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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

The Purple Knuckles Club

When you train in the Filipino Martial Arts, one thing you can't escape is the fact that you will probably get hit on the hands when you're training.

In my early days of training, I got hit a LOT. I recall after, oh, about four months banging sticks, there was a period where I was smacked HARD on the same darn knuckle on my right hand (my ring finger) three times in six weeks. Back then, I didn't know how to treat it, so it kept me out of training for a couple of days each time.

It was annoying, but I wasn't the only one getting hit. In our group, when someone got hit on the hand, we started calling it "joining the purple knuckle club" as a joke. We are all card-carrying members.

Yep, that's my hand. A pinkie purple knuckle I suffered some time ago.

Getting hit on the hands is usually due to targeting issues (either too high or too low) or an adjustment in the striking angle needs to be made.

One of the many reasons we train with rattan is that when you get hit with it, it's less likely to break bone/skin than other woods we could use. Rattan will give you some wicked bruises but it's very rare you'll get more than that. It hurts, but it usually doesn't injure you.

After a decade of training, I rarely renew my membership in the Purple Knuckles Club. My habits are (usually) pretty sound and I train a lot with experienced people.

Nonetheless, I can and do still get hit on rare occasion. By now, I've been hit so much my partner might not even realize I've been hit as I don't usually react unless it's doozy of a hit. Getting hit has become somewhat of a non-event for me.

Whether I react or not, I still get a purple knuckle.

My purple knuckles usually come when I'm working with someone brand new to training (the newbies) or people I don't know well and we have a significant disparity in height and they're not used to training with a shorty like me.

You can get injured anywhere on the hands, of course. First knuckle, second knuckle, third knuckle, fingertips, back of the hand, radius, and ulna (or the ends of these, at the wrist).

First knuckle injuries are relatively rare for me.  I've almost always gotten them in a blocking drill where I'm feeding someone and they block my hand rather than my stick.  I've had it happen with just one knuckle getting hit, to up to all four fingers getting hit at once.

Second knuckle injuries are the most common purple knuckle sites. This happens for the same reasons as first knuckle injuries, but I also get them in any kind of speed drill where targeting is important.  It's REALLY easy to get a second knuckle injury when your partner is doing sinawali or other flow drill, and is aiming too high on high line strikes (above the head) and you're aiming properly (the head) and they hit you on the knuckle. 

Me demonstrating to a student what happens when I target too high, and she targets correctly - I get hit.

First and second knuckle injuries are painful but easy to cope with. You can stop a purple knuckle in a really simple way. I've been taught other methods but this is my personal go-to, taught to me by Bruce Chiu of Arnis International. It works.

Grip the injured knuckle in their thumb and forefinger, with their thumb on top of the knuckle, and apply pressure (aka "crush the knuckle"). It's better if a friend does this versus the injured party.

Note - THIS WILL HURT for a short time, but it goes away relatively quickly.

By applying pressure to the knuckle, your friend is stopping the bleeding inside of the knuckle. That bleeding is what makes the purple turn blue or purple (with blood) and that will cause the stiffening and swelling for several days if you don't stop it quickly.

Have your friend apply pressure for three to five minutes. After the five minutes are up, you will notice that your knuckle will bruise up a little but not a lot, and there should be little to no swelling - and you can get right back to training again.

You might end up with a minor bruise on the finger, but that's it. You can also apply ice to help with swelling later, but I have found that the crushing the knuckle method works AND ice works far better than just ice (and crushing the knuckle works fine without ice).

If you find yourself joining "The Purple Knuckles Club" - that's how you cope with it.

Do you have any tips to coping with hand or knuckle injuries?  I'd love to know!

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