The Hidden Power of Kung Fu Slapping

Can you explain the reason some styles like Tong Bei Quan and Kenpo use so much slapping? A fellow martial artist recently asked me about this. Little did he know was that I used to lecture obsessively on this subject to black belts and teachers. Even now, I still incorporate some of this technique in my Kung Fu. I’ve been grilled by many a fellow practitioner who thinks that slapping is a little silly. In cases of performance beating out function, I agree; but when executed, with proper understanding, this can refine a valuable skill.


1. To create swing power instead of opposition power.
There are two basic striking patterns in any Martial Art, oppositional and complementary. We were all taught that if you throw a chop you can increase its power by pulling back your other hand in the opposite direction. However, you can also augment force by moving both hands in the same direction, as in the Double Swing shown. Swinging the slapping hand in the same direction as the chop can create power at close quarters. Slapping assures that both hands are tied together.

2. To closely guard perimeter
A punch is whizzing toward my face. Instead of pushing out to block the weapon, I bring a slap parry toward my own shoulder. I do this because I may guarantee a greater precision than the un-targeted defense. For instance, slapping my own shoulder aligns my hand with the absolute edge of my body outline. There is no tighter defensive parry.


3. To “sandwich” when striking mobile targets
The issue here is stabilization. Someone can even take a large blow to the face if they allow their head to turn freely, absorbing the force. In a sandwich move, the free hand nullifies that by stabilizing the target on the opponent. Additionally, it stabilizes me by redirecting enough force so that I am not set off-balance. Even without a partner, training in the air can help you to achieve maximum force at a specific point.


4. To time the entire body when delivering a strike
The slap is like a stroke of the drummer, it can set the rhythm. The idea is to synchronize the entire body to a specific accent. A kick, a chop and a block are more easily trained this way with the addition of a forceful, well-timed slap. In this example,  I time against a first-punch attack, then change up for the second punch. As with comedy, timing is everything.

5. To make deflection angle as small and effective as possible
Even with minimal force, a properly applied slap can create a deflection angle to open your opponent’s attack. If you are quick enough, you may be able to launch an effective counter-strike right up his line.  This is called “borrowed force.”


6. To accustom you to being hit
Slapping allows you to gradually get used to either being hit, or hitting someone else. This is important in learning to gauge force. Often when people are struck, they are not hurt as much as startled. Avoiding your own vital points, you can still get a real sense of the effect of striking, even if only using light contact. In the example shown, the emphasis is not 0n my chopping hand, but on my hand strikng my own body to condition it. (Also, I kept asking Travis to hit me, but he was in too good a mood; I think you get the idea. By the way, you don’t need a partner to practice this; just advance in stages.

7. To “bounce back” movements
From the ability to “take a tap” on your own body you advance to the skill of actually striking yourself to increase power. For instance, I might smother an opponent’s low punch only to bring my arm across my abdomen and bounce back at my opponent with a chopping action from the same hand. Not having to stop my action and reverse it can increase both speed and power. And it doesn’t take much to generalize this action: once you’ve learned to bounce off your own body, it’s just a matter of time before you practice “bouncing” off the opponent’s limbs in the same manner.

8. To practice “spring trap” capturing
Some interactive moves look like they are directed at a single opponent. But really, this concentrated type of training allows you to practice a strike with one hand, and a capture with the other–but not necessarily on the same opponent. This clever training method has you practicing two distinct motions as though they were one. A lot accomplished in a single “slap” move.

9. To distract and control center line
Even a light slap can have a valuable effect. For instance, my opponent strikes at me with his right arm, which I parry. Then he throws the left hand and, as I race my right hand across his body to meet his incoming left, I accidentally-on-purpose slap his face turning it, and his punching power, away from me. A light but well-placed flick of the fingers can act as a distraction, as well as a control of the center line.


10. To facilitate orbital changes
One of the marks of a good CMA practitioner is the ability to slip from one orbit to another with the minimum of wasted   (better known as “ugly”) movement. Watching the Kung Fu saber in action, you will see orbital control. The right hand powers and aims the movements of the saber, but the left slaps, pushes and presses to help alter its course. Empty hand motion can be similar. A swinging reverse chop when intercepted and wrapped by the other hand, can gain a sudden and fierce little “fish hook.” In ths case, slapping really means the interception and alteration of a strike with another limb. In this case, Kung Fu weaponry improves empty hand technique.


11. To keep hands within the perimeter
This is like technique number two, only more so. Slapping keeps all limbs relating to one another, a viable technique springing out of a number of CMA systems. If we scrutinize Southern and Hakka based Kung Fu styles, we see the projection of the torso into space as a defined area of activity. The hands are continually cross-slapping and double-slapping themselves, acting like sheepdogs keeping the drove together, all within a proscribed area. 

12. To adhere to the “shape” of the opponent
Imagine standing next to an opponent. Without even looking at him you strike to his neck, his rib cage, his elbow and his groin, all within a couple of seconds and with complete precision. Progression in traditional martial arts teaches you to move from the body as a series of targets, to the body as a landscape. At first, some gentle gliding of the hand–barely a slap at all–may familiarize you with the contours of the human body. The skill of striking areas you can’t even see derives from this topological sense of the opponent. The body is no longer flat, just a map of targets.


There are still many ways to use slapping that I haven’t covered, such as that slap you give yourself on the forehead when you forget a move in one of your forms. Slapping is a great way to accustom yourself to hitting and to being hit, to finding your own–and your opponent’s–body in space. The code of martial movement is vast, and deciphering a form, including its slaps, can be intriguing and fun.


6 Responses to “The Hidden Power of Kung Fu Slapping”

  1. Thanks for Sharing,Lots of APP’s.

  2. Steven Vance says:

    An extremely interesting little article. Thanks for posting!

    It sounds like this is differentiating from the various open-handed palm strikes that are somewhat slap-like in appearance, though I suspect the boundary gets a little blurry sometimes.

    Willem de Thouars (Kuntao, Bagua, Silat and much more) uses what he calls a “dead palm” in his bagua. It falls in that #12 category, adhering to opponents and is usually described as being like the impact of a heavy wet towel, but more painful. It can be deceptively slow/soft in appearance. Not a slap, exactly, but…

    He refers to a lot of other, more typical (at least to me) bagua palm strikes as “live palms”, incidentally.

    Once, I also saw him, on video, kind of slap/stroke a training partner’s forehead and the man collapsed, his eyes going unfocused for a few seconds. Not sure what he did, but he was annoyed with the younger man. The technique was pretty soft looking.

    Silat practitioners will slap their own bodies during an encounter with an opponent, together with other techniques, to create (auditory) confusion for the opponent. They also feel that the slapping has a beneficial effect on their bodies. I don’t know if that is similar to the qigong that involves slapping, though.

  3. Marcus Brinkman says:

    Very nice organization of this (openhanded) skill set. and nice concise explanations of each concept.

  4. Gene Ching says:

    Was that my question to you a few weeks ago? Funny. I was working on a cover story that referenced Tongbeiquan and was pondering the Kenpo take on it. However I didn’t pursue the Tongbei narrative that I was considering because the article was already too thick with other topics. I’m glad you went somewhere with it, Sihing Ted.

  5. Could you show us the full lecture of this subject?

  6. Daniel Ross, Sifu says:

    Very nice teaching.
    I was taught a completely relaxed but devastating backhand slap referred to by my teachers as a monkey Palm. I also learned the type of Palm you refer to as soft palm where you draw it back so quickly it hardly appears to make contact. However, you seem to overlook the potential power of these internal strikes. I used it when I took my 5 animals black test to break concrete paving slabs with small spacers like pencils in between. I remember my Sifu looking at the 3rd slab, broken into pieces about 3 inches across remarking “imagine what that would do to your insides” I realize there is some risk in speaking openly about this. But it has gotten to the point where the very concept that such technique has power is questioned and I want to say, that it definitely does, but it has to be trained for several years.
    Daniel Ross

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