How to Take a Hit


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Photo: ROBYN BECK / Contributor (Getty Images)

Even if you’re a peaceful person, you could get hit. And if you’ve never had self-defense training, experience with fighting, or even a fleeting thought about what you’d do in that moment, you can find yourself on your ass with no clue what to do next—and that could be an opportunity for your attacker to punch you more.

It could be unlikely you’ll ever need to think about this (and we hope it’s unlikely, at least) but it’s worth having a plan in case you ever need it. Here’s how to take a hit.

Protect your head from more than the initial hit

When you get hit, there are actually two impacts that can do you harm: the initial punch is one, but the secondary impact comes when your body collides with the ground. You might not get knocked off your feet, but if you do, you should keep your chin tucked as you fall so that secondary impact doesn’t occur on the back of your head.

“The risk of falling to the ground and not tucking the chin down well as you’re falling is basically getting whiplash or worse, getting hit in the brainstem and just getting a knockout just from that,” said Tsahi Shemesh, founder and chief instructor at New York City’s Krav Maga Experts.

As you fall, make sure your head is as far from the assailant as possible and always keep your legs between the other person and your head. Your legs, Shemesh said, are your weapons. More on that later.

Go down, if you must

This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s better for you to be knocked to the ground right away if you have no fighting experience, so don’t try to fight it.

“If you feel dizzy, if you feel like you’re lightheaded and maybe can’t really fight well from there, then in an odd way, the safest place for you would be on the ground until you get your head straight,” Shamesh said. “But having that said, you have to know what you’re doing while you go on the ground.”

Adrenaline will be pumping and the situation will evolve fast, but stay as aware and strategic as you can. Assess the other person. Why did they attack you? You might know or you might not, but you have to make a few snap judgements here, especially if you get the feeling they’re not a one-and-done kind of puncher. Shamesh said it’s important to identify if you have the ability to run away or you have to respond immediately, either with a defense or a counterattack. The situation, he said, “depends on how crazy the attacker is.”

Charles Montoya, owner of Hard Knocks Boxing in White Plains, NY, added that you need to determine if your attacker is a bully who punched you unfairly or is someone who feels justified, say, because you got lippy with them. If the person is a bully, there’s a better chance they’ll keep attacking you. He pointed out that fighting is psychological, not just physical, and there is an element of respect at play. If the person felt justified in hitting you, they might think one punch taught you a lesson. If they’re bullying you, he said, you’ll have to earn their respect by showing you’re not going to tolerate it.

“Try to remain calm and create distance,” he said. If you didn’t get knocked down and you’re still standing, crouch into a squatting position and wait for your vision to clear up as you back away slightly. Whether you’re on the ground or upright, having distance between yourself and the attacker while you regain your thoughts and vision is key.

If you choose to run away, make your move

There’s no shame in not fighting back. If, during your brief assessment, you come to the conclusion the other person just wanted to punch you once, you don’t have to escalate the situation. You should try to avoid further violence, as a general rule, but especially if you’re not equipped to brawl.

Keeping your head far from the attacker and your limbs between the two of you, you can simply leave (if that feels like an option). Always maintain eye contact with the other person. You do not need a second surprise attack. Your body language should reflect that you’re not down to spar, so keep your hands by your face for protection, but make sure they’re open and not balled up—making fists only signals you’re ready to fight. Use your voice, too. Be aggressive and assertive, say you do not want to do this, and make, in Shamesh’s words, an “honorable escape.” By keeping your hands open and indicating you’re not looking to retaliate, you also give the other person the chance to make an honorable escape. If they don’t take that avenue and you can’t get away, though, you have to have a Plan B.

If you choose to fight back, be strategic

If diplomacy fails, it’s time to engage. If the other person is advancing on you while you’re still on the ground, kick them. Shamesh said you should aim for the knee or the groin and kick hard. While they’re backing up, get off the ground.

“Your level of crazy at this point has to match theirs,” he said. From there, your strikes have to be very precise. Focus on their face and their groin. Those are the two targets you need to keep in mind. Protect your face and head—and your own groin, to the extent you can without compromising the defense of your head—and aim for those two locations.

Montoya added that your physical attributes must be taken into account here, too. If you’re much shorter than the other person, you shouldn’t be going for their face nonstop. Stay low, weave around, and avoid straight punches and round hooks while aiming for the other person’s chin, he said. His advice here was to “be patient.”

“You got all this crazy, nervous energy going on. It’s very, very natural, but despite that, be very, very patient and look for opportunities,” he said.

For this part, Shamesh recommended thinking about a cat in a bathtub. The cat is smaller than a person and weaker than a person, too, but when you’ve attempted to bathe a cat, have you ever actually caught it? No, said Shamesh, “because it is not willing to be caught.” You must be unwilling to be caught, too, so keep going for their face and their groin as you protect yourself. Move around, don’t be an easy target for them, and get your strikes in when you can. Use your legs.

“Size matters, but if you’re not willing to give up, you’re not going to lose, at least not that easily,” said Shamesh.

During all of this, you must also always be looking for your honorable escape. Hopefully, at this point, someone else has appeared and you’re not alone, but whether they act as a distraction, a witness, or a backup fighter—or never materialize at all—your goal should be getting out of there, not trying to beat the other person up.

Get to a doctor

Some people fight a lot and they know what to expect and what their bodies can handle. You might not. Once you get away from the situation, go to a doctor. Shamesh pointed out you could have a concussion, which you might be clued into if you feel lightheaded or vomit. Even if you don’t have those symptoms, just go.

As for aftercare, elevate the punched area and ice it. Finally, consider a self-defense class—preferably before you get punched at all.