Pulling the non-striking hand back to the hip is a common motion found in karate and although there are numerous practical applications for such an action and indeed, different reference points for hikite, I think it's important to consider why the hip position may be principally emphasised in most fundamental techniques (kihon-waza) found in classical kata. Following on from my recent posts on this subject, I'd like to discuss two key reasons, based on the assumption that the 'hiki-te hand' has something in it when being employed (i.e. the opponent's arm, head, clothing etc.) and not performed simply for the sake of conformity.
(1): Effective Movement Pathway
The two major transitional motions found in karate (and in fact any human movement) are the hands travelling towards and/or away from the body's core. Considering the spine as the central reference of limb movement (arms or legs), transitions about this point are naturally strongest. Imagine how you would try to push a car or start a petrol lawnmower. Movements that occur furthest away from the body core will always be at a mechanical disadvantage.
In karate, it's no coincidence that all fundamental movement pathways use the body core as a common reference. This is one of the reasons why the seika-tanden is used as a point of focus for many martial arts. Even a seemingly peripheral technique, such as a hook punch or palm slap originate from (and return back to) the core. So if hikite is to retract back to the body, then an effective motion in terms of maximising natural strength would be to drive back towards the hip.
(2): Greater Control
If using hikite to grasp and pull a part of your opponent's anatomy then a much greater level of control (coupled with strength given the first point above) may be achieved by driving back towards the hip. It doesn't have to get to the hip of course, it's the pathways that's most important. The same is true if we are to consider hikite as being the origin of the movement, rather than only the destination.
Applications such as neck cranks, joint attacks, unbalancing and body manipulation, chokes and many other grappling techniques are far more effective when a greater level of control is maximised by either starting or ending close to the body. The numerous occurrences of hikite being driven towards the hip in almost every karate kata and across many subsequent application strategies is a clear representation of this critical and common principle.
Tying one hand (or both hands) at the hip, or at least close to the body, also creates a strong anchor point that is difficult to resist and counter. Any object is always easier to hold when it is gripped close to the body.
If seizing the opponents arm for instance, then holding at or close to the hip provides a significant advantage. Grabbing and twisting the opponents head is another good example that is best applied close to the body using the principle of hikite and referencing the hip as a target destination. The same is also true if there's a high priority requirement to stifle the opponents limb movement as much as possible, such as in weapons attack scenario, or a closely tied up clinch position or to help protect against an attempted joint attack.
the short video below is a snippet from a session on exploring the principle of 'hikite' and specifically, applying transitional movement patterns towards the hip line. In this example, we're using the motion to manipulate the opponent's head...
As with many aspects of applied karate, despite the unfortunate criticism that the karate-style 'hikite' often receives from contemporary pragmatist, largely due to misunderstanding the function of kata (i.e. the solo representation), expressing a more combative application methodology for what is one of the most fundamental concept in karate reveals that both camps are actually singing from the same hymn sheet.
"As in all physical endeavours, karate will only ever be as 'useful' as the person practising it in direct accordance with the context he/she aligns to as being 'practical'."
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