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Definition, Etymology, and Effectiveness of the Haymaker Punch

I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.

Learn everything you need to know about the haymaker punch.

Learn everything you need to know about the haymaker punch.

The Stereotypes of the Haymaker Punch

The stereotype of the haymaker punch is that it is used by country folk, in the American backwoods, in down-and-dirty brawls. It's not considered a sophisticated technique but depending on who you talk to, it is sometimes considered effective.

By some, it's considered ineffective for various logical and very sound reasons. I suppose the jury is out, because the punch is still used in various forms on the street, maybe at the hayloft, and even in professional competitions (more on this later).

What is the haymaker punch, where does the term come from, and is it effective? Let's find out.

What Is It?

A haymaker punch is a wide-swinging blow that generates tremendous power because of the travel and momentum that it possesses. Being a wide swing, it can be easily detected by the perceptive, well-trained, and experienced opponent. The power of the punch is derived from the shoulder muscles and body weight; it is a torque technique. Because it has tremendous power, if it connects, it almost always assures a knockout, or at least significant damage and destabilization. The opponent is certain to be at least stunned by this punch.

Because the blow packs so much power, some people use it to end a fight as quickly as possible. In spite of its lack of finesse and efficiency, if it lands, it could very well end a fight on the spot.

Comparison of the sickle and the scythe.

Comparison of the sickle and the scythe.

Origin of the Term

It is generally accepted that the origin of the term is derived from the wide sweeping motion made with a tool called a scythe for chopping down hay and other crops on a farm. The scythe is a long curved blade attached to a handle, similar to a sickle but larger.

This etymology makes sense because of the general notion that the punch is used by tough farm boys in the country. The movement of using the scythe to chop down hay is very similar to the punch. I suppose country folk get a lot of practice with that motion and it's burned into their muscles.

There is another theory, not at all well-substantiated, that the term comes from a rather desperate boxer known as Gene "Lights Out" Hamaker. He supposedly was a Swedish immigrant who was in dire straits in early 20th century America, and he took to prize fighting to support himself. The story goes that he knocked an opponent out and the referee, mispronouncing his name, shouted out "Haymaker!" as the winner of the bout. There is not much to support this claim or that the fighter even existed. It is interesting to note there have been a few boxers with the nickname "Lights Out," so this lends even more validity to the claim that this origin story is fictitious. Kind of sounds like to me that someone pieced together a few facts to make up a fake story about the origin of the haymaker.

Depiction of the use of the scythe to cut down hay.

Depiction of the use of the scythe to cut down hay.

Is It Effective?

The haymaker can be effective for one main obvious reason: it's powerful. It's a knockout punch if it lands on the temple or jaw. A form of it has been used by professional UFC and MMA competitor Chuck Liddell. Chuck is famous for knocking out opponents with wide hooks and looping overhand punches. But it should be said that he does not come out of the corner with wild swinging punches. He sets up the heavy shot and uses obscure, hard to detect angles. Chuck is a smart fighter, but he knows power is necessary to score a win. He often goes for the power punches to end fights quickly.

While a very skilled fighter can pull off a wide swinging punch and knock out an opponent with it, it is a dangerous punch to use. You leave yourself wide open for a counter and you are telegraphing your movement. Telegraphing means the opponent sees the attack coming. Generally, in the striking arts, students are taught to use economical motion, meaning you only move enough to get the job done and still in a way that your technique is effective. This means you do not use unnecessary and big motion but still use proper angles and use enough travel to have power behind the attack. Essentially, the haymaker goes against the rules of good, effective, and efficient fighting. You are partly relying on luck if you use it. Very skilled fighters will see it coming and you're liable to find yourself at the bad end of the deal.

It's important to understand that fighters like Liddell who use some wide swinging punches have exceptional timing and use many other weapons in their arsenal. Chuck uses a swinging overhand punch, but he places it effectively at an obscure angle at the right time and set up by other moves.

Generally, it is still true that you don't want to use what might be effective. You want to use something that protects you and is most efficient and hard to see coming. This is why fighters in striking arts are usually taught to cover themselves, not to leave themselves open, and to make their punches and strikes undetectable and efficient in terms of movement. However, everyone knows that power is important. This is why some people will use the haymaker. It is all about power.

© 2014 Nathan Bernardo


Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on July 31, 2014:

That is definitely very funny, tirelesstraveler. I'm glad you liked the article and glad you stopped by. Thanks!

Judy Specht from California on July 31, 2014:

Hope you are ready for a laugh; I thought this was a recipe from the title. Moonshine of some sort?

.Very glad the title drew me into the story. Worthwhile read. History of anything is worth reading.

Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on July 11, 2014:

No problem, Rachael. I think the origin of words is a fascinating subject. Glad you stopped by.

Rachael O'Halloran from United States on July 11, 2014:

It is interesting how some things get their names. Thanks for the interesting lesson.