Hook (Punch)

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The hook is thrown at various angles & distances

The Hook, also known as a round punch, is a powerful circular punching technique used to strike your target from an angle. There are numerous variations of the hook punch seen across multiple martial arts styles. The hook is used both offensively and defensively, and is effective with both the lead and rear arms. It can easily be chained with many different types of striking techniques, and can also be used effectively at a variety of ranges. Let’s take a look at how to throw the lead hook correctly!

How to Lead Hook

The lead arm hook punch is a powerful punch, often used for scoring headshot KOs, but it’s also a great tool for scoring shots to the liver when in a closed stance (orthodox vs orthodox). And while still effective on its own, throwing a lead hook immediately after a rear arm technique (like a Cross) will allow you to throw the strike with a bigger twist of the hips – significantly increasing the force of the punch. We will discuss at which angle to hold your fist later on in this article. To begin, we’ll start in a squared stance.

While in a neutral (squared) stance make sure your chin is lowered, your shoulders are raised to cover your chin level, your elbows are mostly in at your sides, and your fists (your guard) are raised to at least cheekbone level. Your rear fist should cover your chin or eyebrows, and your lead fist should be just slightly more forward than your rear fist. Your palms should be facing each other for this variation.

Cross + Lead Hook Combo

Begin the punch by rotating both your lead shoulder and lead hip inward as you raise your punching elbow to about shoulder level. Your elbow should be in line with your shoulder and fist. 

Next, as you continue the rotation of your hips and shoulder, release your lead hand from the guard, towards the target. Keeping your chin hiding behind your lead shoulder, begin to extend your arm to about 90° degrees (or wider, depending on the distance on your target). As this happen, you will feel your weight shift to your rear leg, allowing the lead foot to pivot slightly, or at least turn the knee inward.

Your punch should feel relaxed and whip-like as opposed to stiff and rigid.  This can be done with a “shoulder pop”. After ‘hooking’ your punch through your target in a circular motion, immediately return your punching arm back to its original guard position. Do not drop your punching arm downward after contact. Returning your fist to its original position after you strike should look like someone hit the rewind button on a video.

Hook Punch – Fist Variations

There are 3 main fist positions used with both the lead hook and rear hook. Each fist position is optimized for different targets, angles, and scenarios.

Vertical Fist (Palm In): In this position the back of the hand faces away from you, the palm faces you. The elbow is generally held up at the same level of the shoulder and fist. This is the optimal position for lining up the two largest knuckles to properly strike targets at the closest ranges while still allowing for decent on-the-fly maneuverability and adaptability (like transitioning into the Thai clinch). It also allows many people to better engage their bicep and shoulder muscles for added penetration at impact. However, this position makes it nearly impossible to line up the two largest knuckles at the longest ranges, often resulting in the target being slapped with the palm and the middle joints on the fingers. A slight adjustment can be made, however, by bending the wrist so that the knuckles face the target.

Horizontal Fist (Palm Down): In this position the back of the hand faces the sky and the palm faces the ground. The elbow is generally held up at the same level of the shoulder and fist. This is the optimal position for lining up the two largest knuckles to properly strike targets at longer ranges for maximum penetrating power.

Fedor overwhelms his opponent with “casting punches”. Notice the angle of his fists.

Angled Fist: This position is a hybrid of the first two fist positions. The back of the hand is still facing upward, but is angled about 45 degrees away from you. The other variation of the angled fist is with the back of the hand rotated toward you instead of away from you. This is generally used to properly align the two largest knuckles to strike targets at a lower level, like an angled or hunched-over torso. A similar punch, referred to as the “casting punch” (because it resembles casting a fishing line) was used effectively by Fedor Emelianenko. This punch leads with the shoulder, followed by the elbow, and then the fist, in a wave-like motion. This was often used to close the distance and initiate the clinch.

How to Rear Hook

Much like the lead hook, the rear hook is a common knockout punch. One advantage of the rear hook is that the hip and shoulder are already in a position to allow for maximum rotation of the hips before the strike. It does, however, have a longer path to travel making it a slower punch than the lead hook. To begin, we’ll start in a squared stance with a middle guard.

Begin the punch by rotating both your rear shoulder and rear hip inward as you raise your punching elbow to about shoulder level. Your elbow should be behind your shoulder and fist. 

Rear hook with an angled fist

Next, extend your arm and fist outward as you continue rotating your hips & rear shoulder inward. Be mindful of which fist position you’re using in relation to your punching range. For now, trying extending your arm to a medium range using a vertical or angled fist. Depending on the range of your target, your elbow with be bent less than 180° degrees (a straight arm can lead to hyperextension of the elbow joint).

Your punch should feel relaxed and whip-like as opposed to stiff and rigid.  After ‘hooking’ your punch through your target in a circular motion, immediately return your punching arm back to its original guard position. Do not drop your punching arm downward after contact. Returning your fist to its original position, back to guard.

This punch can be thrown to the head and body, but it is recommended that you first set it up with another punch or feint, since it travels a far distance. The difference between a rear hook and the overhand right is the hook is more circular, while the overhand is more direct and linear.

Common Hook Punch Mistakes

Not properly aligning the fist so that the two largest knuckles strike the target: This will result in slappy punches and/or injured fingers, knuckles, and thumbs. This is most likely to happen when using a vertical fist for long range hooks, or, when wearing boxing or kickboxing gloves and forming the bad habit of hitting with the padded portion covering the curled part of the fingers instead of the padded portion directly over the two largest knuckles.

Tensing up and being rigid during the entire punch: Instead, your punch should feel loose and whip-like, with the whip-like motion being powered by the twist of the hips and the torso. You should only be tensing up and snapping through just as you make contact with your target.

INCORRECT way of throwing the hook: no rotation of the hips or shoulders

Leading the strike with the fist instead of leading with the hips and shoulder: or throwing an “arm punch”. Making this mistake will prevent you from generating any significant knockout power in your hook. Leading with the fist should only be done when the goal is to setup or distract the opponent instead of to cause damage.

Drills and Exercises for the Hook Punch

The best way to practice the hook punch is through shadowboxing and on the heavybag. Keeping these safety cues and instructions in mind, dedicate 20 minutes to finding the proper mechanics, weight distribution, and angles of the punch.

You can also practice this punch in Lesson 5 of Shane’s Hybrid Striking Course, combined with the low kick — or the “slapshot” as Coach Kirian Fitzgibbons of CSA Gym calls it!

Author’s note: there a numerous ways to throw hook punches from a variety of stances and guards. The way I am describing hook punches in this article isn’t the only way you should ever throw them. Instead, think of these variations as a starting point for those new to hook punches in their martial arts training.

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  1. Hey Shane or Vince, can you show us how Fedor punches into the clinch and then gets the takedown. A great technique to add to a fighter’s game.