Monday, July 23, 2012
The other day, one of my friends who is a Kyokushin karate instructor explained to me "when I had an injured wrist, I simply did pushups on my knuckles. Stronger punches, you know..." It got me to thinking.
Many arts, especially the Okinawans, promote punching as a principle method for attacking. They train hard for it to develop the capacity to hit with fight-stopping force using the fist. Often times these attacks are directed not just at soft tissues like the throat or plexus, but at hard bone mass targets like the head. Without a lot of conditioning and very good punching technique (especially alignment of the wrist with the forearm bones), it is very easy to break the delicate bones of the hand.
As for me, I prefer to fight seriously using my open hands rather than fists for a variety of other reasons as well:
1) I may want to grab, parry, or misdirect the opponent's arms of legs. This is much better done with the open hand.
2) I like to strike with the knife edge (tegatana in Japanese) or palm heel (shotei) since they do not involve any of the joints in the hand or wrist and thus are strong and stable for maximum impact without risk of injury.
3) As I enter, I like to get fingers up into the face/eyes/throat of the opponent whenever possible, and this is best done using the open hand rather than the fist.
4) Clenching a fist causes subconscious tension in the muscles (especially the arms) and increases stress/aggression. Tension/stress usually equates to slowness in a fight.
5) In my background of Aikido/Jujitsu, the closed fist is hardly used due to our need to touch and grab the opponent for joint manipulation.
6) Closed fists in western law denote aggression (implying assault or the intention to assault). Open hands do not. Held in front they suggest compliance, but in reality are anything but submissive :-)
Of course I am well aware that most fights have the habit of punching. For Westerners this is due to our history of boxing, which promotes fists and makes open hands illegal. I think this is mostly possible due to the use of padded gloves to protect the fighters' hands. Without these, I doubt any match would last 15 rounds of fighters punching each others' skulls.
Years of striking the makiwara pad (common in traditional karate) can develop the strength in the fists to contact the major bones structures without injury, much in the way muay thai fighters kick trees or posts to condition their shins. However, I consider this trade-off of longevity/mobility for impact power to be a bad deal. Many karateka I know have arthritis or other severe joint problems in their hands from the makiwara, and I have heard many retired muay thai fighters have greatly lessened mobility due to kicking trees when they were young.
Speaking to many traditional Okinawan masters, it seems that at much higher levels in karate/kenpo training the closed fist is rarely used and the movements become increasingly circular and fluid, resembling the original Chinese arts that first influenced them. I suggest that the translation of karate can be "empty hand" but can also be "open hand" ie. not using the fist.
I still believe a principal goal of martial arts training should be longevity, and in particular not just from surviving an encounter but from having a full range of motion in the joints, improved circulation, greater flexibility/dexterity and proper breathing throughout our lives. This is much more in line with the Chinese interpretation than the modern Japanese/Okinawan/Korean/Thai versions but far more valid for people outside the battlefield.
By all means, train hard as you wish. But for me, the open hand is the deadly hand.