Some blocks are useful for protection against a high or low level strike delivered by an opponent. The best defense against this movements is not necessarily a block, but rather to move out of the path of oncoming strike. This may not always be possible, so you will want to know how to block such strikes. In many cases you can utilize a combination of both moving off the line of attack and blocking simultaneously. You will get plenty of practice doing all of these alternatives as you work with your instructor and others.
High Level Blocks
High level blocks are generally utilized at or above your shoulder level. They usually deal with some form of overhand strike from an opponent. This might be from a downward-directed hand strike or from employment of a weapon such as a club or knife.
Because these are powerful strikes it is usually best to move off the line of attack before attempting to block. There may be times when you are not afforded an opportunity to do such movement, so you will want to practice the blocks from both a stationary and moving structure. But if you have time and the opportunity you will find it advantageous to no longer be under the path of a downward strike, especially if a weapon is involved.
“Age” means “rising” in Japanese, so the Age Uke is a rising block. Sometimes it is referred to as an upper block in that it is moving in an upward direction. To perform this block the arm is positioned such that the fist is generally higher than the elbow with the palm facing you. Rotational delivery twists the palm away as the block is applied. This block is normally used on the underside of an attacker’s arm, usually as close to the shoulder joint as possible. Your fist seldom rises above the level of the opponent’s shoulder. This block is quite effective when used against someone striking with an overhand strike or with a weapon, but can also be useful against a punch at your Jodan level. This can be a very powerful block and often will rock your opponent and dramatically affect their structure as you make contact.
In some martial arts styles this block is referred to as an upper block because the block is often placed slightly above your head. The assumption is generally made that such a block will contact the opponent’s arm in the vicinity of the elbow or forearm. This can be a useful blocking position at times, but we prefer a lower block closer to the shoulder because we have less tangential velocity to deal with and therefore are less likely to suffer injury.
Haiwan Nagashi Uke
Commonly called an Upper Twist Block, this block is closely related to the Age Uke, but is applied a little bit differently. Begin by moving the hands much like you would when performing an Ura Tsuki. As your elbow approaches your Jordan level, rotational delivery is used while the arm presses upward and outward simultaneously. The elbow should remain bent such that a gentle curve is formed by the outside edge of your arm. The purpose of this block is to guide a strike outside (or inside) and then downward as the strike is intercepted by your arm. The curve in your arm allows the strike to brush off to the outside and to then be guided downward. This is often used to address an overhand weapons strike from your opponent. The block contacts the opponent’s arm as close to their shoulder joint as possible. In no case should this or any other block be used directly against a weapon. Rotating your center concurrent with rotational delivery will enhance the effectiveness of the block.
Low blocks are generally applied against kicks, but can easily be used against low hand strikes as well. Since they are applied to kicks quite frequently you must employ rotational delivery to prevent blocks involving the arm from being overpowered or injured by a stronger and more robust leg. Think of these lower level blocks as a means to redirect and deflect a kick or strike rather than a mechanism for directly impacting it. Directly impacting a leg with an arm can lead to serious arm injury (though you will later learn when and how such strikes might be accomplished safely).
The Japanese word “Barai” means “sweep” or “sweeping”. Therefore a Gedan Barai is a lower level sweeping block. This block involves placing your fist in a fixed position down and along your center line, and then sweeping the arm outward to brush an incoming kick aside. It can be used either on the inside or outside of your attacker’s leg (using opposite arms) and is delivered both with rotational delivery on the arm and rotation of your center.
During delivery the arm should be bent into a gentle curve much like the arm position used in the Upper Twist Block. The block is generally delivered by using a stepping pattern to move out of the direct path of the incoming kick and then applying the block to control and manipulate your opponent. In practice the torso is rotated rather than moving the arm. This provides increased control and more support during the blocking sequence.
It is proper to use the terms “Gedan Barai” and “Gedan Barai Uke” to refer to this block, though the first method is the one most frequently encountered.
Ura Gedan Barai
This block is the opposite of the Gedan Barai. Here the arm is again bent to form a gentle curve, but the inside edge of the arm is used as the blocking surface. The block is again used with a stepping pattern to get out of the direct line of the approaching kick. The block is again used with rotational delivery and rotation of your center. This block has the advantage of being able to sweep under and then lift the kick leg upward, causing your opponent to become destabilized. Your blocking hand must remain closed throughout this block to prevent substantial finger injury.
Reverse Hand Block
This block is another low level block used to protect against an incoming kick. Here the blocking arm sweeps down and inward with the palm facing upward. The hand must remain closed tightly during this bloc and the arm must remain slightly bent. Stepping patterns, rotational delivery and rotation of center are also applied when using this block. This block also can be used, depending on relative angles between yourself and the kicking leg, to sweep the kicking leg upward to dramatically affect the stability and structure of the opponent.
Otoshi Empi Uke
This block is often used while sparring, but has little applicability outside of contact sport. If the opponent throws a kick such as a Mae Geri, then the elbow nearest the kick can simply be lowered quickly (while keeping the arm deeply bent) until it makes contact with the top of the incoming foot. The bones at the elbow are much stronger than the bones of the foot so any potential pain or injury is most likely going to be inflicted on the foot. This block works very well to discourage future kicks and to limit an opponent’s future mobility. A frequent injury in sparring is a broken foot, and this block is one of the primary culprits for infliction of this injury.
It is not a practical block in a self-defense scenario because the assailant is likely wearing shoes or boots, so striking these surfaces is more likely to injure your elbow than the foot. You are cautioned to use this block sparingly against training partners who are helping you develop your sparring skills. If you use this block indiscriminately you may suddenly find there is nobody willing to assist your further.
Nami Gaeshi Uke
This is often called the “Returning Wave Block” or “Snapping Wave Block” and uses your foot or leg to block an incoming kick. It is most useful against a kick such as Mae Geri, but can be used for other kicks when proper stepping patterns and angle are used to best position your center for defense.
To perform the kick you transition to an Ippon Dachi as you swing the non-pedestal foot up, inward, and then in front of the pedestal leg. The goal is to strike the incoming leg on its side with your instep, or to sweep your instep under the incoming leg. The sweep might be used to push the leg off to the side, or up and toward you to pull the attacker in to your subsequent strike. The instep is used in both situations. Your body might be generally erect, but it is also quite common for you to have a forward lean that allows you to move in and impact your assailant immediately after the block. You will need to return your raised leg to the ground somehow, and stepping forward to strike is one effective methodology for accomplishing that goal.