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Developing Your HIA Skills

Most times, when you see trapping hands (what we refer to in JKD as Hand Immobilization Attack) being illustrated or performed in either a book or on some digital video format, one usually sees the two individuals standing with one or both of their hands touching the opponent’s arms. Then they show a technique such as pak sao (slapping hand), lop sao (grabbing hand), or jut sao (jerking/pulling hand). That’s okay. But what a person needs to understand is that these touching hand positions are only the starting point when it comes to developing hand immobilization attack skills. No one simply walks up to another individual extends his arm or arms to touch the other person’s arms (and the person allows them to) and says something like, “You have offended my family and the Shaolin Temple, let’s fight.” It just doesn’t go down that way.

When it comes to JKD (keep in mind that I am discussing JKD here, not Wing Chun gung fu), the reasons one learns various trapping actions from a touching hand position initially (what we refer to in JKD as “the nucleus”) are:

1. To learn what trapping actions are available from a particular position (both hands outside, one hand inside-one hand outside, etc.). In a combative situation one does not need to see where your arms are in relation to the opponent’s because you feel the positions, as well as the type of energy you are getting from the opponent’s arms (strong, weak, inwards, outwards, etc.).

2. To learn the bio-mechanics of a particular trapping action, including making sure that the limb(s) you are trapping is truly secured and controlled. If the opponent is able to get their arm free easily and quickly, then you have failed to properly immobilize it.

3. To develop non-telegraphic initiation and economy of form (motion) in the immobilizing action. Concerning economy of form as it relates to the subject of trapping hands, in a letter to Taky Kimura, Bruce Lee wrote the following:

“To illustrate the idea, I’ll take the pak sao (slapping hand) first – basically economy of motion means that all motions start from the by-jong position; secondly, hands are to move first if it is a hand technique (foot follows), feet first if ii is a foot technique. So, emphasize the above two truths by practicing pak sao first in the touching hand manner – in other words, students in by-jong position touch each other’s hand – though in real combat, one will never start by touching hands; however, this touching hand position will ensure correct form in the beginning stage – economy of form, that is. Each student must attack [in unison] from the by-jong without any wasted motion. Now this has been an overlooked theory of utmost importance. If any student does his pak sao [or any technique for that matter] with wasted motion, back to the touching hand position he goes to minimize his unnecessary motions. So you see that in order to progress to apply pak sao from a distance, this touching hand position has to be mastered. From a distance, pak sao is a lot harder – without any given-away motion, one must initiate first hands, then feet, in a progressive, harmonious forward motion.”

Although the above quote deals with economy of motion, what I find interesting (and important) about it are Bruce’s comments regarding the principle that in combat the pak sao trapping action is primarily used from an unattached position. In other words, you literally “jump the opponent” with it the trapping action against their lead arm (and either land a hit or force them to react in some way to deal with the punch). Oftentimes I see the pak sao (and other trapping actions) only being taught from a position of touch, be it attaching to the opponent’s arm through a punch, or vice versa. You should develop the ability to use it effectively from both attached and unattached positions.

While some trapping actions such as the pak sao can be utilized from an unattached position, other actions such as lop sao (pulling hand) or jut sao (grabbing/jerking hand) require some form of initial contact in order to be used.

Finally, while HIA is listed as one of the 5 Ways of Attack in JKD, trapping hands can also be used as a counterattack to intercept or shut down an opponent’s offensive action (I suppose it could even be used defensively to shut down an opponent’s attacking limbs, although to me that is more of a form of counterattack).

Some people think that trapping hands is outdated or that it won’t work in some kind of real situation. Well, they’re welcome to their own opinion. As with anything else, not all actions are going to be effective in every situation and against every opponent. My teacher, Sifu Dan Inosanto’s response when he saw or read such comments was, “Saying hand immobilization attack won’t work is like saying punching won’t work, or kicking won’t work. It depends on the person doing it.” So if hand immobilization is part of your combative arsenal, then as with all of your other tools and skills, cultivate the actions to their highest level of efficiency and effectiveness.

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