Chudan Uke Critical Points

Here is how we use the chudan uke technique, usually known chest block. This understanding is reflected in our tactics, and our interpretation of kata.  

In this video we show the closed fist chudan uke, from shizentai dachi. (We will look at chudan shuto uke from nekko ashi dachi in an upcoming video.) 

1. Defects of conventional interpretation of chudan uke 

We do not advise covering your chest with an x and then hook around to push the incoming punch toward the outside edge of your body.   To make an x on your chest with your arms and then push the incoming punch to the outside of your body line requires you to anticipate the path of travel of the incoming punch, then cross the path of the incoming punch and then come back across the attacking arm to push the punch to the side before it reaches you. Chudan uke was not designed to work that way.

There is no good reason to do it. It is slow. You pass a target to hit a target. You delay your response and your follow up. People who teach it this way say it is better to get hit in the arms than in the body. It is better not to get hit at all. And while you are moving your arms into position to get hit, your arms are not doing you any good. The rest of your body is open to attack.   

2. The name is misleading 

The name of this technique in English – chest block – and the names of the other techniques in this category – high block, low block, etc. are misleading. The names are wrong. They are okay as shorthand, but they do not translate the Japanese, and the names lead to wrong conclusions about the function of the technique. 

The Japanese name for this technique is 中段 受, chu dan uke.  

Literally “middle level receiving”. Chu is middle, dan is the same dan as in shodan, nidan, etc., meaning level or stage or step. Uke means receiving. Uke does not mean block. We all know the word block from football and boxing. In football a block is when you obstruct someone on the opposing team with your body. Boxers cover their face with their forearms to obstruct incoming punches. That is not what these uke techniques do. 

An alternative Japanese term for the chudan uke technique is 内 腕 受, uchi ude uke, or inside arm receiving. That gives a better description of our approach.  

3. The “middle” does not refer to the middle of the body 

The chest is not the middle of the body. The middle of the body is the hara. The hara is the geometric center, the center of gravity, the center of motion at the waist, and the center of energy from the tan den.  The “middle” in the name chudan uke refers to the middle segment of the path of the arm in motion as it follows the s-curve up and down the center line of your body.  

If you put the elbow at the center line of your body and raise that arm to high block jodan uke position then flow down, crossing the body with a chudan uke in the across-the-chest position, and then flow down to a gedan uke down block position with the same arm, then you will be moving your arm along the s-curve. 

To support this idea: the body does not have three defensive sectors, it has four. The familiar “high, middle and low” labels refer to the way the arm articulates as it moves, and the sectors of the body it protects as it does. It also is used to refer to target zones on the body.

The fourth sector is the lower body, ashi, the legs and feet, which are defended by withdrawing them from the target zone, not by reaching down and using the arms. This supports the idea that the chu in chudan relates to the arm movement.  

4. “Blocking” – obstructing and resisting incoming energy – implies that incoming is bad, outgoing is good

Another error derived from the term “blocking” is that incoming power is bad and outgoing power is good. That is not true. Not in empty hand, not in armed single combat and not in battlefield tactics.

In kata we are continually flanking, encircling and closing in on the opponent, in each case taking advantage of the opponent’s extension or imbalance.  

The idea that incoming is bad and outgoing is good is tactically deficient. It reduces our options to a fraction of what we have to work with. (The Japanese military’s “banzai charge” tactic was abandoned because of this.)

If we make this mistake we will miss opportunities to counter while we remain exposed. Incoming can be a threat, but it can also mean our opponent is entering a trap. It depends on how, and how well, we respond.  

Of course, we do not want to be attacked, we want to do the striking and prevail. Which makes sense. Ikken hissatsu, one strike kills, is a familiar budo tactical ideal – instantly sending decisive force to a single point. Good goal. Good tactic for defensive combatives. If it works.

But it has its downside in practice. The opponent may be attempting the same tactic.  

Responding to incoming force skillfully is necessary. That provides us with our opportunity to counter, feint, seize, destabilize, reposition and, using one or some or all of those means, end the encounter.   

5. Habits to avoid 

Don’t stand square to your opponent

Don’t stay in the target zone

Don’t count on your arms to do the defensive work

Don’t cover by making an x on your chest first – make contact immediately  

6. Alternative Approach – tactic sequence

Close the distance while you

Blade to evade

Redirect making initial contact with crossing arm

(Note that on that initial contact the opponent’s arm is drawn forward toward you and his head tips back, exposing targets for your back fist.) 

Quick reversal of the direction of your body and arm across your body to throw your

Backfist to an open target to stun the opponent and disrupt his balance.

(Likely targets include the mental nerve, mandibular angle, brachial nerve plexus in the neck, the temple. Other targets will be exposed if he turns.)

Then follow up with a gyaku tsuki reverse punch to any accessible target.  

7. The Body Mechanics of the Alternative Approach  

By propelling our maneuver (forward, backward or flanking) – from the waist

We simultaneously vacate the target zone, in a bladed position

As we propel the crossing arm across the target line, redirecting the incoming technique

And briefly drawing the attacking arm toward us, disrupting the opponent’s balance and snapping open the neck targets, for an instant

In that instant we reverse the direction of the crossing arm – by reversing the rotation of the waist, creating a whip motion which

Sends the backfist into the opponent’s brachial stun area at the side of the neck, or the mental nerve target in the jaw, or the temple, or the mandibular angle at TW17, or to whatever target is exposed – to stun the opponent

With the next reversal of the waist, we follow up with a full power strike, in this case a gyaku tsuki, to the available target. 

That is the use of the chudan uke and follow up reverse punch, which often appear in our kata, as shown in the video.  


Video and Post Copyright © 2023 by Jeffrey Brooks, Yamabayashi Ryu, Hendersonville-Columbus area, Saluda, NC 

For more on the essential skill of quick reversals read the article Too Fast To See 

For more detail on this and other bunkai interpretations read the essential new book True Karate Dō 

Visit Mountain Karate’s YouTube channel @mountainkarate


  1. Steve says:

    The training of Tai Sabaki is essential …we dont want to be in front of the attacker ….Tai Sabaki ….close of your opponent ….finishing techniques are endless

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: