Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Secrets? What secrets?

A while ago I wrote a lengthy treatise on timing your foot to land with your punch.  I called it a "secret".  And given the private mail I got on the subject arguing vehemently with me, it looks like for many it was a "secret" - or at least something totally unknown.

But looking around I see the same technique used commonly in boxing/MMA.  So, surprise: another traditional technique turns out to be nothing more than common sense.  And common knowledge amongst people who actually bother to engage in some form of contact (and not against Michelin Man suited zombies).

Consider this guy's video.  Note his punch (standard kizami zuki, ie. karate "lunge punch".  Note his stance (standard zenkutsu dachi) which is only transitional.  Note his follow up step (straight yori ashi).  Note his finishing stance (straight out of arnis).

And note the timing of his foot - straight out of traditional martial arts as I previously discussed.



Once you get over the "differences" you see the similarities.  And that there are no "secrets" at all: just people who would rather put their heads under a rock.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sick of the ice bucket challenge?

So you're sick of the ice bucket challenge eh?

I mean, you've already heard the stats: so few people get ALS - so why are we raising a disproportionate amount of money on this illness when there are far more "worthy" ones - at least in terms of human suffering.

Heck - clean water supply is a bigger issue isn't it?

Yet here are people wasting clean water - wasting it - on some stupid challenge to raise money for some piddling little condition that almost no one suffers.

I mean, you heard it on TV right?



And now we hear that ALSA is trying to claim intellectual property over the whole ice bucket thingy - despite having nothing to do with it initially.  What gall!

And now you hear about fraud - that's right fraud in ALSA.  Some 73% of the money isn't going towards researching this condition!

Except that these arguments have more holes than a colander through which you can pour iced water...

First, there is no fraud.  I'll let you do the research, but here is a start.  The report was from a satirical site that some people believe is an actual news one.

In any event, almost every single charity on the planet has operating costs.  Not every cent can go towards "research".

Then there's the whole business about number of deaths vs how much we should raise.  Yes it's true: very few people die of ALS every year.  But is that really an issue?  What is the issue?  The issue here is whether ALS, as a cause, deserves to have this amount of attention - this "moment in the sun".

First consider this: so little money has been raised for ALS in the past that the $31.5 million raised during the ice bucket craze is still tiny by comparison to most fundraising for AIDS, heart disease, breast cancer, etc.  And, most importantly, the current "fad" eclipses any previous attempt to raise money or even awareness of ALS by a factor of at least 1,000 or or even 10,000.

I mean, had you ever heard of ALS before?

Then there's the benefit of all this attention:

Here's the deal: I studied "Lou Gehrig's Disease" back at university in 1985.  I knew it kept your brain alive but slowly killed your motor neurons until you couldn't walk, talk, swallow or - eventually - breathe.  I knew it involved a sentence of death in 3 years from the time of onset/diagnosis (unlike other motor neuron conditions where life can be prolonged).

But I had some idea that Lou Gehrig's Disease was really one of the huge number of such diseases being studied and slowly addressed.

What have I found out in 2014?  I have found out that we've gone almost nowhere in finding a treatment - never mind a cure.  I have found that almost no one I speak to has even heard of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - even after the ice bucket challenge.

And I have found out that ALS barely warrants attention from drug companies; it seems too few people suffer from this condition to make research worth their while.

I have also found out how mean-spirited people can be: how "irritated" they can get because some blasted craze of dumping icy water on people's heads keeps interrupting the "lolkatz" on their Facebook feed; how they can be so lacking in humour and compassion as to deny the ALS sufferers their own "symbol" or "gimmick" that promotes their particular issue (which is like getting annoyed at the Cancer Foundation's yellow daffodil, or breast cancer's pink ribbon, etc.); how they can begrudge those trying to raise money and awareness of this terrible (albeit relatively rare disease) their "moment in the sun" in terms of public awareness.

Well, finally, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has the public's attention.  Yes this attention will be brief.  Don't worry - your lolkatz will return to their usual programming soon.  In the meantime I hope ALS sufferers get all the attention they can get.  I hope their principal association - ALSA - gets to put its stamp on the ice bucket challenge as its own "gimmick" - so that it can repeat the show every now and again when people forget.  God knows, ALS needs such a gimmick.  And ALSA is probably best placed to protect that gimmick from copycats.

So while I know of no one who suffers from ALS, nor have I even thought of it in 30 something years, I'm happy to take part in it and raise a bit of money.  That I could use the occasion to do some martial arts (sanchin kata) was a bonus.  That I could do so while answering a critic?  Even more so.



Late in in on the craze?  This is a case of better late than never.

At least I got to show Tom Cruise how to stop being a wussy (he needs some sanchin lessons, I think - check out his histrionic reaction to a bit of cold water).



And, for the benefit of that fairly heartless reporter from Queensland: waste of water and ice?  Really?  Give me a break.  I bet you don't bat an eyelid as you flush your faeces down the toilet every day using fresh, clean drinking water.  And lots of it.  Shame on you.

This water (about 4 L plus a small bag of ice) was worth it, if nothing else than because it raises awareness of a condition that is barely known.

And as for the ice being "better used for cooling beers"... talk about a first world problem!

Sometimes the cost of something is worth the price - even if that price includes annoying a few irritable, mean-spirited people.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Left single whip: taijiquan's "hidden power"

There is a movement in Chen Pan Ling taijiquan called "left single whip".  It leads to a sequence known as "raise arm and step forwards".  These movements seem very weak and soft - yet they contain within them concepts of "softness overcoming hardness" that can make your mind spin.  As far as I'm concerned, they are as close as you get to something "mystical".

Yet it's not.

It's really just simple mechanics.  But who would have thought those mechanics would be quite so powerful!



Part 1 was filmed last week.  It shows a performance of the part of the form I'm talking about.  Part 2 was filmed this morning.

I do the applications slowly (mostly).  But in reality, they are, of course, done fast.

Both videos involve some aspect of "stand up grappling" - which will no doubt surprise some folks given my last two articles.
Except that it shouldn't.  
I make it clear that I am an ardent practitioner of stand up grappling - I just believe that you need to approach it carefully in order to minimise the chances of being trapped into a grappling game and taken to the ground.

This is especially evident in my most recent video which involves a throw application.



I like this throw because it demonstrates how good technique and structure create inherent strength: even if the partner is being an absolute pain and resisting it every step of the way in a slow demonstration, you still win.

When done with force/speed, it's much easier.  When preceded by a "softening blow", it's even easier.  This is about the only time you should be attempting some form of throw, lock or other stand up grapple in civilian defence: the lever should work even when fully resisted in slow motion.  Then you don't have worry about using brute force to cover up bad technique.  Besides - there's a good chance your technique will be off when you're under pressure: you need a margin for error.

Contrast the above with the "tricep lever" throw I discussed in my last post and you'll see what I mean about tempting fate with such a sub-optimal technique.

The "left single whip throw/projection" happens to be one of my favourite throws - because it actually works in unscripted sparring.  And I rarely get dragged down with my partner.

What I love about the techniques in both videos is that they work entirely on "softness" - which is what makes them seem "mystical" or "qi powered".  Of course, that softness is all about exploiting your opponent's lines of least resistance and maximising yours.

In particular I like to use the throw in the second video as a kind of test of whether you're able to use your whole body momentum in a synergistic way.  One millisecond out of time, one millimetre out of alignment and it doesn't work.  This is precisely the sort of "advanced" internal arts technique I spoke of years ago.  It's hard to get right, but when you do - boy, it's good stuff!

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic

Friday, August 22, 2014

Avoiding the clinch: more on civilian defence grappling

Introduction


In my most recent article I discussed a certain (currently popular) view that traditional "uke" aren't really all that useful in blocking/deflection/parrying.  Under this view it is proposed that "uke" function more as as "striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling" (to quote "jwt" - John Titchen).

John added recently:
"[M]oving and manipulating others to gain a position from which to strike, control or escape (predominantly extracting oneself from multiple punches, grabs, high tackles and clinches)... make up the majority of the 'action' in close range combative situations and it is those movements which both full and partial Uke sequences excel at. "
It is clear that for people like John, stand up grappling is really what "uke" are mostly about.  And John notices that:
"[T]he majority of the movements being drilled [should] navigate the most common problems posed by violent incidents."  
For John this would not include "blocking" (parrying/deflecting etc.) but rather stand up grappling.

My problem is that this philosophy doesn't square with what I know - about both civilian defence scenarios as well as the arts of grappling.

Staying out of the grappling range


In my experience as a former prosecutor there is a very, very strong desirability in civilian defence to stay out of the grappling range to avoid being taken down to the ground (or even trapped standing).   I can't recall being part of a prosecution that involved a murder, grievous bodily harm or assault which was one-on-one, unarmed - other than a pub fight where they wrestled to the ground and the guy on top had his nose bitten off. Whichever way it goes, in each case going to a clinch led to being trapped - and spelled nasty things. Going to the ground was the beginning of the end - even for good grapplers (like the guy who no longer has a nose).

And in my experience fighting a grappler (heck, even a gifted amateur, never mind someone with training or experience in wrestling), a stand up fighter who is careless will get taken down before he/she can say "boo".

I discuss this issue at length in my essay "How civilian defence grappling differs from sport grappling".

This doesn't mean that there is no "stand up grappling" in arts like karate.  Quite the reverse.  My article shows that in many situations arts like karate can and do utilise stand up grappling techniques.  But my article also illustrates how careful the civilian defence grappler has to be to avoid being taken down while engaging in such "stand up grappling".

The civilian defence grappler either uses techniques that either:
  • keep a kind of "buffer" between the defender and attacker; or 
  • are resorted to when the opponent has been sufficiently controlled or subdued (the opponent is off-balance or you're on his/her back, etc.).
Whichever way it goes, the civilian defence fighter is very, very wary of the clinch.  Because once you get to the clinch, most of the time you're destined for the ground.

And even if you happen to also be a half-decent grappler, in a civilian defence scenario you can't rely on your opponent to be:
  1. alone; or 
  2. unarmed (as you'll see from my recent post on the subway fight).
In an altercation my brother had a few years ago, both eventualities occurred: the burglar he wrestled had a knife.  And he also had an accomplice, armed with a lump of wood.  Staying on the ground quickly stopped being an option.

So here's my big problem with John's suggestions for "bunkai" (applications) of "uke" (blocks):

First, almost all of them not only envisage a clinch range - they demand it.

Consider the adjacent bunkai photos :

The attacker is already clinching (albeit in an amateurish way judging by his grip positions).  The defence involves using a forearm to push the attacker away (and assumes the weak positioning of the attacker's grip across the shoulder).

Obviously I've been in such a close range many, many times (though generally with a more meaningful clinch).  And I can assure you that even a beginner in BJJ, Greco-Roman wrestling or judo will have you on the ground within a second - with or without your "bunkai releases/escapes".

Why?

Because you're basically up there playing the grappler's game.  Except you're armed only with "karate grappling".  The other guy is armed with either real grappling or a whole lot of vehemence and anger.

This sort of scenario is not karate's - or any civilian defence art's - forte.

If you don't believe me, go down to your local BJJ/judo/wrestling/MMA club and ask someone to get into this position with you - and see if you can make this work.  I guarantee that even if you manage to push your opponent's neck, something very unpredictable will happen.  And a millisecond later you'll realise you're on the ground and, sooner or later, on the losing end of a grappling match.  Even if you're a good grappler, you're no longer doing "karate" - you're doing your BJJ etc.  And as we've discussed, being caught up in a one-on-one grapple is far from ideal in terms of what civilian defence is trying to deal with.

So in summation: to make any such "bunkai" work, you'd better be a darn good grappler to begin with.  And you'd better hope that you're in a "one-on-one", unarmed environment as well.

"Karate grappling" vs. specialist grappling


 Then there's always the issue: "How well does "karate grappling" stack up to "specialist grappling".

Well let's take look at a very common "karate grappling" technique: the old "arm bar":

Okay, I'll admit it - this one is a perennial favourite of mine.  I have used it for years and years.

But when I've tried it out against grapplers, I realised it comes with a host of very severe limitations - ones which aren't exposed until you fight a grapper.

For example I tried this fighting a guy in Hong Kong in 2009. He had me on my backside within a second, reversed the lock and almost broke my elbow (it was sore for the better part of a year).

How did he do it?  He just dived for my legs.  In Hong Kong he dived between my legs (as would happen to John in these pictures).  More recently I've had it happen by my BJJ students diving behind my legs (as per my picture below).

Basically arm bars are all well and fine - but as soon as someone knows how to dive, you can virtually forget them - unless you keep in mind some pretty subtle (but significant) rules.

Remember: your opponent is diving down - which happens to be the direction of your force on his arm.  You're basically pushing him in the direction he needs to go to escape the lock  - and the direction he wants to go throw you.  Trust me - it's the ultimate trap.  And almost no karateka seems remotely aware of this issue.  I see bunkai being peddled all over the internet without a care in the world for fundamental issues like this: issues that are "no brainers" to specialist grapplers - but are somehow "esoteric" to the average stand up fighter (especially in a traditional martial art).

Yes, there are ways to avoid a "dive" - and I cover some of them in my article "How civilian defence grappling differs from sport grappling".  Mostly the kata shows you how - it's built into its throwing/grappling techniques.

But guess where is it not "builit-in"?  It's not built into "uke".  Why?  My guess is, it's because they aren't designed primarily to initiate grappling.

They are for receiving attacks - not opening with them (as strikes, arm bars, levers and other manipulations).  Kata moves that are obviously intended to be applied as throws take careful measures to avoid the grappler's counters: they stay clear of the clinch and, when a throw/lock is being applied, ensure that the form of movement avoids you being taken down into a grapple afterwards.

Consider the above stills of seipai tuide and you'll see what I mean:  The small matter of whether you lever over or under his arm makes all the difference to whether the grappler can use his/her arm in a "dive"...

Now I'll mention (only in passing) that John's arm bar is problematic from for another, completely unrelated, reason.  What would that be?

I challenge anyone to adopt the starting position with a resistant partner and actually succeed in:
  1. putting him/her down into a lock and 
  2. keeping him/her there.
Why would these be a challenge?  The lock looks strong - doesn't it?  Don't we use it in the dojo all the time?

For starters,  in this "application" of an "uke" you are pushing on his tricep/shoulder.  This is too, too easily resisted.

For example, next time you're doing this, ask your student to "stand up" during the lock and try to resist it...

Or ask your student to resist - honestly - from the moment you start to push down on his shoulder/tricep with your forearm.  You'll be surprised what happens...

I'm willing to bet that you won't get your partner down much farther than what is depicted in the opening photo of the bunkai sequence.  You'd be better off pushing on the elbow (where you're at greater risk of his dive).  But pushing up here on the tricep/shoulder just isn't going to get you anywhere.

If you doubt me, take a look at the video below at 1:54 or thereabouts. (Bear in mind it was made for a different reason with a slightly different technique in mind - but the principle is identical, I assure you.  Anyway, try it out and you'll see.)




The moral of the story


Okay, so the moral of the story is, don't play grappling games when your aim is civilian defence and your primary skill is stand up fighting.

I'm fairly certain you'll fall foul of that famous cliche that "90% of fights go to the ground".  While I don't think this cliche is necessarily true for civilian defence (as opposed to "chest bumping" displays of male dominance), it is definitely true if you intend to base your tactics on grappling.  I wouldn't give you 10 seconds to remain standing once you start grappling "karate style".

And even if you don't "intend to wrestle" (because you're just doing "releases" etc.) be aware that basing your fight plan entirely in the grappling/clinch range means that you'll wind up wrestling anyway - whether you like it or not.  You can have a variety of "clinch releases" in your arsenal, but if this is all you think the many "uke" are about, I think you're missing something.

So if the plethora of uke aren't about "stand up grappling", what are they about?

Well I personally have no problem with "uke" being all about handling the first punch.  To me (especially as a former prosecutor) that's always been a no-brainer.

But uke are also about other attacks - not just strikes, but kicks and... attempted grabs - specifically for a clinch.

If traditional civilian defence arts are about something other than the first punch, they are about avoiding the clinch!  To me, this is the most pressing concern alongside not being punched/struck/kicked because this is what determines the outcome of the attack!

It's hardly surprising then, that almost all "uke" can be put to effect to prevent a either a punch or a grab - whether around your neck, head, body, leg, or even your arm/wrist (as lampooned as that might be).

The examples below of "uke" used to avoid the clinch are from taijiquan - but they could just as well be from karate.  Look hard and you'll see lots of similar karate "uke" that prevent the grappler from reaching in and establishing a clinch.



So civilian defence arts are, first and foremost "anti-grappling arts".  This is by necessity.

And to me, this is what makes John's thesis about "blocks" ("uke" as, first and foremost, instruments of stand up grappling) profoundly misconceived.  They aren't "grappling" so much as they are anti-grappling - they negate it, they don't "encourage it".

To the extent that civilian defence arts have "grappling techniques" (locks, throws etc.) these are short term, and engaged in from the melee range or in circumstances that are otherwise highly circumscribed.  Where the grappler tends to feel at ease within the grappling range, the civilian defence practitioner is always striving to stay out of it - or get out of it as fast as he or she can.  And this is for a good reason.  Again, I encourage you to read my article on civilian defence grappling vs. specialist grappling.

The civilian defence practitioner is trying to avoid being hurt.  This means not being punched and not being trapped.  "Uke" (blocks") serve both purposes well.  They "receive" an attack (whether it is a blow or grab) in a way that prevents the attack working.

This factor alone is more than enough reason to explain the high number of "uke" in traditional "stand up" civilian defence arts - be they Chinese (taijiquan, baguzhang, xingyiquan, Shaolin, etc.), Japanese (karate) or Korean (taekwondo).

Either that, or these arts are profoundly about grappling - using rather odd, less than optimal grappling moves (moves that no grappler in jujutsu, judo or wrestling would touch with a barge pole).

Take your pick.  The choice is stark.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic


"Deflecting attacks doesn't require any specialised training!"

Where angels fear to tread


I did something the other day that I normally don't do: I was enticed to go onto one of the big forums where, it seems, they were discussing one of my articles.

All I can say is, I realised after a few minutes why I don't frequent forums any more.

Despite my own promises I couldn't resist replying to one train of thought by a certain "rne02" who raised that old chestnut: "There are no blocks!".  I've dealt with that subject exhaustively and if you haven't read my article on the subject, then I encourage you to do so here.

But another writer, "jwt", did go on to say some related things that demand separate analysis.  Here are a few quotes:

I'm saying you're not really using the Uke. You are essentially just parrying with a tiny rotator cuff movement and body shift online and telling yourself that because you have done something that resembles the tail end of the Uke technique, you have done the Uke. Whether big or small, with the exception of Ude Uke (which at its tail end resembles a closed hand flinching/pushing parrying motion), Karate Uke techniques do not work as deflections against fast unpredictable attacks launched at a realistic range.

But against any form of fast unpredictable attack, if you think that you are doing Age Uke or Uchi Uke or Gedan Barai to deflect (as opposed to naturally slipping and parrying and swatting like any untrained person) then you are kidding yourself.

Then there's jwt's extract from his unpublished book.  I've highlighted the parts that I find most astonishing:

The idea that uke techniques are ‘blocks’ and that their predominance in kata reflects the defensive nature of karate should be rejected for a number of reasons. Firstly, deflecting and blocking attack is a largely instinctive action that does not require specialised movement. If you observe anyone shielding themselves against a committed attack outside of set prearranged sparring combinations, you will see them cover, parry, slap, duck or flinch (or any combination of those), and any time you see anything resembling a fixed uke technique it will be because the uke technique itself mimics natural movement. Secondly the best form of defence is offence, and that principle has been enshrined in martial writings across many cultures for centuries. A committed attack is not stopped by continuous deflection but by pattern disrupting behaviour that forces reaction and reorientation. Thirdly it is unlikely to be a coincidence that uke techniques function extremely well as striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling. Finally it is incongruous that the majority of the movements being drilled should be devoted to something that requires little training: their being designed to navigate the most common problems posed by violent incidents makes far more sense.

What?  Deflections and parries don't require specialised movement?  They require little training?  They aren't "designed to nagivate the most common problems posed by violent incidents"?

Respected instructor Han-Kurt Schaefer applies the same
deflection from bagua that I use in the opening photo -
but does it in free sparring.
I would have thought learning to deflect an attack (especially when there is an element of surprise) would be central to what civilian defence arts teach.

Jwt's other point about "the best form of defence is offence" is something I've done to death (see "Attack, attack, attack" and the "Boards don't hit back" series) so I won't go into that.

Instead, what I thought I would go into - for jwt's sake and others, is exactly how standard "uke" help you develop the subtle, complex and useful - indeed vital - skill of deflection/parrying:

What traditional uke teach you


In my experience, the standard uke forms teach angles and planes of interception and deflection (among other things). When applied as deflections/parries, they are much "smaller" versions of the "formal" basic movements.

I've been applying deflections against realistic attacks for more than 3 decades. I make them work reasonably well. I can't imagine having whatever level of skill I have now without learning traditional forms of uke (from karate and the Chinese arts). These have taught me how to "naturally slip and parry".

An age uke applied by me in sparring
Such skills aren't somehow "ingrained": they need to be learned and practised like any other skill. "Swatting like a beginner" is as far from the pinnacle of the art of deflection/parrying as is the ham-fisted, open chord strumming of a guitar by a beginner from the virtuoso playing of a musical instrument.

Yes, we have an ingrained "flinch reflex" which comprises a retraction of the body and an extension of the arms to ward off danger.

Another applied age uke - this time by Jeff
But the notion that this primitive reflex is optimal for a complex activity like self defence is, frankly, absurd.

We might start with the flinch reflex.  But we have to modify it so as to make the movement both effective and efficient.  This requires grooving your body to respond along optimal angles and planes.

So assuming that the angle and plane of a deflection/parry need to be taught, I can see precisely why it is prudent to "magnify" them for a student (especially a beginner) so they can be better examined, studied and understood.

In other words, I can see why we might want to use some larger, more formal movements (ie. "uke") to teach deflection.

The alternative is to persist with teaching the student some tiny circular/sliding movement (which is what applied uke actually become).

Jeff applies both a gedan barai and age uke in sparring
Accordingly we use age, chudan, hiki, gedan - all to teach different, essential, principles of deflection/parrying: the different angles, planes, rotations of forearm, torque etc.

We apply these principles in unscripted sparring from which the stills in the essay are taken.

I apply a gedan barai in sparring
Yes, the deflections/parries are highly abbreviated forms of the basic uke. But nothing makes the connection between these abbreviated forms and the full, larger traditional form an "illusion". Traditional uke aren't "literal techniques": they teach principles of deflection - principles that have little or nothing to do with a beginner's "swatting".

I note that the students who best understand the traditional deflections are the ones who routinely apply them effectively and efficiently (low impact, good deflection). The better they are, the less "swatting" you see.

Sure, fighting is messy and nothing like basic form. But what makes these adjacent images anything other than an applied "traditional uke"?

I wouldn't dispute that you can use uke for strikes/locks etc. But I don't understand why some feel they play no role in teaching students how to better "slip" and "parry" attacks - especially when the science of deflection is so complex (and when traditional uke contain so many compound movements that seem to correspond very neatly to the planes/angles you need to deflect/parry)?

"Swatting like any untrained person" is very far from the pinnacle of martial arts deflection. Rather, it is just inefficient, ineffective form.

In my experience, an understanding a basic chudan uke in a formal setting lets you move to unscripted "slipping" and "parrying" (not "swatting") by absorbing the principle of the basic and with a much smaller, less "formal" movement.

The graduated path to developing effective, efficient deflections


The training proceeds in a graduated way.

We start by performing chudan uke "in the air" in a basic stance.

Then we apply it against a formal, basic punch in the manner of the gif below.  We groove it in that context until the student is able to slip the punch effortlessly (and with as little "telegraphing" or "feedback" to his partner as possible).

Note that "hard blocks" are usually the result of nothing more than bad timing: there are very few instances where it isn't preferable to have a contact that is barely registered by your opponent as his or her punch is deflected.

The more feedback you give (in the form of an impact) the less efficient your deflection has been (some force is being used in the "hard" contact) and the more "on notice" your opponent is that something is happening.

This is a basic chudan uke - but the performance here
relies on a great deal of training: it requires skill.
Mostly, a good deflection is one where your opponent barely notices his or her arm has been contacted.  That way the attack is deflected - and the counter is landed - before your opponent even realises what has happened.

Too many people get caught up in "punishing" their opponent's attacking arm (something they default to as beginners) - then trying to justify this as some form of  traditional "objective" - a beast people now call "hard blocks".

But it is my view that, apart from mistakes and the odd exceptional use of a block to "punish" a limb for tactical purposes (where you don't want to hurt the person or something - who knows?), "hard blocks" don't exist as a traditional martial arts method.  They are just "soft deflections done wrong".

Okay, so you've grooved your soft deflection with a partner in basic standing or one step sparring.  You think it's coming along nicely.

Now it's time to start gradually adding realism.

First we might make the punches less formal - more "realistic" - say by using a jab or a haymaker.  This isn't "realism" but it does remove the artificiality of the "karate punch".  (Note, my video concerns the hiki uke - open hand version - but the same principle is in effect.)



And we do it for all our arts.  Here is one from taijiquan:



Here's one from baguazhang:



From there we move to slower, softer free sparring - where you get a chance to apply your techniques in a totally unscripted environment but where you won't feel like your head is going to be knocked off.  It's a kind of 3/4 speed "play" (see from 2:45 onwards).



From there we increase the pace and the intent to something a bit rougher.  As messy as the fighting gets, the principles of interception/parrying are in constant evidence (even if "literal uke" aren't).



Graduated training of this kind is how you get to build up to applying and using deflections/parries/blocks.

Given that this process is not followed by many schools, I'm not surprised that their "blocks" are little more than "swatting movements" - the kind a beginner would do.  They haven't developed the skill.  And I have trained many such martial artists; you know they haven't got the skill (despite years of training) because even against a slow moving partner who is being utterly predictable, they can't slip the punch efficiently or effectively - they keep clashing their arms.  The ability to "slip" eludes them...

What troubles me is not that some practitioners have yet to develop one of the most vital skills of traditional martial arts.  Instead it troubles me that, rather than acquire these skills (or at least accept that they haven't developed them yet), they attempt to rewrite their art's foundations so as to deny the very existence of deflection as a skill that needs to be developed through hard work: of gong fu.  Rather, any beginner's swatting is just as good.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic