Taekwondo Grappling

The question of whether TKD has grappling included in the forms is an old one that has been answered many times. Whether a person wants to study it or not,however, is up to them. Grappling will have no place for the competitive TKD fighter but is very important for someone wishing to use TKD for self defense..

For someone starting out I would think that the place to start is getting use to the basic grappling range. This is represented in the patterns by forearm guarding block. Similar to knife hand guarding block, forearm a guarding block has a few issues when applied as a defense to a punch or mid line attack. However, it fits very well into a grappling grip maybe elbow and back of the head or lapel. From there we first get used to moving with someone and being moved around by someone. One student should be leading and the other following strongly. It is important that the ‘follower’ is not being too relaxed and just going anywhere and not resisting too hard. Both open you up to getting tossed around.

The next step is to add some sort of resistance or competition. To do this I often put something in the back of their belt, maybe a training knife, and give one student the goal of working round and getting the knife out of the back of the belt. I find this as a useful bridge to grappling as it helps with moving around and dealing with arms without the stress of being attacked. These are basic drills or games that are just to get people used to moving around with another person. There are lots of other progressing from just moving to some sort of competition.

This process I believe is actually closer to the traditional process of training. According to some of my older teachers, forms were some of the last things to be taught. Before getting in to the technical aspects people had to be given a frame of reference to what it was like to move with someone. This is why in the past forms were considered important and even secret in some styles no like today when they are typically bought from the instructors

When the student are used to holding and moving with a person we can start to adding techniques. After doing releases etc,. Since we are using a forearm guarding block frame the next logical step is to look at the forms and investigate the techniques that follow immediately after a forearm guarding block. This uncovers throws, defenses to tackles, and close in strikes. All of which can be developed and built upon to create new techniques based on the same principles.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. With a little work you could be amazed at how many movements work from the grappling holds. For me working at this range really opens up the patterns, and in fact opens up the whole art of TKD.

I hope you found this article interesting and it make you want to go and play with the close-in range of TKD. Thank you for reading.

It’s OK it’s art

Time and again I see the movements of forms dismissed as ‘art’ whether it is the movements themselves or the application that has been demonstrated. The idea that anything is OK if you refer to it as art is not one tht sits well with me. In this article I will be looking at the art argument.

Over the years “it’s art’ has slowly replaced the answer “I don’t know” ask many teachers about the application for a movement in a pattern and maybe they will show the mainstream application. At this point if the student questions the application he is quickly closed down being told it is the art side of TKD. This excuse has been used so much now that almost the entire style of TKD has been reduced to ‘art’, save the small handful techniques that you need for competition.

However if we look at the history and purpose of forms, to hand down fighting methods from teacher to student, then why would art be included? This would be akin to asking a boxer to perform a pirouette during a session of shadow boxing. It serves no purpose and if the forms were created by fighters for fighters then art would have no place in practice.

To take a more modern day view, if I paid someone to fix something in my house but instead they did a whole lot of extra work that looked good but had no practical purpose and in fact didn’t address the issue I needed fixing. Very likely I would call the police. However, this is exactly the same thing that happens when someone goes to a traditional martial arts school wanting to learn self defense. They are put through learning a whole series of applications that aren’t addressing the issue of self defense but is passed off as art.

What does the term ‘art’ mean in this sense anyway? In demonstrating these movements there is no high level of skill presented, most of the poor applications are not ascetically pleasing. In fact I feel the word ‘art’ in this sense only has one other meaning ‘fake’ a useless defense against a useless attack. This idea has allowed people to create any number of applications and forms that have no purpose. Is it any wonder then that respect for traditional martial arts have declined over the years.

In my mind what the term ‘art’ should be meaning is’ beyond skill’. When a person reaches the level that ever the most complex movements are part of their natural responses. As an example I also study the Filipino marital art of Balintawak, the movements of this style are vicious to say the least, but when you see two high level practitioners training together it Is impressive and beautiful. There are no wasted movements but just people acting and reacting. Like all other expressions of art to get to this level takes time and dedication. Most importantly it takes research into the real purpose of movements.

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

Elevator

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.

Ambush

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

Sparring

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.