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A gedan barai is a karate technique mainly used for blocking an attack. The approximate English meaning is 'low level sweep'.
The following is consistent with the teachings of Shotokan karate. Other styles that use gedan barai may differ slightly.
From natural stance
Standing in hachiji dachi (natural stance), and in a yoi (ready) position, bend left forearm up until fist reaches near the right ear while the right arm moves slightly in to the middle. The left elbow should be resting in the elbow pit of the right arm. Fling the left arm straight and at an angle of ~155°(vertical, up = 0°) while retracting right fist to the right hip. During this movement, your hips should swiftly rotate clockwise to add power. The rotation of the hips must be swift and stop the instant the fists stop at the final position. Another simultaneous event is the retracting hand landing on the hip, and last and most important of all, a sharp exhalation must be done through the nose with an extremely abrupt stop at the moment the fist lands. The amount of hip rotation should be about 30° (direction feet are pointing, i.e. straight forward = 0°), with the feet static, firmly gripping on the ground.
This finishes a gedan barai executed with the left arm. To do it with the right arm, simply mirror the actions.
The gedan barai is usually the very first technique a karateka of shotokan learns. It is very basic but at the same time highly effective. The intermediate stage where the arms cross forms a very tight defence where the karateka's middle section is covered. A vulnerable spot called the solar plexus is at this moment protected. The sweeping motion also allows for a very large surface area to be covered and increases the likelihood of deflecting an incoming strike. The power generated by correct breathing and rotation of hips is very great and effective at deflecting even the most powerful of strikes. The angle at which the leading arm is likely to collide with the striking limb is such that the power is used effectively. It is likely to collide a near-right angles and so maximise deflection.