Following the ongoing debate and controversy over the Internet surrounding the practical purpose of Hikite (pulling hand), I thought I would offer my own take, which doesn't suggest any specific application per se, but instead covers what is in my opinion, a far more essential understanding of this concept in action.
For me, in order for the physical expression of karate to become both holistically effective and integrated, we must look at the classical kata choreography according to its most essential elements. Regardless of any particular combative purpose (which due to lack of historical evidence is always going to be a product of reverse engineering based on informed opinion), the expression of universal principles that govern karate are entirely dependent on how we move as a human being. That is really our only constant.
Given the above, it makes sense to align our understanding of karate towards specific movement pathways that allow us to become an efficient and effective conduit in order to physically manifest core karate concepts, based of course on the specific contextual aims and objectives of our practice. Only then can we consider how those movement pathways may be best applied.
In other words, any application of movement is only ever as good as the quality of that movement and whether of course that movement is being utilised in the most effective way. As a very crude example, a step backward is of little use if mistakenly employed to accentuate a transference of force forward, which is not the fault of the 'step backward', but instead, a fault in understanding of the person expressing it.
So let's take our attention to the technique of Hikite, which regardless of specific technique, is essentially a method of retracting one's hand from a peripheral point in space back towards the body core. The reason that it is performed the way it is in karate (i.e. palm rotates to facing up, elbow in, shoulder nested and as such, the large muscles of back engaged) is because that's an effective way of achieving this particular actions end position, regardless of what its intended application(s) may or may not have been along the way. There's a good reason why the palm doesn't face down, why shoulder isn't lifted, why the elbows aren't flared and why the hand doesn't float away from the hip. Try a barbell bent over row, lat pull down or dumbbell biceps curl and see which hand configuration, grip and arm positioning feels strongest (most optimum) at different places along the exercise path.
Once we understand why Hikite is performed a certain way then we can then begin to explore the kind of applications that may be best supported by such a movement pathway. Of course, we can see that there are a plethora of possible reasons why you may choose to retract your hand towards the core in a physical altercation and this is why the formal expression of Hikite appears so rife within traditional karate kata.
So is it used for power? Well, yes...so long as the application in question requires a dynamic retraction of the hand towards the core. It is the efficiency of the movement pathway itself that creates the function and therefore, the generation of force etc via the most optimal route.
So is it used for control? Well, yes...so long as the application in question requires a dynamic retraction of the hand towards the core. It is the efficiency of the movement pathway itself that creates the function and therefore, the ability to control etc via the most optimal route.
So is it used to remove barriers from potential strike paths? Well, yes...so long as the application in question requires a dynamic retraction of the hand towards the core. It is the efficiency of the movement pathway itself that creates the function and therefore, the ability to remove barriers via the most optimal route.
So, is it used for anything else? Well, yes...so long as whatever you're using it for requires a dynamic retraction of the hand towards the core. It is the efficiency of the movement pathway itself that creates the function and therefore, the ability to accomplish the task required.
Can you see a pattern forming here?
Hikite is not a concept that should be considered in isolation nor indeed for a sole purpose. In fact, it is an integral part of many karate techniques. It is one of the six fundamental movement pathways that I would argue make up all kata choreography and it is the combined understanding/application of these pathways (together) that provide one with the ability to practically express karate in a more holistic way.
There's nothing secret about Hikite. The motion of the hand/arm from a peripheral position in space back to the body core is a fundamental human mechanic that can be applied in many ways and not only within the field of martial arts. For instance, lifting or carrying a heavy shopping bag or suitcase, starting a lawn mover or pulling a heavy door open may all benefit from the understanding and effective application of Hikite.
Another aspect to consider with respect to Hikite is its role as part of Meotode (husband and wife hands). That is, the synergistic use of both limbs in order to enhance their potential when compared to the use of only one. This idea spans many application concepts and is rife throughout kata. In everyday use we can also see Meotode in action. A farmer lifting a sack of potatoes with two hands rather than one. A kid hanging off a monkey bar with two hands rather than one. A golf player using the club with two hands rather than one. An industrial process worker closing a stiff valve handle with two hands rather than one. The list goes on and on.
Meotode becomes difficult to visualise and feel in kata, because there is no point of physical contact in place (the form is practiced solely and in thin air). So this is why such concepts need to be transferred to two-person application drills. Plus, there are also stark combative flaws to consider when employing two hands together. Such failure modes and more optimal methods of use become more apparent when both a training partner and a more accurate contextual basis is applied. But one thing is for certain, Hikite (i.e. the movement pathway) plays a significant role when striving to use the body in an integrated and synergistic way.
The use of the koshi to retract one hand towards the core incorporating the oblique system and deep rotators of the hips (amongst other musculature), plus stabalisation via activation of the back/shoulder muscles is also an interesting mechanic to explore when striking the makiwara for instance. This of course is all entirely possible without a retracting limb, but there is a definite emphasis and increased awareness of certain attributes when Hikite is employed. It's almost as if Hikite were a training aid to understanding and apply certain dynamics for those with lesser experience, for it then to be increasingly disregarded once the required feeling is obtained. This idea of using actual physical cues to promote and develop specific movement mechanics is used successfully throughout many sports and other active pursuits. Furthermore, this is not the only place where such a possibility may exist in karate!
One final observation to point out here is that the base circular nature of all human movement means that Hikite and its complementary opposite Tsuki are part of the very same elliptical spirals that make-up all the fundamental karate techniques. They are not simply the square (or stop start) action as portrayed within the staccato kata form. Like all techniques, they are merely snap shot moments - components or representations if you will - of continual movement. Once this is understood, the transition of Hikite back towards the body core becomes a far more interesting exploration.
Karate is not about collecting specific applications like a set of magic tricks. It is about building the ability to express human movement in a way that may be contextually applied in effective ways. This is very difficult to understand for those who are still attached to the superficial 'techniques' or 'labels' of karate, rather than striving to shift their focus towards what those techniques may mean in terms of expression of movement. After all, it is the movement of our skeletal frame in space that brings our karate to life and thus, what ultimately makes it useful to us in life.
Hope you enjoyed the read and best wishes,