Combat Sanshou Fightstopper Technique

Yesterday, Paladin Press posted my entry in their “Fightstopper” video series on Youtube. Overall, the feedback has been pretty clear: either very positive or very negative. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. But that’s OK, we’re all entitled to our opinions. However, most of the negative comments came from people who seemed to be very much misinformed or intent on promoting their own agenda. That’s why I decided to add their critiques to this post I was already writing. But first, some background.


How it started

Almost two years ago, while filming Combat Sanshou: Tiger and Snake, the people at Paladin Press asked me if I wanted to collaborate on one of the projects they had planned for their new website. The tentative title was “Killshots” (which is why you hear me mention that word in the video) and now the series has been launched under the name of “Fightstoppers”.

The idea was to ask each author who came in for a shoot to make a one-minute video of one technique for a very specific context:

What do you teach somebody when he needs to end the fight right now?

So we’re not talking about a woofing contest or an MMA bout. Nor is this a context in which you need to restrain a drunk at a party. It is very specific:

  • It has to be extremely effective.
  • You can’t take any chances.
  • It has to be quick and simple.
  • It has to be something even a beginner can learn quickly.
  • Most importantly: it has to end the fight right away.

These are very specific circumstances. To be perfectly clear, I interpreted them with one additional parameter present:

If you mess up, you die.

So I based my technique on all these parameters, including this last one. This is important and we’ll get back to it but first, here’s my video:


The basic technique as I show it here is very simple to perform. If you can throw a one-two punch, you can do this one too. But there are some very specific reasons why I do it this way. There are also a number of variations and then there is the specific context of when to use it. Let’s get started on all that.


Nuts and bolts

The basic way of doing this combination is:

  • Get into range by stepping in with your lead foot.
  • As soon as you step, your lead hand starts the swipe/slap. There shouldn’t be a delay.
  • As you hit the ground with your lead foot, land the lead palm technique.
  • As soon as the lead hand lands, start throwing the right looping punch by torquing your whole body into it.
  • Turn the thumb down so your knuckles land first as you hit the side of the neck.

That’s it, nothing too difficult. With 15 minutes of training, you can be proficient with this combination.

There is a reason for every step of this process. I’ll point out the most important ones:

  • You start from outside of range. My assumption is that you are in a life-or-death situation but you at least had the good sense to stay outside of your attacker’s range. That way, you at least have a chance of surviving if he moves first. The downside is that you now have to get close to him. That’s why you use the lead hand (which is the fastest weapon to the closest target): to distract him by eliciting a blink response while you cover the distance. Also, the added benefit of the step is that it gets your whole body moving, which makes it easier to create momentum and then use that to power your punch. Finally, the step can help you use the stretch reflex for more striking power if you want to use those mechanics. You don’t have to as there are other ways but it sure works well for beginning students.
  • The lead hand is also a set up for the finishing technique. Because of the angle, it not only turns his head slightly (which takes away his sight, always a good thing in a fight), it also stretches out the area I intend to strike. That way, the muscles I punch in his neck (primarily the sternocleidomastoid) will either tear or at the very least hurt big time while still giving me direct access to the nerves, arteries and veins. Though the increased surface tension I created in the muscle with this movement gives some measure of protection to those vulnerable targets, I have found that the downward angle of the punch combined with hitting with the knuckles more than makes up for it. A final point: tilting his head to the side makes it easier to land the shot with accuracy as you have better access to the target surface than with his head in the normal position.
  • The looping angle of the punch is important. You don’t want to hit straight forward because that risks moving him away from you if you don’t time it correctly. Another reason is to make sure all the energy of the punch goes into the target as opposed to bleeding off because your punch moves his head away from your fist. Finally, if you overshoot the punch, you will still land on the target but with your wrist or forearm which will also do a lot of damage.
  • Turn the thumb down for a better impact. By turning your hand, you are sure to hit with a hard weapon (knuckles) to a soft target (neck), which is a standard theory for effective techniques. Another reason is because of the downward angle of the strike: if  you don’t turn the hand, you risk hitting with the wrong knuckles and not only have less of an impact but you might actually injure your fist if you miss and hit his jaw.
  • The targeting is specific with built in enhancers and redundancy. Your lead hand not only covers his eyes, it lands on the sensitive temple area. The punch is aimed at the neck but if you miss and hit the chin or jaw, the downward angle will give you enough power to knock him out too.

These are the most important elements behind the specific choices I make to perform the technique as such. But that’s not all there is to it. You can obviously tweak it in a large number of ways. Let’s look at that now.



There are a bunch of variations you can use, depending on a host of factors I won’t cover in detail here but with a little bit of experimentation, you’ll find them all. Again, you have to make this stuff your own. I can’t tell you what works for you specifically, only you can find that out. But here are some ideas to play with:

  • You could also time it so you land the palm technique as you transfer your weight onto the lead foot instead of when it lands. This is slightly slower than the basic step but it is easier to hit harder this way.
  • You can stick and hold or even push with the lead hand before you punch. You don’t have to retract, though this makes it easier to get maximum power in the punch.
  • As I show in the video, you can start with either hand. It all depends on the situation you are in. I suggest practicing both ways.
  • You can dodge down slightly forward and to the side from him with your head as you throw the punch. This is safer as you are no longer in the same position as you were right before you launched your attack so if he flails instinctively, he’s likely to miss. It also helps in adding power to the downward punch.
  • Instead of a lead hand palm technique, you can use any hand configuration/weapon you like: fist, back-fist, edge hand, wrist, etc. It’s all up to you.
  • The same goes for the punch: if you prefer, use a ridge hand, wrist, forearm, downward elbow, etc. It can all work if you train for it.
  • You’re supposed to launch this technique fast enough so he doesn’t have enough time to raise his hands. With some training, you can do just that. However, it is safer to assume something will go wrong and train to have your partner bring up his hands to his face in a flinch response or as a block on your lead hand attack. Instead of freaking out, practice pulling or pushing that arm away so you have a clear path for the punch. This sounds more difficult than it actually is; you just have to prepare for when it happens.

After you play with these variations, you’ll discover a bunch more. You’ll also find different ways of setting it up or landing that punch. Like I said, it’s all good as long as it works for you.

Let’s move on to perhaps the most important aspect of this technique: when to use it.


When (not) to use this

The most vocal of my critics were appalled by this technique. They said it was dangerous and potentially lethal.

They are right.

You could actually rupture the blood vessels in the neck, resulting in severe injury or even death.

But that is exactly why you do the technique this way to begin with:

It is meant to stop the fight right then and there.

No back and forth for five rounds, no dancing about, no testing of the waters, no do-overs.

Your attacker needs to be down as fast as possible with the least amount of margin for error and the highest likelihood of success.

Basically, your goal is to put him down and out in a second or less. The context is such that if you don’t or you let him get back up again, he will kill you or those who you are protecting him from.

Most Western legal systems recognize the use of force continuum as a valid benchmark for police officers to adhere to. Though it isn’t a perfect match for civilian self-defense, you could do worse than use it for that too. If you look closely at it, you’ll see that the final step is using lethal force. Officers are only allowed to use it under very specific circumstances (e.g.: when their life is in danger) and again, you could do worse than to follow that standard.

Most self-defense laws also recognize that you have the right to use lethal force should you be faced with the choice to either use just that or die. But again, the context is very specific. So here are some hypothetical examples of such situations:

  • An attacker threatens to cut your throat and reaches for his knife. You can’t run away for whatever reason.
  • An attacker pulls a gun from his waistband from close range.
  • An attacker threatens to kill you and your children (your wife or one of your elderly parents) who are standing right there behind you and he pulls a lethal weapon. If you run, they die.
  • A home invader comes into your house and hits your wife over the head as his first move. She hits her head on the floor and starts bleeding profusely. She needs to get to a hospital right now.
  • Any situation in which you cannot escape lethal violence or have to protect somebody who cannot do it himself.

These are just a couple of examples and they are in no way meant to give you legal advice on using this technique. I’m only providing some context so you understand what I’m talking about. You need to look up your own laws and make sure you are justified in using lethal force.

By now, you can see the picture:

This technique is meant for extreme situations. Life-threatening ones.

You don’t use it to show off to your friends.

You don’t use it to calm down a drunk.

You don’t use it to beat up an annoying bully.

In fact, you very rarely need to use it at all.

But if you have the misfortune to need it, you’ll be happy to have trained for it.



There’s a lot more I could write about this technique but we passed the 2000 words mark a while ago already. I hope this clears up a bit of the confusion and misinformation about the video. Because of the one-minute time limit, I couldn’t give any details about neither this technique, nor the Combat Sanshou system it comes from. If you’d like more information on this, it is explained in great detail in a three-video set:

I’ll write a longer piece about this system and post it soon.



Become a Patron and get access to unique content: my newsletter, instructional videos, violence analysis and much more!


  1. Great post, Wim. Thanks.

  2. I’ll think it’s a real ‘KISS’ – technique.
    Like Bernd Thomsen -a leading German Police self defense Officer explained: if you don’t put him down the first time or continu the fight inmmedeately with full intensity after the first contact, otherwise you will create an animal as opponent. And you don’t want to fight an animal!

  3. I like it! We use a similar concept at my dojo, but not quite in this way–I think I’ll be trying out this technique, now, though!

    • There are lots of variations on this move. The brachial stun, the side clothesline, etc. Pretty much every art or system has it in one way or another. It just works real well. :-)

  4. Hi Wim,

    I thought your fightstopper was outstanding and I appreciate your taking the time to film it.

    Question: You mention turning the fist down to hit with the right knuckles. Which knuckles are you attempting to hit with?



    • Hi Marc, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the video.
      I like to use the knuckles of the middle finger and index. That gives the best results for me.

  5. Hi, is the video still available somewhere?

Speak Your Mind