The only REAL blocks are cognitive! Part 2: Blocks as Frames
Blocks as Frames
In the context of combat sports a frame is a measure, often used to control distance and range. There are a variety of reasons why the frame might be used and this list is by no means exhaustive: it might be used to gauge where the opponent is, allowing for more accurate strikes to be thrown; it might be used to obstruct a line or your opponents vision, throwing off their rhythm and timing; it could be used to distract, drawing attention away from a change of angle or range; it might be used to direct your opponent (or part of your opponent) in a certain way, creating an opportunity to strike more cleanly and effectively; it could be used to create or manage distance, obstructing entry or pushing the opponent away to create space to move and hit.
The function of the frame technique is therefore very diverse and in this regard the actual means of ‘framing’ an opponent, will look equally diverse given a specific context. One key thing to consider here is the ‘look’ of the frame, without an opponent present, may well appear to be more like a traditional blocking movement. Equally our diversity of function impresses an need to consider a frame to be (and look) much more than just a ‘long guard’, which is widely used in boxing and styles of kickboxing. In fact, frames have function and purpose as techniques in all ranges, from long range striking to close quarter grappling, whether it be standing or on the ground.
To exemplify the use of blocks in this manner (and given the significant volume of ‘blocking techniques’ that exist)we have chosen to isolate the analysis to two specific techniques.
The principles are as ever the main points to consider here and not become enmeshed and stuck in the minute details concerning the formation of each specific technique. Moreover, it is worth considering that not EVERY block is a frame. It is actually highly probable that some techniques presented as ‘blocks’ within TMA (traditional martial arts) do not lend themselves to function in this way. Fundamentally it will only be through personal investigation that one can discover if and indeed how to best employ that specific movement(s).
Example 1: Rising Block
Traditionally a rising block is taken to be a vertical movement, ascending the centre line of the body. The technique typically begins from a chamber position, around mid-section (i.e. chest height). The completion of the technique typically ends with the forearm positioned at slightly above head height, with the hand angled to be above the elbow. The path and direction of travel for the technique is typically a straight vertical line.
figure 1. Typical start position - rising block
figure 2. Typical end position - rising block
Traditionally a rising block is taught as a defence against an overhead attack, which is travelling downwards. It is also taught as a defence which looks to parry a direct, incoming strike upwards. Whilst there is potential function here, there are clear issues with both of these potential uses and largely the issue here is considering that rising block is a technique for use at medium or long range. If consideration is given towards use of rising block at short range, where grappling or clinch is most likely, the function of the technique potentially becomes very different.
In short range, the ascending forearm aspect of the technique provides an ideal lever to force the opponent’s head, or potentially upper body, backwards. The product of this may be to disrupt rhythm, timing and balance or indeed create a greater space to strike. The off-centring and disruptive potential for this technique cannot be overlooked when manipulating the position of the opponent's head, relative to their base of support.
figure 3. Floyd Mayweather use of rising block frame
Whilst nothing is gained by adopting a passive manner towards the execution of this technique, used in this context the rising block becomes more akin to a ‘push’ rather than a ‘strike’. Rather than seeking to snap the opponent’s head back and in itself become a concussive striking movement, here we are more concerned with ‘attaching’ to the opponent and manipulating their relative position and equilibrium.
A secondary benefit here can be found within the idea of ‘attaching’ to the opponent. Whilst we are not advocating grabbing the opponent with hand (indeed in the context of certain combat sports this might be unlikely due to the use of large, closed finger gloves), the contact resulting from the forearm ‘attachment’ provides immediate kinesthetic feedback, allowing us to better locate the opponent both to land strikes and move in response to their actions/reactions. This ‘kinesthetic attachment’ is a common benefit to all ‘blocking’ techniques used in the context of frames.
Example 2: Middle Section Outer Forearm Block
Traditionally this technique is instructed as being an intercepting movement of the forearm, which seeks to stop (in the context of a circular technique e.g. hook, roundhouse kick, etc.) or redirect (in the context of a direct technique e.g. jab, front kick, etc.) an incoming strike. Typically the technique begins with the ‘blocking’ arm positioned towards the opposite side of the body. The technique typically ends with the blocking arm positioned in front of the same side shoulder, with the hand being positioned above the elbow. The path and direction of travel is typically shown as being a straight, lateral line, which crosses over the centre from one side of the body to the other.
figure 4. Outer forearm block start position
figure 5. Outer forearm block end position
Whilst there is a definite function for this technique as a direct block or parry in respect of an incoming technique, as with the previous example, this assumes we are existent at a medium or long range where striking predominates all available techniques. As this range disintegrates and we close distance the function of this movement again is potentially subject to significant changes. In a similar fashion to the rising block in a short, clinching/grappling range this technique can easily be used to manipulate the position of the head to create space in which to land strikes or disrupt the opponents balance and stability.
figure 6. Mayweather receives middle block frame
The goal again in this instance may be to force an opponent's head away from their base of support and therefore shift their centre of mass and gravity to a disadvantageous position. However, the use of the forearm also provides a relatively robust level, which can be utilised in close quarters to maintain space and control the opponents posture. Employed as a corner stone within popular personal defence systems, this type of frame is utilised like a virtual ‘seat belt’ which attaches to the opponent, giving the live kinesthetic feedback and spatial control which provides for appropriate follow up responses. In a similar manner to the previous example, the velocity at which this is delivered is such that (whilst it could be manipulated and utilised as a percussive strike) it becomes more a pushing, attaching technique.
figure 7. Middle block as a control frame (body)
A further potential utilisation for the outward block as a frame could be in regards to its use as a definite obstacle. The position of the arm on completion of the classical technique could be used to effectively build a block, in that specific line, between you and your opponent. In this regard the hand, forearm and/or elbow all become obstacles which the opponent must get around if they wish to strike or perform any other action in this line. This is a more typical type of ‘distance control’ frame found in boxing and kickboxing, however without the long arm extension which is found in a long guard position.
figure 8. Haney middle block head control
As previously suggested, the issues of key importance here are the underlying principles, rather than the more specific functions of each of these two techniques discussed. For purpose of clarity we consider the key principles when considering blocks as frames as being:
Direction of travel of the ‘block’
Intended lever length - bent or straight arm
Position of arm on completion of the technique
Completion of a simultaneous movement - for example is it a two arm block? Is there a movement of the feet in coordination with the movement of the arms?
Speed of movement
Distribution of body weight during and on completion of the technique
This list is not exhaustive but we feel that through seeking to evaluate the blocking technique based on these 6 key principles, it is possible to identify its validity as a frame. In conclusion however we would like to bring the discussion back to the significant point that it is only through personal investigation and practice that one will identify what function best fits them in respect of that movement. Interpretation and investigation underpins the idea that there can be no one size fits all function for these movements and indeed it is context and personal expression which defines the purpose.