reverse punch

Now a while back I remember reading an article by the Urban Samurai entitled, “Secret to Developing a Power Punch” and as so often happens in the martial arts world, I gave it a quick read and did not really understand what Neal Martin was trying to say. What was this “Whiplash Punch” he was talking about. Well let me tell you it has been at the back of my mind for a few months and while writing this post I had an enlightening moment!

Half of what we are taught in traditional karate in the very beginning lessons, many of us forget! That is the push-pull action and pulling one’s hand back after a punch! To give you one quick story, when I was learning how to do an inverted counter punch I asked my instructor, Dick Willett, why I was not hitting anything with the punch. He told me that I was tensing up and not fully extending!

You see (click the Inverted Counter Punch link to see how to use this punch) you have to relax to fully extend you punch and as Neil’s article pointed out – retract the punch just a quickly or you will caught wide open for your opponents counter! Here is one example of a counter punch timed well in a tournament.

Did you notice that this guy retracted his punch as fast as he threw it? He did not have to extend too much as the guy was coming in on him but in a sparring or real self-defense situation – one cannot let punches hang out there.

Ok – so there you have it. I think that boxing, Muay Thai and formal Karate style right-cross/reverse punches all have their place and work very well but here is what my ideal reverse punch should contain:

  • relax – do not tense up
  • rear foot pivot
  • twist hips with punch
  • twist shoulders with punch
  • fully extend punch (gain 4 inches)
  • pull the punch back as fast (don’t leave yourself open)

Using my wish list above you should actually hit something with more power than one could muster using just your shoulders because speed equals power! Just as was suggested in the whipping punch, pulling the punch back will add to the power because your body is gaining additional power from the push-pull action as well as leaving no opening for your opponent to counter easily! Here is an example of how Lyoto Machida used a counter punch in one of his matches.

Did you notice how Machida was able to reach his opponent on the way in? His opponents were missing the mark because the karate vs MMA distance is different. Machida hangs back farther karate style and can reach his opponents with his counter punch from the outside! In this match these two straight left counter punches seemed to give Lyoto Machida the win.

To finish my teaser story about the three counter punches, I kicked six guys out of the bar. They attacked me and I half-flipped out of the initial rush. I appealed to their manhood and sense of honor (I had to try something). I said ok  to the three biggest guys… fight like a man – one at a time. So one at a time, the three biggest guys rushed me.

Each time I took a half-step back and unleashed a full twist, relaxed counter punch to their face and dropped them. By the time I had dropped three guys – they started rushing me again. I fought them running in half circles and whenever I had lined up one of them by himself – I dropped him.

By the time the cops got their I was fighting three guys where were afraid to attack because my counter punch or side kick made them pay for the attack. Had it not been for my understanding of the counter punch that day – that fight might have started badly for me.

When I had to teach my young son how to fight some bullies – I taught him a counter punch and critical distance. That was it! If you only had two moves to learn – I would endorse teaching a counter punch.

I hope you enjoyed my view of the right-cross/counter punch from various styles. All of the above punches have their place and time and have worked well for me over the years.

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7 Responses to “Boxing Right-Cross vs the Karate Reverse Punch?”

  1. Neal Martin Says:

    Hey John. Very good article and a nice complimentary piece to mine. I probably should have explained that whiplash technique a bit better at the time. Probably the best way to explain it would be to use Bruce Lee’s words. He was talking about punching in an interview and he said a karate punch was like getting hit with an iron bar and a kung fu punch was like getting hit with a chain- with a ball on the end of it! That’s as good an explanation as any I’ve heard.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks Neil. By the way did you notice the comment luv box below. If you select it – it will find your most recent post and create a link here.

  3. Neal Martin Says:

    I have this installed but it doesn’t seem to work on my blog, don’t know why.

  4. PJM Says:

    I’m starting my own blog soon. Just a newbie in the blogging world but a dinasaur in the Karate scene. Hope to join in many more conversations soon.
    I do like the comparisons in all styles you mentioned. I have had a dilema with most of this because I have cross trained for so many years. I could not really tell you where one ends and another begins. I kind of do all three stiking styles in a similar way. All kind of blend together at the same time. Nice post.
    .-= PJM´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    The reverse punch and cross are nearly the same,with a few differences, in my opinion. The reverse punch locks out more, and usually chambers at the hip, in traditional karate. The cross is more fluid and is designed to be used more in combination with the jab and hook. The cross chambers back to the face-protected position, and is therefore more useful in the street. Machida has an awesome reverse punch but he does keep his hands a bit low. There is a place for both in a well-balanced fighter. It is amazing how you can keep hitting guys with the same move and they never learn like your experience in the bar, John

  6. pat Says:

    I agree with Matt Klein. Some guys never learn no matter how many times you do the same move.
    .-= pat´s last blog ..Karate Belt Display updated Sun Mar 7 2010 6:29 pm CST =-.

  7. 150cc mopeds Says:

    That was a fantastic article,I await some more post from you.