There are essentially three responses to someone throwing a punch at you: get out of the way; block it; or get hit. Clearly, no one wants to get hit, that much we can assume. We can also assume that reacting fast enough to avoid the strike is generally reserved for television or the big screen. Most thugs realize a “first strike” creates a tremendous advantage, giving rise to the infamous and ever popular “sucker-punch.” However, assuming the attack is visible and there are no matrix-like qualities involved, blocking is the obvious, practical choice.
So what is the definition of an effective block? That would be any technique that stops or lessens the potential damage from an attack; it does not have to be perfect and it could include any object at hand. For example, using a textbook to block a punch is very effective, although you would be hard pressed to find that technique in General Choi’s Encyclopedia of Tae Kwon-Do. For the most part, blocks employed by martial arts students utilize the outer knife-hand, the palm, and most frequently, the inner or outer forearm. These surfaces are very durable, especially when students routinely practice forging drills designed to condition the body for impact. In my experience, this is the one area contemporary martial artists could take a lesson from the old guard. The conditioning of striking surfaces has faded as part of modern training because of potential injury. In fact, it is not the injury in the gym we should be concerned about, but rather the injury in the street, when it is for real. An old saying comes to mind: “Cry in the gym, laugh in the street!”
Blocks have value beyond simply deflecting or defending against a kick or punch. First, and perhaps most important, a solid block will demoralize and confuse an opponent, whether it is for self-defense or competition. Strong blocking interrupts an attacker’s rhythm and will throw him or her off balance, which is one of the most important ingredients for creating an opening. Disrupting the trajectory of a punch unexpectedly redirects the attacker’s momentum and results in an opening that the defender can exploit. That is exactly why Tae Kwon Do and other striking arts encourage and constantly practice block/strike combinations. When a blocking technique is quickly followed by a kick or punch, the effects are much more devastating.
While much of the discussion on blocking is old hat to veterans, what often gets overlooked is the topic of focus. Normally, focus is a concept reserved for striking; however, it can also apply to blocking. Consider a strong forearm block that targets the outer elbow or the inner wrist. In this case, the defender can gain the advantage by combining a defensive technique with an offensive strike, simply as a result of the point of contact. Many of the founding masters, certainly more knowledgeable than me, have talked about the ultimate technique as one that protects, yet inflicts damage at the same time. Blocking with good focus certainly fits that description.
The next time you are in the dojang taking class, spend a little extra time practicing the defensive side of your art. Of course, blocking may not be the most exciting skill to perfect and, to some, it is viewed as slightly boring, but it just may also be one of the most valuable techniques to have in your arsenal.