Martial Arts Training Drills – Part Seven

Karate has two primary definitions: “empty hand” and “China hand.” The Japanese word Karate is made up of two other words — kara (empty) and te (hand). The kanji for kara referred to the Chinese Tang dynasty. Tang Soo Do (China Hand Way) is a Korean martial art similar to Karate-Do that kept the Chinese connection in its name. However, the Japanese changed the kanji to “empty” almost a century ago (prior to World War II). Thus, we usually refer to Karate-Do as “Empty Hand Way” or “Way of the Empty Hand.”

Karate History

The history of skilled fighting on Okinawa goes back many centuries. Islanders called it toudi, which meant “Chinese hand.” Okinawans had their own styles of combat for hundreds of years and used the term te or ti (hand, skill). Some Chinese martial artists visited Okinawa many years ago and demonstrated their fighting arts. Some Okinawans traveled to China to study Chinese martial arts, and those who were able to complete years of rigorous training returned to Okinawa and taught the Chinese style of fighting they learned.

Pioneers of modern Karate from Okinawa include Sakukawa Kanga, Sokon Matsumura, Anko Itosu, Kanryo Higaonna, Kenwa Mabuni, Kosaku Matsumora, Chojun Miyagi, Chotoku Kyan, Choshin Chibana, Shoshin Nagamine, Gichin Funakoshi, and Kanbun Uechi.

Dr. William Durbin, a brother in Christ and one of the world’s leading experts on Okinawa Te, graciously shared special insights about the history of martial arts in Okinawa with us in 1999. Dr. Durbin is Soke of Kiyojute Kempo. You can read his articles at the following locations:

GMAF Newsletters 1999-4

GMAF Newsletters 1999-5

GMAF Newsletters 1999-6

Karate Practice

I have been fortunate to study several styles of Karate and Kempo through the years. One of the things I found similar in all of the styles was an emphasis on the importance of repetitive drilling. Instructors emphasized the correct way to perform a martial technique, then led the class in repeating the correct performance of the technique until it became a natural way to move in response to an attacker’s movements.

We emphasize five particular self-defense skills in Yon Ch’uan Martial Arts:

  1. Escapes
  2. Blocks
  3. Strikes
  4. Holds
  5. Throws

Once a Karateka learns how to execute a technique correctly, they should practice it hundreds of times until they can do it without thinking how it should be done. The object is to develop effective self-defense movements learned through continual drilling of techniques until the student expresses them through unconscious physical action. That’s the fastest way to respond to an attack.

As a student of Yon Ch’uan Martial Arts, you will find your instructors, fellow students, and the Yon Ch’uan Martial Arts Black Belt Study Guide most helpful in reaching your goals for self defense. The current series about Martial Arts Training Drills is another part of the process. We invite you to download and read a free eBook about Judo Stretching and Strengthening Drills. You will also find those drills helpful in your study of Karate and Kung Fu.

Karate Drills for Blocking

Think of Karate blocking as building a defensive shield around your body. Each individual block (e.g. high, middle, low, inside, outside) can protect you in any direction by simply moving your body in different directions to face an attacker.

I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus almost two-thousand years ago: “above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Ephesians 6:16)

Your Yon Ch’uan instructor will teach you how to perform each of the blocks before teaching the drills. Drilling correctly is the objective. Pay close attention as you practice all of the basic blocks and practice as much as you can on your own. Once your instructor sees that you understand blocking, he or she will move you on to drilling blocks.

Here are some blocking drills you may find helpful and fun to do. You can do these as solo or class drills.

Low Block Drills

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your right foot and execute a low block (gedan uke) with your left arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your left foot and execute a low block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step forward with your right foot and execute a low block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step forward with your left foot and execute a low block with your left arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step 90 degrees to your left with your left foot forward and execute a low block with your left arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step 90 degrees to your right with your right foot forward and execute a low block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your right foot and execute a low block with your left arm, then step forward with your right foot and execute a low block with your right arm, then turn 90 degrees to your left with your left foot forward and execute a low block with your left arm, then turn 180 degrees to the right with your right foot forward and execute a low block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block series 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your right foot and execute a low block with your left arm, then step backward with your left foot and execute a low block with your right arm .. continue stepping backward while executing the proper block (depending on which leg is forward) .. step and block backward a total of ten times .. then step forward ten times while executing the proper block (depending on which leg is forward) .. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block backward and forward ten times.

[Your instructor can change the movements to the corners or other directions to change the drills.]

Team Drills

Divide the class into teams with several students on each team .. when the instructor says hajime, the first student in each team steps forward with low blocks as fast as they can .. when they complete ten forward low blocks, they immediately reverse and go backwards with ten low blocks .. when they return to where they began, they tag out with the second student who does the same thing .. the team that is first to have all their students complete the forward/backward stepping low blocks is the winner .. teams repeat the drill until one of the teams gets a total or two or three wins

Another way to practice team drills is with partners .. student #1 faces student #2 on same team .. student #1 kicks at partner’s leg .. student #2 backs up and blocks kick .. partners continue until they’ve kicked/blocked ten times .. partners immediately reverse direction so that student #2 kicks at partner’s leg .. student #1 backs up and blocks kick .. partners continue until they’ve kicked/blocked ten times .. when they return to where they began, they tag out with the second two students who do the same thing .. the team that is first to have all their students complete the forward/backward stepping low kick/blocks is the winner .. teams repeat the drill until one of the teams gets a total or two or three wins

High Block Drills

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your right foot and execute a rising high block (judan age uke) with your left arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive rising high block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your left foot and execute a high block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step forward with your right foot and execute a high block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive high block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step forward with your left foot and execute a high block with your left arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step 90 degrees to your left with your left foot forward and execute a high block with your left arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step 90 degrees to your right with your right foot forward and execute a high block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your right foot and execute a high block with your left arm, then step forward with your right foot and execute a right block with your right arm, then turn 90 degrees to your left with your left foot forward and execute a high block with your left arm, then turn 180 degrees to the right with your right foot forward and execute a high block with your right arm. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block series 20 times.

Begin in ready position (yoi). Step backward with your right foot and execute a high block with your left arm, then step backward with your left foot and execute a high block with your right arm .. continue stepping backward while executing the proper block (depending on which leg is forward) .. step and block backward a total of ten times .. then step forward ten times while executing the proper block (depending on which leg is forward) .. Step back into ready position and repeat the defensive low block backward and forward ten times.

Your instructor can change the movements to the corners or other directions to change the drills to make them more challenging. Your instructor can also use a padded stick to attack your leg or head to give you a target to block.

Team Drills

Divide the class into teams with several students on each team .. when the instructor says hajime, the first student in each team steps forward with high blocks as fast as they can .. when they complete ten forward high blocks, they immediately reverse and go backwards with ten high blocks .. when they return to where they began, they tag out with the second student who does the same thing .. the team that is first to have all their students complete the forward/backward stepping high blocks is the winner .. teams repeat the drill until one of the teams gets a total or two or three wins

Another way to practice team drills is with partners .. student #1 faces student #2 on same team .. student #1 punches at partner’s head .. student #2 backs up and blocks punch with high block .. partners continue until they’ve punched/blocked ten times .. partners immediately reverse direction so that student #2 punches at partner’s head .. student #1 backs up and blocks punch with high block .. partners continue until they’ve punched/blocked ten times .. when they return to where they began, they tag out with the second two students who do the same thing .. the team that is first to have all their students complete the forward/backward stepping high kick/blocks is the winner .. teams repeat the drill until one of the teams gets a total or two or three wins

[One of the benefits of partner drills is students gain experience of blocking a real kick or punch .. kicks to the legs should be light in case block misses and student gets kicked in the leg .. punches to head should miss by at least three inches so no one is hit in case block misses .. If you have students who are able to kick to the head, your instructor may develop drills that include blocking kicks to the head as well as punches.]

Have Some Fun!

You can also turn blocking drills into games that children and adults will enjoy. Here are a couple of examples.

Circle Up Blocking Drill

Place students in circles large enough for one student to get in the middle. The student in the middle faces each student in the circle. The student in the circle announces whether his attack will be high, middle, or low. The student in the middle of the circle shouts hai to acknowledge that they heard which attack would be used. As soon as the student in the circle hears hai, they execute the attack. The student inside the circle responds by stepping back and responding with the appropriate block (e.g. high, middle, low). The student in the middle then turns to face the next student in the circle and repeats the process. If the student in the middle does not respond with the correct block, they have to leave the middle and become part of the circle group. The student who executed the attack that was not blocked properly steps into the middle of the circle. The game can also be played with padded sticks as long as there’s an instructor or assistant instructor working with each circle to assure safety.

Tag Blocking Drill

Place several students on floor/mat .. one person is “IT” and tries to tag someone as the other students run around attempting not to be tagged .. when IT tags someone, everyone stops .. IT tells the person they tagged what type of attack they’re about to do (e.g. high, middle, low) .. if the tagged person does not respond with the proper block, they become IT .. if they respond with the proper block, then the original IT has to try to tag another person and try again .. instructor changes the students on the floor every 5-7 minutes so everyone in the class gets a chance to play

Sensei Says

This has been one of my personal favorite games for decades. Here’s one example for blocking drills.

Students line up on mat in front of Sensei .. their job is to do what Sensei says when Sensei says, “Sensei says” .. if Sensei tells them to do something but doesn’t say “Sensei says” first, the students should not move .. students who do move when they shouldn’t get one more chance .. if they move incorrectly a second time, they have to step away from the mat/floor .. the last student standing wins the game .. instructors can also play the game without having winners and losers .. Sensei Says is a fun game with blocks, punches, and kicks

[You can do this with everyone in the class or break the class into two or three groups and have some of your assistant instructors play “Sempai says”]

Next Time

We will look at several Karate middle-block drills in the next part of our special series.

Enjoy!

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© Grace Martial Arts 1990 – 2022

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