Thursday, 8 September 2011

The hand on the hip? Why?

If you practise a traditional martial art of Asian origin that focus on striking, chances are that you do some kind of "form" in practise. Prearranged motions strung together into a set series of techniques performed alone. Karate has Kata, Quan Fa (or Kung Fu) has its Quan, and Taekwondo and the other Korean striking arts have Hyung, Tul or Poomsae. One distinct feature in these forms are that the performer will sometimes do techniques with one hand while the other goes back to the hip. Why on earth would anyone do this in a fight? It leaves the head wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide open to (counter)attack? Does it not?

If you are one of the people who are wondering why we pull one hand to our hip and you are tired of lame explanations ("It is tradition, now stop asking questions!!!", Because (insert pseudo science answer here) ... ", "more power" etc) then read more:)

The reason for this motion that the Japanese have labeled Hikite is readely available in the writings of Gichin Funakoshi. But still thousands of Karate instructors claiming to study and teach his art (Shotokan) have no clue as to why they pull the hand back to their hip. The reason for this ignorance? My guess? They can not or will not read. In Karate Do Kyohan (the master text) he writes that the reason for Hikite (translated it means the pulling hand) is to grab the oponents wrist and twist while pulling him off balance. This increases the efficancy of your attack while it dimminish his capability of defense. (I am paraphrasing by the way but it is right there in Karate Do Kyohan so look it up if you want the exact wording or say it is not true in a comment below and I will give you the page it is on etc.) 

As to the how and why part of the increasing efficiancy of your attack if used with the pulling hand it is a threefold answer. First the powerincrease. Forget the pseudo science standard answer instructors give that are so advanced it is not understandable by anyone. The pulling hand does increase power in for example a punch. The reason is simple. You drag your opponent into your punch. Think about it: Have you ever stepped into a kick or a punch during sparring? Everyone who practise sparring has probably done so. And felt that the power of the kick/punch was very great even if the kicker/puncher did not use that much power. An example I like to use to explain the effect is this. If a car traveling at 60 km an hour chrashes into a parked car there will be a great deal of damage to the cars and a big bang. Now the same cars are both driving 60 km an hour and chrases into each other front to front. Do you think it will be a bigger bang? More damage. Of course it will. The last example relates to a punch done with the pulling hand (grasping the oponent and pulling them into the strike).

The second part is that the twist in the technique (you twist the hand as it is pulled back to the hip) makes it easier for you to pull the oponent. Your bicep (the pulling muscle) is contracted giving you max power for pulling, while his is strightened and this gives him less opurtunity for power generation.

The third part is the balance factor. All people have certain biological behaviours encoded within us. We cant help but to do them. For instance if you touch a hot plate on your stove you will instinctivly pull back your hand to protect it from further burning. Or a more relevant example, if your lose your balance the body is programed to do every effort to regain balance first, everything else takes a second priority. Or simply put: Pull your oponent off balance while striking him with your other hand, and he will have to regain his balance before even thinking of defending himself.

All these examples where related to punching, but you do use the pulling hand technique with almost all the basic techniques no? I know that the standard low block (arae makki), inside middle block (an makki) and face block (eulgul makki) are all done with the pulling hand (this is just to name a few). How does the pulling hand relate to these techniques? First of and to make this post at a managable lenght I will just say this: Blocks are not blocks... Period...! I can explain the historical reasonings in a later post for those who are interested. Now lets look at each of the examples provided above and see how the pulling hand relates to each of them.
  1. Low block (Arae makki). This is a technique that is often explained to defend the lower stomach or groin area from low punches or kicks. It can certainly be used for this in a sporting context but you do not need the pulling hand for this. If you picture yourself grabbing the oponents right wrist with your right hand (cross grip), twisting and pulling it to your hip while the "blocking hand" slams down on their tricep area you have a basic arm bar /arm lock or even an arm break depending on how much force applied to the technique. Here you are using the whole motion of the low block and not just the "blocking hand". To maximise the power into the arm lock or arm break you will have to drop your bodyweigt into the technique. If you look at the stance you will find yourself in either horse stance, or in long front walking stance. More on stances in another post.
  2. Inside block (an makki). This refers to the block that comes from the outside and then is brougt to the front of the body in a semi circular motion. Some styles translate it as outside block (becouse it comes from the outside) while others call it an inside block because it goes towards the inside. If you are using Korean in your training and know this block as "An makki" then you should say inside block as "An" means in or inside in Korean. Here the idea is pretty much the same as in the low block example, straighten the oponents arm with the pulling hand and slam the tricep area of the oponents arm with the blocking motion. This will if not damage the arm at least do a number with his balance (a short time anyway) giving you more time to attack. 
  3. Face block also known as high section block, but the Korean word for this block is eoulgul makki and eoulgul means face, so I say face block. Here the idea is different in that you grab the oponents wrist pulling him into a forearm strike to the chin or side of the neck. Very efficient combat technique. 
In all the examples above you see that the pulling hand is very important to the succes of the techniques. I saw a police documentary where a policeman knocked a pimp out cold with example 3 and he did not even use the pulling hand. I think the pimp is very happy that he did not as it would greatly increase the force applied in the strike.

There are other uses to the pulling hand technique as well so stay tuned for more:)
If you have questions or any comments please feel free to leave a comment below:)


  1. In the preface of 1965 Taekwondo book by our Taekwondo father he says talking about energy that the reason of pulling the fist has also to do with Newton's reaction force, acting as a power enhancer of the thrusting punch.

    1. Hi there Fernando, thanks for commenting.
      The way GM Choi explains it is a little faulty when looked at purely scientifically but he is entirely correct in the use of newtons reaction force if he is grabbing and pulling the opponent into the punch. For all I know that could be what he was talking about anyhow but I missunderstood him. GM Son Duk Sung on the other hand leaves no doubt that he is talking about pulling an empty hand to his hip while punching With the other hand to create reaction force but that is just plain wrong physics.