Addison and Eleanor with a strong focus on Hikite!

Hikite: More than just the pulling hand

By Thomas D. McKinnon

I have heard many so called experts criticising the hikite as a pointless exercise. It makes no sense, they say, that pulling one hand in the opposite direction, to the one that is punching, will generate power to the punching hand. They usually go on to say that the original purpose of hikite is easily seen in the older, Okinawan forms of karate. They operated at a closer range between the attacker and the defender. Karate was originally, purely for self-defence. It was used when attacked by an adversary, and not for sport, where two karateka are facing off.

So, in those experts’ opinion, the hikite – originally meant for destabilising the opponent, grabbing limbs, clothing or hair, to assist in a throw or takedown – is a waste of time unless used for those reasons. In fact the free hand would be put to better use as a cover, for the face say, while the opposite hand is punching et cetera.

A young Hirokazu Kanazawa demonstrates how a Choku Zuki with a string Hikite has to look like.
A young Hirokazu Kanazawa demonstrates how a Choku Zuki with a string Hikite has to look like.

What is Hikite about?

Hikite is another of those Japanese terms that means more than it says. Hikite: the pulling hand. Firstly, the hand that is the counter-piece of any given hand technique is not just pulled back per se. But we’ll get back to that. The difference between karate and let’s say boxing is simple. Karate doesn’t use a shoulder and or a lean in or a swing to generate power in the technique. Power generated in that manner makes the weight of the initiator a major part of that power generation. The (switched on) Shotokan karateka uses the rotation around the central pivot, or Hara (the core), of the body. Utilising the whole body, not just the side that is punching, the karateka is in fact employing more mass.

Furthermore, the slingshot effect generates more explosive speed. And, as everyone knows, this is instrumental in both power output and payload delivery: Force = Mass x Velocity (Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion). In the David and Goliath scenario: do you think that David would have slain Goliath if he’d simply thrown the stone?

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Counter Pivot Around the Core for Maximum Speed and Power

I stated in that last paragraph that the hikite is not pulled back per se. Let me clarify. The hikite is used to counter pivot the energy from one side of the body to the other via the central pivotal core. Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass. Therefore it generates more speed and lends more power to the strike. This works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home. Force = Mass x Velocity. This action does not necessarily mean that the hikite hand ends up at the hip. However, when teaching this power transference, it is generally thought easier, initially at least, to demonstrate the action this way.

Thomas D. McKinnon (author): He puts a lot of emphasize on Hikite. It "works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home."
Thomas D. McKinnon (author): He puts a lot of emphasize on Hikite. It “works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home.”

I stated in that last paragraph that the hikite is not pulled back per se. Let me clarify. The hikite is used to counter pivot the energy from one side of the body to the other via the central pivotal core. Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass. Therefore it generates more speed and lends more power to the strike. This works in a similar way like the slingshot around the moon that brought Apollo 13 safely home. Force = Mass x Velocity. This action does not necessarily mean that the hikite hand ends up at the hip. However, when teaching this power transference, it is generally thought easier, initially at least, to demonstrate the action this way.

What The Experts get Wrong

I do not disagree in regard to those other uses for the hikite. However, in my humble opinion, those so called experts don’t see the whole concept. They totally miss or misunderstand, the other side of the equation. To talk about pulling and pushing is somewhat redundant. Pulling one hand back is not going to power up the pushing or punching side… that’s obvious. That is where most of the power generation naysayers get their nickers in a twist. At the risk of repeating myself: the hikite is not pulling back, it is pulling the opposite side of the body into the equation by powering it through the central pivot or center axis. This action enables the karateka to utilise the power of the entire body. And not just the side that is delivering the strike.

Hikite Creates Physical Force

There is an equation for this power generation. Centripetal force (defined as, “The component of force acting on a body in curvilinear motion that is directed toward the center of curvature or axis of rotation”) is equal and opposite to the Centrifugal force. Centrifugal force (defined as, “The force, equal and opposite to the Centripetal force, drawing a rotating body away from the center of rotation, caused by the inertia of the body.”) then adds to the Mass and the Velocity already in motion. Again, we have a measurable: Force = Mass x Velocity.

Addison is 12 years of age, and the Tasmanian State Champion in both kata and kumite in her age category; plus, she is part of the National Australian Squad.  Eleanor is 17 years of age, the Tasmanian State Champion in kata and kumite in her age category, also runner-up in the Ladies Open, and she too is part of the Australian National Squad. Both focus a lot on Hikite!
Our Two young ladies of the opener picture: Addison is 12 years of age, and the Tasmanian State Champion in both kata and kumite in her age category; plus, she is part of the National Australian Squad.  Eleanor is 17 years of age, the Tasmanian State Champion in kata and kumite in her age category, also runner-up in the Ladies Open, and she too is part of the Australian National Squad. Both have a strong focus on Hikite!

All the other possible constituents of the hikite – destabilising the opponent, grabbing, pulling and assisting a throw or takedown et cetera – actually become even more relevant. Power generation, on its own, is a very real component of hikite. However, in addition, the supplementary power element makes all the other mechanisms of hikite even more practicable.

Hikite: more than just the pulling hand.

8 comments

  1. That’s the problem with these so-called “experts”, some of them actually know what they’re talking about!

  2. On a more constructive note – I thoroughly recommend two excellent books which take us through the physics involved: “Parting the clouds” by Grenville Harrop, and “Fight like a Physicist” by Jason Thalken.

    These books will give you an insight into the complexity of the equations needed to describe the act of punching something. For me, these books also act as a reminder not to casually throw equations around…

    …understand them, or don’t use them 🙂

  3. Perhaps the majority will never come to a complete agreement on this subject. Perhaps we should simply not worry about agreeing and just continue to train.

  4. Since I am the “so called expert” being referenced in this article I think it would be fitting to respond. This is what I posted on the FB page…

    I’ve had the chance to give this article a proper read-through. First of all, the hikite argument argument is like Mr. Johnson’s unwanted cat. Remember the old children’s song? Mr Johnson tried giving the cat away, blowing it up, sending it up in a hot air balloon… No matter what Mr. Johnson did, the damned cat always came back around. Well, the hikite argument is like that. No matter how scientific and valid the argument put forth to refute the “hikite for power” argument, the stalwarts refuse to give it a rest.

    Invariably, the arguments that I typically see to support the “hikite for power” argument are flawed misapplications of “science”. Let me briefly run through some mistakes in this article (Disclaimer, I am by no means an “expert” but I have enough academic background in human kinetics, basic physics and hands-on experience with smashing things to understand how to punch with power).

    1. “The (switched on) Shotokan karateka uses the rotation around the central pivot, or Hara (the core), of the body. Utilizing the whole body, not just the side that is punching, the karateka is in fact employing more mass.”
    This author’s entire argument is somewhat based on the central axis model but when doing a standard reverse punch, the axis of rotation is not central. I believe this point was also made in Nakayama’s Best Karate series. That doesn’t make it correct. When punching with the right arm, the axis of rotation is through the left side of the body. The left hip stays fairly still while the right hip actually moves forward.

    2. “Furthermore, the slingshot effect generates more explosive speed. And, as everyone knows, this is instrumental in both power output and payload delivery: Force = Mass x Velocity (Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion). In the David and Goliath scenario: do you think that David would have slain Goliath if he’d simply thrown the stone?”

    Where to begin? The “slingshot effect” does not apply here. Also, the often reference F=ma doesn’t apply here either. We should be talking about “Impulse” (I = F*t or F=m*a*t) when discussing power percussive impact. That said, percussive impact from a punch is a ridiculously complicated kinetic chain that can’t be explained with high school physics. This is not your grade 11 physics word problem. Also, “power” and “force” are not the same. P=F/t.

    3. “Thus, pulling the opposite side of the body not back but, spiraling through the core adding more mass.” You can’t add more mass.
    I think I understand what the author is trying to say but you can’t increase your mass. Mass is a measurement of how much matter is in an object.

    4. “the hikite is not pulling back, it is pulling the opposite side of the body into the equation by powering it through the central pivot or center axis. This action enables the karateka to utilise the power of the entire body. And not just the side that is delivering the strike.”
    The “hikite for power” pundits seem to view the two sides of the body as connected. When the left arm moves back, that doesn’t make the right arm move forward. Imagine you had a board strapped horizaltally across your shoulders. When the left end of the board moves back, the right end moves forward and the torso pivots counter clockwise. Perhaps this is what people are envisioning. The truth is, your two arms are not connected. They move independently.

    5. “There is an equation for this power generation. Centrifugal force (defined as, “The force, equal and opposite to the Centripetal force, drawing a rotating body away from the center of rotation, caused by the inertia of the body.”) then adds to the Mass and the Velocity already in motion. Again, we have a measurable: Force = Mass x Velocity.”
    This is a big one. Centripetal and centrifugal force do not apply here. I remember demonstrating this to my science class. I would half-fill a bucket of water and swing around a horizontal axis. The water does not spill when the bucket is up-side down. It wants to move in a straight line but the bucket moves in a circle. The bucket must apply a force on the water to alter its course. Centrifugal force is the water pushing back on the bucket. Neither have anything to do with punching. Angular momentum may a more relevant term. Also, you can’t add mass. It’s a finite quantity. You add mass at Christmas time when you eat too much turkey. This is a bit off topic, but pulling the hikite back actually causes the torso to rotate in the opposite direction. This is conservation of angular (rotational) momentum. Click the link for a demo of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGYZwmkAqwQ

    Generating percussive impact is about rotation, transferring of weight and creating a stable core at impact. This does not require the hikite. Also, on a related note, you do not need your back heel planted either.

    Misapplying science is a dangerous thing. We can’t throw scientific concepts and formulas around without understanding them. This only serves to perpetuate misunderstanding. To truly get scientific about percussive impact, we need to understand human kinetic chains, conservation of rotational inertia, impulse, inelastic collisions and other concepts. If we misuse science we just sound like flat-earthers in an effort trying to “prove” our point.

    Andy Allen

  5. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate the author of this article for dealing with hikite in such depth. Relating the power generation to a slingshot effect, and using the explanation of the opposing forces: centripetal force (approaching the central axis) powering the centrifugal force (leaving the central axis) as he says, like a slingshot. As he stated, it is the same principle that gave the Apollo 13 enough speed and momentum to bring it home and save those astronauts lives. This hits the nail right on the head.

    Now, to address those previous comments from PCRAWF and ROB. The following equation is what Newton’s second law looks like: F represents force, V velocity, and T time:
    F = M x (V1 – V0) / (T1 – T0)
    The change in velocity divided by the change in time is the definition of the acceleration A. The second law then reduces to the more familiar product of a mass and acceleration:
    F = M x A
    So if you want to nit-pick, which you guys obviously do, I guess the quoted equation, is not quite right but it’s not what you are implying.
    I’d just like to finish by saying again that this is a dam good article. Well done Thomas D. McKinnon.

  6. As a start, I’d like to mention that I really found this article interesting; it’s great to see discussions for more deeper insights or understanding of some aspects of the karate, hikite is certainly prone to more discussions.
    However, as a physicist, I was surprised to read a wrong equation, concerning the definition of a force. It is in fact the definition of momentum. Conservation of momentum (the so-called “action-reaction”) plays everywhere a role in our daily life, also in Karate. I’d like to thank “pcrawf” to citing two books I’m certainly going to read. I also found interesting the comments of Andy Allen.
    Though the physics has been ill treated in some parts of the article, some elements of the discussion are worth discussing even deeper.
    Let’s keep positive critics pave the way to even better articles or (mutual)understanding .
    Pierre-André Duperrex

  7. You do not need to pull your other hand as long as your hip rotates with the punch. The hip on its rotation is also push to rotate more by the feet. The hand is just pulled back at the same time with the rotation. Naka Tatsuya of JKA showed how a punch could be done without pulling the hand but still doing the hip rotation. This is done so that it will not give a hint to an opponent that one is punching. When one is punching the usual way is the other hand is also pulled back because of the rotation of the hips which in its movement includes the whole body; and the other shoulder where the other hand is pulled will move with the pulling giving a hint to an incoming punch.

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