Preemptive Hand Trapping

Hand trapping is an aspect of Okinawan karate that has been lost in many dojo. So many, in fact, that it is not uncommon for karateka to comment on videos of Okinawan trapping techniques with things like “looks like Wing Chun”–they simply can’t believe that it is a native aspect of karate! Of course, if you search “hand trapping” on YouTube, you will see that the vast majority of videos that come up are, indeed, Wing Chun videos. A quick look at a video of Taira Sensei–like the one, above–will show you that karate has quite a bit of trapping, as well. If that isn’t enough, you can see more trapping in videos of karateka like Ryan Parker and Peter Polander. Even my recent video of a hikite (pulling hand) drill is an example of hand trapping, and my tuidi hojo undo video is based on a technique done from a hand trap.

Motobu Choki demonstrating entering against an attack and preemptively trapping the other hand

There are many ways to trap hands–or feet, as I mentioned recently–but in this article, I will be focusing on just one; the preemptive hand trap. You can see this technique demonstrated by Motobu Choki in his 1926 book, Okinawa Kenpo Karate Jutsu (Kumite Hen). In the sequence of images, above, you can see that he baits his opponent into throwing a strike at his face in Panel 1 by holding his guard low. In Panel 2, Motobu has entered into the attack, pressing his lead leg into the lead leg of his opponent to disrupt his balance, and deflecting the punch with his right arm while preemptively trapping his opponent’s right hand before it has a chance to strike. In Panel 3, Motobu follows up with an elbow strike to the chest.

Motobu Chosei demonstrating one of Motobu Choki’s kumite drills

Unfortunately, we have no video of Motobu Choki demonstrating this technique. Fortunately, we do have video of his son, Motobu Chosei. You can see him demonstrate this technique, as well as a variation for dealing with two consecutive punches, in the animated GIF, above. The distance between the two karateka is much greater than what is shown in Motobu Choki’s book, and Motobu Chosei lifts his opponent’s right arm as he strikes with the elbow, while Motobu Choki presses it down. Despite these differences, it is clearly the same technique, with some of the same concepts in play. I will point out that Motobu Choki’s approach is likely the older of the two, as he is applying the concept of osae (pressing) by keeping his opponent’s trapped hand down. This was a concept that Chibana Chosin stressed as being a key aspect of strong karate. You could also say that Motobu is demonstrating muchimi, which is a feeling of heaviness, or stickiness.

Yin Bagua example of the technique Motobu’s book shows

For comparison, consider the Yin Bagua technique demonstrated in the animated GIF, above. It is virtually identical to the one Motobu Choki shows in his book, except that the Bagua adept steps to the outside of his opponent’s lead foot, and strikes to the face with his palm instead of using an elbow to the chest. Also like Motobu Choki, and unlike Motobu Chosei, he keeps the trapped hand pressed down, rather than pulling it away from his opponent. To the best of my knowledge, Motobu Choki never trained in China, or trained with Bagua practitioners, so clearly he learned this technique as part of his karate training. This means that the same kinds of trapping appear in both Okinawan arts and Chinese arts, and are not exclusive to one or the other. The trapping found on Okinawa may have come from China, originally, of course, but it could also have developed independently–we will likely never know for certain.

Matt Brown vs. Robbie Lawler

Looking at these techniques, one might say that they are outdated or impractical. For that reason, I would like to present you with a modern example. In the animated GIF, above, you can see Matt Brown utilizing preemptive hand trapping in his fight with Robbie Lawler. Both of these fighters are known for their excellent hand trapping, and they both use it very frequently in their fights. In this example, you can see Brown trap both of Lawler’s hands before they have the chance to fire off any strikes, and he quickly follows with elbows. It isn’t as pretty as the formal examples in Motobu Choki’s book, or the demonstrations by Motobu Chosei and the Yin Bagua instructor, but real fighting is rarely pretty. Regardless, the concepts remain, and they are clearly just as effective today as they were nearly a century ago.

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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.