02 September 2012

Three-in-One Imbalance in Taekwondo

I'm currently attending the 2012 Seoul World Taekwondo Leaders Forum (서울 세계 태권도 권도 지도자포럼), and in particularly the academic symposium. I came late for a paper by Youn Je Hong, head of the Korea Martial Philosophy Research Center, but the bit I did catch (and understood -- it was in Korean) was quite interesting. His focus was on "Measures to Innovate Taekwondo Training for Young People".

Young argued that Taekwondo has a "Three in One" composition consisting of Musul (무술 / 몸 / "body"), Muye (무예 / 감성 / "sensibility" or "emotion"), and Mudo (무도 / 겅신 / "spirit"). (See my post on Moosool, Mooye, and Moodo.)He pointed out that Taekwondo has wrongly focussed on only one aspect of the "Three in One" composition, namely on Musul, or the physical aspects of Taekwondo.

Since Young started his presentation against the background of the 2012 Olympic Games and also because the symposium is a Kukkiwon sponsored event, it is safe to assume that he refered to WTF (Kukkiwon) Taekwondo almost exclusively and not ITF Taekwon-Do; in the case of the latter the "Three in One" is much better balanced.

The lack of the more abstract and philosophical components (Muye and Mudo) is indeed an unfortunate current state of WTF Taekwondo and it is therefore heartening to see that it is being addressed at an academic symposium like this one. At the same time, it serves as a warning to ITF Taekwon-Do which seems to place ever more emphasis on the sport aspect (i.e. Musul) of the style.
It is my opinion that the reason for the "Three in One" imbalance in WTF (Kukkiwon) Taekwon-Do is its over-emphasis on Taekwondo as a martial sport, rather than a martial art. ITF Taekwon-Do is not immune from such a focus shift, in part because the more abstract and philosophical qualities are exceedingly difficult to measure. (See my post on "How Do You Quantify Taekwon-Do?")

01 September 2012

Why I Don't Train in (Kick-) Boxing

Image Source
The gym in Seoul, Korea, that I am associated with, in other words, where I am an instructor, provides a good spectrum of training. At 'The Way' Martial Arts & Fitness we offer Taekwon-Do (ITF for adults and WTF for children) augmented with Hapkido, an amateur MMA program, and Cross-Fit training. The MMA program contains two types of classes: stand-up fighting classes based on Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing and ITF Taekwon-Do; and ground-fighting classes based on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Yusul (Korean jujitsu).

I'm one of the primary instructors for ITF Taekwon-Do and Hapkido and also occassionally help out with the grappling class. However, while I sometimes join the stand-up fighting classes, there are certain exercises, particularly those from Boxing and Kickboxing that I opt out of; in particular, I refuse to practise in the slipping, and bobbing and weaving drills.

Don't get me wrong, I think Boxing (and by implication I include here the hand techniques of Kickboxing) is very effective, and even for street fighting purposes people with a good foundation in boxing can often handle themselves very well (although they often break their hands which are not used to the impact of an unpadded fist on a naked skull, but that is besides the point). Some of the fighters I know personally and would not want to fight are trained foremost in Boxing.

There is very little one can do to improve on the offensive techniques in boxing. There are basically only four offensive techniques in boxing: the jab, the cross, the hook and the uppercut. Boxing has pretty much mastered the mechanics of these techniques and I don't mind training in them. And when I do, I am reminded of my instructor who often said: "Taekwon-Do is firstly Boxing." It is, however, in the defensive techniques of Boxing that I feel ill at ease, particularly those techniques that tilt the spinal alignment from the straight posture where the head is over the centre of gravity and the shoulders, hips and feet are in equilibrium.

The video above demonstrates the defensive method
of slipping and rolling (or weaving) used in Boxing. 

Within the close fighting context of Boxing as a combat sport the defensive techniques of slipping and weaving is valuable. It allows one to avoid attacks without losing ground, which is a sensible skill if your aim is to stay withing the close fighting range.

However, for me specializing in a traditional martial art fond of kicking and with a self-defence focus, I find slipping and weaving contra-productive to the types of skills I wish to engrain. Firstly, slipping and weaving makes sense in a fists-only context, but the moment you bring leg attacks (kneeing and kicking) into the equation, slipping and weaving just becomes dangerous. You are in effect lowering your head towards the opponents knees or kicks! Not wise. With the exception of kickboxing, if we can apply the term "martial arts" to include kickboxing, I cannot think of any other martial art that trains in kicks and also slipping and weaving. (An exception may be Capoiera, but there is diffferent dynamics at play in this Brazilian fighting-dance.) Even a long established combat sport like Muay Thai does not use slipping and weaving as primary defensive movements.

Also, slipping and weaving requires you to shift your head's position away from its prime balance position over the centre of gravity. The traditional martial arts puts a lot of emphasis on keeping correct posture and ensuring a balanced position. The head is almost always kept directily over the centre of gravity and the shoulders and hips are usually in line and balanced relative to the knees and feet. Once a person has his head positioned away from its primed balanced position, take downs  and throws become much easier.

In ITF Taekwon-Do, my base style, I can think of maybe five fundamental techniques where the posture is not erect. Considering that ITF Taekwon-Do allegedly containts over 3000 techniques, that should speak volumes about the principle of keeping an erect, well-balanced posture. My other training in Hapkido and Taekkyeon puts similar emphasis on keeping an erect posture and I can assume the same for many of the other styles I had dabbled in.

Of course, it is necessary to mention that there is good slipping and bad slipping. Good slipping is only the slightest amount of tilt and movement that allows the opponent's fist to miss its target (your head); then there is bad slipping which is an exaggerated bend in the posture. For a good exposition on both good slipping and bad slipping, read "How to Slip Punches" at ExportBoxing.Com.

And so, whenever I join the stand-up fighting class at my gym, I train in most of what the class has to offer, but deliberately sit out whenever slipping and weaving is practised. Again, I don't doubt the value of these defensive motions in the confined context of competition sparring where hand techniques and close range fighting is preferenced. ITF Taekwon-Do athletes have incorporated some of these bobbing weaving motions for tournament sparring and within this confined context there might be value at the close fighting ranges and since knee kicks, grabbing and throwing are illegal in ITF tournament sparring, some of the dangers that slipping (particular of the bad type) presents, are less worrisome. For other contexts and particularly the self-defence contexts, exercises that compromise erect posture, and therefore optimum equilibrium, are not the types of exercises I want to ingrain.