Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sticky hands and the art of trapping

I was discussing the concept of trapping and sticky hands over at Physics of Aiki.  See the post here.

Trapping is a very important part of many martial arts.  Too often we see techniques being demonstrated from various grabs and attacks that lack the essential component of trapping, or grabbing the delivery system.  It irks me to see a person grab the wrist of their training partner and hold on for dear life even as they receive a strike, kick, lock or throw.  The body's natural reaction to this type of stimuli is to let go, to pull away.

The style of Jiu Jitsu that I study has a lot of trapping techniques. We often practice trapping the hand or arm of the attacker so we can respond to their attack.  To use the grab as the easiest example, be it a wrist grab, lapel or even a choke, we practice grabbing the hand and simultaneously doing some form of a distraction technique, strike or attack.

From my perspective, this accomplishes several things:

1.  It removes one of your attackers weapons.

2.  It confuses your attacker, their attention becomes split between their hand and the simultaneous attack elsewhere (which then distracts them from the next part).  This confusion reduces their reaction time and makes it possible to apply a technique with little resistance.

3.  It allows you to get a sense of what your attacker is about to do next and react appropriately.

4.  At any point during this process you can disengage and re-evaluate.

So how to you train to trap, to use sticky hands and to sense your attackers next move?

I should also mention that I've been lucky enough to have studied with some very talented Kali/Escrima people.  I was drawn to them by the way they redirect their attacker's energy and rarely lose contact with them.  They constantly make contact with their opponent's hands, or specifically their wrists to manipulate their arms and or their weapons away.

For anyone interested in sticky hands and grabbing and trapping, here are a couple of  suggestions and methods I have used to work on this skill set.

First, practice a fairly traditional method of sticky hand work.  Hold one of your arms out and have your partner do the same.  Make contact with their arm.  Practice going back and forth, one person pressing forward, up and down in an attempt to grab the other. Practice not losing contact and pushing back against them.  Reverse the technique.  Try to 'feel' or sense your partners energy.  Once you get this back and forth rhythm, you can use both hands or arms. Then close your eyes and do it.

Over time, you can break the contact initially but keep the arms/hands close.  Start with slow striking or grab attempts from a short distance, but intercept your partners attack with the same concept.  Really concentrate on the concept of yourself becoming very sticky.  Visualize your partner not being able to get their hand or arm away from you unless they retreat from their attack.  Work on increasing speed and distance in the initial stages.

Another more dynamic exercise is to have the attacker don some sort of protective gloves (to avoid potential injury to you)  Have them back you up against the wall.  The purpose of this drill is for your partner to throw rapid strikes and combos, high and low at you.  Your job is to block as many of these as you can.  When you increase the speed of the attacks, you may find yourself amazed by how few attacks get through.  The ultimate purpose of this is to overwhelm your senses, the only way to react/defend is to feel or sense your opponents next attack.  It's sort of like forcing yourself into a state of Mushin, or no mind.  There is simply just not enough time to anticipate and formulate a specific response to dozens of rapid fire attacks.  You can only react.

After a while, you can come off the wall and add back and forth movement to the mix.

These are two strategies I've used with success.  There is also something difficult to describe but intrinsically part of any type of this work.  Every time I've accepted my opponents energy and 'willed' myself to be 'sticky', it's worked far more effectively.  Is it Aiki?  The force?  Ki?  I don't know.  But there's definitely something there.  One of my "glimpses of greatness", however fleeting.

Not every martial art incorporates this type of work, but I feel some of the concepts can be helpful to any martial artist.

Good luck.


  1. do you picture your sticky hands pink, blue or orange? good post. i like the back-to-the-wall practice.... will try.

  2. We do a 'sticky hands' type drill in our karate class. Facing a partner the first person throws a right handed round house punch (gently) and the second person does an inside block (left arm), uses the right hand to 'pass' the opponents arm across their body, traps it with the left hand whilst throwing a right handed round house punch. Their opponent then blocks, passes, traps then punches. This alternating drill gradually picks up speed with the hands staying in contact all the time. It starts to feel very hypnotic after a while! As soon as you start to think to much about what you are doing you make a mistake and the rythmn is broken.