31 August 2011

The Reaction Arm

The reaction arm in traditional martial arts punching and other fundamental movements is quite controversial. The reaction arm is, for instance when doing a front punch, the arm that is pulled back to the hip, while the other fist is flung to the target. Although controversial, for the traditional martial artist there are many proposed reasons for employing the reaction arm. In this post I will mention the two most prominent reasons that I am aware of, as this topic is viewed within ITF Taekwon-Do.

A front fore fist punch with the
reverse arm pulled back towards
the hip. (Image Source)
First, the “reaction arm” functions exactly as its name implies, as a reaction to the punching arm's action. This has a counter-balancing effect. If you were to punch with all your strength and with your whole body weight behind the punch, the resultant force will actually jerk you off balance. Always keeping good structural balance and good posture is paramount in traditional martial arts as the moment you are off-balance or your body structure is unsound, you are strategically disadvantaged, something that your enemy can exploit.

A lot of Taekwon-Do training occurs without hitting an actual target and many of the punches and kicks are done in the air, without any contact. During such training the reaction arm is crucial for keeping good balance and structural alignment. Not doing so may lead to bad habits and overextension of joints, which could lead to long term ailments. However, when you actually do hit something, the reaction arm is not necessarily required because the object you are hitting is providing the reaction force as we know, based on Newton's Third Law of Motion. In other words, when you train against a punching bag or when you actually hit a person, you may at times, and sometimes should, opt to do it without the reaction arm. In ITF Taekwon-Do we actually see this. Certain training is done with the reaction arm (e.g. fundamental technique training), while other exercises are done without the reaction arm (e.g. tournament sparring drills). The discrepancy doesn't mean that the one is “traditional” and the other “practical,” it merely means that one form of training assumes more force that could affect your structure and another form of training that assumes that you will be hitting actual objects.

A knife-hand inward strike with
the reverse arm covering the torso.

(Image Source)
Furthermore, some reaction arm techniques, while aiming to ensure proper balance, also act as guards, covering vital spots on your anatomy. Take for instance the knife hand inward strike where the reaction arm covers the front of your body which has many targets that are potentially easy for your opponent to reach at this close distance. There are quite a number of techniques where the reaction arm seem to have this auxiliary defensive function.

Me demonstrating an arm
bar: pulling with one hand,
while pressing with the other.
The second interpretation for the use of the reaction arm is that it functions as a pull. This is another example where ITF Taekwon-Do seem to base its technical philosophy on Newtonion physics. In this case it suggests that a technique will be more forceful if one combines the oncoming (pulled) momentum of your opponent plus the forward momentum of your own strike. Basically, one can actually pull your opponent into your punch and this will theoretically increase the effectiveness of the strike. It also prevents your opponent from dodging the attack. This is not something one see in most combat sports, not because it is not feasible, but probably because of the nature of the sport and sport equipment—sport rules that discourage grabbing or gloves preventing you from grabbing. When one look at gloveless combat sports like certain forms of Karate, one does occasionally see such pulling-while-punching techniques as in the video below. I personally also like to teach applications where the reaction arm is used to great effect as a grab and pull while attacking with the other arm. This combination of pulling and pushing is a common theme in martial arts.

These are the two main ideas regarding the reaction arm in ITF Taekwon-Do. The first is that it acts as a reaction force that helps with proper balance and postural structure, which is especially necessary when practicing without the presence of a physical target. If you do hit an actual target you may often omit the reaction arm because the object will provide the reaction force according to Newton's Third Law of Motion. The second interpretation of the reaction arm is that it functions as a pull, which combines with the forward momentum of your attack, resulting in a more forceful collision. The reaction arm may also be part of other pull-push combination techniques.

What are your thoughts on the reaction arm?

Read my follow-up post on the reaction arm, which presents a third view based on centrifugal force: "Another Perspective on the Reaction Arm."

28 August 2011

Noemi Prone

Noemi Prone and myself.

On Thursday, at the 2011 Taekwondo Hall of Fame I met someone I never thought I'd meet, someone I've always considered somewhat of a legend, the great pattern specialist Master Noemi Prone (6th Dan). Master Prone is the adopted daughter of the late General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do. I have no qualms about calling her a master even though that title is usually reserved for 7th and 8th Dans in ITF Taekwon-Do. It is well accepted that Master Prone has mastered the pattern Moon-Moo and actually set a new standard in pattern perfectionism, power and aesthetics, which is strived towards by younger generations of ITF practitioners. I remember as a young martial artist looking at her performance of Moon-Moo in absolute awe. To this day, whenever I look at her iconic performance of the pattern for the Legacy CD-ROM series (see below), I am still filled with a sense of great admiration. Her power, control, flexibility, balance and focus have been an inspiration for thousands.

I still remember seeing footage of her during an ITF World Championships and the sense of awe I experienced that bordered on fear as she shouted the pattern's name at the end. She did it with the intensity of a true kihap – a “spirit shout”. In some martial art legends a real kihap can instil dread in an opponent, sometimes causing them to faint or flee in terror.

My impression of Master Prone has therefore also been somewhat clouded by these powerful pattern performances. Meeting her on Thursday left me surprised. She was nothing like I imagined her. I imagined her to be a stern unapproachable person. This was not the case at all. She turned out to be a very friendly, open, and amiable individual. While she doesn't come across as shy, neither is she very outgoing and although this might seem unflattering in some people, it only accentuated her humble character. After having met her I can only speak of her in pleasant terms.

Something that caught my eye while we were dining at the same table at the Hall of Fame banquet was that she did not consume any alcohol. I noticed it because I don't drink either. Alcohol plays a conspicuous part in Korean culture and my abstanence often leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable at such martial art socializing events where people are often expected to drink and toast. When I asked her about it she said that she doesn't like drinking and prefers water; I was happy to ask the waiter to bring more water to our table.

During the 2011 Taekwondo Hall of Fame Ceremony, Master Prone was inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame for her great achievements. She had won medals at World Championships on numerous occasions, including gold medals in 1990 (Canada – Patterns), 1992 (North Korea – Power-Breaking), and 2004 (South Korea – Patterns), making her a three times world champion. She is known as a high level competitor in patterns, sparring and power-breaking. She received her 1st Dan in 1986 and received her 6th Dan in 2006.

Master Prone is from Argentina. She is / was the vice president of the ITF Taekwon-Do Federation of Argentina and is also a prominent member of a number of other sports organizations. She has also been declared sportsperson of the century by the Taekwondo Association of Argentina (TAA) and received numerous other awards in Argentina.

Although she is a great female role model for thousands of female Taekwon-Doin, her achievements really transcend gender. I know that I have always looked up to her and I know of many males that share my admiration. This post, is in part, a small tribute to this phenomenal Taekwon-Do woman.

23 August 2011

Andre Conchon & David Kerr

Last night, instructor's Andre Conchon and four times ITF World Champs sparring winner David Kerr visited us for training at The Way, the ITF Dojang in Seoul.

Sbnim Kim Hoon &
Sbnim Andre Conchon
Sbnim Kim Hoon &
Sbnim David Kerr
We had a great training session. Master Kim-Hoon led us through warm-ups and some basic kicking exercising and pad-drills. Afterwards Instructor Andre Conchon had us practise evasion and counter-attack drills for the side-piercing kick, using side-stepping maneuvers. With such excellent sparring specific exercises, it is easy to see how come Mr David Kerr was able to win the World Champs four times! We ended the training by going through the patterns from Chon-Ji Teul to Gae-Baek Teul. Afterwards Master Kim-Hoon presented our guests with the ITF 태권도 가이드북 ("ITF Taekwon-Do Guidebook"), a book he authored in 2008 as part of his work in reintroducing original ITF Taekwon-Do in South Korea.

David Kerr, myself, Ok Chan-Yang and Andre Conchon still
flustered and sweaty after a fun and exhausting training session.

Afterwards some of us went to a local hangout to cool down. The locals introduced our guests to makgeolli 막걸리 (I had some yogurt-drink instead) and pajeon 파전.

Instructors Conchon and Kerr are presently in Korea to attend the Taekwondo Hall of Fame ceremony that will be held at the Kukkiwon on Thursday, August 24, 2011. To read more about Mr. Conchon, Mr. Kerr and the development of ITF Taekwon-Do in Brazil, read Mr. Conchon's contribution to Issue 20 of Totally Tae Kwon Do Magazine.

22 August 2011

Black Belt Promotion at 'The Way'

Last Thursday evening, Lynne, a student at 'The Way' Martial Art Academy of Seoul--the only ITF dojang in Seoul, had her 1st Dan promotional test. As part of the test she prepared a pattern self-defence demonstration using selections from the pattern Choong-Moo. Assisting her was Tim.

Congratulations to Lynne on attaining her black belt. Lynne practices basically everyday, often attending multiple training sessions per day. This is a black belt well deserved. Apart from answering theory questions thrown at her from the black belts attending, Lynne also answered the pattern theory all in Korean! Now that was impressive!

19 August 2011

Blocking in ITF Taekwon-Do

In a previous post regarding “Defensive Techniques in Taekwon-Do” I grouped blocks in Taekwon-Do into two categories: hard blocks and soft blocks. My correspondences¹ with a fellow martial art blogger, Dan Djurdjevic of “The Way of Least Resistance”, made me contemplate the whole issue of blocking techniques again, causing me to realise that a simple dichotomy of hard blocks versus soft blocks doesn't adequately reveal the nuances of blocking techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do.

What is a Blocking Technique?

For purposes of our discussion we need a definition for what a blocking technique is. To do this, let's start by looking at the Korean terminology. The Korean word for blocking technique is makgi gisool 막기기술; blocking is makgi 막기. The root verb is makda 막다, which carry the meanings of obstruction, i.e. “to obstruct the way” 길을막다; to curb, check or prevent something from happening; to guard against something; to ward off something, like “warding off attacks” 공격을 마다 or “preventing the enemy from entering into” 적의 침입을 막다.

Based on this we can define a blocking technique as a method (typically involving a blocking tool²) to prevent an opponent's attack (i.e. his attacking tool) from entering into your sphere of safety. A blocking technique “obstructs the way” of the attack to prevent the attacking tool from reaching its target. The Korean root word reveals to us that a blocking technique is purposed to “prevent” something from happening—to ward off attacks, by somehow obstructing the way. To “prevent” the attack from reaching its target, the blocking technique has to intercept it and to “ward off” the attack it has to redirect its force.

Put simply, all blocks have this one thing in common: to prevent the opponent's attacking tool from reaching its target. With the exception of checking blocks, this is achieved by intercepting and redirecting the attacker's attack.

Not all blocks achieve this goal in the same manner and some blocks have additional goals beyond merely preventing the attack from reaching its target. Part of the purpose is to also decrease the attacker's tactical advantage and if possible, increase your own tactical advantage.

Hard Blocks / Offensive Blocks

A (Front Forefist) Pressing Block in
Sitting Stance. This block literally
punches the instep of an opponent's
front kick, making it an obviously
offensive type of block.
-- Image Source.
Apart from intercepting and redirecting, another purpose of some blocks, as I have tabled before, is also to hurt the attacking limb of the attacker. The block, therefore, acts offensively. Previously I've called these offensive-blocks “hard blocks.” See my post “Thoughts on Hard Blocks in ITF Taekwon-Do.”

While Mr Djurdjevic (reasoning from his involvement in traditional Karate and Chinese internal styles) effectively argues against blocks also being attacks (see his post “Why blocks are not 'strikes in disguise'”), the idea that some blocks in ITF Taekwon-Do have an offensive function is undeniable since the ITF Encyclopaedia states that the “defense itself . . . carries out the attacking role at the same time” (Volume 3, p. 185). That ITF practitioners are therefore to view some blocks as also offensive techniques is part of our tradition. However, I agree with Mr Djurdjevic that “[b]locks can be strikes – but that doesn't mean that they always are.” We ought not unnecessarily interpret every traditional block as a possible attack. In my mind there is a certain category of blocks—what I used to call “hard blocks” but now prefer to call “offensive blocks”—that has this function “to intercept and redirect” while also “[carrying] out the attacking role at the same time.”

Of course, there are also other types of blocks that are not offensive in nature.

Other Blocks

In my previous post on “Defensive Techniques in Taekwon-Do” I proposed only two categories—hard blocks and soft blocks. Hard blocks are blocks that are also offensive and soft blocks are the rest. I've realised that this is an oversimplification. So in the rest of this post I hope to take another look at “soft blocks” and identify some other categories. So far I have identified four additional categories: deflections, diversions, disequilibriums and checks.

Deflections / Parries

Forearm Downward Block in
L-stance -- Image Source
All blocks intercept and redirect the attack, but it is the way in which they do so that differ. Deflections are blocks that bump into the attacking limb at an angle (sometimes acute angles, other times perpendicularly), which causes the attack to divert from its path. The amount of time the blocking tool is in contact with the attacking limb is very short—just enough to bump it off course. These blocks usually cover a relatively short distance and have a forceful “snappiness” about them.

A deflection-block can rightly be called a parry.

Examples of deflection-blocks are the waist block, some palm or back hand blocks, parries from one's sparring guard posture, on occasion some of the typical forearm blocks, some upward and downward blocks, and so on.


A Palm Hooking Block with the
Rear / Reverse Hand in
Walking Stance -- Image Source
While a deflection-block forcefully changes the course of the attack, a diversion-block changes the attacks direction in a smoother or less forceful manner. The amount of time the blocking tool is in contact with the attacking limb is relatively longer, so that the blocking tool guides the attacking limb into a new direction. This type of block also covers a relatively longer distance, usually in a curved path, as it guides the opponent's attack astray. Diversion-blocks are usually what we have in mind when we think of “soft blocks” and is the type of blocking one would imagine for soft style martial arts like Tai-Chi Chuan.

Examples of diversion-blocks are the hooking block, palm pressing blocks, the circular block, and so on.


A disequilibrium is a blocking technique that aims at breaking the balance of the opponent and do so by either pushing the attacker off balance or pulling (“luring”) him off balance.

A Palm Pushing Block
in Sitting Stance -- Image Source
Blocks that function in a pushing manner aim to intercept the attacking tool as high up the limb as possible—the closer to the shoulder or hip the better. In fact, blocks like the pushing block target the shoulder or pelvis. If the block is done below the major joint (i.e. the elbow or knee), it is performed against the natural bend of the joint, because otherwise the lower-limb may merely bend naturally without the opponent's balance being affected. The scooping block is an example.

The luring block is “designed to put the opponent off balance or to make the attack in vain by drawing the attacking tool beyond its intended point of focus” (ITF Encyclopaedia, Volume 3, p. 287). The luring block might function by actually pulling the attacking limb beyond its point of focus, but often it merely “leads” the limb further than intended—not necessarily holding onto the limb, but rather guiding it along the same path, beyond the opponent's position of balance. This concept is comparable to a principle found in Aikido where the opponent's vector is exploited by enhancing it.


Knife-hand Checking X-block in
L-stance -- Image Source
There is a special name in ITF Taekwon-Do for the blocks in this category—they are known as checking blocks. Checking blocks are authentic blocks, in that they function as actual obstructions put in the way of the attack's path. Checking blocks do not intercept and redirect, they literally just “obstruct the way” 길을 막다. There are different types of checking blocks, but usually they involve both arms to function as barriers against the attacking limb, for instance the X-checking block or the twin-straight forearm checking block. These blocks are often used against powerful kicks, where the mass and associated force of the kicking leg will overcome the attempted interception and redirection of a much lighter and weaker forearm block.


It is possible to group blocks into a dichotomy of hard blocks and soft blocks. Although sometimes useful, this proves to be a too simplistic view of the ways blocking techniques are used in ITF Taekwon-Do. Instead, a more nuanced differentiation group blocks into five categories: (1) offensive-blocks, (2) deflections or parries, (3) diversions, (4) disequilibriums or unbalancing-blocks, and (5) obstructions or checking blocks. Offensive-blocks aim to injure the opponent's attacking limb. Parries deflect the attacking limb off course by bumping into them at an angle, which changes the trajectory. Diversion-blocks guide the attacking limb off course, often at a curve. Disequilibriums focus on breaking the balance of the opponent. Finally, checking blocks put a barrier in the path of the attack and so literally block or obstruct the way of the attack.

Read More:

The catalyst that inspired me to write this post was Mr Djurdjevic's post on “Hard Blocks.”


1. Our “correspondences” refer to comments we left each other on some posts here on my blog (see here) and also at his blog (see here).

2. Volume 2 of the ITF Encyclopaedia identifies the most common blocking and attacking tools; i.e. parts of the anatomy that are most commonly used for defence and offence.

15 August 2011

Happy Independence Day

Annually on August 15, South Korea celebrates Gwangbokjeol 광복절 or "Restoration of Light Day", also known as "Victory Over Japan Day" or "Independence Day" (not to be confused with "Declaration of Independence Day" on March 1st), as a national holiday. The day is celebrated with various official ceremonies, parades and activities. The Taegeukgi (national flag) is displayed everywhere, hoisted on poles, hanging from street lamps, attached to windowsills, and draped from buildings.

Listen to the offical Gwangbokjeol anthem at this mp3, provided by the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs.

The day is often associated with Korean patriots that fought against the Japanese occupation, in particular the independence activist Ahn Joong Gun (after which the Taekwon-Do pattern Joong-Gun is named).

The North Korea equivalent to Gwangbokjeol is known as Jogukhaebangeui nal 조국해방의 날, "Fatherland Liberation Day".

The Problem With English Terminology

Image Source

In my previous post I pointed out some problems with the use of Korean by non-Korean speakers for Taekwon-Do terminology. Basically, foreign speakers of Korean generally mispronounce the Korean terminology terribly, resulting in miscommunication when people from different dojang train together. As I highlighted in the previous post, the reason for the mispronunciation is that there doesn't exist an official method for romanization. Instead there are many methods and none of them are fully intuitive to how an English speaker would pronounce the words. A further problem is that the ITF Encyclopaedia is also not consistent with how it romanizes the Korean terminology into English. My suggestion in the previous post was to learn hangeul (the Korean alphabet), for this will at least insure proper pronunciation. In this post I hope to emphasize the importance of using the Korean terminology. I hope to do this by illustrating the problem with using the English terminology.

When General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, wrote the first Taekwon-Do books, he did something quite remarkable. He broke away from the old tradition of giving techniques symbolic names like “weaving clouds”, “pulling the dragon's tale”, “crouching tiger”, and so on, or terms based on Chinese characters. Instead of using abstract descriptions relying on visual imagery or Chinese iconography, he replaced them with clear technical descriptions. Horse-riding stance became sitting stance. Tiger claw became open hand or open fist. While a handful of symbolic terms were still retained, for the most part the terms became obviously technical. It is important to remember that the context of Taekwon-Do's development was the military where there is little room for poetic descriptions. His emphasis on clear technical terminology was part of his agenda to make Taekwon-Do a martial art based on scientific principles, applicable for military combat use. The great thing about this is that it took away ambiguity. There is no uncertainty as to what is meant with a “front forefist punch”.

From an understanding of the original Korean terms, I have been able to get a very clear understanding of the technicality of a technique. Unfortunately the translation of these technical terms into English have been sadly unsatisfactory. Direct translations are not necessarily most appropriate in all cases. Sometimes, I think, alternative English substitutes could work better. A direct translation from Korean for one's “instep” is “back of the foot” [발등]. While we can figure out what “back of the foot” means, based on our understanding of “back of the hand,” the commonly accepted English word “instep” is most appropriate.

"Reverse Hooking Block"
Image Source
Although many techniques have been translated correctly, a bunch of techniques have not been translated with equal accuracy. Take for instance the “hooking block.” [걸초 막기] As I explained in the post devoted to this block, “hooking” is an unfortunate translation of the verb. A better translation would have been “covering block” or “wiping block”. The confusion is further compiled when you are confronted with two different kicks, both claiming to “hook.” Or consider, for example, the use of “reverse” in “reverse knife-hand block” [손칼등 막기] and “reverse turning kick” [반대 돌려 차기]. In neither case is “reverse” the best English translation for the respective Korean words. In the first case, the Korean word here is “back” or “backside” (i.e. backside of the knife-hand) and in the second it is “opposite” (i.e. inverted turning kick / a turning kick that moves in the opposite direction).

To really understand a technique, I am of the opinion that you have to learn the Korean term for it; not merely learning how to pronounce it in Korean, but actually understand its meaning. The English names are sometimes badly translated, so knowledge of the actual Korean term may often give you better or deeper understanding of the technique—take for instance my analysis of the side-piercing kick.

To research the meaning of a Korean word you obviously need to be able to use a Korean dictionary. One can, for instance, use online dictionaries like Naver's dictionary combined with Google Translate. Of course it is much easier to make use of a Korean-English dictionary if you know basic hangeul (it is easy to learn!). Korean friends with a good command of English can also help you to make sense of the meaning of Taekwon-Do terminology. An important thing is not to assume that the English terms are proper. Whenever a term is confusing (for instance, why is it called "reverse side-kick" rather than "spinning side-kick"?) or make use of visual imagery (for instance "axe kick" or "hammer fist strike"—it ought to be "downward kick" or "side-fist strike"), chances are the English translation is not optimal.

14 August 2011

The Problem With Korean Terminology

Looking at “sabum” 사범, the Korean word for instructor – how do you pronounce that “u”? Are you pronouncing it sa-boom? sa-bam? sabom? The latter is probably closer to the correct pronunciation. How about “gup” 급, meaning your rank? Do you pronounce the “u” as an “ah” or as an “oo”? Neither is correct. Actually the vowel in “gup” doesn't exist in English. The closest is probably the article “a”, as in “I'm a man,” but pronounced with your jaw closed more and the corners of your lips pulled back in a wide fake smile. The “u” in the words sabum, gup and Dan-Gun is each pronounced differently in Korean. In each of these words, “u” is used to represent a completely different vowel sound [어] [으] [우]. Of course, the typical English speaking Taekwon-Do practitioner has no idea that this is the case and if they knew that there actually is a difference, they cannot tell how the “u” ought to be pronounced differently, unless they can find the original Korean characters and know how to read them.

A Hangeul-Romanization Chart -- Image Source
The problem is that there is no absolute standard for romanization of Korean characters into English—“romanization” means to transliterate the Korean characters into the Roman characters that we use in English. Because there is no absolute standard, different people use different systems to Romanize Korean into English, hence the “u” is used differently by different people. The “u” could represent /oo/ like in “pool” or /ah/ as in “bucket” or /o/ as in “gone” and so on. Since non-Korean speakers are not sure how to interpret the “u” they pronounce it any which way. This does not only apply to the “u”, many other romanized characters are equally unclear. The result is that the Korean terminology of Taekwon-Do techniques are often pronounced terribly wrong. This is quite unfortunate because the reason we use Korean terminology in the first place is in order to have one set of terminology that everybody, regardless of their personal language, can understand. In theory I should be able to walk into any dojang anywhere in the world and still understand the training session, because we are all using the same commands, but because the Korean terminology is often so terribly mispronounced this is seldom possible.

ITF 15 Volume Encyclopaedia
Image Source
The problem is increased by the fact that the English version of the ITF Encyclopaedia is inconsistent. A technique may be spelled in English one way on one page and then differently a few pages later. While there exists about four or more Romanization standards, the ITF Encyclopaedia is not consistently using any specific one of these. Furthermore, the Romanization standards are not intuitive, in the sense that one cannot just look at how the words are romanized and pronounce them correctly. You first have to spent some time studying the system. In my opinion, if you are going to spend time figuring out how to pronounce your romanization system of choice, you can just as well spend that time on learning Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. Unfortunately this doesn't solve the problem as most people will be using romanizations and you may still have to write techniques in romanized form for the benefit of those that cannot read Hangeul.

What's the solution? Well, if there was one unified international Taekwon-Do body, it could have decided on a single romanization system. This would have ensured standardization and even if people pronounced things wrong, at least they would have pronounced it wrong together, and thus still be communicable. I strongly suggest that national governing bodies ought to at least decide on a specific romanization system for their countries.

For myself, I have committed to learn Hangeul (it is really easy, just do it), to at least ensure that I personally pronounce the techniques correctly. But I've also decided on one romanization system. I use the Revised Romanization of Korean (RRK), currently used as the official system for South Korea. While I don't think it is perfect, it is nevertheless a good standard that is not too difficult to learn and easier to apply than some of the other systems. It also reflects the consonants better than most other systems and is plain ASCII text friendly (it doesn't require breves and other diacritics). Although I do try to consistently use the RRK, I've decided to retain the old spelling of names; for instance, according to this system "Taekwon-Do" ought to be spelled "Taegwon-Do." It may be a better reflection of the pronunciation, but I'm too used to the old spelling, so that Taegwon-Do seems terribly unsightly. Apart from such familiar spelling of names, I usually try to keep to the RRK's suggestions. I've also recently bought myself the Korean version of the ITF Taekwon-Do Condensed Encyclopaedia (ITF Taekwon-Do Bible). With this I can look up the correct Korean spelling of all the techniques to ensure that I'm pronouncing them correctly. Finally, I ask Koreans. Of course, seeing as I live in Korea this is easier for me to do than for most, but if you have access to a Korean speaker, this is probably the easiest way to ensure that you at least pronounce the terminology properly.

If you have any questions about terminology I'd be happy to try and help.

02 August 2011

Defending and Attacking the Rear

Animals fight with their armour and/or weapons facing their foe. A porcupine, with its spikes pointing to the rear will turn around when threatened and may actually charge at its enemeny, by reversing towards him. A stag, on the other hand, runs at its foe with its head lowered, since its weapons are situated on its head. Knowing this about these animals we know that its better to approach a porcupine from the front and a stag from the flank or rear. It seems obvious, then, that we approach our target from the angle it is least protected or least armed.

Red Deer Stags Sparring -- Image Source

Now, let's look at humans. Man is most vulnerable on its front where most of its vital spots are situated. For this reason, its weapons (arms and legs) are best at protecting it from frontal attacks. The arms can easily parry and guard frontal attacks. Human predators (violent criminals) know this all too well, that is why violent attacks are often ambush attacks coming from the side or rear. The victim seldom sees the attack coming and even if she did, there is not much she can do to protect herself from this angle. We do not have eyes in the back of our heads and even if we did, we do not have arms back there to guard and block and counter-attack.

There are three things, I think, that ought to be obvious from this observation.

"Ambush" -- Image Source

First, we ought to find and work on defensive strategies for surprise attacks coming from the rear or side-rear. Do you have any strategy for when you are attacked from the side or behind? If not, then you have a serious hole in your self-defence armour. I'm not suggesting that there is a sure way of escape from an ambush attack; I am saying that one should at least have some strategy or worst case scenario plan. (Here's one idea from eHow.)

Secondly, since attacking the rear is clearly the best place to attack from since your opponent is at his most vulnerable, martial artists ought to be very familiar with possible attacks from the rear. Since most martial artists are so conditioned to approach their opponents from the front, they are uncertain what to do when their opponent has his back turned to them. Tournament rules that consider attacks to the rear illegal, further strengthens this conditioning. Learning where and how to attack someone with his back turned to you is a very important skill.

Image Source

Lastly, seeing as attacking the rear is so effective, time should be spent on learning how to get to the back. Your opponent will always try to keep you in sight; in other words, in front of him. Learning strategies and footwork to quickly get to your opponent's back seems to me invaliable skills to acquire. Many martial arts admonish to 'never give your back'. While this is a crucial maxim for the defender, 'gaining the back' of ones opponent ought to be an equally important maxim for the attacker and is one exploited by grapplers often enough. There is no reason why stand-up fighters cannot employ the same mind-set. One argument against this might be that attacking your foe from behind is bad sportsmanship or unfair. This is true for sportsmen, but since my focus in this post is self-defence and not tournaments, I don't care too much for fair play and neither does the thug I'm training to defend myself against.

Totally Tae Kwon Do

In this month's Totally Tae Kwon Do Magazine (Issue #30), you can read my contribution "'Walking on the Right Side': Re-evaluating the Value of Your Techniques" (p. 35-37).