A monkey's fist is a knot which is designed to create a tight ball at the end of a line of rope. The ball adds weight to the rope, ensuring that it can be thrown accurately across a long distance. Sailors have historically used the monkey's fist to throw so-called heaving lines between ships and onto shore, and the monkey's fist is also used by climbers and others who would have need to toss a line of rope to a specific and distant location.
To make a monkey's fist, a series of interconnecting loops are created. First, three loops of line are wound around the hand. Then, three loops are wound around the initial loops, at a perpendicular angle. Next, three loops are wound around the second set of loops, inside the first set. When the rope is pulled taught, the loops pull together to create a tight ball of rope which does look vaguely like a fist. Although this description sounds complicated, the know is very easy to make, as you will see if you pick up a length of twine or rope and give it a try.
On its own, a monkey's fist will be reasonably heavy. Some people also like to weight this knot, by trapping a stone or something similar inside the loops. In addition to simply making the monkey's fist heavier, the weight creates a knot which can also be used in a fight, as many historical sailors were aware. When weighted, a monkey's fist can become a formidable weapon which is capable of cracking a skull or breaking a bone.
One advantage to tying a monkey's fist rather than simply weighting a line is that the knot will not come undone or break open. A monkey's fist can endure through years of hard use, and it is also very easy to tie a monkey's first rapidly. This can be handy in a crisis, or in a situation where limited tools are available to accomplish a task.
Most sailors know how to make a monkey's fist, along with an assortment of other knots which could come in handy on the high seas, even though the days of sail have faded. This knot is also very useful for outdoorspeople, and it is used by rock and tree climbers, people who engage in orienteering, and many others. A monkey's fist can also have some unexpected uses; for example, it makes a great cat toy when tied into a length of twine.