Examining blows, thrusts, strikes, and cuts.

Kinds of blows

There is no dominant word in English for the concept of blow or strike that I am striving for. This is good and bad. It's good because there are a variety of words to use to make distinctions with, but it's bad because there is no single word which encapsulates the concept. However for the sake of brevity, on occasion I will use the word "blow" to encapsulate the concept.

The word "blow" has two etymological roots:

  • "Blow" is Middle English and comes from the Old English blawan, which is related the Old High German blaen = to blow, Latin flare, and Greek phallos = penis. While this root is interesting (it certainly gives the word "blowjob" a bit more meaning) it refers to "blow" as in "blowing air". This connotation, is useful in the martial "blow" when you think of a blow should "blow thru" the target, focus past the point of impact.
  • "Blow" comes from blaw in the northern dialect of Middle English, which is related to the Old High German bliuwan = to beat, circa 1400s.

The word "strike" is Middle English and comes from the Old English stican = to stroke, go, which is related to the Old High German strihhan =  to stroke, Latin stringere = to touch lightly, striga = stria = furrow.

当て = ate in Japanese. Aka 当て身技 = atemi waza = body striking techniques.

Coup in French. Colpi in Italian.

Since English has a variety of words and connotations, I use them in specific ways to form the major kinds of blows and strikes:

A blow may have different intents or tactical roles. Here are some:

  • To damage.
  • To separate.
  • To slow or stop movement. Usually to block, jam, parry, etc..
  • To guide, redirect, or manipulate movement. This is usually done right after a blow or without a blow.
  • To distract.
  • To enmesh or entangle. Especially if the blow is with a flexible weapon.

While there are many commonalities between armed and unarmed blows (as well as ranged and hand-to-hand, etc.), there are many important distinctions as well. The biggest distinction is that humans have no significant claws, horns, teeth, or otherwise hard natural weapons when unarmed. Thus all unarmed blows are percussive blows, even when we thrust  out with a fist or foot. We can slap or twist, but we can't really strike or cut. The closest we get is striking/raking with our fingernails and biting/chopping with our teeth.

Many systems divide the different kinds of blows by intended target, the angle of attack, the orientation of the weapon, the kind of weapon used, the way the technique is executed, etc.. This is useful of course but it also generates a lot of proprietary terminology for the same concepts. Some of the terminology is useful because it describes a particular nuance, but often vernacular words should be used.

Some tactical points about blows:

  • Blows should recover to a good defensive position. Some styles leave the blow out there but that is more for conditioning, looks, or to emphasize a point.
  • Know where the blow has good power. EG: At full extension a punch has zero velocity, thus a punch needs to impact before full extension. Full extension should be avoided anyway because it can damage your joints.
  • While a larger motion can get more velocity in your blows, it can also create a larger opening in your defense both in space and time.
  • Contract strongly but in a smooth coordinated fashion with your entire body and limbs.
  • This section covers blows with the arms, legs, and weapons, but blows can also be done with the head, body, shoulder, and hips, especially in clinching, throws, ground fighting, or tackling.
  • Blows are often set ups for throws or grappling.
  • One good blow is nice but it is a good habit to throw a combination of blows. Combinations can sequence for a variety of tactical purposes. For example:
    • Long blow followed by a shorter blow as you close in.
    • Blow with hip yaw rotation followed by blow with hip yaw counter-rotation.


There are several issues when it comes to handedness.

The lead leg issue is fairly simple:

Weapons are very particular in handedness issues. EG: A right-handed person holding two-handed sword held pointing right usually has the right hand palm up near the hilt and the left palm down near the pommel; If the sword is turned over and now points left, then the wrists will cross.

Another issue is that there are fewer left-handed people. If you train against only right-handed people, then you may have unexpected problems when facing a left-handed person (aka southpaw).

Angles of attack

Fiore dei Liberi, the Italian master of arms who wrote Flower of Battle (1409), has one of the most concise descriptions of the blows with a weapon by angle.

He is laying a foundation upon which many modifiers and distinctions can be added. He is clearly using the vernacular (possibly except for fendente where he could have said colpi soprano). Here are some things that he does not specify:

Further distinctions were made later by Fiore and later Italian masters, especially the Bolognese. Here are Fiore's blows with the additional Italian distinctions:

The German Liechtenauer school has five Meisterhau = "Master Cuts" and they reveal a much more "crooked" system than the Italian that jumps right away into particular distinctions.

However they do have other names that correspond to the Italian:

These tables try to consolidate some of the variations:

true edge blows = colpi filo dritto
roverso fendente
roverso sgualembrato
manco fendente
manco squalembrato
fendente mandritto fendente
mandritto sgualembrato
roverso mezzana
roverso tondo
roverso traverso
manco mezzana
manco tondo
manco traverso
  mandritto mezzana
mandritto tondo
mandritto traverso
roverso sottani
manco sottani
roverso ridoppio
manco ridoppio
mandritto sottani
mandritto ridoppio
false edge blows = colpi filo falso
[not practically used] [not practically used] [not practically used]
falso roverso mezzana
falso roverso tondo
falso roverso traverso
falso manco mezzana
falso manco tondo
falso manco traverso
  falso mandritto mezzana
falso mandritto tondo
falso mandritto traverso
falso roverso sottani
falso manco sottani
falso sottani
falso montante
falso mandritto sottani
thrusts = punte
inbrocatta descendente
inbrocatta ascendente
inbrocatta ferma
punta roversa
punta roversa descendente
punta roversa ascendente
punta roversa ferma
  punta dritta
punta dritta descendente
punta dritta ascendente
punta dritta ferma
stocatta descendente
stocatta ascendente
stocatta ferma

I think there are too many synonymous modifiers. You need to know them if you're studying the source material, or doing very specific blows (like Vigianni's punta sopramano) but for everyday use, I would have it thus:

blows = colpi
backhand overhand
roverso fendente
forehand overhand
mandritto fendente
backhand horizontal
roverso mezzano
forehand horizontal
mandritto mezzano
backhand underhand
roverso fendente
forehand underhand
mandritto fendente
thrusts = punte
punta prima
punta quarta
punta seconda
punta terza

All the other modifiers (target, height, edge, etc.) can be added using the vernacular. I want to stress again that the thrust are differentiated by the facing of the palm, not the angle or target.

Note that the numbering is very easy. It is much more universal than the attempts by the Filipino martial arts (FMA) to number their blows. In the FMA there is no agreement between many organizations, except for roughly the first five blows. The FMA numbered angles of attack are usually 12, but vary from 5 to 17 to 72 to whatever. It should be noted that the first five are thus:

  1. High overhand forehand.
  2. High overhand backhand.
  3. Mid horizontal forehand.
  4. Mid horizontal backhand.
  5. Mid thrust.

The US Army Field Manual No. 3-25.150 (2002-01-18) has these angles of attack:

US Army Angles of attack
  1. A downward diagonal slash, stab, or strike toward the left side of the defender's head, neck, or torso.
  2. A downward diagonal slash, stab, or strike toward the right side of the defender's head, neck, or torso.
  3. A horizontal attack to the left side of the defender's torso in the ribs, side, or hip region.
  4. The same as No. 3 angle, but to the right side.
  5. A jabbing, lunging, or punching attack directed straight toward the defender's front. [Note the low, mid, and high variants.]
  6. An attack directed straight down upon the defender.
  7. An upward diagonal attack toward the defender's lower-left side.
  8. An upward diagonal attack toward the defender's lower-right side.
  9. An attack directed straight up-for example, to the defender's groin.

Blows with arms

The most common blows with the arms are clearly demonstrated with boxing. These are the cleanest, safest, most powerful blows with the arms.

While blows with the arms are frequently punches (zuki in Japanese; coup de poing in French), i.e. blows done with a fist (a closed hand. ken in Japanese), blows with elbow, forearm, upper arm, and the hand in different forms are common as well. Here are some of the more common non-fist blows with the arms:

Some points about blows with the arms:

Blows with legs

The most common blows with the legs, aka kicks.

There are of course all sorts of other kicks: jumping kicks, kicks from the ground, kicks from a squat, sweeping kicks, kicks while flipping, double kicks, etc..

Legal French savate kicks (coup de pied) fall into the above categories but are organized as follows:

Some points about kicks:

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