Dacayana UK

Hand / Fist Chambering in Martial Arts Practice - by Anthony Dugmore 

Hand chambering whether chambering to just above the hip or higher up on the ribs, is a tradition in many martial arts from a variety of cultures across the globe and the reasons for doing it are often misunderstood by practitioners and maligned in some quarters.

I’ve given the subject some thought, analysing the different reasons for or applications of chambering. The mind-map below is a result of my musings.

Now you may disagree with some of these or think of something I have missed, it’s only my opinion so please feel free to comment or add to them. 

Let’s explore each of these further by looking at the benefits behind each reason, the risks and how we can mitigate against them. The three at the top are the ones that I hear cited the most often so we will begin with those.

A datum or starting point from which to begin a technique

This is a valid and very simplistic understanding, particularly from the context of striking arts. Beginning a block or strike from the hip allows the novice to feel the entire movement of the technique that is being executed and become familiar with it.

Storing energy

When we chamber our fists we introduce a tension into all of our pushing muscles; the shoulder group of muscles, the pectorals and the triceps as well as opening up the diaphragm and to a lesser degree creating tension in our pulling muscles. From here our body naturally wants to relax and release the stored energy at speed, (speed being an essential component of power). This is akin to drawing a bow string and releasing the arrow.

Increase travel for acceleration

The further our technique travels the greater opportunity there is to build up speed and in turn, power. 

If these three reasons are the limits of our understanding then we risk training our muscle memory to move in an inefficient way that can leave us exposed and without sufficient guard, potentially slowing down what we can do in a given interval and causing us to use unnecessary amounts of energy. We should also be mindful that good body mechanics harmoniously generate power from feet, legs, hips and shoulders so chambering fists to develop speed and power should not be overstated, one can generate sufficient power from a boxing guard or the fence position.

With these reasons as the limit of our understanding then it is helpful to be mindful of the risk of falling into the habit of automatically chambering the fists and to balance our training by practicing strikes from and returning to a boxing stance or a fence position.

Muscle building / body conditioning

There is no doubt that practicing techniques to and from a chambered position as is observed in most forms helps us to build muscle and general fitness. This is true of all traditional forms, kata and tai chi forms. 

Further to this we can use dynamic tension to build muscle as is practiced in the Iron Wire form from Hung Gar Gung Fu. 

 Exercising the body in these ways allows us to strengthen our muscles while at the same time developing suppleness in our wrists and other joints so our speed and agility is not compromised by being too hard and unyielding. This is why the iron wire form is so named, practiced regularly it leaves the practitioner feeling as though they have strong but flexible iron wire running throughout their entire  body. 

Grabbing and pulling an opponent: 

Another dimension to chambering is the option of grabbing and pulling an opponent prior to drawing your hand back towards your body; this could be a grab of the wrist (of either hand), a lapel / shoulder, or the hair.

The reasons for grabbing and pulling could be to break an opponent’s structure, pull them onto your attack / striking tools, apply a lock, throw, tie up or other hand immobilisation technique. 

This also opens up the possibilities of attack by drawing; if we have an opponent’s  right hand immobilised at our hip then we are inviting them to attack high right with their free left hand and fall into our trap. This is evident in our stick and dagger tie ups as well as some of the defences against dagger attacks in combat judo.

The concept of grabbing and pulling allows us to think about our techniques differently, it can change their context and their application. Suddenly we are no longer just chambering to generate power, feel the movement, build muscle; instead we are transforming basic techniques into something more; a strike becomes a pull in and strike, a rising block becomes a forearm strike to the carotid artery and other blocking techniques can be utilised for attacking. This is seen in the Sumbagay trapping, most notably trap No.7 where both the opponents arms are grabbed; essentially this is the same movement as a downward block (Gedan-Barai from Karate) but is transformed into a technique that breaks our opponents structure as we thrust the fist of our ‘blocking hand’ into their ribs or liver before attacking the upper arm and positioning ourselves for a decisive finish.

I believe it is this understanding of chambering that allows us to benefit from its practice. As we advance in our arts we can see the basic techniques in a new light, visualising new uses for strikes and attacks can further help us to guard against falling into the habit of chambering when  it is not necessary and avoiding the possible dangers that it brings.

Although seemingly advanced it does take us back to the very essence of martial practice, to quote Gichin Funakoshi in his Kareto-Do Kyohan(|The Master Text) ‘ The principle objective in all blocking is to manoeuvre the opponent into a disadvantageous position’.

Like I said these are just my musings and opinions, obvious, obscure or just downright nonsense? I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on the subject.

Thanks for reading