Yoko uke appears in many Goju Ryu katas and is one of the first techniques that you will learn when you start karate. These basic techniques are the foundation of karate and it is important to learn to perform them properly with power.

This post will show you how to perform yoko uke correctly from a natural stance, some practical applications of yoko uke, and tips to generate more power in your yoko uke technique.

What does yoko uke mean?

Yoko means side or beside. Uke means to receive. So, yoko uke means to receive an attack to the side, and is often translated into English as ‘side block’.

The middle side block or chudan yoko uke is a very common block used to deal with attacks aiming at the middle section of the body, from the chin to the belly button. This is what we will look at in this post.

How to perform yoko uke for beginners

Like many other blocks in karate, yoko uke is a double-arm block, but first we will focus on the action of the arm that actually performs yoko uke technique and we will cover the supporting arm in the next section.

Single-arm yoko uke

Imagine there is a punch coming for you aiming at your solar plexus and you are using the right arm to perform yoko uke to block this attack.

Yoko uke is executed as follows:

  1. Stand in a natural stance, shoulders down and relax, hands in chamber
  2. Bring your right arm across the front of your body. Keep the fist close to your body and the forearm parallel to the ground (see frames 1 and 2 below)
  3. After the fist has crossed the centerline and reached the left side, bring the fist upward and forward in a circular motion to the right side (see frames 3, 4 and 5 below)
  4. In the finishing position, the arm is bent making a 45 degree angle. The fist should be at about shoulder height facing towards your body. The elbow should be kept close to the body. There is a brief tension of the arm muscles when it comes into contact with the attacking force (e.g. a straight punch).

It is important to remain relaxed the whole time and only briefly tense the muscles at the last moment when your blocking arm catches the opponent’s arm and pushes it aside.

If you are tense throughout, you will be slow.

If you don’t tense at the moment of contact, your muscles will remain soft and the power will not be transferred to the opponent. There is no kime. Besides getting bruises, you can’t block the attack effectively.

You are likely to get a lot of bruises when you first learn yoko uke, but that will get better as you learn to kime properly.

single arm yoko uke technique

Double-arm yoko uke

Like many other blocking techniques (age uke, shuto uke, gedan barai, and mawashi uke), yoko uke is a double-arm block. Double-arm blocks are more effective in defending against powerful attacks compared to single-arm blocks.

You will generally learn double-arm blocks first until you get to the intermediate or advanced levels where you will learn single-arm blocks.

In the above section, we focus on the main blocking arm. In this section, we will look at the supporting arm.

In the image below, Inoue Yoshimi sensei demonstrates the double-arm yoko uke technique.

In frame 1, he faces an opponent coming forward with a straight punch.

He is going to block with the right hand but first he uses his left arm to intercept the punch.

In frame 2, you can see that he brings the left arm forward, catching the attacker’s arm, and pushes it to the right.

At the same time, his right arm comes across to the left and performs a circular motion to finish the block as described in the previous section (see frames 3, 4, and 5).

In the video below, the legendary Inoue Yoshimi sensei demonstrates how to use double-arm blocks with various blocking techniques. It’s definitely worth watching if you haven’t already come across this before.

Yoko uke applications

Application 1: Yoko uke and shuto uchi

The first application below is the fourth bunkai of the first Goju Ryu kata, Gekisai Dai Ichi.

Starting from the natural stance, as the opponent attacks with a chudan punch, you perform a yoko uke and counter with shuto uchi to the neck as shown in the image below.

  1. You are in a ready stance (frame 1)
  2. The opponent comes forward with a straight punch to your chest, you step aside to the left and perform a double-arm yoko uke (frame 2)
  3. You finish the block with the right hand grabbing and controlling the opponent’s attacking arm (frame 3)
  4. You then step forward with the left leg and attack with a shuto uchi to the opponent’s neck (frame 4)
  5. In this position, the opponent is totally vulnerable (see frame 5), you can combine with a leg sweep and throw the opponent to the ground then continue to break the opponent’s arm or deliver a finishing punch to the head (frames 5 to 8).
yoko uke application: yoko uke and shuto uchi

I love this application, it is very simple but powerful and deadly.

If the opponent heads straight for you with a powerful straight punch, he or she can’t change the direction once he or she has fully committed to the punch.

By getting to the outside of the opponent, you avoid the direct force and the yoko uke is only needed as a safe guard. For a brief moment, you are safe from the opponent’s attack while the opponent is very vulnerable and you can use the opportunity to finish him or her off.

In the hands of a skilled fighter, this simple bunkai can really finish a fight in a matter of seconds.

Below is a video of Morio Higaonna sensei demonstrating this application.

Application 2: yoko uke and double punch (morote awase tsuki)

The second application below is the fifth bunkai of the first Goju Ryu kata, Gekisai Dai Ichi.

Starting from the natural stance, as the opponent attacks with a chudan punch, you perform a yoko uke and counter with a double punch (morote awase tsuki) as shown in the image below.

  1. You are in a ready stance (frame 1)
  2. The opponent comes forward with a straight punch to your chest, you step to the right with the right foot and perform a double-arm yoko uke at the same time (frame 2)
  3. You then immediately counter with a double punch (frame 3)
  4. As you can see in frame 4 below, Morio Higaonna sensei’s double punch was so powerful that his partner was pushed back a meter or so.

This is also a beautiful and effective application though not as deadly as the previous one.

Because you are moving to the inside of the opponent rather than the outside like in the previous application, you are vulnerable to more attacks from the opponent. So, in this technique, speed is critical.

You need to be able to counter attack with a sufficiently powerful double punch within milliseconds of the block which will push the attacker away and give you a safe distance again.

Yoko uke application 2: yoko uke and double punch

Below is a video of Morio Higaonna sensei demonstrating this application.

Applications in real fights

You might be thinking that these karate bunkai look nothing like real fights and learning them is just a waste of time.

It’s true, in real fights, nobody is going to stand in a kamae stance and launch a straight punch at you, and nobody is going to do a full double-arm yoko uke, it’ll just take too long.

However, from what I have learnt, I think it is important to learn to perform these basic techniques properly in a natural stance and understand how to generate sufficient power to make these techniques effective.

Once you’ve mastered these techniques, in real-life situations, you might just need to use a compact form of the technique or a part of the technique and are still able to do the job effectively.

If you have practiced yoko uke thousands and thousands of times while always visualizing yourself blocking an attack coming for your center, when you are in a middle of a fight, you will be able to unconsciously block these sorts of attacks with a single-arm yoko uke or a half yoko uke (e.g. using an outstretched arm) and still do an effective job.

How to generate more power in your yoko uke

I have talked briefly about this in the previous post on the age uke technique, and will summarize it here.

There are three things you can do to increase the power of your yoko uke:

  1. Relax: the more relax you are, the faster you can execute your yoko uke. This will come with time as you put more time in your karate practice, understand your body, and gain more confidence in yourself
  2. Learn to generate power from your hips. A yoko uke performed with just your arm will have a fraction of the power of a yoko uke executed using most of your body mass. To do this, imagine using your hips to crack your whip and your arm is just an extension of the whip. Let the hips drives the attack, not the arms. This is not an easy concept to learn in karate but you will get there one day if you keep working at it
  3. Strengthen your body. The stronger you are, the more powerful your technique will be. Additional body conditioning and strengthening exercises will be beneficial apart from your regular karate practice.

If you find this post helpful, please consider sharing this post and my site with those who might be interested. I would appreciate that a lot.

Please also check out my library of other karate articles which is updated regularly.


Okinawan Karate Blocking Techniques

Morio Higaonna Goju Ryu karate bunkai

Soke Inoue Yoshimi – Always use both arms to block – Seminar Italy 2013

Traditional Karate-Do: Okinawa Goju Ryu Vol. 1: The Fundamental Techniques