“A lot of people don’t appreciate that palms can be even more devastating than a fist in a lot of circumstances…the dummy really makes you aware of that because most of the striking on the wooden dummy is done with open hands, so its telling you something also quite crucial – that your hand is a very effective weapon.”
Sifu David Peterson
The Chinese have many sayings – one of the more general martial art sayings is “fist to the body – open hand to the head.”
Although the chained punch is the principal weapon of the Wing Chun system, it requires some prerequisites, particularly conditioning the hand. Since conditioning the hand takes many years of steady training (and must be maintained), most people aren’t doing it!
How many of us are really conditioning our hands to the necessary degree?
To properly condition your hands, you should be hitting the wallbag every day in a progressive manner, then maintaining that conditioning once achieved. It takes a long time (a year or two) to really get Wolf’s Law working on your behalf — to actually modify the structure of your hand and develop the bones and tendons. And you also have to have impeccable technique, relaxing at the right time and tightening at the right time. It takes a lot of training to do it right.
This is a big, big overlooked problem in Wing Chun training.
Students are punching the wallbag for a few minutes and maybe doing some pad drills and then spending many hours developing a reflex to punch people in the head. Someone said, “don’t put in part-time efforts and expect Championship results.” The “conditioning the hand” to “training to hit the head” ratio is not that great!
If you don’t condition your hands, hitting someone in the head as hard as you can is a recipe for disaster!
If strike someone in the skull with your fist, 95% of the angles and targets will provide a good opportunity for a broken hand, and in many cases, a shattered hand. The harder you punch, the more you will damage not only your opponent but yourself. Physics tell us forces will generate an “equal and opposite” reaction.
While this Luke Cage image (where a bad guy shatters his hand on Luke’s bulletproof head) may be an extreme example, its certainly possible, especially if your fist lands on a really thick section of the skull (like if the opponent ducks and you hit them in the top of the head).
This is why the Palm Strike was invented (or as UFC ex-Champ Bas Rutten calls it, a “bone strike”).
If this is true, why do we rely on the punch at all?
The problem with the Palm strike is it requires that you get a little closer to your target (a few inches closer). Closer is considered less safe for Wing Chun and boxing (this is why reach is shown in the pre-fight “tale of the tape”).
Inches are like miles at this range. This is also the problem with elbow strikes, and why Wing Chun typically only uses the elbow to break a grab. We don’t usually use elbows to strike the head because going in that close really speeds things up.
The closer you are (or if you are “inside”), the faster things happen, and the less time you have to react. Our bent arm hitting range was selected for its specific characteristics. Its close enough but not too close. Its the Goldilocks distance for hitting — just right. You have to get this close to hit with structure, but its dangerous so we also try to protect ourselves by keeping our hands up and in the playing field, attempting to maintain two hands on top, trying to move to the outside if possible, and chaining the attack to make it a barrage that is more difficult to defend (among other tactics).
Why do we ignore the Palm in our training?