Let's assume for the sake of argument that the martial arts have some interest in teaching a person to defend themselves. Let's assume they have some interest in teaching a person how to survive a violent encounter. What punching method would you teach that person? Let's turn to one of the forefathers of modern close combat, Colonel Rex Applegate, for his thoughts on the matter. Remember Applegate is interested in teaching soldiers to survive in a war zone.
Hand blows can be delivered by using the fists, edge of the hand, palm, or knuckle. To use the fists effectively, a knowledge of boxing is a prerequisite. Experts state that it takes up to six months to learn to deliver a knockout blow with either fist. The ability to box is desirable and the other principles boxing teaches, such as the use of body balance. However, there are other means of using the hands which the layman can learn and use more swiftly, and at times more effectively. (Kill or Get Killed 1976: 21)
Knockout blows delivered to the chin by the fist may not only be ineffective, they also present the danger of a dislocated finger or knuckle, or a cut from the opponent's bony facial structure. The use of the fist has another shortcoming; that it does not concentrate force of the blow sufficiently. ... the average individual cannot use the fist effectively enough to do great damage in a single blow. The novice should limit the use of his fists to such soft, vulnerable areas as the stomach, groin and kidneys, and rely on other types of blows for other parts of the body. (Applegate, 22)Injury is caused by the absorption of kinetic energy in excess of the tissue's tolerance levels. When an arm is moving in a punch it possesses kinetic energy. When it stops moving upon impact with an opponent's body, that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. If the wrist or fist are not optimally positioned, the kinetic energy of the punch may be absorbed in the puncher's hand or wrist resulting in an injury rather than that kinetic energy being transferred to the opponent to cause an injury in the opponent.
While Applegate does not say it, there is another issue associated with risking your hand or wrist by punching an opponent when in combat. Injuring your hand then compromises your ability to use your hand-held weapons, e.g. your firearm.
'Top of the head, hardest part of the body' - this is what Brian Dennehy's character says in the 1992 boxing movie Gladiator when he uses the tactic of ducking his head so that his opponent hits the top of his head when punching. This tactic is designed to injure the opponent's hand by punching a hard object. When a boxer's hand is injured, their weapon is injured, and they become relatively defenceless.
What 'other types of blows' does Applegate suggest to use in place of the problematic fist? The chin jab (aka heel-palm strike), edge of the hand, and knuckles. Captain W.E. Fairbairn is another who influenced the development of modern military combatives. What 'blows' does he include in his combatives classic, Get Tough: How to Win in Hand-to-Hand: As Taught to the British Commandos and the U.S. Armed Forces? Edge-of-the-hand and chin jab (aka heel-palm strike). No punches.
We will only consider the humble heel-palm strike here. Applegate suggests 'an average man can cause a knockout with only six inches of traveling distance from the start of the blow to the point of impact' (23). A fairly bold claim it has to be said.
Bolander, Neto, and Bir compared punches and palm strikes (see Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 2009 8: 47-52). They found that the accelerations of both strikes were similar, although the force applied to the target by the palm strike was significantly greater than the punch.
It is believed that due to the rigidness of the target, force would transfer through the forearm more efficiently than the metacarpals. The high speed video collected showed that for all strikes, regardless of experience of the subjects, there was always at least a small moment occurring on the wrist. Therefore it could be argued that a palm strike would be a better way to transfer force to the target.No wrist involved in the palm strike means no training to maintain a strong wrist, very little possibility of the kinetic energy of the punch being absorbed in the wrist rather than being transferred to the target, and significantly reduced risk of injury.
The results of this study have many applications for all populations that are interested in any sort of martial arts or self defence training. ... Additionally for martial arts teachers, it would be important to teach novice practitioners the palm strike early in training so that they may have a better chance to defend themselves in a high stress situation, or if the student is inherently weak the palm strike and be an alternative to the punch to deliver a stronger impact.This research is also applicable to soldiers and law enforcement officers that are exposed to close quarters combat on a regular basis.I deliberately chose the wing chun image above because it advertises that self defence now has a name. Presumably that name is wing chun. If self defence is wing chun, or any other martial art for that matter, it could be quite strongly argued that they should be teaching the palm/heel-palm strike first, and train it assiduously thereafter, rather than relegating it to some sort of second tier striking technique.
I deliberately chose the above picture of a heel-palm strike being used to break a board. I was involved in teaching a six-week women's self defence course where the participants were given the opportunity of breaking a pine board with a heel-palm strike at the end of their final lesson. The course did not teach any punching techniques, and relied principally on the heel-palm strike. I never saw a woman that could not break the board after only 12 hours of lessons. of which only a small proportion was devoted to this technique. The boost in confidence when successfully breaking the board was obvious.
Are you teaching heel-palm strikes? If so, when and with what emphasis?