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Story and photos by Jane Hallander

Self defense in action
The opponent (left) grabs Alesia Harvey's lapel (1). Harvey uses her left hand to grasp his left hand, then locks his wrist and executes a standing armbar (2).

Nothing is sacred from the clutches of muggers thieves-not even the clothes on your back. Criminals have learned through years of experience that your sleeves and lapels can serve as perfect handholds for dragging you wherever they please during the heat of an attack. That's precisely why the Korean martial art of kuk suI includes numerous techniques specifically designed to combat assaults that begin with a clothing grab.

Jack and Alesia Harvey, a St. Peters, Missouri-based husband-and-wifekuksool dynamic duo, routinely teach escapes and counters for clothing grabs. Called eui bok (also spelled eue bok suI), the techniques have their roots in Korea's ancient Buddhist martial arts, the Harveys say. The logic goes something like this: Because monks wore long, loose-fitting robes, they were easy targets for the thugs and hoodlums that roamed the remote regions of Korea. However, the monks' belief in ahimsa, the Buddhist doctrine of refraining from harming other living beings, prevented them from taking up arms or hiring weapons-toting escorts for protection. Their only option was to devise a means of defense that would not seriously injure their assailant, and their brainchild was eui bok sul-a set of leverage-and pressure-point-based techniques that enabled them to counter a grab to the sleeve, lapel, belt or collar effected from the front, back or side of the defender.

Technical Details

Many of kuk sool's clothing-grab defenses use the same principles as the art's wrist-grab defenses, the Harveys say. The main difference is that instead of countering by grabbing the assailant with the hand he has just seized, you reach across the front of your body with - your free hand and grab his wrist in a cross grab. For example, if he uses his right hand to grab your left sleeve, you use your right hand to grab his right wrist. That action gives you a definite strength advantage because you can use two arms to overpower his one arm.

If an assailant grabs your sleeve and you counter by grabbing his wrist with your free hand and then locking it, it's relatively easy to free your trapped arm, swing it over his grabbing arm and take him down by pinning that arm to your body, the Harveys say.

"Anytime someone grabs you from the front, his wrist is exposed to your counter-grab," Jack Harvey says. "If you're quick enough, you can lock his wrist and take him off-balance before he can use his other hand."

Speed is one of the keys to defending against a clothing grab, the Harveys emphasize. If your actions are fast and smooth, the assailant will be in a painful wrist lock and under your complete control before he even knows what hit him.

Kuk sool teaches a variety of defenses against the types of clothing grabs you are most likely to encounter on the street. Some eui bok suI even allow you to use your own clothing against the assailant. For instance, if someone approaches you from the front and grabs your lapel, you can pin his hand in your clothing by twisting his fist. That will prevent him from withdrawing his hand and give you an opportunity to throw him.

Increased Effectiveness

Many of kuk sool's defenses against a clothing grab start with a pressure-point manipulation that targets the assailant's arm or wrist, the Harveys say, and for good reason: Manipulating a pressure point distracts the assailant and frequently causes him to lose his balance. Pressure points are very sensitive-so much so that a strike can cause extreme pain or weakness throughout the affected limb. It can even disable the entire nervous system. At the very least, a correctly applied pressure point stimulation will sap the strength of the assailant's grabbing hand, and often it will weaken his rooted stance to the point of forcing him to stand on his tiptoes, which can facilitate a throw.

During the execution of eui bok suI, kuk sool stylists consider the utilization of ki (internal energy) every bit as important as the exploitation of pressure points. Their preferred method for using ki is to channel it through the index finger. When the finger is extended, it literally points the martial artist's power in the direction the finger is aimed. During the execution of a joint lock that is used to respond to a clothing grab, the student separates his index finger from the other fingers and points it in the direction the lock is moving so his ki can aid in the execution of the technique.

Kuk sool theory also holds that straightening the index finger improves the execution of many techniques. As odd as that may sound, it is backed by some valid reasoning, the Harveys say.

First, when you grasp anything with all four fingers and your thumb, you automatically place more pressure on the object with your index finger. That reduces the grip strength and "intention" of your other three fingers.

Since your index finger alone is not as strong as your other three fingers combined, the tendency to focus on using your index finger detracts from the grasping ability of your remaining three fingers and ultimately weakens your grip.

To see for yourself, try grabbing your partner's wrist with all four fingers and your thumb, then ask him to resist. Next, grab his wrist while keeping your index finger straight and have him resist. You and your partner will notice a significant increase in grip strength, and that can improve your joint locks and pressure-point manipulations.

Second, using the "ki finger" improves your wrist flexibility, the Harveys insist. When you lift your index finger and place more intention into your other three fingers, you shift your strength to the outside of your wrist. That gives the joint more flexibility for any technique that requires outside wrist pressure, such as joint locks, counter-grabbing actions and escape techniques.

Third, if you try to use all four fingers to execute a lock on a small joint, you may end up completely covering the joint. That can prevent you from generating a good twisting action. Likewise, trying to activate a pressure point with four fingers at the same time can cause you to overlap the relatively small area. Using three fingers, the Harveys say, makes it easier to stimulate a point with sufficient strength to accomplish your objective.

Best Defense

Perhaps the best part of eui bok suI is that you don't have to be an expert to make them work. In fact, kuk sool students learn them long before they become a black belt. With some practice, you too will be able to turn an assailant's attempt to grab your clothing into an excruciating joint lock, a debilitating throw or an immobilizing takedown. His attack will become his own worst nightmare.

About the author: Jane Hallander is a San Francisco- based free-lance writer and tai chi chuan instructor who has studied the martial arts for more than 22 years

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Hands Off article
Martial Arts illustration
The opponent (left) seizes Jack Harvey's lapel (1). Harvey uses his left hand to reach across the front of his body and pin the opponent's left hand to his chest (2). At the same time he grabs the opponent's wrist with his right hand and extends his "ki finger." Next, Harvey drops his weight and applies pressure to the opponent's wrist (3).
Martial Arts illustration
The opponent (right) grabs the back of Alesia Harvey's uniform (1). She spins counterclockwise and strikes the opponent with the back of her hand (2). Harvey then circles her left arm under her opponent's left arm and delivers a palm strike to his chin (3). To finish, she squeezes a pressure point near his elbow and shoves him to the ground (4).
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