The palm strike can be applied much like a punch, and the idea is to generate significant power to really rock the brain (reboot the computer!), possibly causing a knockout. There are some variations in application. When I first began researching it, I was not entirely sure everyone was talking about the same technique, as different camps also call it different things: palm heel strike, tiger’s claw, face smash, jab or cross with a “claw hand”, etc. This is not an exhaustive list, for sure. We practiced several palm strikes in Wing Chun with yet other names. Naming conventions are not really our concern.
I find I like the palm strike more and more. Heck, even just sticking your open hand in someone’s face, with no power behind it whatsoever, can be very distracting. But, I digress. We’re looking for more than distraction here. The palm strike, when applied to the head, is favored over the punch by many for several good reasons that you might wish to consider. For women, it can be easier on the hand in delivery, though any big, burly type can fracture the knuckles while driving his fist into a bony skull. A common injury, known as a boxer’s fracture, is sustained when there is a break between the knuckles of the middle finger and the pinkie. I realize that saving your own life is worth breaking some metacarpals, but heck—I’m interested in more than survival. I’m interested in winning! J In addition to tearing up the hand, there is the whole health-related issue of hitting teeth and lacerating the knuckles. I doubt seriously that you wander around wearing handwraps or gloves. The fact is that people have dirty mouths that even Orbit gum cannot clean up. That petrie dish of an orifice in his face, coupled with your open wound, can introduce germs into your bloodstream. Two days later you have a nasty infection. Need I say this is not a good thing? There’s nothing like having a fight souvenir that festers and rots off your digits. Moving on. . .
In Krav Maga, practitioners take a fighting stance (left lead) and shoot the hand out like right cross—body mechanics are the same. The wrist is flexed and the fingers are slightly curled to place the emphasis on striking with the heel of the hand. They also rotate the hand inward for power, and to prevent damage to the wrist. As with punching, I like to really drive my right foot into the ground in a counterclockwise corkscrew motion (like I’m killing a cockroach—ha ha ha). Just remember not to over-rotate.
The Tiger’s Claw, or claw hand palm strike, is a classic technique that was favored and taught by W.E. Fairbairn and company. Dennis Martin describes the strike as jolting one, meant to overwhelm an opponent in “all out onslaught”. The fingers are retracted, like a cat’s paw, to reveal the heel of the palm, and the wrist remains flexed, as in the Krav technique, for protection of the joint. The heel is the striking surface, and the tips of the fingers also make contact on the target surface. Some describe the hand formation as palming a grapefruit. The strike moves in a piston-like motion towards the facial region of the opponent (get what you can get—max impact is the real key). Also like Krav, body mechanics that generate speed and utilize body mass (like that for a power shot, like the cross) are employed.
Kelly McCann has an interesting variation that he calls the Face Smash. He likens the strike to throwing a baseball, and his hand formation reflects this. He warns against cocking the arm to avoid telegraphing—instead, take a step forward (left lead) with the strong side arm moving back slightly, forearms and palms facing out. To create momentum, he pushes off with the right foot and accelerates with his body weight behind the striking hand. The hand moves in an arc. He pushes the hand through the arc, imagining it coming to rest at his knee (the “plunge”). McCann seeks both the impact of the hand of the face, and getting his fingers in the eyes of the opponent.
Fairbairn considered eyes to be secondary targets, and his focus was more upon the impact. The folks at Urban Combatives explain his reasoning for this, which is very simple. The eye blink is rapid, and so is the flinch response when an object approaches the eyes. Chances are good you won’t be able to scratch a cornea. A sound argument, but if you do get lucky and poke your fingers in the eyes—fantastic! If not, you still blasted his melon pretty good. The eyes are gravy.
I might use a palm strike from the protective fence (the more aggressive one), and various other situations, perhaps in the place of a straight punch. Like the Combatives sites recommend, I would also follow up with a rapid succession of strikes, as practitioners believe strongly in combinations in a veritable onslaught of pain and aggression to overwhelm the perpetrator. This is the way to gaining and keeping the upper hand until you are able to get to safety. And, it may be a pre-emptive strike, so keep that in mind. As my instructor often says regarding an attacker, and I’m paraphrasing: “Hey, Man. You brought us to this dance. Now, we’re gonna dance.” Just make sure you’re leading.
Dougherty, Martin, and Birdsall, David. (2003). The Self Defence Manual. West Sussex: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
Grover, Jim. (1999). Jim Grover’s Combatives Series: Power Strikes & Kicks, Vol. 1. [Videotape]. Paladin Press.
Levine, Darren, and Whitman, John. (2007). Complete Krav Maga: The Ultimate Guide to Over 230 Self-Defense and Combatives Techniques. Berkeley: Ulysses Press.
Martin, Dennis, et al. The Classic Strikes. Dennis Martin’s Combatives Community. Retrieved February 2009, from http://combatives.forumotion.com/skills-f5/the-classic-strikes-20.htm?sid=cd6b2a67001b1d3d3951ea0d38f96a7f.
Morrison, Lee. Tiger’s Claw Module For CQB Services. Urban Combatives. Retrieved February 2009, from http://www.urbancombatives.com/tigerclaw.htm.
Morrison, Lee. Face Smash. Urban Combatives. Retrieved February 2009, from http://www.urbancombatives.com/facesmash.htm.
Thompson, Geoff. (1997). Dead or Alive. Boulder: Paladin Press.