The first martial art to truly capture the public’s imagination in the West was karate. In the 1970s, not only were many movies imported from the East, but the West began to make its own martial arts movies. No move was more deadly in these films than the “karate chop”.
This leads to the reasonable questions, “are karate chops real?”
Yes, karate chops are real. The Karate chop is one out of many tools in a practitioner’s arsenal of moves. It involves striking the opponent with the base of the hand, which is at the opposite side of the thumb.
Let’s take a look at the history of the karate chop and some very fascinating related matters!
What Is A Karate Chop?
A karate chop as it appears in modern day karate, at least, is not so much a “karate chop” as a plain old “chop”.
The move appears in many different martial arts including karate. You’re as likely to see it in aikido, taekwondo and Kung Fu, for example, as you are in karate. There was even a period of time when the “chop” also appeared in judo training! Though striking is no longer a part of most judo lessons.
How Do You Give Someone A Karate Chop?
The chop is a form of knife hand strike. You use the part of your hand that is on the opposite side of the thumb between the base of your little finger and the start of your wrist to strike your opponent with.
It is also possible to give a “reverse” knife hand strike which is also considered to be a chop, by moving the thumb out of the way and hitting with the similar area on the other side of the hand.
Why Use A Karate Chop?
The big advantage of striking someone with these areas of your hand is that you are unlikely to do any serious damage to your hand when you make contact.
The hand is full of tiny and fragile little bones and when you punch someone in a more traditional manner, there are 14 of these bones that can end up badly broken. The karate chop eliminates most of this risk.
Why Do People Think That Karate Chops Are Not Real?
The first and most plausible reason is that the karate chop appeared in an endless amount of 1970s movies. The “karate chop” of these movies was nearly always delivered in a slow, overhand, and completely telegraphed strike pattern.
It was the kind of blow that you’d expect a blind elephant to be able to get out of the way of, let alone a skilled fighter.
And then once, the blow had landed, the person on the receiving end would be either dead or out cold. It doesn’t seem reasonable that an open handed blow could be so effective does it?
You can check out a classic example of this kind of movie in Karate Killer from 1973 on YouTube:
These movies were very entertaining, but they may have misled the public as to the effectiveness of the karate chop.
More recently, the Urban Dictionary has also been muddying the waters by claiming that this is what a karate chop is all about; “When you feel offended, you take your hand and chop it into any random part of the enemies body and yell “KARATE CHOP!” Or just, “CHOP!”
Now, we’re not sure how many people who have seen this have become sceptics of the reality of the karate chop but it must have influenced some people.
So, there are two plausible reasons that people doubt the existence of the karate chop. However, the karate chop remains quite real.
Are Karate Chops Used In Real Fights?
Yes, absolutely. Chops can be delivered from almost any angle and from any position. They can be completely effective when laying on the ground or when towering over an opponent.
Because you are unlikely to hurt your hands when delivering a karate chop, you’re completely able to land a large number of blows with this technique. This can help quickly remove an opponent from a fight.
You can see the use of the karate chop being demonstrated on Eddy Dillion’s channel here:
How Deadly Is A Karate Chop?
We return to the karate movies of the 1970s for a moment and ask a serious question; how dangerous is a karate chop?
Well, the truth is that landing a karate chop on someone’s neck can be problematic, but it is rarely deadly.
You could knock someone out if you:
- Got a lucky hit on the vagus nerve: it would be almost impossible to do this by design as the vagus nerve is not in the same place from individual to individual but if hit hard, the vagus nerve might render someone unconscious for a few seconds
- They suffer from a sodium/potassium exchange problem: this is much more likely if you were to punch someone in the neck repeatedly rather than if you karate chop them but it is a possibility
- You give them whiplash: if you knock someone’s head back hard enough, it’s possible that you give them whiplash or concussion
However, it is unlikely that any of these effects would arise from a karate chop. What is more likely is damage to the soft tissues or even the bones of the neck. It’s a bad idea to hit anyone in the neck unless you intend to cause them real damage, you might not knock them out or kill them, but you could leave them with breathing problems or even paralysis.
Karate Chops vs. Karate Bricks: What’s Going On?
Now, we return to a question that has vexed many people when they see a karate practitioner punch their way through a stack of bricks; “are karate bricks real?”
Now, we can’t speak for every brick used in karate practice sessions but what we can say is:
- There’s no such thing as a “karate brick” just ordinary bricks
- It is perfectly possible to punch through ordinary bricks using a karate chop, you do not need to doctor the bricks or use fake bricks to achieve this effect
How Do You Break Bricks With A Karate Chop?
Well, you have to trust in physics and that means two things when it comes to breaking stuff with a karate chop:
- You need to understand how much force your hand can generate in order to break anything
- You need to set up your bricks (or wooden slats or whatever) in such a way that they can be broken
How Much Force Can Your Hand Deliver In Karate?
Ronald McNair was a scientist who worked for NASA. He was a physicist who would end up dying in the Challenger space shuttle disaster where he was working onboard as an astronaut.
He was also a huge fan of martial arts and he wanted to answer the question, “how much force can your hand deliver in karate?”
With his friend Michael Feld, a physicist at MIT, they measured the speed of a karate chop. They found that a student throws a karate chop at roughly 20 feet per second, but a black belt could manage up to 50 feet per second!
That means that an 11.5 lb. hand (roughly the size of an average male hand) can deliver an incredible 2800 Newtons of force when smashing into a brick or block of wood. How much force is required to smash through a 1.5 inch concrete slab? About 1,900 Newtons!
Ronald and Michael proved conclusively that a karate professional could easily smash bricks and slabs.
How You Set Up Your Bricks, Slabs, etc. To Karate Chop
All the force in the world, however, won’t help you if you don’t set things up so that they can break. If you place the bricks or slabs directly on the floor, then you are essentially ensuring that they won’t break because they can’t flex (which must happen prior to them cracking).
If you karate chop a brick sat on the floor, you cannot break the brick but you might break your hand.
The trick to this is to ensure that the bricks or blocks are raised slightly and thus can flex, just a little, when you do this – as long as you chop hard enough, you can easily break real bricks or concrete slabs. There’s no need to use fake bricks because a karate chop can generate more than enough force to smash the bricks.
Take a look at this incredible set of demonstrations of this technique at the 2008 US Open Karate Championships and see how easy it can be:
Are karate chops real? Yes, they are. Though they might be better off being termed “martial arts chops”. They are used in many martial arts and are effective in real fights.
You can also really break bricks using a karate chop though there are no actual “karate bricks” just regular bricks.