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Jack Dempsey's Falling Step

I’ve been reading Jack Dempsey’s “Championship Fighting” and in regards to a left jolt, he describes the falling step used in order to bring your body weight into your jab, I’ve read and tried to understand the movement but I can’t see to execute it and get out of how I’ve been taught to punch, I always end up punching way too low and slamming my foot onto the floor, any videos i can watch or any pointers from somebody who’s used this punching style?

thanks guys

I wouldn’t overthink the descriptor, in my mind its just an explosive step into the jab rather than the typical shuffle.

My advice on it would be if you treat the jab as if it were to be a power punch, this tends to occur naturally. A lot of people are locked into a delusion that the jab can only be used to sting the opponent or pitter patter. It also seems to be a tendency of shorter stature fighters to do this naturally, as I suppose they cannot afford to be as reckless with throwing out jabs and need to close distance when they do.

[quote]jackbradneyraw wrote:
I’ve been reading Jack Dempsey’s “Championship Fighting” and in regards to a left jolt, he describes the falling step used in order to bring your body weight into your jab, I’ve read and tried to understand the movement but I can’t see to execute it and get out of how I’ve been taught to punch, I always end up punching way too low and slamming my foot onto the floor, any videos i can watch or any pointers from somebody who’s used this punching style?

thanks guys[/quote]


I am a bit tired so I hope this is clear enough.

First, Dempsey is describing methods of what he calls “pure” power generation. This is ways in which you get the most of your own mass going in the direction of the strike. So forward for “straight punches”, a pivot/twist for hooks, and up for uppercuts. Do not over think this. If you are hitting with power, you must be doing an ok job of putting ass into your strikes because that is how physics and momentum work.

As for the falling/drop step in particular, don’t try to make it complex. It is supposed to be a simplification. As Davo pointed out it really translates as “stiff jab”. Without video of you striking I am just going to go through some of the things I have seen trip up folks in the past.

1.) Stepping too deep/too far at first: Sometimes people over think this and try to do a lunge punch type step. Let it be a short lurch at first. Perhaps 6-8 inches of step/fall is all you need. It is about getting as much ass as you can falling forward into your punch. After you get the hang of it you can shorten it to what looks almost like a twitch and lengthen it to “how the hell did he land that from way over there?”, but for now just let it be about 8 inches.

2.) Don’t get wrapped up in the “Falling” cue. Your weight has to shift forward, because this is about shifting weight forward. The “fall” happens because your front leg and hip initially relax as this happens so you don’t slow down. They tighten up to catch you after you have landed or missed the punch. Sometimes people have a tendency to load there weight on their rear leg and then drive/hop it forward. Tension on the front leg means they come up when they do this and that they are also “breaking” that momentum. Just don’t do that. Try to let it be a sudden lurch/jerk forward, like tripping on a gap in the sidewalk.

3.) As for the step/stomp: Some folks suggest stomping down because it limits the chances of getting swept or tripping. At least that is their stated reason. I don’t make much of it. If you feel like you are doing to much of a stomp there is a good chance you are trying to step too “big”. Again, just let it be 8 inches at first. Your torso moving 8 inches quickly will create a lot of momentum, add what your arm does and there is plenty of energy to wreck the guy provided you don’t piss it away with bad mechanics. Look at the gif Davo linked to and consider that “big”. This technique is about getting your ass moving in the direction of the punch “think into the motherfucker” as opposed to stomping down anyway. A little bit of down is going to happen, but it isn’t the vector we want to exaggerate. If you tend to step big/high than just do your damndest to make sure you hit before you have to catch your weight with your front leg. Note I said catch weight. I don’t care if you hit just before or as your lead foot touches down, as long as your weight is still moving so you can direct the momentum into the guy you are hitting. This way you hurt him and should he take offense he is less able to return the favor.

4.) When first playing with this I suggest keeping the elbow of your jabbing hand “down” and landing with a vertical fist. Not because this is “best”, but just because it is a little easier to keep the link between your torso and fist with a less “busy” upper body mechanic. Go ahead and hit with either the first 2 or last 3 knuckles, whichever way you feel is the “only” way to do it. I would also suggest using a soft target if available, or purposely hitting high on the heavy bag at first. Finally, for the first 5-600 strikes, just sort of shoot/shove your arm out like you are stabbing the target with your knuckles. Worry about turning your punch over(if you want), covering your jaw with your shoulder, and adding any additional power from rotation later. Here is a video where Rich Ryan talks and demos a way of just shooting the hand out and still getting a surprising amount of juice into his strike. Do this for now. Simplify the fuck out of it.

4.) Again, it is basically “move my fat ass into the guy”, stick him with my fist. Repeat.

Hope some of that helps.


Robert A

Thanks guys, a great help, i have been attempting a bigger step than that and maybe I’m just over-complicating it, again thanks!

Good write up Robert. Rich’s linear striking template (which I am certified in and hold a 2nd Degree Black belt in, under he and iCAT Co-Founder Shihan Walt Jr) is pretty much the simplest, most straight forward way to get someone to understand how to generate linear punching power and will even refine or significantly increase an experienced punchers power and speed if their mechanics weren’t perfect to begin with.

The Speed Hand that Rich is showing is designed to teach people a couple things:

  1. to move the hand/arm with maximum speed without worrying about “power” (which most people mistake for muscular tension)
  2. to move in a straight line to the target and a straight line back (as opposed to “looping” or “hammering” the strike)

The use of a modified palm strike is purposely done to disassociate the movement from being a “punch”, which again most people have an incorrect mental picture and biomechanical pattern for. Once you get the speed and trajectory down then it’s fairly easy to translate it to a linear palm strike, vertical fist punch, horizontal fist punch, or even inverted fist (palm up) punch. There are actually a number of other key details and biomechanical considerations involved though to ensure both maximal speed and power. I could go very in depth with this drill and linear striking, but am not going to (both because I don’t have the time to and because I don’t want to give too much of Rich’s stuff away for free since it is how he and I make a living); instead I just want to point out a few clarifications and some important concepts.

  1. Striking power and speed is largely dependent on Newtonian physics. Here are a few key physics formulas that you need to pay attention to:
    Momentum is equal to one half of the mass of the object multiplied by it’s velocity squared
    This means that if you want to create kinetic energy/momentum, you need to get as much mass traveling in the desired direction as quickly as possible. This is what Robert is talking about regarding stepping into the punch (one of the 3 power sources we can draw from in striking, and the most important one for linear strikes).

Newton’s 3rd Law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action (this is actually a paraphrase of this law, but shorter and more familiar than the actual wording).
If you want to create a force/punch forward to and through a target, you must have something bracing you and/or driving back in the opposite direction. This brace comes in the form of your rear brace/drive leg and the importance of it’s placement and use cannot be overstated in regards to power generation. All power comes from the ground up in striking.

  1. Biomechanics and leverage play a huge role in regards to power generation. As stated above, at the point of contact you are going to encounter a resistance in the form of your opponent’s mass. How your bone structure and muscular system are aligned at that point of contact are going to significantly influence the percentage of the energy that you have created in shifting your mass into the target that actually gets transferred to the target and how much comes back into you. If you are in perfect alignment and have the muscular strength to overcome said force, you will generate a powerful strike and the vast majority of that momentum will transfer into the opponent/target. If on the other hand you are incorrectly aligned then your structure will “leak” energy or collapse all together/come back into you.

Such poor alignment can also lead to injury. In this light I must actually correct something that Robert said in his post. When hitting with a vertical fist strike you MUST land with the bottom three or middle two (which almost always winds up being the bottom three anyhow) knuckles or your metacarpal bones (bones in the hand) will be out of alignment with your Radius and Ulna bones (bones in the forearm) which will put you at a significant risk of injuring your wrist or at best significant decreasing your punching power. You can use the first two knuckles which punching with a horizontal fist though and even to an extent when using an inverted fist, but never for a vertical fist.

This is actually where muscular strength can come into play regarding punching power; the stronger your muscles the more effectively they will be able to continue driving your bodyweight through your target as quickly as possible. It is important to note though that even a very strong individual will not be able to generate maximal punching power if their mechanics are off, so you definitely want to prioritize mechanics first and foremost and muscular strength second as a useful but secondary endeavor.

Rory Miller also wrote something on the subject.

This has been addressed by Robert and Sento - it doesn’t need any more discussion.
They nailed it.
Follow the guys instructions - that was solid advice and sound fundamentals.

But because I’m a boxing nerd…
Dempsey also had another priority when integrating “the falling step.”

JD used to start from a stationery position.
Distributing his weight 50~50 over both hips he raised to the toe of his left foot.
This shifted the weight onto the rear hip, loading for the jab.

Dempsey pushed off the rear foot and slid the front foot forward.
The elevated heel meant that the step was actually a controlled slide; the heel advanced to where the ball of the foot was previously.
No step was taken, no tell was given by the lead foot - a perfectly disguised advance forward.

To integrate the jab, the left arm was extended in the textbook rotating fashion with the lead hand meeting the target at the same time as the heel strikes the floor.

-The advancing step is disguised.
-A step forward is taken with the jab. Nailing the opponent.
-The front foot acts as a brake, preventing over committing to the punch.


  • The lead foot tends to be orientated towards the “12.00” position, negating shoulder defences.
  • As the lead foot hits the floor flat with the toe directly north and the heel directly south, it is not as automatic to rotate the heel
    clockwise, immediately reinstating the defense.

Interesting stuff Donny, thanks for sharing.

We have a variation of the jab called a “bridging jab” which uses a similar disguised step (similar to the footwork used in Kendo/Kenjutsu/Aikido utilizing the Hakama to disguise the movement of the feet, though it could have come from Dempsey as GM Lewis had lineage back to him in boxing) to get a little closer to the opponent without them realizing it before you explosively bridge the gap to the opponent. We use it mostly as an entry to the clinch though.

Just goes to show that different people from different parts of the World who are seeking the truth in combat can stumble onto the same concepts and truths.

To Sento only,

I don’t disagree with what you wrote about which knuckles to use, but the reason I phrased it the way I did is that I don’t know the OP’s background/style. I met some Shorinji Kempo guys who were adamant that a vertical fist with a first two knuckle landing was the only “true way”. They cited bio mechanics, ki theory, other stuff. They also talked a bunch about “concussive” force vs impact. A couple of them could bang. I have worked with some Okinawan Karate stylists who were were of the opinion that most of the force should go into the first knuckle, and that the twist/transition from vertical to horizontal needs to happen after contact (sort of screwing into the target). They cited “penetration”, bio mechanics, energy, etc. A couple of those guys could bang.

Pretty much any possible landing/alignment seems to have someone talking about how it is best, and they all claim to have mechanical/bio mechanical advantage. I also know several guys who have knocked out more guys than I have fought, in “street” fights so all bare knuckle, who pay zero attention to this stuff and never injured themselves.

I have also noticed the fist alignment arguments seem to incite purse swinging like few other topics so even though I think it’s important, I just don’t wade into it unless it is specifically asked. Because I might accidentally start a religious war.

To the OP,

Following Sento’s advice about what knuckles to land with would be rational.

RE the Rich Ryan vid

I like that clip a lot. It is one of the few simple/gross movement pattern techniques that actually is, and also doesn’t suck. I really like how he emphasizes that the “speed” strike is most likely to buy you an opportunity and isn’t some “better” than boxing method that he can teach in a weekend. He even mentions that it forms a template for improvement. That honesty shouldn’t be rare in self defense seminar material(as opposed to long term training), but it is.

My favorite part though is at the end. One of the shots you can see he puts his body into. It isn’t big, but it just looks like most of him is going in the direction of the strike, maybe only an inch or two. The target is floppy enough that the power difference might get missed, but that kind of technique/efficiency is just a joy to see. I would love to make that the example for people starting out.

“Look at how he shifts damn near ALL of his mass into this strike. No wind up. No grunting. Just a clean, powerful collision that he wins. Make that efficiency the goal, no matter if it takes you 2 years or 20 to get there.”

To Donny,

Great post. Dempsey’s method always seemed to me that it relied a lot on being ready to hit hard for its “defense”. If we are nerding it up I would point to high guards and two handed swords as the fencing equivalent. A huge part of the defense is that you have to deal with a serious threat moving in. Not so much slick, as something is coming that is going to own a given line/angle and if you get clipped your attack gets fucked up. The more polished, off the back foot, style is closer to a “Spanish circle” where the goal is that any attack walks into a threat or gets pulled into a vulnerable position.

If those analogies work than the strengths of the “Dempsy”/offensive oriented defense is
-Much less dependent on having to read an opponent. If they move in, take the line and hit them, if they don’t take the line and hit them.

-If you can’t fire (out of position, can’t recover fast enough, etc.) you get fucking wrecked.
-If you don’t have credible power than the “threat” isn’t and you get run over, rag dolled, and raped.

The more polished method’s strengths
-Less dependent on having huge power

-If footwork is compromised shit gets real. In theory the Spanish school stuff is perfect. In practice uneven ground, fatigue, a slip can make it go to hell in a hand basket. This is far less of a an issue in a clean ring, or dueling circle than say a battle field.
-It is much more “diagnostic” intensive. So if you bite on a feint or mistake one attack for another than the “RIGHT” counter might be wrong. Blood in the eyes, or sweat for that matter, can make this a bitch.

Personally I like watching the latter more, but that is preference.


Robert A

I don’t disagree with you Robert about fist orientation and wrist alignment being a hotly debated topic. That is why I don’t like to address things from a stylistic standpoint, but from a physics and biomechanics standpoint.

I can actually show and teach someone in person, even if they “think” landing with the first two knuckles is "correct " when landing a vertical fist why it’s not as optimal as landing with the middle two/bottom 3. It’s one of those truths though that you have to feel to appreciate, so arguing via text doesn’t really drive home the point as well.

That said, I’m going to give the primary reason why it is inferior and if anyone wants to experiment with the two and decide for themselves, then hopefully this info will be useful to them.

I had previously mentioned physics and biomechanics, and yes those terms get thrown around a lot, and yes everyone claims to understand what they mean and utilize them, but as with many things in Martial Arts there is often a good, better, and best use of them. One of the key biomechanical principles in teens of power generation is called “The Line of Force”. In essence this is simply the recognition that there is a certain vector along which one is attempting to generate force (could be linear, could be circular, upwards, downwards, diagonally, etc…); nothing that any decent Combat athlete or Martial Artist didn’t already realize. But, what is crucial about this principle is how you align your musculoskeletal structure with this line of force.

A good analogy for this that I like to use is building a wall with studs. If you place your studs directly in the line of force (which is gravity in this case and happens to run in a straight up and down vector) you will get maximal strength from them and they will be able to support the most possible resistance /weight that their structural components can withstand. On the other hand, for every degree off of the line of force that you place the studs they will lose exponential structural strength. The bones in the hand (metacarpals), and the bones in the forearm (Radius and Ulna) are essentially your “studs” when talking about structural alignment at impact during a punch. If the bones are aligned perfectly with the line of force, then the muscles will be at their most efficient and optimal biomechanical position to support them and even continue to drive them through the target. The strength of your prime movers (pec major, anterior delt, triceps, etc…) at the shoulder and elbow joints will also be the limiting factor (this is also assuming that everything along your kinetic chain below the shoulder is aligned optimally/properly, which is another whole topic in itself) as to how much inertia can be overcome. If on the other hand your “studs” are out of alignment, even just a little, then exponential levels of force will be placed at the joints where you are out of alignment, and your smaller stabilizing muscles (wrist flexors, extensors, lateral flexors or extensors, or rotator cuff, rear deltoid, etc…) will become the limiting factors and thus the amount of interis you will be able to overcome will drastically reduce and you will place undue stress on your connective tissues and musculature.

The fact of the matter is that the middle and ring metacarpals are capable of aligning in the line of force better than the pointer and middle metacarpals. Try getting into a push-up position on your fists first balanced on the first two knuckles, then the middle 2/bottom 3; the later will feel more stable, even if you’re used to punching with the first two, especially in a vertical fist orientation. The added support of the pinky knuckle also means the force is spread over a greater surface area; perhaps not optimal from a localized damage standpoint, but superior from a stability and injury prevention standpoint.

Another less forgiving method for demonstrating this is to try to stop and punch through a mass moving towards you; this could be achieved by swinging a heavy bag away from you and attempting to stop it and drive through it or having someone hold a kick shield on their chest or gear up with some Redman/Fist/High Gear protective equipment and charge you and try to stop them in their tracks or even drive them backwards with a vertical fist utilizing the middle 2/bottom 3 knuckles, then trying the same thing with the first two knuckles. Even if you have the wrist strength to stabilize the first two knuckle punch (and there are people who have conditioned their bodies or just have the God given talent to do so), you will still find that the middle 2/bottom 3 knuckle punch feels more stable.

As one of our RMA Laws states, experience is the ultimate teacher. I know that the bottom 3/middle 2 wrist alignment is superior for vertical fist strikes because I have tested them both as have GM Ryan, Shihan Walt, and Joe Lewis both with similar drills, with real resistance while sparring, and in countless real fights. But feel free to test them both out for yourself and let experience teach you which is better as well.