Silat Open Hand Basics

The following article, written by Richard Clear and Alan Carregal appeared in the May 2000 issue of Inside Kung-Fu.

The teet lung pai system taught at Clear’s Silat Schools includes pentjak silat and kuntao silat, tai chi, and aspects of shaolin chuan kung-fu, hsing-I and paqua. Although these systems are diverse in both origin and substance, they share one key similarity – the open hand concept. This article will concentrate on the benefits of the open hand strike in general and five ways to strike in particular, as well as how they are utilized in specific styles.

1. Whipping Hits
Chi-petjut – South Javanese silat, monkey and some tai chi;

2. Slaps with arm weight from elbow or shoulder (The way most people slap)
Wing chun, choy li fut, praying mantis, tiger, tjimande, and tjikalung;

3. Open hand striking with waist power (all of the styles mentioned above)

4. Whole body power open hand striking

Hsing-I, paqua, tai chi, Tibetan systems and drunken style, kilap, kilat, pukolan, and tjimande.

5. Internal power Hitting

Open and Shut Case

These systems form the backbone of teet lung pai. The open hand offers many benefits over fist techniques. Compared to punches, open hand techniques are said to be faster, cover more surface area, deliver more knock-out power by transmitting greater shock and offering greater versatility.

Open hand techniques can become grabs, finger pokes, or fists faster and easier than fists can become something else. An open hand can also be used to defend against an elbow or knee while a fist would be powerless against such a strike.

The soft open hand molds itself around the hard parts, and the force of the hit is transmitted through the skin and into the hard inner core. Stylists use boards, bricks, hand-held striking pads and heavy bags to check the power, speed, and accuracy of their techniques.  They have found out that the small bones in the fist will not stand up to the power that the vast majority of open hand strikes can generate. This is not to say that the fist will always be weak and slow. It is just that all things being equal in the paper- scissors, rock game, the fist looses to the open hand most of the time.

Whip It Up!

The whip is a technique that can be found in most Silat styles. Some styles that commonly incorporate this technique are Kuntao, Chi-Petjut, Madi, and Tai Chi. In America, Kuntao Silat master Guy Savelli has developed the art of the whip hand to a high level. His ability to whip strike someone to the chest, disrupts their nervous system to such an extent, their vision often becomes blurred.  If full body power had been added, the subject might have died.

Among excellent teachers of the monkey form are si tai gung Tyrone Jackson, whose distance / reaching techniques allow him to hit a person from a distance of six to ten feet away and ba pak Willem de Thouars for rapid fire monkey strikes.

Also, the art of Kuntao is kung-fu that is practiced in Indonesia and Malaysia. There are over 250 Kuntao styles. Most of these styles have been modified over the centuries because of the exposure and mixture with Silat. We prefer to call these modified versions Kuntao Silat. The mixtures of these systems in Java and Bali occur frequently enough that Malays think of the two as interchangeable. In his book The Weapons and Fighting arts of Indonesia, Don F Draeger makes the same kind of reference to “…Pentjak Bali (sometimes even Kuntao Bali)…)

There are Chinese and Indonesian styles that use slaps with arm weight from the elbow or shoulder.  They include:

  • Wing Chun — Tan sao and press down.
  • Praying Mantis — Wu sao then punch.
  • Tiger — Sitting in a booth-arm wrapping technique and / or choy li fut
  • Tjimande — Juru 1 (first half) and passing techniques
  • Tjkalong — Cross grab and underarm elbow break.

Hit Like You Mean It

Hitting through the target is more commonly practiced in the West. The hit is much more effective when it is led by the waist and when the intent is to hit through the target. One example is to dive through with your body weight behind the strike. Pukolan and Hsing-I both strike this way. Another kind of hit is to slap through, hitting with the body weight and friction. This is how basic burning palm works.

Utilizing waist and knee power helps get the body into the strike. When done correctly, your hits will feel light and effortless, but the power exhibited on the enemy are heavy and with purpose. Master Guy Savelli insists that if a 200lb person whips with his body weight at 25 mph, the fingertips will strike with a force of 5,000 PSI. Although the front or back of the hand will hit with less force than the fingertips, the striking force remains considerable.

Utilizing knee power can be as simple as allowing them to relax and dropping your body weight. Add percussion to the hit with a simple kilap strike. These hits are typically dropped on pressure points. Each strike usually connects with more than one pressure point so that the impact causes a ripple effect throughout the area. The internal arts emphasize putting the entire body into the strike, sending the energy  up through the feet to the knees, waist, shoulders, and arms. As long as the body works as one unit, the power ill be delivered as one concentrated unit.

A Bolt of Lightning

The symbol given to sigung Richard Clear by ba pak Willem de Thouars to represent the kilap kilat part of teet lung pai is an open hand with a lightning bolt entering the back and emitting from the palm. The idea is to hit with lightning-quick explosive speed and internal/spiritual power. The hit should arrive the moment you see the target – anything taking more than an instant is not kilat. The sudden and shocking explosiveness should be so fast that is surprises both the person throwing the technique and the person receiving the hit. The technique works best when the technique explodes of flies.

High-level internal power hitting with the open hand consists of utilizing the mind and the spirit to hit with the lao gong and the open palm. There are a variety of energies associated with this technique. Vibration waves and particles are two of the most common types we recognize in the West.

Sigung Richard Clear can place a thick phonebook over someone’s abdomen, strike the phonebook with an open hand and generate a palm print on the surface of the subject’s skin. This demonstrates the ability to penetrate past the strike. A good practice method is to stack two beicks or boards and try to break only the one on the bottom.

Internal power hitting can be combines with other types of hitting, including iron palm, penetrating palm, vibrating palm, poison hand, cotton palm, springy palm, fire hands (burning palm) and universal energy palm. Also, the Yin palm takes out energy while the Yang palm puts in negative energy. Other examples include the dim mak claw taught by Erle Montague, the delayed death touch that included advanced kilat strikes, and the heavy hand kilap strike. This is but an example of the hand strikes taught in our system.

Open hand strikes offer the martial artist some of the most potent and lethal self-defense tools available. In the hands of a trained practitioner, an open hand can close the door on any enemy.


  1. tore klarborg says

    A very interessting subjekt – I would like to have more info. about openhand styles in futture – hope to read more about this in the futture.

  2. Very informative