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.

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