Ron Chapél 
At the level of Martial Science, all movements are governed or affected by the height, width, and depth of the action, along with the method and manner of execution, the desired target, and the weapon of choice along with the available angle of contact.
Substantial attention must also be given to strict posture, the relative position of the feet, weight distribution, as well as the mental focus of energy relative to the intended action. All of these things have a profound effect and can dictate the outcome beyond personal resolve.
Taking these things into consideration, one of the unique things in martial arts is the training associated with “blocking.” Never has the diversity of something so vital been greater than how the many different styles disciplines and teachers, approach this singularly important self-defense function. In many instances, it will be your initial response to any external stimuli. Therefore, it is paramount the blocking action is extremely functional and immediately executable.
Unfortunately, many traditional martial arts are heavily laden with cultural proclivities of execution over reality. Other contemporary self-defense-based arts in their most common versions have taken on a simplistic philosophy that ignores the realities of confrontation dynamics and the detrimental impact of human stressors. These philosophies have some inherent shortcomings when it comes to actual real-life blocking.
Consider the importance of this basic action. If your blocks are not effective, chances are the opportunity to continue to your second move may not present itself. It prompted my teacher to tell beginners, “Distance is your best friend.” It also brings to mind an old Kenpo Yellow Belt saying about “horizontal meditation” brought on by hesitation.
Therefore, in addition to other flaws, many teaching styles have a philosophical flaw of “Assumption of Failure.” This causes some to eschew significant blocks completely in favor of what they perceive to be faster, more efficient parries or soft, “liquid” movements for speed.
Other “style-based” martial disciplines use many “hard” blocks that disappear in sparring along with their accompanying stances. Still, other sport-based significant contact activities resort to what is essentially a Western boxing philosophy of “take it” or, cover up what you don’t want to get hit” and rarely block at all.
All except Western Boxing seem to either block for perceived proficiency or abstract aesthetic cultural requirements. They fail to recognize the blocking process is designed to perform many more functions on multiple levels besides just blocking. In American Chuán-Fa (Kenpo), blocking movements are designed to; create as well as move internal energy, create structural integrity and body alignment, provide basics for extrication skills, perform anti and counter-grappling functions, and of course, block assaults directed at the body’s head and torso.
A well-designed self-defense technique is nothing more than the product of the execution of the sum total of its basic components. A movement that is explained, taught, and constantly corrected properly, will breed familiarity of thought and action and vicariously produce a speedy product result. There are no shortcuts to efficient, consistent, and lasting physical movement. Without this defined consistency, longevity may be elusive.
Moreover, you will find that expedient necessity coupled with required efficiency equals sameness of action regardless of and despite the performer. Expressed another way, all things being equal if you are a weightlifter in addition to other factors, you must use the same technique as those who are the most anatomically and technically efficient. You cannot “do your own thing” and expect to consistently lift as much as those who rely on proper guidance and proper training.
Ed Parker Sr. used a written language analogy to explain the conceptual process used in his last version of Kenpo. I use a similar but less abstract process in the American Chuán Fa (Kenpo) interpretation of his teachings.
First, you should begin with “phonics” or phonetic movement to begin the training process of the body at the sub-skeletal level. Second, you begin “printing” as we start the process of creating proper and effective muscle memory. Third, as we begin to “write” our actions through fluid scripted movements, we elongate circles and round corners and access the now-created synaptic pathways or conduits of the brain that connect to the muscles. Finally, after significant training of the mind and body, “shorthand” may be employed appropriately. All three levels must remain functional on demand.
However, one must remember shorthand is a skilled option and not always the ideal execution. If shorthand is taught without the requisite phonics or basics as a foundation and is taught as the prevailing response instead of the optional character it should be, then because of this mistaken accelerated approach, internal energy, alignment, etc. relatively speaking are not obtainable.
I was personally taught by Ark Wong and Ed Parker Sr. all blocks are circular, and the proper execution of all the basic blocks can be found in a circle clockwise or counterclockwise. In fact, all of the basic blocks are actually the same basic configuration. The only thing that actually changes is their relationship to the shoulder and the method and manner of execution geared for its intended use in conjunction with the Anticipated Point of Impact.
Over time the circles in many instances become smaller and smaller in execution. At the truly advanced level, this process can be attained subcutaneously and at mastership, becomes outwardly physically imperceptible in many cases. But like in the language analogy Mr. Parker used, nothing is ever abandoned, only put in context for proper use. Once you learn to write with script, you don’t abandon printing, any more than you give up “script writing” after you learn “shorthand.” All have their use and their place in communications.
Some are obsessed with what they perceive to be “necessary expediency”. This mindset causes them to view larger circular execution as “slower,” and therefore inferior. For these practitioners, “point of origin” means only linear actions. They fail to recognize the term applies to both linear and circular movements. Blocking in a straight line is of course direct but is NOT always, contrary to popular belief, anatomically efficient, or relatively effective in comparison, and is at best defensively singular in purpose in many instances.
It must be understood the attached articulated armatures of the human torso are designed like a “ball and socket” and must be rotated to maximize all aspects of its use. This “sets” the ball into the socket, aligns the sub-skeletal structure, allows internal energy to flow through Kinetic Linking, and creates anatomical efficiency and congruency necessary to function with maximum effect and integrity of the desired action.
Speed is in no way sacrificed. The body and mind are being trained and in a relatively short period, speed is attained in addition to many other vicarious benefits of the process. Anatomical speed is often mistakenly thought of as a “swiftness of mechanical movement.” In reality, speed is a vicarious byproduct of mental and physical familiarity.
Like the assembly line worker who does the same movements over and over, not only does his actions become more efficient over time, but they also become faster without a conscious effort to facilitate the movement. His mind and body become “conditioned” to function together and significant synaptic pathways are created between the brain and the body.
This mental and physical conditioning is what we call “muscle memory” which ultimately must be stress-inoculated to be functional. We all have experienced this in some way or another. Sometimes your “body” knows what to do even when your conscious mind is distracted. Have you ever had trouble recalling a phone number, but when a phone is in front of you your hand seems to “remember” the number? When we use conventional phone keypads to access a particular number consistently, we always make the same movements in the same pattern and usually with the same hand digit.
Therefore, Like the assembly line worker who is slow and clumsy in the beginning, when we begin American Chuán Fa (Kenpo) Training at the Martial Science Level, all movement should be “phonetic” so we may “learn” the action and create proper muscle memory on the path to stress inoculated synaptic pathways.
This is why Ed Parker Sr. always said, “Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” When this is done consistently, then “Perfect practice will make permanent.” Only through consistently performing your basics correctly will this occur. Being exposed to basic movements without significant and diligent corrections of their execution is not enough to produce efficient synaptic pathways for self-defense technique applications.
The human body has a built-in mechanism designed to help protect itself from injury or discomfort. The “blink” or “Startle Reflex” as an example is a part of that mechanism. A piece of paper suddenly thrust into the face, or even a loud noise can activate your blink and autonomic reflexes.
In sudden anticipation of contact, the body reflexively adjusts to absorb and protect itself from the anticipated intrusion. Depending upon the level of perceived threat, the body may blink the eyes, tense and position the torso, retreat, or raise the arms. Although some speak of training to respond instantly to external stimuli, the autonomic nervous system and its Startle Reflex will always prevail before any other movement, regardless of training.
Simply put, the body instinctively moves to protect itself with this reflex when surprised. It is only prudent in any training designed to be used to defend ourselves from known as well as unknown surprise encounters, that this reflex is examined and incorporated so their actions may be an integral part of any physical response.
In American Chuán Fa (Kenpo), this is known as Startle Reflex or Instinctive Blocking. In this way, all blocking essentially conforms to anatomically correct movements initiated by the Startle Reflex Instinct, and therefore the body utilizes defensive synaptic pathways already in existence.
This not only makes the initial movement of blocks anatomically correct with proper alignment of the skeletal sub-structure but under stress the body will initiate a natural reaction and flow to the block more readily through muscle memory already established.
Human Anatomy Startle Reflex is not unique in nature. The body knows what to do in many instances having learned over time. It is only prudent to take advantage of pre-existing bodily instincts whenever possible, whether teaching or training.
Blocking should be taught at levels for the best results in students. Your first level is about the gross motor moves that contain the essence of the physical movements that also contain basic functional applications, as well as a pathway to more advanced usage of the same physical movements.
The next level pushes the envelope of the process forcing a more expeditious response and utilizing the startle reflex trigger, which will naturally shorten the process of execution.
Lastly, the more intricate motor movements must be trained and learned under duress for stress inoculation so you don’t lose the fine motor skills on demand. Think of it as a bipedal movement. There is walking, jogging, and running. All three are essentially the same activity, but all function mechanically differently relative to purpose. Your training should be the same if you want the skills to be there when you need them.