13 May 2012

The Sine Wave Motion as a Mnemonic Device for Joint-Locks and Throws

In a previous post I referred to the sine wave motion as an icon—it is a simplification of a bigger principle, the Wave / Circle Principle. Martial arts such as Aikido, Hapkido, and Judo that are particularly known for their employment of the Wave / Circle Principle are also known for their throwing and joint-locking techniques and in this post I will give a cursory look at some throwing and joint-locking techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do to show how the sine wave motion is used as a mnemonic to learn the techniques more quickly and also to understand the Wave / Circle Principle.

In a typical ITF dojang one often hears instructors admonishing beginner students to “relax-rise-fall” or “down-up-down” as they learn to do the full sine wave motion in various techniques. The same instruction is often apt for teaching a variety of joint-locks and throws. In the video below I demonstrate a handful of joint-locking and throwing techniques where the full sine wave motion in its typical “down-up-down” form is employed. Often the first downward phase is used to move off the attack line or enter into the opponents space, under his centre of gravity; the upward motion is frequently used to gain leverage or to uproot (lift) the opponent; and the final downward phase is used to press down onto the joint against its normal range of motion, or to throw the opponent. It is significant to note that the thrower does not necessarily go down with the final downward phase himself—often it is the opponent who is “downed”, and so completes the full down-up-down sine wave motion.

In each of the techniques I demonstrate, I apply the essence of the stereotypic down-up-down sine wave motion that is so conspicuous of ITF Taekwon-Do.

When I teach joint-locking and throwing techniques to ITF students, I often start by using the sine wave motion as a mnemonic device, as such I find that the ITF students grasp the techniques much easier, because they have already done the down-up-down motion so many times. They also learn to be much more economic with their joint locking and throwing motions. Instead of multiple steps and complicated footwork, they understand that the sine wave motion is often used in a single step, so they realise that the technique ought not to take multiple steps to complete—a good joint-lock or throw is completed within one fluid sine wave motion. They also quickly learn that the sine wave motion can be shared—I do the initial phases, but the opponent does the final phase when he drops to the floor. Finally, doing these techniques with a clear awareness of the sine wave motion, the techniques are authentically ITF. It is not that other styles do it differently, it is merely that the student has an awareness of the same principles that are congruent in other ITF techniques—it is the same principle used in other parts of the style.

The sine wave motion further becomes a training tool to teach the unclear relationship between the Wave Principle and the Circle Principle. Since a “wave” and a “circle” do not at face-value look the same, students often do not understand that the Wave Principle and Circle Principle are in fact the same principle. However, once they use the sine wave motion as a mnemonic in throwing and joint-locking techniques, the relationship often dawns on them even when it is not pointed out. (That is exactly what happened to me.) Conversely, the Wave / Circle Principle is something better grasped kinetically than theoretically, and I find that a combination of the sine wave concept and joint locks and throws conveys the Wave / Circle Principle quite effectively.

"The wave motion is a rolling movement. It is continuous. In many advanced aikido movements, one can observe the rolling motion of the wave. The motion of the vertical wave movement is up-down, down-up, down-up-down, or up-down-up. One can also use the wave movement horisontally in an in-out, out-in, in-out-in, or out-in-out pattern." Advanced Aikido by Phong Thong Dang and Lynn Seiser (2006)

Once the students have become familiar with using the sine wave motion in its down-up-down form, it is very simple to teach them other techniques where the inverse (up-down-up) is the path for the basic motion, and later lateral oscillations (left-right-left or right-left-right) are explored. As they progress they realise how to manipulate the wave for whichever effect suits the technique, or how to use the circle; and with time they also come to understand that when the wave and the circle come together as a spiral, a whole new range of techniques open up to them.

Of course, using the sine wave motion in this way requires that one not have a superficial understanding of what the sine wave motion is. If you think the sine wave motion a goal in-and-of-itself, rather than realizing it to be a manifestation of the Wave / Circle Principle, it will seriously undermine its purpose and limit its value. On the other hand, once you recognise the value of the sine wave motion as a means to apply the Wave / Circle Principle, it becomes a wonderful instrument in ones arsenal. As a mnemonic it simplifies and economises seemingly complex techniques and is something I use with good effect when teaching ITF students joint-locks and throws.


Ymar Sakar said...

This reminds me of linear and rotational concepts. Things made a lot of sense, especially vis a vis the power generation used in xingyi and bagua, when I found out that they used linear and rotational concepts primarily. When Taiji was introduced as being more advanced or something a student learned after xingyi/bagua, I could more easily understand why the Taiji spiral composed of yin and yang could relate to rasen (Japanese spiral) power. In Western speak, that would be the DNA helix, tornado, hurricane, black hole, etc.

I wonder if so many Westerners think of Taiji Chuan as a dance for old people, is primarily because those of us who argue for rather than against Taiji, are using concepts far beyond the limited imagination of the potential Western student base. These concepts are things that they don't even understand in the external arts of MMA and boxing. They have yet to even conceptualize the "linear line" in their movements.

The most important part here is why it works, and not how the technique works. But why the concept works to begin with.

Ymar Sakar said...

One of the most visually appealing demonstrations of spiral power was the drill as it was presented to me in Guren Lagann. Drill through the Heavens was the motto.

A line, like a piece of wooden chopsticks, rammed through something tends to have some, but not much penetrating power. A disc sent into rotation and then rammed into something has some kind of friction power but little penetrating power. Combine the two however...

This is especially relevant to penetrating internal strikes. Because I believe there is a power transfer method beyond shock or linear force transfers. One that utilizes both in the same continuum. Something akin to spiral power, that uses linear concepts of "push" and rotational concepts of "shock" together. Much of my recent time has been spent gaining control of my lower body and matching it with my control of upper body. For I know that I'll need both to generate spiral energies.

The mastery of the twin concepts and principles of linear and non-linear takes quite a bit of time. Beyond that, we go into multi dimensional elements. I wonder how far humans can take that with the limitations on our mortal bodies.

SooShimKwan said...

Yes, the spiral is probably one of the most important power principles in a wide range of techniques, and as you mention, it is something that requires much time and dedication to understand and get right.

Chris said...

Great post. I've read your previous comments about sine wave being related to joint locks and other Ho Sin Sul techniques and this was exactly the kind of further explication I was waiting for. I've seen it come out in my own practice more and more over the years (the same with the semi-fa jing type of power that you mentioned some time ago).

Any chance that you could do a more detailed video of, say a single, lock or throw with a running commentary on where the sine wave's various "parts" manifest?

Colin Wee said...

Best new material I've seen from any Taekwondo blog or instructor. Not that I totally agree with everything you've said. But excellent work!!!

I never though of the sine wave in relation to the 'popup' for throws or small circle movement. But yeah, anytime you get out of the line drill/low ceiling long stance, you open yourself up to engaging your mass more effectively against the opponent.

In my experience however, the throwing or the locking can be taught relatively quickly. It's the gap closing and finding the lock that's the challenge.



SooShimKwan said...

Chris, hi,

I'm glad that this post brought to light some of my earlier points about applicability of the sine wave motion in other techniques -- not basic stepping punches in patterns. The type of explication you refer to is what I usually do when I give seminars, as I did earlier this year in South Africa.


There are two reasons why I haven't made more "applied" sine wave motion videos.

First, it is usually quite difficult for me to find opportunities to make video recordings. My dojang here in Korea usually has classes back to back, so for instance the video for this post was quickly recorded just after one class, while the next class was about to start. The reason for the funky Korean drum-music is not so much to make the video seem more epic than it really is, as much as to block out the noisy background sounds. (I've used the music in a previous video before to, so maybe it is turning into the Soo Shim Kwan theme song! lol)

Second, there are so many other voices out there doing Taekwon-Do pattern interpretation and hoshinsul that I don't really see the need for me to add much to the discussion. However, you have a point that nobody else seem to be talking about "applied" sine wave motion -- and Colin Wee also commented on this else where.

I'll see what I can do, so watch this space! ;-)

SooShimKwan said...

"I never though of the sine wave in relation to the 'popup' for throws or small circle movement."

Hey Colin,

Yes, small circle movement are everywhere in ITF Taekwon-Do (even in basic punches!) and often closely coincides with the sine wave motion. Once one realize that the "wave" and the "circle" is the same thing, the same principle, one sees it everywhere.

"Best new material I've seen from any Taekwondo blog or instructor."

Wow, what a compliment! Thanks Colin.

Ymar Sakar said...

Sanko, I was wondering if you or ITF's databanks had an official position on vital points in certain things like Kyoshu jutsu or pressure points?

I've heard a range of opinions on the topic. So I wanted to include yours, since I do not believe I have heard a TKD perspective on this issue as of yet.

Ymar Sakar said...

When making videos, it might be more convenient to take stock video using a tri pod camera or a fixed wide angle view, and then edit it later by removing the audio track and inputting a customized voice over. This allows one to utilize training time as training, and compose the video later.

By freeze framming the video, one can produce snapshots in real time, rather than relying on low shutter speed cameras.

SooShimKwan said...

Ymar, thank you very much for the video recording suggestions. That sounds like a viable option (although it may require more editing work, which is something I can do, but do not necessarily have the time for). Nonetheless, definitely a possibility I will look into.

As for the ITF's view on vital points and pressure points. Officially, ITF focusses on 49 "vital spots" that are generally easily accessible.


Correctly attacking these points can cause either major trauma ("death or permanent disability") or minor trauma ("pain and temporary disability"). Generally pressure points attacks in ITF Taekwon-Do are explored around these 49 points.

I am personally acquainted with ITF instructors that formally study Kyoshu-Jitsu to compliment their ITF arsenal. I have personally also attended a number of such workshops.

Broadly speaking, I would say that most ITF practitioners will focus on the 49 points and expand on these if appropriate. While ITF is definitely not against specific pressure point attacks, such attacks are often tricky to perform (requiring different types of attacks and sometimes complicated angles) and requires greater accuracy than such bigger obvious targets as the eyes, groin, knees, etc. For this reason, the more easily accessible 49 points are the first priority, after which additional targets and types of attacks are considered, and usually at a higher belt level. (Colour belts are required to focus on the vital spots almost exclusively; while black belts usually have more freedom to explore pressure points.)

Ymar Sakar said...

Thx for the response, Sanko.

This topic often comes up on Yahoo Answers, although I've seen it addressed once at Dan's martial arts forum as well.

One specialized field of this is covered under hard blocks - limb destruction techniques. By taking the force of a hard block and turning it into a strike on the radial nerve that curves around the arm, one can temporarily disable a person's arm and hand skills. Since reaction speed and strength are such an important facet of fighting skills, reducing a person's overall potential allows more potent attacks to bypass the weakened defenses. When a person's primary nerve cluster is struck, feedback to the brain starts overriding other signals from the brain, making dexterity commands harder to process. While people can condition the brain to increase the pain threshold and ignore the pain, that's not the same as preventing the physical changes in the nerve. Because many martial arts focus on the physical, not the mental, aspects, they cannot visualize these targets accurately enough. Nor do they understand neurophysiology enough to understand the difference between someone shrugging off pain and someone with a damaged nerve. This has led many people to believe that nerve, vital, or pressure point (whatever you call it) strikes are unrealistic and foolish to train in. If martial arts was only interested in the simple, I don't think half of the techniques in the traditional lines would even exist. I might even say 90% of martial arts is complicated fine motor commands.

Also Yahoo Answers provides me a base template to analyze statistics using a broad sample of martial artists and beginners. The conclusion I've come to is that most people learning martial arts do not have the mental focus or power generation required to cripple humans even using the obvious "cheapshot" targets. Let alone inch sized targets of nerves and organs.

For them, targets don't even exist and thus will never be effective if they're the ones attempting the access.

Power generation is mostly seen as a physical prowess goal and most people devote most of their efforts towards it. But in fact power generation is the least significant part of what gives results. The more significant part is targeting or accuracy: intent. And that brings us to the internal arts and their specialization on mental focus. There are two different training philosophies used: one external the other internal.

Internal philosophy says that by honing the mind, one can develop greater physical prowess. External philosophy says that by repeating a technique thousands of times, we develop the physical ability and through time, the mental sharpness will naturally come. I think in the modern world, true external training no longer exists. Miyamoto Musashi and Sun Tzu learned various truths by repeating their techniques and skills in life, but that was real life deathmatches.

Ymar Sakar said...

Several Westerners, a small but consistent sample, routinely believe that it doesn't matter which route you take because you end up at the same place. This is the Goal orientated viewpoint of Westerners in general. I think of it like this. Whether you get a 100 on a test because you cheated or because you studied, kind of does matter.

Because external martial arts don't work so well once you get really really old.... there's an artificial expiration date past which a person is forced to use internal or soft concepts. So they might as well start now when they are in their 20s... right? But they think the route they take doesn't matter so long as they end up at the same place. So said the Hare to the Tortoise at least.

Strangely enough, people can often adopt Eastern mannerisms and cultural icons without comprehending the Eastern focus on process. They adopt belt ranks, which includes the Koreans, as the ultimate end goal, without ever thinking about the process itself: the training methodology that is supposed to transfer to a student abilities or knowledge inherited from a founder. I don't particularly think that kind of hybrid mixture is a good idea. It has all the detriments of both cultures, but the benefits of none.

P.S. If you have a tech savvy student you might be able to delegate the issue of video editing to them.

When utilizing a drill, control and focus is paramount. Otherwise the drill point starts etching a circle, or a wobbly line. Physical strength should only be used to stabilize and control the drill, and simply let natural hard linear force and circular rotational force do most of the work. Instead of being powered by electricity or gas, our forces are powered by gravity, the 5th dimension in effect. In scientific terms, they might have to call bodyweight focused techniques "Five dimensional martial art techniques".

Colin Wee said...

Hey Sanko,

I'm referencing your concept of the Sine Wave for my recent post at http://www.joongdokwan.com/2012/05/taekwondo-won-hyo-over-shoulder-throw.html

Again, brilliant work!


SooShimKwan said...

Thanks Colin. I liked your post -- especially the knee-on-the-ribs!