Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Should You Strike with the Fist or with the Palm?

Photo Credit:  Source pic - http://www.intrepidboy.com

Yesterday, I posted Craig Gemeiner's essay "Open Hands" in which he described various ways to strike with the Open Hand from the older Savate and Defense dans la Rue. Today, I wanted to present to you the perennial argument Martial Artists have forever debated. The issue is: 

"Should you strike with the Fist or with the Palm?"

There are those in favor of striking with the Palm. They say it's easier to break your hand if you strike with your fist, say to a target such as the head. As their defense exhibit, the Palm-strikers will cite the famous incident where the former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Mike Tyson, was in a street scuffle with Mitch Green, and broke his hand on August 23, 1988. The handwraps boxers use in combination of the gloves is not to protect their opponent but to protect their own hands from breaking upon repeated punching! Tyson, absent his wraps and gloves, broke his right hand impacting presumably against the hard skull of Mitch Green. These advocates of using Palm strikes will also say, "Hard against Soft; Soft against Hard." This saying translates to:  Use your fist against soft targets and for hard targets, use your palm. What they are really saying is that they know what targets to aim at with their Palm strikes. Martial artist who favor using their palm over their fist will also bring up the ease of transition to a tiger claw for raking, to a grab, to a pinch, to a thumb jab or even to a thumb gouge.

For every Yin, there is a Yang. The champions of the cause for Striking with the Fist will say that "You fight the way you train." If you do focus mitt drills or hit the heavy bag, you almost always would be striking with your fist. Also, when people get angry, invariably they will unconsciously clench their fists. Human Nature and Evolution has perhaps hardwired into Man for their survival the instinctive clenching of the Fist. You can watch any MMA match. At some point one fighter has his opponent downed and trying to finish him. Invariably, the Lizard Brain will kick in and you see repeated hammerfists from the same hand. It is so natural and instinctual to use the hammerfist when the Lizard Brain kicks in. Thirdly, the issue of "Reach" will be brought up. Striking with the open Palm, you will lose a few inches of Reach. A few inches may not seem to be a lot in most things, but in striking those extra few inches may have a significant impact (pun intended!).

Let's recap the arguments for both sides.

Palm Strikers

  • Can break your hand if you use your fist to strike
  • Know where to strike with the palms
  • Easy transition to other hand formations

Fist Strikers

  • Fight the way you train and most train with fists
  • Human Nature/Evolution & Lizard Brain - instinctively will clench hand into fist
  • Shorter Reach when striking with palms

New research has surfaced from the University of Utah which suggests that fighting may have shaped the evolution of the human hand:

The derived proportions of the human hand may provide supportive buttressing that protects the hand from injury when striking with a fist. Flexion of digits 2–5 results in buttressing of the pads of the distal phalanges against the central palm and the palmar pads of the proximal phalanges. Additionally, adduction of the thenar eminence to abut the dorsal surface of the distal phalanges of digits 2 and 3 locks these digits into a solid configuration that may allow a transfer of energy through the thenar eminence to the wrist.

I can hear you yell out, "Say what Stickgrappler?!?! I don't speak no Scientific-ese." LOL I don't either, but luckily BBC News translated it into layman's terms:

They found that the structure of the fist provides support that increases the ability of the knuckles to transmit "punching" force.

The research conclusion (mental drumroll please...):

We found that peak forces, force impulses and peak jerk did not differ between the closed fist and open palm strikes. However, the structure of the human fist provides buttressing that increases the stiffness of the second MCP joint by fourfold and, as a result of force transfer through the thenar eminence, more than doubles the ability of the proximal phalanges to transmit ‘punching’ force. Thus, the proportions of the human hand provide a performance advantage when striking with a fist.

If I understand this correctly, there was no difference between the Fist and Palm strikes, however, the structure of the buttressed Fist resulted in a fourfold increase of force transfer. Basically the shape of the human hand  provides an advantage to striking with the Fist.

For all the Martial Artists who prefer to strike with an open Palm, did this new research help to change your mind?



NOTE:  My sincerest gratitude to Mentoir K. for sending me the BBC article link.


Unknown said...

I prefer using the open hand as it is powered by the explosive force of energy behind it. It uses more space, penetrates deeper into the tissue and can wake your opponent up to a very real situation, where he just got slapped by a 60 year old man whom, had he used his fist, would have re-arranged his face. Not preferring to hurt unless I need to...I use the open palm. Also allows for quicker and more precise trapping techniques. Great article....Nope did not change my mind.

Stickgrappler said...

Hello Sir:

Thank you for your reply!

Great points! Like Yin-Yang, good to train both fist and palm.

Very truly yours,



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