Palm Strike


The palm strike can be applied much like a punch, and the idea is to generate significant power to really rock the brain (reboot the computer!), possibly causing a knockout.  There are some variations in application.  When I first began researching it, I was not entirely sure everyone was talking about the same technique, as different camps also call it different things: palm heel strike, tiger’s claw, face smash, jab or cross with a “claw hand”, etc.  This is not an exhaustive list, for sure.  We practiced several palm strikes in Wing Chun with yet other names.  Naming conventions are not really our concern.


I find I like the palm strike more and more.  Heck, even just sticking your open hand in someone’s face, with no power behind it whatsoever, can be very distracting.  But, I digress.  We’re looking for more than distraction here.  The palm strike, when applied to the head, is favored over the punch by many for several good reasons that you might wish to consider.  For women, it can be easier on the hand in delivery, though any big, burly type can fracture the knuckles while driving his fist into a bony skull.  A common injury, known as a boxer’s fracture, is sustained when there is a break between the knuckles of the middle finger and the pinkie.  I realize that saving your own life is worth breaking some metacarpals, but heck—I’m interested in more than survival.  I’m interested in winning!  J  In addition to tearing up the hand, there is the whole health-related issue of hitting teeth and lacerating the knuckles.  I doubt seriously that you wander around wearing handwraps or gloves.  The fact is that people have dirty mouths that even Orbit gum cannot clean up.  That petrie dish of an orifice in his face, coupled with your open wound, can introduce germs into your bloodstream.  Two days later you have a nasty infection.  Need I say this is not a good thing?  There’s nothing like having a fight souvenir that festers and rots off your digits.  Moving on. . .


In Krav Maga, practitioners take a fighting stance (left lead) and shoot the hand out like right cross—body mechanics are the same.  The wrist is flexed and the fingers are slightly curled to place the emphasis on striking with the heel of the hand.  They also rotate the hand inward for power, and to prevent damage to the wrist.  As with punching, I like to really drive my right foot into the ground in a counterclockwise corkscrew motion (like I’m killing a cockroach—ha ha ha).  Just remember not to over-rotate.


The Tiger’s Claw, or claw hand palm strike, is a classic technique that was favored and taught by W.E. Fairbairn and company.  Dennis Martin describes the strike as jolting one, meant to overwhelm an opponent in “all out onslaught”.  The fingers are retracted, like a cat’s paw, to reveal the heel of the palm, and the wrist remains flexed, as in the Krav technique, for protection of the joint.  The heel is the striking surface, and the tips of the fingers also make contact on the target surface.  Some describe the hand formation as palming a grapefruit.  The strike moves in a piston-like motion towards the facial region of the opponent (get what you can get—max impact is the real key).  Also like Krav, body mechanics that generate speed and utilize body mass (like that for a power shot, like the cross) are employed.


Kelly McCann has an interesting variation that he calls the Face Smash.  He likens the strike to throwing a baseball, and his hand formation reflects this.  He warns against cocking the arm to avoid telegraphing—instead, take a step forward (left lead) with the strong side arm moving back slightly, forearms and palms facing out.  To create momentum, he pushes off with the right foot and accelerates with his body weight behind the striking hand.  The hand moves in an arc.  He pushes the hand through the arc, imagining it coming to rest at his knee (the “plunge”).  McCann seeks both the impact of the hand of the face, and getting his fingers in the eyes of the opponent. 


Fairbairn considered eyes to be secondary targets, and his focus was more upon the impact.  The folks at Urban Combatives explain his reasoning for this, which is very simple.  The eye blink is rapid, and so is the flinch response when an object approaches the eyes.  Chances are good you won’t be able to scratch a cornea.  A sound argument, but if you do get lucky and poke your fingers in the eyes—fantastic!  If not, you still blasted his melon pretty good.  The eyes are gravy.


I might use a palm strike from the protective fence (the more aggressive one), and various other situations, perhaps in the place of a straight punch.  Like the Combatives sites recommend, I would also follow up with a rapid succession of strikes, as practitioners believe strongly in combinations in a veritable onslaught of pain and aggression to overwhelm the perpetrator.  This is the way to gaining and keeping the upper hand until you are able to get to safety.  And, it may be a pre-emptive strike, so keep that in mind.  As my instructor often says regarding an attacker, and I’m paraphrasing: “Hey, Man.  You brought us to this dance.  Now, we’re gonna dance.”  Just make sure you’re leading.





Dougherty, Martin, and Birdsall, David. (2003).  The Self Defence Manual.  West Sussex: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.



Grover, Jim.  (1999).  Jim Grover’s Combatives Series: Power Strikes & Kicks, Vol. 1.  [Videotape].  Paladin Press.



Levine, Darren, and Whitman, John.  (2007).  Complete Krav Maga: The Ultimate Guide to Over 230 Self-Defense and Combatives Techniques.  Berkeley: Ulysses  Press.



Martin, Dennis, et al.  The Classic Strikes.  Dennis Martin’s Combatives Community.  Retrieved February 2009, from



Morrison, Lee.  Tiger’s Claw Module For CQB Services.  Urban Combatives.  Retrieved February 2009, from



Morrison, Lee.  Face Smash.  Urban Combatives.  Retrieved February 2009, from



Thompson, Geoff.  (1997).  Dead or Alive.  Boulder: Paladin Press.





  1. […] Continue here: Palm Strike « Gutterfighting USA Weblog […]

  2. I’m not sure I get your point about the palm strike being less likely to incur damage from your opponent’s teeth. Personally, I find it more likely that I will hit my opponent’s teeth by using a “chin jab” with my palm either because he moves his head down to protect himself or because the natural momentum of my strike carries it up along his face and into his mouth. Meanwhile, the majority of my punches (while I agree its a bad idea to use fists on the skull), tend to be straight in. So while I may knock his teeth down his throat, the angle of impact should be more perpendicular and therefore less likely to get tooth enamel embedded in my knuckles.

    I still teach and train primarily to use palm strikes. I just don’t sell them as being less likely to hit teeth.

    • Hi BK,

      Thanks for the feedback! I understand what you are saying. I pulled the following material directly from Dennis Martin’s combatives site. Check it out:

      Another serious health related problem we have to consider is cutting the knuckles on the perpetrator’s teeth. Punches are usually directed to the head area including the face. The mouth is something you definitely want to avoid. However the teeth may be struck inadvertently. “Everyone you encounter violently has AIDS, until proven otherwise, humans have the most infectious mouths, once you break skin you are introducing all those germs to your body”, says Dr. Prattas. “The heel of the palm making impact with the mouth distributes contact area equally making it difficult to break skin if the teeth are struck. With a punch, one knuckle may hit the teeth, breaking skin easily.””The skin on the Dorsal side (top of the hand) is easily cut because it is very thin. The opposite is true of the skin on the palm,” says O.T.R. Faye Grant.

      According to Dr. Kandel, “When you open your hand from a fist tendons pull back. If the knuckles are cut when a full taut fist strikes teeth the act of opening the hand pulls bacteria in. Serious infection can set in 24-48 hours later”.

      Germs do not fester as easily in the fleshy palm of the hand as they do in the knuckles. There have been cases where cuts caused by human teeth on knuckles resulted in the hand being surgically removed to stop the spread of Gangrene.

  3. That is outstanding. I have never heard that before, thanks for the education. I will definitely include that in future instruction.

  4. Great post I learned alot! Thanks =)

    • Thanks so much for reading the blog!

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