Give Yourself a Hand

Neck Fracture of the Fourth Metacarpal Bone.png

Boxer’s Fracture is a colloquial term for a fracture of one of the metacarpal bones of the hand. Classically, the fracture occurs transversely across the metacarpal neck, after the patient strikes an object with a closed fist. Alternate terms include scrapper’s fracture or bar room fracture. ”  

When I teach striking, I advise against striking with a closed fist, with the exception of a hammer fist in certain configurations, and particularly when striking to the head.

This for several reasons related to safety and tactical performance – and even the simple optics of the act. In particular this relates to peace officers, but the takeaways apply in general to self defense, tactical application, and to combatives.

First off, it just isn’t all that effective. Yes, there are examples of “one punch” knockouts, and even one punch “kills,” but by and large striking in self defense (or for pain compliance in tactical applications) is highly overrated absent positional advantage or positional control. And if you have either of these, striking is generally unnecessary.

Second, it doesn’t look good – especially for officers, who admittedly must be more concerned with how things look than in the average defensive situation. The overall balance then, is to use a technique of limited effectiveness that also doesn’t look good…. hmmm.

This is not to mention that it results in a higher rate of injury. For the striker.

I’ve seen and heard of too many folks suffering hand injuries, including officers who punched resisting suspects in the head and lost time at work and even later required surgery,  to take the potential for hand injuries lightly. Note these were not injuries from punches to people wearing military helmets, or motorcycle helmets (well, one was…) these were from punches to an unprotected face and head. 

Even a cursory review of popular research available shows that there is a particular class of break referred to literally as a “Boxer’s Fracture.” Because you get it from punching people. Simply searching online for  “boxers and broken hands” or “MMA fighter’s broken hands,” one notes that even the best trained, most highly skilled professionals also have problems breaking their hands in fights – sometimes even when wearing gloves

Something else to make you go hmmm….

And it’s not just me. Numerous independent sources and various qualified combatives instructors – those with enough practical experience to know – relate the same things. Lost work, lost performance, lost jobs, because someone did something stupid, like punch a guy in the forehead.

But, What About…?

Looking back on those old-timey  bare-knuckle boxers, they  didn’t bust their hands up like that, did they? And those fights could go on for forty or seventy rounds or even longer!

How could they fight that long, with bare knuckles, and not hurt their hands?

Well, it seems they boxed very differently than the sport is conducted today, with an array of techniques and approaches to striking:


Bare knuckle boxing is still being conducted, and has even been offered as a potential alternative to gloved boxing due to the inherent and more lethal danger of hitting people hard and repeatedly in the head when wearing padded hand protection.

Then What about Self Defense?

In an unarmed scuffle, if you are at all tough, a broken hand will not likely mean that you will be unable to continue fighting, or even prevail in the encounter, so isn’t the point kind of moot?

Well, no…

The essential nature of self defense is not, and should never be confused with, mano-a-mano brawling, in either the ring or on the street. Self defense includes so many potentials and variables that must be taken into account if we are appropriately integrating interdisciplinary combatives.

There is always the potential for an empty hand fight, or resistive arrest, to go to weapons, often emergently, a change in the nature of a confrontation could necessitate an immediate need for a fighting tool: lethal or less lethal. While it may be fine continuing to pummel someone’s face with a mangled hand, I’m not so sure I’d want to be attempting to access a Taser, or a knife, or to draw and manipulate a pistol, or try to retain a weapon with that self-same damaged hand. Particularly as the stakes of the confrontation have just gone way, way, up.

And let’s say I have a weapons’ malfunction.  Maybe even had that malfunction because I was shooting with a broken hand. And though perhaps still be able to fire a pistol with a broken hand,  do I really want to be trying to clear, say, a double feed with one?

Even a reload could be problematic…

Further, should I incur other injuries from the threat, how will my ability to treat them be impacted by having a broken hand?

Self-application of tourniquets tight enough is tough enough, without the additional difficulty presented by a hand injury.

And if I had to administer aid to another? A friend, or loved one? A child?

Let alone the issue of blood borne pathogens. One of the marked disconnects in the defensive communities’ understanding of real life confrontations is the need to be concerned for bleeding on the part of both assailants and ourselves. Punching people in the face causes more bleeding, from both the target and the abraded knuckles of the striker. While at times some bleeding may be unavoidable, given the choice to use tactics less likely to result in the rapid introduction of nasty contaminants into an already chaotic and uncontrolled encounter, it would seem the better option.

Mindful of these things, I’ve reconsidered relying on techniques that have a recognized propensity for causing hand injuries, even to very experienced fighters with and without gloves, in favor of other options.

And I would question any instructor who claims otherwise.


  1. Saw a question on this post in another forum and it was a good one: regarding what I meant by optics;

    In the age of ubiquitous cell phone video, I do think we need to be aware of the optics our chosen tactics present in situations where we have some measure of control in our response.

    For instance, it is not a good idea for police officers to be repeatedly punching a suspect not apparently presenting any threat meriting that kind of response – that is, an inability to control someone through positional grappling ability isn’t in itself reason to begin striking a subject, especially in the head. Though it should be noted this is commonly taught as a reasonable escalation.

    From the civilian self defense perspective, it will rarely look justified to be filmed ground and pounding a person that does not appear to be able to defend himself. There will be times it can be justified, but justification and what it looks like – what people think they are seeing – can at times be at odds. The more we can be aware of this, and make decisions accordingly, the better.


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