|A “traditional karate” example of hikite (pulling hand) while punching|
Sometimes, I forget that the wider karate world hasn’t moved on from formalized, impractical, block-punch-kick kata applications. I was reminded when, just a month or two ago, a relatively new karateka posted on a martial arts forum that I moderate, asking about hikite (pulling hand). He commented that it didn’t make any sense, to him, to pull your hand down to the side of your body when fighting (as shown in the photo, above) because it leaves you open to being hit on that side of your head. For that reason, he couldn’t figure out why hikite was being taught and emphasized in his dojo. When talking about kata bunkai (form analysis), I believe that hikite is pretty much the first thing you should be taught, as it is the foundation for a great deal of practical kata techniques. Unfortunately, it seems that a large number of karateka are still not being shown how to properly use it!
|UFC fighter, Lyoto Machida (right), using hikite improperly during his fight with Rashad Evans|
The most common explanations for hikite are that it is a chamber position, and that it is a biomechanical aid for making your punch stronger. Both of these explanations are typically derided by practical karateka and modern combat sports practitioners, alike. The “chamber” idea is, basically, that your hand goes there so that it is ready to fire off a punch. This is a flawed idea, as it moves your hand further away from your target, which means your punch will take longer to travel to the target, which means that your opponent is more likely to evade or block it. It does make some sense if you are punching to the body at close range, though. The “biomechanical aid” idea says that your body acts like a teeter-totter when punching, and that by pulling one hand back as the other goes forward, you emphasize the twisting of the body, thereby making your punch more powerful. While the basis of the theory is technically true, I see no value in pulling the hand to the side of the body, rather than to the side of the head, if this is what you are trying to emphasize. Both explanations leave one side of your head completely open to being struck, with your hand doing nothing. You might get away with it, like Lyoto Machida did in the photo, above, or you might get knocked out.
|The beginning of Kihon Ippon|
Hikite is called “pulling hand” for a reason–you are pulling something with that hand! We teach this to students as soon as they start learning the Kihon Kata, which are the first forms in our curriculum. If you look animated GIF, above, you can see that Kihon Ippon starts by reaching out with an open left hand, closing it, and pulling it back to the side of the body as you punch with the right hand. So does Kihon Nihon, in fact, which is our second form. It plainly shows you that the pulling hand is meant to grab something before it goes back to “chamber.” Admittedly, some kata applications do not require both hands, and in those instances, the “chambered” hand can actually be doing just about anything. Even Funakoshi Gichin (founder of Shotokan) said that one should not be “shackled to the rituals of kata” in “actual combat.” Even so, the vast majority of the time, that hand is pulled back because it has something in it.
In the video, above, I show a drill that I use to develop tactile sensitivity for hikite. Any time your arms touch your opponent’s arms, you can pull them, and this drill gives you that reference (as well as some forearm conditioning). In the drill, both partners are pulling each other, but you could just as easily designate one person as the puller. For a more scenario-specific drill, you can do the same techniques against a partner holding their hands up in a boxing-style guard position, or against a partner throwing punches. In reality, depending on what your opponent does, and what you do, you may be in position to pull their head, shoulder, or leg, rather than their arm. It is all still an application of hikite. If you are working on your kata bunkai, and you can’t figure out what the “chambered” hand is for, then either your application is wrong, or that hand should be removed from the “chamber” position and put to some other use.