From Sensei Steve
Lott, Go-Dan- Midtown Karate Dojo, NYC
THE CHAMBER in BASIC BLOCKING
Everyone who begins karate soon learns that each move has a "life"
of its own. For each block there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The middle position, sometimes referred to as the chamber, requires
a great deal of understanding to perfect. Once this understanding is
accepted, and utilized by the student, the entire technique will look
good and be effective.
The very first day in the dojo the student begins to learn Fukugata
Ichi. The beginner learns that each of the two blocks incorporated in
this first Kata, the down block and the high block, have a mysterious
life cycle. The instructor will stand next to the student, usually in
front of the mirror, and show the student the motion of the hands from
yoi to their final resting place for the first down block (Zenkutsu-dachi
gedan barai). As the instruction continues the student will be shown
the breakdown for the high block with the arms crossing in front of
the face. The instructor will go over these blocks again and again as
part of the kata as well as multiple repetitions across the deck. Shortly
thereafter the chest block, with arms crossing in front of the body,
is added to the workout.
In each of these three blocks the proper middle position, or chamber,
is critical. In each of these chambers there is a facet that may help
the beginner learn them more quickly.
The high block - it helps for the outside arm, the blocking arm, to
be more vertical than horizontal. When the outside arm is more vertical
there will be maximum range of motion for the elbow to explode upward
toward its final spot. Instructors will notice that some beginners "bounce"
the head block technique. That is, the fist and forearm will be thrown
upward and past the proper end point only to recoil back a few inches.
This occurs because the outside arm, the blocking arm, starts out more
horizontally than vertically. A little tool to help the student remember
to move the outside arm more vertically for the head block : when chambering
try to have the elbows touch. This accomplishes two things. Firstly,
the arm that is up will come down directly in front of the face and
not directly into the pocket. Secondly, when the student thinks about
trying to have the elbows touch, the arm traveling out from the pocket
will travel to the chamber more vertically. Another tool to reinforce
the correct motion is the following: have the student begin at the chamber,
arms crossed in front of the face, and execute the block in two parts.
The first part is slowly raising the outside arm vertically, with fist
pointing at the ceiling, until the fist is in its final resting spot.
When that is done have the student complete the block by twisting the
elbow upwards to its final resting spot. Finish up with the student
executing the entire block in one motion. This last two-part maneuver
is the much like the two-part maneuver of learning the chest punch for
the first time; first extend the arm fully, and then turn the fist.
The down block - reach for the belt with the protecting hand. When performing
the down block something interesting happens to the blocking arm that
must come in to protect the body as the other arm is chambered near
the face. As the outstretched arm is brought in centrifugal force has
a tendency to whip the arm upward toward the armpit. This can be seen
in the very first move of Fukugata Ichi. As the student steps out from
yoi the right hand, the "protecting" hand, will be thrown
upward toward the left arm pit. Obviously, there is no need to protect
the armpit. The opponents kick is being delivered to the left rib. A
tool to get the student in the habit of positioning the protecting hand
in the correct spot for the down block : when chambering reach for the
Chest block - the arms move to the chamber at different speeds. I saved
this blocking technique for last because I think it is the most difficult
of the basic blocks. The chest block is the one block in which the arms
actually intersect each others "plane" during the chambering
What must happen is that the outstretched arm, that is the blocking
arm, must be drawn in slightly faster than that of the arm in the pocket,
as the arm in the pocket travels to its shouldered position ready to
block. Think about what would happen if the outstretched chest block
arm and the arm in the pocket moved at the same speed. Try it. The arms
will collide. This happens because the outstretched arm must travel
a greater distance before the arm in the pocket has a chance to cross
the body, at exactly the same spot. The technique some beginners use
to get around this "collision" is to have the arm in the pocket
move in a big circle motion away from the body. In this fashion the
arm in the pocket takes the "scenic route" to get to the shouldered
position and thus avoids being an obstacle for the outstretched chest
block traveling in to protect the solar plexus. But this is wrong. The
hands must never stray far from the body during any chambering process.
A tool to have the beginner thinking about moving the hands correctly
during chest block - the outstretched arm coming in must travel a little
faster than the arm in the pocket going out. As a rough example; if
the arm in the pocket is traveling out at 5 miles per hour than the
outstretched arm must come in at 15 miles per hour. This will permit
the arms to cross in front of the body properly and avoid the improper
motion of "opening up" during the chambering of the chest
block. This different speed principle is not new to us. We have been
doing something like this in a number of different ways. One way is
with the step and slide. We all know that the rear leg must come up
3-4 times faster than the front leg goes out. Another way is within
each blocking technique itself, we block 10 times faster than we chamber.
The Chamber - Your Secret Business.
The basic training method instructors use to teach all these blocks
is to have the student hold a chamber, or in-between position, for a
moment. This is an excellent method of reinforcing the technique. This
is OK for white belts.
But not for green belts and above. I remember the very memorable words
of Kyoshi Seeger. In a Sunday morning class, many years ago, an advanced
student was performing kata on the spot. The student, unknowingly, was
stopping at each chamber for a split second. When the Kata was over
Kyoshi Seeger complemented the student on the power but said quietly,
"Keep the chambers as your secret business"
This means that it is OK, and perhaps even imperative, for beginners
to stop at the chamber. But this is not the case for advanced students.
Green belts and above should practice having the arms move through the
block without stopping at the chamber. We have all heard Hanshi Scaglione
refer to this over and over as TIMING. Just like a batter's swing or
a golfer's swing flows without stopping the techniques in karate must
flow in the same way.