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Coming to Grips with HIA


"When Bruce Lee touched your hand it was all over... he totally controlled you and dominated you... he would shut you down and tie you up... there was nothing you could do... all the time hitting you everywhere." These words echo in my mind whenever I think about my teacher, Sifu Dan Inosanto, relating the subject of Hand Immobilization Attack.

I'd like to discuss HIA as it relates to JKD and hopefully shed some light and bring a little clarity on the subject, because it seems to me that there is a never-ending argument amongst people in the JKD community about it.

Often, when Dan was teaching HIA, be it in a class or during a seminar, he would put forth the question to the students, "If the opponent you are dealing with is a really good striker, such as a boxer, why are you going to play his game?" He would then proceed to demonstrate how you could effectively "shut down" a striker and take his game away from him by using trapping. He would also hasten to point out that you've got to know what to do after you have immobilized the opponent's arms - otherwise you are literally jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Dan related to me personally several incidents in which Lee used HIA to totally shut down several world-class karate practitioners who did not think trapping had any worth. According to Dan, in one case Lee took exception to one noted martial artist who said he thought trapping was silly and would not work. So Lee stood in a bai jong position with his back to a wall, called the guy over and told the practitioner to "Go... do anything you want against me." As soon as the man moved, Bruce shut him down, controlled his arms completely and asked, "Do you still think it won't work?'

When I began my training in JKD, the trapping actions we concentrated on developing were very simple and direct. There were no complex sequences; one or two motions at the most, because they were designed to be effective in rapid-fire, fluid combative situations. It actually wasn't until years down the road that more complex trapping sequences appeared on the JKD scene. Dan continually stressed, "If you cannot use trapping combatively then it is dead and useless."

Trapping was taught from the nucleus (a position of touch with the opponent's arms) outward. The refernece point arm positions you start with in training are used primarily to develop economy of movement and body mechanics in your trapping actions. But you have to develop the ability to close the distance from long-range and trap, to trap from unattached positions, and use trapping as both an attack and a counterattack. One of the fundamnetal principles regarding trapping is to develop the ability to "make the opponent give you a reaction that is detrimental to him" - he may not want to, but he has no choice. Furthermore, trapping has to be fluidly combined with all of your other combative skills such as striking, locking, takedowns, etc.

The tactile awareness and energy drills we practiced in conjunction with HIA trainng were designed to enhance our trapping skills - because trapping is done by feel rather than by sight - it's related to the energy you receive from an opponent when your arms makeany form of contact. For this reason, we also practiced trapping actions with our eyes shut at times.

Trapping is not done, for wont of a better word, "nicely." When you use a trapping action against an opponent, you trap the carp out of them; fast and powerful. For example, if you use a lead hand lop sao (pulling hand) against the opponent's arm, the idea is to literally whiplash the opponent's neck (Dan actually fixed a pinched nerve in my neck when he demonstrated a lop sao during a seminar). Those who were on the receiving end of Lee's trapping, such as Dan, Taky Kimura, and Ted Wong, have all related to me that it was a very uncomfortable experience to say the least.

According to Dan, one of the reasons Brue developed his forearms and grip strength to an incredibly high level was to enhance his HIA abilities. The forearm could be used as a weapon to "crash the opponent's real estate" and "cut through" the opponent's own weapons - and his grip made it virtually impossible to get your arm out.

Let's be clear about one thing - it is obvious that HIA will not work in every situation or against every opponent. Keep in mind that HIA was designed to primarily with what are known as "block-and-hit" or "touch-and-go" systems. If for example, an opponent such as a boxer fights with absence of touch or does not give you what you need to operate with trapping, then you need to change your game plan and switch to something else. If you cannot do this then your trapping has now become a limitation to you.

Dan stressed that while hand immobilization attack was an "essence" that Lee drew from the Wing Chun system, the trapping utilized by Lee was modified and adapted by him to be used with his adjusted structure and movements, and he no longer considered it Wing Chun as such. Dan use to tell me, "Remember, JKD has the element of trapping, but you are not a Wing Chun man." He also used to tell me, "JKD possesses the element of boxing, but you are not a boxer... it possesses the element of grappling, but you are not a wrestler." Are you getting it, people? Lee was not, as some peole purport, "returning to Wing Chun" near the end of his life.

So where does all this leaving trapping in the grand scheme of things in JKD? Did Bruce Lee throw trapping away, as some people like to claim? Personally I do not know. Nor do I care. What i do know is that the HIA skills were so firmly embedded in Lee's neuromuscular system that he could access them anytime he desired. In my opinion, if you trukly know how and when to use trapping, understand its strengths and weaknesses, and can use it effectively in very alive combative situations, then it is a very useful and functional tool to have in your combative arsenal. If not, then you will be engaging in an exercise in futility and should probably direct your energy in another direction. In closing, I leave you with Sifu Inoosnato's own analogy, "Saying trapping won't work is like saying punching won't work or grappling won't work."

NOTE: If you want to hear Sifu Dan INosanto's own words regrading Bruce Lee and how he utilized trapping I suggest you look at his own training videos (the latest set) in which he discusses the matter in depth. It is too long to include in this blog, but it is very enlightening.

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