I almost asked a duplicate question earlier:

What martial notation systems exist for describing techniques in writing?

It asked the question that I wanted to ask, and its answers were disappointing. They were correct, of course (there is no such system), but still disappointing.

Thus, bringing me to this question.

Is it possible to compile a comprehensive list of (arm/hand) striking techniques that wouldn't exclude or discriminate against the many styles and arts out there? What does that list have to include?

Boxing only has four or five punches itself, if we ignore left/right and where those punches target/land (possibly with other parameters). Karate and TKD add a few, plus several open-handed strikes. I am not very knowledgeable on what seems like must be at least several hundred extant martial arts, but I have trouble imagining that there are thousands of punches/slaps/chops. I've had trouble coming up with even twenty so far.

The list that I have so far looks something like this:

  • Jab
  • Cross
  • Hook
  • Uppercut
  • Backfist
  • Ridge hand
  • Knifehand/Chop
  • Spear hand
  • Slap
  • Open-handed backfist/slap
  • Palm strike
  • Haymaker

Also, tentatively:

  • Side punch (this seems like it's not only a targeting difference, the punch is thrown distinctively)
  • Vertical punch (the fist not rotating to horizontal when connecting)
  • Elbow strikes (unclear if this is a single technique or multiple)
  • Three Stooge's style eyepoke (with forked fingers?)

I've been watching videos of various East Asian martial arts (kata and other demonstrations), and there doesn't appear to my relatively untrained eye any significant variation in technique.

A good answer will not be a complete list, but rather an explanation of how this is either a fool's errand or a solvable problem. If the number of techniques/strikes were in the dozens-to-hundreds range, this is likely a solvable problem, but if it exceeds this it probably isn't a solvable problem even though the number must be finite (whatever it actually is).

PS Please help me edit this question to comply with the rules if it is salvageable. Also keep in mind that if this question is answered, I don't intend to return with a dozen other questions of the "is it possible to compile a list of X-type techniques" sort, as I believe that the answer will remain the same for those questions as for this one.


You can make such a list, but there will always be nontrivial disagreements about what the list excludes and whether things on the list are the same. You could imagine making a list by taking the union of every martial art's striking technique set and then eliminating duplicates. But no one would agree on what the duplicates are, or what the criteria for determining duplicates should be.

The Kodokan has compiled such a list for (judo) throws. The trouble is that given the compiled list of techniques, you are presented with a video to identify, and different people identify the same video as different techniques. The canonical answers are decided by a committee decision, but these decisions do not always make sense. When someone develops a potentially novel technique, there is always a debate about whether this technique is a variation of a list technique or something new.

Your list current seems very weapon-centric (what does the hand look like when it lands?). Here are other considerations for classifying techniques on your list:

Striking is not like shooting bullets, where you have a ballistic projectile that impacts the opponent. The striker can control how force is applied over time, which can change whether the strike penetrates or only impacts on the surface. Depending on your immediate objective, you may want to strike to deflect an attack (speed required, power not so much), or knock someone out (speed and power required).

Assuming your stance has one foot forward, delivering power is different for a front-hand strike versus a rear-hand strike. I think boxing tends to jab with the front and throw the power cross from the rear, but you can throw power techniques from the front, and teaching this is not so simple as to assume you can throw power techniques both left and right.

Footwork matters. Many people think of striking only from a static foot position, but you can strike while moving. This is not only in sense of the moving the feet quickly, setting, and then striking, where you could still analyze techniques from the final static foot position. You can use the force from stepping as part of the strike itself.

How do short power techniques (most famously, Bruce Lee's one-inch punch) fit into this list? Does it matter what your hand looks like?

The idea of what constitutes a technique in one system does not map easily to a technique in another system. Xing yi (hsing i) has a technique called pi quan (splitting), which involves both hands. It is not trained in a one hand for one strike manner.

TL;DR In trying to compile the list, you will discover you need to study extensively, and your list will not match others' lists, depending on what you study and your understanding.

  • I'm not particularly interested in what any single style believes to be a technique. Often those are composites of individual techniques which can be and often are performed separately. If a particular strike were to use both hands, this wouldn't be an impediment, it would just be listed as such and given a label and description. Do you consider pi quan to be a particularly good counter-example? While of course I can't ask for an exhaustive list, if you had a few other counter-examples, those would be appreciated.
    – John O
    Oct 25 '19 at 14:23
  • Pi quan is an example of how people will look at movement(s) and see different things. The core of xing yi is basically 5 techniques, of which pi quan is one. I expect xing yi practitioners would not consider pieces of pi quan to be a technique (they have a short list to study), whereas others will see them as separate.
    – mattm
    Oct 25 '19 at 15:38
  • What exactly do you mean by counterexample? Techniques that will be classified differently depending on who is evaluating?
    – mattm
    Oct 25 '19 at 15:40
  • Techniques that aren't easily decomposed into sub-techniques, or for which doing so would be highly controversial. Especially those which if you cannot decompose them, the list would then balloon to hundreds of items.
    – John O
    Oct 25 '19 at 15:56
  • @JohnO: The point this answer is making is rather the ballooning. Consider the picture given in Sean Duggan's self-answer to his oxjaw strike question: There are all these possible areas to hit with. Now, you can do them from different directions. You can do them to parry or to hurt. You can do them moving forward, backwards, sidewards, stopping or piercing, with angled limbs or straight ones. All these moves, even if some of them are biomechanically similar, serve different purposes in different situations and since a technique is not an isolated movement but a solution to a problem... Oct 27 '19 at 13:10

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