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Not saying I can always block every punch or kick that's thrown against me in sparring but why is it that you sometimes cannot block, parry or dodge an attack? Is it because I haven't trained the technique enough?

  • At least in boxing, learning to "roll" with the punches is an important defensive asset - because yes, you can't block them all, but you can negate the impact of punches – cbll May 24 '16 at 7:09
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One thing to realize is that you have two factors that affect blocking a strike: 1) reaction time, and 2) tracking.

Reaction time is the time taken by your brain to notice the strike coming towards you, to calculate an appropriate response, and to begin to move to counter it. (Notice I said "begin" to move, not the complete movement.)

If a strike has a large distance to travel before getting to you, you have more time to react. That means that strikes that begin close to you or strikes that change course when they are close to you are going to be more difficult to react to.

You can actually measure reaction times, by the way. Typical reaction times will be on the order of a half a second, plus or minus 300 milliseconds.

Okay then, what that means is that if someone's strike takes only a half a second to perform from start to completion, your chances of reacting to it are nearly zero. And we haven't even started moving yet. It takes more time to go from reaction to actually moving your limbs to block the strike.

It stands to reason, then, that strikers that initiate attacks closer to their opponent will have a greater chance of it getting through without being blocked. It also stands to reason that the one that starts the fight is often going to be the one who wins it, because the other guy is not able to react in time and will take the first hit.

This old saying applies here: "It's faster to act than to react."

Reaction times are also affected negatively by age and acquired knowledge. Age is obvious. The older you become, the longer your brain takes to react to things. But acquired knowledge is also a detriment to reaction time. Why?

Reaction time is more than just the time needed to realize something is coming towards you. It's also the time needed to come up with an appropriate response (a plan of action). The more you know, the longer your brain takes to consider the variables and decide on the right response. It's strange, but true.

The second factor is tracking. That is your brain's ability to lock onto the object approaching you.

If you can't track the position of your opponent's strike, then you can't block it. You need the correct direction and speed of the strike in order to know where the strike will hit you and when. Your brain has to do some extrapolation (guessing) based on that calculation so that your block will be at the right place and time. It has to plot a path both of the strike and of your block, and they need to intersect at the exact same time and place. It's hard!

One problem is that human eyes and brains aren't good at tracking fast moving objects in general. You can calculate the speed and direction incorrectly. So it requires constant visual feedback to reduce error.

But there's another problem. Certain trajectories (changes in speeds and paths) aren't tracked very well by the brain. So it's hard or even impossible to lock on to the path that some strikes take.

For example, it's been shown in studies that objects traveling diagonally in the field of vision are harder for the brain to track than objects that are traveling horizontally or vertically. So, it's not a coincidence that a lot of attacks in martial arts are diagonal. You can see this in the UFC a lot. The strikes that happen diagonally often get through defenses more reliably.

Strikes that are accelerating are harder to track than strikes that are traveling at a constant velocity. (This is especially true if the acceleration occurs whereby the terms of its mathematical expression have exponents greater than 1 - in other words, non-linear acceleration.)

The other problem is that the brain must calculate the expected path of the strike based on the continuous feedback it gets from tracking it in order to know where and when to block. This takes time, though. You have to actually sit there watching the strike, observing it. That's going to take time. The brain has to look at how the strike is moving to know what the expected path is going to be.

Since strikes are coming so fast, the brain doesn't generally have time to wait for a lock on the strike before beginning to block. It would be too late. So it isn't going to be able to come up with a definitive expected path for the strike. At least not initially. Bummer!

So what defenders do to make up for the lack of tracking, initially, is to use other clues to let them know the general target area of the attack. That way, they can begin to move their arms to block that general area before tracking information is available. As their brains begin to get more information about the path of the strike, they can fine tune their movement so that the block is successful.

In other words, defenders guess at the target of the strike, at least initially.

Good strikers know how to trick their opponents into guessing a different target than they're actually going to take. That causes the defender to block at a different place and time than needed. By the time the defender's brain realizes that the strike is on a different path than expected, it's too late.

For example, the striker may alter the rhythm of their attack so that the defender blocks too soon or not soon enough. Or the striker may look (on purpose) at a different target than they're actually targeting, and so the defender guesses the wrong target based on the striker's eyes. Or the striker begins to strike at one target but then changes course and strikes another target before the defender can react in time to the course change.

It's not all bad news for the defender, though. These two factors (reaction time and tracking) can work in the defender's favor as well. When the defender begins to react to a strike, he can move his body. Just moving the target will cause the striker to have to do the same mental math as the defender: He has to first react to it, and then he has to track it.

Body movement is a hugely important topic in martial arts. The more sophisticated ones body movement is, the better they can defend themselves. Body movement is crucial for self-defense.

And by the way, remember when I mentioned that diagonal strikes were harder for the brain to track and defend against? The same is true about body movement. That's why most martial arts teach you to move diagonally across the floor instead of straight forward and backward, left and right. It's harder for your opponent to track.

Well, this is a lengthy subject, and I think I've only scratched the surface. But you get the idea.

Hope that helps.

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    Damn, so complicated aha, thanks for the detailed answer tho, tis will help me in my future journey – Charlie May 21 '16 at 9:28
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    If it was easy, and there was a 100% reliable way of blocking all strikes, everyone would be doing that. Unfortunately, every method is going to be imperfect because of the reasons I stated above. Our brains simply can't track quick, close-range strikes infallibly. It's why there are thousands of different martial arts out there, each with their own strategies and methods. – Steve Weigand May 22 '16 at 18:50
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Sometimes your opponent is faster than you. Sometimes they can read your body language and your tells, and fake you out, or feint. Sometimes you might have patterns that leave you open in predictable ways, and they take advantage of that. Sometimes you think you are dodging to safety and you're walking right into the attack.

"More training" could help, but mostly it's about "right training". Doing the technique is the easy part, then you have to learn when is it a good idea to use the technique in general, and when is it a good idea to use the specific technique against this opponent, specifically. Range, timing, angles, body language, your own endurance, how fast you can shift your weight and facing, all of this, will be part of what you're learning.

Even then, you will probably not block or avoid every attack. No amount of training makes you invincible. A good teacher, or coach, should be looking at your common patterns that leave you open, and teaching you how to minimize them so you take fewer hits, and how to set it up so the hits you do take are less damaging.

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The other answers are all pretty good and I won't go over any of that, but nobody has mentioned a fundamental physical fact.

Typical time required to throw a punch is about 1/6 of a second.

Average human reaction time is about 1/4 of a second, so if you're relying on your reactions to defend yourself, you are at an enormous physical disadvantage.

Practised sporting martial artists learn to read their opponent's body language and begin defending before the punch has been thrown, and this is why many sporting methods (and indeed traditional methods) don't translate from one environment to another; people behave differently in different environments. Many of course do translate.

Then there's the purely physical fact that the hand is faster than the body, which in turn is faster than the feet.

i.e. Moving your hand is faster than moving your entire body, which is faster still than taking a step.

This is btw, why all karate "blocks" as normally taught, fail. They physically can't work. Having personally timed them, they are closer to half a second to perform, even at speed.

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The ability to defend successfully is governed by the following time relationship:

reaction_time + decision_time + defend_time(defend_distance) < telegraph_time + attack_time(attack_distance)

Covering greater distances requires more time.

Here are some defensive principles:

  1. Control distance - If you simply want to defend yourself, keep others outside of engagement distance where they cannot reach you before you can react. If you want to attack, you need to close distance first.
  2. Impede direct attacks - If you cover your face, your opponent has to maneuver around your guard to hit it. This has the effect of increasing attack_distance.
  3. Minimize motion - If your hands are down, your defend_distance will be high. Use a guard position that minimizes the movement distance required to defend yourself.
  4. Use all of your limbs - The defend_distance for using your leg to block a kick may be shorter than that for you hand to block the same kick.
  5. Retain mobility - It is often easier to dodge than block or parry.
  6. It's much easier to defend against attacks that are telegraphed. If you want to attack more effectively, don't telegraph.

Human decision_time can be improved substantially through training. Most people need to train to do something useful immediately upon detecting an attack rather than flinching or simply freezing.

There are fundamental human limits to reaction_time. The human visual system requires tenths of seconds before it react to anything. If you are reacting based on vision, you cannot defend anything that is under this limit.

Humans react more slowly to vision than to touch. So even though you are closer to an attacker when in contact (shorter attack_distance), you can actually learn to defend more quickly at touch because of a reduction in reaction_time.

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Why can you not dodge every attack? For the following reasons:

  • If you dodge every attack (without supplying your own), you're no longer fighting, but running. That generally goes against the martial aspect of martial arts.
  • Your opponent can keep giving out attacks faster than you dodge them.
  • Your dodge could end up moving you into the way of the next attack.
  • Even if you provide an attack, your opponent can still provide an attack. Ideally, you want to provide attacks and deny your opponent's attacks. In armed forms of martial arts, you try to make your attack and defense one and the same (defensively strike, offensively defend).
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It all comes down to two things Timing and Distance. Timing has been touched upon already. I'll talk about it here again for the sake of completeness, but Distance has not yet been mentioned.

I wrote a very short essay on this a few years ago for a grading in a somewhat esoteric martial art called Shorinji Kempo. I'll reproduce that here and then expand upon it.

Ma’ai and Opportunity for Offence and Defence

During a fight, the distance between a fighter and his opponent (ma’ai) is crucial to the effective use of techniques. Shorinji Kempo uses three terms to describe the different spacings between two fighters. If one of the two fighters cannot attack the other without first stepping more than once the ma’ai is called toma (defensive ma’ai). If the distance between the fighters is small enough that one of the attackers can attack without stepping at all then the distance is called chikama, in the situation where neither fighter can attack the other without first stepping but both fighters can attack if they first make a single step then the ma’ai is called kihon ma’ai.

All Shorinji Kempo techniques begin from kihon ma’ai as this allows time for the defender to react to the attacker without the attacker having to walk forwards first. This is of course a situation that will not always be the case in a real fight however it is a good distance to strive for as it will make it easier for a kenshi to use many Kempo techniques. Likewise kihon ma’ai is a useful distance to maintain in randori between attacks although for obvious reasons it is invariably necessary to close the distance to chikama in order to score a hit.

For an atemi (strike) to be effective it is necessary for it to strike the opponent and not be deflected. For a throw to be effective the attacker must be caught off balance. To do either of these things requiresa kenshi to see and exploit an opening (suki) in an attacker’s stance. This suki will usually be fleeting during an attack, during a change in the opponent’s stance or when an opponent’s attack has finished an attack. In any of these cases there may be an opening for either a hard or soft technique to be used depending on whether the stance lacks balance or merely the ability to defend a vital point.

Linked in with this form of opportunity is the concept of Sen (initiative or timing) as an attacker chooses an attack, steps forwards and delivers the blow the ma’ai and the stance of the attacker changes. As it does various opportunities to counter attack present themselves and just as quickly disappear.

This sounds very technical and forign. However the principle here is the same as in Boxing. So lets look at a boxing match and see how this is applied.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLv6sZlY2Sw&list=PLEFHqrWG1Pbc3oZWvDiD4TAzlSz7BIlWH

I will use this match as an example, chosen pretty much at random from youtube. I am watching it at half speed to demonstrate and pin down the distinct distance and timing used.

Match Starts https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=206

Within 1 second the boxers have moved to kihon ma'ai (may as well use the japanese terms, there are no english words for them) https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=207

A punch is thrown by Bruno. This is clearly a range tester as they are too far away to hit each other. Tyson leans to his left (screen right) to set up his left punch.

Tyson Throws a left punch while advancing... https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=209 This is to break open Bruno's guard. Notice the punch goes between and under Bruno's mitts. The fighters are now in Chikama. Tyson has the advantage already because of his positioning.

Bruno then throws a left and circles left away from the Tyson's left punch... https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=209

The boxers then move to grappling range... But they can't grapple because of the mitts. I believe this is known as a clinch in English. https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=212

No blocks then happen at clinch range, The boxers are just too close. But then the puches aren't great when they hit. Again too close.

https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=215 The fighters retreat. They make space... moving to Kihon-Maia

https://youtu.be/rLv6sZlY2Sw?t=216 Tyson throws a left while attacking. Only this time the ropes are in the way so Bruno cannot retreat. He follows through with a right punch as bruno hits the ropes.

So we can clearly see here the characteristics of different ranges. at kihon maia you cannot hit the opponent as they are too far away but you can test their tracking by seeing if they dodge anyway.

At Chikama you are at the ideal distance for strking. This is where the strikes do the most damage and are still hard to dodge.

At Clinch you can throw strikes and will hit more often than at chikama but you will be too close to throw a punch that will do a lot of damage. If you are not wearing gloves or wearing mma style gloves this is where you grapple.

There is a martial art that specialises in making effective strikes and blocks while staying practically all the time at Chikama-Clinch ranges. It is called Wing Chun... It does this by keeping the arms in contact with the opponent at all times and focusing on a 'centre line' between yourself and the opponent. This eliminates the need for visual tracking to a large extent. However wile this style has its merits it tends to do badly against actual grappling specialists (Judo, Bazilian Ju Jitusu) and does not teach the control of distance in two dimentions (forward/back and right/left) to the same extent as other styles.

Unless this is your training your best strategy is usually to stay at the range at which you can see the opponent's attacks while having time to avoid them. that is to say kihon Mai. After the first attack is thrown it's basically down to your drills how well you can block and dodge punches at chikama. But most drills won't teach you to stay at this range for a long time... It's high risk for both of you.

So after a few strikes, move back to kihon mai if you favour striking, or if you are good at grappling move to clinch. But don't do what Bruno does here and back yourself into a corner. You have to control the space.

Now if kicks are permitted or if a weapon is in play there are several different versions of each distance!

Kicking Kihon Mai is a longer distance than punching Kihon Mai. Knife Kihon Mai depends on the size of the blade. Gun Kihon Mai.... Well you have to be out of range.

So you can be in range of an enemies knife (their chikama) while you are still at your Kihon Mai. Just one of the things that makes weapons so useful/dangerous in self defence situations.

This question has been answered long ago but I hope that someone online will find this useful.

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Yes, because you have not trained the technique enough. For example, check out Grand Masters and notice them. How are they able to block and attack correctly and fast on point. They may have fast reflexes; of course, you may think. These fast reflexes are from training as a white belt or at a lower level. They train it as much as they can until you see their ability. Now, you see their fast reflex.

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