20 July 2010

The Soo Shim Kwan and Cross-Training

While looking at the side panel of this blog you will notice many links to other martial art sites and blogs, a big number of them non-Taekwondo. One could rightly ask why I, as Soo Shim Kwanjangnim (head of the Soo Shim Kwan), allow these links on our blog. Doesn’t the ITF Encyclopaedia say that “One shall serve only one master,” implying that we ought to do only one martial art? I don’t think that is exactly what is meant by “serving only one master.” In fact, I have been encouraged by very high ranking ITF-masters to learn from other martial arts. After all, with the modern phenomenon of Mixed Martial Arts, Taekwon-Do practitioners often forget (or don't even know) that Taekwon-Do was one of the first modern martial arts to borrow from a variety of discipines. Taekwon-Do incorporated techniques and ideas from Karate, Taekkyeon, Judo, Hapkido and other styles. But that aside for now.

The Soo Shim Kwan is completely for cross-training. I believe that cross training is beneficial for one’s growth as a martial artist.

Our Soo Shim Kwan Charter mentions that we believe in "establish[ing] and maintain[ing] friendly and cooperative structures with other martial arts . . .” As many of you know, I’ve hosted a number of  “Diversification Workshops” where I’d invite different martial arts for a day of cross-training – each martial art teaching to all the attending members something from their own style. The last Diversification Workshop we hosted at the Potchefstroom Dojang included instruction from ITF Taekwon-Do, WTF Taekwondo, Grappling, Western Boxing, and Hapkido. I've also invited individual instructors to our schools before, and have taught at different martial art schools on invitation.

Too often martial artists become experts at fighting against only members of their own style. This is inevitable if the only people you train with are people in your own style. Such myopic training is not ideal and, in my opinion, even dangerous. Cross-training in other martial arts is essential in order to keep yourself from becoming narrow minded.

There are a number of reasons why many instructors may be against their students doing cross-training. First, I fear that some instructors do not have confidence in what they are teaching. They are secretly scared that if their students were to explore other styles they may find something better. I do not share this fear. I truly believe that if ITF Taekwon-Do is taught properly, it is a superior martial art and we need not be shy of exposure to other styles. I've personally competed against other martial arts and believe that well performed Taekwon-Do is an excellent martial art.

Secondly, instructors may be afraid that students will enrol in another martial art and try to train in both simultaneously, which may hinder their progress. This concern does have some merit. Trying to practice more than one martial art at the same time, especially if the martial arts are similar, will impact each other – and often in a negative way. For instance, if you practice two striking arts where one tells you to do a turning kick (aka roundhouse kick) with the ball of the foot (like in ITF) and another tells you to kick with the shin (like in Muay Thai), you will constantly hear conflicting admonitions from your respective teachers and you will start to do the "wrong" technique in the different classes. This will slow down your progress in both styles.

Occasional cross-training will help you to keep an open-mind and will be quite beneficial.

Here are some points to keep in mind when you are considering cross-training:

  • Avoid a similar striking art. I strongly advise against taking up another stand-up fighting martial art before you have mastered the basics in your current art. Wait until you are at least a black belt. Once you’ve mastered the basics, training in another similar art will not interfere that much with your base art. 
  • Choose something very different. If you do want to take up another martial art, choose an art that is very different from what you are currently doing. Instead of another stand-up fighting art, rather choose a joint-manipulation or grappling art like Aikido, Judo, Wrestling or (Brazilian) Jiu-jitsu.
  • Choose something that will compliment your training regime. Occasional cross-training need not to be taken too seriously, but try at least to cross-train in something that’s very different from your usual training and which will compliment the areas that you think you need to improve in. If it’s more stamina and plyometric fitness you need, you may consider Parkour, Tennis or Squash. If it is strength, you may consider weight-training. If you’re dojang doesn’t spend much time in ground fighting, you may consider cross-training in a grappling class.
  • Talk to your instructor. Remember to discuss it with your instructor before including another martial art in your training regime. Let your instructor advise you. Your instructor may tell you that you ought to wait some time and first build your foundation more before including another style. Trust your instructor’s experience. Your instructor may also suggest a style that can benefit you and may even know good instructors.

Cross-training also involves the mind. Expose yourself to other ideas. It is for this reason that there are links to other martial arts on this website. Learn from other people. It is possible to borrow from other martial arts, but still keeping it Taekwon-Do. In ITF Taekwon-Do we have very specific principles, like the Theory of Power, Training Secrets and Attacking Tool and Vital Spots chart. This means that you can take practically any technique from another martial art and by merely imposing the Taekwon-Do principles over these foreign techniques, literally make them Taekwon-Do. I’ve learned a lot of novel ways in which Taekwon-Do can be applied by reading the material of other martial arts. This has actually made me more loyal to ITF Taekwon-Do because I could see how Taekwon-Do can adapt, while at the same time keep true to its essence.

Happy cross-training!

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