In the dojo the other day, the subject of utilising the 'non-striking' limb came up with respect to Choki Motobu's famous reference to the term mefutode 'husband and wife hands' (also commonly referred to as 'meotode'). We had an interesting discussion and I thought I'd summarise some of the main points here.
The 'non-striking' limb is often connected to the term hikite (pulling hand), however this pulling action of the limb to help accentuate the accompanying strike is only one of a number of combative functions that the non-striking limb can undertake.
As Choki Motobu suggested in his writings during the early part of the 20th Century, mefutode is the mutual interaction of the hands during combat so that they may both be put to positive use. 'Husband and Wife Hands' is an eloquent way to describe this idea and it's important, he explains, not to have a dead hand. This makes absolute sense in terms of practicality and counteracts the common question by non-karate-ka of 'why the rear hand is often chambered at the hip'.
A proper understanding into the positive utilisation of both limbs in combat suggest that the techniques found in kata have been formalised somewhat to provide a method for training certain dynamics, that must the be functionally applied in a more free-flowing way. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings found in karate (that the application of kata should never look as neat as the solo form) and often where the 'process' of kata fails at the first hurdle.
The non-striking limb can be used not only to pull (hiki), but also to push, strike, seize, hold and control. Furthermore, it is not always possible or even necessary to have hold of the attacker during specific moments in combat. Therefore, the non-striking limb can be used to cycle back and forth in order to facilitate swift and repetitive strikes.
The use of 'hikite' allows the body to work as an integrated unit so that everything works towards the same goal, whether striking, locking, throwing or choking.
The non-striking limb can also be utilised for reactionary defence, however this should never be confused with a passive 'guard'. The use of guards is for sport-based strategy. In self-protection, it is far more prudent to use the non-striking limb to attack and press forwards, since this is the best form of defence.
The principle of mefutode is one of the most fundamental in karate and appears in pretty much every movement of every kata. It stand to reason that we must use every part of our body to help assist us in a positive way during self-defence and the kata were devised with such theory in mind. Even the pictures above are very scripted and show only a snap shot in time for the camera. Spontaneous and free-flowing application in a live scenario will look almost nothing like the kata. It may look rough, chaotic and messy, but the underlying concepts and lessons from the kata will be apparent. The 'non-striking limb' should be utilised so that it makes your job twice as easy, not twice as hard!
We had an interesting discussion!