There are no blocks?

The need for a summary

A random snapshot of our sparring. I'm using a classic open
hand rising block - even though it was totally unscripted. 
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that the assertion that "there are no blocks" is a major source of irritation to me.  It's another way of saying that the movements in karate etc. commonly called "blocks" are always something else entirely.

"They have to be, after all, because "blocks don't work" - everybody knows that!"  Those of us who don't agree are just kidding ourselves.

Over the years I have attacked this assertion in a number of ways and from a number of different angles.  But this is not to say that each of my arguments is somehow separate and unconnected: rather they are all mutually consistent and supportive of each other, creating what I think is a compelling, indeed undeniable, picture of how blocks are a vital part of the traditional civilian defence arsenal.

Accordingly I felt it would be a good idea to create a summary of my position and address this assertion directly: a brief account of why blocks are blocks - even if they can, on occasion, be interpreted more widely.

What I mean by "blocks"

I've stated and restated why I mean by "block" so many times it is getting tiresome.  Yet I'm still getting regular comments from readers who think they've "caught me out" when I refer to an "uke" as a "block".
So I'll say it one more time: I use the term "block" out of habit: it's how I was "raised".1

I'm actually referring to a much wider concept, ie. what is known in Japanese as "uke".  "Uke" is short for "ukeru" which means "to receive".  In many ways this is really a most useful term since it refers generally to any method of  "receiving" a blow (ie. in a way that neutralises it!).  Unfortunately Japanese terms have only so much use in English (or any other non-Japanese language).  And "receipt" or some other literal translation sounds awful.

Get it? Got it! Good.
Accordingly, when I use "block" I don't just mean "creating a physical barrier" (ie. a literal "block" like a shield).  Nor do I mean "jamming" a blow at its source (which Marc MacYoung calls "cutting the supply lines"). 

Sure, these are aspects of "blocking" (ie. "receiving" a blow in a way that is safe) but there is much more to the concept than that.  I'm also (in fact, mostly) thinking along the lines of deflection, parry, "wedge" and redirection - with a healthy dose of interception thrown in.  These are all "uke" - hence they are all "blocks" within my use of the term.

Get it?  Got it!  Good.

So are there any blocks?

We are all familiar with techniques called "uke" in karate.  We know them as basics and we know them in kata.  Most of us who have been around for 30 years or so can remember a time when virtually no one thought they couldn't or shouldn't be used as blocks.  Yes, we knew they were amenable to a few other uses, depending on the particular technique, but mostly we were happy to call them "blocks" because, in many cases, that was their primary use.  Virtually no one thought this knowledge needed further "refinement".2

However in recent times increasing numbers of karateka are adopting the "refined view" that these "uke" aren't "blocks" at all.  They are locks, they are holds, they are throws, they are strikes... anything but blocks.  In other words they aren't ways of "receiving" attacks but rather they are attacks themselves.  Always.  (It doesn't matter if you call them "counter attacks" or just "attacks" as far as I'm concerned.  An attack is an attack - something quite different to defence, so please don't flame me with those semantics!)
Why is Danny parrying Basil's cut?  Doesn't he know
blade on blade is bad?

Why would they think this?  To my mind, it's a bit like saying:

"You know sword-fighting?  It's all about stabs and slashes.  There are no parries, deflections or other 'blocks'.  Heaven forbid!  The swordsmen/women are too busy for that: being proactive, you know - attacking!  There's no time for this 'blocking' nonsense!  Besides, hasn't anyone ever told you that blade on blade contact is bad?  It's very bad!  Anyway - blocks don't work - everybody knows that!"3, 4

Blocks don't work?

I've dedicated a number of articles to discussing why and how blocks actually work, the first one being "Why blocks DO work".  You should start there, but I fear that the article might be a bit "long in the tooth" now:  I've written a number of articles since then that have expanded on my argument.  Specifically I've noted that:
  • Civilian defence is not the same as sport fighting.  Now I'm not trying to argue that "in real fighting my sensei would beat Jon "Bones" Jones because there would be no rules" etc.  That would be ludicrous and isn't how traditional martial artists like me think.  (If anything, this would be more of a combat sports analysis, than a civilian defence one!)  You see, I don't care if Jones would beat my sensei.  He almost certainly would.  Good for him.  Jones isn't world number one for nothing.  What I'm saying is this: The assumption that street attacks follow a "similar script" to cage/ring fighting (and that combat sports skills are therefore sufficient/optimal in all the situations about which I'm concerned) is greatly overstated.  For a start, the civilian fights I've seen (and prosecuted!) weren't protracted one-on-one affairs.  They started with an attack launched with an element of surprise in what I have called the "melee range" - and not half a step or more out of that range.  They were often determined by one single blow.  Frequently the initial attacker's friends "climbed in" to "help" (I will be detailing some examples of this in a future article).
"Chest bumping" - don't do it.
  • Apart from organised fights (which are really just illegal combat sports), the closest (albeit still far from "identical") thing to "sport combat in society" comprises "chest bumping displays" between young men determining dominance (what Rory Miller calls "the monkey dance").  If you get involved in such a "dance" you generally have only yourself to blame.  It is not civilian defence.  Accordingly it is irrelevant to me if you base your tactics around fighting in such a scenario.  I don't.  I prefer not to "play according to that script".  You should too.  If the other guy wants to insist, then it might become a civilian defence situation.  In my personal experience, it often doesn't.  And even if it does, you're in a far better position practically and legally/ethically/morally than if you're an equal participant in the chest bumping display.
    Stills from a disturbing video titled "Best Slap Knockout Ever". I'm not going to link to it, as I don't think this sort of video belongs anywhere except on a court file as an exhibit in a prosecution. Sadly, these sorts of videos are dime a dozen (probably because young men keep engaging in this sort of "dominance display" - and because practically every mobile phone nowadays has a video camera).
  • Unlike a chest bumping display or sport fighting, civilian defence generally involves an element of surprise.  Attackers who mean business don't give you advance notice of their aggression.  This means that you will have (at most) a fraction of a second to respond.  One common example is that they might try to "king hit" you , ie. hit you from the side or rear (sometimes as you're turning after a tap to the shoulder - an odd "concession" to chivalry that tires to argue: "I didn't hit him from behind - honest!").  Or they might even surprise you when you are facing them, by striking you abruptly in the midst of a conversation that has not really implied imminent aggression.  In other words, they don't try to give you a "sporting chance" by saying "Ready, set go!" - or by preceding their attack with open "nose to nose" hostility.  Yes, you might have no chance of avoidance at all.  But if you're canny, careful and observant you might just find you have enough time to react.  Sure, you might not even be surprised, permitting you to "hit him first" or "aggressively enter into the blow" etc. (ie. be more "proactive").  If so, good for you.  But I wouldn't put all my eggs in that particular basket.
  • If you are faced with a surprise  attack, you won't have any real scope for such proactivity - for reasons of lack of time and/ opportunity as well as legal/ethical/moral considerations.  This means that in civilian defence you will, to a large extent, have to rely on reactive tactics.  Talking about how preferable the former is as opposed to the latter doesn't somehow mean you "get to choose".  After all, it would be preferable if you managed to avoid every attack in the first place.  Lots of things are preferable.  We shouldn't assume we will get what we prefer. Yes, we should always be vigilant and look for signs of imminent attack in non-verbal cues etc., etc.  But to assume that we will be able to be proactive in every case is just wishful thinking.
  • Accepting this, it is important to note that people who react to attacks will naturally respond with a flinch reflex.  This typically involves two things: the arms reach out while the body withdraws.  In other words, your arms go out to ward off the attack (block) while you simultaneously use your body to avoid the blow (evade).  We need to work with this, not try to "replace" it.  Such autonomic, subconscious reflexes can be improved a little, but they are very hard to change entirely.  Accordingly, traditional martial arts techniques work as a productive modification of the flinch reflex, converting it into two skills: blocking and evasion.  These are designed to work together.
  • Importantly, blocking and countering needn't involve some sort of "two count" exercise (ie. where there is a disconnection between the block and the counter).  Rather, they should occur as part of one continuum, which is exactly how they were designed for use in traditional martial arts.  To my mind, anyone who says differently is clearly basing their analysis on some extremely diluted examples of traditional martial arts.  A block and its related counter were always meant to flow into one another, effectively creating one movement as much as possible.  I keep going back to the gif below.  It isn't some "strange" example.  It is the very standard, basic, formal chudan uke of the Naha te school of karate.  When applied in free fighting it only becomes more connected
A standard, basic chudan uke (applied as a head height block): note how connected  the block and counter are. Compare  it to Machida's blocks below and you'll see similar concept and timing, albeit it using a different
technique. All that varies here is that the lunge punch and defence are a bit more "formal and basic".
The edges are rounded off in application so that it becomes even more "fluid".
  • It goes without saying that where circumstances allow, blocks are dispensed with entirely so that you enter directly and neutralize the threat without delay.  Traditional martial arts have plenty of techniques used for just this purpose.  There is absolutely no principle in traditional martial arts that requires you to use a block in every instance.  Quite the reverse.  The prevalence of "blocking" in kata might well reflect the physical and social reality of responsible civilian defence - but it has never been implied any sort of "rule of engagement".
Jeff does a more or less classical chudan hiki/kake uke -
using both arms in the way of the basic (heaven forbid)!
As an addendum to this article (prompted by David in the comments below) I'll refer you to my previous article "The anatomy of randori" where I had posted a video showing sparring using blocks (I've reposted the video below).

The video wasn't made for the purpose of discussing this topic (it related to kicking range) but it does have some impromptu sparring of the kind we tend to use in class - 3/4 speed, in the melee range.

If you want it harder (with contact) that is easily added.  If you want it faster, this is easily done (both sides are moving at the same speed, so both sides speed up).  In the video you'll see all sorts of blocks: age/jodan uke, chudan (hiki) uke, bong sau, gedan uke, palm blocks, inward depressing blocks, etc.)

A video I took for very different reasons that happens to have some impromptu sparring.  Okay, it won't be  "proof"of anything to some folks so I am reluctant to put it up.  Nonetheless it shows that blocks are used in a free form,  unscripted environment.  Note that comments saying things like "That isn't real fighting" will be simply deleted as moronic.
I know that no video will ever be "proof" to some people, so I'm not going to say any more on this subject other than to note that I'll sprinkle a few extra stills from this video throughout the present article, frozen at the moment of a "block".

Dilution, misapprehension and copy error

So what factors explain the emergence of the "there are no blocks" mantra?  Why are so many, many people spreading this nonsense to all four corners of the globe?

I do another chudan hiki uke - or is it Jeff?  Does it matter?
I think it comes down to this: dilution of traditional knowledge.

It's sad to say that many modern martial artists don't have a clue how to actually apply their traditional techniques, preferring to practise their kata/patterns/forms for one half of the class, then bounce around doing faux boxing for the other.

I suspect the traditional "don't ask questions - just train" mentality has a lot to answer for in this regard. Like some medieval monks copying the Bible, traditional martial artists over the generations have continued to faithfully replicate form without ever looking into the substance of what they are doing: without ever asking why, comparing alternate sources of the same material or cross referring with other, related, foreign styles to understand and rationalise differences in that form.

I use both evasion and an age/jodan uke against
Jeff's reverse punch.
And so today many martial artists don't understand threshold things like range.  They don't understand blocking surface, zone and rotation/torque.  They don't understand direction, angle, plane and motion.  And they don't know how these things were meant to be addressed and taught by traditional forms.

All the while, copy errors have continued to multiply, like in some generational game of "Chinese whispers".  At the same time, modern practitioners keep insisting on viewing what remains of this ancient movement through the prism of today's sport-oriented culture.

This brings us to fundamental misunderstandings like "Blocks comprise two movements"; misunderstandings that cause martial artists to go looking far and wide for elaborate "answers" to why they should bother doing things like "chudan uke" (just because they haven't been able to apply their diluted versions in faux boxing sparring).

Combine such misunderstanding with:
Jeff uses some fairly common kata blocks to deal with
multiple attacks by me.
  • the parochial assumption that "people in the street are likely to attack me in more or less the same way I practice with my dojo friends"; and 
  • the human tendency to apophenia (ie. pattern recognition - I'm going to write an article on this soon); and
  • some modern 10th dan "soke" speaking with "authority",
and you get the farcical statement: "There are no blocks" being accepted by the mainstream.

What about the traditional masters? Don't they also say there are no blocks?

I recently joined the KenpoTalk forum where some of my friends are members.  There I noticed a thread titled "There are no blocks" (perhaps echoing the same title on my own forum, which in turn mirrors similar titles on MartialTalk etc.).

On that thread, one of my friends posted the following quotes and invited comment:
"There are no blocks in Karate,only striking and locking." --Eizo Shimabukuro 
"There is no 'uke' in karate. There is 'tsuki'(thrusting). There is 'Geri' (kicking). There is 'ate' (striking). But there is no 'uke' in karate."
--Teruo Chinen
I don't know if these quotes are verbatim.  I'm going to assume that they are.  Regardless, I'm pretty sure they don't mean what people think they mean.

Either that, or the masters involved are simply saying one thing and doing another.  Look at their videos and you'll see what I mean: blocks/uke abound!

Yep - "no blocks" in Eizo Shimabukuro's "self defence".

Teruo Chinen shows how karate has "no uke".

"Ah - but that is because this is just basic karate, intended as a step in the process of learning.  This isn't real karate as it is applied."

Jeff uses an inside age/jodan uke.
Yeah right.  The good stuff is kept secret and hidden - well off Youtube.  These masters are deliberately showing you white belt stuff - knowing full well how useless it is tactically and misleading it is in terms of how karate is meant to be applied.  At most it is only "stem cell" stuff which no one will understand or appreciate, but heck, they put it out there as representative of real, effective karate anyway.

As if!

Look, let's not be revisionist here: we all know that most karate and other traditional martial arts masters show "blocks" in their applications and always have.  This is true no matter how "realistic" or "basic" their demonstrations might be.

Jeff uses an inside chudan hiki/kake uke.
It is also true even if they go on to mention that it is preferable to use a more "proactive" means of dealing with an attack: one that neutralises the attack without having to "receive" it first.  Most are aware that, as soon as possible after an initial surprise attack, a good fighter goes from the defensive to the offensive - ie. he or she "seizes initiative".  Maybe this is what the above masters meant by their quotes.  I certainly suspect so.  But they most definitely didn't mean that there are simply "no blocks at all" - or that they only occur in "impractical beginner stuff".

So perhaps the above quotes meant to reflect a sentiment similar to what Choki Motobu meant when he said:
    “The blocking hand must be able to become the attacking hand in an instant. Blocking with one hand and then countering with the other hand is not true bujutsu. True bujutsu presses forward and blocks and counters in the same motion.”
I use a gedan uke with evasion.
I think Motobu was arguing for a kind of "simultaneous" block and counter (which is different to, say, Machida's block shown previously).

The whole "simultaneous" issue is one I've done to death (see also this article). Accordingly, here I think it is sufficient for me to express my view that Motobu is just arguing for a more "proactive", aggressive approach - one that is tactically preferable in terms of pure fighting (although not always preferable for civilian circumstances, as I've noted).  Motobu would have also known that this approach is more "advanced", requiring a higher levels of training to ensure safety in a conservative, civilian context.

Or perhaps he was coming at things more from his own "challenge match" background (which is quite likely!).  Whichever way it goes, he would have known that the "proactive" approach is, for the reasons I've mentioned above, not always available.  And Motobu certainly never maintained a "no blocks" position.

I use wing chun's bong sau.
In respect of the latter, I note that even the most ardent "no blocks" teachers out there will occasionally demonstrate applications with some element of "receiving an attack".5  That they typically gloss over this element reveals, I think, a subconscious awareness of this issue - but a relative lack of skill to know how much specific training is required to make defensive techniques work.

Such cursory treatment of blocks and other defensive techniques is probably encouraged when there is a failure to practice against a realistic, resistant attacker.  Rather, they have "faux attackers" who lurch forward slowly like zombies - or simply act as mere targets, waiting to be hit, then collapsing obligingly.5

It's about civilian defence - not civilian offence!

No, when it comes to quotes, I don't think you need to go past the karate masters of old.  For example, let's look at what Gichin Funakoshi, founder of shotokan karate had to say:
"Karate ni sente nashi. (There is no first attack in karate.)"
I use a gedan uke against a low punch (shock horror!).
To my mind, Funakoshi wasn't just echoing the legal/ethical/moral reasons for being "reactive". He was also recognising that, as a civilian defence art, karate strives to equip you for what you most need: the ability to deal effectively with that first surprise attack.

Most civilians aren't expecting to face a protracted one-on-one fight: they aren't training to be conditioned for three full 5-minute rounds in the cage against "Bones" Jones, Silva or GSP.  Rather, they fear being assaulted in some socialdomestic or other casual situation (eg. walking home after work): a situation when their "guard" (ie. awareness) is down and they quickly find themselves in a defence situation.

For that matter, attackers aren't generally in the business of such protracted fighting either.  Even in the case of a man attacking a woman on a deserted street late at night, the attacker isn't thinking:
"If she resists for any length of period, I'll switch my game to the ground, maybe try for a submission.  By the 15 minute mark I'll go for broke with a big knockout.  Otherwise if it lasts to the 25th minute, I'm hoping my superior fitness and conditioning comes into play."
I use the inside, "secondary" movement of hiki/kake uke
which, due to the range, is turning into a palm block.
It should be clear that this scenario is patent nonsense: "real" fights don't last long at all.  For example, if the woman on the deserted street is even moderately successful in resisting, the attacker will usually abandon the attack (maybe to seek out an easier target instead).  That is consistent with my professional experience (and the experience of direct family members - my mother being one).  Criminals go for easy targets because they are just as averse to "MMA style fighting" as civilian defenders.  If nothing else, the longer they are tied up unproductively with a potential victim, the greater the chance that a bystander will assist or that the police will arrive on the scene. [I have moved my comments about "blocks in MMA" to this separate article.]

By now it should be clear that both defenders and attackers in a civilian attack are risk averse, but that this manifests in different ways.  The defender is conservative in countering because he or she is aiming to protect himself or herself and not create openings.  The attacker is conservative by "stacking the odds" in his or her favour.  Whichever way it goes, neither side wants a protracted "fight" (cf. a combat sports match).  They both want to keep any exchange as brief as possible.

The exchange does not exist to prove "who is better at fighting".  It exists only in order to establish control necessary for:
  • the attacker to subdue the defender (and then humiliate, rob, rape, otherwise hurt or even kill, etc. him or her); or 
  • the defender to repulse the attacker (whether by subduing the attacker or, simply, thwarting the attacker's attempt to subdue - the latter is often enough for the reasons I've just mentioned).
Jeff does an open hand age/jodan uke and counters with
a simultaneous uppercut.  Note his body evasion.
This process of "establishing control" is largely the sum total of what civilian defence is all about - not "fighting".  Blocks play a crucial role in this.

Put another way, traditional martial arts are not about "what you do once you after you control" (ie. "attack, attack, attack" or the "target focused" mentality of some schools).5  They are about what happens before that point: ie. what you need to do to "turn the tables".  Traditional martial arts are primarily concerned with that threshold civilian defence question: what if I find myself staring down the barrel of a punch with only 0.25 seconds before it lands?  They don't assume that this threshold question is a non-issue, then fast forward to a point where "the tables have been turned" and the attacker can now be viewed as a "target".6

In other words, traditional martial arts in the Far East are about civilian defence - not civilian offence.  They are also not about sport offence.


Yes, traditional civilian defence arts have many, many offensive techniques.  But you'll notice that virtually every single kata/xing/pattern/form in Okinawa, Japan, Korea and China starts with... You guessed it...
A block! 
Forms start with moves that give you situational reflexes appropriate to surviving that first, unpredictable attack.  These moves not only enable you to "receive" attacks in a way that leaves you unharmed, but also set you up in a way that enables you to establish a level of control sufficient to prevent future attacks.

These moves are called blocks.

As Choki Motobu, Funakoshi's great rival, said:
"One cannot use continuous attacks against true karate. That is because the blocks of true karate make it impossible for the opponent to launch a second attack."
I don't think Motobu was talking about how blocks are actually "offensive weapons".  This is a popular view today, but I believe it is clearly misconceived.  When you consider the preceding analysis I think it becomes clear that he was talking about how blocks allow you to establish control in a situation where you have little or none.  When you establish control, you can dictate terms.  You are no longer being dictated to.  Blocks enable you to "turn the tables" from a position where you are facing an attack, to one where you are not.  That is because blocks deal with (ie. "receive") the attack in a way that thwarts it and any others that would follow as part of a combination.  They cut off that whole line of assault while simultaneously setting you up in a safer position from which you can counter or simply escape.

A good block is the civilian's "last-second save" that does the above things.  It is not some sort of quaint or basic reading of a mysterious move that is actually a "coded attack" (even if the move might be capable of being applied offensively).  It is a recipe for dealing with the kinds of attacks we realistically face in society - no a recipe for counter attack.

So when it comes to traditional civilian defence arts, the statement: "There is no block" is a nonsense.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

  1. Some habits die hard.  I've been using the term "block" for 33-odd years.  And I've not been alone in this: it's not as if the use of this term isn't widespread to the point of being ubiquitous!  So cut me some slack already!  Sure, in the book I'm writing on civilian defence I'm thinking of defining and using some term that covers the broader meaning of "uke".  But for the time being, I'm sticking with "block", trusting that you'll know what I mean.  Accordingly, please don't flame me for using "block" without endless qualifications - or for forgetting to put the term in inverted commas.
  2. There is an old saying in Serbian: "Немој да ми солиш памет."  Translated literally, it means "don't put salt on my knowledge/intellect" - in other words: "Don't try to "refine" my knowledge condescendingly by "correcting" me with your own embellishments" or, more simply "Don't tell me how to suck eggs."  I feel this way with the legions of karateka (many of whom haven't got a clue how to do a decent chudan uke) who would proclaim that there are "no blocks", then proceed to show me some far-fetched striking application of chudan uke in order to teach me its "true essence".
  3. Alright, before you start flaming me with about "movie swordfighting not being real fighting", remember that I'm just having a bit of fun here with the Danny Kaye images.  But, jokes aside, how many swordfights in history do you think were fought without significant blade contact in the form of parrying, deflection and other blocking?  Do you really think swordfighting was all "dodging and weaving" - or better, yet, pre-empting an opponent's attack and thus never having to face it in the first place?  I suppose this is achievable: but only if your opponent is blind, too drunk to stand or simply unaware of your very existence!  Yes, I know that weapons fighting isn't the same as unarmed fighting.  But is it really that different so as to remove entirely a combat skill central to almost every weapons system (excluding things like archery!)?  Or maybe, just maybe, does the "amplification" in armed fighting simply make the need for blocks so much more obvious...?
  4. Going back to Danny Kaye, it's worth noting that his sword-fighting scenes in The Court Jester (from which the above stills are taken) are highly regarded in fencing circles. Basil Rathbone (who played his opponent) was himself a champion fencer.  He wrote in his autobiography: "We had to fight a duel together with saber. I don’t care much for saber but had had instruction in this weapon during my long association with all manner of swords. . . . After a couple weeks of instruction Danny Kaye could completely outfight me! Even granted the difference in our ages, Danny’s reflexes were incredibly fast, and nothing had to be shown or explained to him a second time." Rathbone put Kaye’s aptitude down to his being a brilliant mimic (about the same period, the French mime Marcel Marceau was also an excellent fencer).  Kaye got so good that Rathbone couldn't keep up (he was 64, after all) and so he had to have a stunt double for the fight scenes with Kaye.  So take that, doubters!  Engarde! 
  5. The exception to the idea that most teachers will show at least some token "block" seems to be this guy.  I have yet to see him show any sort of defence.  Heck, I can't find even one example of an attack to be "defended": all of his "attackers" just act as "targets to be hit".  To my observation he doesn't seem to be teaching a method of "defence" at all.  He is teaching a method of offence (and only offence)  - no doubt under the guise of "offence is the best defence".  This might be appropriate for military and even law enforcement - but in my view it has little to do with the needs of the civilian.  As emotionally appealing as it is, and as "useful" as it might be for quick "removal" of our human instinct "not to hurt", it is hardly a recipe for civilian defence success - in legal/moral/ethical terms as well as pragmatic ones.
  6. One unfortunate fellow used to keep writing to me, unable to grasp the simple point that defence requires defensive skills.  He kept insisting that arts like karate have very poor "attacking" skills; that addressing this "deficiency" (in the manner of the teacher mentioned in point 5) would be a kind of panacea, curing the "ills" that affect traditional martial artists.  Well I'm sorry, but we traditional martial artists don't need to be taught how to "suck eggs".  We don't need "salt on our intellect".  The stuff taught by the teacher mentioned in point 5 is hardly "news" to a well-trained traditional martial artist.  In fact, the "attacking skills" I've seen in his videos leave much to be desired: It is clear to me they try to reinvent the wheel, ignoring far more sophisticated, effective, tried-and-tested striking methods developed over two thousand years.  As with "blocks", noting some poor examples of diluted, so-called "traditional" martial arts today is hardly the benchmark for criticism of traditional attacking technique.  And there is more to offering a "modern alternative" than the slick marketing of someone submitting to be a punching bag while someone else pretends to hit them.
Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Dan this is Dave Chapman. I believe you're harping on this way too much. No one said there was no 'Uke' in Karate or Self Defense.
    However, lets see you try to apply a traditional Uke the way it is practiced and applied in the Dojo on a Normal training night with basics, lets see it applied that way EVEN IN A SPARRING MATCH! It can't be done, you have to rely on Palm to Middle 'blocks' which tend to work better as they move to the centerline. Its' what is natural.
    The remainder of the movement, if trained correctly is not a block because the block itself happens with the off-hand as it moves inward to the centerline.
    Also, MMA those are called 'Guards' and they are a form of 'Uke' but they are not showing the application of what you are referring to as traditional Karate Blocks. These really DO NOT work out as they are practiced in the Dojo for a real situation.

    Give us a free form video of someone with good fluid and solid punches, preferably pulling back like a boxer, and show us how these blocks are applied and work in the manner they are taught traditionally in the Dojo. The video you show of a Chudan Uke followed by a punch is a traditional format where the assailant leaves his arm out instead of pulling it back.

    1. Hi David. Here are a few things:

      1. Since it's my blog I am free to "harp" as much as I like about whatever I like. As it stands, I put a lot of considered work into this article (the tone might be flippant, but the subject matter isn't) and I did so at the expense of sleep. To wake up this morning to being told I'm "harping" is not pleasant.

      2. "No one said there were no uke?" What about the quotes in my article? Google "there are no blocks". Your tone almost suggests this article was somehow addressed to you. If so, I assure you it wasn't. I had no idea about your position on blocks - till now.

      3. Here's an article with a video showing a normal training with fluid 3/4 sparring. Full speed sparring is just faster on both sides - that's all. Because we're both moving at the same pace, speeding up is easy. But I personally find 3/4 speed better training most of the time.

      4. In the sparring you'll see lots of blocks.

      5. If the blocks aren't sufficiently like the basics for you I'll have to say: "Sorry, but you're being too literal." Because this is how we have always applied them. We use the principle of the block, not the entire basic form which is a basic device for teaching angles and planes of interception and deflection. The stills show the applied blocks clearly. They include almost all the standard movements - age, chudan, gedan, etc. using both primary and secondary moves. If you don't think so then we'll have to agree to disagree. But I can't help noticing that any disagreement would be nothing more than semantic at this point.

      6. I've covered palm blocks. I'll be covering what you call "middle blocks moving to the center line" (secondary movement in all blocks) soon. Both are useful, but they are only a small (overused) part of blocking in my view.

      7. "Retracting the hand" is a red herring, as I have previously noted. You'll note we retract our hands in sparring anyway. Who doesn’t?

  2. "Also, MMA those are called 'Guards' and they are a form of 'Uke' but they are not showing the application of what you are referring to as traditional Karate Blocks."

    In karate we also call them "guards".

    My point was to explain how even guards act to intercept and deflect attacks (otherwise there would be no point in them). In other words, the arms "ward off" attacks (ie. deflect/block etc.). This is part of my wider thesis that "guards" and "blocks" form part of a continuum and are not distinct entities.

    For example, if my arms are up in a guard, I might just push my arms forward into an attack at the angle used by a traditional basic block and achieve a deflection. Am I using my guard or an abbreviated movement of the block? Does it matter?

  3. Hello Dan,
    I understand that it seems unpleasant and I do appreciate your sharing. I meant no disrespect in that regard, just thought comments were a good place for some debate on the subject matter.
    No, I did not feel it was addressed to me as by the word 'Uke' I do not take it to mean block.

    My thing is that I've done A LOT of Irikumi, I've done A LOT of Sanbon Shobu, not to mention sparring with MMA Practitioners where I've learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn't.
    In my view Karate DOES work, but it is a matter of shifting perspectives and focus in the approach itself.

    Its' the difference between an Elbow Strike and throwing up your Elbow to guard the Head.
    The Elbow Strike effectively becomes an Uke, or reception of incoming energy to wedge and deflect as you enter, but at the same time is a strike itself in one movement.

    The other night I was sparring with a friend of mine who had done nearly a decade in the Army, having been in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, among other places.
    He has advanced training in Close Quarters Combatives, plus is ranked in Tae Kwon Do, and the training he had done with me when he was younger.
    He shot in to take me to the ground, apparently this is popular in the Military these days, lots of MMA.
    I received it by planting backwards into Zenkutsu Dachi, shoving his head downward in what resembles a movement we know as Gedan Barai, shifting to the side into Neko Ashi Dachi, twisting my other arm up and around, his head twisting, a movement akin to dropping forearm, Gedan Ude Uke I believe??
    It spun him and with his momentum already moving down he landed on his back with me over him in a position to take up a mount and pound the living crud out of him with a series of palm heel strikes to the face (punching the face would ruin my livelihood, strike hard to soft and soft to hard).

    My view is not that there are no BLOCKS but that the BLOCK is not generally what we think of it. When you try to apply Chudan Uke as such in even a sparring situation it will not work because the movement is too slow and not really meant for that.
    The block takes place with the off-hand as a parry and check, Osai Uke moving to the centerline which is not counter-intuitive to the way the body and mind work.

    I am with you on this, but I certainly am not a proponent of the methodology, at present, of training Uke in Traditional Dojo because, in the manner practiced and applied, presented by the majority as the 'proper' method, it is bunk.
    I come from a family of Boxers, Wrestlers, and Military Servicemen and Women, I've had exposure to other ways.

    I know parrying and checking work. I know that arms to the center is faster than arms/hands away from center as far as economy of motion is concerned.
    I've seen natural reaction, and experienced it (as pretty much everyone has) to being startled and tucking inward to cover the centerline.

    There needs to be an examination of this as a whole, of every last inch of movement in each reception.
    To understand this is to understand entering and the overall flow of Application/Strategy itself by way of its' Tactics.
    Positioning, Distance, what have you, and I know you understand this as you are masterful in your presentation of these things. I respect that deeply.

    Most Karateka I know have a separation between Kihon/Kata and Kumite.
    When they are working basics they give it sort of a passing nod and pay it lip service, but when it comes time for Sparring they do not abide the basics but utilize something different entirely.
    Mainly because they have not been shown how the tactics and strategies of one carry over to the other.

    Basics are trained in a way that remains static, whereas the Kumite aspect does not allow the application of said basics on a fluid, rigid, alive, and resisting opponent.
    If even in Sparring something does not work, where is the carry-over into everything else??

    1. I have also done a lot of iri kumi over the last 30 years - on at least 4 continents and against a multitude of styles, ranging from traditional to modern. I have had exposure to boxing and wrestling. I have fought many grapplers.

      Yet I apply blocks in my sparring!

      I could have simply asserted these things. Instead I chose to write a comprehensive, reasoned article justifying my position.

      My additional comments and the video/stills (already public on this blog) address most of your latest comments. The inside block issue will have to wait. For the moment I'll note that just because we default to certain movements doesn't mean they are superior or optimal. If you've ever tried golf or tennis you'll know that "intuitive" moves of beginners are not worth anything, for example. The inside block is far from useless, but it also is far from sophisticated. The fact that it works for you is not surprising to me as I use it too, as my video shows. But this says nothing about outside movement.

      As to the outside move being too slow... I just wrote a lengthy piece on that. Read my previous article. Now look at the stills I've just added and note the hiki/kake uke examples (and age/jodan examples too, which work on the outside to some extent). No, they weren't done at any different tempo. All techniques were done at the same speed - by both sides. If the move is "too slow" how did we squeeze it in?


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