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Techniques>Punches>Types of fists

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Types of fists

Intro

A fist is a fist. Right? Well, maybe in boxing or MMA, where only one type of fist is used, but not in the martial arts. Just as there are different martial arts, there are different fists used in the martial arts; some of the fists are useful, some are useless.

Joints of the hand

The fingers and thumb have interphalangeal joints that allow flexion and extension. They join the heads of the phalanges with the bases of the next distal phalanges. Each the fingers and the thumb have a large metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint (the large bottom knuckle) at its base. Each finger has one proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint (the middle knuckle) and one distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint (the top knuckle). The thumb has only one interphalangeal joint.

Basic clenched fist

This is the basic fist that most people think of when they hear the word fist. It is natural and instinctive. Make a human baby mad and this is the fist he or she will make. Make an untrained adult of any culture mad and this is the fist he or she will make. Contrary to the teachings of may martial arts “masters,” this is the safest and most effective fist to use for punching. See http://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236 for detailed scientific research on the clenched fist.

To make a clenched fist:
  • Hold the arm straight out in front of the body with the hand held flat (palm down) with the fingers straight and together with the thumb sticking out.
  • Starting with the little finger, tightly roll all the fingers inward until they are tightly curled.
  • Fold the thumb firmly down over the first and second fingers and tighten the entire fist by squeezing all fingers and thumb inward into the curl and inward toward each other. Individual fingers cannot withstand much force, but, as a part of a solid integral unit, they can withstand tremendous forces without injury. Keep the thumb tightly curled inward so it doesn’t snag on something while punching and doesn’t give the opponent something to grab.
  • Don’t fold the thumb inside of the palm and curl the fingers around it unless you are trying to dislocate the thumb. 
  • Keep the fist in a straight line with the forearm with the wrist locked. If the wrist flexes at impact, it may suffer a sprain or even a break
  • Tighten the fist, wrist, and forearm until they become an integral unit. 
  • The primary striking surface is the bottom knuckles of the first two fingers and the front face of the fist.

Four-knuckle fist

The four-knuckle fist concentrates the striking force on the middle knuckles of the first three fingers. While much weaker than the clenched fist, it can be used to slip past blocks, penetrate deeper, and reach softer targets such as the throat, organs, ribs, and pressure points. If it strikes a hard surface, the hand will probably be injured.

To make a four-knuckle fist:
  • Make a horizontal clenched fist. 
  • While keeping the fingers and thumb curled and tucked, open the fist at the bottom knuckles so the back of the hand is flat from the wrist to the middle knuckles of the fingers.

One-knuckle fist

The one-knuckle fist concentrates the striking force on one knuckle; therefore, it can only be used against soft targets. It is often used in a twisting, "drilling" motion against pressure points.

To make a one-knuckle fist:
  • Make a vertical clenched fist. 
  • Then extend the middle knuckle of the index finger or the middle finger. 

Thumb fist

The thumb fist concentrates the striking force on the tip of the thumb; therefore, it is only used against soft targets, such as the eyes or pressure points.

To make  a thumb fist:
  • Make a vertical clenched fist. 
  • Then extend the thumb out between the first and second fingers of the fist. 

Isshinryu fist

The isshinryu fist is an Okinawan variant devised by Tatsuo Shimabukuro, the founder of isshinryu karate. He claimed that by locking the thumb atop the index finger that the thumb was protected and the wrist was stiffened; however, this assertion is not supported by science.

The punch is launched from the side, keeping the fist vertical the entire time. The elbow is kept close to the side and the shoulder is relaxed and dropped. The punch is usually practiced targeted at the solar plexus. The punch strikes with the first two knuckles of the hand, keeping the elbow slightly bent, and is then snapped back, much like cracking a whip.

The bent elbow prevents its injury if the punch misses or while practicing without striking an object. The bent elbow also maximizes the blow as it permits the punch to be driven into the body. The bent elbow means this is a close-range punch. Since this is a straight punch, the vertical thumb position allows for a cleaner alignment of the wrist and arm bones, supports and protects the thumb, and allows the thumb to be used for jabbing pressure points.

To make an isshinryu fist:
  • Make a vertical clenched fist. 
  • Then move the thumb to the top of the hand and press its tip against the middle knuckle of the index finger. 
Motobu fist

The motobu fist is another Okinawan variant; this one devised by Choki Motobu, a master who believed in heavy makiwara (forging post) training. In this punch, the index finger is folded straight, not curled with the other fingers. Motobu claimed this made the fist smaller and tighter, allowed the index knuckle to protrude, and it backed up and supported the thumb. If a clenched fist is struck directly on the thumb, the thumb may be pushed into the hollow of the fist and dislocated or broken; however, with the motobu fist, the thumb is supported by the index finger. In his master text, Karate-do Kyohan, Gichen Funakoshi teaches this fist (seiken) as the basic fist that is used as the primary hand weapon.

To make a motobu fist:
  • Make a vertical clenched fist. 
  • Uncurl the index finger and let the tip press against the base of the thumb. The thumb is stays folded over the index finger.

Drunken fist

Zui quan or drunken fist is a kung fu style found mostly in China. This fighting style uses conscious, deliberate moves that resemble the unconscious, staggering moves of a drunk. The style uses the drunken fist as one of its primary weapons.

To make a drunken fist:
  • Make a vertical clenched fist. 
  • Then extend the thumb and index finger and hold them in a “C’ shape.

Kuta hand

The kuta or hikuta hand was supposedly used in the ancient Egyptian art of Kuta that was supposedly developed by the bodyguards of the pharaohs and then passed on to other royal bodyguards in Asian countries. Kuta is so ancient that no one had heard of it until it was explained by DOK (Defender of Kings) Lee in 1993. Lee was supposedly taught the art by one of the last surviving members of a secret commando group that had disbanded in the 1940s, a man he called "Pappy Joe."

To make a kuta hand:
  • Make a vertical spear hand with the fingers and thumb pointed straight ahead.
  • Fold the fingers inward until the tip lay against the base of the palm, keeping the thumb pointed straight head.
According to hikuta practitioners:
  • The kuta hand was used by ancient Egyptians. Where is the proof? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. 
  • Kuta hand practitioners say we should not get caught up in the history of the kuta hand; we should just concentrate on the hand itself. In other words, forget the history, it’s all fake anyway.
  • The strike should only be used against soft targets. This pretty much eliminates all targets except the abdomen.
  • You should only punch with the hand held vertically; if you use it horizontally, you may sprain the wrist. This is not a problem with a clenched fist; it can be used at any angle.
  • Keep the thumb straight to keep an angle to the wrist so it is protected from a being sprained. Even if assume it does protect the wrist, why sacrifice the thumb by letting it stick out. I’ve snagged my thumb on a sleeve, arm, leg, and hand protector when sparring, even when I try to keep it tightly tucked. 
  • Although the knuckles of the hand may strike the target, the primary striking surface is the flat front of the fingers. Try this yourself. Form the kuta hand with one hand and use your other hand to push back on the flat surface of the kuta hand. What happens? The fingers of the kuta hand have no support so they easily are pushed backward out of the way so that only the bottom knuckles of the fingers do the striking. The soft fingers do no damage and you are left punching with the bottom knuckles doing the striking with a tight fist to lock them in place.
  • It’s quicker and easier to form a kuta hand than it is to form a fist; therefore, the resulting strike will be quicker. Try this yourself. Hold your hand out. Make a clenched fist. Make a kuta fist. Make a clenched fist. Etc. Which one is faster to make? Unless you view the actions in extremely slow motion, you can’t tell which one is faster. There is no significant difference in quickness.
The kuta hand an example of how far “masters” will go to make their “martial art” different from the rest, and it illustrates how gullible some people can be.


Sources
  • Morgan and Carrier. 2012. Protective buttressing of the human fist and the evolution of hominin hands. J Exp Biol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1242/jeb.075713

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