The term Uke refers to both blocking maneuvers and to the training partner who is currently receiving an attack from another person. Uke, generally speaking, means “Receiving”. So, in the context of this section, Uke refers to actions you might take upon receiving an incoming attack from an opponent.
Let’s expand on this concept a little because it can be confusing at first. If two people are practicing together then often one is experimenting with a maneuver and the other is assisting by initiating an attack in some manner. In this scenario the person who initiates the attack is the Uke, the person who is defending against the attack is the Tori. This can seem the opposite of the earlier definition, but that is because we are only partway through the discussion. The Tori now performs some countermeasure or retaliatory strike and the Uke pays the price for having started trouble. Now the Uke is definitely the person receiving. You could say that the roles of Uke and Tori reverse during this process, but that makes things more confusing than necessary. Generally, the person practicing a maneuver is the Tori, the person assisting or acting as the foil is the Uke. It doesn’t need to be more complex than that.
Another context for the term Uke is that of blocking. By blocking you are receiving the strike from an opponent and dealing with it in some manner that prevents it from striking you. For this reason, blocks generally use the term Uke to indicate their intent. Before discussing the individual blocks some general background information about blocks and blocking is warranted. Here are some general tips to keep in mind about blocking:
- We dislike striking our bone surfaces directly into the bone surfaces of someone else. This “bone on bone” contact should be avoided. Severe injury can result from such contact. This is especially true if you are using a relatively smaller bone, say an arm bone, to strike a larger bone, perhaps a leg bone. Learn how to block effectively without direct bone-to-bone contact.
- Many martial arts styles teach that when blocking you should impact the attacking arm or leg with sufficient force to cause pain or injury so that the attacker is discouraged from further striking or perhaps is precluded from using that same arm or leg again. You would of course want to pick an area on the attacking arm or leg that would be painful, is readily injured, or that would minimize the chances of causing yourself injury. There is merit to this approach, but it should not be your only way of thinking about blocking. In part, because this focused form of blocking limits how quickly you can move on to a subsequent task, increases your risk of injury, tends to propel your attacker’s arm or leg away in an uncontrolled manner, focuses your attention on history rather than the future, and provides you with little in the way of instantaneous control of your opponent’s structure. Other than these limitations this is a great blocking strategy. All kidding aside, you will find times when this blocking strategy is quite useful.
- Many of the blocks you will learn call for “Rotational Delivery.” This means that the hand, wrist, and forearm are in rotation as they make contact with the opponent’s strike. The blocking arm typically rotates through a full 90° beginning the moment contact is first made. The purpose of this rotation is to distribute the energy of impact over a larger surface area of the arm and to impart destabilization and circular momentum into the opponent’s structure. It is a mechanism for both reducing injuries and for gaining control of an opponent at the point of first contact.
- Blocks should not be moved outside of your center triangle. Where possible, the block should be delivered not by moving the arm, but instead by positioning the arm and then rotating your center. Your block will have much more effect on your opponent while helping keep you continuously centered at the same time.
- Keep in mind that if you block an opponent with an outward-directed block this often has the effect of causing their other hand (or leg) to begin the journey toward your center. Turning the attacker in the opposite direction might cause them to attack you with a spinning strike. To protect yourself you should always have the non-blocking hand in a viable guard position. As you study blocking you should strive to find ways to prevent these counterattacks by your opponent from happening.
- You should think beyond the obvious idea that a block is used to disrupt an incoming strike. Instead, think more about what the block can do after initial contact. This is where the true power of blocking is hidden.
- Blocks are often defined as being delivered at various elevations. A Jodan block is delivered up high (near the head and neck), a Chudan block is delivered somewhere within the torso, and a Gedan block is delivered somewhere below the waist. These are no specific or iron-clad definitions; think instead of these being more like the generic terms high, middle, and low.
- Blocks are normally considered (by many martial artists) to be defensive tools. We like to think of them as an integral part of our offensive arsenal as well.
- All blocks can be delivered by moving the arms in the direction of the incoming strike. You should also practice each block by placing your arm in a fixed position and then rotating your center as the mechanism to deliver the block.
- You should practice delivering all blocks from a sound guard position. This is where your hands should naturally be placed, so this is the location from which you should most often initiate a block.
- Any block can be applied at a different elevation than its name might imply. Try to avoid defining a block as being useful for only one type of attack or one level of application. Strive to be as flexible as possible in your selection and application of blocks.