Soto uke (also called soto ude uke) is a basic Shotokan block.

Although simple, soto uke is a very often used technique to deal with various kinds of middle level attacks.

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

Table of Contents

What does soto uke mean?

Soto means “outside” or “exterior”. Uke means “to receive”.

Soto uke in karate refers to a technique to receive an attack from the outside.

Soto uke is often translated as “block from outside” or “outside block”.

In some Shotokan schools, another term for this technique called “soto ude uke” is used. Soto ude uke means “outside forearm block”.

How to perform soto uke for beginners

Soto uke is likely a part of kihon training at every Shotokan dojo and is practiced not only by beginners but also advanced black belts who may have decades of experience.

Soto uke is executed as follows:

  • Stand in a natural stance or hachiji dachi stance, shoulders down and relax, hands in chamber
  • Imagine an attack coming towards your chudan area aiming at your center-line
  • Raise the blocking arm upward with the fist reaching around your ear level
  • Swing the blocking arm from outside inward to meet the attack
  • When the forearm meets the attacker’s arm, tense and concentrate the power at the outside edge of your forearm to deflect the attack
  • In the finishing position, the blocking arm should pass the center-line just a little bit.

The contact point of the blocking arm can be the inside of the forearm or the edge of the forearm.

If you intend to deflect an attack with soto uke, the inside of the forearm should be the initial contact point. You then roll the forearm to finish the blocking motion and end up with the blocking arm in the position shown in image 4 below.

If you intend to cause damage to the opponent with soto uke (for example, breaking the opponent’s elbow with it), the contact point should be the edge of the forearm.

Imagine that your forearm is a sword, the first option would use the blade of the sword and the second option would use the cutting edge of the blade.

In sparring practice, you will never see people performing soto uke with a full range of motion as shown above.

However, this does not mean that the soto uke drill that you do at every training session is useless.

The reason for practicing soto uke this way is for you to learn how to properly generate power for the block and, believe me, it is not an easy thing to do at all.

You will see on your karate journey that many very advanced students still haven’t got their basic techniques right.

In some karate seminar videos, you’ll see that high level back belts travel all the way to Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, just to be drilled in basic techniques by karate masters there.

This shows the importance of basic techniques which are the very foundation of karate that many advanced students still need to improve.

Once you’re able to perform soto uke with strong power, you probably can do it well with a much shorter range of motion, from a four to five inches or even one inch distance. Soto uke will then become practical as well as effective in a real fight.

But if you can’t do it well from a stationary position with a full range of motion, there is no chance that you can do it well from a shorter distance or in sparring context.

Below is a demonstration of the soto uke technique by Aragaki Misako sensei.

Soto uke technique in Goju Ryu

In Goju Ryu, there is a block that is exactly the same as soto uke but is actually called “uchi uke“.

As you can see below, the sequence of Goju Ryu’s uchi uke is exactly the same as that of Shotokan’s soto uke.

Source: Morio Higaonna (1985)
A demonstration of soto uke (called uchi uke in Goju Ryu) by a Goju Ryu sensei.

Soto uke applications

Soto uke can be used to block middle level attacks like chudan tsuki (straight punch to the middle), mawashi tsuki (roundhouse punch) or yoko geri (side thrust kick).

In the documentary below, Kenyu Chinen sensei, a master of Shorin Ryu and Kobudo explained to his students about the importance of “uke” or “receiving” techniques.

You can see that he used a lot of soto uke when receiving attacks, however, not with a full range of motion and often with an open hand as you would expect in kumite.

You can see that Chinen sensei either holds his ground or moves forward when receiving an attack.

He is actively receiving the attacks and he can do that at his level (9th dan in Shorin Ryu and Kobudo).

For beginner students, it’s probably better to move backward a little when blocking with soto uke to create a safer margin (in case you misjudge the distance or fail to block a strong attack coming at you at full force).

You still can follow-up with counter-attacks afterward depending on the situations. But if you fail to deflect the attack in the first place and get hit in the chest, you’ll have no chance.

Of course, as you gain more experience, your blocks become stronger and you have more confidence in your ability, you can start experimenting with holding your ground when receiving attacks.

Bunkai 1 – Soto uke and gyaku tsuki

This bunkai is one of the Kihon Ippon Kumite for chudan attacks practiced in Shotokan.

The opponent attacks with a straight punch and you block with a soto uke and counter-attack with a gyaku tsuki (reverse punch).

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

Bunkai 2 – Soto uke and yoko empi

This is another Kihon Ippon Kumite for chudan attacks practiced in the Shotokan curriculum.

But for this bunkai, you move to the inside of the opponent to counter-attack with a yoko empi (sideways elbow attack).

Remember that these are very basic drill for beginner to intermediate students so they look very staged.

A demonstration of Kihon Ippon Kumite techniques by Paul Walker sensei.

Bunkai 3 – Soto uke and gyaku tsuki

This bunkai is similar to the first bunkai but against a yoko geri kekomi (a side thrust kick).

You block a side kick with soto uke and then counter-attack with a gyaku tsuki.

A demonstration of Kihon Ippon Kumite techniques by Paul Walker sensei.

Bunkai 4 – Soto uke, kizami geri and gyaku tsuki

This bunkai is to block a mawashi geri and then follow up with a lead-leg kick (kizami geri) and a reverse punch (gyaku tsuki).

A demonstration of Soto Uke bunkai by Seamus O’Dowd sensei.

Bunkai 5 – Soto uke as an attack

This is an example where a technique can be both a block and a counter-attack at the same time.

Your opponent grabs your wrist, you use the same hand to control the opponent’s hand and use the other hand to break his elbow with a soto uke.

The same technique can be used when the opponent grabs the lapels of your shirt or jacket.

A demonstration of Soto Uke bunkai by James Davey sensei from Tadashi Ryu Karate Do.

Bunkai 6 – Soto uke as a throw technique

Soto uke is used to throw an opponent off balance.

When the opponent comes for you with a mawashi tsuki, instead of using soto uke to deflect the puch, you use one hand to control the opponent’s attacking arm and use the other hand to perform soto uke aiming at the elbow to throw the opponent off balance.

A demonstration of Soto Uke bunkai by Damian Laszuk sensei.

Bunkai 7 – Soto uke and gedan barai

In this bunkai, after blocking a middle level attack with a soto uke, you immediately follow up with a gedan barai attack to the groin using the same hand.
A demonstration of soto uke bunkai by Dan Djurdjevic sensei.

Bunkai 8 – Soto uke in a “Shaolin scissors block”

In this bunkai, you perform a double soto uke with both hands at the same time to catch the attacking arm of the opponent and then either break the arm or throw the opponent to the ground.
A demonstration of soto uke bunkai by Dan Djurdjevic sensei.

How to generate more power in your soto uke

Like other hand techniques in karate, if you only rely on the force of the arm, your technique will be weak.

The more muscle groups are involved, the more power your techniques will have.

Like other techniques, the maximum power of your soto uke will come from the correct use of the hips or the dantien area where most muscles and mass are concentrated.

Because in soto uke, the motion of your blocking arm is from outside inward, your hip rotation must follow this general direction as well.

Once you’ve got the basic move for soto uke, start thinking about using your hips to drive your technique.

If you haven’t already, you will repeatedly hear about karate techniques being compared to cracking a whip and it is rightly so.

When you crack a whip, the tip of the whip is what hits the target but the action doesn’t start with the tip of the whip, it starts from the handle of the whip.

Similarly, with soto uke, your forearm meets the opponent’s attacking arm, but the action shouldn’t start with the blocking arm itself, it starts from the hips.

Therefore, when performing soto uke, always think about “cracking” your blocking arm using your hips, i.e., let your hips drive the soto uke. More muscles and more mass involved means more power in your technique.

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