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Stevenson's picture
The Block Part II - Shuto Preparation

In the way these things go, the subject of blocks has come up in a completely different way which I think is worth a separate thread.

Training tonight I found I had a difference of opinion with my sensei's regarding the preparation for heito, and outside Shuto. I should just preface my argument by saying I really respect these guys. They are a family of 3, the mum and dad have had over 20 years experience, training in goju and our current style, their 20 year old son is nidan and at a level of technical proficiency I can only dream of, they all cross train in jujitsu, are intelligent, thoughtful, and highly skilled. They are not at the levels of understanding as the likes of Iain, or Gavin Mulholland or similar, but nonetheless worthy of respect.

In my opinion, the preparation for heito, and outside Shuto, should be the same as for inside Shuto and Shuto Uke. The reason being that the same principle applies in all these cases; that the returning hand should be covering the face with the elbow pointed outward, to protect against an on rushing attacker, and/or to pull down the attackers arm and pin it to your side in hikite as the other arm is involved in the strike. I was persuaded of the importance of this by a drill we did with Rory Miller I discussed in the previous thread, that this kind of guard should be traine to reflex level and called upon instantly if you are being ambushed, or caught unprepared. The principle is that by exploding into that guard means anyone attacking is either going to wear your elbow in their face or pull back for a moment to avoid it, either way it buys you a split second in which you could regain the initiative.

The instructors believe that at the range these strikes are intended, the preparation is redundant, and you need only prepare at chest level and use the hikite as an aid to the mechanics of the strike. I think their principle objection is one of range. There is also the issue that having your elbow raised in that way, you are vulnerable if your elbow is pressed - you can be forced into a shoulder lock jujitsu style. I am not sure that that is a likely response from an attacker unless they were trained in MA - but it's a possibility I guess.

My feeling is that I want ingrain the guard, which is what kihon is for. I also see that getting your arm up to that position puts you in a strong position should you be tackled. Maybe the primary purpose is the strike at longer range, but surely any opportunity to practise a fundamental self defence technique is valuable? 

In any case, they respect my view point, but don't agree - and the syllabus is as they view it. I would be interested to hear what others thought about this. How do you view the preparation of the returning hand on those 3 strikes?

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

It sounds like splitting hairs a bit to me, if the hands are lowered a bit or raised a bit shouln't be a huge difference if it accomplishes the same thing right? I also find it a pet peeve when people use complex arm locks and such as a reason to not do something.  I think it's very valuable to use the shielding motions from the techniques, but sometimes a strike is just a strike..more important is how you drill them than exact arm position I would think.

Seems like you can really only stack your hands  a few ways anyway, it's all variations on those themes.

miket's picture


I conisder myself lucky to have had two sensei's early on (greenbelt)... I went away to college and found a new sensei teaching what I understood to be my same old familiar and beloved Shorin Ryu.  Only... it was totally different.  I thiink it was harder than if I had gone to a totally different system, because i had to unlearn the ways of Sensei A and relearn the ways of Sensei B. 

At first this really irritated me.  :-)   Over time, howrever, I came to see it as a really positive experinence.

Ironically, or not, one of the areas Sensei B most used to bust my balls about was how to "correctly" perform a shuto uke.  And, obviously, he had a different method than Sensei A.

At first I resisted the correction, which irritaed Sensei B.  Which he let me know in no uncertain terms.  :-)  But eventually, I had to adapt or leave his class, and the opportunity to continue in that style while at college. And also, of course, when I woudl go home for breaks, I had to revert to the methods of Sensei A, as he thought Sensei B's methods were pretty ridiculous, although he was less vocal about it.  

And also needless to say, I went through this with just about every one of my techniques.  But I especially remember the knife blocks.  :-)

Point:  I spent a lot of time at first trying to decide who was RIGHT, and asking whcih METHOD was 'best'.  But what I ultimately came to appreciate was that they were simply DIFFERENT methods--- reflections of the same thing. And when I started to look at it this way, suddenly my mind stopped forcing me to decide which was the 'best' option, and it realized thatI had actually DOUBLED my options.  And ultimately, I went on to decide for myself which of each would go on to become 'my' Shorin ryu.

The story has a happy ending.  :-)  I eventually moved back to my home town and returned to Sensei A's dojo.  Ironically, I brought some of  Sensei B's methods with me, and had the same problem in reverse.  But when I got my second or third dan, Sensei A called Sensei B up to help him award my belt, and I continue to have contact with both men.

The lesson, however, stayed with me.  Still later, when the head of our system would come in, people would gripe because he was "always changing things", which people found frustrating.  But, I knew the secret.  :-)  I Was happy to have a sensei who was regulalry changing things, because I ddn't see that as disorganization, I  understood that to mean that he was growing, too, and not simply sitting around saying "yep, this is 'it', I can't get any better."  And I had the lesson of prior perspective.  I kept notes about the changes AND how we used to do things.  And that led to questions:  WHY was he changing tthis?  WHat was better/ worse/ different about the new way?  What possible benefits did it offer, etc.  

Now, to the point of your question:  I am not sure I am visualizing you correctly, but I think I get it.  Foe me, Sensei A's method of throwing the shuto uke, , which I have seen my head instructor DO,  was that both hands were drawn back to one side of the body and then shot forward on almost a linear path similar to what I beleive you are descirbing.

Sensei B's method, and the method that I have seen MOST COMMONLY from my head instructor, and the one I eventually adopted persoally, involved rotating both hands in a circular fashion. So if it is a left shuto uke is being thrown, the right hand circles up almost to face level as the hip is cocked, such that the pathway inscribed by the hands is more of a figure eight motion with the 'eight' on its side, like an infinity symbol.  That is probably about as clear as mud., sorry.

Incidentally, the applications are completely different, but related.

Jamie Clubb once posted a rhetorical question on  the old forum something that has stayed with me:  "Which style owns the reverse punch"?  The fact is, most systems have a linear punch with the rear hand of the body.  When you start to look at systems at this level, and (if you haven't) get som eexposure  to other systems, you start to see that that is all 'systems' are:   just bodies of ONE GUY'S METHODS.  And you start to see that there is more in common between systems and between methods than you might think.  And that, I beleive, is what gets a person to the bedrock level of martial arts.

If you look at Tony Blauer's SPEAR, what is it, mechanically?  To me, its a knife hand block, but as Zach noted, it's TRAINED in a specific way, and (from what Ihave seen) is connected to very specific things.

I mnet a silat guy in Dallas who showed me what he called a 'spear block' about four years before I ever even heard of Tony Blauer... the base principles were the same.   I Have had people tell me that Goju Ryu's Yama Uke is basically the same.  Gracie Jiu jitsu uses 'the frame' to cross face a guy on the ground-- it's basically pressure with the knife edge / ulna of the forearm.  In Catch Wrestling, I have seen Erik Paulson (who trained with the Gracie's at one pint, I understand) use the same exact motion to break a clinch from standing.  

My point is:   in those five examples, you have essentially the 'same' body part being used in a highly similar way.  You can, (by extending the question to a context, determine for yourself which one is 'best' or 'better', by extending the question to ask:  better for what?   i.e. you can ask which one is 'better' FOR THE PURPOSE OF breaking a clinch, softening a guy for an arm bar, or blocking a haymaker?  But each one is basically the same undelrlying core body mechanic.  And, each 'application' of that mechanic is 1) context dependent and 2) specific to that situation.  Meaning, the details of 'how to do it' differ situationally.  That's a long way of trying to say 'it all depends' on what you are trying to do.

Goping back to the idea that all ofthese mechanical actions represent FACETS of the same thing, let's call it 'using the outside surface of the arm' it becomes possible to see (I hope) that best way/ worst way, right way / wrong way, and other such value judgements are only things that you can decide for yourself, although the merits and detractions of variious positions  for various contexts can certainly be considered.  One thing Iell my students i that there is a 'counter' for everything.

The answer is meant to be helpful not evasive.

Stevenson's picture

Thanks to both you for your replies.


e wrote:
It sounds like splitting hairs a bit to me, if the hands are lowered a bit or raised a bit shouln't be a huge difference if it accomplishes the same thing right?

But would it though? With my way of understanding, your encouraged to create a guard for your head which then becomes a trapping technique. If you start the arm where I am supposed to, with the arm horizontally across your chest, then is it high enough to guard your head or be as effective as a trapping hikite? The argument is that at the range the strike is for that wouldn't eventuate, but I am not so sure. Nevertheless, your point is the nearest agreement - it's not such a big step to raise your elbow further, but on the other hand that wouldn't be consistent with the tendecy to exaggerate techniques in kihon to wire them into muscle memory.


I understand completely what you are saying, but the reason I ask these questions here is to be sure I have left no stone unturned in my search for understanding. I already do have certain perspectives I have picked up outside of the school I train in that I incorporate into my training and teaching, as do my instructors at my wednesday class. Since they disagree with me on this point, I want to be sure that my perspective is not unreasonable, or that I am not as Zach points out 'splitting hairs'. I believe you should be able to justify how something is done, not simply do it 'because that is how it is done'. My instructors on this occasion feel that my preparation is redundant and the aim should be to eliminate all redundant movement - economy and efficiency - something I agree with completely, but I don't feel (yet) that the preparation is redundant, it should be part of the technique.

Just to be clear - think of the preparation for heito and outside shuto. It's the hikite arm I am interested in, not the striking arm. How do you view it's purpose within that technique?

Dod's picture


I agree with you that the initial movement should be there as you describe.  As I mentioned in the original Block thread, the initial movement in the traditional blocks is simple,  fast and flinch-like providing a degree of protection in itself.

I believe it was not created and passed down to (most of) us by accident.  Also,  some redundancy in technique is useful.

At the risk of digressing, the initial move involves (at least partial) crossing of the arms which is a bit of a recurring theme in karate which reinforces the feeling that it is not there by mistake.  I refer to Yoi,  and cross “blocks” in kata (incidentally which I believe have some use as long as they are part of a flowing movement, not static and head on).  

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I think i'm unclear on what exactly you're talking about physically, is it that one choice has a hand protecting the face, and one doesn't..or is the elbow just lower in one instance than the other?

Stevenson's picture

Hi Zach,

What I mean is - the hikite hand, not the striking hand, should it be prepared with the elbow raised to cover the face, making it more central and higher than the classical position of as a bar across the chest? The idea is that it should act as a cover as in ouside shuto, or even shuto uke.

I am starting to come around to my colleagues position having thought about it a great deal. Their argument is that you wouldn't really apply this technique in the context of haito. Looking at it again and researching a bit I can see the hikite hand would more likely have been involved in a parry in the opposite direction. This is possibly more balanced way of using the hikite hand.

My point initially was, the good reasons you cover before the strike in the other techniques are still there for haito and the hikite hand should have a function beyond merely helping to generate momentum for the strike. I also want to really ingrain the covering elbow having been impressed of its importance by Rory Miller. While it might seem like splitting hairs, I kind of want to get this right because I want to teach good habits, and make sure all training is purposeful and not artefacts of habit - ie doing something because that is how it is done.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Either way is fine...you need some flexibility here..if you say it ONLY should cover the face, you exclude using that "guard hand" as a weapon itself (such as an eye strike or palm heel), or as a hand to simply feel/grasp one's target for the shuto.

I am not sure I think one is preferable over the other for kihon...I learned it as kind of sticking the hand out in front originally, and have seen a number of variations since.

If i'm understandint the technique you are talking about correctly,  the face is already covered by the elbow that does the shuto being across the jaw, the buttons are covered from this position, so why would you use the other hand?  Or are you talking only about an outside - to - inside shuto? If so then I learned it with the hand up essentially vertical - though I still think the above applies, this hand is not neccessarily a defensive thing.

Stevenson's picture

Hi Zach - you are thinking of shuto uke - I only mentioned it because in shuto uke the raised elbow of the hand that strikes (shuto) is protecting the face. When you are doing an outside shuto strike, or heito, you have your hikite arm raised (the other hand than the striking one). The issue is not the strike itself but the preparation. I am saying that we should practise that as a guard (or indeed a mawashi empi since that is what it resembles) rather than merely as a preapration to help with the hip rotation for the strike - serving no other particular function.

The point is my colleagues and instructors for my wednesday class feel that high prep of the hikite arm would not be used in the context of haito, and infact it is not how it is in our syllabus. I have been thinking about and I am almost persuaded to agree. The positioning of the hikite hand as a bar across the body rather than as an elbow covering the face would be for a parry preceding the strike. I am probably being too enthusiastic about ingraining the defensive flinch we examined with Rory Miller. Probably.

So what are the variations in different schools for the hikite hand in those two strikes, outside shuto and haito? Was I being way off beam or was there something to my thinking?

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Ah ok now I get it, I guess I see your point - as I learned the outside one with the hand coming up in front, the prepartory position was basically like the position in ...pinan yodan I think - though I could be wrong - I have not done Shorin Ryu for something like 20 years, and in Goju I have only done this kind of strike in context of kata, where it shows up about the same way.

My only advice would be to play with the position of your legs, and whether you are inside or outside of the opponents limbs, as it would alter that a bit.