Among the hordes of people cross-training to find the things left out of their base arts there are a few who recognise things that we already had. The urge to add grappling, groundwork and close-in skills to the traditional martial arts which apparently don’t possess them is huge.
Yet, if you re-examine the techniques you already have within the ‘empty hand’ forms, you may be surprised to find those techniques already there.
There is an old saying that you don’t need lots of techniques, just one that works. There are many different ways that an attacker will assail you, so it’s wise to use the same paradigm in many different ways – you only have to remember one technique. Try many different techniques, there will be one for you which you should then refine and programme into your subconscious. In this article we will examine Gedan Barai.
Gedan Barai, often mistranslated as ‘down block’, really means low level sweep. The term is descriptive of what you do with your arms, and what you do to an opponent, sweep from a high level to a low level.
Much of the misconception of what the technique is for comes from mistranslation. Conclusions have been jumped to. Most of the time it is seen as ‘blocking a kick’. When considering the usual application of ‘blocking a kick’ we must consider several things: Why would you use two hands to practice the technique when only one makes contact with the attacking leg? Sorry, but ‘the withdrawing hand makes the other one faster. If you can do it fast with one hand, you can do it twice as fast with two doesn’t ring true. Realise that if you practice using two hands then you will use two hands. Why do we constantly step forward to block when standing still would avoid a kick which you have to step forward to block? (as shown in pictures 1 – 3.) When the leg muscles and bones are so much bigger than the arm muscles and bones why would you use the smaller against the larger?
The science we use to retro-engineer the technique is that taught by the Open Circle institute’s Russell Stutley and Anthony Blades. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in ‘internal energy’ or Pressure Points’, just be aware that by using them in your visualisation and application process you will arrive at a clearer conclusion – because they work.
The applications given are not for use in a rules-bound arena, but instead are intended for self defence.
The ground rules: If you can avoid the confrontation, do. If you can talk your way out of it before it gets messy, do. If you can hit then escape, do that, pre-emptively or otherwise. If you hit an attacker and it doesn’t finish it then use the time you buy yourself to use your technique.
An agressor will be more compliant if you have already hit them. If you can move to a position of relative safety, do (off-line rather than directly in front of his ‘other’ fist). For an application to be valid it should leave the defender in a beneficial position. The attacker should be incapacitated or in a position whereby the defender can easily execute their ‘favourite’ follow-up. Safety first. Practice the moves with speed, power and visualisation, only on a bag or empty air, not on a partner. When practicing on empty air don’t lock-out joints, use your muscles to stop the movement.
We currently train nearly twenty variations of the ‘low section block’, with each repeated on both sides of the body. Presented here are the basic ones.
Most attacks will be from a hand – a grab, push, punch, choke and so on. We’ll begin with that old chestnut, ‘the wrist grab’. People often ask why any attacker would grab your wrist. The answer is that if the attacker doesn’t grab your wrist you can seize his testicles, gouge his eyes, or hit him in numerous other ways. It is a programmed reaction to stop or block an object coming towards them, if they grab then you have them right where you want them, if they don’t grab, you win anyway As we’re using grabs, we’ll begin by illustrating how easy it is to remove a wrist grab. You only have to pull your hand back through the opposable thumb (towards your heart, pictures 4 – 5). However this may not be the most sensible thing to do, as it merely allows your opponent to re-use that hand. At least while the hand is on your wrist he’s not hitting you with it.
The other option is to use that hand against your attacker. In the picture (6) John is being grabbed on his right by Aidrian’s left. The imminent danger is from the other fist, a headbutt or kick, the hand grasping is not the thing to fear.
The hand is pulled back and slightly upwards, ensuring that the thumb has passed below the wrist of the attacker (7). If you are quick enough, trained enough, and in control enough, seize the attacker’s wrist to help pull them on. (Wrist points of the fire and metal meridians activated.) 8 – 9). Bring the ‘preparatory’ elbow across the body and down on the attacker’s elbow (or TW11/Golgi receptors). 10) Maintaining contact, slide the fist down into the base of the occipital portion of the skull (GB20/rear temple).
From this position you could restrain your assailant if you were predisposed. 11) When an attacker seizes the lapels or places both hands against the body to push, the danger is again from a head-butt or knee. Reach below the arms for the opposite elbow. 12) John grabs Aidrian’s right elbow with his hand (heart 2, fire point). John’s right elbow begins its course towards Aidrian’s right-side jawline. A sharp tug here will bring the attacker in close, cross-body motor reaction will send him looking in the opposite direction. 14 ) The raised forearm (alleged preparatory motion) may make contact with attacker’s head. (Stomach meridian points 4, 5 and/or 6, Yang activated). 15) As the arm descends our bodyweight is applied forwards – very similar to a step into front stance – and the forearm grinds down across the neck. From this position you could restrain your assailant if you were predisposed. 16) When the attacker grabs across their body, as Aidrian grabs John’s right wrist with his right hand, he will usually be preparing to punch. 17) Pulling the thumb back towards the heart rotates the attacker’s body away – he would now have to punch across his own arm (something which we are not predisposed to do). (Activate wrist fire and metal points.) 18) Clipping the elbow with his own, John’s defence has already sent Aidrian’s other hand away (cross-body-motor reaction). (Add fire at
TW11.) 19) Adding a stance means adding direction to our power. Dropping down will bring the attacker down quicker, dropping forward will send the attacker in that direction. Down and forward looks just like zenkutsudachi. 20) The fist follows the attacker and strikes whatever becomes available. In the example here the back of the skull has been struck, it could just as easily have been the jaw. The tighter the right hand pulls back to the hip, the more targets you will have access to. 21) By changing direction close to the end of the technique (out to the left – as seen in most kata for Gedan Barai) the attacker’s spine is brought into contact with the knee. The changes require massive hip movement. (Waveform.) 22) An aggressor prepares to throw his right hook. 23) Sliding past the incoming punch, John covers across his body and strikes into the vulnerable rib area. (Contacting the arm activates fire/meridian rub, the strike to the Gallbladder/Liver crossing hits both Yin and Yang wood. Fire and wood, good combination.) 24) Seizing the projected wrist, the attacker is brought low so that the elbow can be dropped down into the joining of shoulder and pectoralis minoris (Lung 1, Yin metal) to accentuate the pain. Should you be a lot shorter than your opponent then drop the elbow onto the rotated triceps. 25) Again, the final strike is against whatever is available. Here the jawline has been used, but the neck is just as viable, as is the cheek (for the percussionists) and the temple.
Of note, these techniques allow the defender to remain upright. Should there be other prospective attackers then 360 degree vigilence is required. Not bending over the attacker in his prone position prevents falling onto them and the ground-fight that would ensue.
In summary, even an ordinary old Gedan Barai can be an effective self-defence technique. Sure, it needs to be practiced with application in mind to be usable to turn it into habit.
John Burke is the instructor at Martial Arts World in Paignton, Devon and the Southern area director of the Open Circle Institute.
Teaching Shotokan Karate, John is also one of the few people in the UK to be graded black belt in Torite Jutsu by the Dragon Society International.