My Upward Blog

The Quest for the True Upward Block

Years ago I knew one Roger Greene, a formidable practitioner of the all too rare Kang Do Kwan style. He was one of those black belts whose kicks felt like someone had taken a nine-pounder to your solar plexus. He also had the distinction of being the only person I had ever seen actually use the upward block. George Dillman, never one to speak in a whisper, also complained that no one really employed this classical move. So why am I writing about it when I could be on tea break? There is a whole little universe in walnut shells and sometimes in a single movement, too. I first learned the upward in Kenpo which has a neat and clever analysis of the block insisting that the final position was angled so the descending strike would glance off. That was what made us different from those OTHER guys who kept it flat as a lintel. At the time it made sense. Your attacker strikes down. You step off to the side. And you shoot your block upward to deflect his attack. Having n questions, I was satisfied.

Years later I met a Korean stylist. We were comparing forms when I threw an upward. He stopped everything. He said that his style was the only Korean one he knew of that threw the block at an angle like ours. “My teacher,” he explained, “was attacked in World War Two by a Japanese soldier with a sword. He blocked the sword but changed the block to protect his head and save his life.” I asked what happened to the Japanese. “He killed him.” I nodded, “And your teacher’s arm?” “It was cut off at the forearm, but he lived.” I nodded more rapidly, but I was thinking that this was definitely the hard way to learn how a move functioned. Years passed. I would watch sparring, fighting, technique  practice. No upwards. When people struck downward the trained students just moved off at an angle and evaded the problem. One day I was practicing Xing Yi, the Fire move, an upward block coupled with an uppercut. A fellow instructor mentioned how in his style if someone struck your face and your blocking hand was coming from beneath it would ride the opponent’s strike right past the eyebrow. And there it was! The upward not against a downward striking action but against an upward one; shoving it past the eyebrow, continuing the motion past your face so you can throw a counter-move. From here I figured a half dozen ideas for using the upward even if it were against a dropping move; they all worked. What made the difference? To not think of it as an IMPACT but rather a DEFLECTION riding in a direction picked by the opponent. In this way the upward just augmented an action to where it neutralized itself.

What’s the point of all this? That too often the martial artist learns the final position, the pose, the outcome and forgets that the action, the process, the development are the core of the meaning. What was finally the lesson of the upward? Think things from the beginning of the move, or the middle, or backwards and not just the end.

Oh, and Roger did use the upward, even in sparring, but he used the upper arm part of the block, not the forearm everyone else practiced. Go figure.