Certain martial arts moves seem to be almost universal, found across a wide variety of arts. You find the same basic moves in Hapkido, Silat, Jujitsu and Kempo, and probably in other arts as well, though I can only speak for the ones I have studied.
This constantly surprises me, though I suppose it shouldn’t, since the human body is the human body, and there are only so many ways it can bend. Some ancient warrior in Japan who spent years studying how the body moves and how to defeat it, and an ancient warrior in Indonesia studying the same thing, are bound to uncover the same secrets and develop similar techniques.
One example is the classical Karate low block or down block – what is called in Japanese, Gedan Barai. The traditional explanation of this movement is that the hand chambers near the opposite ear for power, then speeds downward to block a low kick.
This movement is found in many in martial arts, but the traditional explanation given above is flawed and elementary. In fact it’s quite literally elementary, because it derives from the introduction of Karate to the Japanese school system in 1901. The instructors did not want to teach highly destructive techniques to the children, so they masked the true intent of the movements with very obvious, purely defensive explanations.
They key to understanding the Gedan Barai movement is to understand that the chambering motion itself is a combined block and strike. If you’re angling outside a punch, then the upper hand would parry the punch, and the lower hand would strike the belly, or the face, or even trap the attacker’s other hand (as seen in the photo). In Okinawan Karate, the follow up might be a backfist to the face, a shuto strike to the neck, or a hammer fist to the belly. This would be the part of the movement that is traditionally thought of as the “block”.
The follow-up in Hapkido might be to move in and deliver an elbow strike over the shoulder of the attacker, to the jaw. In Jujitsu the follow-up might be to trap the attacker’s punching hand as it retracts, and apply an outward wrist lock (Koto Gaeshi Dori). In Silat the follow-up might be to swing the arm out of the way violently, and meet the attacker’s jaw with an inside elbow strike; or to finger-jab the eyes, then apply a puter kapala. These are just examples. Many options are possible.
Similar movements can be applied when one angles inside the punch instead of outside.
The key is to not confine ourselves to a limited, fixed understand of what a particular movement represents. When you open your mind and begin looking at possibilities, you see that many martial arts use similar blocks, entries, counters and finishes. Which means that the old argument about which martial art is best is largely irrelevant. What matters is not the art, but the teacher. A good instructor differentiates between effective and ineffective movements, even within his/her own art, and also offers a program of instruction tailored to each student’s individual abilities and needs.