As a martial arts student, you will hear certain terms used in class, but seldom is there an accompanying definition of the terms. In the case of hand attacks, you hear the terms punch, strike, and thrust used quite often. Everyone knows what a punch is, but what about the other two types of hand attacks and the ways they differ.
A punch is the most common empty hand way a human will attack another human. It’s instinctive; make a baby angry and it will make a fist and try to punch you. Punches are used for both attacks and counterattacks, either singularly or in combination with other attacks.
Some characteristics of punches include:
- Hand shape. The hand is held in a tightly closed fist with the thumb held tightly over and against the fingers. Some variations of the shape of the fist are used by some martial arts, but most are different just to make the martial art seem different from other martial arts.
These variations include:
- Either the first or second finger knuckle slightly protruding.
- The thumb is folded under the fingers and against the palm.
- The thumb held atop the index finger with its pad pressing into the side of the index finger’s middle knuckle.
- Hand orientation. At the termination of a punch, the fist may be oriented in three main directions.
The thumb side of the fist may be facing:
- Downward. This is called a horizontal fist; it is the most common orientation. When most people think of a punch, this is the position of the fist.
- Inward. This is called a vertical fist. Some martial arts consider this the ideal position, but most martial arts use a horizontal fist, except for situations when the vertical fist position may be more effective, as when using a hook punch.
- Upward. This is an inverted horizontal fist. It is primarily used for uppercut punches to the chin or upset punches to the abdomen.
Sometimes, due to the puncher's body position, circumstances, or personal preference, the orientation of the fist may be rotated halfway between horizontal and vertical either toward or away from the vertical center-line of the body.
- Techniques. Punching techniques include:
- Power. Power for punches comes from the arm, shoulder, and back muscles as well as from the mass of the body being rotated into the punch using the hips and from being pushed into the punch by the legs. If you are a believer in using the “sine wave,” then you believe you can add some power by rising and then dropping the body into the punch.
- Delivery. Punches are usually delivered in a straight line toward the target, except for when using hook punches, which add a semicircular hooking motion to the punches to help them get around the opponent’s guard.
Punches may be delivered to the target with an out and back snapping motion (like when using a hammer to hit a nail) or they may be allowed to push into or through the target (like when using a hammer to knock a hole into drywall).
- Speed. Since the hand is usually the closest body part to the opponent, a linear punch has the shortest distance to travel to the target and therefore is usually the quickest hand or foot attack.
- Targets. The primary targets of punches are the head and toro. Rarely are punches used against the arms or any target below the waist. Although the great boxer Rocky Marciano, would punch his opponents’ arms until they could not hold them up in a proper guard, and then he would pound their face.
- Area of contact. The contact area of a punch is usually concentrated in front of the first two knuckles, but all four knuckles may be used; however, the entire face of the fist will usually make some contact with the target.
- Risk of injury. When using a tight fist in a punch, your risk of minor or serious injury is low and the risk of serious injury to the opponent is high, possibly even fatal.
Strikes are open, semi-open, or closed hand techniques that are delivered in a large circular motion. The circular motion adds centrifugal force to the strikes to increase their power. Punches use a closed fist, but they are delivered in a linear motion. Attacks using other body parts are also called strikes, except for foot attacks, which are called kicks. Strikes are used mostly in counterattacks, either singularly or in combination with other attacks.
Some characteristics of strikes include:
- Body parts used for strikes. The body parts used for strikes include:
- Techniques. Some striking techniques include:
- Back fist or spinning back fist
- Back of curved wrist
- Thumb knuckle
- Palm heel
- Knife-hand, inverted knife-hand
- Elbow (up, down, side, back, spinning back)
- Head butt (front, back, and side)
- Knee (up and round)
- Hand shape. The hand shape for a strike depends upon which strike is used. There are many hand shapes, some are highly effective, some are practically useless.
- Power. Power for the strikes are generated by chambering (cocking) the striking appendage and by twisting or winding the torso and/or the waist and then releasing the twist so the centrifugal force adds to the striking motion of the appendage. Footwork allows forward or reverse spinning to add more power to a strike. Multiple strikes are possible by using both arms in spinning techniques that flow from one to another.
- Delivery. Strikes may be delivered to the target with an out and back snapping motion (like using a hammer to hit a nail) or they may be allowed to push through the target (like using a hammer with a long handle to break concrete). Care must be used when using follow-through with circular attacks. If you miss the target your body may twist and expose high-risk targets and you may not be in a position to defend yourself or execute counterattacks.
With circular attacks, the weapon will travel a longer distance to the target than it would in a linear attack. This allows the weapon to gain more speed and power; however, it takes longer for the weapon to cover the distance.
- Targets: For immobilization, specific pressures points may be targeted. Other targets are the head face, neck, arms, torso, groin, and legs when in a position to make leg strikes feasible.
- Area of contact. The area of contact of a strike depends upon which strike is used. Sometimes the area may be small, such as with a thumb knuckle strike, or it may be large, as with a palm heel strike.
- Risk of injury. Depending on the type of strike used, your risk of minor or serious injury is slight and the risk of injury to the opponent is high, possibly even fatal.
Thrusts are when a weapon (usually a hand but may be a foot, such when using a side thrust kick) is linearly thrust into the target as if you were trying to penetrate the target. Thrusts are used mostly in counterattacks, either singularly or in combination with other attacks. Many times, they are used as a “finishing blow” against a weakened opponent to take them out of the fight.
Some characteristics of thrusts include:
- Body parts used for thrusts. The body parts used for thrusts include:
- Techniques. Some thrust techniques include:
- Spear hand
- One or two-finger jabs
- Palm heel
- Side thrust kick
- Power. Power generation for a thrust attack is the same as used to generate power in a punch.
- Delivery. Delivery for a thrust attack is the same as for a punch except that instead of trying to slam hand or foot into the target (like using a hammer to drive a nail), you are trying to penetrate the target (like driving the head of a hammer through drywall or stabbing a knife into an object).
- Targets. Thrusts are used against soft targets. For example, a vertical spear hand thrust to the abdomen or solar plexus, a horizontal spear hand thrust to the pit of the throat, or a palm heel to the groin. If the thrust hits a hard target such as the sternum or a forearm, the attack hand may be seriously injured.
- Area of contact. The area of contact for a thrust depends upon which thrust is used, but the area is generally small; it may only be one fingertip. For maximum penetration, you want to keep the area of contact as small as possible to concentrate all the force into the smallest area, which is why there is a point at the end of a spear.
- Risk of injury. Depending on the type of thrust used, your risk of minor or serious injury may be high, especially when using spear hand thrusts, and the risk of injury to the opponent may be high, possibly even fatal.