The Hand in Karate


The hand is a wonderful tool, able to grasp, punch, stroke, able to feel the slightest change in temperature or texture, to deliver a loving caress or a death dealing blow. In the following thesis we shall look at the weapons on the Karate trained hand.

SEIKEN - (Fore fist)

This is the most widely used fist in Karate, it uses the first two and largest knuckles as the striking area so that all the power is focused in the one small area to inflict the maximum damage. This is the first fist taught to beginners. Points to remember are, keep a tight fist with the thumb outside of the fingers, the wrist and the top of the hand should form a straight line to transmit the power without the danger of the wrist being broken.

NAKADAKA-KEN - (Middle finger knuckle fist)

The punch uses the middle knuckle of the middle finger as the striking area. The fist is formed the same way as SEIKEN except that the middle finger protrudes slightly, being squeezed by the index and ring fingers with the thumb pushing down on the index and middle fingers. This fist is especially good for good penetration into awkward to reach targets, a few of these are;-
Between the ribs - Jaw line below the ear - The armpit - The point below the nose – The top of the hand, This technique is found in the Kata CHINTE but is rarely used in Kumite.

IPPON-KEN - (One knuckle fist)

This fist is formed as in SEIKEN but the middle knuckle of the index finger protrudes to form the striking area. The thumb presses down onto the index finger to strengthen it. This fist is suited to striking small, awkward areas of the body much the same a NAKADAKA-KEN. This technique is found in the Kata HANGETSU but again rarely in Kumite.

HIRAKEN - (Fore knuckle fist)

This fist is formed by bending the fingers back until the tips touch the palm, the fingers are slightly bent from the knuckles with the thumb pressed tightly against the index finger. The striking area used in this fist are the four middle knuckles, striking such targets as below the nose and between the ribs. This fist can also be used to apply pressure to points on the opponents body. This fist is also know as FLAT FIST due to the slim shape, which is ideal for striking into the throat.


The first knuckle of the thumb can be used to strike to the edge of the throat, the hand being in the same shape as SHUTO with the palm facing down. When the hand is in the SEIKEN shape, the second knuckle can be used to strike to the back of the jaw line in a back to front motion, or to the inside of the arm above the elbow.

URAKEN - (Back fist)

URAKEN is formed in the same way as SEIKEN the striking area being the back of the hand and the tops of the knuckles of the index and middle fingers. The strike is performed by snapping the forearm out from the elbow, either horizontally from the chest, or up and striking downwards. This technique is used in many Kata’s including HEIAN SANDAN, KANKU-DAI and SOCHIN, also it is widely used in Kumite. It is a versatile technique that can be used to strike to the body or head, or to block an incoming punch as in HEIAN NIDAN.

TETTSUI - (Hammer fist)

TETTSUI is formed in the same way as SEIKEN, but the striking area is the soft pad at the bottom of the fist. The attach is made by snapping the forearm from the elbow, either up and over or from the chest in an arc parallel to the ground. Found in a great many Shotokan Kata’s including, HEIAN SHODAN, HEIAN SANDAN and BASSAI DAI it is a powerful strike which can be directed to any part of the body. It can be used singly as in HEIAN SHODAN, or with both hands as in BASSAI DAI where the hands attack from either side with the palms up, this is called TETTSUI HASAMI UCHI.



Probably the most famous of all Karate strikes, commonly known as the “Karate Chop”. SHUTO is formed by holding the hand open with the fingers held tightly together, the thumb bent at the joint and pressed against the side of the palm. The striking area used in this technique is the soft pad below the little finger, the hand coming from the opposite shoulder area, the non blocking hand covering the solar plexus with the palm facing up. (SHUT O UKE). SHUTO can be used to block (UKE) or strike (UCHI) in many ways, some of these are:-

TATE SHUTO - (Vertical knife hand)

The arm is held out fully stretched, the hand at a 90’ angle, the edge facing forward. TATE SHUTO is taught to beginners as the preparatory move of CHOKI ZUKI (Straight punch) it is also used with GYAKU SUKI (Reverse punch), being the second strike immediately alter the punch. TATE SHUTO is used a great deal in Kata, i.e. BASSAI DAI, sometimes the action mimics the Kimono sleeve being pulled back prior to withdrawing the sword. ln Kumite, TATE SHUTO can be used to block a JODAN punch, the defender moving back at a 45’ angle. A close relation of TATE SHUTO is KAKE-SHUTO UKE, ( hooking knife hand block) this is almost identical to TATE SHUTO except that the body swings further round to the back

SHUTO UKE - (Knife hand block)

This block is usually performed in KOKUTSU-DACHI (back stance) to block a CHUDAN (middle level) attack. SHUTO UKE is found throughout the Shotokan Kata’s, from Red Belt to Black Belt. The original method of performing SHUTO UKE was for both hands to come up to the opposite shoulder before performing the block, the modern method introduces the hip twist for added power to the technique.

SHUTO UCHI - (Knife hand strike)

SHUTO UCHI has several variations, we shall now look at some of these:-

MAWASHI SHUTO UCHI - (Circular knife hand strike)

This technique can be performed from the outside inwards with the palm facing upwards (SHUTO SOTO MAWASHI-UCHI) or from the inside outwards with the palm facing down (SHUTO UCHI MAWASHI-UCHI). The technique comes from head height, travelling parallel to the ground to the target, normally the side of the neck or temple.

OTOSHI SHUTO UCHI - (Dropping knife hand strike)

OTOSHI SHUTO UCHI is performed by dropping the hand in a vertical plane, similar to the action of a guillotine. The targets for this technique are usually the back of the neck or the throat.

MOROTE GEDAN SHUTO UKE - (Double lower knife hand block)

This technique is normally used to block a kick to the lower parts of the body, it is found in the Kata KANKU-SHO. Although it is normally associated with blocking, it can also be a strike to a person who has already been put to the floor by a previous technique. We also have the single handed version “SHUTO GEDAN BARAI” that is found in the Kata “HEIAN YONDAN” this also can be used to block a kick or low level punch. If one is grabbed from behind, a SHUTO strike to the attackers’ groin area is a very effective way of gaining your release.

HAITO - (Ridge hand)

HAITO can be used as a block (UKE) or a strike (UCHI) in much the same way as SHUTO, except that the striking area on the hand is on the opposite side from SHUTO. The striking area extends from slightly below the base of the index finger to the first joint of the thumb. HAITO UKE is used in IPPON KUMITE to block a MAWASHI GERI JODAN, HAITO UCHI is also used after blocking a KEKOMI with SOTO UDE UKE, the HAITO UCHI striking the attackers face area. HAITO is not found in the lower grade Kata’s, but makes its appearances in Kata’s such as “JITTE” and “UNSU”

HAISHU - (Back Hand)

HAISHU is formed the same as SHUTO except that the striking area is the entire back of the hand. This technique is found in the Kata’s “HEIAN GODAN, TEKKI SHODAN and NIJUSHIHO” although rarely used in KIHON (basics) or KUMITE (sparing). HAISHU is used mainly for Blocking (UKE), but can be used as a strike (UCHI) to the solar plexus or behind the ear.

NUKITE - (Spear Hand)

There are three types of NUKITE, the first we shall look at is “SHIHON NUKITE”, Four Finger Spear Hand. In this technique the tips of the first three fingers form a fairly level surface, necessitating a slight bend in the middle finger. The hand is held with the thumb at the top, it is then used to strike targets such as the solar plexus, the armpit and the throat. This technique appears in HEIAN NIDAN. HEIAN SANDAN and KANKU DAI and it should be noted that in SOCHIN it is used with the hand palm up so that even if the opponent drops his chin, the technique will still hit it’s target.

NIHON NUKITE - (Two finger spear hand)

NIHON NUKITE uses the tips of two fingers as the striking area, usually the middle and index fingers are used. The fingers are spread apart in a “V” shape, in the Kata “CHINTE” this hand shape is first used in conjunction with an UCHI UKE (inside block) and then used as a strike to the eyes,

IPPON NUKITE - (One finger spear hand)

IPPON NUKITE is formed by having the index finger only pointing forward, supported by the rest of the fingers. This technique is found in the Kata’s “UNSU” and “GOJUSHIHO SHO” and is used to attack the eyes and throat.


This hand is formed by bringing the fingers and the thumb together to form a point, so that it resembles a birds beak. WASHIDE is found only in the Kata GOJUSHIHO SHO, which would indicate it to be an advanced technique. It can be used to block an incoming punch, Jodan or Chudan or to strike to such areas as the eyes, throat and other vital points.

SEIRYUTO - (Ox-jaw hand)

SEIRYUTO is formed by bending the hand sideways at the wrist so that the edge of the hand and it’s extension into the wrist form a curve. The edge of the hand is forced forward to keep this position. SEIRYUTO can be used to block or strike against the leg or forearm or attacking the face, collarbone etc. This technique is found in the Kata “HANGETSU” but is rarely used in KIHON (basics) or KUMITE (sparring).


KUMADE is formed by bending the fingers at the middle knuckle until the tips of the fingers just touch the palm, the thumb is bent and pressed against the side of the palm. The striking area is the whole of the palm, it can be used to strike to the face either directly or with a sweeping sideways motion. KUMADE is not used in any SHOTOKAN Kata’s and is rarely used in KUMITE (sparring).

KEITO - (chicken head wrist)

KEITO is formed by pushing the hand down from the wrist, the palm facing inward, flex the fingers and the thumb slightly inward. The striking area is the base and the first knuckle of the thumb. This technique can be used to block the opponents arm or attack the armpit with a snapping motion of the forearm. KEITO is only found in the more advanced Kata’s such as “UNSU” and rarely used in KUMTTE (sparring).

TE-NAGASHI-UKE - (Hand sweeping block)

TE-NAGASHI-UKE uses the palm to deflect a Jodan punch, the open hand passes the face deflect the punch, twisting on impact so that the palm faces the ear. This technique is used in Kata’s such as HEIAN GODAN, KANKU-DAI and ENPI, and is normally used in conjunction with an attack with the other hand. Another block using the palm is TE-OSAE-UKE (hand pressing block), this is used to block a CHUDAN (middle area) punch. The action of this technique is to press down onto the forearm to deflect the punch, this first appears in the Kata HEIAN NIDAN.

SOKUMEN AWASE UKE - (Side combined block)

SOKUMEN AWASE UKE is formed by bending the hands upwards from the wrists, the fingers pointing upwards and the backs of the hands touching. The striking area is the palm of one hand reinforced by the back of the other hand. It is used to deflect a JODAN punch to the side of the head as in the Kata “GANKAKU” but is rarely used in KUMITE (sparring).


JUJI UKE is formed by crossing the hands at the wrists to form an X shape. With this block the hands can be either open or closed into fists. Against a JODAN punch it is normally the open hand so that one can then grab the wrist to pull the attacker onto a following technique. Used as a block against a MAE GERI (front kick) it is best to use the fist shape to protect the fingers, the block should be just above the ankle, as the leg rises so that it is stopped before the power can be developed. JUJI UKE is found in the Kata’s HEIAN YONDAN, HEIAN GODAN, GANKAKU and is also used in KUMITE (sparring), i.e., IPPON KUMITE technique against a MAE GERI (front kick).


MAWASHI UKE uses first the palm of one hand and then the back of the next moving in a circular motion, to block and deflect and incoming punch. The action of this technique should be smooth and rapid, one continuous movement from start to finish. This block is found in the Kata’s “NIJUSHIHO” and “UNSU”, but is not used in Kumite very often. MAS. OYAMA, the founder of KYOKUSHINKAI KARATE is quoted as saying “This block once perfected will stop you being hit by even the most expert of punchers, but unfortunately it is not practised in Dojo’s these days”. Ideally it is best to use TAI SABAKI (body movement) with the block to take one to a 45’ or 90’ angle on the attacker, from where the finishing strike can take place. An advantage of this block is that you do not have to wait to see which side the attack is coming from. If the hands are rotated clockwise against a right handed punch you will be to the outside of the attacker,or to the inside from a left handed punch.


KAKUTO is formed by bending the hand down to it’s maximum extent and then the rounded part of the wrist as the striking area. This is a very powerful technique which can be used to block or strike to most parts of an opponents body, the temple and the armpit are two such targets.


TEKUBI KAKE UKE is used against a punch to the CHUDAN (middle) area, the hook is formed by bending the hand over at the wrist, towards the forearm. This technique is best used with TAI-SABAKI (body movement), side stepping the punch and then using the elbow as a pivot, rotate the forearm and hand, hooking the punching arm from above TEKUBI KAKE UKE is found in the Kata NIJUSHIHO, but is not used in KUMITE (sparring) a great deal.


TEISHO is an open handed technique (KEISHO) using the base of the palm to either block (UKE) or strike (UCHI). The fingers are bent over and both these and the thumb are kept clear of the palm. This technique is very powerful and is used in Karate a great deal, in Kumite and Kata’s such as “JITTE” and “JION”. With TEISHO it is possible to strike and block to either soft of hard areas of the opponents body, it can also be used using both hands (TEISHO AWASE UKE) as in HANGETSU, or MOROTE TEISHO ZUKI as in NIJUSHIHO.
Although I have covered the main uses of the hand in Karate, this is by no means the full catalogue of techniques available, there are still Grappling (TUITE) and Strangling (SHIMA WAZA) to name but two. I hope that the above thesis will be of use to other KARATE-KA in the future, to advance their training.
Yours in KARATE-DO