CONCEALMENT 10 Hammer Time – The Best Tools for Nailing an Attacker Chad McBroom Join the Conversation Photos by RCP Photography In terms of body conditioning and mechanical development, proper punching skills are the foundation of a practical combatives training program. They’re essential for developing coordination, timing, accuracy, and power — important qualities for self-preservation against a violent threat. When it comes to real-world application, punching with knuckles can be dangerous. You won’t see boxers or MMA fighters step onto the mat without first protecting their hands. If heavy bag or focus mitt work is part of your training regiment, you probably don’t get after it without first wrapping your hands, donning gloves, or both. We do this to avoid injuries from cumulative trauma to the structures of the hands and wrists that inevitably results from these activities. This alone should tell you a lot about the inherent danger of punching in a real fight. One of the greatest, and perhaps most underrated tools we have when the gloves come off, is the hard-hitting hammer strike. This strike, which uses the same power mechanics developed through your punching, is the most versatile personal impact tool you have in your arsenal. Let’s break down the advantages of this strike and some of the most effective ways to implement it. Striking with the knuckles is effective but can quickly lead to a broken hand. LARGER STRIKING SURFACE When it comes to impact force, given the equivalent variables of mass and speed, a smaller striking surface is usually to be preferred because of the concentration of force. There are, however, instances where a larger striking surface is preferable to a smaller one. The hammer strike offers a larger striking surface that requires less accuracy and greatly reduces the risk of self-injury. Although not technically a hammer strike, the forearm can be used in a shearing motion to deliver a straight strike. When operating under high stress as experienced during a real-life altercation, the physiological reaction of acute stress response can lead to tunnel vision. This loss of peripheral vision makes the detection of movement more difficult and causes objects to appear smaller, making target detection much more challenging. As humans, we’re naturally headhunters, but the head is the most unpredictable and erratically moving target on the body. Combine the effects of tunnel vision and the fitful movements of the head, then try to land a blow using the smallest weapon on the human body — the first two knuckles. It’s not impossible, but you can see how, even without defensive intervention from the assailant, a straight punch can be difficult to connect. A hammer strike applied with a tactical flashlight in hand illustrates the cross-platform application of the movement. This is where the larger striking surface of a hammer strike comes into play. The larger the striking surface and/or target, the less likely you are to miss. The bottom of the fist offers almost twice as much surface area as the first two knuckles. Add in the forearm, and now you have a weapon roughly 12 to 15 inches long, the effective striking surface of which is about half the total length. That means a strike can be delivered using any spot between the bottom of the little finger to the midpoint of the forearm with substantial impact, greatly increasing the odds of connecting with your target. Moreover, the actual contact surface of a hammer strike at the point of impact on a body target is typically about 1½ inches, so the energy loss compared to a punch is minimal. REDUCED RISK OF SELF-INJURY The greatest danger associated with striking with a closed fist is self-inflicted injury to the hand or wrist. An average, untrained person can throw a punch between 60 to 85 pounds per square inch (psi), while a trained striker can generate in the range of about 190 to 335 psi. It takes about 87 to 146 psi to break a human jaw but only 9 psi to fracture the hand, meaning a full-power punch against bone (or any other hard surface for that matter), regardless of skill level, can quickly result in a broken hand. Although open-hand strikes might seem to be the wise alternative, in my experience, open-hand strikes aren’t as intuitive, even if they’re highly effective. Closed-hand striking is natural. It’s raw, it’s aggressive, and it’s a byproduct of adrenaline. In fact, several physiological studies have shown that clenching the fists can increase one’s willpower, a key ingredient to surviving an assault. Striking with the meaty, bottom portion of the fist greatly reduces the risk of hand injury when contacting a hard surface like the boney structures of the head and face. The radial deviation of the wrist in the hammer position provides structural support that keeps the wrist in line with the forearm. The hammer strike allows you to maintain the innate aggressiveness that comes with gritting your teeth and clenching your fist as you fight off your adversary. DIRECTIONAL VERSATILITY Hammer strikes are one of the most versatile striking tools because of the number of angles they can be delivered from. They can be directed down, up, in, and out. If we were to use a clock reference in a vertical orientation as we would face it on the wall, there isn’t a single position on the clock from which a hammer strike couldn’t be executed. What’s more, the outwardly executed hammer strikes can be performed to the side or rear without necessitating a drastic change in body orientation, just pivoting of the feet and rotation of the hips. Although technically not a hammer strike in the traditional sense, the forearm can also be used in a shearing motion to deliver straight strikes as well. This is the hammer-equivalent of a thrust. This application typically works best against the neck or collarbone as a standalone strike, but can also be used to roll and hyperextend joints when employed in conjunction with a grab or trap by the other hand. The cycling sequence is initiated with the checking/clearing motion with the lead hand and followed with a rear downward hammer strike. This is repeated using an elliptical motion. MULTIPURPOSE FUNCTIONALITY There’s the old adage, “if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail,” a phrase usually used as a warning against the over-reliance on a familiar tool — but in terms of empty-hand combat, you could say there are a lot of nails. If we think of every strike as a block, and every block as a strike, then it becomes quickly evident that the hammer strike can function as both an offensive and defensive tool. A hammer strike can be used to deflect an incoming blow just as effectively as it can be used to attack a vulnerable target on the body. Since the motion of the hammer strike is simply the natural extension of the arm powered by rotational force (torque) from the hips, the angle, force, and arc of motion can be easily adjusted to suit the task. A small “pop” might be all that’s required to parry an incoming linear attack, whereas a more committed power strike might be needed to break away from a grab or knock an attacker senseless. CROSS-PLATFORM APPLICATION One of the beautiful things about the hammer strike, especially from a training perspective, is that the movements readily transfer over to contact weapons. Knives, pens, flashlights, screwdrivers, and other objects can all be used in the same manner as your empty-hand strikes to hit, stab, and scrape a violent assaulter. Application isn’t limited to reverse-grip or pommeling techniques, either. If you think about the action of striking with the end of a club, the arm follows the exact same pathway as it does when delivering a hammer strike; thus the movement also translates into hitting, cutting, and hacking with longer weapons. When striking with a club, the arm follows the same pathway as with a hammer strike. The only difference is the point of impact. USE FROM THE GROUND UP One of the disadvantages of linear punching is that the body mechanics don’t work very well from the ground, at least not when you’re on your back. If you’re in a mounted position, having your back against the ground limits your punching power by restricting your ability to generate torque. Since your opponent is oriented parallel to the line of intersection, your ability to punch with effect is nullified. The hammer strike’s circular path changes the lines of intersection, allowing them to be delivered effectively at various angles from a grounded position. What’s more, hammer strikes can be executed from the head-covered “Oh crap!” position, which you’ll most likely find yourself in if you’re being pounded on the ground. HAMMER STRIKING SEQUENCING Another advantage of the hammer strike is that it works very well with repeating sequence patterns. These are striking patterns that can be repeated multiple times without losing effect. They’re especially useful when adrenaline kicks in and can be used to smash through an adversary’s defense and take them down with a burst of controlled aggression. Cycling: Cycling is an elliptical striking pattern that uses an alternating hand sequence like a jab-cross combination. The motion is like the continuous rotation of a bicycle chain. Extend your lead arm with an open hand to begin the cycle. This hand is used to palm, gouge, slap, block, deflect, or grab your opponent to set them up for the rear downward hammer strike that follows. The Figure-8: The Figure-8 is a downward-diagonal, forehand-backhand (inward-outward) combination. The body torques in the direction of each strike, naturally setting up the body to deliver the strike in the opposite direction. The Figure-8 can be used with alternating arms where forehand-backhand strikes are delivered with one arm, then the other, to create a continuing sequence, or the lead hand can be used the same way it is used in the cycling sequence. Both sequencing patterns blend together very well, so it’s very easy to go from cycling to the Figure-8 to keep your adversary confused and adjust for targets and angles as needed. Edged and impact weapons can also be worked into the mix when the threat calls for it. The Figure-8 is a downward-diagonal, forehand-backhand combination. TARGETS The landmarks presented here are particularly effective selective targets to attack with the hammer strike. By no means are these the only targets. As with any weapon, the best target to hit is the one presented to you. Side of the neck: The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that travel from the spine to the shoulder. This cluster of nerves is located on either side of the neck between the mandible and the clavicle. A moderate shot with the hammer fist or forearm to the side of the neck will short-circuit your adversary’s nervous system and reset their OODA loop. A powerful hit can knock them out cold. Jaw/Chin: The mandibular nerve is a large sensory root, located near the hinge of the jaw that branches into several smaller nerves, including the mental nerve located at the base of the chin. Striking the chin or the side of the jaw can trigger the mandibular nerve and knock your adversary unconscious. Temple: The temple is the thinnest part of the skull. The superficial temporal artery and the temporal nerve are located here, close to the surface. A powerful strike could cause a knockout. The temple is usually reserved for deadly force situations, since a rupture of the temporal artery could result in death. FINAL THOUGHTS When it comes to power, versatility, and cross-platform application, the tried-and-true hammer strike is second to none. You’d be doing yourself a service by adding this movement to your arsenal, because unlike Stanley Kirk Burrell’s baggy, sagging-crotch pants, the hammer strike never goes out of style. RIGHT CROSS The attacker throws a right cross which Chad deflects with a lead forehand hammer strike. Chad follows up by coming over the top with a rear backhand hammer strike to the base of the attacker’s skull. A lead horizontal hammer strike to the temple sets Chad up to follow up with a cycling sequence if necessary. RIGHT GRAB ATTEMPT The attacker reaches in to grab Chad with his right hand. Chad deflects the attempt with his lead hand, placing him in position to begin cycling. After disrupting the attacker’s balance by pulling his arm forward with his lead hand, Chad clears the attacker’s right arm with a downward hammer strike. Chad uses the lead cycling hand to deliver an open palm to the face and obscure the attacker’s vision. A downward hammer strike to the brachial plexus completes the sequence. RIGHT CHOKE ATTEMPT The attacker attempts to place Chad in a rear choke. Chad reacts quickly and traps the attacker’s wrist to prevent him from establishing the choke. Chad sidesteps to create an opening and delivers a downward hammer strike to the attacker’s groin. He then pivots away on his inside foot and throws a horizontal hammer strike to the attacker’s temple. Chad finishes with a downward hammer strike to the base of the skull. 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