Not for Beginners Only

   by Boyd Gittins

Have you ever had an enlightened green belt stroll up and inform you that the basic blocks were obviously designed just as coordination drills because they have no practical application? It is common to perceive the first things learned as less important and less advanced. I know that I felt this way for a number of years. Then one day as I was thinking about how the old masters might have intended to teach this art, it dawned on me that perhaps, just perhaps, they might have decided to teach the most important things first. This way the students would learn the most effective and/or complex concepts first and practice them most.

As I see it, the only thing "beginning" about basic techniques is that you "begin" by practicing, then, hopefully, you "begin" to understand, and finally you "begin" to use them in practical application. It has been my experience, however, that few people ever get much beyond the first phase. How many of you can ever remember effectively using a classic high, middle or low block in kumite? I'm not talking about part, I mean the whole, double-handed movement. I am constantly amazed that people will consider a one-handed part of one of these blocks as an advanced move, while the double-handed, full move is thought of as an ineffective beginners' drill.

I remember once watching an instructor spend considerable time showing a group of advanced students how a low block could not possibly be effective against a kick. He used only a rear leg front kick and let the students get as ready as they wanted. Each time the kick would easily get past the block. At first it seems that this demonstration actually proved the block was ineffective. Upon reflection, though, I think I am far more impressed that advanced students can have such a low level of competence and understanding of this very effective technique.

As I see it, the beautiful thing about all the the "basic" blocks is that they can serve as double-screen blocks. This also seems to be the one thing which is most often forgotten. I think that we tend to mislead ourselves right from the start. When we call it a right low block, and only the right hand, does the block. However, if we look closely we find that almost all of the basic blocks are really double-handed, double-screen. In the right-handed low block, the right hand is the second hand to have a low block potential. In the above-mentioned demonstration, none of the students availed themselves of the left hand low screen to block the kick. They all tried to get the right hand up, over, around and down to the block.

I think the old masters knew very well that a single-hand block provided too much room for error. The obvious solution, therefore, was to develop a secondary screening motion as both insurance and a trapping or controlling mechanism. Many of us have taken this beautifully simple and effective concept and made it ineffective through lack of open-minded study. Next time tell that green belt (the brash green belt in each of us) to "go back to the basics and open your mind; you may have missed something important."


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