Sunday, March 12, 2017

Classifying Uke Waza - He Was Onto Something

I am currently finalising a book on the science behind fighting techniques. After attempting to edit the chapter on blocking techniques I found I had to research, reflect, and re-write the chapter because it wasn't up to standard with the rest of the chapters in terms of technical content and challenging the orthodoxy of martial arts theory.

Blocking techniques - simple enough subject you would think, but not so as it turns out. When you review the martial arts literature and listen to various instruction, you see the conceptualisation of blocking techniques is riddled with inconsistencies if not down-right inaccuracies. I won't go through them all here as it takes an entire chapter in my book to explore them, however, I will focus on Shihan Jan de Jong OAM 9th Dan's classification of blocking techniques.

Before that, we need to establish the basis of any exploration of the concept of blocking techniques. Here I turn to Wikipedia:

In martial arts, blocking is the act of stopping or deflecting an opponent's attack for the purpose of preventing injurious contact with the body.

Anyone familiar with my work might be wondering why I am starting off any exploration of blocking techniques with a reference to the relatively unauthoritative Wikipedia. The answer is because it is the only definition or explanation of martial arts blocking techniques that I can find that refers to the purpose of preventing injurious contact with the body from an attack.

The question becomes, are blocking techniques being used to prevent injurious contact with the body? An evasive body movement (Japanese: taisabaki) moves a person's body off the line of attack. If a blocking technique is used in conjunction with an EBM, the question always has to be asked as to the purpose of the blocking technique. After all, it's not to prevent injurious contact with the body from an attack because the EBM takes care of that problem.

This is a question that is particularly relevant to the teachings of De Jong (his jujutsu, aikido, and pencak silat) as his methods extensively emphasise EBMs. But it's also relevant to all martial arts. For instance, I refer to an instruction from a book by the karate master, Hirokazu Kanazawa, where he describes the use of a low block and taisabaki against chudan zuki (middle punch). What is the purpose of the low block because the taisabaki takes care of preventing injurious contact to the body from the chudan zuki?

There are answers to that question, however, it should always be asked nonetheless. Unfortunately it may reveal a lack of real understanding of the methods being taught and that they are simply taught rote fashion.

Blocking techniques in the martial arts are often distinguished between hard and soft, direct and indirect, arresting and deflection, etc. ... Are deflections blocks? Not according to the common place meaning of the term block, but as is so often the case, the martial arts appears to have extended the common place meaning of the term to include deflections as blocking techniques, although some still do distinguish between blocks and deflections.

A common distinction is between hard and soft blocks with hard blocks being described as meeting force with force and soft blocks being deflections. This delineation is often used to support an argument of the superiority of soft blocks over hard blocks, however, the concept of hard blocks is often erroneous. More often then not the classic high, middle, and low blocks of karate are used as examples of hard blocks. However, they do not oppose force with force directly. They are in fact deflections albeit using more force than is normally associated with the deflection classification. There are very few 'stopping blocks' taught in karate or most martial arts. Gracie and Danaher in Mastering Jujitsu demostrate true stopping blocks (and interestingly do not include any deflections at all).

However, there is a trick in understanding how Gracie and Danaher's 'absorption blocks' meet force with force. A trick that  is clarified in my chapter.

De Jong provided six classes of blocks in his classification: pushing, pulling, hard, brushing, grabbing, and empty.

When I was being taught jujutsu, I was told by my instructors that this classification refers to the unbalancing methods used against moving attacks. For the most part they were not being used to prevent injurious contact with the body from an attack because the extensive use of taisabaki in our jujutsu takes care of that problem. While I could see pushing, pulling, hard, and grabbing blocks as being unbalancing methods against moving attacks, I couldn't see how brushing blocks and empty blocks were unbalancing methods.

A brushing block refers to light contact with the opponent's attacking body part in the same direction as the attack. It is not a deflection which applies force at an angle to an opponent's attacking body part in order to cause it to move off its trajectory (when a taisabaki is being used it's not moving the attacking body part off the line of attack because the taisabaki moved the body off that line). How does that unbalance an opponent?

An empty block is no block at all. Taisabaki is used exclusively to move the body off the line of attack to prevent injurious contact with the body. How does no block at all unbalance an opponent?

I won't go into detail, however, if I received an answer to my questions at all it was 'shoehorned.' At attempt at using flawed theory to fit valid practice.

As it turns out, De Jong never intended his blocking techniques classification to be a system of unbalancing methods against moving attacks. He'd developed the classification to describe all the methods of dealing with an attack in his pencak silat. The jujutsu instructors' had appropriated the classification and misapplied it. The misapplication has to do with the unique classification of unbalancing methods from hand and body grabs that are included in De Jong's jujutsu grading system.

But De Jong was definitely onto something, which I now only fully appreciate given my work on blocking techniques for my chapter. Blocking techniques block but most blocking techniques taught in karate don't block. Deflections are technically not blocks. How can empty blocks be blocks? The answer lies in uke waza.

Uke waza is a Japanese term used to refer to blocking techniques, however, uke doesn't mean blocking. It means 'to receive.' What method is being used to receive an attack? Is it an uke waza with or without an EBM? If a technique is used in conjunction with an EBM, what is the purpose of that technique because it is not to prevent injurious contact with the body from the attack because the EBM takes care of that problem? This then returns us to the possibility that these uke waza being used without an EBM are being used for two purposes; to prevent injurious contact with the body from the attack and for some other purpose.

Uke waza refers to 'receiving techniques.'

Nakayama explores the purposes of blocking techniques in the classic Dynamic Karate (none of which refer to preventing injurious contact with the body from an attack). It is enlightening to use the above theory when analysing Nakayama's 'six possibilities in blocking.'

De Jong's six blocking techniques classification is in fact an example of a systematic approach to uke waza, which extends beyond blocking techniques. The insights this approach affords then needs to be used to cast an eye over the De Jong jujtsu grading system. This would be applying and extending the work started by De Jong.


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