“Taekwon-Do was designed primarily as a self-defense, and this is the main reason so much emphasis is placed on exactness of technique.
In a literal sense, Taekwon-Do is exactly that: a self-defense. This is why students should concentrate on defense. The defense itself however carries out the attacking role at the same time, thus the idea of defensive-offensive is well-coordinated.”
Gen Choi Hong Hi Founder and author of TAEKWON-DO.
My first realisation of the value of blocks was when I had been learning Taekwondo for about 1 year. I was finding some aspects harder to ‘get’ than others. It was 1973 and training was tough. 99% of the students were male and techniques were practised at a useable level, not simply for recreation and fitness so students practised with strength and speed. The problem was sparring. Being smaller than the male students meant I couldn’t get away fast enough to avoid the contact. I didn’t mind the bruises, it was just a part of training – but my ego was very knocked around, I couldn’t work out where I was going wrong.
Then I watched one of the senior girls in the class as she sparred with one of the senior males. He had a reputation for fast powerful sparring and not holding back so I didn’t expect it to go well. Every kick he tried to get out she blocked and countered – it was as if she knew in advance exactly what he was going to do and had practised for it. Suddenly the value of Taekwondo’s blocks became clear.
Taekwondo has evolved in many ways since those days. The ‘old school’ way of training is gradually disappearing and the modern sport is taking over. Training is open to a wider group of people, from young children to older adults, it has rules to make it safer, fairer and more enjoyable for students.
Some Taekwondo practitioners feel that blocks are ineffective in the modern Taekwondo, it’s better to simply move and counter the attack without blocking. Others say that the traditional blocks are outdated and take too long to carry out to work. Maybe it’s an individual choice, students who are unused to blocking may find it unnecessary but the reality is that when applied correctly traditional blocks work.
Using blocking techniques when sparring allows us to move the attacking limb before the attack is completed so get closer to counter, it can stop the attacker’s follow-up technique and upset his balance, you can use a blocking technique to move yourself to a safer position. If you have a smaller lighter build than your sparring partner, blocking techniques can give an edge to your sparring that would otherwise be missing.
As beginners we learn that every technique has a start point and a finish point and must be carried out correctly to work effectively. When you think about one of the first blocks we learn, low-section block, starting around the shoulder and finishing near the knee, it seems that the critics who say Taekwondo’s blocks are outdated have a point. It seems impractical and unlikely to work in a real life situation.
Learning to block like this grinds knowledge into our brain so we know what it takes for a kick, punch, block or strike to work. Those start and finish points allow us to maximise the delivery speed and power of techniques and make for ‘correct technique’ during class training. It teaches us the ABC’s of martial arts that stay with us for ever.
With experience it’s possible to reduce the distance of a blocking technique and still get an effective result. Experience teaches how to use the whole body when carrying out a movement so the loss of distance is compensated by the use of hip twist, body weight and the speed that comes with practise. In this way the same blocks that look clumsy and out of date during beginner’s drilling practise can be shortened and used successfully in real life situations.
Although schools may differ in the way they teach Taekwondo – some are traditional and others are modern, the purpose behind training remains the same. It’s about punching and kicking for defense. It’s fun to use for sports and competitions but let’s not lose sight of the real purpose of Taekwondo – self-defense.
If confronted by an attacker outside of training it isn’t always possible to get out of the way of the initial punch, kick or strike so blocking is the only way you can stop it. Blocking is an instinctive reaction. If you feel threatened of being hurt your hands automatically try to cover the area being targeted, so it makes sense to use your arms and hands to block the attack out of the way.
Learning to block effectively takes time. First you have to learn to block correctly, with the correct part of the arm connecting with the attacking tool at the right angle so it doesn’t simply smash into it, smashing your forearm at the same time. Instead it powerfully and smoothly deflects the attack as you side-step and move with it, allowing for an effective counter-attack.
There isn’t a short cut to learning how to block well. It comes with practise, combining your speed, timing and balance with an awareness of your opponent’s stance, the angle of his body and his speed. Initially many techniques will get through your blocks but one day a kick will be powering towards you and almost involuntarily you’ll block and move – Success!
Is it worth all the effort? Yes, definitely!