The Karate Chop: Weapon or Joke?

Hillbilly Ninja

The use of the karate chop in the movies (or as Austin Powers would say, “judo chop”), in TV fight scenes featuring Captain Kirk, and the Hai Karate aftershave,  has lead to the move being popularly regarded as a joke.

Even the Hillbilly Ninja, a staple of the Jerry Springer show, was a practitioner of the “judy chop.”

How effective is the karate chop, or maybe I should call it the edge of the hand blow, or knifehand blow.

According to Bradley Steiner (, the knifehand blow is the premier unarmed self-defense blow.

The open hand chop (alternately referred to as “the chop”, “the judo chop”, “the edge-of-the-hand blow”, “the side of hand cut”, etc.  is the single best and most important hand strike in unarmed close combat and self-defense

The open hand chop using the edge of the hand, and the open hand chinjab smash using the heel of the hand are the “primary two” natural hand weapons that every student of unarmed close combat and self-defense must learn…And the most proven of all the war-proven techniques is the open hand, edge-of-the-hand blow. With it, a properly instructed twelve year old girl can send a 200 pound man reeling to th ground. The blow is simple, quick, easily learned, easily retained, and can be employed and applied in more situations and predicaments than we have the patience to list here!

It is almost amusing to think that karate (in its many forms, versions, and styles) is normally taught as a combat art, yet the primary “natural hand weapon” that receives just about all of the trainee’s practice time is the clenched, normal fist. In sparring and in competition it is clear that the clenched fist is the safest blow to permit individuals to employ “freestyle”. We recall, for instance, numerous times when we were a student of taekwon-do and when, totally by accident, our self or another student would “connect” with a good, solid punch. We were black belts. Yet our “deadly” punches created, at worst, a minor injury (bloody nose, maybe) or, most often, not even that; just a mere momentary annoyance!

…anyone aspiring to be prepared for combat, had better be damn sure that he’s training for combat. If you have not already done so (and if you are one of our students, or one of Mark Bryans’ students, then you’ve certainly been doing so since you began training) then begin TODAY to throw your focus upon developing an untelegraphed,  powerful, speedy open hand chop to an assailant. It’s not the only hand blow of merit (there are actually considerably more, when you make a comprehensive study of unarmed close combat and hand-to-hand fighting) but it is the King of the Hand Blows For Self-Defense. It’s a great place to start building real world preparedness! In a serious or life-threatening situation (which is the ONLY kind of situation in which a civilized, rational human being should regard as justifying the employment of violence against another human being) chop to the adversary’s temple, side of neck, or throat. Chops across the solar plexus, into the crotch, across the back of the neck (brain stem area), into the kidney,  are also excellent, when the targets offer.


Many of the Old Texts Feature the Knifehand Blow

The open hand chop is versatile and reliable. It can be applied much faster than any hold or throw and does not depend upon set positions or stances or even much skill or strength to be effective. It depends upon proper execution, and the element of surprise. For a female, a child, or an elderly person, the blow is a “first resort option”, and no attacker should be treated with even the slightest mercy when he targets someone whom he perceives to be such an “easy victim”. In a situation where two attackers must be contended with, a fast chop TO THE THROAT of one, will quickly reduce the odds, and probably have a dramatic effect on the remaining maggot’s morale! Two or more attackers is always a deadly threat.

You can profitably train in conditioning the open hand chop by striking anything from dummies and heavy bags to striking posts and steel bars. It is worthwhile to do this, if you’ve the inclination and are very serious about long-term development of abilities. However, even an unconditioned hand that is utilized correctly can impart sufficient trauma to a vital area when using this terrific blow; so train in this technique with determination and confidence!

I met Instructor Ralph Grasso via a stick fighting forum. He offers some interesting and solid advice on the application of the knifehand blow, and even goes so far at to intermix it with boxing punches. So the knifehand and closed fist punching may not have to be an “either/or” proposition.

Training the edge-of-hand blows against a boxer

Personally I have trained with boxers and used the edge-of-hand blows against a welter weight boxer (10-0 record) in N.Y.P.D. He told me that after this experience his arms were finished. I have also effected arrests with edge-of-hand strikes.

When I work edge-of-hand blows against a boxer, I don’t target specific areas of the arm instead I strike the surrounding area. To make this work, you must move like a boxer yourself and use le tranche accordingly.

My edge-of-hand blows never travel outside the length of my shoulder line until impact: they are actually shorter than a boxers punch.

The key to delivering these strikes is to relax the arm while keeping your vertical, horizontal and diagonal edge-of-hand strikes within range of your shoulder line. This principal maintains a natural defense in conjunction with the offensive action of the tranche. Whatever the opponent throws; be it a right cross- it gets hit, an upper cut- it gets hit. Keep in mind that you are not parrying but striking violently at whatever enters within your range. You do this while driving forward.

Against a boxer there are three training methods in utilizing edge-of-hand strikes. They are; ‘outside left’, ‘outside right’, and ‘inside’. When working to the outside of the boxers jab , you force him to step over and over extend his rear cross. The ‘short’ horizontal edge-of-hand strike, combined with drop-steps, drives the enemy’s jab across his mid line, while the vertical edge-of-hand hacks down inside his right cross.

I have experimented with this, using boxing gear and baseball shin guards : it is systematically trained slowly at first against lead jabs, progressing to jabbing and crossing. When confident expand to cover defense against feinting, punching, adding in upper cuts at full speed. The defender then gets taught elbow guards and how to combine them with edge-of-hands to destroy the knuckles, forearms and biceps.

Remember, don’t specifically target the knuckles, wrists or elbows when guarding or chopping at the opponents punches. Also avoid trying to ‘gunt’ a moving arm or fist with your elbows this takes fine motor skills and in real combat, against an aggressive and mobile adversary, will be virtually impossible. Instead use a simple turn of the waist to cover your body with your elbow guards. If you do manage to catch a punch on your elbow then that’s an added bonus- nothing more.

Please visit the page to see Instructor Grasso in action, particularly an interesting stance and application versus boxing strikes, which I view as the most practical application I’ve seen of the “karate chop” against an opponent who is trying to rain non-stop blows on your jaw –not the typical “freeze frame” karate vs. punch technique. This technique seems similar to the one demonstrated on the Kali Tudo 3 trailer of the Dog Brothers.

You can see a karate black belt taking out a pimp with a knifehand blow to the neck here.


11 Responses to “The Karate Chop: Weapon or Joke?”

  1. jimmyfatwing Says:

    Good solid technique!

  2. We kind of have too things here:

    1. The use of the knife hand as a strike. It is a valid technique but one I would use on arms or soft targets (neck, top of shoulder, temple) and tend to use elbow strikes to the ribs rather than the knife edge. Often for me, the target dictates the tool I will use (fist, palm, knife hand, etc).

    2. Limb distruction. Some people tend to do a palm pat down when a jab or cross comes in but this does little other than to parry the attaking limb. I use more of a Jujutsu/Wing Chun approach of doing the parry with the knife edge and find that people tend to shake their hand in reaction to the tingling of the nerves that were struck. A similar method is done with the back knuckles both in Ninjutsu as well as out Yoshin Ryu jujutsu (Yoshin Ryu is one of the styles under Togakure Ninjutsu but we do it a little different, a little more modern you might say). FMA are well know for limb distruction but we also see it in the Japanese Jujutsu styles as well as some Chinese styles such as Wing Chun. This also leads to some styles of Karate saying that every block is an attack.

    Doing the “Batman” thing by covering your chin can be a good set up on some people but at the same time it looks like it leaves the ribs more open as well as limiting the types of strikes you can do from that position, and thirdly it seems like a close range technique that would make my Jujutsu techniques much slower. Perhaps at best it is a middle of a fight technique rather than a guard you want to start a fight/defense with.

  3. My rough, though serviceable, translation of Andre’s ideas on the knifehand, which seems to be Mr Grasso’s inspiration, is hosted here-

  4. James,

    It makes sense, as long as you can parry a punch, you might as well add a little destructiveness.


    Thanks. Is there a source with photos?

    • Reprint of the original can be found here-
      It has basic line drawings only, as per original. Copyright means I can’t add them into the translation unfortunately

  5. […] and he must move up against an upright opponent, that it will never land. This guy makes the Hillbilly Ninja look like Bruce […]

  6. Hi colleagues, its wonderful post regarding cultureand entirely explained, keep
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  7. Good post. During my karate training two occasions led to a similar conclusion re: punching versus karate chops.

    A purple belt noted that a good percentage of punches to the face or ribs probably would break something in the punching hand, and that’s why he favored chops and open hand strikes against vulnerable areas.

    We were doing the practice where a person would throw right and then left flailing punches against their partner and the partner was supposed to defuse the punch by letting their forearm go limp as it was hit. My overcaffeinated partner responded with an enthusiastic karate chop instead of a limp forearm. The bone within my forearms vibrated for quite a while after taking the chops, and the pain was substantial. A well aimed and forceful chop is an effective weapon, my lesson learned from the practice.

  8. Why have you written this in yellow?

  9. I really enjoyed this post

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