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Don't Pull Your Hand Back Empty

Last week I was teaching and I told my student the familiar saying:  "don't pull your hand back empty."  I'm sure that you have heard this many times in your Karate training.

In the most basic sense, the returning elbow can strike someone behind you.  That is probably the first application taught.

But generally speaking, you are defending against the person attacking you from the front (you would turn to face him, perhaps at an oblique angle or whatever).  There might not be someone behind you, and if not, it would not make sense to expend the effort and take the time to strike behind you with your elbow.

More generally, after you block or strike the attacker, the hand that has gone forward can grab something and pull back.  For example, you could punch the attacker in the face, and then grab him by the hair and pull back.  This would set him up for some other strike or kick or knee, or whatever.

You might pull back by grabbing with your fingers, using the outside of the hand and your wrist, using the inside of your hand (turned up) and your wrist, using the inside or outside, top or bottom of your forearm, your elbow, the upper arm area, etc.  The advanced aspect of applications is knowing how to pull, twist, lock, etc. when you pull, using different parts of your body.  It is not just a simple matter of grabbing and pulling.

You tend to see this more in Goju-Ryu and Uechi-Ryu nowadays, but in the old days, Shorin-Ryu also emphasized the "pulling hand".  Old forms of Shorin-Ryu still do.

The saying "don't pull your hand back empty" also applies to kicks.  After a kick with the tips of the toes, the returning heel can be used as a strike as well.  A kick can be followed by a trip or stomp or raking motion.  The kick does not simply drop uselessly.  There should be no wasted motion.  If a part of the body is extended for a block or strike, it should be used productively on the recoil or return.

It is also important to tailor your body dynamics to power the strike and recover the energy on the recoil or return.  You do not simply "throw" out and "pull" back as separate and disconnected movements.  The two are connected, as are the right and left sides of the body.  A movement on the right will have consequences/opportunities for movement on the left, and vice versa.

In Kishaba Juku, we often speak of a rotary engine as the way to envision the dynamics of the koshi.  The rotary type of movement powers strikes, blocks, and kicks (usually on outward movements) and also powers pulls, twists, tears, throws, and pulling-type strikes on the recoils and returns.

Sometimes you could punch or strike to the front with your right hand, and then turn and pull with an elbow strike, again to the front with your right arm.  By turning, the return is now to the front instead of the rear.  So one set of outward and returning movements can be used against the same attacker.

The point of all this is that there is much more to the saying "don't pull your hand back empty."  You have to know what parts of the attacker's body or clothes that you can "pull" and what techniques you can do either singly or in combination to have the desired effect (such as to inflict the maximum damage).

In a way, it is like music -- not so much in the beauty, but in the rhythm and flow.

Of course, we should avoid violence and defend only as a last resort.  That is always true.  But as a last resort, there is a whole lot more to "don't pull your hand back empty" than most beginners realize.

When I lift weights (I have a cable machine with a weight stack at home), I really like the do pulls.


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin