30 November 2010

What I Have Against Tournament Sparring -- Part 1

I'm not fond of tournament sparring in Taekwon-Do. A primary reason is that tournament sparring tend to cause a skewed emphasis on certain aspects and techniques, resulting in the negligence of other aspects and techniques. Furthermore, I really think that tournament sparring enforces some behaviours that are in contradiction with self-defence logic. It is not that there are no value in tournament sparring; there are. However, tournament sparring is often overemphasized and I believe this to be a grave mistake. Following are some reasons:

The “Composition of Taekwon-Do” contains five parts: Fundamental Movements, Conditioning (Dallyon), Patterns, Sparring, and Self-Defence. This means that sparring constitutes only a fifth of ITF Taekwon-Do and with “sparring” it is not by default meant “tournament sparring.” There are various types of sparring in Taekwon-Do; tournament sparring is only one of many types. Prearranged sparring involves three-step, two-step, one-step, semi-free, model-sparring and foot sparring. Then there is also traditional sparring (anything goes), and some schools also teach ground technique sparring. And, of course, tournament sparring. Each type of sparring teaches different skills. By focussing primarily on tournament sparring the skills taught through these other types of sparring are neglected and sometimes never even taught.

One problem with an over emphasis of tournament sparring is that it results in a loss of techniques. Tournament sparring narrows down the target areas and also the attacking tools. Practitioners might never learn how to do low attacks, or may never learn how to do certain “illegal” techniques, like elbow strikes and knee kicks that are highly effective in self-defence. Apart from low attacks, like kicks to the legs, other ranges of attack that are not conducive to getting points or which are discouraged because of the rules of the tournament are also ignored. Examples may include fighting in the clinch range, or doing throwing and trap-boxing, i.e. stand-up grappling techniques. (Do you even know what the “clinch” range is, or what “trap-boxing” is? Have you learned how to do throws? And if you are thrown do you know basic break falling techniques to protect you from the impact of the fall? If you answered no to any of these questions, it is likely that you are spending too much time focussing on tournament sparring.)

As explained already, an excessive focus on tournament sparring could be detrimental for self-defence because it limits your training in more different ranges of attack, it limits the targets you get used to attacking, and it limits your use of different types of attacks and attacking tools. Many techniques that are perfect for self-defence are hardly ever trained because they are considered “illegal.” The inverse is equally disconcerting. Because such “illegal” techniques are hardly ever practised, many practitioners have no idea how to defend themselves were they to be on the receiving end of such techniques. Many Taekwon-Do stylist that focus on tournament sparring have no idea how to defend themselves against head butts, elbows strikes, kicks to the groin or to the knees. Since they almost never practise these techniques themselves, they also have very little experience in defending against such attacks.

A further problem is that tournament sparring creates a certain type of mindset that is not conducive to self-defence. For instance, in tournament sparring you are trying to score points and may be penalised for knocking your opponent out. These two aspects of tournament sparring—scoring points and “pulling” your attacks—teaches you to fight longer. In a self-defence situation the longer the fight lasts, the more dangerous it can get. In a self-defence encounter your aim is to end the violence as quickly as possibly, and this often involves acting with ferocious and aggressive intend; a quick blast of high level violence. Sport sparring, on the other hand, tones down the violence and spreads it out over a couple of minutes. The tournament setup also causes one to think of your enemy as a single individual that you conveniently know will attack you from the front, with certain types of techniques, and only when the bell rings. This is far removed from a self-defence scenario where you do not by default know the number of potential attackers, nor do you necessary know when they will attack. Tournament sparring can therefore get you into a dangerous mindset where you think that your attackers will always come one at a time, always from the front, and play by some rulebook, like kicking above the belt.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we ought not have tournament sparring. It has a place within this big thing we call Taekwon-Do and from it we can learn some valuable skills, but it ought to be put in a proper relation and not be overemphasized as is most often the case. Of course, for some Taekwon-Do athletes to whom tournament sparring is their main focus—people competing at world championship level—a major emphasis on tournament sparring is obviously appropriate. However, as ITF practitioners the “Composition of Taekwon-Do” is the guide we generally ought to adhere to and this clearly shows the relation of sparring to the other aspects of Taekwon-Do training.

23 November 2010

What is Taekwon-Do's Mindset?

Two weeks ago I had a short discussion with my Taekkyeon grandmaster during which time he explained to me the most important principles in Taekkyeon. One of which is that in Taekkyeon one's mindset should be one of enjoyment or playfulness. I remember very well the first time I did Taekkyeon, about two years back, was with a troupe of elderly women. The class was very cheerful and during practise we sang old Korean folk songs. (Technically, they sang the songs, I just hummed along.) There was definitely a sense of enjoyment. My Taekkyeon grandmaster often says that you should practise with a smile on your face. This then is the mental attitude one should hold onto during Taekkyeon practise.

I realised then that different martial arts encourage different mental attitudes. In Tai Chi Chuan, for instance, one's mind ought to be serene, your attitude should be one of calmness. In Aikido you strive for reconciliation and should have an attitude of peace. Karate, on the other hand, espouses seriousness and probably an attitude of solemnity.

What, do you think, is the mental attitude characteristic of Taekwon-Do – ITF Taekwon-Do in particular? This is not something I thought about consciously previously and am afraid that if I were to give my answer it is likely to be blighted with my own disposition and personal preference.

I’ve asked around for others’ opinions, but have received very little feedback. My Taekwon-Do instructor here in Seoul, Mr Kim Hoon, suggests it to be indomitable spirit. I remember once, I was still a colour belt, during a tournament I got kicked full in the throat, with me being quite startled and somewhat struggling to breath. My instructor at the time, Mr Johan Bolton asked rhetorically if I'm dying and told me to continue fighting. Half choking I obeyed (I guess I was more scared of disappointing him, than of dying!) and continued as instructed. I can't remember if I won or lost, but I do remember it to have been one of my toughest tournament fights; definitely a fight that required an indomitable spirit. I guess Mr Bolton and Mr Kim are in agreement.

But is that really the mindset of Taekwon-Do, the attitude we try to focus on while practising Taekwon-Do? Maybe it's not a single attitude – maybe it's all five the tenets: courtesy, integrity, perseverance patience, self-control, and indomitable spirit.

What do you think is the characteristic mental attitude we aim for in ITF Taekwon-Do?

20 November 2010

Some Principles for Interpreting Patterns

There are a few sources that are essential reads for anyone interested in interpreting patterns. One such a book is Shotokan's Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins by Dr. Bruce D. Clayton. Since one of the roots from which Taekwon-Do developed is Shotokan Karate those familiar with the Chang Hon pattern set, i.e. the patterns practised in ITF Taekwon-Do, will recognise in them snippets from Shotokan kata. In order to understand the patterns it is therefore necessary to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the Shotokan kata. The book Shotokan's Secret will not teach you the kata, but it will give you a methodology for interpreting Karate kata.

I don't want to focus on this book specifically in this post. Instead I want to focus on a part of the book – fourteen principles for analysing kata. In this post I will quickly go through these points. You may find them helpful while analysing the Chang Hon patterns. The principles are discussed in Chapter 6 (p183-202) of the book. I've renamed some of the principles below just because I find his attempt at giving them witty names (like “Dinglehopper” and “Hand Genades”), rather than functional names, distracting.

Keeping It Real: The historical applications were techniques that were taught in historical martial arts.

Basically this principle says that in trying to understand a technique from a pattern, one has to try and find out what the original, actual purpose for that technique was.

Other Mountains: We must climb other mountains in order to see our own.

Studying other martial arts will help you see applications in your own martial art that you may not be aware of. I definitely support this principle because my own understanding and appreciation of ITF Taekwon-Do has increased tremendously from my study of other styles such as Hapkido and Taekkyeon.

Lesson Plan: A kata is a lesson plan, with a specific goal. When you discover that goal, you can explain the kata.

This principle also seems to be relevant in Taekwon-Do. General Choi said that he took military strategies into account while putting together Taekwon-Do; the obvious place to embed such strategies would be in the patterns.

Occam's Razor: The simple explanation is usually the right one.

I have heard some outrageous interpretations through the years. The better interpretation is probably the most straight forward one.

The Macarena: People can concoct explanations for anything.

Clayton tells the story of having his students “find” applications for the moves in the Macarena dance, which they actually did. His suggestion is that there is only one probable application and that we should not try and find additional applications.

I differ from Clayton with regard to the Chang Hon patterns as I believe them to be practical, yes, but also to be forms of art -- like poetry in motion. As such, multiple interpretations are possible in my opinion. I may write more about this in the future.

Terribly Wrong: An embarrassingly poor kata application.

Some applications just do not make logical sense. Don't settle for bad interpretations; find sensible ones.

One Application Principle: A kata applications that blows away competing interpretations.

According to this principle, there is just one application for a certain kata sequence. Once you find this one application you will know that this is the only “true” application and all other applications are merely peripheral.

Again, this principle I do not believe apply strictly to the ITF patterns. Yes, for some pattern sequences there do seem to be only a single interpretation; however, I believe that multiple interpretations are also possible on occasion.

The Waldow Principle: The applications are never benign.

Named after Shihan Beth Waldow who came up with this principle, this rule-of-thumb suggest that the applications are always serious, even vicious in their purpose. Techniques are usually intended to seriously injure or even kill.

Shadow Principle: An application is a good fit to the kata if the kata and the application has the same shadow.

“The kata is only the shadow of the application. It hints at the real thing the way a shadow hints at the object that casts it,” explains Clayton (196). Understanding this we are at liberty to adapt our interpretation to fit the “shadow.” You could possibly change the side of the technique, for instance having the left foot forward instead of the right, to make the technique “fit.”

The Symbolism Rule: It isn't symbolic just because we can't explain it. We just need to dig a little deeper for the explanation.

This is a good principle; however, we know that in the Chan Hong patterns some things are indeed symbolic because General Choi explicitly identified some techniques as symbolic. Nonetheless, even these “symbolic” techniques may have practical applications.

Last Move Rule: The last move of the kata may have no combative explanation. If we can't find a good application for that move, we may ignore it.

Clayton argues that one or two extra moves have sometimes been added over time to the Shotokan katas and was not part of the original kata; these last moves are therefore sometimes negligible. I don't think this is the case for the Chang Hon patterns. They are too recent and well documented to have “new” moves added to the end.

Anachronism Rule: Recent changes don't have historical explanations.

According to Clayton, with time some masters have included new techniques into the katas. These anachronistic techniques, therefore, need not be taken into account when searching for historic applications. I'm not sure if this apply to ITF Taekwon-Do practitioners. Other non-ITF groups that also use the Chang Hon patterns, but where changes have been made to the originals, may have this problem. ITF practitioners follow the Chang Hon patterns as they have been recorded in the ITF Encyclopaedia and elsewhere. (I, for instance, own a Korean Taekwon-Do manual dating from the early 70s and the patterns have not changed much in any significant way.)

Dunning-Kruger Effect: Incompetent people have great confidence in their own opinions.

Basically Clayton is suggesting that one ought to be weary of the interpretations of those people that think they know it all, and “let the quiet people teach” because one will often be “surprised at what they know” (200).

Well I hope you find some of these principles useful in your investigation of the patterns.

13 November 2010

ITF Taekwon-Do's Side-Piercing Kick: What's in a Name?

The ITF Taekwon-Do chief instructor, Sabeomnim Kim-Hoon, of The Way Martial Arts Academy of Seoul, the dojang where I practice at in Seoul, Korea, once said an intriguing thing: “The side-piercing kick is Taekwon-Do.” His statement is a shocking one considering that there are over a 100 kicks in ITF Taekwon-Do, probably more hand techniques and supposedly over 3000 technical combinations. Nonetheless, I intuitively felt the truth in his statement. Of all the techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do, there is probably no other technique that exemplifies this style as distinctly as the side-piercing kick.The kick is a wonderful combination of hard and soft, of linear and rotational forces. My first instructor, Sabeomnim Johan Bolton, used to say that it takes one around a decade to master the side-piercing kick. I've been practising it for more than 15 years and will not claim to have mastered it yet -- of course I'm much closer than I was a decade ago.

The first thing one notices about this ITF Taekwon-Do kick is that its name differ from other martial arts' reference to their similar kick. Most martial arts refer to it as a “side kick”. In ITF Taekwon-Do, however, it is called a “side-piercing kick.” Again as is the case with many technical terms translated into English, it is beneficial to look at the actual Korean term to better understand the technique. (See other posts that discuss Korean terms.) What is translated into English as “side-piercing kick” is in Korean yeobchajjireugi 엽차찌르기.

The first part, yeobcha 엽차, is short for yeobchagi 엽차기, which simply means side 엽 kick 차기. It is the rest, jjireugi 찌르기, which is curious. The term jjireugi 찌르기 is often only used in the martial arts and is usually tranlated into “punch” in English. For instance, front fore fist punch would be apjoomeok jjireugi 압주먹 찌르기. Jjireugi 찌르기 literally means to stab or pierce something, but in the Korean martial arts it has a very specific meaning. It refers to the uniquely martial art way of punching with the punching fist's palm facing up at the beginning of the punching motion and rotating on its way towards its target so that by the time the punch is completed the fist's palm is facing down. Laymen often refer to it as a Karate punch. Since it is found in many traditional martial arts we could probably refer to it as the traditional martial art punch or based on its characteristic motion, the rotational fist punch.

Now why would ITF Taekwon-Do's side kick have as part of its name this “piercing” or “rotational punching” part? In fact, when one looks at the term yeobchajjireugi 엽차찌르기, this rotational punching part is the main word, with yeobcha- 엽차- seemingly added as a prefix. From a purely semantic viewpoint it would seem that the most important part of the yeobchajjireugi 엽차찌르기 is the “piercing” / “rotational punching” part.

On another forum I was once asked why this should be the case; why is jjireugi 찌르기, the word always translated in Taekwon-Do as "punching," part of the name for Taekwon-Do's side kick? I can think of three possible answers.

It's just a long name

“Side piercing kick” is just a cumbersome way to say “side kick” and has no special significance.

I'm not an adherent of this theory because the terminology in Taekwon-Do, especially when one reads the Korean, is usually very specific and descriptive of how the technique is performed. General Choi Hong-Hi seemed to be very specific when he named the techniques and actually changed some traditional terms originally from Karate or traditional terms from Chinese into more technically clear terms.

It is a kick with a punch

One theory is that it is a kick with a punch. This theory has some legitimacy to it as anyone that knows ITF Taekwon-Do would know that one characteristic of the side-piercing kick is that the leading arm is often thrust out with the kick, as if one is kicking and punching at the same time. The reason we do that is not merely for the aesthetically pleasing parallel lines, there are functional reasons as well.

When performing a side kick, one's upper body is often left open, which can be exploited by a very tall opponent. This is something I've experienced on occasion while training with my friend Sabeomnim (Dr.) Garnet Ronander. During sparring training I would kick at him with a fully extended leg, yet he'd be able to lean over my kicking leg and still reach my head with a punch. By putting out the leading arm one creates a barrier between your upper body and possible attacks. It could possibly also act as an actual punch were your opponent able to push your kick down, at which point he would be met with your fist.

A second function for “punching” while doing a side kick is that it adds extra forward momentum. When doing a side kick one is often tempted to lean backwards; leaning backwards cause one to be less stable, which means you can be toppled easily if someone were to push hard against your kicking foot. Or because you don't have enough forward momentum your kick might “bounce” of its target. Thrusting out the punching arm helps with leaning your upper body forward more and thus adds more forward momentum, so that your kick have more penetrating force to the target, since more of your body mass is directed forward.

It's a kick that “punches”

Another theory, the one that I adhere to most, is that the side kick is performed like a punch; in other words, the side-piercing kick rotates in a straight line towards it's target in a similar way as a traditional martial arts punch rotates towards its target. The ITF Encyclopaedia explains that the "theory and purpose of this technique [is] similar to those of a punch" and that the "attacking tool must reach the target in a straight line with a revolving motion" (Volume 4, p. 25).

Seen from this point of view one can more easily distinguish between a side kick, as is often performed in Karate, and a side-piercing kick. In the traditional Karate side kick the kicking foot is kept horizontally and is snapped in an arcing fashion towards the target; hence it is often called a side snap kick. The video below shows a Karate side snap kick drill that clearly demonstrates the motion described. You will notice that the kick moves in an arc, not a straight line like a punch, and that the foot does not rotate.

You can see a better example of the Karate side kick in the VideoJug tutorial below. Carefully notice that the foot moves from below towards its target in an upward arc and therefore does not resemble the straight path of a rotational punch.

Martial Art Skills:
Martial Arts: The Side Kick

The Taekwon-Do side-piercing kick works differently.

Kickboxing master John Graden, known for his simplified teaching methods, describes how to perform a step side kick in the following tutorial video. His technique follows the Taekwon-Do method where the kick reaches the target in a straight line. Towards the end of the video he demonstrates part of the rotational force the Taekwon-Do side-piercing kick uses by pivoting the standing foot and so “roll the hip into the target.”

Master Graden's method, although closer to the ITF Taekwon-Do kick still doesn't demonstrate the real punching motion referred to in jjireugi 찌르기, but it does adhere to the "stabbing" or "piercing" idea.

I think the two tutorials below better demonstrate the Taekwon-Do side-piercing kick, particularly when the instructor demonstrates the kicks fast. The kick reaches the target in a relative perpendicular style. Also, when the kick is demonstrated fast, the kicking foot rotates towards the target in a “screwdriver” fashion. This pivoting of the standing foot helps with the rotation of the hip, which contributes rotational power (torque) to the technique.

The following video from a WTF source does a pretty good job at explaining how the kick's path should follow a straight line, and not an upward arc, nor jagged motion where the lower leg swings towards the target like a turning kick. Note that the way the master in this video demonstrates the kick is not how we do it in ITF. His kicks are swung towards the target in a turning kick fashion – the heel is not thrust straight towards the target. The young man in the video demonstrates the kick correctly.

By the way, I own the Revolution of Kicking DVDs from which the above video is sourced and although the kicks are based on WTF techniques, I can still recommend them to ITF practitioners, especially for the different strengthening exercises given for each kick.

In sumary:

The Korean phrase yeobchajjireugi 엽차찌르기, generally translated as side-piercing kick in English, is a combination of “side kick” and “stab” or “rotational punch.” The term probably refers to the way the kick is performed in Taekwon-Do. The kick reaches its target in a straight stabbing or traditional punching fashion. Extra force is provided by pivoting on the standing foot and so rotating the hip to add extra rotational power. In ITF Taekwon-Do the kick is often performed with the leading arm thrust outward in a punch-like action which could be a secondary reason for the name, which literally translates as side kick-stabbing or side kick-punching.

10 November 2010

What's the Difference Between “Perseverance” and “Indomitable Spirit”?

Taekwon-Do has five tenets, virtues that we strive to develop and adhere to. The Taekwon-Do tenets are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and an indomitable spirit. I've always wondered why this list should include both perseverance and indomitable spirit, as these two virtues—at least the English terms—seem very similar. Both suggest not giving up when the going gets tough.

My ITF Taekwon-Do instructor in Korea and I spoke a little about these terms last night where upon he mentioned that the word 인내 translated into English as “perseverance” has a courteous connotative meaning and is not a synonym with indomitable spirit 백잘불굴. Wanting to find out more, I decided to look into these Korean terms.

Let's start with perseverance 인내. Instead of perseverance, better translations would be patience or long-suffering. These latter translations better communicate why 인내 has a courteous implication. I think that patience is a greater virtue, and also much more difficult to cultivate, than perseverance. One can persevere at being stubborn, arrogant, and a multitude other vices. However, long-suffering, i.e. to endure “mental or physical discomfort for a protracted period of time patiently or without complaint,” is the attribute of a saintly person.

Now for indomitable spirit 백잘불굴. The latter part of this word, 불굴, means indomitable, basically to have “an iron will.” Another possible translation is indefatigable, a word I haven't come across before today. It basically means not-to-fatigue, or tirelessness, and alludes to persistence and stamina. The adjective form 불굴의 can also be translated as dauntless; in other words, resolutely courageous or extremely persistent and untiring. One online Korean-English dictionary gives the following example sentence “He has overcome (extreme) difficulties with a(n) undaunted [dauntless] fighting spirit.” 그는 불굴의 투지로 역경을 극복했다. The whole term 백잘불굴 is correctly translated as indomitable spirit. It would not be off the mark to translate 백잘불굴 as fighting spirit.

In summary: Taekwon-Do has five tenets or virtues, of which two, perseverance and indomitable spirit, seem similar. Their similarity is however inaccurate because of imperfect translation from Korean into English. When we look at better translations, patience or long-suffering and fighting spirit, we see that these two terms are quite different in meaning.

07 November 2010

Defensive Techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do

When thinking of defensive techniques—that is, techniques employed when an opponent's attacking tool, be it a kick, punch or other attack, has been launched towards us—we tend to think of blocks almost exclusively; however, blocks are not the only options available to us. In ITF Taekwon-Do we have four general types of defensive techniques; they are: hard blocks, soft blocks, body shifting and guards.

Hard Blocks

The purpose of a hard block is to “attack” and hurt the opponent's attacking limb and so protect yourself. In so doing the opponent's attack is forcefully redirected. For this purpose the blocking tools chosen have hard surfaces that are conditioned to make them harder and more resilient against pain. Although practically all ITF Taekwon-Do techniques have some circular motion as part of their preparatory movement (what's referred to in the Training Secrets as “backward motion”), hard blocks usually accelerate towards the target in a straight line. Typical examples include most forearm blocks, knife hand blocks, and the front fore fist pressing block. This latter block, although technically a checking technique, clearly illustrates the nature of a hard block, which is to hurt the opponent as the front fore fist pressing block is basically a punch directed at your opponent's kicking foot (instep).

Soft Blocks

Soft blocks, on the other hand, tend to reach the target in a curved line using a circular motion principle, or when it reaches the target straight on the function is not as a strike, as the case is with hard blocks, but as a push. The purpose of soft blocks are to deflect an attack by redirecting the force of the attack, or to unbalance the opponent using some kind of pushing motion. Unlike hard blocks that put emphasis on hurting the opponent's attacking tool, soft blocks put emphasis on redirecting the force of the attack and / or breaking the opponent's equilibrium. The hooking block is probably the most easily recognised soft block, but other soft blocks include the upward block (“upward” is not to be confused with “rising”), palm downward blocks, palm pressing blocks, pushing blocks, the grasping and luring blocks, scooping blocks, circular motion guarding blocks and some checking blocks.

Body Shifting

Body shifting is the umbrella term for another group of defensive techniques and include dodging, foot shifting, different types of stepping, sliding, turning and jumping, as well as body dropping and foot lifting. The purpose of most of these body shifting is to “avoid colliding with an [attacking] opponent.” Dodging requires some type of foot shifting; that is, moving one's feet away from an attack and so shifting your body out of harms way, but also placing you in a more advantaged position for counter-attcking. You can move either one foot to shift your body positioning, or both feet. Avoiding an opponent's advance can also be achieved through stepping, sliding, turning, jumping or a combination of these, which will cover a greater distance than only foot shifting can achieve. With regards to stepping, turning, and step-turning the ITF Encyclopaedia identifies quite a number of possible combinations and are often used as part of other block techniques and can even include standing grappling style techniques like those often associated with Aikido, which involve blending with your opponent's motions. Then there are also partial body shifting techniques that does not require the whole body to change location, like foot lifting, which is what you will do when someone tries to sweep one of your feet. Body dropping is probably better known as “ducking” when avoiding a very powerful high attack, for instance a baseball bat swinging at your head. A strong attack aimed at the legs could be avoided by a high jump, with the legs tucked in as illustrated in the photo. Other partial body shifting includes “bobbing and weaving” which is often employed by boxers, but also used in Taekwon-Do.


Finally, guards, also known as guarding postures, are a more passive type of defensive technique used in Taekwon-Do. A guard is basically a posture, a method of standing and placement of your limbs in such a way that if your opponent's attack should reach you before you could avoid or block it, your body positioning and placement of your limbs function as a buffer that cushions the blow. A guard generally closes off many of your own vital spots, acting as a fence between you and your opponent. Some guards also put you in a preparatory position from where it is easy to zap out your own attacks; these positions are often referred to as "chambers." The accompanying photo shows a chamber position, known as the bending ready stance, from where one can easily launch a side-piercing kick or jab, if an opponent should venture within range.


It is clear that there are a variety of defensive techniques in Taekwon-Do. Each type is worth exploring and provides useful methods of defence. While it is good to consider each type—hard blocks, soft blocks, body shifting and guards—thoughtfully, it is very important to remember that they are all integrated and often work best in combinations rather than in isolation. Nonetheless, hard blocks tend to get the most attention in most ITF dojang, therefore I would advice you to spend some extra time on the other types of defensive techniques so you can become familiar with their strategic values as well.

Images from Sonkal.

03 November 2010

Grandmaster Hee Il Cho

In a previous post I mentioned Grandmaster Hee Il Cho and how my principle instructor, Sabeomnim Johan Bolton, often quoted him. Sabeominm Bolton had a number of books by Grandmaster Cho, including The Complete Martial Artist series. Later when Sabeomnim Bolton retired from the martial arts he gave his books to my brother and I. When I went through these books I realised how strongly Grandmaster Hee Il Cho's methods influenced my instructor; and consequently also influenced me. At the moment I am very much an ITF Taekwon-Do stylist; nevertheless, Grandmaster Hee Il Cho's influence on me cannot be denied. By implication the same can be said of my students.

In this post I'm embedding some YouTube-videos showing Grandmaster Cho in action:

The video below shows Grandmaster Cho teaching a seminar he taught last year. He is currently 70 years old; it was his birthday a few weeks back (October 13).

Even at his age, he still regularly trains by himself. The next video shows him training at his dojang in Hawaii; keep his age in mind.

The next video shows Grandmaster Cho doing some hand conditioning; the video was taken about 12 years ago.

You can read an interview with Grandmaster Cho here and here, an article here and here, and a short profile here.

Totally Tae Kwon Do Article and an Erect Posture

My contribution to the November issue (Issue #21) of Totally Tae Kwon Do focusses on posture and is titled "All Good Techniques Start With Good Posture" (p. 34). In it I point out some typical postural problems and how these affect common techniques in Taekwon-Do.

My friend Ok Chang-yang, a student of The Way Martial Arts & Fitness Gym modelled the postures for the article.

Coincidentally, a little after submitting my contribution I stumbled onto another martial art blog focussing on Tai Chi, who also wrote something on posture: "Body Should Maintain an Erect Posture." The author quotes Yang Cheng-fu:

“The body should maintain an erect posture without leaning; spine and tailbone should hang in vertical alignment without inclining. Beginners must pay special attention to this as they execute active movements involving opening and closing, relaxing the chest and raising the back, sinking the shoulders and turning the waist. Otherwise it will be difficult to correct this after a while and will lead to stiffness. Even though one may have devoted a great deal of time, there will be little benefit or practical advantage” (Yang Family Secret Transmissions, p. 5-6).

There are a handful of martial arts that really focus on keeping an erect posture. These include such styles as Tai Chi, Aikido, Karate and, of course, Taekwon-Do. Interestingly, while Taekwon-Do has developed out of Karate, for me the erect posture in Taekwon-Do is more similar to Aikido and Tai Chi, which are soft styles, than hard style Karate. In Karate their seems to be a kind of rigid stiffness to their erect posture. I'm not sure what the reason for this, but I'm sure they must have one. Also, the focus is on deeper stances in Karate. Tai Chi also has deep stances, yet with a great emphasis put on a relaxed musculature. In Aikido and Taekwon-Do a higher stance is preferred and while emphasis is put on an erect posture, equal emphasis is placed on relaxedness. While Aikido and Taekwon-Do prefer higher stances (that is not to say that they do not employ low stances, I'm merely referring to the stance preferences in these styles), these styles also emphasize a low centre of gravity seated in the danjeon 단전. (I wrote about the danjeon somewhere else.) Generally Taekwon-dojang outside of Korea do not use the term danjeon, but merely refer to the waist or hips. When referring to the hips or waist, we are often actually referring to the danjeon.  In Aikido and Taekwon-Do we often use taller stances, but always ensure that our centre of gravity is low, at the danjeon.

Working on a healthy erect, yet relaxed, posture is a very important part of ITF Taekwon-Do training.

Below are some links to posts on posture from other martial art blogs and websites: