Should I punch in a real life fight? This question has been asked in every martial arts studio the world over. With varying answers from each instructor. The answer is usually based on the traditions within the system or preference of the instructor. You in fact probably already have a preference that is deeply rooted from years of training. In this article we will be addressing this question from a scientific stand point. We will be addressing the issue of hand injuries and will come to a conclusion for a reality based situation. Let’s take a look at the punch.
Making a fist and striking or closed hand striking is very natural to us. You get mad, your adrenaline spikes, your hands clench into fists and the fight is on. But is this the best reaction? To look at closed hand striking let’s start with sport based martial arts where closed hand striking is the norm. If you have ever trained in a striking art you probably remember coming home from a hard day of bag work and your hands were sore. The reason this happens is that as a trained striker you generate a lot of force. More force in fact than the hand and wrist are meant to withstand. The average, untrained person can throw a punch anywhere from 60-85 PSI (Pounds per square inch). But a trained striker can generate quite a bit more force. They strike within the range of 194-336 PSI. How hard is that? Well to break a jaw it only takes about 87-146 PSI. How about to break your hand? Well to get the most common striking injury, the boxers fracture, requires only 9 PSI. Now if your hands are wrapped and you are wearing gloves the possibility of breaking your hand in a closed fist strike is drastically reduced. The gloves used by fighters work well to reduce injury but injuries still happen. They have worked so well in fact that since being implemented in 1867, they fundamentally changed the way people strike. With gloves the boxer could now hit much harder with less worry. This leads to what we will call competition style striking. This is where you rotate your fist in a corkscrew motion in order to generate more force in your punch. With a boxing glove this is an amazing and effective way to hit! You can generate maximum amount of power while your hand is safe. But with this sport style of training you become comfortable throwing powerful blows that, without the safety gear, your body cannot handle.
Now we see why closed hand striking is so popular in the sport based arts; harder hits equal more knock outs which equal more tickets sold. Now let’s take a look at our realm, reality based self defense. So if you have been following along and have done some quick math you would see that a full power competition strike to someone on the street, while generating a lot of force, would almost guarantee a broken hand. Especially if you impact one of the three B’s (bones, body armor or bling) which we will discuss later and especially during an adrenaline dump when making a proper fist becomes much more challenging. Now before all the more power equals better types start chiming up and sending me emails. Yes a hard hit is great but in reality we may have multiple attackers and may need to get to tools. So a broken hand is not the best option. With no official and no ringside doctor we as reality based fighters, need to mitigate damage more then the professional fighter does.
Now am I saying that closed fist striking is out of the question? No. It is just far more risky! Let’s take a look at throwing a punch from a physics angle. Two major factors contribute to your punch, force and pressure. Now PSI is our force factor, it tells us how much force is applied to the target. Now pressure is key to injury. Why am I far more likely to break my hand hitting a steel door over punching a guy in the shoulder? Seriously how many broken hands have come from shot for shot? The force is the same, it is the pressure that changes. The door has no give while the arm absorbs some of the pressure. So the output of my punch on a soft target is the same but the pressure is less because the soft target absorbs part of it. The same principal applies to the glove. It is padded so pressure is absorbed, my force is the same just spread out. Think old mafia story where they use a phone book to cushion the bat when they hit you. Bat still hurts like hell, but hey no bruising! So we have soft targets (the body, arms and legs) and we have hard targets (the three B’s). Throwing a punch into a soft target is pretty safe. A punch to a hard target though means the pressure is not absorbed and you are FAR more likely to cause an injury that could severely effect your combat effectiveness. If you are duty bound or use weapons in your career having a broken hand makes things like drawing a weapon or cuffing and control much more difficult.
If you absolutely must strike with a closed hand due to years of training like in my case. I recommend looking at the arts that still do not use gloves, as the boxing style of striking has become a part of almost all sparing arts. Ask any boxing coach worth his salt if you should hit the same out side as you do in the ring and you will get a flat out “No”. Wing Chun’s straight blast style of striking is strong because it keeps your arm, wrist, and knuckles in line so your whole arm is absorbing the pressure not just your wrist and knuckle. Though I recommend a one quarter turn as this is the most natural and safest way the body moves. But still on hard impact to an elbow, or a belt buckle (they wear ‘em big here in our rural community) and you are going to be having a bad day. Well actually it will be a bad 6-8 weeks, which is the average healing time of a broken hand.
In conclusion, even though you can generate more force with a punch, in a reality based situation open hand striking is the way to go. It is safer and leaves you far more options. You are far less likely to injure your hand and your chances of evading or escaping are always better when you are not injured. Plus you won’t be spending over a month in a cast.
KPC Martial Arts