Prior to this belt, you have primarily been focused on purely defensive actions. Your opponent attacks, and you somehow thwart or escape their initial attack and then, if necessary, initiate a counter-attack. That level of thinking and training is necessary when you are just beginning to develop the motor skills and patterns of movement necessary to defend yourself. As you progress in your training you will need to expand your capabilities.
In this belt, you will see a shift in your training. You will no longer simply defend and then counter-strike. Instead, you will defend as you counterattack. This is a subtle but significant difference. It helps reduce the time your opponent has to consider his or her options, and it helps ensure you have an immediate advantage over your opponent.
In earlier training, the primary purpose of a block was to interrupt an incoming strike so that you were not impacted. That use of a block is still relevant, but you will now focus a great deal of training on blocking with a different purpose in mind. You are no longer primarily focused on avoiding an impact when using a block. Now you will train to use the block to disorient or destabilize your opponent. The purpose of a block shifts so that it is used as an offensive rather than a defensive tool. You block to take away your opponent’s structure, rotate his or her body to a more advantageous position (for you), or immediately put the opponent on a defensive footing.
This is perhaps best described as an “aggressive defense.” You are still blocking, in part to avoid impact, but more importantly, you are deliberately trying to use the initial block as a way of gaining a strategic and positional advantage over your opponent. From the very start of the conflict, we seek to win, even by using the very first strike by the opponent against them.
An aggressive defense has several characteristics. The first is that in general, though not in every instance, you are moving toward your opponent rather than away or to the side. Even if the opponent is at Chikoma you may move closer by stepping in the direction of octagon angle 5 or 7. Concurrent with that movement you will position a hand as a guard, check, parry, or block to help ensure you are not struck as you move. But the hand is likely to be used for other purposes as well.
In most cases, you will seek to make contact with the opponent in some manner during this initial movement. If you are blocking then you may use the block to rotate the opponent’s center away from you so that you end up at 90° to and centered on your opponent.
You might also use the same hand to parry the opponent’s attacking hand or foot in a downward direction, pitching the opponent forward to facilitate some subsequent form of Nage.
Another strategy might be to use the forearm as a blocking surface to intercept and move the opponent’s arm (or possibly the leg) out of the way as your hand moves toward a target of some kind. If the opponent were to throw a right punch toward your head you might move to angle 5, parry the opponent’s arm out of the way with your right forearm, and press your right open hand forward in route to the application of a Shotei Uchi to the opponent’s chin. What you have done is defensive – but applied in a decidedly aggressive manner.
A different method for dealing with the same attack might be to step forward toward angle 5 and place your left hand on top of the opponent’s right arm. Pulling the arm in toward your center will cause the opponent’s far arm to move in your direction. This arm will move along a circular path. Your right-hand strike will move along a linear path straight into the opponent’s approaching face or opposite shoulder as it turns in your direction. Your left arm functioned defensively but it was applied in an aggressive and almost offensive manner. Does this blur the distinction between offensive and defense? Certainly.
But your primary goal remains to ensure you are properly defended. You will always have some portion of your anatomy applied to prevent the current or subsequent action by your opponent from striking you. So that is clearly defensive. But you also rely on that initial defensive action to facilitate a subsequent offensive action. So the defensive action has two purposes. First and foremost it is intended to prevent you from being struck. A very close secondary goal is to use it for your own offensive purposes.
It is not always necessary that your offensive action involves a damaging impact. If someone delivers a right punch as described above then we might step toward angle 7 and apply a left hooking inward and downward parry over the top of the opponent’s striking arm. This keeps that arm from hooking inward in our direction, but it also allows us to use the arm to pull the opponent both inward and forward. Now we rotate our center to the left as our right-hand presses into the left side of the attacker’s face, facilitating Nage.
If someone were to kick us with Migi Mae Geri then we may step to angle 5 as we apply Migi Gedan Barai. But when our arm makes contact with the opponent’s leg we hook our arm under the leg in a manner that traps and lifts the leg. If we do this with a rotational movement of our center it will cause the opponent to rotate on his or her pedestal leg. Now our open left hand might be applied directly to the front of the opponent’s face to initiate Nage.
A different aggressive defense might be utilized against a Migi Mawashi Geri. As the kick is being delivered pull back into Kokutsu Dachi or step back slightly so the kick will miss immediately in front of you. Apply a block such as Hidari Ura Gedan Barai to the back of the kicking leg as you rotate your center so your block accelerates the kick away from you but in the same direction of travel. Your opponent will usually have to step away slightly and turn his or her back to you, presenting you with several tempting opportunities. These opportunities are usually a quick step or shuffle away.
So in every case, we see that a block or similar checking or parrying movement is being applied in a manner that causes some other part of the opponent’s structure or anatomy to become vulnerable. The block is part of an overall offensive strategy. It is not a case of defense followed by offense, as might be the case in counter striking. The block, check, or parry is part of one offensive sequence. It is thought of as one sequence rather than as two.
This is an essential part of the training for advancement to the Blue Belt ranking. While it is still appropriate to block then strike, you also need to develop the skills that enable these two separate events to be performed as a single cohesive action. The aggressive defense should ultimately become your preferred method for dealing with an attacking adversary.
If you block then strike as two events then you may find it impossible to deliver the strike. Your block may have induced movement into your opponent’s anatomy that enabled him or her to immediately strike using the opposite side of the body. Your block has, in effect, frozen you for a moment. At that moment your opponent will be halfway through the motion that will strike you with the opposite hand or foot.
So the aggressive defense is a way of using a block so that you are never frozen – even for a moment. Your block is in continual movement and is employed to rob the opponent of any opportunity to use the opposite side of the body (unless you really, really, really want them to). From this moment forward (well, until you get your Blue Belt) this is how you should think of blocking.