Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ukewaza and ukemi - most valuable skill or useless time-waster?

In karate, we were often exhorted not to get into the block-counterattack game because it is a never-ending, un-productive loop.  He attacks, I block, I attack, he blocks, he attacks, I block...
We were told that "blocks are not just blocks," that it was possible to destroy an opponent with a block. but we never got much instruction beyond, "Don't just block."
This can be interpreted several ways, including...

  • Blocks are actually strikes to the attacking limb.  I never personally got a ton of mileage from this paradigm, but I know people who did.
  • Blocks are actually odd-looking strikes, like using a rising block as an uppercut to the corner of the opponent's jaw.  I got more mileage from this idea than from crushing an incoming strike with a block - but it's still kinda limited.
  • Blocks can unbalance the opponent and eliminate their ability to continue to attack.  (kuzushi). This one made the most intuitive sense to me, but how do you learn to use blocks as kuzushi other than just practicing for years until you happen to transcend?
I think Kenji Tomiki had a good answer to this puzzle.  It is found in an exercise that some folks call shichihon no kuzushi and other groups call wrist releases.  
Typically these exercises are done with uke grabbing tori's wrist and tori doing the off-balance or release but our instructors assured us that they could be done just as easily with tori grabbing (or striking) uke.
So, if you are a karate guy looking for a way to make your blocking techniques all that they can be, check out the interwebs for "shichihon no kuzushi" or "tomiki aikido releases" (and watch with an open mind because it will not look like the karate you are used to.).
P.S. One last tidbit to blow your mind.  The Japanese term for what we call "blocking techniques" is ukewaza, meaning "receiving techniques."  That is the same uke (receiving) as in ukemi (receiving with or through the body).  Think about that one for a minute.  Karate guys consider receiving techniques to be useless, while in many judo and aikido groups, ukemi is considered to be the most important skill and the most valuable self-defense.

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Patrick Parker
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