knowledge often lacking in modern karate-do but commonplace in "old style" karate
Small surface area strikes were very common in “old style” karate. In modern karate-do, the existence of these strikes is generally remembered, but they are rarely practiced. Even when they are practiced, the structural strength of the hand formation is almost never tested through hard impact against suitable surfaces. This has resulted in a degradation of information about these techniques. With generation after generation rarely practicing these techniques and never testing their strength, some of the important keys to hitting with these strikes were largely forgotten or at least not emphasized.
Pick up any “comprehensive” text on modern karate-do and you will see most of these techniques in pictures. If you look closely at the pictures you can tell that the person in the photographs has never hit anything with them with any real force, and that if he attempts to do so, the structure would most likely collapse due to joint buckling. However, with a little guidance it is easy to learn how to form these weapons in a way that will not collapse (at least not until *much* higher levels of force are applied).
So, here are few tips from “old style” karate on how to brace the joints which are likely to buckle and how to create structural support which is aligned with thedirection the force travels. These tips are all pretty simple affairs but in most cases will at least double or triple the amount of force which can be successfully applied. In some case it is even higher.
I apologize for the fact that the wrist angle is wrong is many of these photographs. I was taking pictures of my own hand which was usually placed against a wall right in front of me. This resulted in awkward wrist angles but since this article is about hand formations this defect doesn't impact the value of the photographs.
I should clarify that my use of the word "useless" doesn't mean there will be zero effect. Generally you can get some effect from those hand-forms. However, the hand form itself offers little support to the structure of the striking weapon and it is likely to buckle in some way when significant force is applied. At minimum it will not be nearly as effective and useful as the methods I call "effective" and "optimal".
Ipponken (Keikoken, Shoken etc)
Notice how the above fist form has nothing *behind* the index finger. It is impossible to do foreknuckle push-ups on this structure. It makes a very poor striking weapon because it obviously has very poor structural support and joint bracing.
The above hand-form has good structural support and joint bracing and it would be possible to do push-ups on this fist. However, it can only penetrate as deep as the tip of the thumb making it just slightly less than optimal.
Nihonzuki (Nihon-Nukite, Secret Sword, Two Finger Strike)
Neither the thumb nor the two bent fingers offer any stabilization or structural support. This hand form somehow crept into Chinese martial arts from Chinese folk magic and folk medicine where it is very common. Those two endeavors require no strength in the structure so joint bracing is a moot point. Martial applications on the other hand do require structural strength.
A side view allows a better look at how the thumb provides structural support. You also get a different view of how pressing the index finger into the middle finger (and reciprocally the opposite) creates some additional joint bracing.
Ipponzuki (Ippon-Nukite, Single Blade of Grass)
The thumb and bent fingers press very firm against the index finger creating good joint bracing from two directions up to the second knuckle of the index finger. There is also a general firming of the fingers and hand proving a little additional stability and support. Although this is the optimal hand form, it is still a weak structure and is only useful against very soft targets. However, if it is used against the right areas it can still produce devastating effect.
Nukite (spear hand)
|Nukite side view (thumb and finger impact look identical from the side)|
|Nukite - fingertip impact (viewed from above)|
|Nukite - thumb-tip impact (viewed from above)|
Boshiken (Thumb Strike)
Rarer Information About Small Surface Strikes
I actually feel a reluctance to share this information despite my general dislike of secrecy.
Anyone who has been around the Okinawan martial traditions for a while will notice that some Okinawan teachers can use a few techniques with dramatically more effect than any of their Western students (and often their Okinawan students as well). We'll call these the "specialty techniques". In most cases students just say "wow, sensei can really put the hurt on with that" (or something similar) and never stop to ask WHY they are not able to do the technique to the same effect. Even those who do ask this question often only get part of the answer right. For instance, they will conclude their teacher has a lot of power and has developed very strong fingers through years of Hojo-undo. Generally this will be true, but as with most things in life, there is usually a bit more to the story. Not only can these teachers hit with more force, but they are usually doing their "specialty techniques" in a way that is ever-so-slightly different from their students. There are only two ways to learn these differences. The first is to become somebody the teacher is very fond of. The other way is to first become aware that a difference even exists, then to repeatedly *feel* and keenly observe the teacher doing his "specialty techniques" (if possible in close up frame-by-frame slow motion).
I don't know the secret to many such "specialty techniques"... but I do know the keys to a few. This was hard won knowledge, and I have to admit I have loved having these as my own "specialty techniques." It is quite cool to be able to do a few techniques in a way which produces dramatically better results than 99% of karateka. If looking cool and cultivating an impression of a very high level of skill were my main goals, then I would not share these. I would greedily hoard them for myself. However, as a friend recently said: the real secret of karate is that everything you share you will still have, and you will be given even more in return.
My goal is to learn and preserve "old style" karate as best as I possibly can (not look cool). Preservation means sharing. So, despite feeling a bit of loss at no longer having these "specialty techniques" for myself, I want to share what I can of the few I know (these are just the "specialty techniques" which relate to the structure of small surface strikes).
Shi-zuki (Washide-uchi, Beak Strike, Gojushiho strike)
To form the optimal structure, press the index and middle finger against the pad of the thumb with the tip of the thumb protruding. Then brace the side of the thumb with the remaining two fingers (ring finger and pinky).
How to test the difference for yourself
Compare the "useless" and "optimal" versions of Shi-zuki by lightly striking the area shown above at an inward and downward angle. The "useless" version will likely only cause a wince reaction from pain. The optimal version will likely drop your partner to the floor with even relatively light force. Despite looking essentially identical, the two methods produce dramatically different results. So there you are, now you have Shi-zuki as your own "specialty technique".
Hidden Foreknuckle Punch
|Maximum Force Foreknuckle Strike (Seiken type hand formation)|
Iron Bone Hand (thumb knuckle striking)The following set of pictures illustrate a series of thumb strikes that are all done with the same hand formation. This hand formation is only briefly mentioned in the bubishi and is rarely seen in modern karate-do. Karate-do generally mistakes the first technique with a spear hand (or, depending on the wrist angle, sometimes even a palm strike). The subsequent three techniques are usually mistakenly regarded as "ridge hand strikes". If you were taught how to practice these techniques you most likely study a lineage with a fairly intact connection to the "old ways" IMHO.
|Iron Bone Hand (thumb striking): Neutral Position|
Immediately after the strike the fingers grip the sternocleidomastoid muscle from the outside and the thumb (now inserted deep into the neck just inside the sternocleidomastoid) grips the muscle from the inside. After the grip is secure a very powerful jerking pull is applied as if trying to tear the muscle free from the neck. This is not something to do to friends.
Starting from the "Neutral Position" this strike rotates as it moves and slight unlar deviation is applied as contact is made (see picture above). The force is concentrated on the knuckle of the thumb closest to the nail. Because the thumb is braced against the hand a very large amount of force can be delivered with this innocuous looking strike.
Starting from the "Neutral Position" this strike rotates as it moves and strong unlar deviation is applied as contact is made (see picture above). The force is concentrated on the second knuckle of the thumb (the distal end of the 1st metacarpal). Because the thumb is braced against the hand a very large amount of force can be delivered with this innocuous looking strike.