Stopping techniques at a pre-determined point

I have previously discussed how traditional strikes are stopped by the practitioner at a pre-determined point; they do not rely on the target to stop the strike. [For the purposes of this article I shall simply refer to “strike”, but you can take this to refer to any kind of strike, punch or kick.]

I have discussed how this needn’t mean that the traditional strike is “weak” – it may not carry as much force as a “follow through” but it makes up for this at least in part through concepts like “kime” (focus) and hydrostatic shock.

But what is the imperative that causes virtually every traditional Far Eastern traditional martial art to stop strikes at a pre-determined point? Why not simply follow through with each technique until it is stopped by the target?

The answer lies in priority. Unlike, say, combat sports or military disciplines, civilian defence does not prioritize hitting. It prioritizes not being hit. Accordingly, civilian defence strikes are inherently conservative insofar as they try not to create unnecessary openings or leave the defender over-extended or unbalanced.

How do they achieve this?

Civilian defence strikes are structured so that the defender is left in more or less the same position as he or she was before the strike, with posture and balance intact. If they did not, the defender might not be able to recover from a failed/missed strike – whether in order to deal with the same attacker or others.

In this context it should be unsurprising that traditional strikes will overwhelmingly take the form of straight thrusts or snapping actions – since these are naturally self-limiting when it comes to a “pre-determined stop”.

A swing, on the other hand, is potentially unstable – unless it is performed in the way of, say, Shaolin systems like Choy Li Fut, where the arm swing is, at some point, brought to a halt at a pre-determined point.

In civilian defence the dangers in not being conservative in one’s strikes are, I believe, self-evident. Uncertain terrain, multiple attackers and armed opponents are just some of the variables that could lead to your defeat if you miss your strike and find yourself off balance.

Indeed, such is the premium placed on balance that this is one of the principle reasons traditional martial artists use deflections in conjunction with evasion; the use of a deflecting arm reduces the amount of “lean”, “duck” or “weave” the body has to make to avoid the strike. As I discuss in my article “Evasion vs. Blocking with evasion”, this is the main reason that traditional martial arts adopt the “upright posture” so maligned by combat sports practitioners.

Consider the following video of just what can happen if you rely on your target stopping your attack.

A video showing the dangers of relying on your target to stop a strike

The relevant attackers all suffer from the same problem: their priority is attack, pure and simple. They want to harm. They are not interested in their own defence, only in striking their opponent with maximum force. Their obsession with maximum force is ultimately their undoing. In each case, they miss, and overbalance terribly.

Later in the video you will note the boxer I discussed recently using conservative thrusting strikes very effectively. These thrusts contrast with his very first, panic-stricken swings (although even these swings were controlled and did not overbalance him – by contrast to his opponents).

Note also the asides in the video, showing that deflections are indeed used in civilian defence scenarios: in the Wing Chun example, the aggressor throws a committed straight right cross which is deflected by a textbook hiki uke or kake uke – one of the staple “blocks” of karate, but which is also extensively used in both southern and northern Chinese systems (including the internal arts).

A video of the hiki uke of karate

Later on the boxer referred to in my previous article is shown clearly deflecting another committed cross, again using a forearm deflection. So much for “blocks don’t work”.

Which brings me to another point: it should come as no surprise "blocks" (ie. deflections or parries) in tradional Far Eastern fighting arts are also brought to a pre-determined stop. Consider the video below relating to the basic age or jodan uke (rising or head level "block"):

A video about the dangers of over-extending a rising block

From this video you will note that it is imperative that one should limit one's blocking movement to where the technique would otherwise go if it encountered an attack. If one takes the arm any further (which might occur if one relies on the attacker's arm to stop the block but it doesn't), one risks over-extending and creating a large opening. Blocking only as far as one needs to go means that if you miss the strike, or the strike is actually a feint, your hands will remain within the guard position allowing you to -
  1. limit the openings you create; and
  2. respond to (ie. intercept) further attacks.
Accordingly, traditional strikes and blocks are stopped at pre-determined points because they are tools used in civilian defence. As such, they are inherently conservative with movement, prioritizing best defence rather than best offence.

Copyright © 2010 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Wonderful insights. I think the problem with strikes in civilian defense is in considerations of life threatening attacks(armed robbery,etc.) but if its going to be a common fight(bar fight against a drunk@ss), civilian defense will work good and very advantageous.

  2. Brilliant articles. Something I've tried to convey with people about striking in Southern Praying Mantis as opposed to boxing (I have an appreciation and practice both.) Gloves necessitate follow through for impact. But without them, you want to risk the least amount for the most effect.


  3. (Dan, is there any way to increase the character limit for comments? Anyway, part 1)

    Excellent article!

    A thought: a point of particular importance in strikes like, say, the karate tsuki, is that the point of maximum effectiveness is around 80% extension of the arm, since it's the point at which muscle recruitment is at its optimum point, and thus the point at which the arm speed is greater (although of course without weight transfer into the arm this means little). This taken into account, and even though a fully extended tsuki can still pack enough punch (pun not intended) to knock someone out or knock the wind out of them, I'm of the opinion that another, equally important reason for the way strikes and deflections are handled in karate, in addition to preventing over-commitment, comes down to the issue of tactics. If we examine the kata, a lot of them, if not most, contain multiple supposedly defensive movements with one or two finishers at the end. This, taken literally, gives rise to that myth that all katas start with blocking, which, although not necessarily true, isn't necessarily invalid either. Getting to the point, my opinion is that one main strategy (at least in karate), is to learn to use those "blocking" techniques as a control method, with little or no striking in between except as a "softener" or distraction (for example the mid-combination backfist in the ending sequences of seipai) similar to atemi in judo or aikido combat application before kuzushi, in order to either maneuver oneself to a dominant position or manipulate the opponent to create openings (hitting as opportunities arise), getting oneself to an optimum position to counter-attack as effectively as possible from extremely close range, preferably to weak spots, such as the kidneys, floating ribs (and the organs underneath), face, throat and spine, which, if properly effective, can be followed by attacks to other vulnerable zones, or else simply repeated over and over again until the cumulative effect does the work. Of course one could ask "why is there only one counter-strike in kata sequences if you're supposed to keep hitting?". The answer is easy enough, though, "why try to ground and pound the air, or do 700-punch combos, when one or two are enough to drive the point home? fighting goes on until one goes down, whereas in kata there's no opponent, so there'd be no point." (after which you proceed to slap the other party for asking a silly question :p)

  4. My dear Diego - you really need to start a blog (unless you already have one about which I don't know!).

    You make some interesting points.

  5. Oh - and sorry no, I think blogger's limit is not capable of being changed.

  6. A fascinating article! It has really given me food for thought. I look forward to looking through your archives - looks like a great blog!

  7. I first commented on your Part 1/2 (both included) post regarding Bruce Lee's board comment.

    This post of yours helped me better understand what you mean when you talk about offensive attacks.


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