Human Hands Are Built For Fighting

“Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.” —Muhammad Ali

In A Nutshell

While your hands developed to be better at manual dexterity, they also evolved, according to one study, to beat things down. When you clench your fist, you actually increase its density by around four times, which allows you to mete out damage without harming yourself too much. Why exactly our hands do this isn’t clearly understood, but researchers think it might have something to do with the fact that, unlike apes, we didn’t need bigger hands to climb trees any more, but still needed to strike things. Chimps hands, incidentally, don’t make a fist when they close but an “open donut shape.”

The Whole Bushel

Compare your thumb to that of the average chimp. Don’t have a chimp around? We pity you. And we can tell you your thumb is slightly longer. This added length is what gives humans the dexterity to create and use tools and is likely a product of the varied length of our toes, which gives you greater balance; hand and foot development depend on some of the same molecules. This only means that when evolution decides to change something about one, it’s likely to change the other.

Okay, so look at your hand again (and, if possible, your chimp companion’s). You’ll notice that your other fingers are shorter than the chimpanzee’s—they have long fingers and a short thumb. We have short fingers and a longer, stronger thumb. Why the disparity? Researchers at the University of Utah suspected it had something to do with the way we make a fist.

Michael Morgan, a student, and biologist David Carrier conducted an experiment involving a whole bunch of martial artists hitting things in various ways and recording the results. First, they discovered that an open slap versus a solid punch did not, in fact, deliver more force overall to a punching bag. However, the second round of experiments, which examined the stability of the fist with and without the thumb against the index and middle fingers, found that the knuckle joint of the index “was four times more rigid when supported by the thumb.” Because the measurement tool the researchers were using was only tracking the index knuckle joint, we can’t say for sure if the other knuckles were similarly strengthened, but it’s likely they were.

The researchers reexamined the thumb’s effect on force again, discovering that the added digit did in fact double the amount of power their martial artists could throw, if you considered how much of a smaller surface area was being struck, but not just because of greater rigidity. In fact, the really awesome power of the thumb, when it comes to punching, is the way it absorbs the impact of a blow and transfers the force through our palms and into our wrists, reducing the chances that we’ll hurt ourselves in a brawl.

So our hands, in short, are designed by nature to be both careful, articulate manipulators, capable of fine art and the wicked guitar solo. But they’re also a couple of staunch bludgeons, ready to go at a moment’s notice (like when your chimp gets you and the gang in a bind.).

Show Me The Proof

Protective buttressing of the human fist and the evolution of hominin hands
Fighting Shaped Human Hands
Shape of human hand may have evolved for fighting, scientists say

  • Lyon

    Finally the argument i need when i beat up people

  • Phil_42

    ‘Don’t have a chimp around?’ lol

  • guestguestguest

    i’ve been wondering for awhile if our knuckles were made for fighting. it sure seems like it but damn compared to claws, and fangs, they’re kind of a let down.

    • edzyl blane

      Well, we can hold knives and swords, can’t we. They sure are better than claws and fangs

  • inconspicuous detective

    Could it be more that our hands were developed to deliver more force when using a tool or object as opposed to fighting? Just wondering on that one. Good bit of info either way.

    • Sewo

      Long, long ago wars were fought with fists – not weapons.

      • JokersBoner

        but 2001: Space Odyssey shows the chimp using a bone!

        But seriously, I’m not sure you can ever point to something we’d call ‘a war’ an have it not fought with weapons. Even a stick is better than bare hands, and most people knew it.

        • Sewo

          Irish gypsies STILL fight eachother – with fists, man to man. Rarely weapons are used. The few that use them do so against tradition and are looked down upon but they usually do so because they lost and are sore losers. Often so families are at war with eachother and keep fighting and fighting with just fists. Young boys are learned to fight with others from very young ages.

          That was a modern example.

      • inconspicuous detective

        Well traditionally, the man with the weapon wins for a number of reasons, and that’s shown through history. Lets save it for another list, or bit of knowledge.

  • Liege_Lord

    The title seems misleading. I get what the author is saying but we can all agree fighting isn’t like in the movies. Unless your a professional chances are if you punch someone in the face even a couple times your hands are going to be somewhat to severely damaged.
    There is even a common saying “I punched that guy so hard I broke my hand” for a reason. Point being, yes our hands are built to be ABLE to fight, but designed FOR fighting I would not say. What other animals have their primary weapons so easily damaged in a fight, like what guestguestguest said?

    • kukisvoomchor

      True about the punch style. They say the best choices for non-professionals — if they hope to injure their opponents more than themselves, at least — are (1) to clench a fist but pound with the side of it, or (2) to jab with the palm supported by the forearm. A third choice is supposed to be a karate chop but only if you’re aiming for a soft area.

  • Tim Hodge

    Not built very well for fighting. A chimp with its inferiorly constructed hand could beat the crap out of any one of us.

    • Not a baby chimp––I could kick a baby chimp’s ass.

  • I’cia( ❤ My Falcons)

    I’m so going to use this next time I’m tempted to fight! Lol

  • rhijulbec

    As I understand it you should never tuck the thumb inside the hand when making a fist? It should be curled around the index finger? I mean when fighting.

    • LeAndra Renee Sheets

      Right or you’d break your thumb.. But the article didn’t say anything about tucking it inside. Just with and without resting it on your index and middle finger was stronger than not.

  • Sean

    Hey evolution doesn’t make conscious choices. Your comment that “evolution decides to change something” is a bit misleading. Characteristics like longer thumbs are more advantageous to a species, increasing it’s survival and this in turn means that a species ends up having longer thumbs. That process is evolution, baby.

  • Human Hands are not for fighting …

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