When exploring the old-school karate concept of Meotode (husband and wife hands), the application of hikite (retracting hand) as seen in many fundamental kata techniques most commonly springs to mind. However, hikite is only one component of meotode, which is itself, a more holistic notion that considers both hands being used together in harmony towards a common goal. This integrated use of the hands, or indeed the whole body, is a vital principle of karate and especially so when used within the context of self-protection.
Developing mechanical habits that see arms and legs being divorced from one another is not only in-efficient, but also completely nonsensical with respect to how the human body is actually designed to operate as an integrated whole. Thus, I would suggest that as a core principle, every classical kata should have the idea of meotode woven within its transitional movements and we should never see body parts moving in complete isolation.
As a generalisation, most kata movements tend to see what we will term here the 'non-dominant' limb for sake of nomenclature either (1) pull towards the body core (as in hikite for example), (2) push away from the body core or (3) remain static in place whilst the other 'dominant' limb acts. Of course, these interactions can occur in a plethora of ways depending on the application, but in terms of maintaining simplicity, let's explore why these three core interactions may be useful for self-protection. Everything else is then just a matter of specifics and an expansion on how these key combative rules may be applied.
The act of pulling a limb towards the body whilst the other is shot out from the core (tsuki & hikite) can be used to increase the net effect of the subsequent strike, joint attack, throw, crank, twist tear, gouge or the like. Very similar to a head-on vehicle collision, impact, damage and instability may be maximised.
Extending a limb away from the body can often signify the use of indexing, where a tactile reference is sought to increase the likelihood of the subsequent strike hitting the intended target. It can also be used to physically push away the target, or resist the target from closing distance in order to progress up the ladder of force and add more purchase to strikes.
Holding the non-dominant limb in place can be applied to anchor a part of the opponent in order to increase the effectiveness of consequent actions. Like the hammer striking the anvil, targets may be held stationary or limbs may be trapped to either create, or maintain dominance during the altercation.
The photographs at the beginning of this post show classical kata techniques as demonstrated by pioneering masters, which all feature meotode and specifically, the notion of a hand (or hands) holding in place whilst other parts of the body act. Here is an application relating to each that shows this idea in a combative sense:
Of course, I (and I'm sure you) could provide hundred examples - these are simply the first images I found on Google relating to this post. The most important thing is to remember that meotode is found literally all over karate and is expressed in many different ways throughout the classical forms. Why? Simply because it is so necessary for effective application!
True analysis and application of kata must take into account not only combative interpretation, but also their core functional mechanics. In other words, It is of no use practising 100 ways to hit an opponent if you are unable to strike with stopping power. So as an associated concept, meotode also carries with it this dual purpose. Imagine transitioning from a standing position into a slow walk, then into a faster walk, then into a slow jog and finally into a fast run. How does the body change as you alter pace? Even if we only consider the interaction between arms and legs you will see a stark difference. The same is true for karate and the way in which kata should be applied.
The solo performance of kata, although only a component of the whole process, is vital not only as a physical record of combative strategies, but also as a means of being able to repeat sound transitional habits and functional movement pathways that may be further honed and applied outside the limited choreography of the form. As such, kata teach you how to move well and with integrated use of the whole body, as limbs should not move on their own.
This for me, is what meotode is all about and opens the doors for this concept to undergo much deeper exploration throughout our dojo practice.
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.