Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blocking Techniques

This blog is inspired by one I read on entitled 'Block This!' It's also inspired by the use of blocks within Jan de Jong jujutsu (JDJJJ).
'Every strike is a block, and every block is a strike.'

A good block can be quite jarring and can cause damage or stun your opponent. A good block is actually the initial set up or entry into the next technique. More accurately, it can be thought of as being part of the technique itself, whatever that may be.

Most times, an effective block does just enough to move the incoming strike off its target or line.

A good block, especially for in-close systems like Jiu Jitsu, only needs to redirect the incoming force slightly. Quite often, we don’t meet the attack with any force whatsoever, we just re-direct or guide it off to the side or past us as we shift out of the path, using your opponent’s strength and momentum against them.

Ultimately, everything you do in the martial arts should reduce/protect you from injury, put you in a better position, or put your opponent in a worse one. Ideally, you’ll do all three at the same time. Effective blocking is one tool in achieving these goals.
I do not disagree with anything the author writes. The goal of my work is to provide the means by which to analyse and better understand the methods taught by all martial arts and those activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter.

The author's comments are not only reflective of most jujutsu, but most martial arts. If a block is used to protect oneself from injury, what does that imply?

Jan de Jong introduced the mon system at the front end of his grading system to introduce the student to the 'basics' of the system before tackling the more practically oriented kyu system. The development of the mon system, as explained by De Jong, was influenced by his work with developing a close quarter combat system for the Australian Army, and in particular the Special Air Service (SAS). Thus, 'he divided the skills into phases', as is the standard teaching method adopted by the army.

The comment - divide the skill into phases - comes direct from Gerry Carr's Sport Mechanics for Coaches:
Divide the skill you're interested in coaching into phases. This process is important because it makes your job much easier when you look for errors in your athlete's performance. Quite simply, it stops you from becoming confused by trying to watch too much of the skill at the same time.
Carr, in this description, seriously underestimates the benefits of adopting this approach to analyse, teach, assess, train, and correct martial arts students.

Explicitly dividing the skill into phases is very, very rare in the martial arts. Jigoro Kano, the found of judo, is one notable exception. He divided judo techniques into kuzushi-tsukuri-kake, unbalancing-fitting in-technique execution. Nakayama, in the classic, Dynamic Karate, divides a skill into pre-, during, and post- execution of a karate technique when analysing and explaining stances. (So does injury science in terms of analysing an injury event)

De Jong intuitively understood the phases in the defences taught by JDJJJ. These are reflected in the mon grades, although it takes some extrapolating then to adopt the process to analyse defences. One which was not commonly adopted by most of the instructors, preferring instead to continue with the traditional approach. The division is:

Taisabaki-kuzushi-waza; bodymovement-unbalancing-technique.

Taisabaki/bodymovement - I now refer to that as a 'phase' rather than as a specific technique, or movement. Different bodymovements may be used during all three phases, however, the taisabaki phase refers to the evasive movement. These phases DO NOT imply that these methods are used in each defence. If so, this method could not be used to analyse defences taught within ALL activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter.

Was a bodymovement used to evade the attack? If so, which bodymovement (a discussion for another time)? If not, how did you avoid being hit? The obvious answer is: you used a block.

The explanation of blocks by the above author in terms of protecting oneself implies that bodymovements are not being used to evade an attack. If they were, the blocks would not be needed for this purpose. Aikido, and JDJJJ rely on bodymovements to a great extent as part of their tactics. They rely on bodymovements to evade an attack. So, when a block is used, you have to ask, 'What is the purpose of that block?' It's no longer to protect you because the bodymovement did that.

'Blocks are unbalancing' - this was an explanation I received when I asked the question, if an answer was proffered. It was suggested by some instructors that blocks are (a) unbalancing, and (b) are categorised as pushing, pulling, hard, soft, grabbing, or empty.

PHYSICAL unbalancing requires applying a force to the opponent to stop, start, speed up, slow down, or change direction of their 'weapon'. That is undeniable as that is the mechanical definition of a force. And a force is simply defined as a push or a pull. So, pushing and pulling blocks - unbalancing? OK. Grabbing, ditto. Hard blocks are the impact types of blocks the above author refers to. Unbalancing? Hmmm. Soft blocks are deflection blocks, or as JDJJJ refers to them as, brushing blocks. Unbalancing? Empty blocks refers to no blocks at all (remembering that bodymovements are used to evade the attack). Unbalancing? Not likely. The 'shoehorn' answer for soft and empty blocks is that the attacker would stumble because they didn't meet the resistance they expected. Really? It can happen, no doubt, but are you going to base your defence on the fact that the opponent will fall off balance because they didn't hit you?

The answer to the dilemma is that (a) the categorisation of blocks was used by De Jong in pencak silat, with no link to unbalancing, and (b) it was adopted as theory by some in jujutsu. The theory did not explain the practice, so, the solution is to 'shoehorn' an explanation, or, worst of all, is to change effective technique is to fit with defective theory.

This discussion leads to the heart of the matter: 'What are your blocks used for?' Protection, then bodymovements are not being used to evade an attack. If bodymovements are used to evade an attack, and a block is used, what is its purpose? It, by definition cannot be to protect from the initial attack. It can be used to unbalance, as in pushing, pulling, and grabbing blocks. Therefore, these blocks are unbalancing in the kuzushi phase. If they don't unbalance an opponent, but they are used in the kuzushi phase, this then leads us to look at what the kuzushi phase is. This leads to the question, 'What is the purpose of kuzushi?'

What is the purpose of kuzushi? A question long debated. The simple answer is; it facilitates the execution of a technique. It makes it easier to do a technique. So, when a block, or even a strike, is used in order to enable you to execute a technique, it is also a facilitator. Thus, it could be argued that the kuzushi phase is more accurately thought of as the facilitator phase. What, if anything, is being used to facilitate the execution of a technique? Unbalancing, a block, a strike? A jab in boxing could be considered to facilitate the execution of the knockout right cross.

Two final points. Firstly, what is the point of 'deflection', or brushing, blocks when a bodymovement is used, such as commonly used in pencak silat? Secondly, a comment on the abovementioned blog explains that uke (receiver) refers to the attacker that receives the technique in jujutsu, judo, and aikido, but refers to the defender who receives the techniques from the attacker in karate. It reflects different ways of looking at the violent experience, but does the different viewpoints reflect anything about the 'perspectives' of the different martial arts? These questions are only raised for speculative purposes only.


  1. Hi John,

    Interesting exploration of blocking/evading/facilitating etc. A traditional "block" can be all of these things, or I guess none of them depending on how you look at it. I'm always interested to find out more about how Jan De Jong taught.

    Thanks for the mention.

  2. John,

    The 'soft' blocks are often used to position either the attackers arm/leg or your own to facilitate the next movement in the defense cycle.

    It was certainly my understanding of why we used empty or brushing blocks on certain techniques, yes the sabaki 'protected' you from being struck, but the hand position facilitated the defensive technique, be it lock or throw (takedown? have you answered that question yet!).