What makes a good jab?

We often hear or read about famous professional fighters as having a good jab. But what makes a jab good to begin with? 

Usually, we tend to think of good jabs as fast and powerful. But where do speed and power come from? Athleticism and explosiveness are a big part of that, but not all of us are naturally gifted athletes. It is also tiring to explode 100% into a jab every time you throw it; imagine torquing your whole body 120 times during a 3-minute shadowboxing jabs-only round! 

Mechanics

Speed and power comes from good technique. Staying balanced, stepping in when we throw our jab, getting full extension, and snapping at the end of the punch. Here’s another lesser-known tip: align your rear foot with the target. This helps you make sure your power goes in a straight line for maximum effect, and also decreases the distance your jab needs to travel, thus making it faster. 

In a fight, sparring session, or just an hour’s training, you’re going to be throwing a LOT of jabs. Repeat every one with good technique, and your jabs will have speed and power even when you’re tired.

Timing

A jab is an easy punch to defend. Your opponent can slip inside, outside, roll, step back, block, parry, and so on. What’s the point of a mechanically perfect jab that never seems to hit the target? 

A good jab is one that you can land consistently. Here are some things you can add to your jabbing game to make sure you touch your opponent when you throw it.

  • Feint It Til You Make It. Pretend to throw, then jab a split second later, after your opponent has mistakenly parried or slipped and left themselves open.
  • Get The Distance Correct. Make sure you are standing close enough before throwing; never reach/lunge if you can help it!
  • Not Telegraphing. Make sure you are not winding up, lowering/raising your arm, or even frowning when you throw. This is the opposite of feinting; your opponent will look for these cues and know that you’re going to jab.
  • Split Their Timing. Throw when your opponent is in the midst of moving or punching. The perfect jab catches them when one foot is off the floor (now you see why your coach always pleads for you to focus on your footwork) or when they are in the middle of throwing a punch.

Setting Up

Now that we’re landing our jabs and they’re fast and strong… what’s next? You’ve often heard that the jab is the most important punch in boxing. That’s because it sets up your other punches! Here are some combinations you can try building off of your jab when you next shadowbox or hit the bag or spar. 

Jab→Cross. If your jab is touching your opponent, and if you turn your hips and shoulders when you throw your cross, it is definitely at the right distance, and that’s how you know it will land. 

Jab→Jab→Cross. Too far away to land a jab? Throw another one! Double up, triple up, whatever it takes. Once you get good at this, you can try experimenting with rhythm; throw a slow first jab, and a fast jab-cross right after that.

Jab→Left Hook. A lead hook is a difficult punch to land. Use your jab to get close enough. Remember to recover your stance and balance first before you throw the hook! If you threw your jab right, your opponent should be anticipating your cross, or recovering from getting hit by the jab.

Jab→Right Uppercut. A rear uppercut is also really hard to land. Jab to get your opponent’s guard up high to block it, leaving that small space between his gloves to send your uppercut through. This works even better if you throw a jab-cross beforehand – your opponent will expect the right hand follow-up to come from up high, and not below!

Jab→Move Away. A defensive combination, but also super important. What happens after you land a beautiful 1-2-3-2 combo on your opponent? They’re gonna hit you back! Finish every combo with a jab so you can escape unscathed. Boxing is also about not getting hit. 

Conclusion

There are lots of jab types, and different ones are comfortable for different folks. But the fundamentals remain the same. Jab with good technique, jab at the right time and place, and jab to set up different offensive and defensive moves. That’s how you’ll build a good jab, and that’s how to tell who really has a good jab when you watch combat sports yourself! 

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