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All Blocks Suck

By George Donahue

In our group of karate practitioners, we have a saying (almost a mantra): “All blocks suck.” We repeat this frequently, especially to beginners and to people who have converted from other ways to our way of training. We don’t mean that all blocks are worthless, though we do mean that blocks done the wrong way are less than optimal and some truly indeed are worthless. What we’re really getting at, however, is that blocks should draw the opponent’s attack toward the defender, deflecting the path of attack only by from 5 to 15 degrees, if at all (in the latter case, you must remove the attacker’s target). Blocks should suck in the attacker’s limb or weapon and maybe even the attacker’s whole body.

The natural impulse is to block outward in order to push away the attack. This seems reasonable, at first look, and it often succeeds in momentarily averting immediate danger. After all, the more distance you maintain from the attacker’s weapon—whether fist, foot, or hardware—the safer you feel. However, a skilled attacker will use the pushing motion of this sort of block to power the next attack. Your block is actually loading the attacker with additional kinetic energy that may well be applied upside your head. And in the meantime, you’ve only bought very little time and the safe space you’ve created for yourself is not really that safe at all.

In short, if you push or force your block outward, then you:

• Provide your attacker with extra energy to use against you
• Buy too little time
• Waste explosive energy that could be saved for a counterattack
• Commit your center of gravity to a single direction
• Commit yourself to a predictable block, then counter, rhythm

If you execute your blocks more optimally by sucking, then you:

• Avoid giving your attacker any of your energy to turn against you, while taking advantage of your attacker’s energy and turning it against the attacker
• Buy no time whatsoever, but waste no time either, as it is now possible to block and attack simultaneously and efficiently
• Reserve your explosive energy for your own attacks
• Preserve your center of gravity in the center, where it should be, so you can deal with any and all directions
• Make no commitment to a specific technique or series of techniques
• And, maybe most important, you are able to flow your block into a trap or throw at the same time that you forcefully, as the late Bruce Lee put it, “chastise” the attacker


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About The Author:

George Donahue has been on the board of FightingArts.com since its inception. He is a freelance writer and editor, providing literary and consulting services to writers, literary agents, and publishers, as well to advertising agencies. He has worked in publishing for more than three decades, beginning as a journal and legal editor. Among his positions have been editorial stints at Random House; Tuttle Publishing, where he was the executive editor, martial arts editor, and Asian Studies editor; and Lyons Press, where he was the senior acquisitions editor and where he established a martial arts publishing program. He is a 6th dan student of karate and kobujutsu—as well as Yamane Ryu Bojutsu—of Shinzato Katsuhiko in Okinawa Karatedo Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku. He was also a student of Kishaba Chokei and Nakamura Seigi until their deaths. He teaches Kishaba Juku in New York and Connecticut, as well as traveling to provide seminars and special training in karate, weapons, and self-defense. His early training was in judo and jujutsu, primarily with Ando Shunnosuke in Tokyo. He also studied kyujutsu (archery), sojutsu (spear), and kenjutsu (swordsmanship) in Japan as a youth. Following his move to the US, he continued to practice judo and jujutsu, as well as marksmanship with bow and gun, and began the study of Matsubayashi Ryu karate in his late teens. Subsequently, he has studied aikido and taiji and cross trained in ying jow pai kung fu.


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