Reinventing the wheel: back to the rising block


I find it quite ironic that people are slowly returning to the rising block after decades of disparagement.

I can't remember where, but I recall reading that the Russian military forces have reverted to the traditional rising block which was discovered to be one of the most effective ways to fight against hacking attacks by the Mujahideen armed with long bladed knives.

Others have rediscovered age uke but talk in terms of "punching" - consider the video below:


A video showing street fighting defences (click on the picture to access the video). Note the use of the rising block.

Perhaps this is because the block is being used as it was intended: for civilian defence against ungloved opponents (not for sport). Most importantly, the gentleman in the video uses the block as an intercepting technique - meaning that it goes out to meet your opponent, not one that stays close to your head.

It is my view that this has been lost from traditional karate, where the block is commonly performed very close to the head. Even I was taught this way: "one fist from the forehead". Experience and common sense have taught me that this is not a good idea. I have found it impossible to apply. Indeed, why would you ever want to wait until an attack had practically landed on your face before trying to deflect it? If you do so you allow yourself very little margin for error; the attack will be travelling at its top speed and you will have waited until the last millisecond to deflect it. To me, this misconception of age uke is a prime example of dilution of knowledge in traditional fighting systems (see my article ""Why blocks DO work" for more on this question of dilution).

Rather, the rising block needs to extend out so that it can intercept the attack early. If it is too extended it becomes a mere punch; that in itself is not "wrong"; it's just that it leaves you too little margin for error. The further the arm is extended, the smaller the angle left in your forearm for deflection. Given that karate is a civilian defence art, not a sport or military discipline, the emphasis is first and foremost on not being hit, not on hitting.


A video showing the correct form of the age uke or rising block

The only real difference between the basic age uke or rising block and how it is applied in combat is your simultaneous use of body evasion. Just as the video at the outset demonstrates the defender leaning to avoid the attack, a karateka should use taisabaki/tenshin (body movement or evasion) together with every deflection. The fact that deflections/blocks are practised standing still is neither here nor there; this is an isolation exercise for basic practise. Once the movement is correct it should be applied contextually.

Note however that since karate is a civilian defence art, a premium is placed on not allowing the body to move too far off the centreline; balance must be preserved as much as possible. Accordingly karate uses the age uke / rising block with a step evasion rather (preferably to the side or 45 degrees forwards or back). A small lean might be required, but this will be less than the lean demonstrated in the opening video where the defender does not move from his position. [For more on this topic, see my article "Evasion vs blocking with evasion".]

I have, and will continue to, use the rising block in sparring. If you haven't or cannot I would hazard a guess that you either haven't practised the rising block correctly or you are fighting at an extended range, not the "melee range" of which I often speak.

It seems to me somewhat surprising that people coming back to the age uke / rising block are doing so with the impression that they've found something new ("it's a kind of punch" etc.). I see it as reinventing the wheel. I suppose it doesn't matter if they are reinventing it - the important thing is that they recognise its value.

As I have detailed in my article ""Why blocks DO work", many people in the martial arts today seem to think blocks are functionless. Others say that blocks are not actually "blocks" but are strikes, grappling techniques etc. It is as if the former ride on sleds, remarking on how effective the sled is in snow and ignoring the superiority of wheels on other terrain. The latter (revisionists) think the wheel makes a good frisbee or necklace...

[See also "Is mawashi uke goju's rising block?" and "Two for the price of one: more about karate blocks".]

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic

Comments

  1. I basically agree...but just a few comments. That basic head block should have the elbow slanted down, precisely to withstand a blow. I was taught more or less as you were and I think the purpose was to train a movement. It happened with all the blocks. They started pretty tight until with time you naturally learned to deflect the blow higher than the forearm or wrist, with the added evasion. This block is in the Gekisai series and in the beginning I would do it pretty straight up. In time, the technique naturally loosened as did the rest of the body movement, to finally resemble a low coil turn with a high head block. I realize that a lot of Goju schools still do it in this beginner mode. I believe this is due to the fact that when they "pass" Gekisai, they stop training it. If they would have kept on doing the kata with the same approach they expend on the "classic" kata, the kata itself would have evolved naturally to that correct application you finally demonstrate.
    Good point, nonetheless.

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  2. Thanks Jorge. I agree that the elbow should be slanted down - I was taught that from day one. However in my view the block should also be slanted away from the head - so that the forearm is much more than 1 fist away from the forehead. In other words, I think that from day one the block should be practised so that the elbow is slanting down on 2 axes, not just one...

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  3. The other day I was standing at the station in my home town of London minding my own business. A large guy, clearly on something (he was hurling himself at pedestrians) came my way. I should have stepped out the way, but I have a stubborn streak. As he passed he threw a large one at my head. Years of reaction training kicked in and I threw out a classic age-uke with all my hips behind it. He spun round and hit the deck simply from the block, then ran off looking confused. Dan is absolutely right - it works, and I'd never understood how before. If I'd done a "sport karate' block I doubt I'd have had enough power to stop his blow as his whole weight was behind it. And as I hadn't stepped back there as no time to evade; my only option was to step up into his blow. Anyway, there's two ha'pennies worth!

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  4. Just a comment to let you know that the first video you posted (the one where you have to click the picture to access it) no longer exists on youtube.

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  5. Techniques are meaningless. If one asks for evidence, then these guys without the age uke just redeveloped it by reverse engineering from the same problem sets.

    Figure out the principles, the solutions, and the problems, and one will never need a technique memorized. Because putting 1 hour into learning principles will equal a million hours put into memorizing techniques.

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