Boxing Tip #23 - How to See a Punch Coming

One of the How to Box members, Dennis, recently asked a question:

Is it possible to explain how the hand is quiker than the eye and how to deal with the punch you cannot see coming?. Your defence must be good of course but how do you take advantage of this physiological fact. I assume that combinations and power punching produce this knock out punch."

It's a great question, so for everyone's benefit, let's break this into two parts - whether the hand is actually quicker than the eye and then how do you see punches coming so you can defend against them or use them in your offence.

Is the hand really quicker than the eye?

Is Hand Quicker than the Eye?Picture by Son of Groucho

Well, it might seem like that some times, but in reality, no they aren't. The human eye can detect movement discontinuities up to 60 frames per second. Your hands certainly cannot move that fast. If you don't believe, me, put a nickel on the table and try to move it half an inch without your eye tracking it. You'll always see the movement. Wave your hands in front of your face as fast as you can. No matter how fast you think you can move your hands, you'll never be able to move them so fast that they disappear in front of you. Your eyes track them from position to position and you see a trail of hands, but they don't actually disappear.

Some may argue that magicians are able to carry out a number of their tricks because the hand is faster than the eye. This is a myth that they let spread because it helps them. In reality, it is slight of hand or deception that makes it appear as if something appears out of nowhere. They are masters at distracting your attention in one direction while making something appear elsewhere.

This is good news, because if you can see it, you can do something about it.

Seeing Punches

Part of the issue with seeing punches thrown straight at you is that it is harder for your eyes and brain to recognize a punch coming directly at you rather than it coming from the side. Your eye is made up of cones and rods. Without going into lessons on biology, the rods are responsible for picking up movement and they are concentrated in your peripheral vision. They are also more light sensitive and allow you to pick up dimmer objects. You can test this yourself by heading outside at night and looking at starry sky. You'll notice stars that you aren't looking at directly that will disappear if you try to stare straight at them.

Hopefully you see the advantage here in throwing jabs and straights, straight out from your chin and back. If the movement is in line with the eye, it doesn't register in your opponent's peripheral vision and is harder to detect. You stand a much better chance at landing a punch that is thrown directly in line with your opponent's vision.

Detecting peripheral movement is also the reason why, as a boxer, you shouldn't be looking directly at your opponent's hands. You shouldn't be trying to focus on anything in particular at all and will be much faster and see much more when you adopt the "thousand yard stare" and/or take your eyes off the direct line of sight.

Notice in the guard position that your head is tucked into your shoulder protecting your chin and bent forward, looking up through your eyebrows. By doing that, you take your eyes out of the direct line of sight of the punches and enable your rods to pick up on movement much more easily.

From there, it's a matter of drill and instinct. If you have prepared your reflexes to react in certain ways to certain punches, you act on instinct and slip, catch, parry, or block without thinking. Your reaction time diminishes allowing you to react, whether you think you see the incoming punch or not. You do, but you don't have to consciously make the decision to do something about it. Anytime you introduce thought into the process, you'll slow yourself down.

But That's Not All - Bonus Detection

As I've pointed out previously, punches do not originate in the hands if thrown correctly. They rise up loading through the legs, hips, torso, shoulder, through the arms and out the fist. If that's the case, why would you focus directly on the hands to see a punch incoming?

You shouldn't. Forget the hands unless you are just starting out and trying to figure out how things work. Learn to look at your opponent's chest - actually stare through the chest. It's kind of look looking at one of those 3D pictures made out of patterns. If you look straight at it, you see a bunch of meaningless colors. Stare through it (indirectly) and the image pops of the page.

Try this one out:

Do You See the Shark?

Focusing on a spot in the center of your opponent's chest a couple feet behind your opponent, allows your peripheral vision will not only pick up movement of the hands, but also the legs and hips giving you even more time to react. The twisting or loading of the hips is a sure sign that a punch is about to come.

How to Practice Seeing the Punches?

This is one of the best things about becoming a good boxer. I can tell you that for a long time, I would get hit and wonder where the hell the punches came from. Then, as time progressed and my reflexes got better and I discovered the wonders of peripheral vision, the punches started to appear. I can still remember the day in the ring when everything suddenly seemed to slow down. It was exactly like the matrix - the punches were coming, I was reacting, and I could "see" everything. It was incredibly surreal.

Obviously, the way to practice this is to get someone to throw punches at you. Start slow and start with one defensive technique. For instance, have your partner throw jabs, slow to start and speed them up as you go. You parry with your left. Again, don't think about it, just do it. Stare beyond your opponent and just let yourself react out of instinct.

As you master one technique and are up to a decent speed, introduce another technique. Again, start slow and speed it up and take your mind out of the equation. It comes with practice and you'll soon find yourself able to stand in front of someone throwing punches and your hands will be parrying, blocking, catching as you slip left and right. It really is amazing and you're going to love the feeling when it happens.


Wow, i hope this works! But it sounds very hard to get used to :( Thanks anyway for the tip!

Thanks alot for the info but please, if anybody knows how I can adopt the 'thousand yard stare?

Your eyes focus near and far to make images clear. When u focus on something close, the background will blur, and vice versa. If you look at his chest, but DONT focus... (imagine looking through him) you will "blur him out". That is your thousand yard stare.

This sounds soooo amazing and simple, yes you may be thinking its hard but it's all about practise. Relax it's not like practice for 1 year, like doing it everyday for 15 minutes is perfect then at least 2 months to master it.

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