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Finlay's picture
Cross hands position

Within the ITF patterns many if the basic 'blocks' come from a crossed hand position.

In my own interpretation of this I use the crossed hands as the initial defence/block with the next movement as the beginning of the counter.

However, when watching karate kata or even old tkd patterns the position is not as common.

As seen here for won hyo starting at 2:44 https://youtu.be/OocodMeRKPQ?t=2m44s

Is it possible that the cross hands position became over stylised over the years?

Does anyone know where the positions came from?

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Finley,

Could you also provide a link for a video that shows the motions with the crossing? It may make it easier to compare, contrast and comment if we can clearly see the changes you are referring to?

All the best,


Finlay's picture


Here is the up to date version of won hyo


You can see here the crossed hand's position in the first movement. Different from the original and I believe different from the karate kata

Here is chon ji again with the crossed arms for each block.


An extra piece of information is that there are "rules" for the crossed arm position, basically for outer forearm (pinky side) blocks, the blocking arm is closest to your body, for inner forearm (thumb side) the blocking arm is furtherest from your body

Again even though I try to include this position in the application, as the initial defence. The fact that it doesn't appear in the orginal form or karate kata as far as I am aware leads me to believe it is largely a stylistic movement

Tau's picture

My personal opinnion:

Karate "blocks" often have a chambering (halfway) position that is often paid little heed. For example, if I were to perform a LEFT handed rising block, I'd start with what looks like an inner palming block with my RIGHT hand. My left arm rises behind my left giving a crossing of the arms momemtarily. In 3K karate this is often poorly explained. However as bunkai practitioners we often find that this initial movement is essential. In the case of this example age uke I could be using my right hand to push the attacker's left downwards and inside. This exposes the jaw and add's an opposing movement to my devestating rising forearm strike.

I suggest examining various ways and angles of applying shuto to best appreciate this.

Take this applied Karate. Koreanise it. Exagerate all of the movements. Now you have the crossed-arms of the TKD patterns.

That's not to say that there have no benefit. Indeed some useful applications arise from them. What I described with age uke is evident with greater movement and forces in Dan Gun. For Won Hyo where you have the combined rising and outer blocks (C-shaped blocks / sang palmok makgi) I would suggest that rather than looking at them as blocks see them as guiding limbs or breaking holds. 

Finlay's picture

Hello Yes I think we are in agreement as to possible applications. I think I didn't explain myself very well though. To me the crossed hands position is like a flinch, and from that position you have the actual technique, grabbing and hitting for example

I'm the case of twin forearm block the moving in question it seems the cross hands position was applied as an after thought and actually changes the movement a little.

PASmith's picture

I've done TKD and Shidokan karate (kyokushin derivative) and the main karate block with a pronounced cross chamber was the rising block. The other basic karate blocks were chambered under the armpit (inner forearm outward block), behind the neck (outer forearm inward block) or side of the head (low block).

While the "cross chamber" is more common in TKD (and that's what I first learnt) I have also been taught more karate style chambers too, especially in associations and with instructors that go back before the various ITF factions and splits and stylistic changes (hip twist/sine wave). My current TKD instructor for example teaches low block as "grabbing your own ear" and rising block as "eating an apple" to try to get people to learn the chamber and twist positions.

I think many things in TKD need looking at with a critical eye and with an eye to how karate and early forms were done. There are undoubtedly changes made for stylistic or aesthetic reasons for no real combative reason (but then this has happenend in Karate too).

Personally I'm in favour of seeing the moves as guides rather than set blue prints so am not averse to looking at different chamber positions and other methods of execution to glean applications from. And I'd still see that as part of that technique and TKD. As far as I'm concerned TKD is "korean karate" and belongs in the same family of martial arts as other forms of karate. And as such I will beg, borrow and steal from other arts in the family (and arts not in the family!).

I'm with you on looking at the chambers as "flinch positions" too. Just changing straight stepping punches to hay-maker swing type punches makes the chambers a whole lot more useful as "covers" and "smothers". With the follow up "blocks" being various forearm smashes.

Anf's picture

In tang soo do, which is my current style, it's because blocks are rarely actually blocks.

In fast paced fisticuffs, nobody has time to use a block to block something. You just kind of bat it out the way while simultaneously trying to get yourself into a more favourable less targetlike position.

'Blocks' teach principles. They teach the whole balance and counter motion thing. But they also teach more direct combat principles of close range. If blocks were more widely thought of as strikes of various kinds, then I think the myriad applications become more apparent, and while I can't speak for taekwondo, having never had a single lesson in it, in tang soo do which is related, there's a lot of grappling and joint manipulation in there. So if we think about, for example, trapping a wrist while attacking an elbow joint, I think the crossover starts to make more sense. But I think the first hurdle is overcoming the popular fib that the things we call blocks are actually blocks.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Finlay,

Thanks for adding the clips. That helped me, and I can see exactly what you mean.

I also can’t think of any karate variations where there is that pronounced crossing. It would not surprise me if someone could find an example of that, but we can say that the majority of versions don’t have that crossing.

I think it is always wise to look how other styles do things because it can give differing vantage points. From our pan-style vantage point, we can be confident in declaring that the original application will not have depended on a crossing. It that was an important part of the kata since it’s inception, then we could expect to see that crossing widely practised.

Finlay wrote:
Again even though I try to include this position in the application, as the initial defence. The fact that it doesn't appear in the original form or karate kata as far as I am aware leads me to believe it is largely a stylistic movement

I think that’s a logical conclusion. It’s probably a “flourish” added in for stylistic purposes. All styles have things like this. Motions get tweaked for aesthetic or athletic purposes. Sometimes even just to mark the style as being different from others. Cross style comparisons can help us identify when that has happened.

Ultimately though, to me, it’s all about function. If we can make that “flourish” work practically, then I’m totally OK with that. It may not be historically right, but it’s functional. And historically, function was what mattered :-)

A good example is the hops at the end of Shotokan’s Chinte. They are almost certainly there to fulfil the modern Shotokan dictate that the kata should start and end in the same place. However, you can do some cool stuff with them.


As a pragmatist, if it works, it is right. Historical accuracy is interesting, but function always comes first.

All the best,


Oerjan Nilsen
Oerjan Nilsen's picture

The crossing of the arms like in the ITF low block chamber (which stems from Oh Do Kwan and Chung Do Kwan) is the same chamber used for low block in Ji Do Kwan:-) Three different Korean schools all using that chamber. I've lost the clip but the crossing does appear in Okinawan styles as well, but since I've long since lost the clip and I didn't get a rule name that is unhelpful to the point where I considered not sharing that piece of information. It's not widespread in any way and as I understood it, it was obscure even on okinawa. It's like the guarding block of taekwondo which differs from what people today call karate chamber, but on Okinawa the taekwondo chamber is still used (they don't start out as clear behind as us, but it is the same). This surprised me greatly when I learned it because I has always been told that the taekwondo chamber was a taekwondo thing. You even see the taekwondo chamber being used in old shotokan clips sometimes. The point is that eventhough it is not widespread (as most karateka might be surprised to hear about the taekwondo chamber for knife hand guarding block is old style karate chamber) it can still be an original karate chamber :-)

Finlay's picture

That is very interesting. I thought the cross hand thing was a purely tkd change.

As an extension, does the cross hands make some applications easier or harder As I mentioned I use the crossed hands to represent a flinch and then we deal with the limb from the position.

To take a basic example would this make an the low block application of an arm bar easier or harder?

Oerjan Nilsen
Oerjan Nilsen's picture

I'd say that the cross position would make some applications more difficult and others more easy. A flinch block and a hammer strike to groin, bladder, kidney or liver (depending on which arm hit, your position in relation to the opponent etc) would be easier in the low block example. I would say that the armbar application would be slightly more difficult, but then again absolutely every time you apply a formalized technique in a practical way there will always be things that changes the look of the applied technique in relation to the form. There are simply an endless supply of variables that come into play.

My guess would be that in ancient times the movement we now label low block might have varied in a lot of ways within the same form depending on its intended application, but as different schools started to formalise them over time, and then stylyze them on top of that some chose one version of low block over the others and applied that to every similar movement in the forms thereby making 30 different but similar movements into the same low block. 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Oerjan Nilsen wrote:
… but as different schools started to formalise them over time, and then stylyze them on top of that some chose one version of low block over the others and applied that to every similar movement in the forms thereby making 30 different but similar movements into the same low block.

That’s a very important point. Something that has happened to karate forms too. There is no way the progenitors of Kushanku, Passai, Wanshu, Rohai, etc all did their knife hands exactly the same way. However, when the kata get collected together the idiosyncrasies get blended out. That’s definitely an important factor in the evolution of our forms.

All the best,