The Knuckle as a Weapon

In the Filipino Martial Arts, we sometimes forget that we are all born with a very potent weapon–if we learn to use it–the knuckles.  I will refer to the “fist” as the “knuckle”, because there are other parts of the hand we can use in fighting, but I will talk only about the knuckles today.

Many martial artists do not think much more about the fist other than ways to throw it. However, if they learn more about the parts of the fist, what damage the fist can inflict, how to train it, and where to aim it, the fighter will see that the potential for a deadly weapon had literally been in their hands all along.  The knuckle is a very powerful weapon because it is a bone at the end of a limb we use all day long–especially in training. However, the knuckle is not a stick, it is not a knife, and we must find practical uses for the knuckle as a knuckle.

A good start is to study the various punches and where they are best used:

  • the jab–the eye, the corner of the chin, the teeth, the jaw, the nose, the center of the chest and the shoulder
  • the cross/reverse punch–anywhere you’d like!
  • the hook–the eye, the side of the nose, the jaw, the back of the head/neck, the side of the neck, the ribs, the solar plexus, the liver, the spleen, and the hip
  • the uppercut–the chin, the throat, the armpit/upper-upper arm, the floating ribs, the solar plexus, the liver/spleen, the belly
  • the backfist/back knuckle strike–the corner of the eye socket, the nose, the jaw, the teeth, the temple, the side/rear of the neck, the collarbone

There are other punches, but I thought these punches would be a good start, since they were universal to most fighting styles.

So, the next factor to consider is how the knuckles can be applied in each of these punches, relative to their targets. For example, a punch to the collarbone will use a different angle (slightly different, at least) than the same type of punch to the eye. you will use a different set of knuckles–the first two vs the last three–as well as alter the angle of the punch to hit the target.  When hitting the eye with a jab, you will have to consider the angle the opponent stands when you launch your attack:  an opponent who holds his guard to the side (like in a horse stance fighting stance, for example) vs an opponent who is squared shoulder when facing you (like in a traditional Muay Thai stance). The angle you hit him will change, as well as the side of the eye you will be attacking. How tall the opponent is will be significant also. A taller opponent will require a verticle fist/last three knuckles vs an opponent who is your height, against whom you can use the traditional palms-down/first two knuckle attack. (In case you are confused, consider this:  a palms-down punch, when aimed upward, will not hit with the knuckles, but the second knuckle of the fist)

Lastly, we must address training the knuckle. I did write an article about this subject. I would like you to take a look at it and utilize this system I introduce, as fist training is vital to your ability to use a fist.

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The Fist and the Philippine Martial Arts

One of the most neglected aspects of fighting that is the most ignored in the FMA is training the fist for power, and its use as a real destructive weapon. It seems that we tend to get so wrapped up in neat ways to block, trap and capture an opponent, that we forget that fighting effectiveness depends on our ability to inflict damage with basic strikes and kicks. How often have we seen some guy on Youtube slapping hands and arms around just to gloss over a quick punch here and there and finish with one of those nice, fancy takedowns? 😛

Makes you wonder if this guy really understands the concept of whipping some guy’s behind in a real street fight? I’m sorry, I am sitting in Starbux laughing as I write this, because I’ve seen too many of our FMA brothers that couldn’t beat a shopping center Ronald McDonald in a real fight. Earlier today, I looked up an old friend of mine, Omar Olumee (if you know him, tell him to call me!) who worked for a long time at a chain school called Kim’s Karate here in Alexandria. Omar, was trained as a kid at Kim’s, and when I was younger, was an intermediate student learning to point fight in a class I taught at a Kim’s location in Springfield. He went on to be a very *solid* Black Belter, nationally ranked point fighter, and member of the DKT Karate team… Omar is the real deal, and if he was half the fighter he used to be, would destroy many FMA fighters. And yes, he was trained at Kim’s Karate, and worked there as a teacher for years. (Don’t judge a book by it’s comakiwaraver!)  I am laughing because I wondered how many “realistic martial artists” must have encountered him with arrogance, just to find out that he was one of the top fighters in the country…

My message to you, my FMA brothers and sisters:  don’t get too wrapped up in the variations and innovations of the martial arts until you have mastered the basics these arts require to ensure combat effectiveness.

The fist. We take for granted that all we have to do is ball up our hands and swing them into some guy’s face and things will break. Not quite. It takes understanding, training and development as a weapon in order to turn our nose-pickers/sandwich-holders/page-turners into destructive tools of combat. You must fully understand that the hand is a weapon, but it must be developed and sharpened, just as any piece of flat metal (like a butter knife or spoon) can be turned into a razor-sharp shank capable of taking down the biggest, most heavily-armed men.

I would like to offer some very simple, basic steps to training your hands. I could write a book on how to train your hands (hmm….), but some things I need to keep sacred for my own students. At least, you would have to train with me in person to really learn what I have to teach. This information is even earned within my own student body, but is well worth the investment of one’s time and loyalty:

  • Hand conditioning requires two basic types of training:  strength building and impact training. Not all forms of hand conditioning are equal, and there is a hierarchy of skills and training methods… from beginner to advanced
  • For strength building, the simple act of training for hours with a stick in your hand–swinging full speed and full power for at least one hour–will do plenty to build strength. Why do we need to build strength? Well besides the obvious–seizing and grappling skills–we also need to build a strong fist to keep our fingers tightly clenched when we hit someone with it. The difference between a fist that hurts on impact (regardless of how hard we strike) and one that does not is how hard the fist is. Sort of the difference between hitting someone with a block of wood vs an iron block.
  • Another good way to build strength would be to (1) open and close the fist 250 times, (2) roll a 20 lb barbell inside the hands 50 times per direction, (3) perform fingertip pushups on the actual fingertips, not the pads, and (4) squeeze a tennis ball 200 times
  • A simple impact exercise is to fill a paint bucket with sand, and punch into the sand until your skin bleeds. It doesn’t need to be done full power in the beginning, but hard enough that it hurts to do it. There are techniques to doing this, but I believe this is the safest thing you can practice without a teacher
  • Perform knuckle pushups on hard surfaces. In my school, we have concrete floors, and even my little girl, who is 8, can do her pushups on them. If your students cannot, work their way up (slowly, of course) until they can
  • Always, ALWAYS hit things with your fist. The more you do this, the stronger your fist will become and the less they will hurt when you use them

Guess what?




That’s it! This is such a simple thing, one can basically teach himself to condition his hands! Do I recommend it? No, I don’t. But then, even many Masters who train this way, do not understand much about it besides the fact that they have dangerous fists. Hand conditioning is not rocket science! Now, there is much to learn about it, but with these simple steps I listed above, you are less than 6 months away from being able to break things with your fist. Yes, many Masters overexaggerate the process, but it can be done alone. If you want to learn and develop more, it would be a good idea to find a Master who knows what he is doing and pay your dues to learn.

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