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Jodan Uke

Jodan uke (high block) is one of the most difficult blocks to do well. These are some of my thoughts on the subject.

First, as with all blocks, the most important thing is that you block, not how you block. Blocks in Karate arose from instinctive reactions to attacks. If someone punches at your head, you might move in a natural way that resembles a jodan uke. When someone decided to teach a defense to a high punch, they must have come up with the details that we now call jodan uke. But the instinctive movement is the root, and still the one you will probably do if attacked unexpectedly.

Jodan uke is executed in a way that is similar to gedan uke (lower block), and shuto (knive hand strike). They all have the same flavor. As such, if you can do shuto well, you can probably execute jodan uke and gedan uke well too.

In shuto, you do not use your shoulder. You keep your shoulder pressed down. However, many people perform jodan uke using their shoulder as the primary way to generate power. In our school we do not. We keep our shoulder pressed down and only raise it as little as possible at the end of the block.

The shape of jodan uke is very important. At the point of contact, the forearm and the upper arm form a right angle (90 degrees). However, the forearm is at a 45 degree angle. This means that if you held up both arms and did two jodan uke, they would form a diamond pattern.

If the forearm is horizontal, a downward moving strike will hit it directly. The force will be at a right angle to the radius and ulna. But if the forearm is at a diagonal (45 degree angle), then the a downward moving strike will slide down, much like snow falling off a sloped roof.

In addition, if the forearm is horizontal, the elbow will be farther from the body. This makes it harder and slower to strike with that arm after executing the jodan uke. On the other hand, if the forearm is at a diagonal, the elbow will be kept lower to the body, and striking with that arm will be easier and faster.

We block with the radius (the bone on the pinky side of the forearm) when executing a jodan uke, not with the wrist or the hand itself. The exact spot is about and two finger widths from the wrist, but this depends on the person and the actual spot is not as important as the fact that the block is made when needed.

When the block is completed, the ulna (the bone on the thumb side of the forearm) is about one fist from the top of the forehead.

After executing a jodan uke, let's say that you are going to execute another with the opposite arm. In our school, we emphasize that the arm that has just blocked should be rotated to the front -- the elbow moved the near the centerline of your body (sechusen). This then provides a barrier in case the attacker punches before you can execute the next jodan uke with the other arm.

The arm (rotated the the front), is used for the osae (press).

In addition, if needed, the arm when rotating to the front, can be turned into an inward block (chudan soto uke), flipped into an uraken, or shaped into a variety of elbow strikes (forward, side, downward). There are many possibilities.

If the arm is not rotated to the front, there is an opening between the two jodan uke executions. It is almost like the arms form a window through which the attacker can punch you right in the face.

In our school, students first experience the jodan uke in Fukyugata Ichi and Fukyugata Ni (because there are no jodan uke in the Naihanchi kata). The rotation of the arm to the front after the block is done in both kata, but especially emphasized in Fukyugata Ni.

Of course, a jodan uke can be done to any part of the attacking arm. Preferably, the block strikes the attacker's upper arm (if on the outside). In this way, you are close enough to counterattack very quickly. If you block near the attacker's wrist, you will probably be out of range for a counter punch, and he might be able to quickly pull back or flip his punch and counterattack. If you are on the inside, you must be careful because if you block on the upper arm, the attacker's elbow could bend and his strike coud wrap around and hit you.

A jodan uke can also be used to strike the attacker's body. In this case, it becomes more of a jodan uchi. A jodan uke, for example, can be used to strike under the attacker's jaw, or against the side of his head. You might see this at the beginning of Pinan Shodan, but it is possible with any jodan uke. It can also be used to push away an attacker who has gotten too close, almost like blocking in football. It all depends on the situation. I am sure that there are as many applications for jodan uke as Professor Rick Clark found for down blocks (he wrote about 75 applications).

Like with a punch, the jodan uke spins at the last moment. The blocking arm is kept palm inward until the wrist is raised to about the chin level. Then it quickly spins into the block. The idea is to have a cutting feeling when you make contact. Because the blocking area of the forearm is sort of oval shaped, the spin make the block sort of "kick" when contact is made.

In some schools, they do not use the jodan uke very much, preferring instead to use a higher form of chudan uke (middle block). My friend and senior Sensei Pat Nakata explains this by saying that you don't strike the attacker on the wrist or forearm, you strike more at the root -- the upper arm or shoulder. Even if a punch is high, the attacker's upper arm or shoulder is not that high. Thus, a chudan uke will work.

Jodan uke does leave you more exposed than a high chudan uke. I agree with Nakata Sensei that a high chudan uke is generally preferable. But again, the most important thing is that you block and do not get hit. If you are hit, you might be seriously injured (even killed) and not be able to counterattack.

Jodan uke is easy to do poorly and hard to do well -- just like everything in Karate.


Charles C. Goodin