There are fundamentally two ways to strike an opponent with your hand—its either you use your fist or your palm.
The question of whether to strike with fist or palm is a crucial issue among practitioners of weapons oriented systems like arnis, escrima and kali as well as law enforcement officers and military operators. If your primary weapon is a baton, a knife or a gun, then you must always preserve the ability of your hands to use them.
In an encounter, you may have to use empty hands techniques first to create distance between you and your attacker before you can deploy your weapon. If you injured your hand during this transition phase like when your fist got broken after hitting your opponent’s skull, you have seriously compromised the ability of your hand to use your primary weapon (and if the situation is a knife or gun fight you’re dead).
The following is a brief discourse on the pros and cons of using fist or palm in combat.
If the question is which of the two is more natural to use, the choice obviously is the fist. Forming a fist when agitated to fight has always been a natural instinct of humans.
In an article titled Human hands have ‘evolved for fighting’ published in The Telegraph, Professor David Carrier, from the University of Utah said that forming a fist is a genetically ingrained instinct and is an outcome of man’s evolution, “If you are angry, the reflexive response is to form a fist,’’ said Carrier. ‘’If you want to intimidate somebody, you wave your fist.’’
Turning the hand into a weapon was driven by the primal instinct to survive and dominate according to Carrier, ‘’Individuals who could strike with a clenched fish could hit harder without injuring themselves, so they were better able to fight for mates and thus be more likely to reproduce,’’ he said, adding, “If a fist posture does provide a performance advantage for punching, the proportions of our hands also may have evolved in response to selection for fighting ability, in addition to selection for dexterity.’’
Carrier also conducted an experiment proving the superiority of the fist as an impact weapon over the palm and other hand forms. Volunteers aged 22 to 50 with martial arts and combat sports backgrounds were used in the experiment. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
“In one, participants were asked to hit a punchbag as hard as possible from different directions with their hands in a range of shapes, from open palms to closed fists…A punch delivers up for three times more force to the same amount of surface area as a slap. And the buttressing provided by a clenched fist increases the stiffness of the knuckles fourfold, while doubling the ability of the fingers to deliver a punching force. ‘Because the experiments show the proportions of the human hand provide a performance advantage when striking with a fist, we suggest that the proportions of our hands resulted, in part, from selection to improve fighting performance,’ said Prof Carrier.”
The biggest problem with using the fist in combat is the higher chance of injury. Even professional boxers after taping their fists and donning gloves sometimes sustain fractures in their hands because of hard impact.
Sports physician Dr. Andrew Feldman in his book The Jock Doc’s Body Repair Kit wrote, “One of the most common fractures I see is what’s called ‘the boxer’s fracture,’ a characteristic break of the bone leading to the fifth metacarpal or pinkie, specifically. Almost invariably, it is caused by someone punching a wall—or a person.”
Because of its complex design, an injury can severely hamper the natural functioning of the hand. On this Feldman wrote, “Hands also differ from the feet in that, when injured, they must be restored to perfect preinjury functioning. Even a slight misalignment will have deep, deep consequences for a limb as dependent on anatomical microtolerances as the hand.”
If you don’t have conditioned fist, you have less chances of injuring your hand if you use your palm in delivering strikes. The fleshy surface of the palm can take harder impact without injury compared to the bony areas of the fist. You have also eliminated a weak link, which is the wrist, when using a palm instead of a fist when delivering a straightforward strike.
Besides the fact that it is more unnatural to the majority of people, you have lessened your reach by a couple of inches if you chose to hit with your palm instead of your fist.
There is also a big difference on the type of impact that a fist strike or a palm strike produced. The larger surface area of the palm will produce a jarring kind of impact compared to the smaller surface area of the fist, which would most likely produce a breaking kind of impact.
In the end, the practitioner must decide which technique to use depending on the situation and his level of expertise. Practice both then pick the one you personally trust.