My Tang Soo Do instructor has us execute high blocks by continuing the forearm motion at the elbow past the ending position that I believe is traditionally accepted. We end the block with the arm outstretched, much as one might find their position at the end of a high straight punch.

My instructor prefers this execution as in his eyes it will push the attack out to the side.

Can you please share specific applications for this technique so I can evaluate what execution is most effective.

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    Hey. Welcome to Martial Arts Stack. We don't really do discussions, at least not in the Q&A format. You'll need to be able to select a definitive answer from the ones we provide, and that's hard to do when you're asking for opinions. Please edit your post so that there can be a single, best answer chosen. – The Wudang Kid Feb 6 '14 at 19:11

Oh gosh, the answer is so complicated that I literally ended up writing far too much and then deleting it and started over again, because I know nobody will care to read that much.

So I'm going to cut to the chase and hope that it will suffice. This will probably still end up being long. But so be it.

Basically, the rising block that you see in tangsoodo, karate, and taekwondo is not a block.

Form dictates function. And I think the reason why your instructor has modified the rising block is because he figured out that the regular rising block doesn't work as a block. He believes the function is either to block a straight punch to the face or an overhead strike downwards with a knife. He quite correctly and reasonably deduces that the form is totally wrong for that function, so he modified the form to fit the function. Very smart guy, your instructor. Kudos!

But there's only one problem. The function your instructor has in mind is wrong. It's not a block to a straight punch to the face. It's not a block to an overhead, downward strike with a knife. Sorry, those are not what it's for, no matter how many times he's heard it from his master, and from his master's master, and so on. Yes, they're all wrong. Isn't that a hoot?

How do you know that's not its function? And if it's not a block to a straight punch to the face, what is it?

First off, have you ever once used a rising block in sparring? If you did, how did it work out? And why haven't you used it since then?

The answer is, nobody uses the rising block to block a punch to the face. It won't work in sparring, and it won't work in a self-defense scenario in real life either. At least, not as it is taught.

About the only time I see the "rising block" used in sparring is when someone wants to lift up and duck under someone else's arm, and then do a quick reverse punch to the abdomen for a point.

Yeah, that kind of works. But note that whenever you see that, the rising block isn't done the way it was taught. First, instead of doing a rising block to an opponent face-on, you actually have to step in from a diagonal angle so that you avoid getting punched straight on in the first place. Second, instead of the rising block being done to a straight punch, you're actually doing the rising block to a dead arm instead. In other words, you're just lifting up the other guy's arm and ducking in underneath it so that you open up a nice hole in his defense for you to sneak in a punch to the abdomen. Then you keep your arm up in that rising block position as a kind of shield. Nice going! But also totally not a rising block!

And what about the rising block against someone who comes swinging straight-armed with a knife downwards to your head? The answer is: That is never anything anyone armed with a knife ever did. Nor anyone who just wants to hammer-fist strike you. The idea that someone will attack you in that way is just laughable. It never happens. That's not what the rising block is for.

So okay, what is the real purpose of the rising block?

The answer to that question is somewhat deep. The rising block comes from forms, not from sparring. That is its origin. So the answer involves understanding that forms actually contain self-defense techniques, not blocks.

These self-defense techniques come from Okinawan shorin-ryu karate, because that's where Tangsoodo's forms came from. And Okinawan karate encodes self-defense techniques in a series of 1 to 3 movements in each form, in general.

To understand what the rising block is doing, you have to realize that it can be used in many different ways, depending on where it is being used in each form that uses it. So it requires a good understanding of something called "kata bunkai" (in Okinawan karate terminology). Kata bunkai just means "form analysis". It's a way of breaking down the movements of your form, analyzing them, trying to determine what they are actually doing.

I'm not actually going to give you the entire lecture on how to interpret forms for self-defense, and how to do kata bunkai. If you google "kata bunkai", you'll probably pick up a ton of information. That's fine.

Just know that what the forms have in them are encoded. They're hard to figure out. But once you know what to look for, it's like everything makes sense. You'll see it. And you won't have to modify anything about the way you're doing things in the form in order to make it work. The rising block's form will not need to be changed at all.

Like I said, there are no blocks in the forms. You learn blocking by practicing sparring with a live opponent. You don't learn blocks by doing forms. Instead, the forms are about self-defense.

Self-defense is a vague phrase, though. What do I mean by self-defense? I mean that these are situations that you will find in every culture and every time period, common scenarios that everyone finds themselves in.

Examples: 1) Someone comes up to you and starts screaming in your face. He then grabs your lapel with his left hand and cocks his right fist back ready to punch you. 2) Someone puts you in a bear hug from behind. 3) Someone grabs you on your shoulder from behind, tugs at you, and starts to punch you. 4) Facing you, someone grabs your wrist with one hand and your throat with his other hand. 5) Someone puts you in a side choke. 6) Someone comes up behind you and grabs your left wrist while either choking you or sticking a knife against the front of your throat with his other hand.

These are typical self-defense scenarios. They are universal and common. And the forms are designed with them in mind. When you see a rising block in the form, it's not blocking a punch to the face. It's doing something else.

In Tang Soo Do's first Pyong Ahn form, you'll see rising blocks. Notice how they are being set up. What are the movements immediately before the rising block? There's a down block. Then a knife-hand block. Then you do the rising block. What does it mean?

Here's one possible interpretation for those movements in the form. After the down block is when the self-defense application begins. In that position, you are being grabbed on the wrist. Imagine someone grabs your left wrist with their right hand. You do an inside to outside knife-hand block with your left hand (just like in the form). What does that do? It is telling you to circle your hand up and outwards so that you break his hold on your wrist. This is called a "dissolve". Look it up.

But you don't stop there. With that same left hand of yours, you grab his right wrist. The palm of your left hand is now against the underside of his right wrist. Now you do the "rising block". Here you maintain your hold on his right wrist with your left hand. The form tells you to cross your right arm in front of your left arm from underneath, and then you rise up to do the rising block. At the same time in the form, you are pulling your left fist back, chambering it at your left hip. What you're doing is pulling his arm towards you, twisting it and extending it so that his right elbow is pointing downwards. Meanwhile, your "rising block" is putting pressure against that elbow of his. As you step forward, you make a sudden jerk with both arms, and it breaks his elbow! You can simply let go of his arm if you want, and instead of breaking his elbow, you will merely get his arm out of your way. Or you can just stop at the dissolve if you want. It's your choice.

That is the "rising block". Notice, no blocking. Just bone breaking, grappling, and positioning. Good stuff!

Anyway, hope that has given you something to think about. When I first figured this out, it was like stepping into a whole new world. Keep in mind that you will either need someone to show you everything and trust them, or you need to find a good classical jujitsu instructor to teach you this stuff so that you can see it in your forms. Because, that's what it is.

Good luck!

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  • Thank you so much for that in depth explanation! In Pyang Ahn Dan my instructor explained the rising block as being a hammer fist to the side of the opponent's head. Your explanation is quite interesting, I can't wait to play with it. It definitely makes more sense. – Owen Sechrist Feb 13 '14 at 17:23
  • Glad you liked it! Yes, the hammer fist to the face I've heard many times before. It's one step up from the "blocking a punch" explanation. Also, I've heard fore-arm shove to the underside of the jaw or neck. It seems semi-plausible that you could do either of those things. But you have to look at how it's being set up in the form (the moves right before and after it). And you have to ask how this makes sense within a self-defense scenario. If you're just seeing that move alone without any context, then you're missing out on higher levels of understanding. – Steve Weigand Feb 14 '14 at 6:32
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    How do you know your interpretation is the right interpretation of the rising block as oposed to his master/any other TKD master that has ever shown it? Then first you describe basically a duck under from wrestling (slapping the arms up and going to the body). And then you describe a magical bone break. Unless you keep the shoulder in position it's very unlikely that it will break the arm. Maybe extend it a bit, but not really hyperextend. HAve you ever broken someone's arm this way? – Thomas Denmark Uylenbroek Feb 17 '14 at 9:00
  • (I don't disagree that it's not really a block, because yeah, that straight up never works. But hey, it's TKD/TSD so, yeah not expecting much reality there in the first place) – Thomas Denmark Uylenbroek Feb 17 '14 at 9:04
  • The reason you know your interpretation is at least practical is that you study the form and find a reason for why the form has that particular sequence of movements that it does. This is a very deep topic, and it's called "kata bunkai". You'll need to research that and understand it before being able to support any hypothesis about what a technique in a form is doing. And the bottom line is that if someone comes up with a better explanation, you use that one instead. I offered one possible explanation. It may not be "the correct one". But I believe my method of figuring this out is good. – Steve Weigand Feb 17 '14 at 20:13

What you are witnessing here is classic evolution of the art you train in - your instructor has learned something a certain way, then when he teaches that same move he adapts it in a way that he prefers.

Having said that, an instructor's adaptation doesn't always make sense. In his head it does, but in terms of practicality in the real world it might make no sense at all. I think the meaning and purpose of this block in particular has been well bastardized over the years. Originally I was taught that it was for blocking a downward strike from an opponent who was wielding a bottle or baseball bat. I was taught that the forearm should end up on a 45 degree angle above the head as that was the most efficient angle to deflect the downward trending object while achieving the greatest coverage (note that this is a Japanese/Okinawan oriented application of it rather than Korean).

Now don't get me wrong - you absolutely can use this block in this way, and I would if I really had to, but it would be my last resort because even at that "optimum" angle I would run a very high risk of breaking the radius bone. It's many years later now and I know many far better applications for it and I wouldn't hesitate to use those applications.

So I guess what I'm saying here is that learning martial arts is a journey, and what you are taught won't always make sense and will sometimes be quite wrong (maybe "wrong" is too absolute, maybe "not right" is a better description). Part of that journey is learning to recognize these situations. If you are ever in doubt with something you've been taught, go back to the original teachings of the art and determine what was taught and why it was taught that way. This is not to say that you should leave that school or outright challenge the teaching - you can continue to train using that methodology, but you could also start to explore and train at other schools - this will increase your experience and give you other insights into other applications for these particular blocks. Given enough time and experience you will formulate your own ideas and nuances for the block which you will then start to teach to people - at which point your students will start to ask "Why is it done this way?" and you'll be in the same position as what your instructor currently is.

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    I think your answer is spot on..... I think "less than optimal" is probably a good way of saying it. – Owen Sechrist Feb 6 '14 at 23:08

The block you're describing sounds a little like a wing chun Fak Sao.

An example of a Fak Sao http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zphz3L5pnHc

A Fak Sao is an outward, horizontal chop that can be applied low, middle, or high, as the case may be. There isn't really a classic, karate-style "high block" in wing chun, so Fak Sao is what we use to intercept high or downward-angled attacks.

I think this is a better option for intercepting high, downward angled attacks than the classic high block because instead of allowing the attack to come into my space, as with a traditional high block, I am entering into the opponent's space with a fak sao.

Now, obviously you don't do Wing Chun, but it sounds like the block your teacher is suggesting might be similar. If you see the video I posted, you can evaluate better if a Fak Sao type motion would be more or less applicable to a downward high-to-low attack.

If, however, I got it wrong and the block you're describing isn't at all like a Fak Sao, let me know in the comments and I'll see about editing my answer.

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What you are describing is common, there are variations in how every instructor teaches, and why they prefer it that way. There often isn't one "right" answer, which can be confusing for people that switch styles and/or instructors.

However, look at the basic application of a high block. The basic purpose of the block is to deflect a punch or other object coming in a fairly straight line at the face. The block intercepts the punch and redirects it above the head.

By the time that you get to the point of extending your forearm, the major part of the block has already occurred, so the continuing redirection is an addition after the basic purpose of the movement.

If you look at why your instructor might prefer this, look at the position it puts you in. The hand/fist that you redirected is no longer able to possibly grab your forearm and/or hair, your opponents arm is no longer blocking your vision, and if you complete a circular motion with your blocking arm you are in a position to trap/control your opponents arm. Is it absolutely necessary to do this? No, not really, but does lead to counterattack and control.

Bottom line, the purpose of the technique is to block/redirect a punch. If the move accomplishes the intended purpose, it is effective.

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Different instructors teach different ways. They all work in different situations. It depends on how the fight happens and what the OTHER PERSON does.

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