Uke-waza (receiving techniques), as has been discussed before, are much more than just blocks, but they often incorporate defensive methods in their movements. While karate has a wide array of methods for defense, the most universal is probably the “parry-pass” style of blocking. Essentially, this is a method of blocking where one hand parries the attack to the side, and passes it to the other hand, which moves into place to control the attack. Of course, this description just scratches the surface of the technique. Karateka tend to fall into two camps when it comes to parry-pass blocks–either they use it for just about everything, or they don’t use it at all. Those who use it are quite familiar with its effectiveness and plethora of uses, but those who do not are missing a key component of old-style Okinawan karate.
The three primary uke-waza found in most karate styles are jodan-uke (high level receiver), chudan-uke (middle level receiver), and gedan-uke/barai (low level receiver/sweep). All three of these can utilize the parry-pass method, and most styles even practice them in that fashion, even if they don’t apply them that way. Typically, when practiced in the air, these techniques are done with a “chamber” or “setup” position that serves to represent the “parry” portion of the parry-pass method. There are some stylistic differences in how these “chamber” positions are arranged, but they usually have the arms crossing the center line of the body. This is because a parry-pass defense can be used to deal with attacks from either side, and over a wider area than it may first appear.
In the case of jodan-uke, the hands cross each other in front of the face. This happens incidentally when performing multiple jodan-uke in sequence, as one hand must drop from its high position above the head as the other rises to the high position. Even when performing a single jodan-uke, however, many styles teach to “chamber” the hands in a crossed position before executing the block. With chudan-uke, also called uchi-uke (inside receiver) or soto-uke (outside receiver), depending on the style you practice, the arms also cross as the technique is performed. Generally, one hand will cross the center line at roughly shoulder level, while the other crosses the body at a lower position so that it can swing up to its final “blocking” position. Gedan-uke/barai does this, as well, when one hand covers the groin and the other is pulled up to the ear, before swinging down to it’s final position. When you start looking at more complex uke-waza, such was mawashi-uke (turning receiver) or morote-uke (double receiver), the same concept applies. At the most basic level of application, this allows one hand to do a parry with the palm or forearm before the “blocking” arm actually comes into play, which means that the “blocking” arm actually provides a “bridge” with which the opponent’s limb can be controlled.
This provides the karateka with a simple platform (crossing hands), which can be developed into flinch responses, from which to initiate a variety other techniques. It also provides techniques that cover a large area, which incorporates fault tolerance into your defense. Because the motion of these uke-waza are generally circular, and the paths of the hands cross each other, you stand a greater chance of deflecting an attack than if you simply tried to use a simple, single-handed parry. The motion used to execute these uke-waza can also deflect punches from both the right and left hands, without changing the side you perform the uke-waza with. Nothing is perfect, of course, but this does give you a wider margin for error when dealing with unpredictable attacks.
It is important to note that, as with all other movements, there are many ways to apply uke-waza. In addition to being used to deflect punches and kicks, as described, above, they can also be used to clear obstructions. Due to the crossing of the arms that occurs when executing uke-waza, the opponent’s limbs can be moved regardless of which side of the body is used, and regardless of which sides of the arms are in contact. When looking at limb control, the extension and retraction of limbs is a lesser factor than it is when dealing with punches, but horizontal, vertical, and circular pressure play a large role. In this context, uke-waza can be used to pass a limb from one side of the body to the other in order to open the opponent up for joint locks, takedowns, strikes, etc. This can be done in the exact same way as parrying punches, with the parrying hand pushing the limb across the body to the “blocking” hand, but it can also be done with the opponent’s arm on the other side of the parrying hand. This changes the uke-waza from a percussive method to a tactile method, employing muchimidi (sticky hands) to deal with the opponent, but the core movements remain the same.