Open Hands of Pekiti Tirsia
In the western world the common believe about empty hands fighting is, that empty hands fighting means fist fighting. In contrast to that believe, there is no doubt among knowledgeable and experienced self-defence experts, that open hand strikes are truly effective and superior body weapons.
Pekiti Tirsia is and always has been a real-life self-defence system, born from the experience of generations. With this background it comes as no surprise, that in the Pekiti Tirsia system, there are many principles and methods, that relate to the effective use of open hands in combat and self-defence. Indeed, in the system, the open hand methods are considered more important than the fisted techniques. The reasons for that are obvious once it is understood, that Pekiti Tirsia is a weapon aware self-defence system, that from the very beginning consequently incorporates the possibility and reality of weapons in the training.
This article explains some of the reasons why the open hand methods and especially the open hand slap are preferred body weapons for civilian self-defence and why even experienced professionals rely on open hand tactics.
The Body Weapon of Choice...
Pekiti Tirsia has become well known for the sophisticated and effective use of unusual “empty hand” body weapons and tactics like for example leg to leg attacks (tranka), dumog breaks (bali), pulls and pushes (hablot-tiklod), the forearm hack (banga) or the hammer fist (pokol), that add to the arsenal of more standard body weapons like kicks (sipa), palm heel strikes (tampa), elbows (siko), knees (tuhod), head butts (bungo) and secondary techniques like squeezing / pinching (kosi) and biting (kagat) etc.
'Giant Killer' Keith Hackney (180 cm, 91 kg) knocks down Emanuel Yarbrough (203 cm, 272 kg) with Open Hand strikes at the no-holds bared competition UFC 3 (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
Even with all this variety in body weapons, the most simple and yet maybe the most versatile and powerful self protection weapon of the system still is from the open hands: Hampak - the heavy power slap.
For an weapon aware system like Pekiti Tirsia, the pokol hammer fist and the open hand slap are natural choices as primary hand tactics.
The reasons are obvious: When somebody is given a weapon or tool like a sword, stick or an axe, and then is asked to quickly chop a tree or to destroy something as fast as possible, this person with the sword, stick or axe will naturally apply strikes and not stabs as the most powerful attacks.
As experts in armed and unarmed combat, Pekiti Tirsia trainers have lots of experience and understand very well, that a regular punch has the movement characteristics of a stab while the forearm hack, open hand slap and hammer fist utilise the natural power arc of the strike.
The problem of the knuckle punch
The body can generate tremendous power for punches – which is good for fighting – but unfortunately the bare fist is not suited to deliver that power to solid targets without injury. Boxers solve that problem by using bandages and gloves to protect their fists from injury. Indeed the use of the bandages and boxing gloves allows boxers to deliver more power without damaging the fists. As a side effect the gloves, which are thicker than fists, allowed Boxers to use new defensive methods.
So using bandages and gloves not only changed boxing techniques but it just as much hides the fact, that the fist is actually a very fragile part of the body.
If the fist is used without protection many kinds of injury can happen, as is described in this excerpt from a medical article:
Closed fist injuries: This [...] occurs when someone punches another person in the mouth [...] Bites over the knuckles are very serious. These are at high risk for infection. Once infected, these bites can lead to major damage to the important parts of the hand. Additionally, the force of punching someone in the mouth can lead to broken bones or cuts in the tendons that need expert care."
Excerpt taken from: www.Emedicine.com, Article about human bites.
Author: Robert M McNamara, MD, FAAEM, Chief, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Emergency Medicine, Temple University
The vulnerability of the fist is a known problem and everybody with some teaching or fighting experience knows that to reliably apply a solid knuckle punch to a heavy moving target like for example a heavy bag is a skill that needs to be developed in months
if not really years of good training. To apply an effective knuckle punch to an unpredictably moving target, like the head of an opponent, is even more difficult. Every boxing expert can tell his personal story about that.
Mike Tyson (August 1988) with broken Hand after 'winning' a street scuffle with a straight right punch to the opponents nose. Because of the broken hand Mike Tysons scheduled fight against Frank Bruno had to be postponed.
Self-defence with open hand strikes
When learning self-defence, time is an important issue. It can never be predicted how much time until the skill is really needed – and sometimes there is no second chance!
That is the reason why the goal of Pekiti Tirsia training is, to enable the beginner as early as possible to successfully function and operate in real life situations. To achieve that, it is necessary to teach methods that quickly enable inexperienced beginners to strike with sufficient power.
Because of our understanding of natural movement, fight stress behaviour, legal issues and considering the importance of real power and teaching time, that's why Pekiti Tirsia trainers prefer the open hand principle and within this especially the Hampak heavy power slap as the major counter-offensive tool of the self-defence system.
Building on nature...
The Pekiti Tirsia heavy slap is a round, very natural movement, that is similar to the movement of throwing a stone or deflecting a flying mosquito. Because it is already part of every humans natural and instinctive fighting arsenal, even beginners with only short practise are able to deliver powerful slaps against real targets without any injury to the striking hand. It has been proven many times, that 30 minutes of practise is sufficient to teach an average beginner, how to use the open hand slap against a stronger and heavier opponent with sufficient power, to break his balance or to knock him unconscious.
...means improvement from the very beginning!
In those training methods, that – other than Pekiti Tirsia – don't use the natural striking methods as primary self defence tools, but use artificial movements that need to be learned (i.e. knuckle punch or elbow strike), it is observed, that for beginners there is first a decrease of actual fighting skill before it starts to get better. This is not so in the Pekiti Tirsia method of training: instead of replacing the natural habits with completely new ones, the Pekiti Tirsia system builds on the natural habits and abilities of the person and training means to improve them. Because Pekiti Tirsia builds on human nature, there is improved fighting skill from the very first lesson.
Reliable when it is really needed!
The real measure of quality for every self-defence system is the amount of protection it offers in real world critical or life threatening situations. Such a situation will always be perceived different than a training or tournament situation. If a person, inexperienced in street fights, is confronted with a real hot self-defence situation, then he or she will very likely experience the psychological and physiological effects of the human stress and fear reaction (also known as the 'body alarm reaction' or 'fight or flight reflex') that is very well described here:
In a life threatening situation, the [...] "fight or flight" reflex manifests itself. This reflex, honed by millenniums of adaptive human survival behavior, results in increased heart rate and cardiac output, higher blood pressure, accelerated respiration, greater carbohydrate metabolism, and virtually instantaneous supercharging of the body.
[...]The stress, rage, and fear which overwhelm the intended victim thus create a bodily alarm reaction which expresses itself as a period of greater strength and faster speed, accompanied by near impervious reaction to pain. At the same time, fine motor skills grossly deteriorate, dexterity noticeably decreases, and the hands, arms and legs may tremble. The intended victim will also likely experience an altered state of perception as well. One, indeed, is not calm, cool and collected.
Excerpt from "Self defence - Physiology/Psychology of a Gun Fight"
Especially the loss of fine motor skills and the increased 'pre-tension' of the body are physiological effects that need to be considered when selecting techniques to train beginners effectively for real self-defence situations.
Some, if not many of the sports oriented martial techniques are highly technical – not to say artificial – moves, that need to be learned and require a lot of training to develop the proper coordination that is needed for fast and accurate use. If now a danger situation triggers the 'fight or flight'-reflex and this reflex 'kills' the fine motor skills to support maximum body power, then those learned 'technical' moves are the first to disappear.
The straight punch too belongs to those artificial techniques that loose efficiency when the body activates it's instinctive stress and alarm reaction.
Of course with long and intensive training the straight punch (clenching the fist, coordination of wrist, elbow and shoulder) can become “second nature” (that's why most martial artist forget about the technical complexity of the punch), but if real street fights are observed – even with professionally trained fighters in contemporary Mixed Martial Arts events – the accurate straight punches are gone and the wild swing is the one that is typically observed.
To teach beginners straight punches as the self defence tool to rely on in a life threatening situation that might happen the very next day, obviously is not the way to go.
Slap: natural power
With the Pekiti Tirsia heavy slap the physiological effects of the human stress and fear reaction are no longer a problem. On the contrary! The heavy slap is a natural power move that actually benefits from the 'fight and flight'-Reflex.
When the body senses present danger and the survival instincts prepare the person for all out 'fight and flight' by going into adrenalin supercharged mode, then the body does what it is designed to do: It throws away fine tuned movements in favour of loading those fight-deciding power moves with all power reserves that the body can only access in this extreme situations. The body supercharges natural power moves like the heavy slap.
That is the reason why this open hand technique is perfectly suited for fighting in real danger. When the situation gets serious and the fine tuned motion of straight punches are very hard to maintain, then the open hand slaps shine at it's best: When they are really needed, they become faster and harder.
For experienced fighters and professionals to survive!
For experienced fighters and professionals adrenalin has the same basic effects, but by experience they are very much used to it. In training they learned to accept, control and use the adrenalin rush to their advantage and in the years of preparation they had enough time to ingrain any skill, so that they can successfully operate under pressure and in danger. That's why for example pro-boxers can use their boxing punches with almost perfect technique even when under the pressure of a championship title fight.
Open hand techniques are well known in the boxing sports. In pro and amateur boxing open hand techniques (open glove hitting) as for example thumbing or hitting with inside of glove are considered as fouls or dirty boxing and can lead to loosing a round or even disqualification. Good boxers don't use open glove techniques - but successful boxers sometimes do.
When shifting focus from professional sportsman to the professional warriors, that operate in the real world of no rules survival, like for example undercover agents, swat police, snipers, hostage rescue teams and members of military reconnaissance or infiltration units, then person to person close quarter combat (CQC) usually is not the main objective of the mission. CQC is no more than removing an obstacle, a necessity to get into or maintain the position necessary to fulfil the missions primary objective.
Unlike in sports competition, where it is acceptable to trade a minor hand injury for winning, for most real world professionals an injury of the hand is no option, because it risks the overall mission. Most important rule: Don't risk the hand, that is used to shoot or to handle the equipment necessary to complete the mission. A hand swollen or shaking from the impact of a knuckle punch considerably affects the ability to handle the weapon and shoot with precision, which in worst case can mean death to oneself or team members.
Slapping the Pekiti Tirsia way
The Pekiti Tirsia slap is a special method that is different from the palm heel strike. From Whipping Slap to Heavy Slap, the Pekiti Tirsia Slap exists in a variety of versions, that are applied in different situations to solve different problems. The Pekiti Tirsia slaps can be used for parry, control or to attack to temporarily disturb vision, to disturb balance or simply to knock out the opponent.
In Pekiti Tirsia a slap not only hits the opponent but also manipulates his balance and position to reduce his offensive options. Pekiti Tirsia Slaps can be delivered in a way, that if the opponent continues his attacking moves, he seriously hurts himself by the momentum of his movement.
The coordinated use of two hands in combination with the arced path of the Slap allows to protect the upper body from head to groin and simultaneously deliver powerful attacks that put the opponent on the defensive.
From the very first lesson Pekiti Tirsia trains the use of the Heavy Slaps. For most it is an astonishing experience. Those without previous martial arts experience are usually surprised how fast they learned to generate tremendous hitting power and are amazed how simple it is. After short time most already deliver sufficient hitting power to shake the balance of a stronger opponent and to knock him down. They can see and feel the power during the target practice with partner. And then when they start to experience how the slap is not only good for attack, but at the same time deflects most incoming attacks, then the Pekiti Tirsia trainer sometimes has a hard time to convince them, that it is not a miracle solution for every situation. Even more impressed than the beginners are those martial artists that had previous experience in full contact sports. When they start to slap the Pekiti Tirsia way, they are usually just taken away by the additional hitting power, they can generate when using the open hand strikes.
The structure of the Pekiti Tirsia open hand strikes is simple and the secret to powerful and safe hitting is proper relaxation. While most persons easily use effective open hand strikes from the beginning, sometimes people have a difficulty in applying effective slaps because they have a tendency to tense before impact. This is especially true for martial artists with a background in a punching art, which teaches to tense the fist at the moment of impact, or for people that have a misconception of muscle tension and released energy. If this habit of tension while slapping is maintained, it is twice dangerous for the striker, because the stiffness caused by the tension will not only slow down the strikes but make the fingers and wrist vulnerable to injury as well.
Even though the Slap is a simple and natural movement, there are many possibilities to improve slaps by proper training, i. e. optimising of slap angulation for better counter-offensive protection, speed, energy transfer etc. In the Pekiti Tirsia system there are many ways of training the slapping quality. One of the best training methods for proper slapping is using sticks as training tools. Other exercises include an iron ball. Training the slap quality has its regular place in every Pekiti Tirsia workout.
Won the fight — lost the battle?
In all times the risk of self-endangerment or self-injury by executing a technique has been an important issue, that a reasonable self-protection system had to consider and find solutions for. But with today's medical knowledge the perspective has changed. With today's medical care and health insurance systems, broken hand bones or dislocated wrists are less of a problem for the ordinary citizen. In a standard self-defence situation most of the times the physical fight will be over a couple of minutes after the first punch and then the injury can be taken care of. A broken bone or dislocated joint will typically heal and probably the injury will be forgotten after some weeks or months – much more serious in it's consequences is the problem of blood exchange.
When a bare knuckle punch connects to the head, it typically causes a strong bleeding wound. Another not unlikely result of the bare knuckle punch is that the skin at the connecting knuckles is cut open (typically a not so heavy bleeding wound). This means that, in the moment of impact, blood of the opponent may enter into the body of the bare knuckle striker. Even if the likelihood is small, there is still the chance of transferring HIV, Hepatitis and other blood diseases. Having apparently “won” a fight, but then having to wait and worry several months of not being sure, if the other person maybe was a carrier of a blood disease, is not really something to look forward to. Not to mention, what happened in case he was.
Sure, when fighting a serious street fight, blood exchange can't really be totally avoided – but the use of the slap reduces the risk of blood exchange dramatically, since it will typically not cause open wounds in the hand. And with the knowledge of blood diseases that we have today, why not choosing the option that reduces the risk of finally loosing the battle after having won the fight?
Open Hand tactics for Situation Control and Conflict Management
Another reason why the slap very well matches the needs of contemporary civilian self protection is, that the slap as an open hand tactic can easily be incorporated in natural body language, that appears to the aggressor and bystanders (witnesses) strong, yet non-aggressive and peaceful, thus giving ideal possibility to diffuse situations without the need to resort to physical violence. A preferred option in Pekiti Tirsia.
The slap methods combines very well with the chambering and monitoring methods of the Pekiti Tirsia system. The combination of these methods allows for a magnitude of tactical possibilities. For example to test the intentions of an adversary from a secure position � as for example giving him a controlled opportunity for a “save” first strike, that is of course expected and actually controlled before the strike starts. With this principle the aggressive opponent has lost the fight, the moment he takes the bait of the “obvious unaware and easy prey”.
The gesture of the open hand
The method of the open hand exemplifies like no other the Pekiti Tirsia philosophy of making friends not enemies. Those, that understand Pekiti Tirsia, seek for friends and with the culture of self-preservation they live their life with a positive awareness – looking for friends and discover those that are not.
Since Pekiti Tirsia follows the philosophy of life and in itself manifests the idea of life, good health and success, Pekiti Tirsia trained persons are not expecting enemies with fists but looking for friends with open hands ready for whatever may come.
Slaps: closing the circle
As shown before, the use of the open hand relates to the Pekiti Tirsia philosophy of making friends not enemies. In other words Pekiti Tirsia uses the philosophy of open hands not fists. But after having read this article it should be clear: the use of the slap is not a result of the philosophy. It is a result of the all time true logic of self-protection in human society. A result of body language, striking physics and understanding of strategies and tactics.
Like Slaps are moving on circular paths, so with a thorough understanding of the slap and the preferred Pekiti Tirsia tactics, everything smoothly fits together: Philosophy, human nature, culture, self-protection, efficiency, legal practice, joy of life, healthy training – all this complement each other in Pekiti Tirsia like a perfect circle to a consistent whole.
Author: Uli Weidle, March 2003
There is more that can be said about the open hand methods of Pekiti Tirsia. To keep that article in a format suited for the internet it had been shortened, so that maybe a second article will follow.
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© 2003 by Uli Weidle. The author can be reached by email: