Don’t Block that Block

Sometimes people tell me there is no blocking in their martial styles and I feel a little sad for them. No doubt they feel that not blocking is a more evolved level of martial prowess. This may be true but, as in science, new information does not just sweep away all that has come before. In fact, the ability to assimilate, relate and codify is one of the strengths of science. Basically, the idea is that which does not contradict strengthens by providing alternatives we may use in the future.

Blocking is like this if you understand it. It does not contradict checking, shielding, evading and the rest of the defense skills group. It stands as part of the foundation supporting the Defensive House. It lays down movements which anyone can understand while, at the same time, sneaking in a few essential points before the student can realize that he could have been confused.

art_block8A block is like a car jack: you may use it rarely but, when needed, there is no substitute

I want to show you the horizon line before I zoom in to the block. Spread out in a range it all looks something like this (remember I’m talking about defense, not attack, nor even countering):

  • Distance (keep moving away)
  • Blocking (strike that limb as it attempts to strike you)
  • Parry (the relative of the block with a soft touch)
  • Check (the answer to problems that have not happened, yet)
  • Evade (smooth elegant and gone)
  • Shield (little movement, less danger)
  • Distance (we return to the beginning but everything is changed)

This gives a pretty clear spectrum of defensive actions. I’ve eliminated counter-actions, like striking on the beat, so I can concentrate on purely defensive actions. Notice that I start and end with distance. The ancient realization is that beneath everything is the real estate, which martial artists call terrain, terrain, terrain. And just where you are situated in this location is the beginning and the end of the entire story, trust me.

Most of us were taught the block as the first thing to do, the definitive response. After we have put in the effort to learn this (it can take years, sometimes) we soften it and turn intersection into deflection. The block stops, the parry re-routes. For many, this is the beginning of their understanding that “soft” can be as effective as “hard” in itart_block2s own way.

Eventually, as our reflexes speed up we take a large step into checking. You can be taught checking, but mostly it develops from hanging around long enough to almost know what your opponent’s next move is going to be. If that is the case, why not just stick your hand or leg in there and stop the darn punch BEFORE it is launched? And with that, checking was born.

Since checking frees you somewhat from needing almost perfect timing—which is required by both blocking and parrying—you now have the extra energy, time and freedom to lean a bit and evade the incoming thwack. You could, of course, evade anywhere along this continuum, but considerations like power generation and accuracy point to evasion and checking evolving in the martial consciousness at just about this time.

If checking is making a slight impediment in the opponent’s space, then shielding is you making a tight position not related to his weapon, but to his targets, namely your body. The boxer shields and comes back out when the hailstorm is over. You cover up and move a little. The great advantage of shielding is that you do not need any predictive skills. Rather than wonder which portal your assailant will try to break in, you just lock up the entire house.

And then you are at distance again and the tour is complete. In a sense the whole evolutionary parade seems to validate the saying that phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny. In some ways, every martial artist has the opportunity to rediscover the thousands of years of development by learning the progressive acquisition of defensive skills from antiquity to immediacy.

Then why study the humble block?

Besides the obvious, that blocks can work and they do hurt, the stage where the student begins blocking practice has much unsuspected information to offer.

  1. The hard block creates a hard edge. When you block, you also learn to stop blocking. That’s right. One of the most important skills of blocking is to never over-block. The forceful way in which we first learn this embeds the idea of perimeter in our muscles and deeper. Later, when blocks turn soft and sophisticated, the delimiting practice of our skills will be even more useful.
  2. art_block7Blocks are strikes. As we block we begin to feel that the motion of cocking and gathering energy must be made as small and instantaneous as possible. With enough training like this we realize that the speed of blocking can be increased even more, that a second block or a possible strike might be hidden within the blocking action. This begins to teach us the art of inserting movement within movement, a big step toward maturing our skills.
  3. Since blocks are also strikes, they hint at the idea that maybe even a huge inward block, for instance, can also be a strike. While learning the most definitive and simplified of martial movements we are being exposed to one of the most sophisticated of martial concepts: the intimate relationship between defense and offense. Blocks are powerful movements that still can balance on a blade edge of decision. Performed this way, they are defense, that way offense. Your skill increases and rewards you with more and more options derived from a movement that seemed to have none.

Don’t forget the practice of blocks. Add it to your training occasionally to remind yourself not only of the movement but of its place in your range of skills.


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2 Responses to “Don’t Block that Block”

  1. Elliott F. Monds says:

    Greetings Folks, I have two counts on this article,All Fightings Arts have a inner and outter meaning.Also,Fightings Arts are for Thinking Folks. We All Must Read and Look between the Lines. Cheers. Elliott.

  2. Jonathan E. Kiser says:

    I just want to say this is an excellent article. In fact it goes right along with what I call a “defensive hierarchy”. Here is my Defensive Hierarchy:
    1. Move Back to avoid blow then move back in to counter

    2. Stay Planted (aside from some sway) Block then Counter Attack

    3. Block then Counter Attack while moving off the line of attack

    4. Move Back while using Linked Defense and Counter

    5. Stay Planted (aside from some sway) while using Linked Defense and Counter

    6. Moving off the line of attack while employing Linked Defense and Counter

    7. Attack the Attack while moving back

    8. Stay Planted (aside from some sway as you Attack the Attack

    9. Moving off the line of attack while Attacking the Attack

    10. Move Back employing Attack the Attack linked with Flow Counter

    11. Stay Planted (aside from some sway) Attack the Attack linked with Flow Counter

    12. Moving off the line of attack while Attacking the Attack linked with Flow Counter

    13. Time your moving back to not only a Tight Evasion of the attack but to deliver a Simultaneous Counter

    14. Stay Planted and/or Change Level or any Tight Evasion to deliver a Simultaneous Counter

    15. Move off the line of attack and/or use Change Level or any Tight Evasion to deliver a Simultaneous Counter

    16. Intercept the attacker during the final part of execution of an attack

    17. Intercept the attacker in between the execution of an attack

    18. Intercept the opponent upon preparation of an attack

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