Bottom fist strikes rarely result in any open cuts to the officer. But don't refer to the technique as a "hammer fist" or juries might get the wrong idea in court.
Editor's note: View our related photo gallery, "Four Safer Strikes."
I recently interviewed Det. Josh Smith of the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department about a force incident he was involved in a few years ago while a deputy. Although he is fine now, Smith will never forget what happened that afternoon because he used the wrong type of strike to protect himself.
He was off duty driving east on a main street in the city of Yucaipa when he saw something unbelievable. A man was driving his vehicle backward into eastbound traffic. Smith thought, This guy is backing into me at the same speed I am going forward.
The deputy swerved to get out of the way just as the driver stopped his vehicle. Smith got out of his vehicle and contacted the driver, who was clearly drunk. Smith identified himself as a deputy sheriff, told the driver to stay with the vehicle, and got on his cell phone and called dispatch. But when the drunken suspect heard Smith talking to dispatch, he suddenly attacked.
The suspect swung wildly at Smith's face. Although Smith had identified himself as a deputy, there was something the drunk did not know about him. Smith had been training in mixed martial arts and was skilled in defensive tactics. He squared up with the suspect and as the man dropped his rear hand, Smith hit him in the face, knocking him out cold. Smith thought, What a great hit. I knocked him out with one punch.
But within a few minutes, Smith realized there was something very wrong with his right hand.
As a result of the punch, the tendon of Smith's right ring finger had been severed at the top knuckle by the suspect's front teeth. Even worse, both he and the suspect were bleeding. The paramedics did their best to clean the wound, but Smith later contracted staph and got blood poisoning. After a painful surgery, several weeks off duty, months of rehabilitation, and an anxious wait for his blood test results, Smith still wonders, "Who won that fight?"
Don't Go Bare Knuckles
There are arguments for and against law enforcement officers using closed hand punches. I teach both open and closed hand strikes. However, I also recommend that most officers stay away from hitting suspects with their bare knuckles. The rationale is twofold.
First, if you injure your hands hitting a suspect, it will be very difficult for you to pull a trigger (TASER, pepper spray, firearm), hold a baton, or continue striking with that broken hand. Boxers and martial artists break their hands in matches and in practice even while wearing protective gear like wraps and gloves. You will not have the luxury of protective gear like that on your hands when you get into force incidents.
Knuckle strikes can also expose you to bloodborne pathogens like staph, M.R.S.A., H.I.V., and hepatitis. Trading blood with suspects is not a good idea - even if you do knock them out. Instead, learn four strikes that can lessen the likelihood of injury and transfer of blood: palm strikes, bottom fist strikes, knee strikes, and elbow strikes.