It’s hard to train outside of the dojo (training hall) sometimes–especially without the proper equipment. Traditional Okinawan Karate requires physical weapons; you need to consistently work to harden your striking points. These include knuckles, the side of your hand, fingertips, shins, and toes.
For those who lack regular access to a dojo, and for those looking to augment their hands, here are a few tips. We’ll go over feet next time!
If you have a floor, you have a striking surface with which to strengthen your punches. It’s best to chose a surface you can’t damage, like hard tile or concrete. Just kneel and punch, hitting only your first two (big) knuckles. Start off easy, as there’s no give like a bag or makiwara (hard striking board). You can build up to three sets of ten alternating punches pretty quickly.
You can also work on the classic knuckle push-ups before attempting this exercise. Ten to twenty per set ought to do it.
Edge of Palm/Side of Hand
Follow the same protocol as above. You will be able to handle more abuse with hammerfists and chops, but don’t get carried away. Your hands can be injured without you knowing it, and you’ll surely feel it later.
It’s unwise to strike something as solid as the floor with just one knuckle. Single-knuckle strikes (shoken) are delivered to soft targets on the body anyway. Some people can do single-knuckle push-ups, but it’s really hard! Aside from the pain and pressure on the joint, your wrists have to be VERY strong to support your weight. You can build up your fingers and wrist by simply kneeling down and pressing the knuckles of both index fingers into a surface with some give–carpet, mat, pillow, etc. Press with some weight and hold for 30 seconds to one minute. If you can build up to a push-up or two–even the modified ones from your knees–pat yourself on the back. This is one of the hardest physical feats in the martial arts!
You can follow the same methods as for single-knuckle training. It actually doesn’t take long to develop enough strength to do fingertip push-ups. Again, start slow and build up to 10-20 per set. You’ve probably seen Bruce Lee and other kung fu maters using only one or two fingers for this exercise. Again, this is tough but not impossible. Bruce Lee was known to do push-ups with all five fingers, then four, then three, then two, then with thumbs. You can work this progression into your push-up sets with good results, or just use static holds for time.
Advancement & Integration
There are many fun ways to challenge yourself with these exercises. As your hands grow stronger try different variations. Also, you can integrate hand training into your other workouts. For example, when I do burpees, I often replace the normal push-ups with fingertip push-ups. When I do up-downs I go down on my knuckles. You can also work single-knuckle and fingertip strikes into your bag routines.
Have fun and experiment! Add some new ideas to the comments as you think of them.