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StandThemUp Instructional: Body Work

By Matt Leyshock - Posted on 05 January 2012

I haven’t penned an instructional in awhile and there is a new trend in MMA that I find to be interesting so I figured now is as good as time as any to put something new together.  The trend I am detailing today is commonly known as “Body Work” or in other words, hitting your opponent in the body whether it be with a punch, knee, kick or elbow.  There have been quite a few major fights ended via body shot last  year and I have a feeling this trend will continue as fighters become more skilled at landing body shots correctly.  In this article we will break down where to strike, how to strike and when to strike your opponent in the body to get the maximum results.

Check out the breakdown after the jump:

Where To Strike:
Striking your opponent in the torso is a hit and miss affair.  You will notice some people can absorb body shots with not so much as a blink of an eye, while others topple to the ground helpless, almost paralyzed.  If you are blindly punching at your opponent’s midsection, they will have a much better chance of absorbing it with less problems. They key is to aim for specific target areas, mainly the vital organs, like the kidneys, the lungs, sternum, liver and spleen. Each of these areas offer their own results and if struck directly can end an evening abruptly.

  • The kidney shot is a common practice amongst all striking arts; In boxing you lean slightly towards your lead hand and hammer your opponent with a hook/uppercut hybrid that is a combination of torque from the hips and snap from repetition. In kicking arts the Kidneys are targeted with numerous styles that use the instep (area just above the foot to approximately half way up your shin), heel and sometimes the foot.  The kidneys can also be targeted with knees, elbows and hammer fists from standing, clinching and quarter positions.
  • The lungs and sternum are usually targeted with simple but effective straight punches and kicks. A common mistake is to aim lower and hit your opponent in the stomach, which is painful but not immediately fight altering.  You will have much greater success aiming high on the torso, preferably just below the chest.  A well placed shot on the sternum will suck the life and wind out of your opponent in away that makes the gnarliest of men cower and cover up.  There is an old saying that remains true to this day: If you can't breathe, you can't fight.
  • The liver and spleen are the “Money Shots” of body work.  Usually even a glancing shot to the spleen or liver will drop the earnest of men and has the ability to be a instant night ender.  The spleen is small and covered in a plate of muscle which makes planting a strong, direct blow more difficult.  The liver is sometimes easier to hit wrapping a shot around your opponent's back rather than through the front abdomen.  Either organ hit with a direct shot can paralyze and drop opponent's quickly.

In mixed martial arts you have options that are not legal in other sports like boxing, this makes launching body attacks more effective because you have many things in which to strike with as opposed to just fists.   But because there is so many ways to attack the body we will just cover a few from each category based on your range.
Circling on the outside is a great time to launch a body attack for a few different reasons, the first and foremost being that it forces your opponent to think about multiple areas to defend.  This is easily accomplished by using kicks found in traditional kick boxing.  A roundhouse or “Thai” kick is used to blast your opponent by kicking them with the instep/shin bone and using your hips to generate the power similar to swinging a bat.  This kick is great to chip away at your opponent’s kidneys and lower rib cage.  

Another option to attack your opponent’s vitals is to use the common western boxing style punch.  You can really use any punch to hit your opponent in the body, but straight punches, hooks and uppercuts are the most common.  When punching your opponent in the body, you must remember to make them count by punching through your target because you put yourself into your opponent's striking zone and that is always a risk.  There is a joke amongst amateur boxing coaches goes "Make your body shots count, because the judge's won't" which implies that most officials will not score your body work as often as they will your shots to the head.

In close, there are 2 types of strong knee techniques that can smash your opponent’s gas tank and will to survive.  These are as follow:


The Spear or Thrust knee: This technique is what most picture when they think of throwing a knee. By leaning slightly back, lifting your knee and pushing out with your hips, you turn your leg into a battering ram powered by your hips. This is the most powerful form of knee strike because you are planted on the ground and can push your hips into the technique . 

The High Knee:  The high knee is similar to the spear, except that you explode your knee straight up rather than up and out.  This allows you to work in confined spaces such as in the clinch or against the fence.

This maybe the most important of all the categories, because when you attack your opponent’s body is very important to your success.   Headhunting is a common theme in all striking arts but the most proficient strikers mix in body and head strikes to confuse and overwhelm their opponents.   In my opinion, every combination should have a body attack laced in somewhere.  This opens up different striking lanes while siphoning gas out of your opponent’s tank.  
One concept I have borrowed from a famous Pittsburgh boxing coach is to hit the body on every counter.  In other words, if I slip my opponents jab to the outside, I should jab them in the body at the same time. If I roll my opponent’s hook, I should hit them in the body with a hook as I roll away from the punch. 

Kicks can replace punches and because of their difference in reach they can shut down your opponent’s offensive entirely.  Rich Franklin did this masterfully against Matt Hammill using the rear thai kick as a counter to Hammil’s right hand hammer.  He eventually won the fight using this exact concept.  One of the best times, if not the best time, to go downstairs is when your opponent is hurt and protecting their face.  Skilled finishers will drop in hard body shots on their wounded opponents in hopes that it will open a clean shot to end the night. 

If your opponent is attempting to clinch or tie you up in an effort to slow the fight down, the knees listed above work very well for scoring punishing shots that will force them on the defensive.  When on the ground you will have even more opportunities to land strikes to the body because your opponent is less likely to move out of the way.   When hitting your opponent's body on the ground, make sure you strike through the target to amplify the damage.  Paddy cake is for kids and can get you kilt, make your techniques count.

Overall, Body work is an investment that pays out at the end of the fight; this means that when you chip away at your opponent’s gas tank using body strikes they will slow down as the fight progresses. If you commit to hitting your opponent in the body early and often, you will find that they are moving less and targets on the head and face open up because they are defending the body shots you started out with.  This concept not only scores damaging points, it will also help break your opponent’s will to win and that is the true secret of fighting.  Anytime you are able to suffocate your opponent’s will to win, you have won.  Striking the body helps you achieve that and more. 

Editor Note: In an effort to keep this article under 5 pages, I just gave a quick run through on targets, techniques and timing.  We can always come back to this topic if the interest is there.

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