One of the problems with learning the basic martial usage of the various palm shapes is the natural tendency to confine your practising to "striking the air" while doing forms, or practising individual methods by yourself, or with little or no contact on a training partner.
Unfortunately, it is impossible, not just difficult, to learn how to efficiently and safely strike with the open hands, if you don't practise making contact with a target of some kind— whether that target is a focus mitt, a padded shield, a heavy bag, or makiwara, or a training partner wearing body armour so that he or she can be safely struck. In fact all of these also create a natural progression in learning how to use greater and greater amounts of power in your palm strikes while also maintaining the integrity of the various methods themselves.
It is useful to think of palm strikes as falling into three categories: blunt impact, percussive and penetrating.
• The first is a strike with the heel of the palm driven with the weight of the body. When done properly, this causes great movement in the heavy bag and makes a dull noise on impact.
• The second, with the fingers and edges of the hand forming a hollow in the palm, is driven more with the use of the waist, as well as a subtle shifting of weight, and makes a louder, sharper popping sound on impact, and the heavy bag tends to shudder rather than swing.
• The third method begins like the second, but then the palm thrusts forward once the edge of the hand and fingers make contact. It has a distinctive sound as well, and makes the bag shudder in a different way than the second method.
All three methods are worthwhile from a martial perspective, and the third is the hardest to generate, as doing it successfully implies that you are able to do the second method well in the first place. When done on a focus mitt, you will know, you are getting somewhere when the impact of the last two seems to penetrate the padding even though you are not winding up from a great distance to generate momentum. As with all such training methods, it is best to learn and practise them under the supervision of someone who can actually do them with some skill and grace.
A traditional way of practising striking was to practise on a tree trunk, padded or otherwise, or on a heavy pole that had been sunk into the earth for that purpose. There was also a supposedly advanced way of practising, in which the bagua student navigated around and through a pattern of such posts (often called Nine Palace Training) while practising a prearranged or spontaneous pattern of strikes on the hard resilience of the posts.
Erle also teaches and has videos on the use of what he calls the "bagua wooden man," although making the requisite shape for his wooden man would not be easy unless you are a skilled woodworker. Still, the methods he teaches for use on this apparatus can be adapted for use on a wing-chun wooden man, or done while circling a heavy bag. I recommend the videos if you are interested in training how to strike, and must do so largely on your own.
As with any aspect of learning to apply your martial skills in a potentially effective manner from a self-defence point of view, you cannot ignore the necessity of learning how to do your strikes on a target that resists—in some way—the impact. From a mechanical point of view alone, it can take some pain and bruising to learn how to strike with an open hand without bruising your own bones or straining your wrists and elbows—even when doing it on a target that doesn't fight back, except passively.
It is also important to remember, how hard and how well you can hit, ultimately depends on how well you can reposition your body in relation to the opponent just before striking them. This use of timing and distancing is very difficult to learn, and tends to take the longest to learn unless you are born with considerable aptitude for such martial attributes. Let me put it simply, you may be able to strike like a battering ram or with the force of a whip, but if you can't get within the correct range to do so without being blown out of the water by the other fellow, then your palm striking ability won't do you much good.
In other words, striking properly is one factor among many that have to be trained and fall into place before you can be as effective a martial artist as your potential allows.
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