Today I would like to talk about the idea of hard and soft striking in self defense. Particularly, I want to address the phenomenon of punching to the head. Punching to the head is common to many systems, yet may not be a particularly great idea in actual self defense. First, let me say that I do not make it a practice to rebuke other systems, or styles of unarmed defense training. Everything has it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses, and you can learn many valuable things from many systems if you approach them with an open mind. A punch is a tool, the same way that a kick, a lock, a throw or a screwdriver is a tool. Punches are very good for tasks for which they were designed, and not so good for others. For example - punches to the body are a great way to introduce a lot of force. Punches can create significant hydrostatic shock to the soft tissues and somewhat flexible ribs of the body. However, just as using a screwdriver as a pry-bar is likely to damage your screwdriver, punching to the head is also very likely to damage your hands. Here are a few things you should know:
* The area of the head or face that is very susceptible to punching is extremely small and moving. Difficult to get that knockout shot in the chaos of a real self defense situation.
* The bones of the head are harder, thicker, and more structurally sound than the bones of the hand. If you hit the crown of the head, areas of the jaw, or the cheekbones you are likely to break your hands. Broken hands are one of the most common injuries for police officers and street fighters for this very reason.
* If you punch someone in the mouth there is a very good chance that you might cut your hand on their teeth, at the same time causing them to bleed from the mouth. The Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases reports a confirmed case of a police officer contracting both HIV and hepatitis C from punching a suspect in the mouth. There is a serious possibility of infection from the bacteria in the mouth as well. “Fight Bite” is a term used to refer to infection of the hand caused by bacteria in the mouth, and can lead to amputation
For striking to the head - the open palm is usually a safer and surprisingly more effective choice. When done properly, palm strikes to the head can be lethal. Here is a rule of thumb from Chinese martial arts: Hard strikes soft, soft strikes hard. In other words - use hard weapons (fists, albows, knees, fingertips) on soft targets like muscles, torso, eyes etc. Use soft weapons (palm, sole of the foot) to strike hard targets like the head, elbows and knees, and other bony surfaces.
For some good information on striking with power I suggest checking out a video by Peter Consterdine called “Powerstrike”. Peter, a streetfighter, bouncer, and very wise martial artist also teaches not to punch to the head. He lives in England so the video may be a bit hard to locate - but it’s worth a watch if you can get it.