The hands are not the only parts of your upper extremities that can be used for striking. Various aspects of the arm can be used very effectively for striking. Strikes delivered such that some portion of the arm makes contact with the target can be extremely powerful.
Nearly any surface of the arm can be employed for striking. We will cover many of most useful strikes in this article, but realize that there are a great many other ways in which some portion of the arm can be employed as a striking surface. You will discover additional striking possibilities via drills and embedded within Kata over time. Students who are studying to achieve the Yellow Belt ranking should study and practice the following arm strikes in preparation for the first ranking examination.
You should be aware that some of the terminology used in defining strikes can be subjective. In some martial arts systems what we they call Mae Empi Uchi we might actually refer to as Age Empi Uchi. In another style the Mae Empi Uchi might be what we call a Yoko Empi Uchi. This does not mean these other systems have it wrong. It simply means the underlying assumptions about what “front” means are different. If you view videos of the strikes described below understand that you may encounter demonstrations of a strike different from the one you expected. While most videos will generally depict the strikes as we have defined them below, you are certain to encounter different interpretations for the names of these strikes. It is beneficial to see how other systems think about striking and how they view various angles or positions in relation to the body.
A final point is to note that the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ are used interchangeably when spelling Japanese words. You will see this in many places. One prominent example is in the spelling of Kenpo and Kempo. Both words are pronounced the same (in Japanese). The same applies to Empi. You will often see it spelled Enpi. The only difference is the letter used to spell the word. We have standardized on using the letter ‘m’ in our written materials, but this is little more than a stylistic choice.
A Japanese word for elbow is “Empi.” You will also see the words “Hiji” and “Eruboo” used to refer to the elbow. We will generally use the term “Empi”, though you may see some references to “Hiji”. Empi Uchi therefore refers to strikes that involve impacting the target with the elbow. Below you will find several different elbow strikes that might be employed when you are quite close to an opponent (or when you can easily get close to an opponent).
Before discussing these individual strikes it is important to discuss a few things they all have in common.
Firstly, you must avoid striking with the tip of the elbow as this can cause severe injury to the bones and soft tissues in this joint. Instead, one normally strikes with the bone and muscle surfaces just above or below the elbow joint itself. These are much stronger surfaces, offer a more powerful strike, are more readily and naturally deployed, and are much less prone to injury.
Secondly, keep the shoulders relaxed during delivery. Tightening the shoulder muscles will slow down the strike, reduce the range of motion, and waste essential energy.
Thirdly, let your center move with the latter portions of the strike so that the torso and shoulders help deliver power, balance, and structural integrity to the strike. Even though the shoulders are involved in this way it remains important to keep the shoulders relaxed.
Finally, keep your elbow tightly bent during the entire delivery process. Allowing your hand to move away from a position very close to your shoulder greatly increases your risk of impact injury. The elbow should be sharply bent whenever you strike with that portion of your arm.
Mae Empi Uchi
This strike involves using the surface area of the outer forearm just below the elbow joint. The palm of the striking arm is oriented downward and the elbow is delivered in a circular horizontal manner. This involves using the front arm (or the arm transitioning to be the front arm) as the striking arm. When one uses the term “Empi Uchi” without any qualifier this is normally the strike being referenced.
Age Empi Uchi
This is a rising strike using the surface area on the lower arm just below the elbow joint. Your elbow begins down near the ribs and then rises upward along your center line to its intended target. The chin and front chest wall are common targets but other surfaces make good targets if the opponent is bent forward significantly. The palm of the striking arm will be turned to face the bicep of the same arm. The strike is normally focused at the Jodan and Chudan levels.
A few martial arts styles call this strike the Mae Empi Uchi but we define Mae Empi Uchi to be a horizontal front elbow strike. We define Age Empi Uchi to be a rising elbow strike to the front.
Yoko Empi Uchi
This is a side elbow strike in which the surface area just above the elbow joint is used to impact the target area. The arm is generally positioned horizontally. First, position your fist near your opposite shoulder with the palm pointed down (this starting position can vary depending on the relative position of your opponent). The striking surface is then extended in a level arch to the target. The arm should be retracted immediately, but the destination of this retraction depends on your intent. You might retract the arm to guard position, but you might also retract it to its original starting position if you think you might need to deploy the same strike again.
In some situations where you need additional power you might try moving both arms concurrently with the identical strike. One strike is focused at our target, the other strike is focused behind you (and at nothing in particular). The combination of both hands moving at the same time in opposite directions adds an additional measure of movement and therefore power to the strike. Additional power can alternately be achieved by using the palm of your other hand to press into the fist of your striking arm to augment its power.
Otoshi Empi Uchi
In this strike the focus of the elbow is in a downward direction. The area just above the elbow joint is used as the striking surface and the arm is bent severely to reduce the risk of injury to the elbow joint. This is a very powerful strike that is used to strike to the upturned face, the shoulders, or to the back or neck of someone who is bent over at the waist.
In some martial arts systems this strike is defined essentially as a Mae Empi Uchi delivered in a downward direction. Again, this is a matter of definition used within a particular martial arts system; there is nothing wrong with this definition of the strike. However, learning these differences has also provided you with another potential downward directed elbow strike. It is good to study what other martial arts systems do. They usually have insights that can provide you with additional perspectives that can prove quite useful.
When we use the term Otoshi Empi Uchi we generally mean the first definition provided above. But you may find occasions where the other definition makes sense to use in a specific situation. As with all strikes, how you consider using them is dependent upon your situation, your opponent’s structure, the relative positions between yourself and an opponent, how you are structured, and a tremendous number of additional variables. It is impossible to define every potential striking method in every situation. So, generalizations are often used. Otoshi Empi Uchi means “downward directed elbow strike.” You can readily find several striking methodologies in which this definition might apply.
Mawashi Empi Uchi
Mawashi Empi Uchi is a roundhouse elbow strike delivered by using the back hand. Begin by stepping forward, and as your rotate forward, deliver a horizontal elbow strike with the upper part of the forearm. This is in reality ultimately a Mae Empi Uchi since the back leg will become the front leg and then the front hand strikes, but due to the way in which power is derived by the increased circular momentum of this strike is it is commonly given a unique name.
Ushiro Empi Uchi
Ushiro Empi Uchi is a rear elbow strike. Commonly the body moves back quickly while still facing forward and the elbow is driven straight back adjacent to your ribs. Your striking fist will come to rest on your ribs. It looks very much like an exaggerated hand-setting motion for those who are familiar with this action. The strike is naturally targeted at the Chudan level.
It is important that the palm be facing up when performing this strike. This helps guide the strike straight back. If the palm is turned inward, the strike is more likely to swing outward and miss the intended target. You should notice that of all the Empi Uchi strikes this one is the most likely to inadvertently strike with the tip of the elbow, but the risk of injury is lessened somewhat since the elbow is most likely to strike into a soft tissue area (the abdomen).
The opposite hand can be pressed into the top of the fist of your striking arm to augment the strike (somewhat). If your opponent is directly behind you then a slight step to the side opposite your striking arm will allow you to be in a better position to attack your opponent’s center.
Mawashi Ushiro Empi Uchi
This is a rear roundhouse elbow strike and is best described as a Yoko Empi Uchi delivered behind you as you rotate your torso back toward your target. The strike may be delivered to the Chudan or Jodan levels. This often involves stepping back slightly with the same side leg to better facilitation rotation of your center, though this is not always a requirement or possibility.
Anatomically speaking, Kote means “forearm” in Japanese. Consequently Kote Uchi is a forearm strike. There are several different ways in which this strike can be delivered and we will cover the most common examples.
The first is a forearm smash in which the outside edge of the forearm is used as the striking surface. This is similar to a Mae Empi Uchi except the contact point is somewhere near the middle of the forearm rather than near the elbow. The strike can also be delivered by moving the arm in the opposite direction – similar to a Yoko Empi Uchi, but again striking with the outside edge of the forearm. In most cases the hand moves further from the shoulder than what is prudent when employing an Empi Uchi.
A second forearm strike is to strike with the inside edge of the forearm. This is often delivered in a manner similar to a Mawashi Tsuki but the forearm strikes instead. A common use for this strike is to stun your attacker and then to encircle your arm around their head or neck to establish control or initiate a throw.
A forearm smash can also be applied as a rising strike, and, much more commonly, as a falling strike to the head, face, shoulders or back. The outside edge of the forearm is generally used.
Two additional forearm strikes should be considered. These are retraction strikes. As your arm returns from a prior strike in which your arm has moved beyond your target you can use the inside or outside of the forearm to strike the head, shoulders, neck or other exposed surfaces as your arm is returned to guard position. The second method is to use a twisting motion of the wrist to drive a different area of the forearm into an adjacent target. As one example (and there are a great many) consider that your right outside forearm is in contact with the left side of your opponent’s jaw (your fist will be oriented horizontally). Quickly rotating your fist to a vertical position will enable you to suddenly strike into the shoulder or neck area of your opponent with your forearm. Experiment with other possibilities for this method of strike delivery. This method of continual striking is something you will encounter frequently in Tensoku Ryu.