In the Pistol Combatives curriculum, the Ax Hand is the very first empty hand techniques taught. It’s very easy to perform, especially under stress, and extremely versatile. I usually teach both the long and short ax hand. I prefer Combatives Legend Dennis Martin’s description of how to form the ax hand. Extend the fingers AND the thumb, which makes the hand very rigid. He explains that extending the thumb helps to keep the hand from cupping.
I use the short ax hand to the trachea as part of an attack sequence. Project the edge of the hand forward, without cocking it. A little stomp that others call the “drop step”, gives you more power with the strike (the foot falls the same time the blow is dealt). I’ve never been able to find consistent information on how much pressure it takes to crush the trachea, but suffice it to say, you will get someone’s attention and it will HURT.
The long ax hand is used within an attack sequence, as well. The body is turned slightly, as the hips are engaged to generate power. With a chopping motion, we generally strike to the side of the neck, around the brachial plexus origin.
Combatives Expert, Kelly McCann applies the ax hand from two separate starting positions. The first is what he calls the “subservient stance”. The hands are folded together, resting against the body at the area of the groin, and the chin is tucked. From here, he loops the ax hand around in an arc towards the side of the neck. He also utilizes the drop step (same leg as striking hand) here to add power to the strike. He emphasizes bringing the other hand up to a guard position. The other starting position is one we also use: the Jack Benny Stance. Like with our version of the long ax hand, he turns the body a quarter turn as if turning away (shoulder comes up here) and strikes, in an arc again towards the neck/brachial plexus region.
By the way, if you don’t know what a Jack Benny Stance looks like, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Just Google, “Jack Benny” and you will see multiple pictures of this amazing individual.
Rex Applegate, in his book, Kill or Get Killed, describes the edge of the hand blow (i.e. the ax hand) as “valuable because it can be utilized at vulnerable spots of the body which would not be susceptible to blows from the fist or heel of the hand.” He keeps the fingers together and the wrist locked. Like McCann, Applegate also emphasizes keeping the fingers and thumb extended to avoid “clenching” the hand. In application, he states that the elbow should be bent, and that the strike be a chopping motion, with a hit and retraction, in order to localize the force within a small area. He explains that this increases the effectiveness. This makes a lot of sense when you look at the targets: forearm, windpipe, base of skull, under the nose, bridge of nose, base of spine, and of course, the side of the neck. Above all targets, he prefers the testicles.
On Dennis Martin’s Combatives Forum, http://www.cqbservices.com/, he has a quote by E.A. Sykes, describing the ax hand:
The most deadly blows without weapons are with the side of the hand. All the force is concentrated in one area. The effect of these blows is obtained by the speed with which they are delivered, rather than the weight behind them.
This is right in line with Applegate’s thoughts on the subject.
Dennis believes that the ax hand is highly underestimated (probably more so in recent times, I imagine). He also utilizes and highly recommends the vertical ax hand: “like the Hammerfist, it can be used to a crouching assailant, targeting the neck, spine, kidneys”.
The use of the vertical ax hand on a different target—the top of the shoulder, close to the neck is also a technique of choice. I am a big Star Trek fan, so I often talk about Captain Kirk using this chop in fights on the TV show. There is a nerve motor point here: the Suprascapular. I can attest to the fact that this one hurts and is extremely effective.
So there you have it–the ax hand from many different perspectives. As with any technique, train it in a multitude of ways, find what works for you and your body, and tuck it into your toolbox. The ax hand is brutally effective, tried and true; keep in mind that the simplest techniques are always the best when you’re under pressure. Keep this in mind, ALSO: some of these strikes can distract with pain, some can cause temporary motor dysfunction, and some CAN CAUSE DEATH. Remember: even with empty-hand techniques, you are a deadly weapon, and you must accept full responsibility. Train safely and responsibly.