Naihanchi Kata Gedan Barai

Self Defense Karate’s Hikite or Pulling Hand


Why Use Karate’s Hikite (引き手)?


We all do it. Some call it backhand. Some of us know what we use it for in Self Defense Karate. If we are just dancing in our pajamas then we will hear many supposed reasons for doing it.

A long time ago and far away when I started my first karate adventure I was told pulling my hand back quickly caused my punch or block to go out even faster or stronger. Just like my hands and arms were pullies. If one retracted quickly then the other went out quickly. Eeeeh, it didn’t take too long to determine that was incorrect.

About a decade later after starting practicing with Sensei Iha (his homepage) he blew my mind (a complete “outside the box” meltdown) when he introduced a drill where we didn’t pull our non-punching hand back to the hip. What! Wait, the “pully concept” was completely obliterated by this.

Hikite (引き手) in Japanese means “handle” or “puller”.

I can write a lot of words here about Hikite. You can use Hikite to grab or trap and then respond with a strike, uke (often referred to as block) or kick on your part. Yet maybe it is better to just show you. I thought I might have trouble finding photos of our members using Hikite in self defense applications. I was surprised that almost all our photos include hikite! Here are some photos of our Virginia Karate Dojo members training Hikite for self defense responses.


Why does Hikite work so well in Self Defense Karate?

Hikite traps your attacker so they can’t get away and may pull them off balance. When off-balance the Paleo Cortex or Lizard-part of your brain immediately reacts.  This is the part of the brain focused on the 4Fs. We are concerned with 3 of the 4Fs: Fight, Flight and Freeze. When you startled a wild animal you can see the 3Fs at work. Deer, rabbits, foxes, even dogs and cats normally freeze first to analyze what startled them. Then react. Humans are the same way, over 85% of the time we freeze when startled to figure out how to react. Many people often remain stuck in the “deer in the headlights” frozen response as they can’t rapidly analyze their situation. A good example is when you hear a sudden, unexpected loud noise. Most people freeze in place. Those trained to distinguish gunshots or incoming mortar rounds follow their training and automatically flatten on the ground or seek cover. Very seldom do we automatically activate the remaining 15% of our response to flee or fight. That is why you practice Self Defense Karate to increase your Fight response when startled. So Hikite can pull your attacker off balance causing a Freeze response and also tells the brain to get their body balanced so they can react properly. Very few people can fight effectively off balance. That is the advantage of “drunken” and “monkey” kung fu because they teach fighting off-balance.

Newton’s 2nd Law also influences Hikite. When I started martial arts practice I never thought Newton would have any impact on it. Yet Newton’s 2nd Law influences understanding how to maximize your attacks: Force = Mass x Acceleration (the change in speed). Seikichi Iha teaches us to use our hips. Hip use transforms Karate applications from interesting movements to brutally effective self defense applications as your mass suddenly dramatically increases when you use your hips rather than your shoulders. Plus as your attacker’s body is being pulled towards your attack hurtling towards him the combined acceleration also increases.

Does Karate’s Hikite work only for someone your size or smaller?

in Self Defense Karate Size does not matter
Size does not Matter in Self Defense Karate



Kiyoshi, 8th Dan, Virginia Dojo


Roberto is an 8th Dan, Kyoshi, awarded by Grand Master Seikichi Iha, 10th Dan, Beikoku Shidokan Shorin Ryu. Roberto began his martial arts journey in 1969 and started training with Sensei Iha in 1979.  He continues to train with Sensei Iha and is now one of Iha’s senior students.    

As a Foreign Service Officer (Diplomat) stationed overseas, he trained US Embassy Security Personnel, US Marines, foreign security operatives, and people just like you.  When stationed in the Washington, DC area he also always built a cadre of dedicated Shidokan Shorin Ryu Karate students.  Now retired from the Foreign Service he concentrates on teaching proven-effective adult-focused self defense karate at the Virginia Dojo in Alexandria VA.

Many people call the Virginia Okinawan Karate Dojo the Martial Arts Grad School because Roberto teaches pressure points, joint locks and grappling applications that Sensei Iha taught him during 40+ years of instruction in addition to the obvious percussion techniques of punching, kicking and blocking. See examples of traditional Kata, Kumite, and Bunkai here.

Roberto is a member of the East Coast Beikoku Shidokan Karate Black Belt Promotion Board and the National Black Belt Promotion Board. Among his numerous awards are:

“Best Martial Arts Teacher in Washington, DC” in 2017; “Best Martial Arts in Washington, DC” 2018; “Best Martial Arts in Alexandria” 2019; and “Best of” in 2018 and 2019

Virginia Dojo, 6416 Grovedale Dr., #302-B, Alexandria, VA 22310