28 November 2011

Weapons Training in Taekwon-Do & the Bayonet

Sometimes I am asked if Taekwon-Do has any weapon training. The answer is no; Taekwon-Do does not have weapons as part of its official syllabus.

This is, of course, a half truth, as most Taekwon-Do instructors will tell you: An important part of Taekwon-Do self-defence training is defence against weapons. Because one needs to understand the dynamics of a weapon in order to protect yourself against it, many Taekwon-Do practitioners actually train in weapons.¹ While the promotional syllabus of Taekwon-Do may not require you to wield any weapons, it will require you to demonstrate defences against weapons and to do so you will likely need to familiarise yourself with that weapon. Therefore, weapon training does exist in Taekwon-Do, but somewhat unofficially.

If we were to look for an authentic Taekwon-Do weapon, what would it be?

South Korean soldiers with bayonets.
Image Source
It is my opinion that if Taekwon-Do were ever to have included offensive weapon training in the syllabus, it would most likely have been the bayonet. Taekwon-Do developed out of the ashes of WWI, WWII and the Korean War. Apart from the firearms, the other most common battlefield weapon was the bayonet—a rifle fitted with a dagger at the front. Most of the original Taekwon-Do masters who helped pioneer Taekwon-Do were military soldiers with battle experience, so they would have done at least basic training with the bayonet. Apart from firearm training, the bayonet would have bean the main weapon they would have trained in.

Japanese soldiers using bayonets
on Chinese prisoners of war.
Image Source
It is not surprising that the ITF Encyclopaedia includes self-defence suggestions against bayonets. Not only was it a weapon employed by the Korean military, but even before the modern Korean army existed, the bayonet had been a very threatening presence in Korea. The bayonet was a common part of the Japanese soldiers' arsenal during the time that they occupied Korea and during Imperial Japan's invasion into the rest of Asia.

I do not know exactly what the bayonet training in the ROK Army consisted of, but it is not too difficult to infer the basic techniques. Looking at the types of bayonet attacks against which defences are suggested in the ITF Encyclopaedia, we can deduce that these were the likely offensive bayonet techniques that were taught in the ROK Army.

Female members of South Korea's
Reserve Officer Training Corps
(ROTC) join a bayonet drill at
the Army Cadet Command
camp in Seongnam south of
Seoul on January 19, 2011.
Image Source
The ITF Encyclopaedia shows two uses of the weapon. Either the bayonet is used to thrust or slash, or the butt of the rifle is used as a strike. Straight bayonet thrusts to the torso, particularly the solar plexus, and to the throat are the main attacks; side slashes with the bayonet, straight rifle butt strokes at the chest and face, and other types of strokes with the rifle butt are auxiliary attacks. I will see if I can get my hands on an actual ROK Army bayonet training manual; until then, we can learn from other military manuals, such as the U.S. Army Field Manual.

Although modern warfare is becoming increasingly impersonal with battles often fought at a distance and drone strikes becoming progressively popular, the bayonet is still a common part of most military basic training. Active use of the bayonet have still been used as recently as the Iraqi war. There is a report of British troops employing a bayonet charge during the Iraqi War in 2004: "approximately 20 British troops in Basra were ambushed and forced out of their vehicles by about 100 Shiite militia fighters. When ammunition ran low, the British troops fixed bayonets and charged the enemy. About 20 militiamen were killed in the assault without any British deaths."

Interestingly, Japan has a sport similar to Kendo, but based on the bayonet instead of the sword, called Jukendo ("Way of the Bayonet"). A wooden rifle replica is used, with a blunted tip instead of an actual bayonet. Unlike actual bayonet attacks that include strikes with the rifle butt, and bayonet slashes, Jukendo seems to only allow straight thrusts with the bayonet. The main targets are the opponent's throat, chest and side of the lower abdomen. Because strikes with the rifle butt are not allowed, the competitors often find themselves very close to each other, but without any course of offence, which I find disappointing. If I were to make a Jukendo version for training in Taekwon-Do, it would definitely include strikes with the rifle butt.


1. While I won't call myself an expert in any weapon, I have trained in the long staff (based on Tang Soo Do and Hapkido syllabi), the middle staff (based on Tang Soo Do and Filipino Stick Fighting syllabi) and the short stick (based on Tang Soo Do and Hapkido syllabi). My first Taekwon-Do instructor also taught principles for adopting weapons into the Taekwon-Do patterns. I'm not sure if he used the principles of any particular system, but it is not much different from what I've learned from either Tang Soo Do or Hapkido's use of weapons. In Hapkido I was introduced to some sword techniques by two different Hapkido masters, both teaching it somewhat differently; they focussed on Gomdo and Kendo respectively. Hapkido is also known for its use of the cane. I have also done some knife-training and a little gun training. Ironically, as a boy that grew up on a farm in South Africa, I've never been a fan of guns.

22 November 2011

Civilian Self Defence

I've used the phrases “Civilian Defence” and “Civilian Self-Defence Systems” a couple of times on this blog before, particularly during the recent controversial post “Why Taekwon-Do Is Not Good for Self-Defence” and its follow-up. I think that before I can continue my argument, I need to clarify what I mean by “Civilian Defence,” and what I understand a “Civilian Defence System” to be.

Civilian Defence

Image Source
For me¹ “civilian defence” refers to the principles, strategies and techniques employed by civilians, as opposed to (military) combatants, to defend themselves within a civilised context; in other words, in a society where the rule of law is generally upheld—thus not in the contexts of war or anarchy. Civilian defence is purposed to defend (the members of) civil society from uncivil elements and to uphold the laws that keep such a civil society in place. In the context of war, civil laws are to a degree suspended, i.e. martial law; and during a state of anarchy, civil laws are ignored or non-existent. However, in a civil society a civilian defending him or herself has to do so within the bounds of the law governing the society he or she lives in. Breaking society's expectations of civility, even for the purpose of self-defence, may result in prosecution. While a civil society allows self-defence, it does so with certain conditions.

A “civilian defence system” is the system of principles, strategies and techniques taught, followed and practised by a fraternity (e.g. club / martial art style) of civilians with the intend to defend themselves within the conditions provided by civil society.

A Civil Society²

Image Source
What do I mean by a “civil society”? Simply, it is a society where there is a rule of law governing on the basic principles derived, in part, from the Silver Rule: “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” In short, “Harm None.” In a civil society this rule is even extended to criminals and to your attackers. The law will allow you to defend yourself, but only to a degree; certain conditions apply. Use of violence by a civilian is frowned upon in a civil society . While the use of violence for the purpose of self-defence is typically permissible within the confounds of the law of a civil society, it is restricted. For instance, your use of force in self-defence may not be “excessive”; that is, you are not allowed to use any more violence and/or physical force than is absolutely necessary to dissuade the immediate threat and unless you can prove serious threat to life and limb, you cannot cause grave harm or long-term harm to your attacker. Were you to break your attacker's knee or maybe grope out an eye ball, law will probably look very unfavourably upon you, even if the attacker “deserved” such reaction from you.

The law sees all acts of violence as illegal. When you use violence in order to defend yourself, you are also doing something illegal. However, this unlawful action is temporarily permissible in order to protect your own “life and limb” or that of a third party. To legally use violence in self-defence, as Mr Eades pointed out in his article, it must be in a response to a criminal attack upon you (or a third party). Furthermore, your defensive reaction must be both a reasonable and necessary response directed against the attacker. In other words, most people in this civil society should agree that it was a reasonable reaction. Breaking someone's knee for slapping you in the face is not a reasonable response. Also, your reaction must be “necessary to avert the attack”; this means that if there is another option available to you to have prevented choosing a violent defensive response, you are obligated to take it. That means that if an intoxicated guy drunkenly swings a punch at you and you can comfortably sidestep and avoid the attack, then that is probably a more suitable action than stepping in and doing an elbow strike to the guys temple, followed by two knee strikes to the gut!

A civil society, therefore, is a society based on the Silver Rule and requires civil behaviour. Even in your dealings with an aggressor, the law in a civil society still requires from you a certain degree of civility—your self-defence is only legally permissible provided you keep certain conditions.

Civilian Self-Defence Systems

A military combat system and a civilian self-defence
system differ in principle, strategy and technique.
A civilian self-defence system caters for civilians wanting to protect themselves, while adhering to the conditions of self-defence required by the law. A military combat system centres almost exclusively around very hard, brutal and even lethal techniques. A civilian self-defence system cannot be based solely on the same arsenal of techniques. A civilian self-defence system may indeed be lethal; however, it must provide a broad spectrum of techniques, including a wide section of techniques that are not unnecessarily brutal. In should include a “soft” alternative. In other words, a civilian self-defence system must include principles, strategies and techniques that provide “civil” solutions to a violent attack, if possible.

Furthermore, a civilian self-defence system is highly contextual. What is “civil” behaviour in one culture is not necessarily “civil” behaviour in another culture; also, the threats and likely types of attacks and criminal profiles differ widely in different places. The type of civilian self-defence training that Koreans in South Korea with its extremely low crime rate and absence of guns require are drastically different from South Africa with its high crime rate and an abundance of guns and other weapons.

Non-Ideal Civilian Self-Defence Systems

As I argued before, original Taekwon-Do does not provide such “civil” solutions, primarily because of its military origin. For this reason, original Taekwon-Do is not a good civilian self-defence system. I am not saying that Taekwon-Do cannot be a good civilian self-defence system. It can be. However, it requires a re-evaluation of its original purpose; i.e. a rethinking of its principles and strategies. It also requires an augmentation of its original arsenal of techniques.

Shastar Vidya -- Image Source: BBC
While I believe that original Taekwon-Do, like Krav Maga, is not a good civilian self-defence system because of its military roots, it does not follow that I believe simply any traditional system is unequivocally a good alternative. Take Shatar Vidya, the traditional Indian martial art that focusses on traditional bladed weapons. There is practically no way one can use this art with its spears and swords and other weaponry for everyday civilian self-defence. The mere carrying of those weapons in public are likely illegal. (Then again, this style also developed from a military context, even though it is practised as traditional martial art now.)

Aikido -- Image Source
Just because a martial art is traditional style that did not develop from a military context does not by default make it a good civilian self-defence system, either. Take Aikido for instance. One would be tempted to think that because Aikido is so overtly “civil” it is the perfect civilian self-defence system. Unfortunately Aikido's lack of hard techniques (deficiency in basic guards, blocks and strikes), shows it to be as limited in scope and application as a fully offensive military combat system like Krav Maga. The solution is not replacing one extreme with another extreme, but rather a blend of hard and soft, offensive and defensive principles, techniques, and strategies.

Image Source
I also believe that most traditional martial arts, even though they have a wide arsenal of techniques, may still be bad civilian self-defence systems because of the principles and strategies that are not focussed on modern contextual realistic self-defence scenarios. Take for instance my article: “I Don't Like Your Self-Defence”. Most martial art schools do not teach proper self-defence, and while the martial arts themselves may have the potential to be effective civilian self-defence systems, the way they are taught make them poor self-defence systems. In fact, most martial art schools are not self-defence focussed. Instead they are health focussed, like most Tai-Chi groups; or sport focussed , like Judo, WTF, or MMA gyms; or focussed on character building and discipline for children, like most Karate and Tang Soo Do schools; or disciplines for ascetic development like most Aikido and Shaolin centres. Any martial art club where the principle focus is on health, sport, character building, and ascetic development, or other such martial art related aspect, will inevitably neglect true self-defence training. It is merely a case of priorities. If self-defence training is not the first priority, then it is obviously a lessor priority. Determining if something is a priority is, at least in part, decided upon how much attention it receives.


1. The first time I heard of the concept of “civilian defence systems” was, I think in 2007. It was during my annual trip in South Africa—I was hanging out with a friend of mine, James Reader, a psychologist and host of creativity workshops. James explained to me this concept, as he understood it from his instructor, Bob Davies, a renowned Karate instructor from KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. I hoped to meet with Master Davies at the time, but was told that he was on a sabbatical of sorts for ascetic purposes, and not meeting with anybody. My return visits in South Africa never afforded me the time to look Master Davies up. My interest in the idea of “civilian defence” made me research it online, where I discovered the blog of Dan Djurdjevic, who wrote an extensive post on the topic.

2. The keen (ITF) Taekwon-Do practitioner will note the correlation between “civil society” and what General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, called “Moral Culture” (ITF Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, p. 45-68). In his treatise on the topic, Gen. Choi quotes Confucius: “to promote the sense of morality one must treat others with faithfulness and sincerity based on righteousness, and to eliminate completely vicious thinking.”

14 November 2011

Taekwon-Do and the Law

In preparation for my continued discussion on Taekwon-Do's value for civilian defence, I pulled the following article by Mr David Eades from the archives of The Sidekick¹ -- Issue #5, December 2006.

Taekwon-Do and the Law: The Legalities of Self-Defence
By David Eades

Image Source
Although different approaches to self-defence are covered in the dojang, seldom is the legal consequences contemplated. In this article by Boosabumnim David Eades he looks at the legal requirements for self-defence to stand up in the South African courtroom. This is the first in a series of articles centred on the theme: Taekwon-Do and the Law. – Editor.

The nature of Taekwon-Do opens the door to serious legal concern, in the next few articles I will attempt to discuss these issues and contemplate the possible legal situations that may arise both in and out of class. A responsible practitioner should be aware of his or her abilities and the consequences that may flow from using the art.

It is important to understand when criminal liability arises so I will discuss this first and then lead onto the topic of self-defence. To commit a crime the State must prove that there was a:

1. Voluntary human act or omission
2. that is unlawful,
3. intentional,
4. and committed by a person capable of committing a crime (capacity).

From the above it is clear that only humans may commit criminal acts and in certain situations it does not require a person to act, e.g. a parent has a duty to protect his/her child. The act must further be in breach of some law thus making it unlawful. You cannot be prosecuted for a law that does not exist or only existed after you committed the crime. Except for killing a person you may only be found guilty if you intended the consequences that occurred (even if you did not directly intend the consequence but only foresaw that they may occur), however for culpable homicide the court will accept negligence. As a Taekwon-Do practitioner your knowledge of the human anatomy and how to cause damage is heightened and the court will take this into account when determining whether you had the necessary foresight to have intended the consequences that occurred. Generally children below 14 years and people not capable of understanding their actions cannot commit a crime as they do not understand what they are doing, this strictly falls into the scope of intention.

Self-defence is a justification to committing a crime, basically you are saying, “Yes, I did commit a crime, but it was justifiable as it is in the defence of my own legally protected interests.” The self-defence action therefore renders the unlawful actions lawful.

To act in “legal” self-defence it must be in response to:
a) an attack,
b) upon a legally protected interest,
c) that was unlawful.

Therefore, the attack must have commenced or have been imminent against a person’s property, ‘life and limb’ or a third party. The attack must also be unlawful; therefore, the defence does not work against lawful infringements such as a lawful arrest.

Consequently the defence must be:
a) necessary to avert the attack,
b) a reasonable response, and
c) directed against the attacker.

In South African Law there is no absolute duty to retreat, however as Taekwon-Do students who are aware of their ability to cause damage this should generally be a first response. The best form of defence is to avoid the situation; however, there are certain situations where a person is placed in a situation where self-defence is the only option. If the attack has finished, self-defence will not justify one’s actions. The defence must also be proportional to the attack. This does not mean that if your attacker pulls out a knife you cannot pull out a gun, rather if your life is clearly not in danger you cannot in a response to an attack kill your attacker. The court will look at your actions and decide if your action was reasonable, therefore it is a subjective test that does not require strict liability. Finally, the defence must be directed at the attacker and not a third party. (An attack at a third party may be justified under the grounds of necessity but that is another article for another issue.)

Here are a few examples of when one cannot act in self-defence:

  • X, in attempting to rob Y, attacks Y but shortly thereafter realises he cannot overpower Y and abandons the attack. If while walking away Y attacks X, Y cannot claim that she was acting in self-defence because the attack had finished.
  • X, Y’s unruly but harmless friend, starts ‘play fighting’ with Y. Y cannot claim she was acting in self-defence if she causes serious damage to X because the defence was not proportionate.
  • If X approach Y but does not pose a serious threat, Y cannot pull out a gun and shoot X. The response must be reasonable to the attack. However if Y can prove that she reasonably felt that her life was being threatened by X she may rely on self-defence.
  • Where X attacks Y and Y throws a stone at X in self-defence, but misses and hits Z, a passer-by, Y cannot rely on self-defence to validate her actions. However, she may rely on necessity or the fact that she lacked the intention to cause Z harm.

In assessing whether a person acted in self-defence the court will look at the above factors and decide if the person acted reasonably or not. Remember, you are innocent until proven guilty and in all criminal cases the State must prove your guilt beyond all reasonable doubt, so it is more likely that you will be found innocent than guilty (unless you are guilty). If it turns out that the person did act in self-defence her actions will be seen as lawful and she will not be criminally liable.

In writing this article, I have relied heavily on Burchell, J. Principles of Criminal Law. 3rd Ed. Juta, Cape Town.


Footnote 1: The Sidekick was a quarterly eZine I edited for the SA-ITF. Because we did not receive enough regular submissions it was decided to suspend it indefinitely. The research and consequent articles I would have contributed to The Sidekick I now submit to Totally Tae Kwon Do magazine every month.

09 November 2011

Shastar Vidya

I recently read the BBC article "The Only Living Master of a Dying Martial Art", about the Indian martial art Shastar Vidya. It was quite interesting. Then today on Google+ I stumbled onto this related video (below). I have a feeling that I will make reference to this martial art in a future post I'm planning to write. In the meantime, anyone interested in traditional and / or weapons styles, might find it interesting.

02 November 2011

Totally Tae Kwon Do

Issue #33 of Totally Tae Kwon Do magazine is available for download. For this issue I revisited something from my archives -- the basic side break fall. You can see it on pages 27 and 28.

Other interesting articles that I look forward to read is the one on Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace, whom I have always admired. Even though Mr. Wallace is of an advanced age, he is still as flexible as ever and continues to teach. What an inspiration for us who wish to be involve in the martial arts for all our lives! Another article that is sure to be interesting is the one on adrenaline and the physiological affects it has on your body during a fight. I'm also curious about the article on "Training Troops in a War Zone!" We find the roots of Taekwon-Do in the military, so it will be interesting to see how (if at all?) Taekwon-Do is still applied for military combat purposes.