27 September 2010

Congratulations to Bsbnim Philip

Congratulation to Boosabeomnim Philip de Vos for getting a bronze medal in the Patterns Category during the recent National South African ITF Taekwon-Do Championships.

Mr Philip de Vos is a 1st degree black belt and instructor of the Potchefstroom dojang. Since he does not have a full time instructor (with me living in South Korea at present) who can check and assist him with his patterns regularly, his achievement during the championships is a great testament to his personal dedication and training. Well done, Bsbnim Philip!

Mr de Vos was also approached by the SA-ITF President and ITF Executive Council member, Mr Dirk Nel, to represent the Potchefstroom Regional Academy and to be my proxy as Soo Shim Kwanjang (head), at an upcoming SA-ITF National Council Meeting. Bsbnim Philip's continued involvement and active participation in Taekwon-Do events are definitely noticed and much appreciated.

Sb Sanko

26 September 2010

Taekwondo in the K-1, Muay Thai & Kickboxing Ring

A compilation of Taekwon-Do kicks used in K-1 and kick boxing style tournaments.

Thanks to Master Kim Hoon of The Way Martial Arts Academy of Seoul for making me aware of this video. The video is by YouTuber KwonKicker, who has some good kicking tutorials.

17 September 2010

Vertical Wave (Sine Wave Motion) and Horizontal Wave (Hip Rotation)

 When we look at the sine wave motion in its typically down-up-down form we can identify it as a vertical* sine wave. With vertical I mean that the wave oscillates up and down. This motion is usually used in order to drop body weight onto the technique and works excellent for techniques with a slight or strong downward angle like a middle section punch or a side-fist downward strike. This sine wave motion can also be used in an upward direction; for example, when one does a forearm rising block you move from a relaxed position to an upward position. The final drop of the typical down-up-down motion is omitted as it will act contrary to the direction of the upward technique. The (vertical) sine wave motion is therefore employed for techniques where the force of the technique moves either up or down.

The sine wave can also occur horizontally*; in other words, the wave oscillates from left to right or vice-versa. Usually when we talk about this type of sine wave, we refer to hip rotation or hip twist. Typically the hip is pulled back slightly and then jerked in the direction that the blocking or attacking tool needs to travel. Hip rotation is often part of a whip-like action where the different parts of the body are accelerated and uncoiled to create kinetic chaining. Techniques that benefit from a horizontal wave typically move horizontally, for instance a back fist strike or a knife-hand side strike. 
Do we combine (vertical) sine wave motion with hip rotation? Yes and no. It depends on the technique. A technique like a wedging block that uses two forearms moving horizontally in opposite directions do not use hip rotation because it is impossible to rotate your hips both left and right to accommodate both arms. For a wedging block we only use vertical sine wave motion. The forearm rising block is also a good example where the main force of the technique goes up; for this technique a horizontal wave, in other words hip rotation, is downplayed.

There are techniques where the main angle of the technique goes forward and downward and can therefore benefit from both the forward hip rotation as well as body dropping through the sine wave motion. A clear example would be a diagonal downward elbow strike (as seen the pattern Juche) or even just a forward stepping middle front punch. The middle front punch reaches its target in a slight downward angle. A further example is the low forearm block, which moves both downward and to the side.

Actually, the simple rotation of the fist during punching is in fact the combination of a vertical and horizontal sine wave. The rotation plus forward motion creates a spiral or helix, which can be described mathematically as the combination of a vertical and horizontal sine wave. These types of combined vertical and horizontal wave forms can often be seen in ITF Taekwon-Do by the trained eye.
The important thing is to understand the direction of the forces created by these waves and also the force directions required by the various techniques you are using. Certain techniques benefit more from a vertical sine wave, in other words the typical sine wave motion, while other techniques benefit more from a horizontal sine wave, in other words from hip rotation. Using or putting emphasis on the wrong wave form should be avoided as it may nullify the power of your technique. Also, different parts of the wave benefits different techniques. One should not drop your body weight at the end of a rising block, nor should you raise your body at the end of a low block. Similarly the hip should rotate towards the target, not away from it.

Learning how to use the different wave forms is crucial in mastering ITF Taekwon-Do.

* Please note that my reference to "vertical" and "horizontal" should not be confused with the use of these terms in the ITF Encyclopaedia's discussion on ways of stepping. I'm using the terms here to describe whether we are viewing a sine wave as depicted on a Y-axis (thus vertically) or Z-axis (thus horizontally).  

15 September 2010

Do You Do "Chang Hong," ITF, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Taekwon-Do?

In the video above, in one of his last seminars, General Choi Hong-Hi, the father of Taekwon-Do and first president of the ITF, spoke proudly of how ITF Taekwon-Do is not a splintered organization. World wide we practise(d) the same pattern set, the same basic techniques and exercises.

Unfortunately, as you all know, upon his death ITF split into three groups, each claiming to be the authentic ITF. At first these three ITF groups still practised the same way. Eight years later and we are starting to see little differences creeping in. If these groups do not merge again I'm pretty sure that the differences will eventually be substantial enough to differentiate the different groups in a similar way that we can distinguish today different Shotokan Karate styles like JKA and Shotokai. Both these groups are still clearly practising Shotokan Karate as taught by the founder Gichin Funakushi; nonetheless, over time differences are clear enough for an emerged Karateka to recognise the two as different styles -- not only politically, but also technically.

It's nearly ten years later and we are already seeing slight differences between the three ITF-branches. One of these groups recently made the peculiar decision to rename one of the patterns, changing it from "Juche" to "Kodang." The latter is actually the name of a previous pattern that Gen. Choi replaced with a new pattern called "Juche." (I'll write more about that in a future post.) The decision to change names of patterns has clearly set this ITF group up as different from the other two. The different groups have also started to change tournament rules. One group, for instance, is awarding extra points for flashy jumping spinning kicks in order to make sparring matches more interesting for spectators to watch. There has even been slight dobok alterations. Different tournament events like self-defence demonstration and Pro Taekwon-Do (full-contact Taekwon-Do) has also been introduced with one of the ITF groups. How will the ITF groups look another ten years hence?

In the late seventies, early eighties, there were some break away groups from ITF. Because they broke away before the introduction of the sine wave motion and its associated relaxedness, we can easily differentiate between them and the ITF even though they all continued to use the same 24 pattern set developed by Gen. Choi. These patterns are known as Chang Hon patterns. "Chang Hon" was General Choi's pen name. The Chang Hon patterns has stood the test of time and is practised by a significant portion of Taekwon-Do practitioners, whether ITF or not. Still, they are performed so differently between these different organizations that it has become quite difficult to compete together at tournaments. Some judges fancy sine wave motion, others prefer no sine wave at all. Some prefer very fast linear movements. Others like patterns that follow a slower pace. In some, single movements in patterns have been adapted. Stances are not of equal length everywhere any more. Some organizations do kiaps (shouts), others do not. There are even different ways of writing the name of this style; for instance, Taekwon-Do, Taekwondo and Tae Kwon Do. I've even seen the rather ugly variant Taegwondo, which is actually phonetically a better Romanization of the name.

The two videos below shows how different the same Chang Hon pattern Hwa-Rang can be performed by two different Taekwon-Do organizations. The way the pattern is performed in the second video resembles how it is generally performed in the ITF groups at present, while the first video is more reminiscent of how was performed in the 60s and 70s with some organizational alterations.

Such changes are inevitable. This means that Taekwon-Do has become a generic term and does not refer to a single organization. When we talk about Chang Hon Taekwon-Do we include ITF, GTF, ITA, and so on. Similarly I wonder if the prefix "ITF" will become a similar descriptive as "Chang Hon"? I believe that ITF Taekwon-Do will still be practised for many many years. We may just call it something else.

14 September 2010

Toi-Gye Teul

TOI-GYE is the pen name of the noted scholar Yi Hwang 이황 (16th century), an authority on neo Confucianism. The 37 movements of the pattern refer to his birthplace on 37 latitude, the diagram represents "scholar".

Yi Hwang was a Neo-Confucianist scholar. Neo-Confucianism was more open to other ideas from Taoism and Buddhism. Historically Confucianism and Taoism stood somewhat opposed to each other. Neo-Confucianism tried to merge elements from the three great Oriental philosophies. Still, Neo-Confucianism kept a quite materialistic view of the world and did not believe in such Buddhist concepts as Karma and reincarnation. They did, however, believe in Ki -- the life force. However, they placed ephasis, rather on, I. The latter, according to Neo-Confucianism, is the base form of Ki and permeates everything in the world, while Ki is more specific manifestations of I.

Yi Hwang was a noted scholar, Confucian lecturer, and author of philosophical texts. As an extremely principled high level government official he was even exiled on more than one occasion for stringently sticking to his principles, while working under four different kings during his long career. Apart from his academic achievements, he was also a poet and calligraphy artist.

Yi Hwang's pen name, Toi-Gye 퇴계, translates as "Retreating Creek"; however, the pattern contains no retreating movements. All the movements meet the opponents head on with attentive guarding postures, engaging blocks and forward stepping attacks.

An interesting aspect of the pattern Toi-Gye is the repetition of six mountain blocks. A mountain is a symbol for strength and fortitude, which may refer to Yi Hwang's principled life. The pattern also has an interesting combination and repitition of circular blocks.

11 September 2010

Sine Wave Motion = Linear Karate Movement + Bobbing Taekkyeon Movement

It is my believe that the sine wave motion in ITF Taekwon-Do can be understood as the combination of Karate's linear way of moving with Taekkyeon's relaxed bouncing.

Look at the Karatekas in the video below. Notice their steps and how their bodies stay the same height.

Now look at this demonstration of Taekkyeon. Notice their relaxed "bouncing" by means of what we would call "knee spring" in Taekwon-Do.

Now imagine stepping like Karate, while combining it with the relaxed light-footedness found in Taekkyeon. What you get is something that looks very much like Karate, but at the same time resembles the relaxed "bounciness" of Taekkyeon.

The reason is simple: by means of the sine wave motion, ITF Taekwon-Do has incorporated the soft style wave principle from Taekkyeon into the Karate way of moving. ITF Taekwon-Do is merely the child of its two parents, hard style Karate and soft style Taekkyeon.

The (Sine) Wave in Aikido

In my previous post on the wave principle I mentioned that it is not unique to ITF Taekwon-Do; that once you understand it you will notice it as being part of many martial art systems, particularly the soft style martial arts. In the two videos below, Aikido instructor Doug Wedell explains the "waveform" in Aikido.

The keen observer will notice very similar movements and ideas as we see and do in ITF Taekwon-Do. Particularly try to look for the sine wave motion, the down-up-down form. Mr Wedell explains this down-up-down concept in an analogy of bouncing a ball.

"Waveforms, look for them everywhere; they are in every Aikido movement," says Doug Wedell. To this I want to reply: "The wave principle; look for it everywhere; it is in every Taekwon-Do movement."

The Wave / Circle Principle

In my previous post I emphasized the importance of differentiating between the sine wave motion and the wave principle. While I spent some time explaining what the sine wave motion is, I did not go into that much detail regarding the wave principle.

The wave principle is a much more abstract concept and therefore harder to define. To begin with, not all martial arts refer to it as the “wave” principle; it is often referred to as the circle principle or the Law of Change; that is, the Taegeuk (Tai-Chi in Chinese), i.e. the concept of Yin-Yang.

To understand the relationship between a wave and a circle, it is important to know that a wave is basically the rotation of a point on a circle plotted over a path in time. The video below (similar to the image above) illustrates how a circle and a sine wave are related.

(See this video for a more detailed mathematical explanation of the relationship between a sine wave and the unit circle.)

Were you to change the perspective of this sine wave and view it in 3D you may see a helix (spiral) or a circle or even the Taegeuk. The animation below effectively demonstrates this.

So when one speaks of the wave principle, one is also meaning the circle principle or meaning the Taegeuk, which of course includes notions of hard and soft, offensive and defensive, firm/push and yield, and so on. It would be appropriate either way to speak of the wave principle or circle principle or Taekgeuk principle. They are all essentially the same thing, each just emphasizing a different aspect. When we discuss the circle principle we are probably stressing the rotation aspect. When we discuss the wave principle we are probably stressing the movement over a specific distance. When we discuss the Taegeuk we are probably stressing the interplay and oscillation of opposites: up and down, hard and soft, pushing and yielding. For the sake of simplicity I mostly just refer to it as the wave principle because it is so conspicuous in ITF Taekwon-Do’s sine wave movement; although it is present in many more ways throughout ITF Taekwon-Do and easily recognizable to anybody who understands how this principle can be expressed.

The wave principle encapsulates everything that is true of a circle. There are no sharp edges or rigid corners. Since there are no corners, a change in direction occurs smoothly via curves. When doing the sine wave motion, the practitioner is admonished to keep the wave smooth and natural; jerky motions are to be avoided.

The idea of a wave brings to mind rolling valleys and hills, ocean waves rising and dropping. The wave principle, as embodied in the Taegeuk, forms part of the Do ("Tao," in Chinese) meaning the natural Way of the universe. A martial artist wants herself to move as part of the Way, but try to get her opponent to move against the Way. She can achieve this through different means. She could uproot him, an approach often used in Tai Chi Chuan which involves breaking his balance. In Judo, the Judoka may actually lift her opponent of the ground to uproot him and so break his connection with the earth, placing him contrary to the Way. In Taekwon-Do one might employ a rising technique or unbalance the opponent with Taekwon-Do’s many (and highly underused) sweeping, checking and pushing techniques, in order to break his connection with the earth or the Way. Or she could do the opposite and instead of uprooting him, press him “into” the earth. According to one Taekwon-Do commentary, when hitting your opponent you should become part of the earth so that “your power amounts to that of the earth’s crash against him” (Philosophical Principle of Taekwon-Do, Chapter 34). You can do this by dropping your technique into the earth, moving and working with gravitational force -- many of Taekwon-Do’s techniques works on this principle; after the Judoka has uprooted her opponent she then crashes him, i.e. throws him, against the earth. However, to move “down” one has to have been “up” first.

It is my opinion that if they were to recognize the sine wave motion for what it is, a manifestation of the wave principle as found in many other martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido or Systema, a greater degree of understanding and maybe even an appreciation of the sine wave motion would follow.

09 September 2010

Sine Wave Motion and the Wave Principle

There are a number of critiques against ITF Taekwon-Do’s “sine wave”. Some of these critiques are based on a misunderstanding of the (sine) wave principle. A common misunderstanding arises from people seeing the sine wave motion as an end in itself and not realizing that it is in fact merely an expression of a greater principle. When talking about “sine wave” it is important to differential between the sine wave motion and the wave principle it is based on.

If you are unfamiliar with what we usually mean by "sine wave" in ITF Taekwon-Do, basically it is the way we move in a kind of bobbing fashion using the knees ("knee-spring"), as if moving over a waved path. The simplest expression of this is known as the "sine wave motion" and contains an initial downward phase, an upward phase and a final downward phase. It is thus often explained as "down-up-down." In truth, the purpose of the first downward phase is not necessarily to go down; it is merely a deliberate act of relaxation in which the limbs and mind is consciously relaxed. From here the practitioner will then lift his or her body to gain potential energy and finally drop the body into the technique and in so doing converting the potential energy into kinetic energy. Basically the aim is to have more of one's body weight behind your technique as this increases the momentum of the technique.

Notice how the ITF Taekwon-Do practitioner performs the sine wave motion in the pattern Won-Hyo below.

For a more detailed explanation of the sine wave motion, read the related article at Taekwon-Do.Net.

The basic sine wave motion ought not to be confused with another related concept, namely the (sine) wave principle. I will henceforth refer to it merely as the “wave principle.” The sine wave motion is an icon, i.e. a simplification, of the wave principle. The sine wave motion is almost always seen in its basic relax-up-down form; however, the wave principle transcends this rigid confinement of three phases. The wave principle could sometimes be seen as a reversal, for instance up-down-up; or it could be expressed horizontally, for example as left-right-left; or even cyclically. It need not have three parts, but could only involve up-down, or may oscillate numerous times. It is recognizable when boxers bob and weave, or when you naturally extend or retract a limb to maintain balance. If you understand the wave principle you will notice it in throws and joint locks. It forms part of how we accelerate our techniques through kinetic chaining, sometimes referred to as sequential motion. A “wave” occurs every time you breathe in and out. You may depict it as the Taegeuk (the yin-yang symbol) or as the Sam-Taegeuk, Korea’s three lobed yin-yang symbol. The wave principle is not unique to ITF Taekwon-Do. It is found in many martial arts, particularly soft style martial arts. I’ve encountered it in books on Aikido and Hapkido and have seen it applied in Chinese soft styles like Tai Chi Chuan and Russia’s Systema. The wave principle is characterized by conscious relaxation and motions that move along curves, rather than rigid linear movements.

The iconic relax-up-down sine wave motion was General Choi Hong-Hi’s ingenious application of the soft style wave principle into the linear hard style Karate-based movements from which Taekwon-Do was sourced. Through the sine wave motion the soft style wave principle is infused into the previously hard style movements. It would be incorrect to say that ITF Taekwon-Do is a hard style martial art. Similarly it would be unfitting to call it a true soft style martial art. It has become an interesting hard style-soft style mix that uses hard style techniques, but performed with soft style principles.

Differentiating between the sine wave motion and the wave principle on which it is based is crucial when one tries to speak (and critique) the sine wave motion in ITF Taekwon-Do’s basic movements.

05 September 2010

Thoughts on Won-Hyo

My submission for the latest issue of Totally Tae Kwon Do was on Won-Hyo. In the essay I give some background information on this interesting Buddhist philosopher and his influence on Korean thought, specifically with regards to his philosophy of "consciousness-only". I've always been curious as to why General Choi including a religious figure like Won-Hyo in the pattern set, when he so clearly said that Taekwon-Do should be non-religious and that meditation in Taekwon-Do is not the same as meditation in Buddhism.

The conclusion I come to in the essay is that the pattern Won-Hyo gives tribute to the Chinese martial arts and links Taekwon-Do to a long line of Oriental martial art history. I support my thesis with historical data that places Won-Hyo in a time where Buddhism and martial arts (Shaolin kung-fu) existed together and refer to at least two movements in the pattern that have strong links to Chinese martial arts. Also, Won-Hyo's "consciousness-only" concept parallels Gen. Choi's own life philosophy. You can read "Thoughts on Won-Hyo" in Issue #19.