by Richard Conceicao
In order to understand the proper application of what we call “blocks” a distinction has to be made for each one having a separate defensive and offensive application. While discussion of the different applications will be resumed later, for now only the distinction has to be made. A defensive application is one that’s primary goal is to redirect, or intercept, an incoming strike. An offensive application is one whose goal is not only to redirect an attempted strike, but also to place the opponent in a disadvantageous position, as well as attacking him at the same time.
Our very real confusion in this comes from use of the terminology “blocks”, and the fact that that has only one meaning in our minds. A more appropriate way of thinking of this is to consider the term “blocks” as to mean something more akin to “move like this”. This way of thinking separates the application from the movement. It is the concentration on components of the movement that opens up multiple possibilities of applications in our minds.
High blocks – static position
- Wrist slightly Ulnar deviated*. While this may seem a complicated medical term the proper methodology for finding the correct angle of the wrist is actually quite easy.*If you’re doing a left high block simply take your left fist and place it against your left temple on your head. The angle needed for your first two knuckles to contact your head evenly is the proper angle of the wrist.
- Your forearm is held at a 45° angle in front of you. It also does not lie directly parallel to your forehead. It is extended outward approximately 20°.
- The wrist is held in extension (i.e. it is parallel to your forehead even though your forearm is not).
- Your hand does not cross the center of your forehead. To do this weakens your structure considerably. To enable your head to be fully protected, your hips will adopt a slight outward turn.
- Your fingers are open, palm facing outward.
- In your mind, the received energy travels down your forearm, diagonally downward across your back, traveling through your rear leg into the ground.
While all of this may seem terribly unorthodox, I ask you to test it out yourself. I think that you will discover that the above makes a huge difference in your technique. It is good to remember that many Karate techniques were heavily modified in the course of its’ history. This was sometimes done for uniformity (closed fist instead of open hand for everything), and sometimes for esthetics (do it this way because it looks nicer).
In its strict defensive use, the high block meets the incoming strike with the outside forearm facing almost vertically. It makes contact with the muscles of the outside forearm. Its goal is to allow the incoming strike to slide off to the outside (towards the elbow) as the hand begins to pronate (palm faces outward) towards the forehead. This is important to understand. It is not a focused striking type of movement. Its’ goal is to redirect the energy of the incoming strike away harmlessly, not to stop its momentum, or absorb its energy.
This concept can be practiced with either a boken or wooden stick (when you get good, use a tire iron, or even a baseball bat) used for the incoming strike. When this movement is perfected, no impact from the incoming object will be felt at all, it simply slides away.
This is what most people consider being the object of a high block, only they perceive it as defensive. The object here is to strike using the lateral edge of the forearm as your attacking surface. Once this difference is understood, it can be readily observed that what we are doing here is not redirecting incoming energy away harmlessly, but rather, directing our energy into the opponent.
One of the most common applications of this technique occurs when our lapel is grabbed. We will utilize the “chamber” motion to strike down on the inside of our opponents forearm, causing his head to slide forward and turn. We then take the “blocking motion” and strike either the side of his neck or his jaw line.
This application of what most would consider a “basic block” is both amazingly fast, and quite effective as a self-defense technique. This should give the reader a clue as to the actual meaning and use of these techniques that we constantly refer to as blocks.
This is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood of all the basic blocks. We’re routinely taught that this is utilized to block kicks that are directed against us. This has to be understood as solely a desperation measure to be used when all else, such as body shifting, redirection, and other techniques have failed.
Any white belt that has attempted to use the low block to stop an incoming kick has experienced the pain and bruising that occurred. He has also realized that it didn’t really do a good job of stopping the kick either, and to top it off, it left him in a really poor position to stop the next attack that was following the kick.
At the black belt level, trying to use this block to stop expert level kicking is an exercise in both futility and self-destruction. You’re more likely to break your own arm than to have any effect on the kicker.
At this point it should be mentioned that although the final position of the low block is with the fist facing downward and the lateral edge of the forearm facing outward, this is not the actual contact position of the block, it is the follow-through position.
The bone on the outside edge of our forearm, just above our fist (the Ulna) is approximately the size of a number two pencil at that point. It is extremely easy to break, and very difficult to have heal properly. For this reason we must never, ever, ever, ever use it as a blocking surface. We are all aware of how painful hitting this surface can be, but we must also be aware of how damaging it can be to us.
Keeping this in mind, we should now realize that the final positions of our high blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc., are all follow through positions, not the initial contact points.
Structure – static
- The elbow must remain slightly bent (flexed) at approximately 5 to 10°.
- The fist/hand lies directly in line with the forward knee. It is also approximately 6 inches above the surface of that knee.
- The hips again, are in a slight oblique position. They do not face directly forward.
Contact with the incoming strike should be made with the outside muscle of the forearm at approximately mid chest level. From that point on the development of the block should be done with the conceptual framework of redirecting the incoming energy. Again, we are not trying to stop and absorb the energy of the incoming attack.
- When attempting to block a kick, it is important to remember to begin this attempt in the early development of the incoming kick. That is another way of saying initiate contact with the opponents’ leg while his knee and hip are flexed, before he can extend these joints to develop the full power of the kicking leg.
- As always, whenever possible, it is better to avoid than to block.
- The low block should always be used in combination with a shifting body position. Never remain static with this motion, even though that is the way it is presented in most forms. Remember, individuals who knew all the applications practiced the Kata. It was there just remind them of different applications. They would know better than to stay in one place.
This one is actually quite easy; all you have to do is to remember the original translation of the technique from the Japanese. The term “gedan barai” does not mean “low block”, it actually means “low strike”. There, wasn’t that easy? Now we know what to do with it, whenever we have the opportunity to do it!
Of course we cannot allow this to blind us to the fact that we can strike with our forearms as well as our fists. As a matter of fact, hitting with the forearm is usually far more effective, and in addition, far more versatile than striking with the fist.