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tubbydrawers's picture
Bear hug defence in kata


At the club I train with, Shotokan,  we have a self defence appication for the Kyu grades when it comes round to grading. This term its a bear hug with arms pinned and without them pinned. This is from behind though.

I was wondering if there were any applications in Kata that 'might' help when being grabbed in this way. I perform applications from the Kata in class with some of my students and we have them attacking each other with grabs, hook pucnhes etc as in Iain's dvd's. But when it comes to the bear hug, I cant seem to think of any part of the shotokan katas that have this.

It has been shown to me that the first move of Yondan can be an application from the bear hug but I would like to know more

Or is it just a case of lowering your body weight and stepping out to the side to atack the groin/swinging head back/ or even grabbing the leg once you have lowered your weight down so you can do a takedown.

Think I am trying too hard.



Oerjan Nilsen
Oerjan Nilsen's picture
I remember reading Bill Burgars 5 years one kata (gojushiho, shotokan version) that there was a segment that defended against all 4 bear hugs. I would check that book if I were you:-)
Tau's picture

Tekki Shodan, opening "salutation" where the hands come up together towards the face and the return to in front of the belt. When your arms are pinned, use the upward movement to take hold of one of the grabbing hands. Use the downward motion to wristlock or peel off. It's fiddly.

Heian Nidan. Arms pinned. Use the "hammerfist" to take hold of a finger. Complete the overhead hammerfist movement

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi,  bear hugs can be tricky when looking for defence within bunkai in katas, but what do we do before we start any kata, we bow (rei).

I am aware that the bow is a sign of respect etc and has been around for centuries but when bear hugged from behind and if the arms are trapped or not, by bowing or thrusting the buttocks backwards it may very well loosen their grip, of course one can then force the head back head butting, or try it the other way round.

Ok one might say thats not bunkai and not part of kata but we do bow before any kata etc and is a very effective technique.

Another point to make is the pulling hand / arm etc, by thrusting the elbow back into the attackers stomach etc also may loosen their grip or wind them.

Dropping the body weight is also vital, this will make it harder for the attacker to pull you over or pick you up, one of my personal favourites (although not bunkai as such) is pinching the inside of the thigh near the groin, again very effective and painfull.

There are of coures many other bunkai applications in kata to defend against bear hugs but as i always say to my students K.I.S., keep it simple.

Hope this has been of some help.

kind regards,


ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

what works for me when bearhuged with the arms pinned is the opening of Empi. Dropping the weight down to the site will throw the opponent over your shoulder.

Equaly good are basic Kihon techniques like stepping forward with a picture perfect oi/jun-zuki or age uke. Problem here is you force the release of the grip but you don't control the opponent.

In terms of the bear hug without the arms pinned, take a look at Iains Seisan/Hangetsu Bunkai Jutsu Vol.4. The last sequence before the first Kiai deals with that.

Also kind of working for me is the following. Drop the body down into kiba dachi, push your behind backwards, try to reach through your legs and try to grab a leg from the opponent and than sit down backwards. Problem here is you find yourself on the ground, but you control the opponent with a leg lock.

Hope that helps.

Regards Holger

Tau's picture

Jason Lester wrote:
i always say to my students K.I.S., keep it simple.

It's normally expressed as "KISS" - Keep It Simple, Stupid, thereby making at an acronym.

I use "KISSS" - Keep It Simple, Stupid Sensei!

Harry Mord
Harry Mord's picture

The last two movements of Heian Sandan can be applied as a counter to a rear overarm hug.

You drop your weight into kiba dachi to prevent yourself being thrown; the "punch over the shoulder" arms break the hold and/or grab fingers; the other arms perform elbow strikes to the rear; the shuffle step to the right represents putting your right leg behind the enemy's and you throw him over backwards. Season to taste with backwards headbutts or heel stamps to the enemy's toes.

This is the same technique as was practised in WW2 combatives. Good enough for the commandos, good enough for me!

tubbydrawers's picture

Thanks for the ideas, its amazing that I could not think of anything and then with the people on this website, it all happens!!!

I will be trying some of these out tonight when I am in class.

It just shows that I thought I was kind of Ok with my Bunkai but there is sooooo much to learn.



MykeB's picture

Hiean Ni's opening sequence works pretty well, arms in or out.  The "ready" position with the fists thrust out and a little drop and lean gives seperation, which takes away a lot of the control the bear hugger has.  When the hands "stack", the top hand is covering the hugger's hand, the lower hand is elbowing.  The shift into cat stance and the lifting of the arms in the block drops the weight and creates the frame that lets the you start clearing out of the grab.  When the strikes are thrown from the double block, they are clearing the last of the grab, which should put you in a good position.   I hate trying to describe detailed physical movement in text, it's never something I'm happy with.  But, there is the best I can give in short text what we train as a basic escape. 

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

Hey Craig

Yes, you're right, the opening moves of Yondan can be used for an overarm (pinned) bear hug escape.

The trick, as with most bear hugs I guess, is to do it as soon as you feel it going on and before they have a chance to pick you up. Once you're off your feet you're likely to be on your back as they slam you down. In any event, it's tougher to escape once picked up I think.

Anyway, back to Yondan. Drop your weight and shift to one side thrusting hard up and away from the direction you've shifted into. So, the opening kaisho haiwan uke.

That generally breaks the grip - what you do from there is up to you. However, the kata does give you a pointer for the next bit.

You'll find that their hand positions reasonably mimic your own. So one of them will be high and close to your higher hand. Grabbing this by his wrist, on the meaty part of the heel of the hand, and pivoting will put him into a bent over position in a straight arm bar pose. Grab his elbow with your free hand and punch toward his head using the hand that had held his wrist. This cross hand position is your gedan juji uke - the next kata move.

Hope that helps! It's much easier to demonstrate than explain.

Obviously I've just described the 'perfect' solution. Just getting out of the hold and then doing some attached hitting would be just as good! ;)

Oh and relative body positions are important. His locked arm needs to be at more than 90 degrees to his body otherwise you'll be in a poor position to strike his head. You can facilitate this, if you find yourself with an acute angle, by keeping hold of the wrist and striking hammerfists into the side of his head with hand that had his elbow. This enables you to still control whilst adjusting your angle. Typically these additonal movements are oyo moves.

shoshinkanuk's picture

a nice simple release is the open hand around your own fist salutation, simple hit your front knuckles into the back of the attackers hand, then support your knickles and rub aggresivly into the small bones in the back of their hand.

Im not big into salutations and bunkai but it's a good one - be careful with hitting the hand as the bones and tendons can be damaged fairly easily, it also hurts like hell done right and firm.

If theres resistance hit 2-3 times then rub, then there won't be resistance!

koshinkai's picture

Hey guys,  A few kata that I know of that contain releases from bearhugs from various directions and/or other full body grabs include:  Wansu, Naihanchi Nidan, Rohai, Kusanku...Granted there are other katas that have bunkai and oyo that can be related to partial grabs encircling the body in some manner similar to a bear hug, etc.

Ill try to elaborate more when I have time, but for the most part all of these kata that I have mentioned contain defenses for body grabs in the very opening or first few technical sequences.  Some of you may already know the bunkai/oyo or have our own successful versions surrounding these techniques within the katas and may have shared, I need to go back and read in depth all the posts, but for now thought I would share a few thoughts...I apologize if my remarks are redundant to those made by others.

nice topic...glad to see some action on the list!

Nathan Ogden