I was sparring with a green belt yesterday. I had a good kumite kamae and was protecting my centerline vigourously. My jabs were penetrating effortlessly and I wondered why. I wasn’t so good that nothing he did could stop me. After studying him for a while, something thrilling occurred to me…
His hikite was awful.
He’d punch and leave his hands out there. Sometimes it would be to maintain the distance, sometimes to push me away. But those extended arms made throwing, deflecting, immobilizing and countering a breeze. Those arms made everything easier.
And now I understand Hikite.
Hikite is not a destination. It is not a goal. It is a means. It is a process and it has a purpose.
In Karate we spend a lot of time with our arms extended. Step punch, step punch. It is important to get full extension on the punching arm, to strengthen the shoulders, to turn the wrist over and penetrate into the target.
Most people see hikite as pulling your hand back to your hip. Hikite is simply pulling your hand back. Nothing more or nothing less.
If extension is Kyo, then hikite is Jutsu. Because though we may not realize, all that time we spend with arms extended in karate is teaching us a very bad habit. The habit of keeping our hands away from our body. The habit of breaking our kamae. The further the hand is from the core, the less useful and powerful it is.
How do we counteract this? How do we ensure that we get good penetration on our punch but don’t compromise our guard? Hikite. Hikite, the withdrawing hand. Or perhaps better put, withdrawing the hand. People will describe hikite sometimes as a grab to turn the opponent as you strike with the opposite hand. They will describe it as a rear elbow. They will say it accelerates the opposite side of the body to pull the arm in. And it can be all of those things. But Hikite’s three main purposes are 1) simply pulling your hand away from where the opponent can manipulate it and 2) returning to kamae where you can again defend centerline and 3) chambering your arm so you can strike again. Whether the destination of the pulling hand is your hip, your rib or chin, the idea is simple: don’t leave your fist out there. Pull it back so it can defend your seichusen and launch another attack.
In this interpretation, the act of pulling the fist back to the hip is an exaggerated movement. It is a reminder that as the fist goes out, one should return, ready for what comes next, ready to defend. But we should not think of hikite only for the fist that is not punching. Arguably, hikite is most important for the fist that is punching, the one that is nearest the opponent, the one that is greatest threat to being manipulated. Hikite then, on top of rotational acceleration, on top of rear elbows, on top of protecting centerline, also prevents the opponent from immobilizing the hand as in HIA as hikiashi does from LIA.
Boxers have excellent hikite. With each jab, the hand withdraws right back to where it started. With each cross, the fist returns as if tied to an elastic band, sewn to the chin. Hikite exists so that we can find the proper balance between penetration and withdrawal – between attacking and defending. Explore what your fists do and where they are and ask yourself if Hikite is something you can afford to ignore.