They say that a good offence is the best defence, but that doesn’t mean that you should neglect conventional defensive techniques. In fact, in the case of a martial artists, a good defence can also work as an offence - causing your opponent to lose their balance, getting them in a hold, or opening them up for an attack.
The most important rule for most martial arts is to cover your centre line at all times. This nicely prevents any direct blows to the face or solar plexus and also keeps your hands in a position where they can quickly block other parts of the body like protecting the T line in squash or the centre square in chess. This is the main consideration when picking your initial guard although some styles will choose instead to take a side-on stance meaning you will have to adapt your position. Others such as boxing don’t focus on the centre-line at all instead giving priority to protecting the face. This is only possible due to the fact that legs are not used in boxing and that guard is wide open to a direct kick to the stomach.
From your chosen guard position you need to be able to cover as much of your body as possible. In Karate there are four major blocks Upper Block (Jodan Uke), Lower Block (Gedan Uke), Inner Block (Uchi Uke) and Outer Block (Soto Uke). These blocks are performed with a slightly bent arm for maximum strength.
In the defence-heavy Wada-Ryu style of Karate the blocks are not intended to meet force with force but rather use a slightly circular motion to work with the energy of the punch and ‘guide’ it away from the intended target while stepping out the way to the side. Rather than actually blocking head on you are more brushing the attack out of the way. If you practice pushing hands to increase your sensitivity you can actually develop to the point where you make no contact at all - you just aren’t there when they punch.
This close combat training technique has several advantages - firstly it doesn’t leave you with a bruised forearm, and secondly it will leave your attacker off balance as they follow through the punch or kick to find you’re no longer there.
Even better, if they punch and you block outwards on the inside of their arm and do make contact using Soto Uke you will open them up and expose their centre line. If you’re quick you can now throw a punch in there with your spare hand.
If you use an inner block however you will find yourself on the outside of the attack with your arm across your body touching lightly against the side of theirs. From here the only open area is the face using a backhand to travel up their arm, but if you follow this up with a Soto Uke while their arm is still there you can use that to come over the top and grab the arm or wrist to get them into an arm bar or otherwise unpleasant position. It’s extremely difficult to catch a punch but it’s very possible using this technique to block it and then ‘pass’ it into your other hand.