Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chon-Ji Addendum: More on Basic Blocks

Edit Dec. 4th 2016: This post keeps expanding as I find more material on basic blocks. I'm going to keep doing so because having information about basic blocks in a single place is a good idea.

I felt that applications for basic blocks warranted more of a discussion. In my last post I referred to the application for inner-forearm block as a “biphasic block”. A better term might be “parry-pass” or “clearing the limb”. Arguable other blocks can be used for this as well. If your blocking hand is above your parrying hand, for instance, the low block can used to clear the opponent’s arm instead of the inner-forearm block. This is similar to the Shotokan karate chamber for low block.
Shotokan karate low block. Imagine parrying
a punch or front kick with the left arm then
sweeping away the limb with the right arm.

The taekwondo chamber can be used for this, albeit differently. Remember that the first motion of the blocking arm is just a front block; after using this to push the attack inward, the same arm can be used to circle the limb away. According to Noah Legel of Karate Obsession, this front block followed by low block combination appears in some karate kata.

Using the taekwondo low block trajectory to clear a limb

The karate rising block can also be used to clear a limb, pushing an arm upward after parrying with the blocking hand underneath, similar to the inner-forearm block. Although the taekwondo version of the chamber doesn't reflect this (1), the inner-forearm block can easily turn into a rising block, just by twisting the forearm and raising it upwards.

I didn't discuss striking applications for the inner-forearm block, outside of the Ryan Parker video I linked to. The usual suggestion is either a forearm strike to the neck or a rolling backfist to the face. The latter I like, but it requires altering the block to make it more linear. I'm less excited about applying it as a forearm strike to the neck, because why not do a side backfist or some other strike instead? The movement works well as a parry-pass block and in Chon-Ji it's used in back stance, which suggests a defensive application. There are some other offensive applications the block has, however.

Other blocks

The front block (Ap Makgi) is rarely used in taekwondo forms, presumably because the application as a block is already covered by the chambers of other techniques. It does have a couple alternative applications, however. The setup hand for it can be used to reach and grab an opponent’s arm, and then the block proper can be used as an armbar. (Aside: it's often said the low block can serve as an arm bar, but I find this is both awkward and ineffective. An in-to-out motion doesn't properly maintain pressure on the back of the opponent's elbow). Another application is simply a hammerfist strike to the opponent's head.
Front block as an arm bar

The karate and taekwondo versions of the knifehand guarding block chamber both have the same function: guarding against a round punch/haymaker. The karate version uses the straight arm to push down the opponent's arm, while the hand comes up to protect the face from the curved trajectory of the opponent's fist.

Application of the chamber for shuto uke (karate's guarding block).
You can find more about this application for shuto uke here.

The taekwondo version, at least the one in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do, defends by stepping inward and using both arms as a supported block to prevent the opponent's haymaker from circling around you. You then follow up with the guarding block itself: wrapping your back arm around your opponent's arm while using your front forearm to push the opponent away from you. Although I couldn't find a good picture of the simultaneous motion, we tested it during practice and it works very well as a neutralization tool; pushing your opponent with your forearm prevents them from reaching you with their other arm, and you may apply a number of follow-ups.

Application for knifehand guarding block. The chamber uses both arms to
defend against a round punch. The block proper may then used as a simultaneous
forearm strike to the neck and arm trap. Pictures taken from this video.

Finally, the chamber for some of the twin blocks -- such as the wedging block in Do-San -- has an old Okinawan application against a double grab. Use it to strike the radial nerves of both the opponent's arms simultaneously.

 Wedging block chamber

Parry-pass-strike or parry-pass-block?

I mentioned that the wrist-to-wrist chamber is not original to taekwondo, but is used by some karate schools. I recently found some evidence of that here.

The reasons we may use the wrist-to-wrist chamber so much is that there is a wide number of follow-ups one can do from this position. I mentioned three in my previous post: low strike to the groin, knifehand strike to the neck, and backfist to the face. But you can also create an arm bar, kick or knee strike your opponent, or use front stance middle punch to the ribs.

Karate master Roy Suenaka demonstrating application for the
wrist-to-wrist chamber and the front stance punch
The parry-pass can be used to deflect a straight punch inward or outward. Angelo Baldissone, a Panantukan (filipino boxing) practitioner, dedicated a whole video to the motion for the knifehand outer-forearm block. 

The parry-pass can be used to deflect inward or outward
However, when drilling with my students, one of them pointed out that the outward version seemed less safe, since the opponent's other hand was still free to hit. Which got me thinking: maybe the rising block and outer-forearm block are parry-pass-block motions, not parry-pass-strike.

Not only is this safer, it puts you in a good position to follow up with a strike anyway. If you trap the opponent's arm, and then use rising block to push up their other arm (at the elbow or higher; don't block forearm-to-forearm), then not only have you nullified both arms but you have your opponent caught in an awkward position, where one arm is being pulled up and the other is being raised upwards. It's very easy to do a follow-up strike or takedown from this position.

Karateka using rising block setup to trap before using the block proper to deflect opponent's second arm.
He follows up with an elbow strike.
In the Encyclopedia, all three outer-forearm blocks (low, middle, rising) set up at chest level. I've noticed that several ITF taekwondo schools modify this, setting up the low block at the ear and the high block down at the hip, for example. However, canonically the three blocks have the same chamber. Besides the parry-pass application, one other reason for the chest level chamber may be economy of movement. It's similar to how Krav Maga does its "360 defense".

Finally, one last application for the rising block I want to mention is using your elbow/upper arm to block a hook punch. Boxers fight from short guard (because the large gloves provide surface area for protection), and so block hook punches by putting their hand on their neck and raising their elbow up vertically. But in traditional martial arts and bareknuckle boxing we fight from long guard, where it is more economical to raise up the elbow without bringing the hand behind our head. This may be why in some karate schools the rising block is performed so close to the head.

The rising block (left), using the elbow to defend,
similar to the winged hook (right) from old English boxing
Basic exercises as a vocabulary

While I do believe that basic blocks can work as blocks, there are nonetheless other uses for the motions. Inner-forearm block to break a grab, low block as a pull/throw, etc. I've read that low block followed by front stance middle punch (first two moves of Chon-Ji and Heian Shodan) has 30+ applications. The strikes we practice in basics, such as front stance punch and knifehand strike, also have applications beyond their primary use.

While teaching that a block is a block and a strike is a strike is good introductory tool, at a higher level I think it's more accurate to say we are practicing motions or templates rather than blocks and strikes. We are building a kinesthetic vocabulary that can be applied in a number of ways. And if basic exercises are the vocabulary, then the forms are the sentences: examples of how you would string the exercises together into something practical.

Application for Dan-Gun 4-5: high punch followed by turning 90-degrees into low block
Basic exercises then, while admittedly repetitive and sometimes overemphasized, do serve as a way to "sharpen the toolset", developing fast-twitch muscles and full range of motion for various applications.


1) For what it's worth, at least one karate school, Hayashi Ha Shito Ryu, also sets up the rising block with the blocking arm on the inside. Supposedly Teruo Hayashi (the school's founder) felt that this version was better for "capturing the wrist", meaning that he had a trapping application in mind. My only source is this discussion, which also notes that the inside setup version is better for striking. Different karate schools may practice different chambers for the same techniques to emphasis different applications, and we can actually learn about the applications by studying the different chambers.


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