There is often some confusion about the differences between blocks, checks, and parries. This is understandable since these are often employed using similar movements and because what starts out as a block could turn into a check or parry. Likewise a parry might evolve into a block or check.
Let’s begin by describing each type of action separately. We will then discuss how these actions might be employed in combination.
A block occurs whenever you use one part of your body to protect another part of your body from a strike. Blocking is commonly done by using your hand or arm to intercept an incoming kick or strike. In the picture above, the person in the white Gi appears to be blocking the kick using his upper arm.
You can block with any part of your body. You might use your hands, forearms, shoulders, lower leg, thigh, hips or any other part of your anatomy. The purpose of a block is to employ one part of your body in the protection of another part of your body. You might, if you elect, even use your chin as a block.
While using your chin as a block may seem a bit far fetched, think about a situation where your hands are occupied (or trapped) elsewhere and an opponent is targeting your throat. Lowering your chin will perhaps protect a more vital part of your anatomy. I don’t often advocate people attempt to block strikes with their chin, but in some circumstances it may make sense.
The point of this line of thought is merely to illustrate that a block uses a less vulnerable part of the body to defend against an attack aimed at a more vulnerable part of the body. How you apply a block is an entirely different matter discussed in student manuals and in other posts on this site. Those discussions focus on ensuring you do not injure yourself or leave yourself vulnerable while blocking.
A Check might be thought of as a stationary block. Again, any part of the body might be used to employ a check, but arms and hands are the most frequently used. Legs, hips, shoulders, and even your rib cage can be used as a checking tool and are frequently employed for that purpose.
Unlike a block, a check is not employed to prevent an incoming strike. A check is used to prevent a future potential attack or maneuver. If someone strikes at you with the right hand you might move to his or Ear Side and then place your right hand against the attacker’s upper right arm. Since you have moved out of the way of the strike you do not need to block it. Your hand is placed on the attacker’s arm to prevent him or her from turning in your direction. If the opponent attempts to turn all you need do is press your hand slightly forward to disrupt the turn. Since the opponent will be Weightless at this moment it is very easy to overcome or circumvent his or her efforts.
So a check might be thought of as a movement inhibitor. They are often used to prevent someone from striking you while you are busy doing something else (perhaps with the other hand). Checks are not normally applied to cause harm or to protect against an action that is already underway. They are used primarily to prevent or at least limit the possibility of a future action.
A parry is employed differently than either a block or a check. The purpose of a parry is to deliberately move or manipulate some portion of an opponent’s anatomy. Usually a parry is applied to an opponent’s arms or legs, but could be employed to other parts of his or her anatomy as well. For purposes of discussion we will limit our initial comments to applying a parry to someone’s arms. It should be easy to extend the concept to other parts of a person’s anatomy.
Assume that someone strikes in our direction with a right arm strike. We move slightly toward octagon angle 4 and position our left hand over top of the attacker’s approaching hand. We then pull in gently with our left hand as we rotate our center to point at our attacker’s Mother Line. Since our opponent will be weightless (if we time things correctly) then he or she will be rotated into an awkward and vulnerable position. As you pull down and in with your left arm the opponent’s shoulders and face will be pulled forward, directly in line with your right hand. You should be able to figure out where this is going.
So parries are used to reposition, restructure, or destabilize an opponent. Anytime you are in contact with some portion of a person’s anatomy you have the potential to employ a parry. They are best employed when a person has become weightless, but can be used at other times and for a variety of different purposes as well.
We often utilize these basic motions in combination. We will cover a couple of simple examples. There are innumerable ways in which these combinations might be used.
Let’s return to our discussion about checking. As you may recall we had placed our hand on the attacker’s upper arm to prevent a potential future action. This helps prevent the person from striking us with that elbow, and also reduces the possibility of them rotating forward to strike us with the opposite hand (you are cautioned it does not preclude the possibility of them rotating in the opposite direction).
Now imagine the person tries to rotate forward (clockwise) in our direction. We employ our check to abort his rotation, which has the effect of slightly jarring or jolting (Juking) our opponent. The moment this occurs we shift the purpose of our hand from a checking action to a parrying action. The opponent is momentarily weightless and can be moved fairly readily. A parry can move the opponent closer to you, away from you, forward, or even cause the person to rotate in your direction. Yes, this last action seems counter productive, but in this situation it is not. It is actually a movement that could be very much in our favor. With experimentation you will come to understand why.
You might employ a block as you move out of the way of a strike and then convert the block into a check to preclude the possibility of the opponent’s attacking arm being used for some alternate or subsequent purpose. You could also convert this block into a parry as a means of preventing the attacker from trying to strike with their opposite side. This can be done by rotating the person so that their opposite side is moving away from you.
In an alternate strategy we might utilize a parry to move someone into a new and beneficial (to us) position and then set a checking hand to ensure they cannot readily move to reestablish an Optimal Structure.
The best way to think about all of this is that an initial block, parry, or checking action is merely the first of a sequence of actions you will want to perform with your arm or leg (or other body part). You will then want to immediately repurpose your arm or leg for you next planned activity. Once that is done you will want to repurpose your arm or leg again. A block, parry, or check is not an end game – it is merely the opening foray into a future sequence of movements designed to prevent your opponent from continuing a conflict.