Kenpo Budokan Karate: White Belt: Lessons: 8 – Handshake Defense (Gift of Destruction)

Deadfish handshake
Deadfish handshake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Handshake Defense (Gift of Destruction)

When the original Kenpo system was developed by Ed Parker, the world was a pretty different place. In today’s society, the prospect of a stranger coming up to you to shake your hand and introduce themselves to you is a pretty remote scenario. However, the fact remains, that you may be in a situation when you are shaking someone’s hand that the conversation gets a bit dicey, and you find yourself in a situation needing to defend yourself. The focus on this technique is not so much as a defense against a handshake, but on the concept of first strikes.

As we mentioned in the self-defense lesson, if you know that you will need to defend yourself, your best defense (other than not being there in the first place), is to create your own windows of opportunity by striking first, before being put on the defensive. There are also a lot of things to consider when doing the technique – thinking about range, angles of attack, and what if scenarios. Pay particular attention when doing the movement to ensure that you are focusing on these concepts.


The attacker is shaking your hand – usually the right hand across to your right hand.

  1. Pull your right hand back into your body, as you strike to the outside of the attackers arm with your left arm
  2. Jam the opponent’s arm into their body as you shuffle forward
  3. Strike with your right knee into the groin


The first movement is designed to get the attacker off balance as well as positioning you on the outside of their arm. You want to get outside the attacker because it limits both their ability to strike you with their left arm, as well as limits their options with their feet. After you’ve pulled them off guard, their reaction is most likely to try and pull their hand back, using this motion, push the arm into the attacker jamming their distance and preventing them from coming across with a counter attack. At the same time you want to knee the attacker in the groin. By this time, the attacker should have released their grip on you, freeing you to cover out from the movement.

This movement, at this level, is not in its final form, so is not designed to bring the attacker to a complete level of incapacitation, but rather designed to get you out of the immediate situation, and hopefully get yourself to safety. As part of crossing out, you should maneuver yourself behind the attacker so that you are in a better position to anticipate their movements as well as placing an obstacle between you and the attacker’s weapons. In the situation when you are facing multiple attackers, you should position this attacker between yourself and the other attackers – preventing them from being able to reach you directly without having to go through the former attacker.

Things to Work On

Range and targets of opportunity are the biggest things to work on during this movement. Remember we talked about striking to the groin in a previous lesson, it’s not important to necessarily strike squarely in the groin area, but striking in the general area should be enough to cause enough injury to the attacker to hopefully stop them from proceeding. In addition, the act of bringing up your knee may be enough for the person to flinch and let go of their grip.

Make sure you are jamming the opponent close enough, otherwise they can come across with their left hand and try and strike you. It’s important when practicing this technique that you progress from staying still and performing the movement, and move quickly into a more dynamic role, where you have the attacker move and try and strike you as you perform the technique. In a self defense scenario, the attacker is most likely not going to stand there and just let you strike them – however, the element of surprise and your sudden movements may be enough to keep them off guard as you complete the movement in it’s entirety.

The other thing to think about is working the technique from the opposite hand. The idea with this is you have a person pecocking, and you close in to jam their arm as you drive your knee up to their groin. This technique doesn’t have to start out with a person in a handshake, but the motion can be used in any scenario when the attacker has an outstretched arm – grabbing them by the wrist and going through the motion of the technique. It’s all about bring the attacker off to the side and striking them as you move them through the motion. In addition, you should be aware of the attacker’s motion and reaction, when you pull against them, they will likely pull back, and as a result you can use the force of their pull to drive your knee into their groin (think push pull motion across two people).

Concluding Thoughts

One of the nice things about this movement, is that it can be applied in a variety of situations. In addition, remember, when doing this and all the movements, that you are using your “karate breathing” as well as shouting to ensure that any bystanders understand that “hey get away from me”, and that you are the one being threatened instead of the other way around. Be a bit careful with this motion as well as this technique, as moving into the reactionary phase can get you into trouble. The idea is not to react as soon as someone starts to shake your hand (like other techniques), but to be aware that you need to defend yourself before reacting.

What you don’t want to happen, is get into the reactionary mode, and wind up kneeing everyone who comes to greet you in their groin because you are so used to reacting when someone shakes your hand. Take time to practice this skill, and work on your reactions, but also start being cognoscente of your surroundings and the situation to start reading the scenario rather than just automatically jumping onto the movement. Students, especially beginner students, tend to quickly get into the reactionary stage, and wind up in trouble defending themselves in situations that don’t warrant such a reaction. I had a younger student once caught sleeping at their desk at their high school, and the teacher slammed their fist into the desk, creating a noise and waking the student up. Instead of just waking up, the student reacted like they would in a self-defense situation and flipped the instructor over the desks. Not a fun situation to have to go into the principles office to help explain and apologize for the student’s reaction.

Keep up the training and looking forward to starting working with you on your weapon self defense techniques next.


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