Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Technique Focus: Upward Palm Block

Since my previous posts on the guarding block and W-block/mountain block turned out pretty well, I thought I'd do another technique focus, this time on the upward palm block. Why this technique? Because I think it draws a lot of confusion from taekwondoin, and because its "standard" application -- lifting up a punch -- is nonsensical. Some have tried modifying the motion to lift a face punch over the head, but this is not the motion we practice in the forms, which only goes up to chest level. It makes even less sense for the palm scooping block variant in Gae-Baek, which is never supposed to reach your centerline. (fnt. 1)

Fear not, for it is not a useless technique. In this post I will provide five applications for the cat stance movement, plus four additional applications for its variants (front stance upward palm block, riding stance palm scooping block, and front stance twin palm upward block)

1) Same-side wrist grab defense (Sam-Il)
Two applications for Sam-Il 25-26
Sources: (Middle Row) EliteMartialArtOC, MannyMelgoza
(Bottom Row) OneMinuteBunkai

In the pattern Sam-Il we perform cat stance upward palm block followed by cat stance twin palm pressing block. These two movements provide a simple wrist grab defense.

Open your hand to relieve pressure. In Hapkido they call this "live hand". Then perform upward palm block. This twists your opponent's arm. Peel them off you by grabbing the meat of their thumb with your opposite hand. From here, you can perform a kotegaeshi (outer-wrist) throw, using both hands to bend the opponent's wrist downwards (twin palm pressing block).

This is my favorite same-side wrist grab defense: it's simple and can be pulled off quickly.

2) Front kick defense (also Sam-Il)

Although lifting a punch with the palm upward block is ridiculous, it works a bit better as a kick defense. We can use the same set in Sam-Il as a front kick catch and takedown. After lifting the opponent's heel, grab their foot with both hands and twist their ankle, pushing their foot downwards with twin palm pressing block.

3) Tackle defense (Ko-Dang)

Sources: Code Red Defense,
Karate Culture
The technique works as a crossface against an opponent who tackles you with their head outside your body. As shown in the left gif, you use the circular trajectory of the upward palm block to get around their head and then crank it upwards. This was my application for the upward palm blocks in Ko-Dang. We then follow with a step-back and front kick in Ko-Dang, which may represent breaking our front leg free of the opponent's grip (the step back) before kicking them.

4) Trip and takedown (Joong-Gun)

The cat stance may be used to trip an opponent's standing leg while you lift their heel for a takedown. This was my application for the opening set of Joong-Gun. Catch an opponent's front kick (ready position). As they retract to try to get away from you, lift their knee up towards their body to unbalance them (move 1). You then kick their groin or standing leg (move 2), before moving in for a trip and takedown, raising their heel with the upward palm block.
Sources: TakingItToTheMMAT, Dan Djurdjevic, Five5Six
5) Arm lock (Joong-Gun)
Source: StuartA

Finally, the upward palm block can be used as a rudimentary arm lock. If you grab and pull your opponent's wrist from inside with your reaction hand, you supinate their arm, exposing the back of their elbow to your "block". Stuart Anslow (right image) uses this application for the opening of Joong-Gun, after using the knifehand inner forearm block to reverse a wrist grab.

6) Head crank (Kwang-Gae)

This is for the front stance upward palm block found in Kwang-Gae. Unlike the cat stance upward palm block, this is performed with the back hand. When you analyze the movement in context, with the double step and turn we perform in the form, it makes a head crank takedown. It is shown in the image below. See my post on Kwang-Gae for a more detailed description.
Source for left image: manny melgoza

7) Leg scoop

Source: NASDI01
The palm scooping block in Gae-Baek -- like its name suggests -- can be used to literally scoop up the opponent's leg. In the Silat application for Gae-Baek 28-29(and 30-31?) in the left gif, the instructor hooks the opponent's ankle with the leap into rear-foot X-stance, then scoops up the opponent's other with the palm scooping block while sitting down at a 45-degree angle. He then submits his opponent with an ankle lock.

8) Overhook/Whizzer

Another application for the palm scooping block -- if you take the "scooping" part less literally -- is just overhooking an opponent's arm. Russ Martin has an application for Gae-Baek 9-11 which is just overhooking an opponent's arm, punching them, and then striking down on their inner elbow (supporting arm for backfist) while striking them again with the front backfist.

9) Double leg takedown (Choong-Moo)

Finally, performing two upward palm blocks can be used to scoop up both opponent's legs for a double leg takedown (specifically, Judo's morote gari throw). I covered this in my post on Choong-Moo. The reason I think the movement represents a double leg takedown here is:

1) The previous move can be used either to put the opponent in a snap clinch, as a grip break, or to lift their arms, all common ways to set up a double leg takedown.

2) The following two moves can be used as a contingency single leg takedown if your opponent defends by stepping back with one leg.

3) There are several other throws in the form, suggesting that Nam Tae Hi designed Choong-Moo with this strategy in mind.

4) In my club we were taught to do the motion as a wide scoop, which is consistent with scooping up an opponent's legs. (fnt. 2)

Sources: Mercuryu Judo, Practical Kata Bunkai, NIKandSi

Not only do odd techniques like the upward palm block have practical uses, you can find equivalents of them in modern arts. If an idea is a good one, then we should expect it to be rediscovered by others.

Happy searching.


1) This brings up the inevitable question of "okay, so if the standard application is useless, why did General Choi teach it?" A lot of the standard applications should be regarded as mnemonic tools for teaching rather than practical self-defense applications. General Choi shows the double arc hand block as catching a throw pillow, for instance, when in reality it has more practical uses.

2) I come from a pre-sine wave school. It's common for us to go down during the chamber and up during the block-proper for certain movements, although for the most part we stay level during patterns.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Yul-Gok: Some Applications

Palm Hooking Block
Yul-Gok is a peculiar form. I was once told it was based on Heian Yondan, but the similarity is only superficial: Yul-Gok borrows some movements from the kata, but the sets are all different. Yul-Gok also introduces the "palm hooking block", which according to Stuart Anslow is not a shotokan karate technique. Instead, this post by Sanko Lewis claims it's based on a Taekkyeon block. (fnt. 1)

In this post I'll discuss four sets from the pattern and my preferred applications.

Irimi nage (moves 28-29/30-31)

Irimi nage vs a jab-cross. Source: AikiBushi
This set (knifehand twin outer-forearm block followed by supported spearfinger) does not appear in any karate kata that I've seen. But it does appear in another martial art: aikido. (fnt. 2) Unlike karate, we perform our twin outer-forearm block with a cross-arm chamber. This can be used either as a defense against a jab-cross (as in the left gif), or as a parry-pass against a single attack (see image below).

For the jab-cross version, the front hand deflects an opponent's jab outwards, and then the rising block (back hand) comes up and deflects their cross inwards. The effect of this is to turn your opponent's body slightly sideways, which allows you to place your front hand on the small of their back (supporting hand) as you move forward and hook their head with the spearhand "strike". This throw is known as irimi nage ("entering throw") in Aikido. It helps if you come from a club that performs the spearhand at a downward angle, as my club does, but apparently this isn't the official version.

The other use of the cross-arm chamber is as a parry-pass against a single attack. This is shown in the image below. The ultimate effect should be the same: turn the opponent slightly and get access to their back.
Sources: Rogue Warriors and Southern Minnesota Martial Arts
The Opening Set

An intercepting block.
Source: Fitness, Workout, & Exercise Videos
I was originally taught that the opening move of Yul-Gok was a slow punch. It turns out it's not a punch at all: it's "extending your fist horizontally". Furthermore, it isn't even centered like a punch is. What's going on?

One interpretation (from Sanko Lewis) is that it's an intercepting block in disguise, based on the logic that sets should begin with defensive techniques. The off-center location of the movement makes this feasible. Follow up with the two punches as strikes.

A second interpretation I like is that it represents your arm being grabbed and pulled. After having your arm pulled, you quickly pull back and strike the inside of the opponent's elbow (first middle punch). This lowers their head, allowing you to punch their jaw (second middle punch). The exact motions you use can be altered for practicality: you might hammerfist down on their inner elbow and uppercut their jaw, for example.

Elbow Roll Throw (Ending Set)
Turning into double forearm block as a throw.
Source: Dan Djurdjevic

Speaking of striking the elbow, one application for pivoting 270-degrees into double front block is a throw via rolling into the opponent's inner elbow. You can see Dan Djurdjevic show this in the right gif. In some arts this throw is called sumi otoshi (corner drop), although this is different than the Judo throw of the same name.

The front arm pulls the opponent's arm. The back arm rolls down into the opponent's elbow as you pull. We can use the previous move (rear foot X-stance backfist) as a strike. As you grab their arm (reaction hand), use the leap forward to ram into your opponent as you hit them with your forearm -- a backfist can be used if you have great accuracy, but as a ramming move, your forearm has a much higher likelihood of connecting. After you strike your opponent, quickly step out and rotate, performing the throw.

Mind you, this is just the interpretation that I prefer. The leap forward into the backfist could represent some kind of pull if you grab your opponent from behind, or a forceful takedown if you have them in a lock. There is also a locking application -- present in both the Encyclopedia and in Hapkido -- that vaguely follows the movements. If you look at the images below, the "leap" into the backfist is stepping behind your opponent. You then turn and put them into a lock with the double front block motion.
Alternate application to Yul-Gok 36-37 (bottom row flipped horizontally). Source: RussMorr
I doubt this is the intended application, but it might be a good alternative application to teach.

Palm Hooking Blocks

Finally we get to the palm hooking blocks. As stated above, the block is supposedly derived from taekkyeon. The motions are also reminiscent of "cloud hands" found in taijiquan (in fact, most taekkyeon hand motions may be based in taijiquan or a similar art). If you perform multiple palm hooking blocks continuously (rather than finishing one before starting the other), they do look like outward cloud hands, so a simple application for this set would be just deflecting a jab-cross outward before striking.

One application is use the first hooking block as a strike. The movement has a cross-arm chamber (although it usually isn't emphasized) similar to karate's shuto uke chamber, and Stuart Anslow in Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-do Hae Sul notes that the cupping shape of the palm makes it an ideal tool for striking the head. So we can use the reaction hand to parry an attack (chamber), before striking the opponent's head.
Source: Practical Kata Bunkai

What if your opponent blocks you? Use the second hooking block to grab and drag the opponent's hand, pulling it as you punch them. In the pattern's official instructions, the second hooking block and the punch are meant to be performed as one motion. This application is very similar to Iain Abernethy's knifehand block drill shown in the right gif. (Fun fact: in the 1965 version of Yul-Gok, the movement is a "knifehand hooking block".)

The form follows with a second lunge punch the second time you perform this set. You could grab the back of the opponent's shirt, then step behind them for a throw (reaction hand pulls, punching hand pushes). Another interpretation is to use the first "punch" to press onto the opponent's elbow after you grab their arm, putting them into an armbar. You then move forward into the second lunge punch to strike their head.
Application for Yul-Gok 18-21. Source for top row: Orjan Nilsen
Since this set has many other applications, I will post an addendum later with a more detailed discussion.


1) A couple other "blocks" that might not have a Shotokan basis are the nine-block and double arc hand block in Gae-Baek. I don't know all 26 Shotokan kata so I could be wrong, but these two blocks are usually associated with taekwondo. The nine-block is used in jujitsu as an arm break. The double arc hand is reminiscent of the body pushing in taijiquan.

2) Aiki-jujitsu was being taught in Korea at the time Yul-Gok was developed (it's what Hapkido is based on), and we know that early taekwondoin studied jujitsu, as locks appear in both The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do and General Choi's 1965 book Tae Kwon Do: The Art of Self-Defense. There is more evidence of an aiki-jujitsu influence in the 1st Dan pattern Gae-Baek.