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Finlay's picture
Expanding or stretching out blocking


Maybe a bit of an odd one.

I was running through some practices with a partner that in involve blocking. It occured to me that there is a flaw with the concept of blocking an attack beyond "action beats reaction."

If we are scared or looking to protect ourselves we tend to shrink and compact ourselves. Usually with our hands round our head. This protective position can be seen commonly in boxing, MMA and various youtube examples of attacks.

However, in a lot of martial arts when we see blocks the opposite is happening. We are expanding and opening up. This motion, in my opinion, requires a completely different mindset and state of readiness than we would common have in a self defence situation.

I may be preaching to the coverted here but I think this strengthens the idea that the movements in the patterns are no blocks in the way they are commonly taught.

In my own investigation of the itf taekwondo patterns, I find the the crosshand position that precedes many 'blocks'to be a much more natural reaction and even puts us in a better position to grab attacking limbs and effect counter attacks. Although, I am lead to believe that this is more an coincidence than something that was planned in the application.

For reference I here is the position, often it is performed higher than the picture: CLICK HERE

Interested to hear others thoughts on this

Ricardo S Garcia
Ricardo S Garcia's picture

Hey Finlay!

Big fan on you're thoughts and work on the ITF patterns. You're ideas have helped me with my own bunkai for the Chang Hon Hyungs.

I'd have to agree with your points above. The way I was taught the forms growing up had the "old school" karate chambering potitions proceeding the different "blocks". However in my application studies I have found that using the crossed had position adds a different way of accomplishing the same thing in different ways. From performing locks or racking across pressure points to get a predictable reaction.  I'd love you're feedback on the videos I've posted on YouTube. 


With Respect,

Ricardo S. Garcia

PASmith's picture

Looking at Iain's work (and others of course) many times the hands coming up and/or together to chamber or some other type of preceding movement is applied as a "flinch" or instinctive cover up and that's something I think stands as a basic principal or idea when applying patterns. It's far easier to cover the target (usually the head) than block the specific weapon or attack IMHO (left hand, right hand, swing, straight, headbutt, etc).

To me the "chamber" positions are stylised "flinch" responses (by and large..not always) and the "blocks" that come after are some form of counter attack or manipulation that improves your position. I think what started as rough and basic "hands come up and cover head" types of movement became increasingly specific and overly refined "chambers". Hands must go the shoulder height, cross wrist to wrist, etc.

Although I do think some types of instinctive "flinch" or defence do have the hands going out with the head pulled away to try and create distance between what the hands are stopping and the target. Rather than pulling in. There may even be some sort of correlation between when the "danger" is spotted and what type of "flinch" comes out (although never seen any science or analysis on that...but it would be intresting).

PASmith's picture

I mean look at all these people doing chamber positions!

Finlay's picture

Hi Ricardo Nice videos, some nice ideas presented there

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Funnily enough those people are doing uke waza exactly as it should be taught, this is the actual "uke" part. A couple are even using the "x" formation that precedes basic blocks. The problem is that the movements have been so de-contextualized. If we begin the drill with using this flinch to not get hit, the "block" bit is simply showing us a scenario of gaining advantage using the flinch. So basically what PASmith said.

I think a huge issue with traditional martial arts generally is relying on what is taught by the static posture, and ignoring what gets us there.

One thing I have been reflecting on from my Boxing training is that it is very easy to over complicate uke waza. Rather than training them as discrete techniques I'm moving towards drilling the flinch response itself in a generic way, hands up or x - formation etc. then letting all the variations flow naturally. Even just putting your hands into the "x" and using it offensively at the same time you avoid getting hit has a lot of possiblities, and actually represents a number of  Karate technqiues if you think about it.

On the "in vs out" thing: Generally if you have your limbs covering your buttons already (think almost a high mountain block) extending them feels less dangerous, and might even further disrupt an attack, it also gives you a kind of "tunnel vision". So bascially there you have a shuto.

There are also movements that both get small -and- move forward or into an opponent at the same time. For instance try the standard "elbow block" type motion where you grab the back of your head with elbow pointed forward and dive in. Another example would be something akin to Jodan Uke, only use both arms stacked in front of you, this sort of "flinch" also has an offensive characteristic, as well as the "shrinking" bit. One of the most important lessons I picked up from my main Goju Ryu teacher is that when you train basic techniques, you need to activate your own flinch response "artificially" to some degree so that the techniques are actually connected to that, and not to a contrived way of getting there.

I have experimented with simply putting on larger gloves and having people volley at echother with these sorts of formations, then follow up with whatever as well. This way the part we see in the static posture, often wrongly identified as a "block" comes out more naturally.

Finlay's picture

I can't agree more. For the last few years I have taught the crossed hands position as a flinch or a cover. It is always nice to get some validation from other practitioners.