Sunday, 14 April 2013

Exploring The Traditional "Blocks"

I have written extensivly about forms application, and showed many applications to different blocks not being blocks at all. For instance if you have read through all the different blog post you will have
Image source: Secrets of Korean Karate
by Henry Cho in 1968
seen low block "arae makki" as a wrist release, straight arm bar, hammer fist strike to the groin, "rising elbow lock" and hammer fist strike in one movment etc etc.

I mean we all know the reasons why a block cant really be a block right?

Lets look over the critizism of the traditional "blocks":

  • They require "chambering"
  • To slow
  • To big movement
  • Not realistic to block two attacks at once (the double blocks)
  • Unrealistic blocking surface
  • You do not see them in MMA (seems anything that is not seen in MMA is not realistic)
Looking over the bullet list above I can see that the traditional blocks does not seem at all effective when looking at them, but why are they even labeled blocks and is all the time we spend on training them really usefull or should we discard them from our system and focus on stuff that have "proven" themselves to work?

I think that if we look at the whole movement of traditional "blocks" you can get a treasure chest full of practical applications, but at the same time we should also try to keep it simple and at least early in the training proccess I like to teach the basic applications to the simpler technqiues instead of throwing the students into the deep waters. For instance a low block (arae makki) can be a low block.

"But Ørjan, remember the big movements, the chamber, and the fact that action beats reaction?? Surely you are out of your mind when saying a block can be a block right??"

Well I think that each gibon dongjak (basic technique) are actually many components put together. Dangki Son (pulling hand) and Jireugi (punching) are put together for instance. You can easily punch without the pulling hand. You do not lose any power when not using the pulling hand in the "modern" sense (the modern sense is pulling the hand to the hip just because that is how it is done). In fact I would venture to say that the pulling hand (Dangki Son) is an important technique all in itself, and it is put together with other techniques like punching or other movements to either enhance them or to give simple movements a layer of sophistication. The punch is enhanced by the Dangki Son because here it is used for limb control, unbalancing, power generation (pulling the opponent into your punch), while a low block coupled with the Dangki Son makes way for all the "advanced" applications such as joint locks, attacks, etc. This is how a single movement in Taekwondo can contain a wealth of practical applications, but we should not forget the simple techniques (punching and blocking).

If we remove the Dangki Son from the Arae Makki (low block) you will still see the problem of chambering the blocking movement at your opposite ear before blocking. My teacher has alluded to this in years and years, the big movement or the chamber of the block is not done in practical application of the block. It is there to give the students a reference of the plane the block has to go along to be an effective block. Teaching the students the finer points of the plane a block has to move through to work effectivly using only a few inches is difficult, but enlarge the movement and it is understood after a fairly short time. The blocks in practical applications has to be "shortened" to work, the big movement is only done so the students understand how to use the block effectivly doing a small movement.

Momtong An Makki or inward block starts at the outside of the body before moving inwards and stops at the center line. In the Kukkiwon system this is one of the favorite "blocks" as it appears in so many of the Poomsae:
If the video does not work, try viewing them on Youtube (click the youtube icon on the lower right)

Note that the Kukkiwon uses a bigger movement as this video shows how Gibon Dongjak is shortened to accomodate the simplistic block interpretation. I think that sometimes training the short movement is good, but why do it in a basterised way and not go all the way keeping the basic technique as it is meant to be done on one side and training the applications version as you would with a partner on the other? Now in the video below by Bas Rutten you will note that the technique he uses for the majorety of to clip is actually a practical application of the Momtong An Makki or inward block. It is in effect a simple inward movement a couple of inches long and Bas Rutten really made it work in the ring.

If the video does not work, try viewing them on Youtube (click the youtube icon on the lower right)

Now Bas Rutten does make use of traditional blocks as "shortened" ones (I would say that this is a good example of how traditional blocks work as blocks) but there is one important element that I think is lacking and wich is grossly overlooked when looking at the blocks as blocks and that is evasion. Action beats reaction that is true and no one is denying it (not me anyway) so a good offense is important. But there is one way we can get that one fraction of a second extra to defend ourselves and that is body evasion. In the forms blocking movements are done in a dynamic context with all the parts put together as one unit (a low block is chambered at the ear, and the Dangki Son is used) but here the whole movement is done in a dynamic context. I will say that looking at our forms there are a multitude of applications, and the footwork in forms are often not optimal for using blocks as blocks. They are either done straight forward or straight back. Personally I like moving at 45 degrees angle either forward or backward, but if I can choose in a combat setting wether I move straight forward or straight back I will chose forward as then I can jam the attack before it reaches full speed. The forms favour moving straight forward.

Using a body evasion gives you a fraction of a second more time and the block ensures the attack does not connect. If the evasion is good enough the block is not needed at all, but if it is not good enough the block should save you. We are not talking about big movements now we are talking about the shortened blocks coupled with body evasion.

Once the "obvious" blocks have been mastered we can start to look at them once again, as you read above the basic techniques are made of different units that together makes the basic technique. If we look at many blocks as "blocks" and look closer at the camber you will see that often you get two blocks for the price of one. The obvious block is the one we just looked at, but often the "chamber" or non blocking hand will do a shortened "block" before the "obvious" block.

Bakkat Makki for instance:

If the video does not work, try viewing them on Youtube (click the youtube icon on the lower right)

Forget about the obvious block for the time being, just look at what the "non blocking" hand is doing. Do you see it? It does a shortened momtong an makki movement before the "obvious block" is performed. You do two "blocks" in one basic technique. One done as a shortened block and the other as a bigger movement. Here we have an interesing concept: factor in body evasion (this is not shown in the video), plus shortened block, pluss a backup block (the obvious block) and you should be in the clear of the attack. In the Kwan era (40s-60s) many did the "obvious" block the bigger movement on the inside of the Dangki Son (pulling hand) the opposite of how it is performed in the modern Kukki system of Taekwondo (in the video you will see the "obvious hand" moving on the outside of the Dangki Son). The Kwan era version where the obvious hand moves on the inside of the pulling hand lends itself well into striking applications where there is a body evasion, a shortened block, followed by a strike. The outside version lends itself very nicely into trapping applications so they are a little more defensive in nature in my own opinion. In bakkat makki as shown in the video above you can interpret defensivly as blocks by adding body evasion, the shortened an makki (the chamber) wich is trapped by the other hand (obvious block) moving the limb well out of the way for a follow up strike.

I have seen this done relativly often in Wing Chun movie clips in youtube. You can even use the larger movement by stepping into the opponent to unbalance him. If we look at eolgul makki (face block) it involves a similar chamber but the obvious block moves upward. Do a body evasion, the shortened an makki (inner block) and trap it and move forward and apply the obvious block in the armpit of the attacker and you will probably uproot him.

These are not the most sophisticated application because we do not factor in the whole movement (the Dangki Son or pulling hand is not used activly it ends up on the hip for no apparant reason etc), but I do not think it is right to overlook this aspect of the techniques. After all action beats reaction
, so many think offense is more important than defense, but this does not mean that defense has nothing to offer in the great scheme of things? Blocks can be used defensivly in varying degrees from purely defensivly to purely offensivly. The few students how stumble upon "applications study" first come to the conclusion that an alternative way for blocks to be applied is as strikes. High block, forearm strike to the neck, inward block as inward hammer fist strike to any number of targets and low block as a hammer fist strike toward the kidney, spleen, liver, or groin etc. But looking at all blocks purely as strikes leaves you with well a very well rounded offense but no defense at all except maybe a guarding "shield" and body evasion... Looking at the picture on the right you will see Sihak Henry Cho using a knife hand block as a strike. Note the Dangki Son being used to unbalance the opponent, increasing power by pulling him into the strike and clear the opponents defending limb so a strike can be delivered all in one move. The picture is from 1968 at a time when Taekwondo was still a martial art and before the focus on sport and the race to the olympics began.

But what about blocking kicks? The blocks can not work against them now can they???? This is also something I think many misunderstand. The blocks we have come from the source code of Taekwondo (Quan Fa, Shudokan, Shito Ryu and Shotokan) and they were made to defend against habitual acts of violence (HAOV). These are attacks that you would most likely face if confronted by a "regular attacker" (what ever that means) on the street. These attacks consist of haymaker, straight punches to the face and body, upper cut like punches, various grabs, headbutts or knees. Note the absence of all the kicks in that short list. Soccer style kicks to the groin maybe, but you are not likely to defend against side kicks, turning kicks, spinning and jumping kicks etc and our blocks were not made with these attacks in mind. The kicks or notion of kicks came from Koreas own martial art Taek Kyon. In Taek Kyon the defenses against kicks are usually body evasion and "leg checks". Blocking kicks with the arm is a last resort in that art, and if we do apply our blocks against kicks we need to keep in mind that the stronger and more densly boned leg will break the arm if we meet the kicks force on force. Body evasion and blocks against kicks however is workable. Even the allmighty Thai kick with follow through can be "blocked" by moving inside and block it where the thigh meets the knee joint before the kick reaches full speed.

My own teacher who has extensive training in Taek Kyon says that you can use the arms to defend against kicks but it is like the old samurai who would take a non lethal cut to kill the opponent. You loose an arm, but he looses his life he said during one practise. You will probably not loose an arm by way of kicks, but they will hurt and can damage your arms if you meet them force on force. The main thing to remember is that the blocks we have inherited form the Taekwondo source code were not meant to be applied against kicks, but they can be applied against them using body evasion coupled with the block and not use force on force.

I will stop here, but I will keep on exploring the blocks in future posts as there are several aspects that has not yet been covered (what about the double blocks for instance)

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