This question is often asked – what is better in a self-defense situation, to hit with an open palm or to strike with a closed fist?
Just asking this question means you are one of the few who are serious about self-defense and not just keen to learn how to fight. Both fists and palms have varying levels of power, damage and style depending on what martial art you follow and what training you have received, but we try and deduce which is better – the palm or the fist?
The fist itself always looks like the more powerful choice. With a good punch, you can knock someone out with a single strike to the chin and the form itself (making a fist with your hand) seems very natural to most of us. We were born to punch and our hands (or fists in this case) are our primary weapon.
Fists are also painful. You strike with pretty much pure bone, with just a thin layer of skin and tissue between the outside world and your bony knuckles. The physiology of the hand is such that there are so many bones in the hand, the fist form helps protect those bones from being broken. It’s almost like your bones come together like some Power Ranger configuration that is stronger, more powerful and constructed in a way that greatly reduces the chance of breaking a finger (just keep your thumb on the OUTSIDE please – that’s boxing 101).
So far so good, it’s looking strong and a likely winner in this discussion. However, we must take the negatives in to account too. Fists may be easy to form, but punching with accuracy and in a way that doesn’t hurt yourself takes training. Many people (especially those not trained in martial arts or self-defense) do themselves serious damage in a fight thanks to their inability to form a proper punching fist and many actually end up breaking their hand or their wrist while punching. Even those who are well trained run the risk of breaking bones, especially in a street fight that often has no hand protection and wrist support whatsoever.
Choosing the target can be a challenge too. Punches are accurate and direct, and if you miss by just a few centimetres the outcome can be considerably different. Certain parts of the body are also not that ‘punchable’, such as the top of the head which can easily lead to a broken hand if striked in just the right (or wrong) way.
Contrary to popular belief, the open hand involves almost no risk or injury to your hand when striking (it’s what your opponent does to your hand if they grab it which is more dangerous). If you strike with your palm, you cannot break your knuckles or fingers, so it is much more risk free than a fist. Also, with a greater surface area, the palm can cover a lot more ground – strikes to anywhere on the head are usually very effective and there is much less aiming involved.
If you talk to Krav Maga or Silat practitioners, they will swear by the open wrist for one main reason – you can instantly grab an attack with an open hand – a fist takes time to open, time that you often don’t have when defending yourself. Things like grip negotiation (if you are grabbed) and hand retention (getting your hand back) are significantly easier if your have a open hand.
However, an open fist is hard to adapt to, especially for those used to punching. An open hand attack feels unnatural in many cases and the damage you make can be significantly less. Psychologically, it seems the weaker option so fighters with an open palm need to use their brain a lot more in order to inflict the desired damage.
A powerful strike to the side of the head for example, can break an eardrum, or a thrust to the nose with the palm can break it instantly. These moves however require a moment of logical thought before they are carried out too, so for some this is just too much thinking and not enough fighting.
Whichever style you go for, make sure you train properly and utilize that training well. If you are ever find yourself in a street fight, try and take the time to eye up the opposition and decide on your best course of action before you strike. You may find you use a combination of both (which is probably the best option), laying down strong punches in between distraction slaps. Either way, keep safe and train hard.
What is your opinion on this?