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.




  1. That's a very extensive and well thought out blog post, David. Did you not consider the upward palm as a strike to an opponent bent over? Or from under the arm? Or under the kick? Cheers, Colin

    1. Hi Colin!

      That's an interesting idea. I assume that if the opponent is bent over it would be a strike to the nose? I'm not sure what you mean by "under the arm" unless you're referring to Stuart Anslow's arm lock idea, which I did include.

      I did once come across a rather nasty interpretation of Gae-Baek where you use the palm scooping block to strike an opponent testicles, then grab and pull them as you push out their upper body with the punch. This was in a taekwondo book, although I can't remember which one (not Stuart Anslow's).

    2. If the lead arm fires, and you come under it from outside, it would be striking from under that arm.

      As for the palm heel to the face ... I once returned to training after a month off - had shingles and couldn't train. First thing they told me was I had to spar two brown belts who were grading for their black. Groan.

      So yeah, grabbed the first one by the hair, pulled him over, and started hammering him with several upward palm heels to his face. Then knee strike to his chest followed by immediate extension into a front kick.

      I think the fear of having been sick propelled me to lay into them hard. Then it became a one on one with the remaining last brown belt. Much easier.

    3. The open palm to the testicles... I think the palm strike to the testicles requires more of a hand extension ala Chungmu before the pull back into manjiuke or low and high middle block stance. This one from joongun seems to be held a little too close to the body and too high up. But that's just me thinking out loud.

  2. kotegaeshi = bakkateuro sonmok kkukki. (Bakkat=out, euro = direction, here outward, sonmok=wrist and kkukki = break/twist/bend. The grappling techniques in taekwondo does have terminology but they (the techniques) are so often not taught that the terminology is lost (along with the techniques).

    1. Thanks Orjan, I didn't know there was a Korean name for it! I've taken some Aikido classes, so I tend to fall into the Japanese terminology when it comes to wrist locks.

    2. As many teach and learn taekwondo as a striking system only, and those who learn more often learn the grappling aspects rudimentary, terminology is often not learned at all.

      I'm planning to write a blogpost on the basic locks and their terminology in Korean somewhere down the road. I started one in fact, but it quickly derailed into a historical journey from the 1920s to present day just to make the case that taekwondo contains taekwondo grappling, and to provide a little counterweight to the common view that all joint locks etc that you'll see taught in taekwondo came from hapkido.

      The post I started on it seems I need to start over and try again, not derailing it do much and see if I get where I wanted to go:-P