In most martial arts schools, the punch is the staple of the strikes. Whether you're in MMA, karate, kung fu, and even tai kwan do, punches seem to lead the strikes as the favored weapon. But there's a problem.
If you've ever looked at an x-ray of a hand balled into a fist, it looks like a bag of bones. Literally. What happens when you throw that bag of bones into something hard like a skull? Bones break, splinter, shatter. Professional fighters like those seen in the UFC have hands broken all the time. And they're skilled fighters who not only practice the correct way to punch from different angles and situations, but they do this an average of six hours a day, five days a week.
Now, the traditional martial arts instructor is asking a person off the street, who practices maybe an hour a day, to strike with a bag of bones. Common!
I'd talked to a true kung fu master, who practiced iron body training, used to specialize in breaking skulls with a single punch. He said something really interesting. He was instructing a student who was about five feet tall. He told her that her striking range was inside her attacker's striking range. No four foot person is going to attack her. The master taught to use slaps to work your way inside, then use elbows, knees, gouges, etc.
There was a scene in Tombstone where Kurt Russel's character, Wyatt Earp, confronted a card dealer who made trouble for the saloon. As the card dealer was threatening to do something, Kurt--we're on a first name basis--slapped him. It was one of the coolest scenes in a western. Kurt slapped him again and again.
Slaps align the bones in your hand. Because of this, breakage is unlikely. And if you think a slap doesn't hurt or is sissy, ask anyone to slap you hard and tell me if it just tickles. Accuracy is still required, but not as much as a punch. You want to be effective with a punch, you gotta be totally accurate.
Slaps also take little skill. You can slap someone with bad form, and it'd still hurt. Punch someone with bad form, and all you've done is push them. Another strike that takes little skill.
In my book, my character have claws. So I had to find creative and interesting ways of striking and fighting because the punch was taken out of the equation. Ask any woman who has long nails make a fist and punch.