2 Seconds

A quick look at YouTube or even a walk around the town on a Saturday night will give you some insight in to violence and how it happens. One thing to notice is how it begins, it is fast , explosive and well…..violent. If you don’t have an answer for the first 2 seconds of a fight then you may not last long enough for you to use any of your fighting ability.

Very often in the martial arts we look at techniques from a point of view of being ‘ready’ in some cases even dropping back in to a ready stance waiting for the attack to commence. This practice is of course a little bit misleading as fights more often than not happen when we are not ready for them. Whether it be an ambush or an attack leading off from an argument we won’t have the time to assume a stance or even really move our feet at all.

Luckily our body has an inbuilt defense for things kicking off, simply put we flinch. We see something coming at our head and, no matter what our training has been, we throw our hands up to stop whatever it (usually a fist) is making contact. This is our most natural reaction so instead of trying to change it completely I think we should be using it and in fact building on it. We need to get use to applying techniques from the flinch position so that when we throw our hands up in defense we are still in familiar territory and still able to defend ourselves.

The key for this training lies in the patterns. The cross hand position that is often regarded as a preparation for a block or strike is in my opinion the block itself, with the following movement being the counter. If we look at most of the movements from this point of view we can see that they start to make more sense. We throw our hands up to protect ourselves from an attack , say a large haymaker swing, As the attack makes contact we can secure it with one hand and drag it down (the reaction hand goes to the hip) while the other hand can begin to counter.

Of course knowing the theory isn’t enough, we must train in a way to activate the flinch response. One way of doing this is by increasing the power and speed of the attacks. However, if we know what is coming, it is not a surprise and therefore won’t affect us in the same way. By adding to the variety of possible attacks (haymakers, kicks etc) including dialogue or anything to take the defenders mind off the coming attack we can better simulate a flinch and can better train our responses for an initial unexpected attack. From there you can start to employ your other fighting abilities

Sparring drills

To follow on from my last article on sparring, in this article I am going to describe some sparring drills that I practice with the guys I train with.

The drills that I use have been collected from seminars, past instructors and my own personal training.. It is likely that you have come across some similar ideas before. Since we are all trying to solve the same problem of fighting same solutions will be reached by people. The drills described below are ones that I have tried and work for me and the guys I train with.

Before describing the drill some basic points about my general approach to sparring practice

Whenever I start a sparring session my first concern is safety. As I mentioned in the previous article fighting by its very nature is a dangerous pursuit. In order to effectively practice it we must pay attention to students’ safety. Students must be well versed in the techniques that are going to be used, and the correct protective equipment must be used.

One more important thing is letting people know roughly what to expect during any drill. For example if one person thinks that we are practicing stand up, and then his partner does a takedown there is a higher chance of injury. So I make sure that all students are on the same page.

Of course that the higher level of the student the more scope you can put into a drill. You may start isolating drill for beginner students, i.e. only stand up or only ground but for more advanced students who can breakfall you may want to leave the drill open to both

The final point is that as much as possible sparring drills should have a goal, whether it is escaping, or scoring points etc. students should be sparring with a purpose in mind


For this drill you need a few people holding kick shields forming a small elevator sized area. Two people step in and on the command start fighting. There is no room for footwork or feints so often it is a very quick blast. On the command two people holding the kick shield step away (i.e. the doors open) and one person tries to escape. You can either nominate the person or leave it to whoever is in the better position to get out. The rounds tend to be very short none lasting more that 40 seconds.


In this drill, the students are in groups. One person stands with their eyes closed and the other are free to start the fight. Usually this is with attacking the person with punches or kicks. The initial attack should be controlled as the person has their eyes closed, but should also be continuous. One issue I have with this drill is students throwing one punch then stepping back ready to spar. The person who was attacked then has to defend themselves and make their way to a ‘safe zone’ in the training hall’

To bring up the challenge I sometimes have the person with their eyes closed turn in circles while waiting to be attacked.

Pick a skill

After going over a series of attacks based on kicks, punches and grappling the students pair off to spar. Before sparring begins, a cup of small bits of paper is passed round. Each student takes a piece of paper, on it is written either K,P, or G to indicate if the student should use kicking, punching or grappling for that round. Whatever they pick that is the only range/attacking method they can use. They can of course defend the attacks but not attack with anything other than what they picked. When the round finishes the students change partner and then pick a new skill.

Get up

One student lies on the floor the other student/s have 3 seconds to get in position in order to hold the student down. The object for the student on the floor is to get up and get to the safe zone. I allow striking in this drill, and also focus on dirty fighting, so student call look for opportunities to bite, eye gouge etc

The ring

The students stand in a circle and two students start fighting in the centre. The rules of the sparring can be anything you like but as the two people spar if they get close to anyone in the circle that person can join in. They can choose to attack either or both people. This continues till everyone is fighting. When everyone is in, I let the fight continue for a set amount of time them reset with a new group in the centre.

These are just a few of the drills that I use in my training. I occasionally mix one or two ideas together for extra challenge and there is always the option of multiple opponents or weapons to be included. If you are already doing something similar or try these drills after reading this article, I would love to hear your feedback.

Happy Training


Many martial arts are measured by their sparring, and possibly quite rightly as it is the end goal of many systems. Whether it is no holds barred, full contact, semi contact, light contact or maybe the art someone studies has no sparring; they all attract a different kind of person. In this article I will be examining TKD sparring and looking at the pros and cons of the rules and sparring system.
Certainly the way that we spar is a safe and enjoyable way to experience something approaching a fight. The damaging heavy blows and strikes to vital areas have been taken away in an effort to make an inherently dangerous pursuit, that would be fighting, as safe as possible. But in doing so have we also accidently softened the art?

The gap between practical self defence and sparring is getting wider and wider with sparring taking on the dominant role in how we engage with people, and self defence being added with a handful of techniques that we do with a compliant partner. Therefore when we are in a violent confrontation there is only one of these that will come to the fore front. Your brain will immediately try to match the situation you are in with the closest thing you have experienced. In short you will probably go into sparring mode up, on your toes, looking for an opening, dodging and weaving, etc.

If the situation you are in is not serious and/or you are very good at sparring in that manner then maybe you’ll be ok. TKD forums are full of people recounting stories of when they took someone down by kicking them in the head or dropped someone with a spinning back kick. I believe their stories but I also believe that maybe they weren’t against the most serious of opponents.

No matter true or not, the issue still exists that for more serious situations or older slower people standard sparring is not an effective solution for self defence. Training a young 20 something who is working on their competition career is a world away from training a middle aged person who spends most of their working day sitting in front of a computer.

Competitions, however, are not going away anytime soon and the current rules of sparring fit the competitions that we have perfectly. We don’t prepare on one or two big fights a year but possibly anything between 5-10 fights in a single afternoon. For this reason I think we should keep the current sparring rules, but we should stop trying to find ways of fitting sport fighting in to real life situations. We should accept that they are different and instead create club level sparring systems that allow students to better prepare themselves for self defence.

In my opinion there should be a whole host of ‘sparring’ formats practiced at club level. These should cover a wide range of skills and abilities. Ground fighting, multiple opponents, ambush attacks, and weapons should all be included in our sparring training. Through this we can better emulate what real fights might be like and better equip our students to deal with real life situations.

In doing this, I feel we would be better serving all are students. Not just the ones who want to compete but all levels and ages groups. In my next article I am going to introduce some of the sparring formats I practice with my students.
Thank you for reading

Triple Kick to the Head

One of the trademarks of taekwondo is of course the kick more specifically the high kicking that is involved both the sparring and the patterns of the art. This is alos one of the main criticisms of TKD when people discus the practicality of the art. People will bring up all sorts if stat to show how ineffective kicking is and therefore how ineffective the art of TKD is.

An awful lot of the people that talk bad about kick do so to make excuses for the fact they can’t kick high. They will come up with many many excuses for not kick simply because they haven’t spent the time developing their legs. They will quote well worn lines such as “you won’t have room to kick” or “kicking to the head takes too long”
To be honest they have a point, all the reasons that are commonly stated for not high kick are valid. In a real situation it is very unlikely that there will be the space to kick high, or even the time. However does this mean we should abandon all high level kicks?

Aside from the reasons already mentioned I believe high section kicks are a very important part of training. For a start the technical ability and body control required to perform a kick to a person’s head will help all your kicks become technically better and therefore more effective.

Also if you have the strength and flexibility to kick high the your mid and low level kick will be much more powerful. If your strength and flexibility are lacking then even your mid level kicks will lack power as your lack or flexibility will inhibit any power generation, akin to trying to punch while holding a kettlebell.

Lastly the ‘flashy’ kicks are fun. They give a break from the more serious aspects of training and offer some fun challenges without stepping too far away from martial exercises.

So how do you stop yourself from try to use high section kicking techniques in real situations? Simple, don’t practice them in that manner. If you keep your practice based in reality and when practicing applications doesn’t include head kicks then there is no reason why you will be tempted to use them in real situations.
In short, as a training exercise high kicks are very important. However, they should stay in the dojang

Do San

Ask most ITF practitioners what their least favorite pattern is and they will probably screw up their face and mutter under their breath ‘Do San’. Certainly when I was a junior grade performing Do San felt so uncomfortable. Compared to the nice angles and symmetry of Dan Gun and Won Hyo, Do San just felt like a bunch of moves thrown together.
However, my study of the application of Do San has really made me rethink my ranking of the pattern. Contained within it there are some very simple but vicious techniques. In this article I am going to take some of the techniques and look at their standard applications and comparing them to some alternatives. To keep things as simple as possible I am going to stick to the English names for the movements

High outer forearm block, reverse punch.

So the opening of the pattern is often seen as a block to a straight punch to the face followed by a counter punch. I have also seen it demoed as a block to a hook then a punch. Either way there are some issues with using the first movement as a block. The main ones for me are:

• It ‘s a fairly weak position for your arm to take impact
• Why is your other arm down on your hip, not protecting your head?
• Why when you see an attack coming from your left do you first cross your hands to the right?

These questions are some sometimes answered by the catch all phrase of “it’s art” or “ you need to train more” which I don’t really like as I see it more as side stepping the issues rather than looking more closely at the movement.

My own interpretation of this movement doesn’t have it as a block at all. Instead the ‘block’ is the crossed hands position that most people take as a preparatory movement.

I believe this crossing of the arms is to show the natural reaction of bringing your hands up to protect your head when you are attacked. From there you can use one hand to grab the opponents arm and bring it down. The other hand (the block) now goes out to grab the opponent’s hair. This secures him and then you can pull his head on to the follow up punch. In this day and age with shaved heads and crew cuts sometimes you need to grab other things but the idea remains the same.

The next movement I would like to look at is :

Outer forearm wedging block, front kick double punch

the standard application for this movement is defense against someone grabbing your lapels with both hands. We again run in to a number of issues relating to structure of the block and positioning of the body. I think my main issues for this are the 45 degree step is explained once again as art, and the wedging block itself doesn’t have such a high success rate. Sliding your hands between a grab then trying to snap them out is not likely to create space. Also you don’t actually need that space to deliver the front kick.

For me the application of the ‘block’ is closely linked to the opening movement, as your hands are in the same place. The 45 degree step puts you outside of the opponent’s direct line of attack and you can then use both hands to secure them. This can be done by grabbing their hair and arm for example. The kick therefore would be best aimed at the legs in order to break his structure and maybe bring him down to his knees. This puts them in a very vulnerable position for the double punch. These is another application for the double punch at this stage but I don’t feel it would be responsible for me to detail it here.

The last movement I would like to look at is very simple:

Rising block

Whereas rising block itself is not a bad application I feel that in Do San it has a different application. Again the reasoning for this is based on some of the principles of the first movement. When any attack comes towards you it is a natural reaction to out one or both hands in the way. So for a high attack we put our hands round our head and for a low attack our hands would naturally drop to meet it. If we look at the movement of rising block we can again ask the question ‘why do we first drop our hands in order to block something high?’. My answer to this is that you are dropping your hands to block a low attack and then grabbing the attacking hand clearing the way to drive your outer forearm or hammer fist into the opponents jaw. This is a simple and effective technique based on our natural reactions.

As an aside hammer fist is one very effective technique that seems to be almost nonexistent in modern TKD teaching.

I hope you have found this look at some alternative applications of Do San interesting and useful. As always it is difficult to fully describe a technique in writing. In the future I am hoping to be able to put some videos on the blog to better show what I mean.

Until next time happy training.

Aggression and intensity

One of the things that is often overlooked by people practicing self defense arts is the importance of mental conditioning. People can spend hours hitting pads or releasing from chokes etc only to find that these much needed skills abandon them when they need them the most. The reason that these techniques can fail is not in the techniques themselves nor is it in a practitioners physical ability, but rather due to the fact that the practitioner very likely hasn’t spent enough time conditioning his mind as much as his body.

Maybe this is due to the number of ways that Martial arts have been changed to martial activities. In sporting martial arts it is seen as bad form to be over aggressive and in cardio kick boxing there is just no need to put yourself in the same mind set as in self-defense training. However for self-defense we need to condition the mind as much as the body in order to be effective.

Aggression is something that makes a lot of people feel very uncomfortable. In this day and age of civilised society being aggressive is often frowned upon and we are taught largely to be polite and gentle with each other. This is all very well until you come across someone who is not going to be polite and gentle with you. Again these kinds of aggressive people often make others around them uneasy and our usual reaction is to ignore them or just give in and let them rant. In fact people often use this very reaction to get their way in social settings. In unsocial or self-defense settings letting someone have their way through aggression or intimidation could very possibly the worst thing you could do.

So we have to prepare ourselves to be aggressive but also to deal with aggression towards us. This process starts in the pad work drills and it starts with the practitioners themselves. Each time you are doing a drill you should feel yourself getting focused aggression on to the pads, your aim should not be to pace yourself for a number of rounds but to deliver maximum damage with each strike for as long as it takes there is no real room for pacing yourself. We are looking to simulate the hard attacking needed to survive a confrontation, but also internally looking for the mind to be focused and push through even when are bodies are under stress and telling us to stop
During training techniques you should also bring that level of intensity to your practice. If you approach your partner with the mind set of ‘he is a friend of mine, he won’t really hurt me’ then the training will have a very different feel, one of dancing with a partner rather than training with them. If you put yourself in mind of a real attack that you have to get out of even if the actually attack doesn’t change you have started to train a real self defense art. Through this aggression and determination will naturally start coming out.

As mentioned before this can feel quite strange to a student but it is a necessary first step to making your self-defense workable. After working on aggression internally we can start bringing it out. Verbalising aggression and posturing to our partner helps out both parties. The aggressor gets used to being aggressive (which sometimes is a good self-defense technique in itself) and the defender gets used to having someone being aggressive towards them. As with most things this takes practice to do well and in the beginning you’ll often find yourself saying silly things or laughing in the middle of the training. This is natural and your way of telling your partner that you are not really angry at them, in our civilized social world you are reminding your partner that you are playing a role. In time and with practice however these practices can become an invaluable part of a person’s training.
Once you have learnt to be aggressive you then need to learn controlled aggression but that is a topic for a whole other article.

As with everything in training, getting your mind set in to the right place takes time. Through drills and partner work students are given the situations but it is up to each individual student to work out how to get themselves in to the right frame of mind. Once you do then you will see a change in your training and the way that you approach your training

Sonkal Daebi Makgi

After punching techniques Sonkal Daebi Makgi is one of the most, if not the most common, technique found in the patterns. However, little or no time is spent in modern teaching investigating the application of the movement. Often it is labeled as part of a ready stance in preparation to attack. However in my opinion knife hand guarding block is one of the most important movements in the patterns

There are a couple of things wrong with the idea of knife hand guarding block being used as a guard, the most obvious of which is that is is fairly ineffective for that purpose. It is quite an open movement and it doesn’t protect a person’s head. The hands are placed relatively low, and the front hand is extended too much for an effective guard. Other reasons against the guarding application would be, why have guarding block all the way through the forms? and also that a guard is very basic and would be trained in other ways during martial instruction.

So what is it for? For me understanding the knife hand guarding block is the keys to understanding a lot of the movements found in the patterns. If you think of a fight you opponent will instinctively bring his arms up to defend himself. We then need a way to get in and attack. This is where the knife hand guard block comes in as technique to get you opponents arms out of you way. This is far from a reactive block or a ready stance, but rather a proactive technique to move or grab the arms of your opponent and move them to open up target areas.

The most basic example of this is the opening of Dan Gun. The front hand could be used to move or secure the arms of the opponent before stepping through with the attack. However, there is a good chance that your first attempt will fail, so what then? The answer is also in Dan Gun, you apply another knife hand block. The three knife hands in pattern means you have practiced left-right, right-left combinations. So you can work round an opponent arms and try to ‘get in’ also if your first attempt is grab then you can respond with the second.

This idea is supported by entering techniques being a feature of many traditional martial arts. You will see them represented in many forms from China and Japan. In fact I was actually in the practice of the Chinese martial art of Xingyiquan that the entering application of knife hand guarding block occurred to me.

To apply a knife hand, or indeed any entering technique, well you need good timing and distancing skills. In order to train this we have ot start simply and build slowly. First of all we have to we have to feel what it is like to work around someone’s arms. To do this I get a partner to stand with both arms extended and I just work around them moving from inside to outside, using knife hand guarding blocks. When we feel comfortable with that practice we progress to my opponent holding his arms in a guard to practice moving and pulling his arms. Then we add movement to the drill and finally start to add in attacks and counters.

Use of the knife hand guarding block is what I see as one of the foundation skills, of Taekwondo self-defence and a lot of time should be taken to understand and apply it. When it is mastered many of the other techniques of the patterns will become clearer and easier to apply