Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Self Defense - The Claw

he claw. Sounds like an evil character in a superhero movie. But if you happen to be on the user end of this ancient martial art technique, the claw can become the superhero technique that may save your life. It’s that effective.

The claw hand comes in all shapes and sizes, and draws on a variety of backgrounds. Mostly it’s animal based, derived from a tradition of witnessing other species fight. The ferocity of the tiger claw instantly comes to mind. Then there is the leopard claw, the monkey, eagle, the bear, the praying mantis and even the crab. Each has its own history and traditions.

In self defense classes aimed at novices, I prefer to teach open handed techniques such as the claw as opposed to the clenched fist. Why?

1.    Less training involved. Clenched fist techniques require hours of impact training. There is always a greater chance of damage to the untrained hand.

2.   Folks who just want to learn a few self defense techniques won’t have the time to develop power from the legs up along with the necessary hip rotation to make a punch effective. Their timing, if it exists at all, will be off. They’ll hit with only part of their body instead of the entire biomechanical structure. And in a frenzy, the untrained may strike out at an attackers arms, stomach, chest and the front of his skull, all areas that could result in damage to the hand.

Elbow strike followed by a downward raking claw

The open palm, especially with the fingers bent into the shape of a claw, can be particularly effect at medium to very close range, even when someone is pinned to the ground by an attacker. It can be used to strike, grip, tear, rip, gouge, scratch, choke…alone and in combination with other techniques involving all angles 360 degrees. As long as the counter-attack is directed against four main parts of the body: all sides of the head; the throat and neck; the groin; and even the knees along with some secondary targets such as the collarbone and the armpit.

Clawing techniques can also be used in conjunction with low kicks. The attacker has to deal with a volley of tearing movements aimed at his face while kicks lash out at him from below. Unlike two clenched fists which most self defense students would probably never think of using together, double claw strikes come much more naturally. And seem to make more sense.

Cross hand claws which will rake across the face

The following examples show some ways which a basic claw hand can be used in self defense –

1.  A palm heel strike under the chin following by a raking motion down the front of the face. This can also be done on either side of the jaw.

2.  A curled finger jab to the eyes followed by a short downward snap into the face with the heel of the palm.

3.  A straight claw to the face, striking with fingers, thumb and the heel of the palm.

Backward claw strike, twist and pull

4.  A double finger gouge to the eyes followed by a raking motion down the face.

5.  The claw grips at a soft tissue target, twists and then pulls away.

6.  A reverse claw (fingers pointed to the ground) where the heel of the palm strikes the bone protecting the bladder. The fingers grab the groin, twist and pull.

7.  A palm or palm heel strike inward to the side of the attacker’s head, followed by a raking motion or tearing of the ear.

8.  The standard double claw to the face directly from the front.

9.  Using both hands, slap the ears, gouge the eyes with both thumbs, and tear the face.

10.  Cross the claw hands and tear the target apart sideways. This works from the front, side and the from the back of the attacker’s head.

11.  An elbow attack to the sternum or under the chin followed by a downward raking claw.

12.  Pointing the fingers sideways, rake across the face from the outside in.

Believe me when I say this – and deeply forgive my lame attempt at a pun – but we’re only scratching the surface with the few examples shown above.

Many traditional martial arts systems make use of the claw whether it’s evident to outsiders or not. The claw seems to play a much smaller role in modern Karate however. Either these techniques lie buried or are simply neglected. You don’t see much claw work in sparring. Claw hands don’t win tournaments. And they’re illegal in competitive grappling.

Claw hand techniques are reserved for the most extreme self defense scenarios and are carried out with ferocity. Please ensure that you fully understand the laws governing self defense in your own jurisdiction before you have any thoughts of really using them.

I wish to thank Sensei Bev Leonard and her student, Dave Poirier, for posing for the photos above. Sensei Leonard is a high ranking instructor in the Canadian Jiu Jitsu Council and a member of its Black Belt Grading Board. She is also a health and safety consultant to industry and has worked with some of the top North American companies. Bev can be reached at 613 395 2835 or


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  2. My wife just got mugged a few days ago, and I think it’s time she gets some self-defense classes. I like what your article proposes for beginners-open handed techniques. This is going to be a very resourceful online source for my wife. I also found the following article to be highly resourceful:


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