23 August 2010

On Cross-Fighting and Ground Techniques

The shocking video above shows a Taekwon-Do player getting seriously injured during an MMA-style competition because of his lack in ground fighting experience. I know nothing about the two fighters, and cannot say if the Taekwon-Do player is an ITF or WTF practitioner. Regardless, the video illustrates two very important points.

Firstly, that if you train for one type of tournament you shouldn’t, by default, expect to do well in another type of tournament. For instance, a soccer team suddenly pulled onto a rugby field to play against a rugby team is bound to do terrible, regardless how good the soccer team is at soccer. Similarly, one would expect that if the MMA-player were to compete in a Taekwon-Do tournament, following Taekwon-Do tournament rules, it would have been the Taekwon-Do practitioner that would have won. (During different rules it could have been the other person injured – take for instance the knockout Bill Duff, an All-American wrestler and National American Football defensive tackler, received against a WTF player during the Human Weapon episode on Taekwon-Do.)

The second point is that at least basic skill in ground fighting is essential for any stand-up fighter.

Most Taekwon-Do practitioners are unaware of this, but Taekwon-Do, as it was originally practiced, was one of the first mixed martial arts of its time, incorporating Hapkido, Judo and other styles. As such, the early Taekwon-Do practitioners training in the 50s and 60s were versed in ground fighting skills. The “Hapkido” of the time was nothing like the present day Hapkido which resembles Aikido, instead it was known then as Yusul (Yoosool), a Korean branch of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu, which in these early days was less graceful and more brutal – more of a ground fighting style.

With time these techniques have pretty much disappeared from WTF Taekwon-Do with its extreme focus on sport – Olympic style sparring. In ITF Taekwon-Do some of these skills have remained, but have been marginalized to special “self-defence” techniques and neglected as part of fundamental training. In part, I would guess, because most of these techniques were not systematised into the ITF Encyclopaedia as fundamental techniques, for the simple reason that they were not basic kicks, strikes and blocks, but rather auxiliary techniques taught by instructors as part of self-defence training. Unfortunately, the lack of their documentation has caused them to be mostly forgotten. Some instructors and students seem oblivious to the fact that Ground Techniques “Nowoo Gisool” is an acknowledge subsection of techniques in the Taekwon-Do arsenal. I would go so far as to say that in some Taekwon-Do schools students may go through the ranks without ever learning to do a break fall, hip throw or chocking technique. For many ITF practitioner, the only time they get close to a ground technique is at second Dan level when a kick and punch from the ground are included in one of the patterns. It is a lamentable reality.

If you plan to compete in a tournament, make sure that you train for that tournament, keeping the fighting styles and rules of that tournament in mind. Also, as a Taekwon-Do practitioner, re-embrace our early heritage and include ground fighting into your arsenal of techniques. Since so little of the early grappling techniques are documented I can understand that it is difficult to learn “original” Taekwon-Do ground fighting; this, however, should not be an excuse. You may not have access to yoosool, still the Internet is a rich resource for other very effective grappling technique, ranging from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to Sambo or Judo. There is no excuse for not learning at least the basics of grappling and ground fighting.

For Soo Shim Kwan students, make sure to practise the ground fighting requirements in the Soo Shim Kwan handbook, as these will introduce you systematically to a basic ground fighting armoury.

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