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Self Defense with ‘Heel Palm Strike’

A karate punch isn’t as easy as they make it look in the movies. Martial artists must align the knuckles, fist, wrist, and forearm just so. If the line up isn’t correct, all the driving speed and power known to break boards and bones can end up creating injury in the punching hand and wrist.

Trust me, it makes for a big fail whale of pain.

Most people, however, can learn to use the heel palm strike to the chin for basic self defense. But first a few questions:

  • Have you ever helped a friend move a stalled or stuck vehicle by pushing it?
  • Have you ever put a heavy box on a chest-high shelf and had to push it back a little further?

Then you already know a lot about letting your body’s power flow through your hands to an object.

  • Have you ever noticed how your hips and waist move when you vacuum the carpet with a heavy vacuum?
  • Have you ever swung a baseball bat really hard so that your hips seem to move with your arms?

Then you already know a bit about creating power by locking in your hip movements to an arm movement.

A heel palm strike in karate can use both the push and the hip motion together to create a driving, upward force capable of connecting so powerfully with a chin that it can:

  • Painfully slam the lower teeth into the upper teeth
  • Stun a person for a few moments
  • Put a person off balance enough to fall backwards
  • Knock someone out completely from the impact of the strike
  • Make a stunned attacker fall and knock themselves out when they hit the ground with their head

NOTE: The last one in the list includes a handy martial arts rule called, “Letting the ground do the work for you.” Part of Thinking Like a Black Belt in self defense is learning to use your environment for you — in this case the ground.

A heel palm uses the lower part of your palm where it is thicker and stronger as the striking surface and the fingers are pulled back out of the way:self-defense-heelpalmseries2Notice though, just how close the striking arm is to the attacker. You can’t strike with the heel palm from far away. You must step in and powerfully drive up and back into the attacker.

So how do you put this all together to make a heel palm hit happen?

Well, can you do the dance from the 1960s called The Twist?

Assuming you have a doctor’s approval to engage in strenuous exercise and your back is fine, get up and do The Twist with me. Most of the martial arts is discovering and harnessing the “source of force” within your own body for every kick, punch, block, take-down, or throw.  It’s how people of smaller size can kick butt on larger folks.

As you do The Twist, notice how the hips move in counter direction to your arms. Meaning, as your hands move forward to the left, your hips rotate to the right, and as your hands move forward to the right, your hips rotate to the left. This is the opposite of what we want. Now plant the feet instead of pivoting on them and let your hands and hips move together, so arms and hips swing left and then they swing together to the other side. Let arms and hips move as if locked into one another, with your feet as your stable base.

If done correctly — hips must be movin’ to the groovin’ with the hands — you will feel the power of what I learned in tang soo do as “hip action.” When you have a smooth, powerful side-to-side motion going, let one hand at a time fly out forward in front of you to an imaginary attacker’s chin with a heel palm strike upward.

Congratulations Reader-san, you have moved beyond Wax On and Wax Off, and are using the more complex the “Push Car-Vacuum Carpet-Do The Twist” method of executing a karate move.


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Vered - MomGrind June 2, 2009, 5:45 pm

    Lots of great info here, Lori. Congrats on the new site!

  • Lori Hoeck June 2, 2009, 7:18 pm

    Hi Vered,
    Thank you for dropping by and commenting. And thank you for the congratulations! I’m getting some awesome feedback so far. So glad I read and learned from bloggers like you over the last year!

  • Caroline June 3, 2009, 1:05 pm

    Alright…your blog ROCKS!! And now you are inspiring me to get back into my karate program. I love how to talk about the intuitive knowledge of using our body to push heavy objects. When I was in karate we learned how to use our body to create power…I loved that. I was disappointed to quite but our Sensi lost the lease to his studio and had to move. I guess I will come here for my lessons…can you teach kata’s through your post…lol.

  • Lori Hoeck June 3, 2009, 1:23 pm

    Hi Caroline,
    Thank you for visiting, the cool feedback, and for the RT in Twitterville!
    Learning to tap into your body (and mind) power is soooo empowering, isn’t it?
    I can teach kata through my posts — with video link-up to critique your efforts — but getting self defense info out to people and parents is more important to me right now.

  • Writer Dad June 3, 2009, 9:51 pm

    I can’t wait for the videos. They’re gonna totally rock the Internetz. Bad guys will be running scared.

    You rock, Lori!

  • janice June 4, 2009, 3:37 am

    I’m going to subscribe and catch up with your posts later today when I have more time. I used to do karate and my kids now do. They graded purple and white last weekend. (It’s a Shotokan club.) I discovered your last blog just before you closed it and I’m not going to risk that this time! I’m enjoying Marc’s Daily Aikido at the moment, too, because it’s jogging my memory, reminding me of when I first discovered how much wisdom and spirituality accompanies every martial art as well as all the other benefits. I smiled when I saw Caroline’s comment. I’ve read and enjoyed her comments on our common blog routes and was thrilled to find she’s a karateka , too! So’s Mary Jaksch from Write to Done. (@Caroline, I had to give up and I can’t face going right back to white belt to start again. I won’t be able to ever grade again if I don’t. )

    Good luck with this – passion will always find a way to express itself!

  • Lori Hoeck June 4, 2009, 2:18 pm

    Hi Sean,
    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Thanks!

    Hi Janice,
    Thank you for visiting, commenting, and subscribing! Awesome! I’ll have to check out the site you mention.

    Back to white belt? In my world of martial arts it’s like university or college credits — your previous learning is honored and you are given time to get the rust out. Everyone else is OK with that because it’s just another path of training –sometimes a tougher path — to be honored.

  • janice June 5, 2009, 8:43 am

    Sigh…I wish. I asked if I could wear my own belt, refresh my knowledge and get as fit as I can for my age while training alongside all the grades again, but they said no. It has been a very long time, but I was so proud of what I’d achieved. I have the mangled toes to show for it. I still love kata. Some day.

  • Lori Hoeck June 5, 2009, 5:03 pm

    Hi Janice,
    Bummer dude! I’m glad you are proud — training is not easy. Sometimes kata is all you need to keep your toes (mangled or otherwise!) in the water. I say keep it up!

  • mike June 11, 2009, 1:31 pm

    WOW! You have an amazing site Lori! A most impressive job you have done! I love reading your articles. 🙂

  • Lori Hoeck June 11, 2009, 2:14 pm

    Hi Mike,
    Thank you for dropping by! Of course I love your feedback, too! 🙂
    I hope you never have to use this info, but I’m glad I can pass it on.