Blocking with the “Goldilocks zone”

Introduction

I have often spoken about what I call the “Goldilocks zone” - the optimal place on your forearm for intercepting and deflecting or blocking strikes and kicks. However it occurs to me that I haven’t even properly explained what I mean by that term.

As you will recall from the children’s fairytale, Goldilocks sampled three bowls of porridge at the bears’ house - one was too hot, one too cold, one just right. She did the same for the 3 chairs (one too small, one too big, the other just right) and ditto the beds (too hard, too soft, just right).

Astronomers refer to the “Goldilocks zone” in a solar system - meaning the zone ideal for liquid water and hence permitting life of the kind we know here on Earth; not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

So it seems to me that it is also quite fitting to refer to the portion of the forearm ideal for intercepting attacks as the “Goldilocks zone”.


A video in which I discuss the “Goldilocks zone” for blocks/deflections

The Goldilocks zone on your forearm

I have previously discussed why the forearm is used for deflections/blocks (see “Why block with the forearm (rather than the palm)?”) so I don’t propose to go into that again.

Assuming that you intend to use your forearm for a deflection, the next step is to make sure that you use the Goldilocks zone on your forearm.

Where is that? It is roughly in the center of your forearm as measured from your wrist to your elbow, and includes the 10 cm or so on either side - in other words, not too close to the wrist and not too close to the elbow.

However… The ideal position shifts within that Goldilocks zone dependent on the nature of your attack and its angle, and on the deflection/interception strategy you’ve chosen.

Variable 1: sliding up the forearm

You might be wedging a blow so that it slides up your forearm (ie. from your wrist towards your elbow). This is the case with the “primary” arm of the chudan uke and jodan/age uke (ie. not the “secondary” or “crossing” arm).

In this situation you need to start slightly nearer your wrist (but still in the Goldilocks zone).

I say nearer your wrist because on no account do you contact on your wrist as many people do; that is manifest ineffective.

Your forearm is highly moveable at the wrist, where nearer the elbow it is strong and stable. Connecting at the wrist could lead to a total collapse of your deflection/block.

So instead, when wedging up your forearm, catch it on the wrist end of the Goldilocks zone and slide up to the elbow end of the Goldilocks zone.

Variable 2: sliding down the forearm

You might also be wedging a blow so that it slides down your forearm (ie. from your elbow to your wrist). This is the case with most “secondary” or “crossing” blocks/deflections and the soto uke.

In this situation you need to catch the attack on the elbow end of the Goldilocks zone and then slide down to the wrist end of the Goldilocks zone.

Presenting the “flat bones” of the Goldilocks zone

It is also important to understand what side of the forearm should be used to intercept the attack on the Goldilocks zone.

As I discuss in my article “Why blocks are not ‘strikes in disguise’”, when using a jodan/age uke (rising block) or similar, you should use the top, flat, part of your forearm – ie. using both the radius and ulna – to intercept an attack, not the side of your forearm where you would contact with only one of the forearm bones.

The impact thus occurs on the “flat” part of your forearm, and only then do you rotate around to the single bone (using the “torque” or spiral of your forearm).

The situation is obviously different with blocks that don't use forearm rotation (eg. hiki/kake uke, Naha te chudan uke, etc. where you don't normally rotate - see my article "Chudan uke: to spiral or not to spiral").

The Goldilocks zone on your opponent’s forearm

However, understanding the importance of using the Goldilocks zone on your own forearm is only half of the equation.

The other half is understanding that the same rule applies to your attacker’s forearm (in the case of a punch anyway).

In other words:
    When using a forearm block/deflection, you must use the Goldilocks zone on your own forearm to intercept your attacker’s forearm on his or her Goldilocks zone.
This is most important. If you fail to intercept your opponent’s forearm on their Goldilocks zone, your block/deflection will likely fail. This is particularly so with deflections on the inside, where timing and placement are at a premium.

Consider for a moment a cross, hook or haymaker:

Most folks would accept that with such a curving punch it is difficult (though not impossible) to “deflect it on the outside”. I think it is fair to say that, especially with an element of surprise, you will find yourself on the inside of such a punch, (possibly facing a second and third attack - which is, in itself, not an insurmountable problem and one with which I propose to deal in the near future). In order to survive such an attack you must ensure that your initial block/deflection works.

Your deflection won’t work on the inside if you intercept the attack too near to your attacker’s elbow. Because we’re talking about a “primary” movement, this means your deflecting arm will slide “up” towards your attacker’s elbow.

If your arm slides to their elbow at any time during the deflection process, your attacker’s arm will still curve around and land on your face.

Conversely if you intercept the attack too near the attacker’s wrist, you will have left it too late to deal with a punch that carries a great deal of momentum.

Any displacement you achieve will be too, little too late. Again, the punch will land on your face.

However if you intercept on the Goldilocks zone of your opponent’s forearm, you’ll find that the deflection works like a charm; even the most powerful cross won’t be able to land.

If you doubt me, try it (wear gloves and really try to get through)!

As I’ve said, this issue is most noticeable on the inside.

Again, I’ll deal with the challenges raised by moving on the inside in another article. Trust me for now when I say that:
  1. you’ll be caught there sooner or later; and
  2. it isn’t as insurmountable a position as you might think; and
  3. the answer to the “inside dilemma” doesn’t lie in denying that it will ever happen because “I’ll just move to the outside” or “I’ll just hit him first” or “I’ll hit him with the same arm that I use to deflect/block”.
The last of these points is crucial: if you are on the inside and you attempt to deflect and counter strike with the same arm, you’ll almost certainly find yourself intercepting your opponent’s punch near the elbow - leading to a failed block/deflection.

This is part of the reason why I argued in my article “Simultaneous techniques: Part 2 - seizing initiative” that:
    One should not assume that the angle for successful deflection and the angle for successful counterstriking are always the same.
They often aren’t - certainly not when you are on the inside (as you will be sooner or later). In those cases, focusing on a counterstrike rather than the deflection will often mean missing the Goldilocks zone - and missing your deflection altogether.

So if you want to ignore the Goldilocks zone and pursue a pre-emptive counter above all else, then you really need to be sure you hit your attacker well before he is in a position to hit you. You can’t rely on any “simultaneous” deflection: there’s a good chance that deflection won’t be effective.

Conclusion

If you are serious about learning how to use forearm blocks/deflections then you need to know about the Goldilocks zone. In fact, it is part of the “critical information” that make forearm deflections work (along with distancing, use of the circle, etc.).

It is my belief that a failure to understand this subtle factor is partially responsible for so many modern and eclectic fighters rejecting forearm deflections as “ineffective” - when they have been around since the dawn of civilization.

So in order to use forearm deflections you need to know that:
  1. your forearm must intercept the attack on the Goldilocks zone of your forearm; and
  2. it must also contact on the Goldilocks zone of your attacker’s arm.
Only in this way will you ensure that the deflection will succeed. And remember, in civilian defence, your primary goal is “not to get hit” - not “to hit”. A good block/deflection is the traditional martial artists first line in ensuring that this goal is met.

Copyright © 2011 Dejan Djurdjevic