In this post, we will discuss the open hand strikes that students working toward achieving the Yellow Belt ranking must learn. There are quite a few of these strikes, but most are fairly simple to appreciate and perform.
A Shuto is (at least at this point in your training) what most people would refer to as a “Karate Chop.” In this strike, the hand is opened but the fingers are squeezed tightly together to offer mutual support. The thumb is tucked in alongside or directly below the index finger. The strike is delivered by pointing your elbow at your target and then extending the forearm until the muscle at the outside edge of the hand, between the knuckles and the wrist, strikes the target. The fingers can be curled down slightly at the fingertips to (very slightly) increase the strength and rigidity of this muscle. Care must be taken not to strike with the fingers or the wrist joint as this can lead to significant bone injury.
When delivering this strike you MUST return it (normally along the same path) as quickly as possible. If you fail to return the strike quickly then your opponent may grab your hand or arm and quickly pull you into an awkward or dangerous situation.
Normally this strike targets soft tissue areas such as the neck, throat, and groin, but can be used to attack muscles and joints as well. It is generally not used to strike a bony surface for fear of injury to the hand.
Soto Shuto Uchi
Soto Shuto Uchi refers to a Karate Chop that is delivered in an outside (generally downward) direction. Targets for this strike would commonly be the shoulders and neck area, but the kidneys, back of the neck, or upper back might also be a target if the opponent is bent forward at the waist.
This strike involves hitting with the heel of the palm of the open hand. Generally, the fingers are extended and held together to support one another, but the fingers are also angled backward to reduce the chance that they will contact the target area. The primary strike surfaces are either the pad at the base of the palm (nearest the wrist) or the outside edge of the palm below the little finger. This latter surface might be used if you have difficulty turning your wrist sufficiently to do the first version, or if the angle of the strike is such that this is the most convenient surface to utilize.
Keep your elbow down when striking and return this strike quickly to avoid and protect against a counter from your opponent.
Tate Haito Uchi
The Tate Haito Uchi (Sword Hand Strike) is another open hand strike. The fingers are again pulled tightly together and are held straight. The thumb pulls in and then tucks into the middle of the palm.
This strike is generally aimed at Gedan[glossary] level targets. The fingers are angle downward and the wrist is bent. The striking surface is the edge of the hand between the wrist and the first thumb joint. Because this is not an especially strong part of the hand it is important to limit this strike to soft target areas. The groin is a common target for this strike.
The Nukite Tsuki is the Spear Hand Strike. This strike is formed by assuming the same hand structure as used in the Shuto Uchi. Now, however, the strike is driven forward, usually at the Chudan level, so that the fingertips strike the target. As in Shuto Uchi, the fingertips should be slightly bent as this hand posture lessens the risk of injury to the fingers. This strike is best suited for soft tissue areas such as the abdomen. Quickly return the strike to a guard position.
The Haito Uchi or Ridge Hand Strike is similar in many ways to the Sword Hand. The hand structure is the same, but the striking surface is different. With Haito Uchi the striking surface is the area just forward and behind the first knuckle of the index finger. This strike usually has a soft tissue target and is commonly used when striking the neck, but it is also frequently used, especially in [glossary]Kumite (Point Fighting) to strike toward the head.
This is commonly called the Eagle Beak Strike. In this strike, all five fingers of the hand are pressed together to form a single strike point at the fingertips. This gives a relatively dense and focused striking surface that can have relatively deep penetrative power. The wrist is usually bent (forward or backward as necessary) in the delivery of this strike. The targets are generally soft tissue areas.
The Web-Hand Strike is formed much like a Haito Uchi, but the thumb is opened and moved away from the hand to expose the web between the thumb and the index finger. This web area becomes a striking surface. The arm motion is much like that of Ken Tsuki, except the open hand is angled slightly so that the fingers and thumb encircle the target area.
This strike is most commonly used to attack the front of the throat. It fits easily under a chin and can be quickly converted into a grab following the strike. The strike can be used to intercept the larger muscle groups in the arm and to subsequently grab and control the arm, but care must be taken as the risk of a thumb injury in this situation increases dramatically.
This strike is formed by pressing the fingers together and bending them substantially. The thumb is kept apart from the fingers. The hand is oriented so that the fingers are aligned vertically and the thumb is opposite the fingers. When viewing the right hand from above the fingers will be stacked vertically on the right and the thumb will be positioned toward the left. The hand will look like the uppercase letter U when viewed from above.
The strike is used almost exclusively on the throat. The primary purpose is to allow the fingers and thumb to land on opposite sides of the windpipe, usually in the vicinity of the larynx. The fingers and thumb should remain bent slightly to reduce the chance for injury and to ensure the thumb and fingers will strike the target area concurrently. With sufficient force, the fingers and thumb can be forced to penetrate deeply into the neck to a degree where they can then begin to encircle behind the windpipe.
This is a very dangerous and potentially fatal strike and should be employed only when deemed essential for your survival.
The Spider’s Flick is the longest range weapon afforded by the hands. In this strike, the muscles of the hand are completely relaxed and the fingers are purposefully allowed to separate and assume an unformed position (completely relaxed). The elbow is then used to point to the target area (almost always the eyes) and the relaxed hand is flicked in the direction of the target. The dangling fingers are then caused to flap in front of the eyes in much the same way the strings on a string-mop might flap if a moving mop is suddenly jerked in a different direction.
The resulting flash of flailing fingertips is designed to flick the four fingers around the eyes in an attempt to get one or more of the fingertips to strike the eyes. The very ends of the fingers are used as striking surfaces. The fingers effectively dance before the eyes for a brief moment maximizing the chances that one or more fingers will find their target. This is not a powerful strike but instead relies on the stinging effect produced by having a foreign object strike the eyes. Generally speaking, the target of the strike is both eyes simultaneously, but this can vary with intent or the relative angle between yourself and an opponent.
Taishu Uchi is a strike with the open flat part of the fingers and palm. Yes, it is a slap. A slap is a very powerful strike if delivered properly. The thumb and fingers should ideally be configured much like the Shuto Uchi, but this can restrict the angle and movement of the hand during the strike. Separating the fingers and the thumb slightly provides more range of motion for the strike but also increases the risk of potential injury.
A slap is most effective when two concepts are used in the delivery of the strike. The first is a sudden acceleration. This implies that the strike undergoes a rapid acceleration in the last third of the delivery such that the hand is reaching its maximum velocity just as it makes an impact. The second is the follow-through. The power from a slap comes from its delivery of striking force into and through the target area. Without follow through this is a stinging and potentially painful strike, but has little penetrative power. With follow-through, the strike remains painful, but also imparts significant impact injury to the target.
Nihon Nukite Tsuki
This is also sometimes called a Falcon’s Talon, although there are some subtle differences between these two strikes. The Nihon Nukite Tsuki is essentially a two-finger poke or spearing action. The index and middle fingers are spread, extended and bent slightly (to prevent injury) while the remainder of the fingers and thumb tuck into the palm. The tips of the fingers are used as the striking surface.
Falcon’s Talon is very similar, except that the thumb is also extended and bent slightly. In this way, the thumb might be used to exert leverage in the target area helping the fingers be more penetrative or injurious. A possible scenario where this might apply is when the fingers strike the eyes and the thumb grasps under the chin. The thumb offers increased leverage for the fingers. This strike has limited uses and is generally used only when extensive damage to the target area is warranted.
In general, one should use Nihon Nukite Tsuki when this type of strike is appropriate. Because these two strikes are very similar you may find the names used interchangeably. You should be able to tell from the context whether the thumb would need to be employed when practicing this strike.
When using this strike the fingers of the hand are formed much like when employing Washide Uchi, but the striking surface is the top of the wrist. This is also called a Chicken Wrist or Crane’s Head strike. The strike is commonly used to strike up under the chin or to strike horizontally into the arms, or torso (where it will have limited penetrative power). Sometimes you will see this strike delivered circularly up to the head (much like Haito Uchi).
This strike is often used in combination with other strikes. Frequently Kakuto Uchi is employed under the chin to move the head up and back, and then a separate downward strike (usually from the same hand) is utilized to strike directly into the front of the upturned face or perhaps in the area of the sternum.
This is a rather large class of differing but related strikes. We’ll discuss several of these strikes in detail. Please keep in mind that what one martial arts style calls a Tiger Claw, other styles might call a Leopard’s Claw, Lion’s Claw or Bear Claw. Differences between one strike and another can be subtle or non-existent.
- The Kumade (Bear Claw) Uchi is generally formed by bending the fingers and thumb tightly while maintaining some limited but significant space between the fingertips and the palm. There is typically only slight (if any) separation between individual fingers. The exposed fingers can then be used to rake across the eyes (a common target). The palm might also be employed as the striking surface, or one might strike with the palm and then rake the fingers through the eyes (or another target area). This strike is also commonly called a Rigid Claw.
- The Tiger’s Claw is essentially the same strike, but perhaps the fingers are extended further away from the palm with much more of an arch to the finger profile, and there is more separation between individual fingers. It offers perhaps a larger area profile than the Kumade Uchi described above.
- A Leopard’s Claw might be a hand shape somewhere between Kumade Uchi and Tiger’s Claw. Sometimes you will see a Leopard’s Claw defined as using only the first three fingers of the hand with the little finger held closely in the palm. This is less common, but you may encounter this hand position on occasion.
The exact amount of finger extension and separation is purely subjective and the names for these strikes are often used interchangeably. What we call a Tiger Claw can be any of these strikes, depending on your intent and likely target area. Understand that sometimes you may want the fingers spread widely to maximize surface area, while at other times you may want a tighter finger configuration to impart more power into a smaller surface area. And naturally, you may start with a tighter structure for one part of the strike (e.g. a heel strike) and then open the hand to a wider structure for a subsequent section of the strike (e.g. claw to the eyes).
Ippon Nukite Uchi
This is an index finger strike. The tip of the index finger is used to poke directly into the target.
If you look this strike up on the Internet (something we encourage) you will find many images that show the hand with a generally tight fist and the index finger sticking straight out from the hand (much like you are pointing at something). We do not favor this method for delivering this strike as we believe it presents too much of a risk for injury to the finger or hand.
Instead, we recommend that the hand be more open, with the index finger extended, but the remainder of the hand structured much like the Hiraken Tsuki (but not as tightly held). The fingers other than the index finger are bent and then extended forward until they are directly under the end bone in the index finger (the distal phalanx), offering support to this finger. This means that approximately ½ inch of the index finger is exposed to the target. This is sufficient for almost any target area and offers much more protection for the exposed finger.
Common targets for the Ippon Ken Tsuki are the eyes, exposed parts of the neck and throat, and exposed muscles below the arm in the ribs. Additional target areas can be readily discovered through experimentation.
Cupped Hand Strike
The Cupped Hand Strike involves placing the fingers and thumbs in a Shuto Uchi and then curving the hand such that a deep cavity is created in the palm. This would be deep enough to hold water if the palm were turned upright.
This strike is almost always used to target the ears. The cupped hand structure is used to trap air and when this air is compressed upon impact with the ear, a powerful column of air is sent directly against the eardrum. This can cause severe and instantaneous pain (and potentially permanent hearing loss).
You will know when you have created the correct hand posture when you can slap two cupped hand strikes together to achieve a resounding popping noise.
The Mantis Strike is very similar to the Washide Uchi but with a somewhat different orientation of the fingers. The orientation of the fingers can vary between different martial art styles (even among different Mantis Style martial arts systems) but here are two you might wish to learn. For simplicity of explanation, the palm is assumed to face downward, but when using this strike the hand could be oriented any number of different ways.
Firstly, the wrist is bent while all four fingers are relatively straight and hang in a generally downward direction. The index finger projects forward slightly more than the others and is supported on the side by the thumb.
Secondly, the wrist is again bent and the index finger projects forward with the thumb supporting it from the side. The remaining three fingers are tucked up lightly toward the palm.
The Mantis hand position allows strikes with the back of the hand, the index finger knuckle, the palm, or the tip of the index finger. There are a great many other uses for this quite elegant and versatile hand position.