Sometimes you search for something only to discover it was close by all along. A case in point:
In my recent book, Crash Combat, I reflect that the hammer-fist is a somewhat underappreciated weapon in martial arts. I may have made this assertion in my previous book too. Reading Joseph Wayne Smith’s book on Wing Cchun he makes a similar statement.
Hammer-fist can substitute for the chop, back-fist and even some closed-fist punches. It is much less likely to result in self-injury than some of these techniques. It is easy to perform correctly and can deliver powerful blows to both hard and soft targets. Along with the palm-heel it is probably one of the best hand strikes that we have.
Naturally enough, I was experimenting with some hammer-fist attacks the other day. I’d been looking at the rapid 270-360° turn that is possible by using the “closed step” of Pa-kua/ Bagua. (See my book for details). This could be used to power a spinning back-fist to strike a foe in the outside gate. But a true back-fist can be fiddly, requiring a terminal flick of the wrist and impact with the first two knuckles. A spinning hammer-fist is more logical and for most fighters more powerful.
I notice that if I bend my wrist inward a fraction my hammer-fist seems a little stronger or more stable at the moment of impact. I also note that this mode favours a sort of “snap”. I can throw the technique with a relaxed arm and hand and snap into a clenched hand just before impact. This, of course, lets the arm and hand acquire more initial speed and produces a more powerful attack with less muscular effort.
From a variety of positions I can just flick my arm and have it land in a hammer-fist. This curve of the wrist seems a technique worth cultivating.
And then it dawns on me! This is the hand form of horse-foot palm from Tai Chi’s Single Whip. I have written about this as a parrying technique and even as a form of punch. I have probably even written about hammer-fist-like strikes with this hand form. But I had not grasped one of the other important things that posture was trying to teach: that a relaxed, slightly bent wrist gives you a very efficient hammer-fist.
As always, experiment for yourselves. Can you use hammer-fist instead of your other strikes? Can you relax more to make it faster and more powerful?