Sunday, April 26, 2009

Open Hand Strikes vs. Punching with a Closed Fist

At my recent orange belt grading in Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu, I was told to defend myself against someone trying to apply various joint locks on me. This wasn't something that was on my curriculum for orange belt, they were just curious if I had been shown the counters. Since I hadn’t, I resorted to what I knew from Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu. As my Shodan attacker grabbed my arm to apply a lock I stepped in and delivered a straight palm heel strike to his nose, which apparently provided a good deal of amusement for the grading panel.

Even though I pulled the strike (I didn't want to cause damage), because my attacker was moving into the strike, it hit him harder than I meant to, causing his nose to go purple by the next day. After the grading, I spoke to said attacker and he was under the impression that I had punched him in the nose with a closed fist, based on the force he had received. As evidenced by this example, an open hand strike can be just as forceful and effective as a punch. Sometimes more so.

When striking in a street self-defense situation, you don’t have the benefit of protective gloves. Punching to the head often results in bloody and/or broken knuckles. Just watch some of the early UFC fights to see what I’m referring to. It didn’t take long for guys to mess up their knuckles back then when gloves weren’t worn. The smart ones switched to open hand striking methods to prevent hand injuries. Open hand strikes can be just as effectively used on the right targets. They can break noses, cause brain stunning effects, even knock a person out.

Here’s a bare-handed MMA fight in which an open hand strike all but ends the fight:

Another nice benefit of open hands is that you can more quickly use your hands to grab onto an opponent or attacker so you can throw, control or submit them. Plus, in a street context, open hands send signals to bystanders that you are not willingly involved in the conflict, which is good for gathering witnesses to your aid. You also give subconscious signals to your attacker that can help placate them as you talk them down. And if they do decide to attack you, you can still lash out with your palms quickly and effectively.

This is not to say that closed fists don’t have their place. Closed fists are generally more effective against body targets such as the floating ribs, solar plexus, kidneys, etc, due to the hard surface of the knuckles. The body is much softer too, so there is much less risk that your knuckles could be injured in the process of striking. And of course, in most competitive arenas, gloves are worn for protection so there is no reason to avoid punching. And punches give you a few extra inches of striking range over a straight palm heel strike.

In my next blog post, I’ll detail several of the most effective open hand strikes that are taught in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu as well as a number of other martial arts.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Open hand strikes for sure have there place, especially when self defence is concerned. Early Pancrase fights used open hand strikes and they where very valuable for the fighters. I also would say that slaps across the face, although some would think they are worthless provide a short sharp sting without much chance of injury, which is just enough time to follow through with other techniques.

Lori O'Connell said...

Yes, a sharp slap in the face can be pretty darned effective as a distraction. I know from experience:


Anonymous said...

In general I agree with your point, however I can counter your example with one of my own: about a year ago I had an argument with a guy who deemed it necessary to attempt to punch me in the face. I responded with a parry and a standard one-two to the face (which he had the good sense to block), followed with a kick to the shin (which got his attention) and a hook to the jaw which decked him. I used my fists and ko’d him yet I did not break, damage or even bruise my knuckles and I am certainly not a boxer. I think it all comes down to proper technique and knowing where to hit and where not. A paraphrase on Sun-Tzu: “those who know where to hit will be victorious, those who do not will suffer defeat”. I think it’s a good idea to punch the bag without gloves from time to time (hardens the knuckles) and you’ll immediately feel when and where your strike is off. Pain is a good teacher.

To conclude: in general and for most people palmheel-strikes might be better but fists can be just as effective and safe when delivered and trained properly. Even if I do damage my hand I’ll still continue untill he’s out cold or controlled, it’s not because you feel pain that you’re down and out. Palmheel-strikes do have their disadvantages too: if he’s quick and anticipates your attack he can grab your fingers and break them (quite a common counter in kung-fu or so I’ve heard).

Just my two cents,


PS: I do hope that’s not your arm/hand in the picture, lol.