Gedan barai is another blocking technique that you will learn at the very beginning of your karate journey.

Although gedan barai is a basic technique, it has many potential uses as an effective blocking technique or as a powerful counter-attack technique.

This post will show you how to perform gedan barai correctly from a natural stance, a few examples of gedan barai bunkai in practice and a few tips to help you generate more power in your gedan barai.

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What does gedan barai mean?

Gedan means “lower level”. In karate, it refers to the dantien or the belt area and below.

Barai means “sweeping”. The Japanese word for “sweeping” is “harai“, however, when it is combined with “gedan”, it changes to “barai”.

So, gedan barai refers to a sweeping block aimed at the lower level and is often roughly translated as a “lower-level sweeping block”.

How to perform gedan barai for beginners

For beginners, gedan barai is often practiced in a natural stance (shizentai dachi, heiko dachi or hachiji dachi) with hands in the chamber or hikite position.

Gedan barai is executed as follows:

  • Starting with a hand in the chamber position, for example, using the right hand (as seen in the image 1 below)
  • Raise the right hand up to around the ear or eye level with the back of the hand facing forward
  • Perform a circular sweeping motion from the right to the left and finish off when the blocking arm is pointing straight down and about one fist away from the body (see image 4 below).
Source: Morio Higaonna (1985)

The point of contact for gedan barai according to Master Morio Higaonna is “the area at the bottom of the wrist on the side of the little finger“.

Imagine your blocking hand is a wooden sword, the contact point is the outer edge of the sword.

However, in some Shotokan schools, the point of contact for this technique is actually the back of the forearm (i.e. the sword blade), around the wrist and above area.

This way of blocking aims to avoid bone-to-bone contact which can be very painful for some and especially so for beginners.

When performing the sweeping motion from the eye level to the groin level, it is important to keep your shoulders and arms totally relaxed to improve the speed of the execution.

However, at the moment of contact, it is important to apply kime using a very brief moment of tension to concentrate the power at the wrist in order to effectively fend off an opponent’s attack.

In this video, Morio Higaonna sensei demonstrates the gedan barai technique the Goju Ryu way.

Different ways of executing a gedan barai

There are some differences in the way gedan barai is taught between different karate styles.

However, it does not mean one way is correct and another way is wrong. It just means there are different emphases and goals.

As can be seen in the above images, which show the typical way a gedan barai is taught in Goju Ryu, a gedan barai can actually cover a big area from jodan to gedan (eye height to belt level).

A gedan barai in Shotokan, however, typically begins at around shoulder level and ends at the belt level (see the video demonstration below).

The more area you cover, the more protection you can provide for your body. But it also takes a longer time to get to the destination if your aim is to just block a lower-level attack.

In addition, as a beginner, the more distance your arm needs to travel, the more momentum you can generate and, hopefully, the more powerful your technique becomes.

Later on, when you understand more about body mechanics and how to use your hips properly, you can perform an effective gedan barai starting from any distance, whether it’s from the jodan level, chudan level or even the gedan level.
In this video, Aragaki Misako sensei demonstrates gedan barai technique the Shotokan way.

Another difference has been mentioned above is the point of contact for the gedan barai technique.

In Goju Ryu, the point of contact is the side of the forearm, around the wrist area.

In Shotokan, the point of contact is the back of the forearm, around the wrist area.

Again, there is no right way and wrong way.

If your arm is well conditioned and you want to cause maximum damage to the opponent, you can use the side of the forearm (the Goju Ryu way).

If your arm is not well conditioned and your aim is to just deflect the attack in order to quickly follow up with a deadly counter-attack, you can use the back of the forearm (the Shotokan way).

Why is gedan barai usually practiced from the “chamber” position?

Beginners are often taught to perform basic techniques like age uke, yoko uke, hiki uke, gedan barai or oi-tsuki when they are in natural stances with hands in the chamber position.

People who don’t understand the purpose of such exercises often criticize karate for teaching students useless techniques. Nobody punches from the chamber position, nobody fights in those karate stances, or firing from the chamber position just takes too much time, they say.

This is a misunderstanding.

Performing techniques in natural stances help students understand how to properly generate power for each basic technique.

It is difficult if not impossible to teach a beginner to perform a one-inch punch and expects him or her to generate any meaningful force from such a punch.

But it is possible for them to get decent power from the hikite hand or hand in chamber position.

Later on, as they learn and understand how to generate power for their techniques, they will be able to perform powerful blocks or punches from shorter distances as well as from various fighting stances.

Gedan barai applications

Below are a few examples of the applications (bunkai) for the gedan barai technique.

Gedan barai bunkai 1: Gedan barai and Gyaku tsuki

The first bunkai of gedan barai is to receive a mae geri (front kick) and counter-attack with a gyaku tsuki (reverse punch).

In this application, the defender moves to the inside of the opponent to block with a gedan barai and counter-attack with a gyaku tsuki (see video below).

Moving to the inside of an opponent is a risky move because you are open to their counter-attacks.

Therefore, this bunkai should be used only when you are certain that you have the right speed to be able to get in and out quickly before the opponent manages to return fire.

A demonstration of gedan barai bunkai by Kazuaki Kurihara sensei who is a multiple-time All Japan Karate Championship winner in both kata and kumite divisions.

Gedan barai bunkai 2: Gedan barai and Kizami tsuki

This is another application of gedan barai defending against a mae geri (front kick).

However, instead of moving to the inside of the opponent, you are moving backward and off the opponent’s center line (see video below).

The gedan barai here aims at brushing off the outside of the opponent’s kicking leg. After that, you move forward to counter-attack with a lead punch (kizami tsuki).

This is a much safer way to block a kick and launch a counter-attack.

A demonstration of Jiyu Ippon Kumite techniques by Sensei Paul Walker.

Gedan barai bunkai 3: Gedan barai and Gyaki tsuki

This is a similar bunkai to the above one, but instead of moving backward and blocking with a gedan barai, you move forward straight past the opponent before turning around and counter-attack with a gyaku tsuki.

This is another safe way of defending yourself against a mae geri.

However, make sure that you don’t move before the opponent has fully committed to the kick otherwise you will find that their kick might be chasing you.

Also, be prepared for the situation when they fake a lower kick to launch an attack at the jodan or chudan levels.

A demonstration of Jiyu Ippon Kumite techniques by Sensei Paul Walker.

Gedan barai bunkai 4: Gedan barai and Jodan gyaku tsuki

This is similar to the first application of gedan barai but the counter-attack is a jodan gyaku tsuki.

You could also make the counter-attack more devastating by stepping forward and punching straight through, imagining that the aim is behind the opponent’s head.

A demonstration of gedan barai bunkai by Kazuaki Kurihara sensei who is a multiple-time All Japan Karate Championship winner in both kata and kumite divisions.

Gedan barai bunkai 5: Gedan barai as an attack

In this bunkai, gedan barai is used as an attack on the groin.

This can be an unexpected move for your opponent.

A gedan barai attack to the groin performed with full force can instantly disable the opponent or disorient them for some time.

This is one of the bunkai of the kata Seiyunchin (also known as Seienchin) practiced in many karate styles.

A demonstration of Seyiunchin kata bunkai by Morio Higaonna sensei.

Gedan barai bunkai 6: Gedan barai to free from a grip

In this bunkai, a gedan barai is used to help you break free from an opponent’s grip.

If the opponent holds on tightly, a full force gedan barai can break or cause serious damage to their wrist or forearm.

How to generate more power in your gedan barai

As you can see, a simple gedan barai can be used in many situations to receive an attack or to counter-attack.

However, to be able to use it effectively in actual self-defense situations, you will need hundreds if not thousands of hours of practice to make it become second nature.

As with other receiving techniques like yoko uke and age uke, the power of your gedan barai will come with more practice.

The more you practice, the more natural the technique will become and you will be able to relax more and improve the speed of your technique.

In addition, as you practice, you will discover that any block using just the force of the arms or the legs will have little power.

However, if there is more body mass involved like the shoulders, the upper body, or the entire body mass, the force of your technique will massively increase.

In all techniques, let your hips drive them rather than letting the arms or the legs initiate the techniques.

Body conditioning exercises that help strengthen your arms or practicing with resistant bands can improve the speed and power of your techniques as well.