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We have probably all experienced being blocked by our partner during keiko. What causes the person to block his or her partner? What is the motivation of blocking? What might we do differently to avoid that our partner tries to block us? What different kinds of blocking are there?

I have mentioned earlier the interesting effects of experiencing failure, which might often be caused by blocking. Today however, I will to focus mainly on what causes us to block each other.

The grab is a grab is great way to communicate with the partner. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

The grab is a great way to non-verbally communicate with the partner. Photo by Sigurd Hatlen.

I know there are places where aikido kata are being thought more or less as self-defense techniques. In such training environments the blocking might naturally appear as a low-level factor of realism, as an attacker of course wouldn’t follow our movements. I will not go deeper into discussing this kind of study as it is not what I do myself now, but I thought it should be mentioned as I believe it is a very common reason why someone might block their partner.

Also, in most places I have been there is a somewhat more or less subtle competition, a senior-junior blocking (ego motivated), going on. Being able to do something while being able to block the partner gives some credit or status and kind of decides who is senior and junior. In fact many instructors use blocking to teach. Of course this type of pedagogy inspires others to block as well during the daily keiko.

The way I generally prefer to study is by experiencing the situation from both the uke side and the tori side without disturbing the communication between myself and my partner. I think that we might still grab firmly and be heavy without trying to sabotage the movements the partner tries to make. I find great potential of learning through following the partner rather than trying to stop him/her. In this form of training the various kata are considered study material for developing general skills rather than situation based streetfighting techniques.

Personally I really do enjoy most of the situations where my partner blocks me. I am not there only to do high falls, to throw high falls or merely to do acrobatic, physical movement for exercise. I wish to study, and everything gets a lot more interesting when a problem appears. However, there are some problems which I find very difficult to start studying. If our partner is letting go and (very often) starting to talk it is rather hard to study a grab. We might study what kind of things causes our partner to let go and start talking (if we do something that does not feel good for the partner he/she will naturally let go), but once the grab is lost the communication which we are there to study is cut.

In such cases I often experience most success by simply asking the partner to grab harder, but some partners are so intent on talking instead of grabbing (very often verbally teaching a physical form they are used to or would like me to perform) that I never found a way to continue the keiko with them. At least not in a peaceful form. Forcing the partner to grab or put up an arm to protect himself/herself will destroy the possibilities to study the subtleties and usually provokes competition, which in turn will cause further problems.

I have an injury now so I do some blocking myself. I still can’t fall properly on my right side so I sometimes block to prevent further damage to the injured leg. The block could be a way to protect ourselves against partners which otherwise would hurt us. Even without injury it is sometimes necessary to let go (even snatch back our arm from a hazardous joint lock), or to stop movements that would cause injury. Like I mentioned before, it is always a possibility that we are causing the partner discomfort when we experience being blocked. I believe all movements should be performed in a way that feels good for the partner. In doing so we automatically support or create a keiko where one can participate even after being inflicted with quite severe injuries. People of all sizes and all ages can attend with equal feeling of being appreciated as a training partner.

Do we trust our training partner?

Erlend being uke for a BIG dude before Lillsved, July 2011.

A related reason for blocking could be to keep a mutually agreed upon point of interest (functioning as a restriction to make the practice more rich). If our partner is trying to bring the contact out of the line between us and exposing us both to strikes and kicks, it would in most cases be a better solution to keep the point, but follow the intention of the partner anyway. It would be better than exposing oneself and letting the partner expose himself/herself, and it is definitely better than striking the partner when the opening appears. Still, it is a block, a disturbance of the communication between us and our partner, and it could provoke, by competition, to a block in return when it is our turn to be tori.

However, it is a different kind of block which I find most common, at least in my current training environment. It is an involuntary block which sits in specific parts of certain muscles. These are really tricky to remove. I have got one major one in my left shoulder. It is like a part of the muscle becomes unresponsive when I grab. I have heard that that these kind of blocks are originating from events in our life outside the dojo. Traumas, life situations, fears. I have no certain knowledge about how these blocks are created, but I do know that they exist and that they are very difficult to root out and resolve, both from the side of being uke and by helping someone resolving theirs by being tori for them. It is possible to work through them by becoming free in the corresponding area where the partner is blocked, but the block often returns by the following day.

So once more I am presenting challenges and not solutions, questions and not answers. The road goes ever on. Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!