Various martial art systems approach the concept of blocking from different perspectives. Some systems teach very basic blocking concepts, and progress through different approaches as the student grows in knowledge and skill. Some systems use a single method that they believe to be the best approach. Many say that blocking doesn’t really exist, there is only striking. Many also consider moving out of the way to be the equivalent of blocking. Some systems don’t really think of what they do as blocking at all.
The lowest level is the hard blocking system that is seen in most Karate, Kempo, Tai Kwon Do systems taught. It is what would be taught to beginners.
The idea with a hard blocking system is to break what you block. Therefore the block is really seen as a strike.
The next level of advancement for this approach would be to use the block to set the opponent for a following strike. You could think of it as using your block like a fork to hold your food in place while you cut it with a knife.
The level after that is to block and strike at the same time. Stepping out of the way as you strike, accomplishes the same thing as blocking and striking together.
This is an example of the basic hard blocks used by many Kempo, Karate, and Tai Kwon Do practitioners. This particular approach is put together as a blocking system in some Kempo systems. Though it looks linear, if you look you’ll see it is just blocking on four points of a circle with each side. After the basic blocks I’ve included some different methods of training with the system from a horse stance.
Another blocking system that some Kempo systems teach next is the ten point blocking system. A couple of things with this system is that while it can be done as a hard blocking system, it can also be done as a soft system. Another thing of note is that it is put together using both hands all the time (though you could pull out and use an individual block by itself). As I said before blocking and striking at the same time is a few steps up from just blocking.
After progressing through the ten point blocking system, some Kempo people advance to the Plum Tree Blocking system. You’ll notice this system is a soft system. Of course they can each be practiced with different flavors.
The above systems/approaches are all from what would traditionally be thought of as external systems. When you start looking at other systems including internal systems the approach tends to change. This doesn’t mean that some of the ideas like blocking and striking at the same time don’t apply. That would be a common concept in both Tzu Men, and Wing Chun. However you see more sensitivity training going on. Examples would be Chi Sau in Wing Chun, or push hands in Tai Chi. Bagua and Hsing-I also have two man forms that help to develop sensitivity as well. There are many examples of these training methods already on Youtube to watch compare and learn from, so I won’t put any links in here. I think that the methods used by such systems need to be addressed in another post.
While Most Martial Arts are by nature very aggressive (including most Kempo systems), and look to engage the opponent, there are a few that appear not to be on the surface. For example practitioners of Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo believe that the highest level of self defense, is to have no contact with your opponent. In true self defense they believe not only should you not be harmed, but neither should your attacker. Therefore the approach is not to engage if possible. They accomplish this by using escaping, and evading techniques.
Kosho is very much about preparatory arts, timing, and positioning. So to understand escaping patterns please read my posts on eye training, and positioning/ octagon Theory, etc.. You need to understand those things first.
This is one of many escaping patterns, that practitioners practice. To understand how it works think of yourself as starting in the center of the octagon. You then move to each of the eight directions and back to center in order. You can continue the pattern as long as necessary.
Kosho folks always move twice. The first move is intended to put them at a 90 degree angle on their opponent, the second move can do the same, or be used to go through the opponent. For the purposes of escaping you would always be looking to end up 90 degrees on your opponent or possibly behind him. They always move twice because they assume there attacker will attack with all their weapons. Two arms means two punches. So for example the first move would be to position 1, and then move back to where they started. The next moves would be to position 2, then back to center, etc..
Now if you had an attacker start at position 7 or 4 and attacks you in the center, you could move to position 1 ( I used those two directions because moving to direction 1 would be appropriate only with the right combination of eye training and distance). Assuming the attacker continues his attack following you to where you move, you know where is is going to move one move before he does. This allows you too always escape, and end up at a 90 degree angle to your opponent. If he doesn’t follow you in the expected manor and you move, you’ll still just end up further away from each other. In this case neither of you would be harmed again.
If you determine that striking is necessary, by knowing where you’re opponent will move next. If you put your strike out on his line of travel, he will run into the strike adding his power, and momentum to your power on the strike. You will also catch him in transition this way, compounding the damage done.
This is a concept that I believe to be of great value to external stylists. Especially once you’ve made contact with your opponent. It has real world practical applications. Especially when trying to stop a situation from escalating, or to give you time to set up your strike. This is a Kempo theory. Touch and sensitivity are important in Kempo, as they are in Chinese Internal Arts.
Structural Freezing, a.k.a. Skeletal Freezing is a method of controlling your opponents ability to move.
As a general rule being directly behind your opponent is the best place to be, but it isn’t always practical to get there. In that case being at the ninety degree angle (or greater), is a good choice.
So the idea with structural freezing is that if you’re at the 90 degree angle on your opponent, he will have to rotate to face you to cause serious harm.
For example if your opponent throws a right punch at you, and you move to the appropriate angle to end up on his right side at 90 degrees (Of course avoiding his strike if possible, or blocking as needed, as you move). From this position your opponent will have to turn to face you, to hit you with his left hand (other hand). In order to do that one side of his body (in this case his right side) will have to retract (rotate away from you). As he tries to hit with his left hand (this is the protracting side, which must rotate toward you). His focus and energy/power/strength will be on the protracting side (the side he is trying to hit you with).
He must maintain structural integrity as he moves (skeletal alignment). If you can disrupt his structure as he moves, you can prevent him from moving at all.
The easiest way is to disrupt the side closest to you, which will have a retracting side if he rotates to face you. Most people focus on the side they are rotating at you to hit you with, and aren’t very aware of the retracting side.
So to stop the side from rotating away from you. First allow the rotation to begin, then suddenly make the retracting side stop, or move in another direction. Forcing a change in direction, or stopping the intended rotation of the retracting joint, or part of the body will disrupt the opponents structure. Remember if you stop the retracting side from moving in the intended manor, you stop the protracting side from moving in the intended manor.
An example would be the opponent throws a right hand at you, you step up on his right as you avoid/intercept/block the strike. You keep your hand on his shoulder as you end up at 90 degrees. As he tries to follow up with his next strike, which would most likely be with his retracted/left hand, he’ll step to face you rotating the right back, as he hits with his left. With your hand on his shoulder feel the shoulder begin its retraction, once it starts, push the shoulder in another direction such as back where it started. You just need to stop the retraction from happening. The harder he punches the more violently you’ll shake him in place (Actually he’ll shake himself) and stop his motion. I used the shoulder as an example, but it could be any joint, or spot on the retracting side of the body. Hips, knees, etc. work really well.
Of course he may not rotate in the direction you think. If he rotates the other direction to for example throw a spinning back fist you need to be able to deal with that. Of course the same rules apply, there will still be a retracting, and protracting side. You could just slide the hand to the other side of the shoulder to stop the retraction. You could also touch with both hands One on the elbow, and one on the shoulder. This would allow you to easily stop the rotation in either direction. Of course you could use one hand, and a leg or foot to control the lower part of the body. This leads me into another topic which I’ll discuss later. Attaching high and low together.
There are many ways to apply this concept. I’ve just given a fundamental explanation, and example. Go play with it, and experiment.
Positioning is an extremely import thing in martial arts. The worst place to be is directly in front of your opponent. This is were your opponent can see best, and bring all weapons, and defenses to bare. Moving to a 90 degree angle on your opponent is considered a much better place to be. Untrained people, and external martial arts must turn toward their opponent to be able to issue energy, and continue their attack. This is not true of internal martial arts practitioners, they can issue energy at any angle, from any point of of their bodies. I’ll speak of the differences between internal and external arts another time. For now will I want to stick to the topic at hand. While being at a 90 degree angle to your opponent is better then being in front of your opponent, the best place to be is directly behind your opponent. Each system has it’s own method of positioning. I want to discuss systems that move in a linear fashion today.
Some systems just move to the 90 degree angle, others use triangles. Other systems stay center, or move forward, backward, left or right side. Many systems use eight directions. There are a couple of training tools that are commonly used. Some systems lay out a box on the floor. They move from center, to each of the corners, and each of the sides. Another training tool is the Octagon. Though it has many applications, I want to discuss it here as it relates to positioning with your opponent.
The octagon can be used for escaping, and evasion, as well as more aggressive forms of self defense. It is used in conjunction with moving on motion, and eye training. Properly used it tells the martial artist where to move. Distance is another key factor in knowing which angle to move too. When done correctly moving once will bring you to a 90 degree angle on your opponent. You have to move twice to be directly behind your opponent.
Which angle to use depends on distance, and whether you are using tunnel vision or peripheral vision. Though I learned this method training Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo, my understanding is that it originally came from Japanese sword fighting. We use 12-6-3 foot distances from our back foot to the opponents back foot to determine which angle to move too. Twelve foot from your back foot to your opponents is about the distance of two opponents facing each other with Katana’s tip to tip.
Another contention of this approach is that in order for your opponent to do you any serious harm, they must seek your center. Therefore they must move to where you are to harm you. The Japanese approach to sword fighting was to make a single pass intending to kill with a single cut. The idea was not to have to block blade on blade, but to focus on killing your opponent. They used moving at angles, and on time as their defense. Of course their only targets were not the opponents center, but could be his hands, or weak points in his armor, etc.. But more on how to set up and where to strike later.
Presume your opponent is at a twelve foot distance. Using tunnel vision, and you are moving on motion. When they move you would move forward at a 45 degree angle either left or right. If they start at a six foot distance, you move straight left, or right. If they start from a three foot distance, you move backward 45 degrees either left or right. The most difficult thing to defend, and worst thing you could do is go straight backward.
If you use peripheral vision your reaction time is much faster. You can easily adjust your angles by one distance. Meaning for example that if your opponent was at six foot you would move to the same angles that you would at twelve foot with tunnel vision. At three foot, you would move the same angles as you would at six foot with tunnel vision.
There is much more to go over on this topic, and I’ll cover it more in the future.
Where to look, and how to look are extremely important in martial arts. Every style, and every teacher has an opinion. Some use tunnel vision and focus on looking directly into the eyes. Others use peripheral vision. There are other practitioners that use both. Each approach has it’s reasons.
Those that look you in the eye, do so because they believe the eyes to be the windows to the soul. There is much truth in this. You can see their intent, sometimes before they realize it themselves. You can see if they are confident, or afraid. Some like to look into their opponents eyes, to see their pain and suffering as they destroy them. There are considerations you must take into account if this is the method used. There are Philosophical issues with this approach, but my intention is to discuss functional issues. Functionally, if you are this focused you lose awareness of your surroundings. You are susceptible to attack by outside forces. If your fighting a skilled opponent, he may be able to use his eyes to feint, fake, and otherwise deceive you. In such a case it could be a weakness your opponent can exploit in you. Looking directly and focusing increases reaction time compared to peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision is used by many. Some will use unfocused eyes and generally look at the chest, or another body part, others will look off to the side. Using different head positions, and postures, you can increase your peripheral vision from 180 degrees, to virtually 360 degrees around yourself. Using it lets you see without looking. It also lets you be more aware of your surroundings. Another reason to use peripheral vision is that reaction time is quicker then tunnel vision. To understand why, you need to understand a bit of how the eye works. The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that contains millions of tiny light-sensing nerve cells called rods and cones, which are named for their distinct shapes. Cones are concentrated in the center of the retina, in an area called the macula. In bright light conditions, cones provide clear, sharp central vision and detect colors and fine details. Rods are located outside the macula and extend all the way to the outer edge of the retina. They provide peripheral or side vision. Rods also allow the eyes to detect motion and help us see in dim light and at night. Since we want to move on motion, we want the information from the rods, without also having to process extra information from the cones, slowing down our reaction time.
I once heard a taiji master explain that in the classics when they say to look left, and gaze right they are referring to tunnel vision, and peripheral vision. In other words they use both, as do many others. I certainly think you need to use both. Specifically you need to know when and how to use each.
I’ve been training many systems over many years, and am now once again looking at all of them, to try get a better understanding.
My first thoughts today are on, what is the most important thing when confronted and a physical altercation is unavoidable. I think that knowing when to move has to come first. I also think that many of the training methods we all use to develop different skills could cause us to misunderstand this concept.
Many of us have heard that the one that strikes first, normally wins. While this may be true with most untrained and many trained martial artists, it certainly wouldn’t be self defense. Not to mention that in order for someone to attack they have to close the gap to reach their opponent, leaving themselves open as they do so. Of course there are many methods of minimizing this risk, that I’ll go into another time.
I tend to focus on martial arts for my health these days, but my training and mind set tend to be more real world self defense, then sport oriented. With that in mind, if you move first you will be perceived as the aggressor. Even if you win, you could end up in jail, and/or getting sued. Moral ideologies aside. You need to assume you are being taped, and witnessed these days. Of course depending on the situation, you may decide it is better to take your chances with 12 jurors, then 6 pall bearers. These are just thoughts. I want it clearly understood I would never advocate violence.
Many of us train techniques, and have someone throw a specific strike at us to practice our technique. While you can certainly get good at that, and it is a helpful training method, waiting to see the technique coming at you before you move can be problematic. There is always going to be someone bigger, faster and stronger then you. This is especially true as we get older. Not to mention all the fakes, feints, and other methods used to deceive you as your opponent attacks.
Some also want to touch, using sensitivity for their responsiveness. I certainly agree you can feel and react much quicker then, you can see an react. Once I touch, I certainly follow that ideology. However there is that gap that has to be closed to get to that point. To creep into, or let an opponent with a blade come close enough to cut you, before protecting yourself could be a fatal mistake.
I believe all technique/principles followed must work with or a against a weapon, as well as empty hands. All valid strategies/techniques must also not only apply to one-on-one confrontations, but not leave you defenseless to multiple attackers. Martial Arts developed for battlefield conditions. I view self defense to be under the same conditions, with the exception that civil laws apply . I can not stress enough how much you need to be aware of your local laws in regards to self defense. A sport is an entirely different situation, and has rules. Therefore different strategies apply.
Now that I have considered all the above my belief is that you need to move on motion. This will allow you to react faster, even when dealing with an opponent that is quicker then you are. Now when I say move on motion, I mean just that. Any perceived motion on your opponents part. It is like pulling the trigger on a gun, you can’t hesitate. If they move (any kind of movement), or you think they move, you pull the trigger and explode. Using this method you don’t expose yourself to counter attack as the person that moves first does. However I will remind you that if you move when they thought of moving (instead of physically moving), you’ll move on time, but could appear to move first on a surveillance tape in a court of law. But by the time we’ve gotten to this point I would have tried to talk my way out of the situation, tried to walk or run away. That will also be evident.