Experts agree that real-world combat takes place most often at close range. In such encounters, the hands are the go-to weapons. No other offensive tool resolves conflict more quickly and with less effort and energy. Hand strikes are also versatile: They can be delivered from virtually any angle, can follow a straight or curved path, and can travel upward or downward. They can be employed while you’re standing and moving about freely or while you’re locked in a clinch. They also work well when you’re on the ground.
For these reasons, most high-risk conflicts are best resolved with the hands, whether they’re used as closed fists or in an open position. By definition, the lead hand is closer to the target, which means it can land more quickly and more economically than the rear hand. Although such blows are not as powerful, with proper body mechanics, you can hit hard enough to finish your foe. That said, being able to use both hands effectively is the name of the game in the real world, which is why it’s paramount in pankration.
Note: All the hand techniques described here have been observed works of art that date from around the fifth century B.C.
Human beings instinctually clench their hands when they’re about to engage in a physical altercation. That’s not necessarily a good thing, however, because the hands contain many small bones (metacarpals), as well as tendons, and they’re easy to injure when a fist comes into contact with a hard target. Punch an attacker in the head, and you’re likely to shatter bones in your hand — and possibly suffer a serious wrist injury, as well. Witness how combat-sports competitors tape their hands to hold the metacarpals together and keep them from splaying on impact. Likewise, they train to keep their wrists in proper alignment when hitting the heavy bag because they know that if they allow them to bend when they hit an opponent, the joints can be sprained or broken.
Because tape and gloves are used in most combat sports that include striking, the closed fist remains a primary striking tool for a variety of targets in the dojo. On the street, however, the closed fist should be used only on soft targets such as the temple, solar plexus, liver and kidneys.
LEAD STRAIGHT PUNCH: The lead straight features a forward hand delivery and lands vertically with the impact focused on the bottom three knuckles of the fist. Applied at close range, it delivers full-power penetration — unlike the snapping motion of the boxer’s jab.
During execution, your rear heel is raised and your hips twist in the direction of the punch, which puts your body behind the blow and generates the greatest force. The main target for the lead straight is the solar plexus.
REAR CROSS: One of boxing’s four basic blows, the rear cross lands horizontally after the fist makes a quarter turn near the end of its trajectory. It’s classified as the “heavy artillery,” and in combat sports, it often results in a knockout.
Rarely used as a first strike, the rear cross is more of a counter to an opponent’s jab or a way to set up a hook. The cross also can follow a lead-hand strike in a manner that’s similar to boxing’s classic one-two combination. In a street fight, the main target for the rear cross is the solar plexus.
LEAD OR REAR HOOK PUNCH: Another potent blow borrowed from boxing is the hook, which entails using the muscles of your torso to swing your bent arm in a horizontal arc. Pivoting on the ball of your lead foot enhances the hook. Done properly, the strike can generate incredible force even when it starts just 6 inches from its target. This is possible because it has the entire weight of your body behind it.
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