Philosophically, it is very similar to other forms of street-oriented kickboxing in that it emphasizes practicality; Bruce Lee, through his pupil and partner Dan Inosanto, integrated aspects of Panantukan into his interpretation of the martial arts - Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do. Since it is not a sport but rather a street-oriented fighting system, the techniques have not been adapted for safety or conformance to a set of rules for competition, thus it has a reputation as "dirty street fighting".
Panantukan focuses on countering an opponent's strike with a technique that will nullify further attack by hitting certain nerve points and muscle tissue to cause immediate partial paralysis of the attacking limb. Common limb destructions include guiding incoming straight punches into the defending fighter's elbow to shatter the knuckles (siko), or striking the incoming limb in the biceps to inhibit the opponent's ability to use that arm for the remainder of the fight (biceps destruction). Limb destructions in panantukan are also known as gunting techniques, named so for the scissors-like motions that describe how the practitioner isolates or stops the attacking limb from one side and executes the destruction from the other. Perhaps gunting more aptly refers to the bladed weapons aspect of Kali/Filipino Martial Arts in which these techniques were used to sever the opponent's hands, forearms, and head.
Panantukan uses arm wrenching, shoving, shoulder ramming, and other off-balancing techniques in conjunction with punches and kicks to push, twist and turn the opponent's body with the goal of exposing a more vulnerable area to strike, such as the neck, jaw and temples. An example technique could include trapping the attacker's arm and quickly yanking it down to bring the attacker's head down and forward, exposing him to a head butt or knee strike to the head. Panantukan borrows techniques from Dumog, the Filipino upright wrestling art, for most body manipulations.
Practitioners of panantukan often use the angles outlined in Kali to evade and parry incoming strikes and to attack the opponent from an outside angle where he is less able to defend against strikes. Practitioners constantly switch fighting leads to exploit different angles of attack and to maintain flow. The fighter will often use a finishing strike or kick in a combination to step into the new lead. Footwork is of upmost importance for these techniques, and as such, fighters generally invest much time into practicing Kali stick fighting drills and combinations.
Panantukan emphasizes speed in striking, with the intent of overwhelming the adversary with a flurry of attacks. Practitioners will rarely cease striking, opting to string together indefinite combinations of sometimes radically differing strikes and body manipulations to make successful defense a relative impossibility. Such a strategy is also employed in the Jeet Kune Do "straight blast" and the Muay Thai elbow "blitz."
Another central concept in panantukan is “flow”. Flow is achieved through using speed to quickly and continuously execute strikes and maneuvers, through switching leads and angling to expose new angles and lines of attack, and through the ability to perform a strike from multiple angles and positions. A practitioner may throw a punch or kick from any angle (high, low, overhead, underhand, back fist, hammer fist, etc) in order to maintain his offense; the fighter does not "reset" himself after each strike or combination and thus denies the opponent an easy opening for an attack.
As with the other combat arts of the Philippines, panantukan has a close connection to the tribal rhythm of the drum, and it often pays mind to beat and tempo. In panantukan, the rhythm can be broken or changed to the advantage of the commanding fighter. The goal is to "steal the beats” or interrupt the rhythm of the opponent, exploiting the opponent's chances for attack to initiate a counterattack. This concept differentiates panantukan from most of Western sport boxing, which relies on the steady exchange of blows, covers, evasions, and counter-punches to establish the fight's cadence.
Many strikes in panantukan are said to be performed on "half-beats," or in between the major strikes of a combination, so as to disorient and overwhelm an opponent, increasing the opportunity for more devastating strikes. An example of this could be performing a swift slap or eye strike after throwing a jab with the same hand in a standard jab-cross-hook combination; the eye strike both disrupts the defense against and masks the incoming cross. Additionally, low-line kicks often come in on the “half-beats” in between boxing combinations to further injure and disorient the opponent.
While panantukan is designed to allow an unarmed practitioner to engage in both armed and unarmed confrontations, it easily integrates the use of small weapons such as daggers, wooden slivers, and palmsticks. These weapons give a potentially fatal edge to many of panantukan's already brutal techniques, but do not fundamentally change how the techniques are executed. Daggers used in Panantukan tend to be small, easily concealed and unobtrusive, and alternative designs such as the claw-shaped kerambit are often preferred.