18 July 2010

A Strategy for When You Are Hit

(This post is an extension of the ideas discussed in the previous post “Distance and Angle” that I posted a week ago.)

The final position for most blocks in ITF Taekwon-Do is with the defender in a half-facing posture. It was explained to me when I just started Taekwon-Do that it is in case an attack breaks through your defence and hits you, the force of the blow will be less serious because of the oblique angle. If the blow were to hit you perpendicularly, i.e. straight on, your body will absorb all the force. However, when your body is turned somewhat, the impact of the blow skids off you, and you only experience the force of the blow partially.

Having studied other martial arts, like Hapkido, that requires much blending with the force of one’s opponent, I agree with the half-facing posture idea. However, I’d like to suggest a reversed application, where you actually move into a half-facing posture, if you happened not to be in one, at the moment of impact. For instance, say you were full facing when your opponent hit you in the chest; at the moment of impact you can then rotate your body away from the incoming force. By tilting the target area, you can help disperse some of the force of the blow.

While this is not an ideal – the ideal is not to get hit in the first place – it is consistent with other Taekwon-Do principles. One can extrapolate this strategy from these principles. First, there is the half-facing preference already mentioned. The Encyclopaedia (Volume 3), when discussing principles for defence, states: “Always maintain a half facing posture during maneuvers toward and away from an opponent with a few exceptions.” Clearly preference is given to the half-facing posture. Second, the Encyclopaedia also admonishes the defender to keep a “flexible ready posture at all times.” That the defender’s posture should be “flexible” implies that it should be able to move easily, even when being hit – it should not stiffly absorb a blow, but with flexibility disperse the blow. The Encyclopaedia also says that the blocking tool should be “withdrawn immediately after contact.” I believe the same principle is applicable for the whole body, not only the blocking tool. One is therefore to keep relaxed and flexible, withdrawing from an impact. Furthermore, the Theory of Power, when discussing Breath Control, suggests that one exhales at the moment impact is received from an opponent. We also have the principle of Distance and Angle that teaches how techniques have certain distances and angles at which they are at their most powerful. The implication is that one can weaken the force of an opponent’s attack by changing the distance at which the attack reaches you (you can either move in and smother the technique, or move away and let the blow dissipates its force). Alternatively, you can weaken the attack by changing the angle at which the force hits your body. For instance, if a punch hits your chest straight on, if you are able to turn your torso – even at the moment of impact – some of the force from the blow will slide off at an angle. One often sees this Distance and Angle strategy used by boxers when they receive body blows. They literally roll their bodies into the blow or twist their torsos so that the force of the blow is lessened. This "rolling" and "twisting" ("bobbing and weaving") motions changes the angle at which the punch hits the body and changes the distance so that the blow is somewhat weaker.

Watch this video in which a pro-boxer explains "How to Take a Punch":

If you should get hit, try to apply the following:

  • Keep the body flexible.
  • Change the angle at which the attack reaches your vital spot. Turn into a half-facing posture or other appropriate angle.
  • Try to change the distance at which the attack will reach the vital spot so that it does not hit the body at its most powerful point in motion. Either move the body closer and smother the incoming blow, or move the body away and let its force disperse.
  • Breathe out at the moment of impact. 
  • Finally, the Encyclopaedia says that one should "remain constantly aware so you are able to execute a counter-attack the instant an opportunity avails itself."
One can easily practise the points in this "strategy" as exercise drills in class. All these exercises should start out slowly and at moderately low force. Under the supervision of an instructor the drills can be speeded up, and the power of the attacks may be increased proportionally.

Drill 1:

Two partners square off punching distance in full facing postures. The Attacker uses his palm and strongly pushes the shoulder or upper chest of the Defender. The Defender "accepts" the blow, but immediately turns his body so that the force skids off to the side.

The exercise can be amended to include a counter-attack. When the Attacker pushes the shoulder or chest, the Defender uses that force as part of his Reaction Force that helps him to propel an attack from the opposite side. For instance, if the left shoulder is pushed back, the Defender can use that turning motion to strike the Attacker with the right arm.

In the video below, John Graden explains a similar concepts which he calls "Riding the Power." Here the attack is done to the head (rather than the shoulder or chest) and the Defender moves with the force of the blow, leading his head backward. Later in the video he intercepts the blow with his head. Both of these examples rely on changing the Distance so that the punch does not reach his vital spot when it is at its most ideal distance (the moment in the motion when the technique is at its most forceful).

In the Discovery Channel clip below, from their Time Warp program, we see how not to do it, unless you like experiencing your face warped.

Drill 2:

This is also a conditioning exercise. The Attacker punches at Defender's abdomen. The Defender try to intercept the punch with his abdomen before the punch is at its most forcefully. At the moment of impact the Defender also changes the angle at which the attack is met by tilting the attacking surface. (See how the Shaolin monk does it in the video.)

Drill 3:

This is also a conditioning exercise. Start of by standing, facing your training partner (the Attacker) in a full facing posture. The Attacker then hits or kicks your body square on. Apply the strategy points above in order to weaken the force of the blow.Try to change the Angle (turn your body) and Distance (either smother the blow or retreat from it). Remember to breathe out at the moment of impact. An example of this exercise could be a side kick to the abdomen. As the kick comes to you, move into it quickly and so smother it before the Attacker's leg has time to properly extend. Alternatively, as the kick reaches your body, dodge back a little and shift your weight back into a rear-foot stance, and stiffen your abdominal muscles as you strongly breath out to absorb the kick's force.

The drill can be amended with a good guarding posture where the Defender is allowed to "guard" but not yet to block. "Blocking" occurs by turning the guarding arms ("rolling" the torso) into the blows and so deflecting the force. Focus only on body turning, but no actual blocking.

The tempo of this exercise can be increased, changing the drill into a sparring exercise with one person only attacking and the other defending. Later, start to include counter-attacks.

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