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.


Gerardo said...

What about Goburyo Sogi as preparation position? The last video no show Goaburyo Sogi.

Skryfblok said...

The bending stance (Goburyo Sogi) is a good position from which to kick if you do not have enough room to stand in a more comfortable stance. Kicking with the front leg, or from a bending stance, allows for a faster, more snappier kick. However, kicks from the rear foot tend to be stronger, although a little slower and therefore easier for an opponent to see coming.

Jana_From__ITF_TKD_Jamaica said...

Grandmaster Wim Boss does an excellent explanation if the side piercing kick here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0eNoZn-wDs

SooShimKwan said...

Hi Jana, thanks for the link, but I was disappointed that there was not much of an explanation -- just music.

He also seems to perform the kick in a side snapping fashion, rather than a piercing fashion, but that is part of what was mentioned earlier, namely that the bending stance lends itself more to a "snappier kick".

Jana_From__ITF_TKD_Jamaica said...

hmm okay well this is better i think