This article is a comprehensive guide on not only how to throw a jab, but also when, and why to throw a jab. Because it is an exhaustive resource it will be broken down in the following sections:
How To Throw A Jab | A Comprehensive Guide
The jab is the most important punch in boxing. More than that it was the foundational punch, the blow introduced to rough and tumble brawlers of early 1700s England by swordsmen, with the first boxing champion, James Figg, also known as “the Atlas of the Sword.”
Originally, the jab was the swordsman’s answer to dealing with a wrestler in an empty-handed confrontation. In all forms of boxing: amateur, pro, traveler, kickboxing, MMA and in the ancient forms, in which heroes were described as shooting punches “straight from the shoulder,” the jab is the most important strike.
The fighter, particularly the boxer, who does not have the jab as his foundation—even if he is an inside puncher specializing in hooks—will be at the same disadvantage as the jet fighter pilot with poorly installed or malfunctioning radar, with the danger amplified by the increased pace of action.
The jab establishes your sense of “time and measure,” an ancient weapon fighting term which essentially translates to an encoded instinct for knowing when you can hit a target and how hard. For this reason, boxing was cultivated as a martial discipline in ancient times to develop this sense, and secondarily to develop shield handling ability and mental toughness.
From your stance, you will extend your arm slowly while turning it, until your arm is fully extended and your palm is facing the ground.
Bring your hand back to your body following the same motion until you are back in your original boxing stance. Do this slowly until your muscles retain memory for the mechanics. Do Not Rush!
Pay particular attention to elbows flaring outwardly mid-jab, bringing your lead hand back too close to your face, and not extending your arm out fully. If you notice these bad habits developing, slow down further and do not progress speed until they are corrected!
The Jab Clock
Imagine an old fashioned, circular dial-style clock, not that digital mess on your smartphone or microwave.
As the boxer, you stand at the hub, in the middle, where the hour, minute and second hands whirl around on their axis.
Behind you is your 6 O’clock. That is where you are trying to get on your opponent, behind him, even in a boxing match. If you don’t try and achieve this against a boxer as good as you, he will be in your face the whole fight and you will never get the angles you need to do effective work without getting hit.
To your right is 3 O’clock, to your left 9 O’clock. This is the angle KO hooks are delivered from most commonly—the punch you don’t see.
Your jabbing zone is narrow and if your guard is good—meaning you can do the foot check described below—than whatever you can touch with your jab you can hurt with your rear hand. Each type of jab named in the jabbing zone will be described in its proper place in succeeding sections.
The clock will be read for the righty leading with his left first:
-11 O’clock is your weak angle, best targeted with the blind jab, the nothing jab and the measure
-12 O’clock is your optimal drive angle, optimal for the blind jab, power jab and the posted jab
-1 O’clock is a good power angle, optimal for the up jab, the three quarter fist jab and the corkscrew jab
-2 O’clock is a weak power angle best used for the safety jab, crossfacing and lacing
For the lefty or southpaw the jab clock is reversed to 1, 12, 11 and 10 O’clock.
The Foot Check
Once you are off the line, with most amateurs starting out requiring 2-6 weeks of line drills to go free-style and keep their guard in an unmarked space, you can check your guard by sliding your rear foot forward. If the heel travels straight to the target and does not hit the toe of the lead foot, then whatever you can touch with your jab you can hit with power with your rear straight. If you slide the lead foot across and the heel clips the toe of the rear foot than your rear foot is crowding up too far and compromising your lineal stability.
Moving with the Jab
The jab is your scout, your radar, your scope, your gunsight and you move without consulting your jab at your peril. Eventually, in self-defense or MMA situations your jab might become invisible, purely mental, which will be discussed in the last section of this series. Basic movement is all step and drag.
Step forward with the front foot and drag the rear foot the exact distance you stepped. Most people, when starting out, have rear foot drift, which will bring the rear foot too close to the lead foot by the third step. Some people with injuries suffer from rear foot drag. All of your drags should be equal to your steps. To begin with achieve this by not varying the length of your step and by keeping it short.
The rear foot should drag on the balls of the foot, mostly behind the big toe, not the heel, edge or inside of the foot. Your stepping foot may land on the heel or the ball of the foot, with the heel step more powerful but slower.
Moving back requires a step and drag backward, with the rear foot moving first, with your feet never crossing in the ring or on the line.
Moving side-to-side requires that the left foot moves left and then drags the right and that the right foot moves right and then drags the left.
The hand that lands before the foot is weak.
The foot that lands before the hand is out of position.
The hand and foot touching the ground and the target at the same time, in synchrony, transfer the weight of your moving body into the target.
Your hand should launch just before the step, concealed in the shadow of your body and should land just as the heel or ball of foot lands, making a short step again desirable. The elbow must stay in and not leave the shadow of your body.
These are very basic motions, which will be improved, varied and specialized in later sections.
Advancing Behind the Jab
The longer your step is that powers the jab, the more danger you are in of getting caught coming in and possibly knocked out. You can minimize this threat in the following ways.
-Work from a hand span, with your jabbing hand partially extended so it is closer to the target. The hand span is equal to the distance between the tip of the thumb and pinkie finger of your spread hand and usually equal to the thickness of your glove.
-Keep that hand higher than your shoulder and your chin tucked.
-Lead with a blind jab, aimed at his eyes or forehead, so that if he times your advance and throws a rear hand it may be intercepted by your jabbing arm.
-Pump a jab from slightly out of range to cover your advance and only pull it back to the point where your thumb rotates back up and then pump it again. In other words, advance behind two short steps instead of one long step and do not jab straight for his chin right off the mark or you might eat a righthand counter, called a cross as it crosses over your lead arm.
-If you are the lighter hitter and you need to be quicker, you can put yourself in less danger by keeping more weight on your rear foot and sliding the front foot forward on the balls of the feet and don’t set down on the lead foot until you are sure of hitting your target.
-If you don’t respect his power step to your heel and make sure your punch lands when your heel does.
One of the most dramatic ways of advancing behind the jab is with a lunge, demonstrated by Kovalev against early opposition and by Marvin Haggler against John Mugabi. However, a miscalculation of a fencing type lunge jab, can get you knocked out.
-The cleanup punch needs to be burned into your muscle memory. This is a lead hand punch, a jab or hook, which covers you after advancing or while retreating and angling and gets your rear hip and shoulder chambered for another power shot. Practice throwing a jab after every rear hand and eventually many of these jabs may be hooks, defensive uses of the hand or shoulder or even an uppercut on occasion.
Retreating Behind the Jab
Retreating can be done straight back, which is the least recommended, or at a diagonal angle, getting just to the outside of his jabbing hand, often called a draw step and sometimes a fade.
Generally, a jab you retreat behind needs to be on the high line towards his eyes to serve as a defensive cut-off punch.
Such a high jab may be used without retreating with the feet, but refusing your head, by bending your rear knee and setting back somewhat, an old time gambit which was used by James J. Corbett, and permits you to counter with a strong right straight by straightening the rear knee and pushing off with the rear foot. Be careful not to lock up your hip by leaning your head back without bending your knee.
Rocking with the jab, discussed below, may be used from this position. Beware of going here often or you will be found-out by a slick boxer and possibly worn down by an aggressive puncher.
Punishing with the Jab
Standing your ground behind the jab works best when you are taller and/or have longer reach.
-Driving a jab, particularly to the body, can be done with extra force by bending the lead knee as you push off with the rear foot. Make sure the head is never ahead of the lead knee and try and keep it no further forward than the lead foot. Never throw two body jabs in a row. Any time you throw a body jab another punch needs to come right behind it and if you are pulling out or moving off that will usually be a jab to his face.
-Pivoting, as with a hook, can be used to cut your man, especially with MMA gloves on. This punch should not over pivot with the foot, but be a grinding half pivot, not a full pivot like that used with a full commitment Philly hook, but more like a shovel hook pivot. This is a good punch to use to develop your shovel hook. This can be used to stand your man up for a power punch with the rear hand or to convince him to stay there for another jab which you might turn into a hook. If you do this too much you will get caught unless you are shutting down his offense with superior height, skill or hand speed.
-Rocking back on your lead heel, lifting the ball of the foot and setting in down under a jab, especially while pushing off the ball of the rear foot, can power a stiff jab. This is sometimes called a rocking jab.
-Turning your fist over more than parallel with the floor can be used to cut with a twist of the glove. Over-using this will hurt your shoulder. Do not practice this on heavy bags, but on light bags and only shadow box it slowly, not at full speed.
-With MMA gloves, rolling your fist back, with the palm facing the ceiling and the thumb rotated out towards the shoulder, can be used to slide the knuckle pad of the glove up into the eye socket. This punch works best coming up from a crouch and should not be over-used as it leaves you open for a right cross or a standing arm bar.
-Sliding the lead foot out and back under each jab while standing your ground will set some power in your jab and needs to be done with the rear knee slightly bent. The muscles above the knee will have to tense when you draw that foot back without moving the rear foot.
-Bouncing off the ropes or cage with a jab, especially with a push-off with the rear foot, can be highly effective, but calls for good rhythm sense. This must be practiced a lot and in so doing, you must practice aborting the punch and on occasion clinching or rolling with his counter.
-In a fight withban open fighter who squares up or in a catch weight fight, jabbing the chest with the thumb up [to prevent the thumb from running into his lead hand] can serve well in fixing his position and enabling you to exploit. See Roy Jones Junior versus john Ruiz for the best example. Both fighters use it and George Foreman explains it in the HBO commentary.
Maneuvering with the Jab
Classically, this is where a good boxer wants to score with the jab, while moving off and angling. One must be careful moving into the power hand which may get you knocked out. Generally, only much taller and faster fighters get away with this, such as Ali in his prime.
For the best example of how to use the jab against a southpaw, or against an orthodox fighter if you are a southpaw, see Pernell Whitaker versus Julio Caesar Chavez.
The standard scoot and shoot jab drill is to side-step to your open side with the rear foot and drag the lead foot as you move and pump a jab. Buddy McGirt was excellent at this in his day.
Throwing the sneaky jab thumb up to the nose will help you slide through the gloves without getting your thumb caught. This is particularly important with bare knuckle or MMA gloves. With bare knuckle, your best jab is absolutely the up-jab, with the palm up.
Posting the jab is how you punish him while moving off, by stepping out as you through the jab but not dragging your rear foot all the way, but just enough for it to rise into a half-pivot so that he runs into some of your weight.
Shifting with the jab is done by stepping past him with your rear foot, cross stepping in an unorthodox manner and turning your jab into a pseudo rear-hand strike. This is something that most gloved boxers want to avoid trying, and has more utility in kickboxing, MMA and bare knuckle. For kickboxing this follows your rear foot kick. See Semmy Shilt in K1 for some excellent examples.
Shifting to a jab, by throwing a rear straight, to a guy moving to the outside of your rear straight, is done by not throwing a clean-up punch and then following, pumping that straight again as a jab as you switch leads by stepping through with the rear foot under the new lead hand. Marvin Haggler did this superbly, though keep in mind that he was, well, Mavin Haggler.
A safety jab is done, usually as a clean-up punch or a way to break off from an exchange, by stepping back behind your lead instead of around and allowing your lead heel to serve as pivot point. It is okay to line up on this, permitting your lead foot between him and your rear foot. The jab should be thrown thumb up and is not powerful. This is a classic lead-side escape in bare knuckle boxing. The rear knee might be bent some to lower your head and you must tuck your chin behind that jabbing shoulder. If you are tall and engaging in this gambit you might try to cut him with a cork-screw jab and turn it over.
Variations on the Jab
This section concerns protecting your hand, wrist and thumb.
For wrist protection, punches targeting marks lower than your shoulder should be thrown palm-down.
High punches thrown palm-down may strain the tendons going over the back of the hand.
Those thrown thumb-up lower than your shoulder may jam the nerve behind the thumb.
Punches thrown under his elbows should never be thrown thumb up, but palm down or palm-up, lest he breaks your thumb with a dropped elbow.
The three-quarter fist, a slightly thumb-up diagonal fist, is the safest punch to throw to the forehead.
The thumb-up punch is best for hitting the nose.
The palm-up punch is best for popping the eye, but with bareknuckle is a terrible choice against the mouth, as you can shred your knuckle tendons on his teeth.
The blind jab to the eyes is usually thrown from too far out to hit, targeting his eyes with the first joint of your fingers if you don’t have a boxing glove on.
The thumb-down, hyper-pronated cutting jab is dangerous to the shoulder of the puncher.
I recommend training the jab by slapping the heavy bag first, before punching at all, in order to loosen the shoulder and synchronize your step and strike.
The fist should not be tightly clenched but loosely, clenching it hard as you make contact.
The shoulder should be low and relaxed before the punch is thrown. However, after a high-line jab, blind, sneaky [thumb up] or turned over, the shoulder should be high enough to tuck the chin behind. The only highline jab which leaves the chin exposed is the supinated, palm-up “up-jab” which should be thrown out of a crouch, close in, and ideally over his missed rear-straight.
If you have never boxed you should practice nothing but moving and jabbing for six months, and when your shoulder gets tired, box from the other side.
If you have been trained to box via a fitness, martial arts, MMA or kickboxing program, this crucial advantage, of becoming an expert with the jab before learning other punches, has most likely been squandered. How good a boxing program is can simply be rated by how long the coach insists you do nothing but jab.
If you have been coached in the inferior school of learning the four basic punches in your first week—or even worse your first session—than retrain yourself to jab only in line drills, in shadow boxing and on the various bags and supplementary tools discussed below for six months. Anything less and you are shortchanging yourself.
If you are already sparring only throw the jab and guard with the rear hand. If he is open for the rear hand, hit him with the jab and move, improving your position. If your coach does not see the value in this than find another who believes in the old school adage that in boxing, “everything works off the jab.”
-Hang a string and move around randomly, not orbiting, not staying in range or out of range, but constantly moving in and out or range and practice touching this string with your fingertips, the knuckles of your fist and your palm. These calibrate your three primary contact rages, half-step to contact, contact and penetration.
-Hang a sheet of paper from two strings or pieces of tape in a doorway and practice quick touching, finger jabbing and punching this with your knuckles, trying to break the paper This last helps you practice cutting your opponent.
-Hang a tennis ball from a string in your boxing space and progress from touch, to punch to palm slapping drills. Do not hit with your palm like a karate palm strike. This endangers the collateral ligament in the elbow joint. Rather make a cup of your fingers and palm and strike like a snake.
-While shadow boxing keep your shoulders, relaxed and low.
-While shadow boxing and hitting bags keep your hand cupped and half formed into a fist, only closing it just before contact and not squeezing your fist until contact. You want a whippy fist and those openhand drills above are meant to cultivate that. The last thing you want is to make a hard fist and then try and throw it. Punching is largely the art of reducing tension in your body between the foot that powers the punch and the fist that delivers it. The shoulder and the hand are the two places where tension is most likely to interfere with speed, power, and stamina.
Practice jabbing short, and long, missing and hitting, moving constantly. Shadowboxing is the best exercises to get your jab snapping like it should. The jab should be practiced on every kind of bag. The following bags are perfect for practicing the following kinds of jabs:
-speed bag = blind jab
-heavy bag = pronated and three-quarter fist jab
-reflex bag = sneaky [thumb-up] jab and up [palm-up] jab
-double-ended bag = ideal for all jabs, targeting the string above the bag with your blind jab
-uppercut bag = ideal for practicing jabbing the body without endangering the wrist. Mix these power jabs up with jabs thrown between the straps above the bag.
In sparring practice your blind and three-quarter fist jab can be practiced by aiming at your partner’s leather forehead pad.
Do not practice jabbing with mitts if the mitt-holder bats down at your fist. This is done to save his elbows and it messes up your timing and range-finding. Mitts should be held still as he moves his feet to achieve a moving target for you to practice hunting with the jab.
Have him hold the mitts staggered, one 6 to 12 inches further than the other, and practice moving towards the mitt held further back. He could simply stand and glide them back and forth for you to practice moving around rather than just side-to-side. Once you master this drill, reverse it and move away from the far mitt as you throw your jabs.
Practice missing the mitts deliberately sometimes, by throwing high and short at the top of the mitt, practicing the blind jab and also practicing retreating behind a high jab.
The up jab is good to practice on the mitts after ducking a hook sweep with the edge of the other mitt.
If your mitt holder is taller and heavier than you and he bats down with the mitts and you throw thumb-up sneaky jabs, expect a jammed nerve behind the thumb.