The Magic of Hikite 4

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.

Facebook Comments



About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.

4 thoughts on “The Magic of Hikite

  • Stuart O'Reilly

    Hi Noah,

    “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…”
    Actually, the theory is false; both the punch and the hikite work together to _counter_ the body twist.

    I wrote a post (one of only three, blogging is hard!) covering this misconception, and also defending, to a limited extent, the corrected “biomechanical aid” approach:

    I like the drill, I’ll appropiating that one if you dont mind.

    • Noah

      Hi Stuart,

      I will admit that I am not smart enough to understand the article that you shared, but I do appreciate you sharing it! Feel free to use the drill–I hope it works out well for you!

    • Stuart O'Reilly

      Ha! not smart enough indeed – that’s the gentlest damning criticism I can imagine!

      I had to be both exhaustive and OCD-level precise on that one, it does make for hard reading. I have to work on that.

      The short version: The pulling hand will slow the body rotation about a central axis, but that’s ok – because you don’t generate power by rotating about a central axis.
      I know that’s not news to everybody, but it is a pretty widespread and persistent myth.

  • Anonymous


    First, I want to acknowledge that Stuart O’Reilly’s position may have merit in certain applications of body mechanics. I haven’t read his article but fear, like Noah, I many not be competent to make a judgement.

    @Noah, I strongly disagree with your view on the tactical invalidity of the traditional karate chamber. Let’s use your Machida example above (great illustration), and your Shodan test with Sensei Poage (another excellent illustration).


    Noah’s conclusion is that Machida chambering his opposite hand at the waist leaves his head wide open. Noah has lots of company in the MMA community who jump all over this practice. I mean, obviously, Machida’s head is wide open–RIGHT?

    WRONG. The chambered hand is down @ the waist. CORRECT. So it’s effectively out of action, in a passive position. No! On the contrary, the structural positioning of the chamber is to prepare for the NEXT MOVE. Far from passive, it’s actively waiting for the next technique. It’s waiting for the mental command to immediately go.

    Take the kihon technique of the double punch. In the Machida example above, then there is absolutely no reason Machida under very basic kihon karate can’t immediately bang out a left punch straight into Raschad Evans head, using the chambered hand. IOW, Right Bang, Left Bang.

    Noah, your criticism (and that of the MMA community) is only correct if Machida throws a single punch and stops (which he often does). Routinely throwing a single technique & then automatically stopping or going inactive is not even competent Kihon karate.

    The correct perspective for the chambered hand is that it is down, but it doesn’t stay down if the situation calls for it to move into a tactically important technique. Traditional karate chambering and dropping your guard by boxing standards are two separate concepts….

    Your question remains about the distance chambered being long or too long. The basic answer is that in using the body in this way, we develop the mental ability to get the entire body to act together very fast. There’s vid’s all over YT with Karate fighters moving super-fast, scoring strikes, knocking opponents back or down or otherwise winning the exchange.

    Any number of these are Shotokan competitors who hold their guard hands low by the waist (too low IMO). Yet they still strike faster than the opponent can react.

    I’ll speak to your Shodan Test Match in PART II…

Comments are closed.