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bare knuckle striking








Bare Knuckle Striking

Dave Turton 7th Dan : Head Self-Defence Federation

OK.. Striking with the fist is always a dangerous action, more so when hitting the hard bone of the skull/head, with what are fairly delicate bones in the hand .. So what to do about it.

Before we actually get on to hitting, a little understanding about the hand is in order.

Humans are really the only animal with the positioning of the thumb the way it is in relation to the rest of the hand and fingers. The position of the thumb is for one thing only .. increased and superior gripping abilities... This is the main reason in fact why Grappling moves are much more natural than punching ones.

Without getting TOO deep into it here, we need no teaching how to grab, pull, pinch, nip, yank hair, hold etc.. What we DON'T do all that naturally is PUNCH.

Basically we are Apes (in fact some are more apes than others!).. very young children (toddlers) when they fight, look very similar to young apes in the movements they perform. The 'hitting' tends to be more with open slaps or 'hammer fist' type strikes, rather than forward punching.

A forward punch is a development of 'push'.. and isn't that natural as such.

Take a look at the structure of the hand.. It is perfectly designed for holding, but NOT that well designed for punching.

When you make a fist, there is a small but discernable 'gap' in the finger/palm area. This is because nature intended some object to be IN that gap. To hold a tight closed fist requires a great degree of muscle contraction.. In fact the 'natural' position of the 'fist' as such, is a relaxed 'ball' of the hand.. NOT a tight club.

And the above is the KEY to development of properly 'formed' punching weapons, as opposed to 'de-forming' the fist.

Make no mistake about it, deformation is easily achieved, and almost impossible to undo..

Take the late Karate Master "Masutaru Oyama" The originator of the "Kyukushinkai Karate" system. He was well reknowned for the development of the 'Fist', and stories abound of his ability to knock out 'Bulls' (he is even credited with killing one), with one punch.

He was big on knuckle and fist training.. In fact his two large knuckles looked more like one single knuckle, and in later life, he couldn't pick up small objects with his fingers. He had lost a great deal of dexterity in order to develop what was fundamentally a 'Club' at the end of his wrist.

This was acceptable in the days, centuries ago when a Warrior was just that, and nothing else. There is little point in spending all that time and pain in developing something that .. a) you might never use, and, b) is detrimental to normal daily use.

So, what's the answer.. Well the answer lies in the way we train out fists at the moment of impact.

There are 3 aspects to this .. The actual Impact training, the use of 'rubs', and the understanding of correct punching technique.

So, one at a time..

Forget the 'Makiwari'.. This doesn't develop the FIST, it strengthens the WRIST.. which although necessary. (You don't want it to collapse at the moment of impact), can de developed better in other ways. Forget also the 'Ball Bearings in a bag' stuff.. This hardens the OUTER areas of the knuckles, at the expense INNER ones. You get calloused knuckles, but NO improvement in any impact ability. Also NO BOARD BREAKING.. How many boards will you fight in your life ???

All board breaking actually achieves on the positive front is increased confidence in your strikes.

Ask yourself this .. Who knocks out the most people in a year as a group??


How many people are regularly knocking others out in competition.. Does Karate come even close? .. What about Wing Chun ? .. No.. The answer isn't with any mysterious ancient Tibetan breathing, posturing methods, of dipping your hands in hot sand.. You will get as much benefit from dipping your hands in bloody cold custard. All hot sand etc will do is produce a mild 'burn' which of course causes hard skin to develop to cover the burn.. just like a callus.

And at the end of the day, who wants a hand that can 'Kill a Rhino with a single mystical strike', but can't pick up a knife and fork??

So here's what to do ..

1. Forget Karate style punches.. These were designed to be forward for one reason only.. to penetrate the wooden armour of the Bushi (Only the Samurai 'officers' could afford metal armour)

The wooden slats attached to cloth were all the footsloggers could afford.. So if they punched single/double knuckled-style at the wood, it broke, the broken ends would penetrate the cloth and stab the soldier .. Hence the reason for wood breaking in Okinawan Karate.(that's not all, but enough at this moment in time)

So.. make a fist ..go on.. look at it..Turn the 'palm' side of the fist to face you,..The 'little finger side of the forearm, is almost a straight line from elbow to little finger Yes?

The THUMB side of the fist 'sticks' out.. In fact the thumb side of the forearm is in line with the gap between first and second fingers .. Yes again??

So, the phalanges & metacarpals, are in fact now in a perfect line with the two forearm bones.. the Radius & Ulna.. Lesson mumber one.. THIS is nature's most perfect fist formation.. Make it yours

Next make a fist with each hand and stick them out in front of you, at about your chin level. WITH THE THUMBS TOUCHING JUST WHERE THE KNUCKLES STICK OUT OK? ... Have the backs of the hands facing exactly upwards, thumbs and little fingers on a parallel line.. .. NOW the IMPORTANT BIT turn the fists, so that the thumbs stay touching, but the little finger sides start to lower, until each fist is about 45 degrees, and the two fists make roughly a 90 degree

position.. Right, now take your left hand away, and look at the right fist.. It should be 45 degrees, in line with the chin, and centre of your body.. This is the perfect punching position for maximum power output.. It's similar to a Right Cross.. The BOTTOM THREE KNUCKLES are the striking points.. NOT the top two.

Now pull this fist slowly back until it rests almost at the side of YOUR chin.. Extend it slowly back out to where it was, and you will see that the extension cause the three bottom knuckles to impact in line with your centre, but on the SIDE of your opponent's chin..because it has travelled slightly inwards, as opposed to straight out as in Karate... Result ideal K.O. positioning.

All moves are in fact circular pulls .. Even, believe it or not something like a Bench Press.. This movement is caused by a superb mechanical linkage of TWO pulls producing what appears to be a push.. We can't actually push .. it's an illusion.. The forearm circles OUTWARDS at the same time as the UPPER arm circles INWARDS, the result is extension of the hand away from the body.. But it's caused by pulling.

The same with punching.. As all bones move in ARCS, and arcs are a part of a circle, then CIRCULAR movements are best... Hooks and Crosses are FAR superior to Jabs and Oi-Tsukis

Put your hand at the side of your leg, let it hang NATURALLY.. Now put the OTHER hand in the position I asked earlier.. out in front of your chin.. remember? (you DID try this didn't you?)

OK.. now bring the hanging arm up making a fist as it rises, until it touches the outstretched

fist in exactly the same way as before.. This movement you have just made is the most natural punch you will EVER do..

If you want to see perfectly natural punching novement, as a very young child 4 or 5 or so, to throw a small stone.. Watch what he or she does.. Picks up the stone, DRAWS it back, steps forward on the NON throwing leg side, (ie left leg for right hand throw).. Extends body mechanics in the following order..LEGS, HIPS, SHOULDERS THEN ARM. And away the stone goes..Now who taught them this ?? NO ONE.. it's genetically inbuilt.. Nature has the answers.

So when you practise punching, think on about the above.. that's the way to achieve the best impact..

Right NEXT.. the external aids..

The old bare knuckle boxers used SHEEP PISS & ALUM CRYSTALS, ( and NO I haven't got clue how or who collected the bloody sheep piss!!)

This was rubbed into the hands, knuckles etc AFTER punching practise NOT before.

Now this stuff isn't quite as easy to come by, but talking to the old former British Middleweight

Champ "Jock McAvoy" The Rochdale Thunderbolt! (quite a few years ago now).. He said that the best substitute for this concoxion is Methylated Spirits.. (the 'bluer' in colour the better).. Now although I haven't used the Original mixture.. 'Meths' worked very well.. How good in comparison I don't know. but it did (does) the job OK.

The trick is to do some punching practise against a fairly rough surface. (some of the modern punch bags are very smooth), until the knuckles are a tiny bit 'red' (not raw and hanging with bits of bloody flesh from them), then rub in the meths quite hard, and leave it to dry.. It takes about a month of three or four times a week, and your hands get quite tough.

(If the pain gets too much .. you can always drink the meths!!)..

That will take care of the actual surfaces of the hands..Next the inner knuckles and bones..

Start by folding two handkerchiefs into a 'roll', just the right size to hold in the closed fist, with little protuding... This now gives internal 'support' to the closed fist, and actually makes the punching position a great deal stronger. Begin by lightly striking a heavy bag from about 12-15 inches away. Do this for about 100 times each hand. Then take the hankies out, and start again quite lightly punching the heavy bag.. BUT start with the hands wide open, and about 2 inches from contact suddenly SQUEEZE the fist closed. The act of closing at the moment of contact actually strengthens both the phalanges and inner hand bones. If you start with the fists already closed, then extension of the arm produces relaxation of the fist on contact.. This is how you hurt them....Remember, Boxers hit with wraps and gloves, and are in no need of any extra protection. The wraps provide BOTH the 'hankie' effect in the palm and a support on the wrist/hand.. The gloves then provide the cushioning.. You will be street punching with neither.

To strengthen the wrist.. Press ups on open hands on the finger-tips.. You don't need anything else, this spreads the tendons of the wrist and aids in supporting your punches.

Finally .. Practise 90% of your punches from a NON posed position.. That is, walk past a partner holding Mitts, suddenly turn and strike.. Stand in front of a heavy bag with your hands held anywhere other than in a 'boxing' posture.. At the sides, in your pockets, scratching your arse if you want.. then on an external signal (shout from a partner) .. throw your punches from WHERE EVER your hands happen to be at the time.. Keep them relaxed until a couple of inches away from the impact point. then make a conscious effort to almost 'jump' them closed.

The legs, hips, shoulders and arms provide the power.. the fists only deliver it.

Let me know how you go on with this.. 3 months should see a massive increase in punching power... And ask away if you need to know more !


29 May 2002

All text is exclusive property of Dave Turton, and unless otherwise noted may not be used for commercial purposes without permission. 


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