Technique of the Week (September 28th, 2008)
I often see people performing kata, demonstrating lightning fast, powerful strikes, but blocks that appear to be in slow motion. A while ago, I asked a young karate student whether strikes or blocks are more important. Of course, he quickly replied strikes.
The correct answer is that all moves are equally important and should be performed accurately, with speed and power. That being said, if you are in a fight and never land a punch or strike but nail every block, you can still walk away unharmed. Conversely, if you land several powerful and accurate strikes but miss one block, you may not be walking home at all.
Our English word, block, is a poor substitute for the Japanese word, uke. Loosely translated, uke is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack.
The word block means to impede by introducing an obstacle. With many uke, there is a blocking element during the windup. The arms cover the chest in chudan-uke, cross in front of the face in jodan-uke, and cover the side and abdomen in gedan-uke. There are similar covering blocks in the middle of several of the more advanced ukes.
But the proper uke only begins with a covering block. The feet shift, the body moves and the block becomes a strike. Refer to The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do by Shoshin Nagamine for in-depth discussion of the various blocks.
So how do we execute a fast, accurate and powerful uke? As with any movement in karate, relax and use your eyes, footwork, courage and power. And, of course, lots of practice.