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Coming to Grips with Hand Immobilization Attack

“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 from everywhere…” These words echo in my mind whenever I think about my teacher, Dan Inosanto, relating the subject of Hand Immobilization Attack HIA) in JKD.

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 among people in the JKD community about it.

Often, when Sifu Dan was teaching HIA in a class or on a seminar, he would put forth the questions to the students, “If the opponent you are dealing with is a really good striker, why are you going to play his game?’ He would then proceed to demonstrate how you could effectively “shut down” a striker a take his game away from him by using trapping - he would point out you’ve got to know what to do after you have immobilized the 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 people who did not think trapping had any worth. According to Dan, in one case Lee took exception to noted one 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 with lightning speed, 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 worked on developing were very simple and direct. There were no complex sequences; one or two motions at the most, because they designed to be effective in rapid-fire, fluid combative situations. It actually wasn’t until years down the road that more complex sequences began to make their way onto the JKD scene. Dan continually stressed that if you could not use trapping combatively then it was 'dead' and 'useless.'

Trapping was taught from the nucleus (a position of touch) outwards. The reference point arm positions one starts with in training are used primarily to develop economy of movement in your trapping actions, but you have to be able to close the distance from long-range and trap, you have to learn to use trapping from unattached positions, and use trapping as both an attack and a counterattack. One of the fundamental principles regarding trapping is to develop the ability to maneuver the opponent's arms where you want them and to make the opponent give you a reaction that is to his own detriment; they may not want to, but they have no choice. In addition, trapping has to be fluidly combined with all of your other skills such as striking, locking, takedowns, etc.

The tactile awareness and energy drills we practiced in conjunction with HIA were designed to enhance our trapping skills, because trapping is done by feel rather than sight. It’s based on contact reflex and related to the energy you receive from an opponent when your arms make any form of contact. You don’t have to see, you feel. For this reason we also practiced some of the trapping actions with our eyes shut at times.

Trapping is not meant to be done, for wont of a better word, “nicely.” When you trap, you trap the crap out of the opponent; 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. (On a humorous note, Sifu Dan actually fixed a pinched nerve in my neck when he demonstrated a forceful lop sao on me 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 Bruce Lee developed his forearms and grip strength to an incredibly high level was to enhance his HIA skills. His forearm could be used as a weapon to “crash the opponent’s real estate” and “cut through” the opponent’s own weapons –and his vice-like 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 primarily designed to deal 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 that, then your trapping his now become a limitation to you.

Dan stressed that while hand immobilization attack was an “essence” 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 per se. Dan used to tell me, “Remember, JKD has the element of trapping, but you are not a Wing Chun person.” 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 people purport, “returning to Wing Chun” near the end of his life.

So where does all this leave trapping in the grand scheme of things in JKD? Did Bruce Lee throw trapping away, as some people like to claim? Personally, I don’t 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 it any time he desired. In my opinion, if you truly know when and how to use trapping, understand its strengths and weaknesses, and can use it effectively in very alive combative situations, then it's a very useful and functional tool to have in your combative arsenal. If not, then you will be engaging in an exercise of futility and should probably direct your energy in another direction.

To use Sifu Inosanto’s own analogy, “Saying trapping won’t work is like saying that punching won’t work, or that grappling won’t work.”

(Note) – If you want to hear Sifu Inosanto’s own words regarding Bruce Lee and how he utilized trapping I suggest you look at his own training video series in which he discusses it in depth.It is too long to include in this blog, but it is very enlightening.

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