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Hikite: Pulling a Hand Back to the Hip in Karate/TKD (Part 2)

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The first part dealt with hikite history. In this second part, we’ll have a closer look at hikite itself—how it is performed and how it can be applied.

It is performed different ways in different styles. One way is, with the arm extended, make a fist, twist and pull back. However, some styles make a fist, pull back, and twist only as the hand reaches the hip. I believe that the fist, twist, then pull method was the original way. This is purely guesswork, but I believe that the fist, pull, twist method came along later when the people were only focusing on punching and not on the grappling applications.

Let me explain why I think this. First of all, when you make a fist in a kata or a basic movement, it can either be for striking or to represent grabbing. If you accept that you are grabbing, then the hikite movement has to be pulling. Now have a training partner extend their arm with the palm facing down. Grab the top of their wrist with a cross grip (your right to their right or your left to their left). If you both pull, (assuming that you are similar in strength) then is should be quite even and neither of you will have much advantage.

Note that your main pulling muscle in the arm is the bicep (the triceps are used for pushing). Now grab your partner’s wrist in the same way and twist. You’ll find that your bicep goes into the contracted position and your partner’s bicep is now stretched. You now have the advantage over a partner of equal (or even greater) strength and you can pull back to your hip with relative ease.

Now the first time you try this, it might feel a bit awkward. Furthermore, if your partner resists your twisting motion it will be difficult to twist their wrist. But bear in mind that when you are training, your partner knows what you are doing. If you are able to apply this technique quickly on an unsuspecting opponent, then you can have their wrist twisted before they realise what is happening, then it’s too late – for them.

Now let’s look at applying hikite with some of our techniques. Well pulling them into a prone position whilst punching is quite obvious. Having gotten them into a prone position, you can try to talk so sense into them. If that does not work then you can punch some sense into them!!

If we look at the downward block, as we perform hikite, we stretch out the opponent’s arm as we pull it back. We can then apply the downward block by bearing down onto their triceps. We then have an arm lock.

The same works with an outside block. I have to define this as what is called “outside block” in my style (because it comes FROM the outside) is actually called “inside block” in some other styles (because it goes TO the inside). I refer to the block where we raise our blocking hand to round about our ear on the same side, then bring it ’round so that it crosses in front of the body.

As with the lower block example, we can extend the opponent’s arm while twisting and pulling it. Then we can apply pressure to either the elbow joint or triceps. Be careful with this application as it can either be an arm lock, or (if done a bit more forcibly) it can break the arm.

With a rising block, if you grab your opponent’s upper arm, hikite can used to pull the opponent forward and down, whilst our “blocking hand” strikes under the chin or into the neck.

These techniques will work with the other version of hikite (grab, pull, then twist), but you will need to be quick to get the pull in before your opponent has a chance to realize what you are doing. Otherwise, the pulling becomes a matter of who is stronger.

Now you may be wondering if this is part of a system designed to be used for night fighting in a time when it really is too dark to see your opponent, and if it is still valid today. I would have to say emphatically, YES. Most moves in traditional Oriental martial arts are designed to be multi-functional. In most situations today, street lighting (or even lighting from surrounding buildings) will allow you to see your attacker. However, most fights start with either a hay maker or a grab (or both).

If you are aware, then when somebody is threatening you, or you are being approached be a suspicious-looking person, you should be in the “fence” position. For those not familiar with the fence, it is an a non aggressive but assertive looking stance with hands open and in front of you, palms down facing your opponent with feet at about a 45 degree angle. This is a versatile stance which does not show aggression, and so does not antagonize the situation. Yet, it is still a good stable stance to strike from if you need to.

From the fence, your attacker does not have a good shot at punching to your head (favourite target) so they may try to grab your wrist and pull you round so that they have a better target to hit (a primitive form of hikite). However, as they grab, you can release by rotating your wrist against their thumb, securing their wrist, then applying your own more refined hikite (grab, twist, and pull).

For those who are into alternative applications, you’ve probably seen the examples above already. But there are other ways to use hikite as well. You can really more or less grab anywhere and use hikite. Even if you just grab the clothing and pull, you can unbalance them long enough to get a good technique in. It is a human instinct to always try to regain balance first, so if you pull somebody off-balance at the same time as striking, their instinct will be to try to regain their balance BEFORE they try to fend off your blow.

Now just to be clear, hikite on its own will not be a fight finisher. But it is good for setting the person up for more punishment and for a technique that could be the fight finisher.

Even grabbing somebody’s hair! If you grab and twist, you maintain the pulling pressure to the hair. Without the twist, you cannot maintain the pulling pressure so well unless you keep pushing and pulling their head around. With the twist, you maintain the pull on the hair causing pain and distraction; then pulling back to your hip pulls them right of balance where you can strike with relative impunity. Furthermore, the twisting motion pushes your small knuckles into their head, which can create even more discomfort and distraction for them.

In some styles of Kung Fu, they do a lot of flesh grabbing. By this I mean, just grabbing a surface layer of skin (but not necessarily limbs, wrists or muscles). When we first learn to make a fist, we close up our outer set of knuckles (nearest the finger tips), then we close the larger knuckles (where the fingers join the hand).

Imagine you are locked in a grapple with somebody. Try (carefully!!) with a partner to put your hand against the side of their body just below the ribs. Close up the first set of knuckles and trap some skin—it doesn’t have to be much—and then (carefully) close the rest of the hand, twist and pull. It can be quite painful.

You can experiment on different parts of the body. Obviously it will not be so easy with a very lean person, but even he or she will have some surface flesh to grab. This kind of flesh grab can be especially effective to the lower side torso, under the upper arm (triceps area), neck and groin. But experiment with it and you’ll be surprised how versatile it can be.

Just be aware that this is a set up, not a fight finisher. Also with flesh grabs, if your attacker is drunk, high on drugs or full of adrenaline, he or she will not feel it as much as when you practice in the safety and comfort of your warm and friendly dojo/dojang. So be prepared to do it much harder if you ever have to do it for real.

The next time somebody asks you why you pull back the hip and leave yourself exposed rather than keeping your guard up, whisper a little thank you to Sakugawa and tell him or her why.

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About Charlie Wildish