The Problem with Drills

In the world of RBSD and Bunkai etc, the ‘drill’ has become increasing popular. Phrases like ‘pressure testing’ have become part of the every day conversation.

Largely people have taken a step sideways and replaced sparring with drilling. Whereas I can see the reasoning behind this there are a few problems with this approach.

What often happens in self defense classes now is a technique is taught and practiced, the technique is practiced harder against a stronger attack, the technique is then practiced in a bad situation which could be multiple opponents, attacked while exhausted, attacked in poor lighting and so on.

Generally at some point there is an argument about how the partner didn’t do what he or she was meant to. In most cases this involves not letting go of a hold or reacting to the defense in an unscripted way. It is then discussed that the attacker shouldn’t respond to the defense since in ‘the street’ the attacker wouldn’t know what was coming, or something like that (The problem with this, of course, is that attacker generally do react in someway when you try to defend yourself.)

So the drill continues with each partner having an unspoken agreement that the defense will be ultimately successful not matter how hard the initial attack is.

It can also happen that the ‘attacker’ is so bought into the defense that they themselves just won’t let the defense fail. To do so would be to bring into question their own training and even the art which they study. So again we have an internal governor of sorts that will give in to the defense once they feel that they partner has put in enough effort.

These things happen not matter how hard the pressure test is. Only is a small number of schools do they test to failure and then look at what the problems were and where they could be fixed.

Now, this sort of training is good and should be included in someone’s training. However, it falls short of actual sparring. In well planned and thought out sparring each person has a different mindset. They are not doing anything fixed but are using the techniques in a live situation. They learn how the techniques fit into non standard attacks. Students also learn what to do when the techniques fail, something very seldom covered in drills.

I have written about sparring and sparring drills in the past. These remain some of the most popular articles on this blog. I believe that no matter what system you are studying there should be an element of sparring in it. Patterns, pad work, drills, and sparring all have their place. To properly develop ourselves we need to understand the purpose and limitations of each.

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Specialization

With al the different aspects of TKD it is natural or even a good idea to specialize. Depending on your age, interests, or physical ability you may be more drawn to power breaking, patterns, competition sparring, or self defense aspects of TKD.

However, there comes a point in specialization where being a balanced martial artist will actually get in the way. For example, if you want to excel in power breaking you will of course spend a lot of time with the breaker boards, over time you may feel the need to lessen your time in practice in other aspects of the art. Maybe you’ll spend less time thinking about or training sparring tactics, maybe you’ll see that you don’t need so much conditioning for that one powerful strike, and of course boards don’t hit back so you don’t really need to study blocking or in fact any of the traditional movements.

Then you will probably do very well in this sort of competition.

If this is your aim, and you are clear about what your goal then great. You will face just as many demons on the way to reaching the goal of breaking 10 concrete slabs as you will doing anything else.

The same can be said for tricking.

It takes a lot of training and dedication to achieve anything in these 2 aspects or in deed any aspect of the martial arts.

However, if you strip away all the other parts of an art, can you still be said to be doing martial arts? Or are you doing something else?

This is in no way a criticism of people who have worked very hard towards a goal of their choosing, but I think it is important to be real abut what you are doing. If you are a specialist in breaking or tricking, or demonstration forms, in my opinion, that is how you should present yourself.

If you don’t, you run the risk of misrepresenting yourself and your skills, in the day of YouTube the most common criticism of the above type of videos is that it is no good in a real fight. This is true, but you don’t necessarily have to care if being effective in a real fight is not your aim. The only issue comes if you think or tell others (maybe your students) that they are training in one thing while focusing on another.

What ever your goal is, keep it real and train hard for it.

Balintawak

As mentioned in ‘My Journey‘ I study and have studied a number of other martial arts all which feed into my understanding of the TKD patterns.

One of these arts is the Filipino systen of Balintawak, a close range stick and knife system.

The movements of this system fit in to my take on some of the principles of pattern application that I have written about on this blog.

Examples can be found here:

https://m.facebook.com/KLBTW/?ref=bookmarks

Warrior mindset

Getting to black belt or achieving anything of value takes patience and hard work. It is an admiral quality that people display when they just keep turning up to the dojang and taking another small step towards their goal. This is one mindset that is important to making progress. We can call this a ‘yin’ mindset, something that keeps you chipping away at a goal and knowing that you will get there eventually.

However, we also have to train our ‘yang’ mindset, that of facing a challenge in the present. One that cannot be chipped away over time, but has to be dealt with in its entirety immediately

Years ago I was in a class and we were doing pad work, the instructor introduced the technique to be practiced, which happened to be spinning turning kick. This produced a collective groan from a group, mainly from the higher grades within the class. Granted spinning turning kick is not the easiest of techniques but it is hardly tough enough to have people groaning about it. At that point, I feel, all the people who expressed their dislike of the technique had already lost.

For sure they had exposed a weakness in their technique, the fact that they didn’t enjoy practicing the technique. Also they exposed weakness in their mindset, they had almost already admitted defeat just because it was a tough technique. In that session, no one that expressed their displeasure put in 100% effort. Maybe just going through the motions until the instructor moved to a different technique.

Ok, so it was only a pad drill, but what happens if we carry that mindset into other parts of the art. If we have to spar a tough opponent or even defend ourselves physically. We can’t get used to admitting defeat when we are presented with a challenge. We need to develop a strong mindset that doesn’t let us shy away from challenges

We do this simply by facing up to challenges, in class we hear there is a difficult technique, we have to spar the club champion, we have to spar 2 on 1 , or 3 on 1 or even 5 on 1. No matter what the challenge we should meet it with no complaining and pretty much no comment at all.

At the beginning of this article I referred to the 2 different mindset as yin and yang. Both have to be present in your training. Whereas turning up for training everyday but never meeting a challenge will not help you progress, turning up for training once a month will mean that the basic will always be a challenge for you. If we balance the two, turning up and also constantly accepting challenges that we are presented with they we will make strong progress in our training.

Next time in training, when you are presented with a challenging situation, watch how you react

The Double Punch

I haven’t posted anything in a while due to being busy. However I do have a few articles in the pipeline. This month I want to look at double punch, and its application

It would be easy to assume that double punch is very common technique in the Taekwondo syllabus. Certainly it is common in both line drills and sparring. However, when we look at the patterns, double punch is not very common at all. In fact up to black belt, I can only count 4 patterns that contain the technique.

My first question when starting to investigate the double punch was, why does it exist at all? Everywhere else through the patterns a single punch in deemed enough to hit an opponent. If it is enough, why have a double punch at all? If is not enough why doesn’t every technique end with a double punch? Also why stop at double punch, why not double knifehand?

There may be an argument that sometimes you need to hit an opponent more than once. This is true but we can’t really build patterns on ‘sometimes’. Trying to account for every possibility in a fight would make patterns unmanageably long and is something best practiced in well constructed sparring. Also the principle of ‘sometimes’ is not reflected in any of the other patterns.

As with other techniques, we have to look at the double punch in context.

Let’s start with Do San. In the pattern we have a wedging block, a front kick, and then the double punch.  I have written before about my own interpretation of this movement. However no matter what interpretation you practice, it is likely that the front kick will disrupt the opponents’ balance thus moving his head about. It would be difficult therefore to catch the head with a single punch as it bobs about. Watch any boxing or mma match and you’ll see this to be true.

If we consider this then we can say that the first movement isn’t a punch at all but a movement to relocate secure the head before punching. This is similar to principles that we can see all the way through the patterns. That of grabbing and hitting. Another application would be to grab the head and use the double punch motion to twist the neck.

As an aside this movement is taken almost directly from the karate kata ‘jion’ but instead on a double punch it is a punch, double punch. To me this strengthens the case that they are not all meant to be punches

If we look at Yul Gok, we can see a similar idea. In the opening movement of Yul Gok the foot slides out to form a sitting stance, when I learnt this pattern I was taught that the foot moves in a semi-circle, rather than moving directly sideways. To me this represents a reaping or unbalancing technique, the hands at this point aiding the unbalancing. Again this technique takes the opponent’s head far off the centerline and we need to relocate it in order to deliver the punch, equally we can also look at this as wrenching or twisting the neck.

Similar ideas can be taken from the opening of Hwa Rang, of unbalancing and the relocating the head.

When looking at alternative application, I think we have to be careful not to be over critical with the mainstream applications. Maybe you feel that the way the applications are presented are not all correct, but I don’t think we should assume they are all wrong either. In saying that, I do feel that double punch is one technique that appears simple but has some extra meaning behind it.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Thank you

Why Tactical TKD

As an ending to the ‘My journey‘ articles, I am reposting one of my first articles.

 

I start training in Taekwondo at the age of 16. I had never done any sort of serious physical activity before beyond the P.E. lessons that we were subjected to at school. Playing cricket in hail stones and trying to kick a football through mud.  I was less than fit and flexible but I knew it was something I desperately wanted to do, so week after week I would go and take part in the class my face would turn from red to blue to white and I invariable ended up sitting out of some of the class catching my breath.  It was only due to some great instructors and seniors in that club that I managed to get myself together. Years later my experiences and the things learned (in between mad dashes to the bathroom to throw up) are still a source of learning and motivation for me.

I have since moved away from my hometown and ceased serious practice of TKD, although I still practice the patterns. I have studied in a number of different countries and under different masters of different styles but all the way through be it shaolin kung fu, aikido or stick fighting I have looked for ways to link all my knowledge back through to taekwondo

The way I do this is through the patterns of ITF taekwondo which I believe are a largely mis understood and under used part of the syllabus. The usual applications for the movements, such as an outer forearm block to stop a hook punch or a low block to stop a front kick, are presented all with the underlying feeling of “yeah well, this is how they used to fight in Asia” or even more oddly “this is the art side of TKD, of course it would never work, but I am telling you this anyway” and then classes get on with the ‘real’ stuff of sparring. This is not a problem only in TKD but in most martial art that include forms practice in the syllabus. Students of the martial art for the most part seem not to want to study the movements in-depth and are satisfied with agreeing with the first application that is presented no matter how workable or unworkable it seems

This is mainly because forms practice in many arts has been reduced to a demonstration art, people spend years training to hold kicks in position or get the placement of a punch millimetre perfect without spending one training session examining the application of the movement. This has been compounded by the grading syllabus of many schools also requiring a demonstration of a form rather than demonstration of the understanding of the form.

Slowly through practices like this and the introduction of sport style sparring with gloves and rules that make many of the movement from the forms redundant (i.e. it is difficult to perform a knife hand with a boxing glove on) the true applications and essence of traditional Taekwondo is being lost.

Tactical Taekwondo is my attempt to present the information I have learnt during my years in the martial arts and how it can all be found in TKD if we look at the patterns closely.o

My Journey – part two

This is a continuation of the previous article detailing my journey through the martial arts, if you would like to read part one you can find it here

 

Krav Maga

After leaving Aikido I floated for a few months until I was invited to try Krav Maga by one of the Aikido black belts I had trained with. I was a bit reluctant at first, I wasn’t at all sure about going for what could be seen as a modern art after spending so much time in the traditional styles.

After a bit of persuasion I went along to see what it was like. I loved it. Running about hitting pads, sweating, and breathing heavy was like returning home. The simplicity of Krav and the training methods makes for a very effective self-defense system.

The classes had just newly opened were quite small, in fact I was in the first group of 8 people to train Krav in Beijing. Of the 8, every single one of us had a black belt in one style or another, this made the training really hard and a lot of fun. We all knew how to train and whether it was pad work or contact drills we were all pushing each other as hard as we could.

One thing that happened while I was Krav was I realized how much extra power I had from learning to relax in the Chinese styles. I was no longer forcing the punches and feeling tight in my body but letting fly with loose strikes. Due to this, the standing and walking practices I learnt from Zhu Baozhen remain part of my practice to this day.

Krav Maga grew rapidly in Beijing, class numbers rose from 8, to around 20, to over 30 on some evenings. With the increase in students more instructors were needed, I happily put myself forward for the instructor’s course. Different from other martial arts, in Krav you don’t become an instructor after time served. You go through a very demanding course. In my case it was 2, two-week long courses. During the course you train every day from about 8 am – 6 pm, constantly running through the technical aspects of the art and the teaching methodology. Each course ends in a day long exam.

The standard expected from instructors is very high and the course is both mentally and physically demanding. It was a great experience, really pushing yourself to your limits each day.

I passed the course and returned to the gym to face the new challenge of being an instructor. I took my turn running regular classes, women’s self-defense classes, and special seminars. I was very happy to be working in the industry.

Balintawak

From time to time I go online to find out what is happening within the martial arts in my local area. It was through a casual internet search that I found my final teacher Mr. Frank Olea. He had posted an ad on one of the local forums that simply said ‘weapons training’. Being a Krav trainer, which involves a number of different weapons, this sounded something that would suit me.

I contacted him and set up meeting. It turned out he was living very close to me and was a Master level teacher in the Filipino art of Balintawak.

Balintawak is a single stick system of Eskrima, traditionally taught one on one from instructor to student. The instructor teaching the student through giving them increasingly complex and rapid attacks for the student to deal with.

That was how the training was, first defending against simple attacks, then attacks where my weapon hand was held, then defending against disarm attempts and so on. All of this was done training outside, and because of our individual work schedules, in the dark.

Frank would continually push me to understand the weapon movements especially the knife which he specialized in. He was also always pushing himself and trying to develop his art, the benefit of having a younger master as a teacher. He would occasionally come up with a new attack combination or angle that I had to defend against, either with a stick or a training knife. One night he came down from his apartment and announced that for the next few weeks we would be training with live blades.

For me Balintawak brought a number of things together the methods of Balintawak complement the Chinese systems very well due to the close in nature of the style. It also blends quite well with some of the Krav techniques.

Frank granted me permission to teach his style shortly before I left Beijing.

Currently, I live in Jakarta where I teach both Krav Maga and Balintawak with some Tactical Taekwondo thrown in. I choose not to study any additional  styles right now. I use my time in this country to consolidate what I have learnt from all the teachers I have known.

As I said in the about section I try to bring everything I learn back to the original TKD patterns that I learnt. For example, my interpretation of the opening movement of Do San was inspired by the attention paid to natural movements in Krav Maga techniques, and my application of Sonkal Daebi Makgi was taken from the chicken form from Xingyiquan and some of the Bagua entering movements.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my journey through the martial arts. I don’t know where my path will lead me next, but I know I will be training and studying martial arts for as long as I am able.