Setting up your opponents

Feints are in the arsenal of every skilled martial artist. Whether you look at the heavy-handed boxer, Roberto Duran or the ever-elusive MMA fighter Israel Adesanya. The ability to lure your opponent into a reaction you want is a highly-desired skill by many martial artists. In the sport of boxing, the feint is what differs the intelligent fighters from the pack. It makes the audience believe that the boxer has a sixth sense. The correct use of feints can set up your opponent for the perfect knockout.

“Most importantly fighters in my day knew the most important art in boxing – feinting.” – Jack Johnson

What is a feint

A feint with a punch is an advanced technique used in boxing or any other combat sport to cause the opponent to react and defend themselves. In essence, you’re faking a movement so you get the desired response from your opponent. For example, a right-handed boxer would fake a jab and follow with a short, right hook to the body when their opponent’s hand is still coming up from blocking the initial punch. Another example is when you pretend to move left but move to the right instead.

Feints are not limited to hand movement alone, the possibilities are limitless. You can feint with your eyes, head, limbs, and even your eyebrows. The key is to make a move to trick your opponent into reacting prematurely. There is a reason why boxing is also known as The Sweet Science. It takes a lot of brain capacity to use feint effectively against a skilled opponent. But once mastered, you become like a lion baiting its prey.

“We usually use a feint instead of a punch to set things up,” explained Roach. “Manny goes out there and feints, they think something is coming and they reach for it a little bit like to block it…then he turns the punch over into a hook, and they give us enough room to get the hook in there.” – Freddie Roach

Why is it important to learn how to feint?

In order to lead the dance in a fight, you must not only control your actions but also your opponent’s (re)actions. If you have a magnificent liver punch in your arsenal it would be a shame not to display it. You can keep on punching and wait until that moment where your opponent makes a mistake and has his or her elbows out. Or you can use feints and simply use your opponent’s reactions against himself.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says: “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent.” This is no less true in any combat sport nowadays. The whole idea of a feint is to confuse your opponent and disorganized him mentally so that he is unprepared for your punch. When you bring your opponent into this state, you are in complete control. Not only of yourself but of your opponent. Now you’re leading the dance. The question that remains is, how do you actually feint effectively?

“I would try to put pressure on him, have him back up, feint a lot, and try to work on some takedowns to neutralize his main Karate weapons. Keep it varied.” – Alexander Gustafsson

How to feint

Feinting helps you trick your opponent into committing to something they don’t necessarily want to commit to but their reflexes get the best out of them. In order to use his or her reflexes against them, you first have to understand the response for a feint. While there are many ways (defensive, offensive, counter, feint in combination) and variables to take into consideration for a successful feint. Let’s look at an offensive example.

One of the ways to set up your opponent with a feint is to fake a jab to the body. You do this by stepping in, lowering so that your shoulder is in line with your target, and throwing a real jab. Now, you have ”trained” your opponent into thinking that when you step in and lower your shoulders and move your left hand, you will jab. This kind of thinking is exactly what you want. Now it’s time to capitalize on this thought process.

The next step is to do exactly the same thing, but instead of fully extending the jab, you only extend halfway. By the time your opponent’s hand is lower to block the punch or his overall focus is on his body, he is not focussed on his head. This gives you the opportunity to throw a straight right head to his chin.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. The importance of timing and rhythm for this technique can not be overstated. One mistake, and your feint will be used against you. Next, you must know how your opponents react to a certain movement. Without this information, you’re shooting blanks. Also, your feint must be done with the exact same intent as if it was the real thing. Your opponent will see through a half-hearted movement. If this happens, you can expect a barrage of punches coming your way. Lastly, you must learn what kind of feints work with your opponent. Not all feints work with everyone.

“Indirect Progressive Attack (I.P.A. from now on) is based on feinting.” – Bruce Lee

Even though the feint works very well for some fighters, there are others who can see through it and use it against you. You should try to not be predictable with how often and when you decide to use the feint. This may require that you practice until it becomes second nature and then try using it in actual combat once in a while (but not too much). If your opponent catches on and starts countering your feints, this means that you need to change up what moves you make before the feint so that you keep them guessing.


All in all, the art of feinting is having your opponent react to something that is not there. In order to use feints effectively, you must be confident in your skillset, in your ability to read your opponent, and in your ability to lead your opponent. If you are ready for feints, you take your skillset to a new level. A level where you put the science in The Sweet Science.

Author: Sanjay Soekhoe

Sanjay Soekhoe is a professional strength and conditioning coach and boxing coach. Currently, he trains athletes in various disciplines. He is one of the few Westside Barbell certified coaches in the world and the first in the Netherlands.


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Author: Sanjay Soekhoe

Sanjay Soekhoe is a professional strength and conditioning coach and boxing coach. Currently, he trains athletes in various disciplines. He is one of the few Westside Barbell certified coaches in the world and the first in the Netherlands.