There are no blocks in MMA?

[This article is split from my earlier one "There are no blocks".]

 The knockout punch

"I don't care about your stupid articles.  You don't see blocks in MMA, so that proves they don't work.  Checkmate!"

If I only had a dollar for every time I heard that statement...

For many, this is the "knockout punch" in the "blocks don't work" argument. But there are many false assumptions inherent in this statement, which I will now proceed to analyse:

No blocks in MMA?  So what?

Okay, let's assume there are no "blocks" in MMA.  Why would this be conclusive evidence that they "don't work" in civilian defence?

I'll take it point by point:
Fighters in MMA have a very different goal
to civilians who are being attacked.
  • Fighters in an MMA cage are in there with the express aim of beating an opponent.  It is their only goal to land blows or submit - ie. to "hurt".  They don't get points for walking (or running!) away.  They're going to "take it to their opponents" even if they are not being threatened at a given time.  In other words, they're not going to back away "because they can".  They aren't going to be "conservative" or "minimalist" in the sense of fighting "only if necessary" (or, conversely, abandoning the attack "because it is too much bother").  Sport fighters have a job to do, and that job means they have to take risks.  They're going to keep going back in until they've done the job.
  • Civilian defence fighters have a very different aim.  They "win" so long as they don't get hurt.  This means that a civilian will often adopt very different tactics.  Such tactics include such things as talking a situation down and "walking away" (even after the opponent has actually landed a humiliating blow!).  And, of course, these tactics include the very "reactive" block.
  • I know that as you block, you aren't "hitting your opponent" or otherwise "ending things".  But we've already talked about how what you might prefer isn't necessarily what you'll get.  Furthermore, there are many cases in civilian defence where "blocking" is not only the most available first option, but also the most prudent one.  Examples I've both come across (and experienced directly) are where a responsible adult has to manage a troubled teenager, or perhaps person with disabilities, who is upset and becoming increasingly violent. In such cases, "hitting the person" is often the last thing you should do (legally, pragmatically or otherwise).  In some cases it isn't even appropriate to try to grapple the person (eg. people with autism often don't respond well to being restrained - it simply inflames the situation).  So the notion that "blocking just delays the inevitable" buys into the false assumption that every civilian attack is followed by an inexorable "descent into full one-on-one battle to the end".  This is far from true (however much it applies in the cage/ring).
  • Yes, there are some cases where the civilian's best hope lies in going after an attacker aggressively (with the intention of striking or disabling him/her through grappling).  But to go from this to "street fights really become just like cage/ring fights after a second or two" buys into the false assumption to which I've just referred.  Let's be real here: I worked as a prosecutor for the better part of a decade yet I can't even recall even one case of assault that looked anything like a cage/ring fight.  
  • In any event, if you need to use an aggressive, "proactive" response to an attack, traditional martial arts are full of them.  Every single punch, kick and strike can be used to enter, pre-empt, cut off, stifle, neutralise etc. before the attack lands.  However that just as it is true that "every time you block, you aren't hitting your opponent", it is worth noting that "every time you throw an attack, you create an opening".  Traditional martial arts have the goal of "minimising openings".  This is very different to a goal of "maximising hits".
Guy Mezger
So observing that an MMA fighter is going to be less focused on defensive tactics like blocking is hardly surprising.  MMA isn't a game of "let's see who doesn't get hurt".  It's about "let's see who gets hurt".  Goals/objectives fundamentally effect tactics, which effect your skill set (or at least the "balance" of technique use within that skill set).  "Beating your opponent" and "not being beaten" are actually two very different things with a substantial effect on the dynamics of fighting.

It really doesn't get any simpler than this.  Looking at an MMA match and judging that as the "gold standard" of what is useful for civilians is totally misconceived.  It buys into the myth that "MMA and civilian defence are the same."  Yes, MMA is real, hard-core contact fighting.  Yes, MMA fighters are the real deal when it comes to fighting - probably in any situation.  But looking to their skill set as the "be all and end all" for civilian defence needs is just as absurd as assuming that the military has all the solutions for ordinary civilians in society.

Anyway, I've previously noted that even MMA fighters have been known to default to blocking in civilian defence situations outside the ring.  Consider Guy Mezger's own words:
    " He was throwing a really kind of wild punch, which I thought was a punch — I didn’t know he had a knife in his hand — and I kind of blocked it with my left and hit him with the right and knocked him out again."
 And you're sure there aren't blocks in MMA?

But in any event, who said that "there no blocks in MMA"?  Sorry, but this is a bit like saying "there are no 'stances' in MMA".  Yes, you don't see people pausing in formal traditional stances.  But this doesn't mean there aren't any.

Forearm blocks abound in MMA, even if they are frequently
used as true "blocks" rather than deflections.
As I've previously discussed, stances are dynamic; they are snapshots of movement, not "postures" to be adopted.  If you take a still from practically any round of any MMA fight, you'll see literally dozens of stances being performed.

Similarly, if you take a still from a MMA melee exchange, there is a good chance you'll see a parry, deflection or simple "block" of at least some description.

Don't believe me?  Here are a just a few I've found.  There occur wherever you see "hands/forearms/limbs just getting in the way".  For that matter, a good guard is a kind of "block" in the sense that it can intercept, deflect or simply deter your opponent's attacks.  Why else would your coach yell: "Keep your guard up!"  It wouldn't be to intercept or block your opponent's attacks, now would it?  Oh, no!  It couldn't possibly mean that!  It must be to "hit the other guy with your guard!"

MMA blocks are often unscientific and "last ditch" - like
this "palm block to a roundhouse head kick" (ouch).

"Okay, but they don't look like karate-style blocks!"

Well in that case you're looking at things too literally, aren't you?  You're looking at karate, taekwondo or gong fu basics and comparing them to applied movement.  In other words, you're looking at formal exercises designed for learning angles and planes of movement, and for developing kinaesthesia and generally for motor learning - then failing to match these to what you see in the cage.  You might as well look at speedball practice and skipping and note that you don't see either in the ring (even though they have both served boxers as effective training methods for generations).

Yes, a traditional martial artist would say that many MMA "blocks" aren't really very "good" from a technical perspective.

Now if he'd angled that rising deflection a little better, it
might have looked a bit more like a traditional
age or jodan uke!
But where's the surprise in that?  We've already established that MMA fighters don't really place a great deal of emphasis on purely defensive tactics.  We know that they don't spend much (if any) time on "blocks".  Why would we expect them to have optimal blocking technique?

"Blocking" is a refined skill: a true art and science.  It takes many years of diligent training to understand and apply optimally.

As with many traditional techniques, the block is, I believe, yet to be "introduced properly" into MMA (ie. in a way that is noteworthy enough for folks to sit up and notice).  I know that many people doubt me, but then again people used to scoff at my suggestion that the front snap kick was awaiting discovery.  And I was proved right.

Anyway, Lyoto Machida is already doing a fairly good job at using this defensive skill, as you can see from the gifs below.  Note however that his approach is strictly "long range" (favouring the inward depressing palm block).  This is hardly a surprise given Machida's shotokan style and general sport karate background and tactical preference.
How about that?  One of the only MMA fighters
to use "blocks" properly is actually a highly skilled
karateka - Lyoto Machida.  Who would have
Machida once again.  His use of an inward palm block
is hardly surprising.  This is the favourite of most competiton
kumite (ie. distance karate) fighters - Machida's
pre-MMA bread and butter.
Personally, I'm waiting to see better use of slightly closer range forearm deflections (note that the first gif shows him intercepting the attack with his forearm and not his palm due to the closer range anyway).  I'm waiting to see chudan uke (ie. of the general type I demonstrate in the formal gif above) or age/jodan uke and many others.  I suspect I'll be in for a long wait as I am not aware of anyone of, say, Naha te lineage karate who is using traditional technique at a level as high as Machida's.

Indeed, I hardly ever see anyone using forearm blocks - even in other karate dojos (mostly I just see faux boxing)!  By contrast, in my my school (and those of my instructors') such blocks have been used regularly, effectively and comprehensively in hard and fast sparring for many decades.


It is no wonder that the "average" MMA fighter is likely to "beat" the "average" traditional martial artist (whatever those things mean).  The two train for different purposes in very different disciplines.  The are so different that it is misleading to group them as doing the same activity.

That MMA fighters might prefer not to use defensive techniques like "blocks" is hardly surprising.  That they actually use them anyway (albeit to a lesser extent) is, I think, obvious.

While "blocking" us not really tailor made for the cage/ring, I believe we will see its use increasing as fighters start to invest more than cursory effort in understanding this skill.

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic


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