Understanding the Empty Hand ‘Shuto’ – Use the hand as a Sword

One thing that comes to mind with Shotokan Karate is attack and defense through the use of bare hands and feet without weapons. The tremendous power of Karate Do is well know and the value of the art is dependent on the one who applies it. One of the foundation techniques of attack and defense in Complete Shotokan Karate is the Knife Hand (Shuto).

As we see in the illustration above the four fingers are extended rigidly and the thumb is bent across the palm but, not too far down. The heel  edge of the hand away from the thumb is the major striking edge of the technique.


The knife hand (shuto) is used in attack and defensive ways. Think of the hand and arm as a sword and how it could be applied to block and strike an opponent.  The following illustration is one where the knife hand is used in an aggressive manner.



Here the opponent is being attacked in the neck area.  The chops and strikes of the knife hand also could be applied to a host of different pressure points on the body.  The following video demonstrates the traditional defensive knife hand block (shuto -uke) of Complete Shotokan Karate.

In the video we see traditional application where power circles and lines of force are used in the block. In the traditional preparation the hands and arms are drawn back from the target to create the line of force into the target. In the shuto hand it should be noted that there is a power circle involved in the block.


The importance of balance and stances needs to be brought out in both the attack and defend applications of the techniques. Stances are applied according to the situation that one is involved in. I recommend that knife hand techniques be practices with the front, back, cat and horse stances till one is comfortable with each. Here are some examples of Knife Hand Shuto techniques.


Front Stance with Upper Knife Hand Shuto Block and Chop

1. In this sequence, left to right, we start in a left front stance with knife hands high.

2. Stepping back with the left leg into a right front stance.

3. Twist left bringing left arm up into shuto knife hand upper block, bring right arm around and chop.

Front Stance supported Spear Hand

1. In this sequence, left to right, we start in a left front stance left arm extended right arm back.

2. Stepping forward with right leg into a right front stance.

3. Left hand draws back and right shuto hand spears target, left arm supporting.

Horse Stance Knife Hand Shuto Chop

1. In this sequence, left to right, the aggressor attacks with a right hand punch, the defender steps into a high horse stance, right leg toward aggressor, using a left knife hand shuto block. Upon blocking the defender strikes the aggressors right bicep pressure point.

2. The defender draws back the right arm preparing to strike.

3. The defender strikes the aggressor in the neck with a right shuto chop.


The knife hand shuto techniques is very useful when applied with the proper stances and shuto delivery. I have found the open hand technique very handy at times. With the open hand I can block then grab my opponent and take hold of them for better leverage. There is more area to block and strike with using the Shuto Hand. As said at the first of the article, the tremendous power of any art form is found within the individual who applies it. If you will take this technique and perfect it it will serve you well.

Learn all techniques from white to black with Sensei Jon in Complete Shotokan Karate.

About the Author

Michael Hodge has been studying the martial arts since age seven, earning black belts in Kickboxing/ Krav Maga (a blended style) and Sung Moo Kwon Do. Sensei Hodge never claims to be the best martial artist in the world; but to focus on teaching- helping others reach their goals. This outward energy on guiding rather than forcing has created a unique instructional style that thousands around the globe have learned from.

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