The study of timing is a very important part of karate practice. In kata, we learn that some movements are better done slowly, some executed in quick succession, some movements begin fast but finish slow. In kumite, we study how to time the counter following an attack (for more on this, please see article on “Kumite Timing”).
In this article, I would like specifically to address the timing of the blocking/parrying action in kumite practice. Please note that in this article wherever I use the term “block” I mean to imply block, parry or simply keeping the attack from following the defender as he moves out of the line of attack.
I often remind my students that their priorities during training should be technique, then speed, then power. In other words, do not add too much tension (“locking in” the form more quickly using “muscle memory”) until they can be performed correctly at speed; and do not speed up until the technique(s) can be done correctly at a slow pace. This priority ranking of (1)technique (2)speed (3)power is superseded, however, by the idea of “don’t get hit”. So, ultimately, our highest concern is our safety. So as we practice variations on blocking timing, we want to keep this in mind.
When we first began training, we usually just tried to make sure the attack did not reach its mark. As we progressed, most of us were advised to try to wait until the last moment to block. This type of training certainly has its value. However, I suspect that most people simply start their blocking action as soon as they see the attack coming. This is also valuable training. But, as usual, I advocate using a variety of methods during training to explore relative benefits.
Let’s compare a few ways of timing the blocking action, using a chudan oizuki (step-in punch to the midsection) as an example attack.
The basic block
As soon as the defender senses the movement of the attacker (that is to say the movement toward the defender), the block is initiated. The block and attack finish approximately simultaneously. In this version, because the defender is spending more time on the block, it can use a large movement, employing proper basics.
The late block
The defender waits as long as possible before initiating the blocking movement (and perhaps the retreat as well). The block and attack finish approximately simultaneously. In this case, the blocking movement must be performed very quickly. Because the defender may feel “rushed”, he may not have the time to make a full, basic blocking movement.
The early block
As soon as the defender senses the movement of the attacker, the defender initiates movement of the blocking arm forward, meeting the attack partway. As the attack continues, the defender guides the attack out of the way or makes sure it remains on its original course as the defender shifts out of harm’s way. In this case, the initial action must be very quick but once contact is made with the attacking limb, speed and power is not as necessary as with the other blocking timings. This block looks a bit different than the basic blocking that we typically practice.
For video example of above, please see attached video clips: page12-movie
Remember that it is good to experiment. But it should be done carefully, to maintain safety.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published March 2005)