Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lessons from Block Check Counter

Today's post is pretty nerdy and Modern Arnis specific, but I bet some of what we do has analogues in your art (assuming you're not a Modern Arnis player like myself).

Oho, he's in for a surprise.
This week we've been working on what we call "Block Check Counter" with our students.

This is a key concept in Modern Arnis. Understand that parts of this would only be done with a blunt weapon, not a blade.  We introduce the concept using a single stick, but there is, of course, an empty-hand version of this drill.

Here's a demo from Professor Remy Presas, working with Master Ken Smith, of Block Check Counter.

We work with our students in a progression to learn each part of this drill.
  1. BLOCK:  Learn to block incoming strikes.  After all, if your block is poor, counter-striking is out of the question.  We learn the supported block, and a little later, unsupported and deflection blocks.  We introduce the idea of counter attack at this point, as we teach our students to position themselves for counter attack when they block.
  2. BLOCK+CHECK: Learn to block and then either snag the stick or cover the hand.  This concept allows one to set up the next move and "shut down" certain moves that the attacker might plan to  make.
  3. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER STRIKE: We introduce the counterattack, which is always done at a longer range with a strike to the head at this point (for safety's sake).  Here the student learns to take the easiest strike available based upon where her hands happen to be post-block.  Sometimes, depending on which block and check they use, this will change.
  4. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER PUNYO STRIKE: We introduce the counter strike at close range, which is with the punyo (at close range the tip of the stick doesn't move fast enough for an effective strike with a blunt weapon, so we use the butt end - the punyo - instead).   This teaches the student how to change range in the counter attack.
  5. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER PUNYO STRIKE+COUNTER CHECK: The attacker "checks" the incoming punyo strike from the defender one of three ways - open hand block, "c" clamp block, and "locking on".  The reason we practice all three of these is that it's important to be able to "feel" each, as the next response is different based upon which block you get.
  6. BLOCK+CHECK+COUNTER PUNYO STRIKE+COUNTER CHECK+COUNTER-COUNTER: The final part of this particular progression.  Once the person blocks the incoming punyo strike, you counter that - with a slap-off and counter strike to start, then other reactions.  Which counter you do depends on how the punyo was blocked in step 5 above.
So, we teach what you see in the video above step-by-step, where the student masters each step of the skill before moving on to the next step, with a lot of reps so they can understand each piece of this puzzle.

It seems like the simplest drill in the world, but there's a lot we learn from it, including how to use your footwork to range properly for counter attacking, how your counter attack changes based on where you are and how your attacker responds to your block... it's a subject we spend a lot of time and effort on, but it's a key concept.

As I was working with a student this week - he's on step 4 and 5 above - it occurred to me how useful this fundamental drill really is.
  • RANGE:  I believe range is one of the hardest things to learn in the martial arts overall.  How to position oneself - without thinking about it - to make the defense and be in proper position for counter strike is not easy.  By practicing this repeatedly - and from different ranges and angles as we do - we build in this skill early in our students.
Gotta get close enough first, dude.
  • COUNTER TO THE COUNTER:  I've noticed this with some of our students with prior martial arts experience, and it's really a matter of strategy vs. skill.  Many martial arts train with a "one and done" strategy - that the counter attack is supposed to be a knock out or incapacitating blow.  In our art, we don't believe a single counter strike will do the job, so we train to expect the attacker to survive and maybe even block our counter attack, so we have to keep in the fight a while longer.  Block Check Counter trains this mentality.
  • ACTION VS. REACTION:  I think a person truly becomes skilled in my art when they go from merely reacting to what's happening, to being the actor.  It goes from "he does this, I do that" to "he does this, I do this in order for him to do this so I can do that".  Thinking ahead in the progression of the fight is a key skill, and you learn how to do that in Block Check Counter first.
  • SMALL THINGS MAY MEAN BIG CHANGES: In Step 5 above, I told you we practice blocking the punyo with three different types of blocks.  Your options change dramatically based upon which block you receive.  Additionally, which angle a strike comes in (for example - a  basic #1 strike, or a forehand strike to the head,  can come in at a variety of angles) will dramatically change blocking, checking, and counter attacking options.  Placing your foot at a different angle can change your options.  Being a step closer, or further away, can change your options.  That's what you can really learn if you take your time to practice each step in Block Check Counter.
So, all in all, this week I gained a renewed appreciation for Block Check Counter and how useful it is as a drill.

I'll end this with a video from Bruce Chiu showing some variants on the drill.  Enjoy!