Work On Your Jab

As a verb and noun for a poke or thrust, the word “jab” entered the English language some two hundred years ago. The term has various meanings, but a very specific one for those who practice or follow closely what some call “The Sweet Science.” And in fact, the jab is the punch which, more than any other, is essential to boxing being something other than mere fist-fighting or brawling, to being something that is, in fact, scientific.

work on your jab
Floyd Mayweather Jr. lands a hard jab on Robert Guerrero in 2013.

To understand this, we must first consider the traditional boxing stance. You are sideways on, your left shoulder further forward than your right (unless you are left-handed). In this way, you reduce by half the target you present to your opponent and you also greatly improve your balance, your back foot anchoring your weight. Additionally, standing sideways and shifting your weight offers more opportunity of movement. In a fight or sudden confrontation, opportunity of movement is good. You can shift to either side, backwards and forwards, and keep your balance, while keeping your adversary guessing.

Liston lands a jab on Patterson
Sonny Liston’s powerful jab sets up Floyd Patterson for the knockout.

You have learned the basics of stance and movement and now you must consider distance. And that’s where the utility and efficacy of the jab comes in. What is the jab and why is it considered the most important punch-strike? The jab is many things. It is your base layer of attack, while also a key defensive weapon. “Everything comes off the jab,” the boxing coach will say. The jab is your range-finder, your spear, your probing fencing sword, your thruster. Watch this knockout:

See how Tete varies the jab, its angle, its speed, disguises its intent amidst a chess match with potentially dire facial consequences. The jab is fluid, but delivered at different speeds, and is often feinted to gauge the opponent’s reactions, to see if he wants to counter it. A lazy jab can mean an early night. And a lazy jab can come not only from tiredness, but also from poor fight IQ. An effective jab is unpredictable. It comes shrouded in deception, mired in mystery. A good jab is the bedrock, the foundational weapon of a good fighter. A good jab can win a fight by itself.

Watch Paulie Malignaggi, a light-punching stylist with an on-song jab, prevail over Viacheslav Senchenko.

Much is said about how such a weapon and its variations cannot be quickly learned and added to the toolboxes of beginners who are eager to improve their technical abilities. And it is natural to be skeptical of beginner combat courses in terms of successfully teaching how to utilize such weapons to fighters with little to no experience. But a good jab is a beginner’s best friend, as it will allow him to rise above his fellow novices. Nothing is more effective against a wild-eyed, untrained attacker than an accurate, stinging jab. Just a single lead punch, delivered on the nose, mouth or palate area, will deter the would-be aggressor while creating space and time to escape an unwanted intrusion. Again, a good jab, all by itself, can win a fight.

Watch Gennady Golovkin dismantle a world-class power-puncher in David Lemieux with his potent left lead, a jab that has been refined over three decades of elite-level training.

What, precisely, constitutes a good jab? Timing. Excellent visual acuity. Soft eyes. Soft eyes in hard and dangerous environments. Training, discipline, purposeful repetition, and consistency. Remember, the jab is faster than all other strikes. Less wind-up, less distance to travel, and, as a result, greater accuracy, less energy expended.

Work on your jab. Shadow box with just your jab. Use dumbbells and shadowbox. Here’s a workout: five rounds of shadowboxing with light dumbbells. Alternate rounds using the dumbbells, and then shadowboxing without weights. Jab and feint. Jab and side-step. Double and triple the jab. Visualize beating your opponent to the punch, snapping his head back with a sharp jab as he loads up his rear hand. Land it solidly and cleanly; sink the knuckles in. Then move. And jab again.

Spar as if you only have one punch, your jab. Put so much work into your jab that you know there is no way an opponent’s jab is better than yours. This work builds confidence. Real confidence instilled through sweat and strategy and, of course, sacrifice.

Work on your jab.            — Gary Elbert