Taekwondo on the ground

90% of all fights end up on the ground


The above quote was made famous by those looking to promote ground fighting. Whether it is true or not the point is that we may end up on the ground, and if we do we need to know how to cope. Taekwondo and many other arts seem to be sorely lacking in this area.

So much material has been written about ground fighting that a simple on line search will turn up many, often conflicting, ideas on the subject. Form people taking ground fighting systems like BJJ or trying to adapt what they know from their own stand up system to the ground.Some even clinging to the idea that purely stand up is all they need

My view on this falls somewhere in between.

Certainly if you want to be a solid ground fighter you need to spend some time in a specialized style, the most prominent of which is probably BJJ. Spend some time on the ground and understanding it, if you have skills from your stand up system then maybe you can find somewhere where they would fit in, but do find instruction in the basics at least.


For applied, self-defense based martial arts the ground is somewhere we don’t want to be. We neither want to take the fight to the ground nor do we want to engage in any ground fighting. While we are on the ground we run the risk of being kicked by our attacker’s friends, a weapon being drawn on us, our loved ones being attacked while we are occupied on the ground, or many other things that we can’t control.

Considering all this, what we should be training to do is get back to our feet as quickly as possible. Training to get back up after going to ground should be the main focus of our training. For this I have a basic stage system I go through with my students



From various positions, your training partner just lies on top of you, makes no effort to hold you down but is merely a dead weight for you to remove.


Again,  from different positions you partner is on top of you and can give small resistance, correcting their position as you move, so it is no longer simply just rolling them off you, you’ll need to find other way. At this stage I don’t include striking or pain compliance and it is more about movement than anything.


This is when you partner is trying to hold you down, just like stand up sparring you can focus on different strategies, pain compliance, striking etc. as can your partner. Also because of the proximity to your opponent you may find that ‘dirty fighting’ may be easier to apply.


Going from standing to the ground can be a shock, so again we have to train for it. First with just being taken down from standing then from a moving/fighting situation. It should go without saying that break   falls should be studied before attempting this type of training


Of course the above is nowhere near the level of a wrestling or BJJ curriculum, and I don’t ever pretend that it is. As mentioned before my objective, both for myself and my students, is to regain my feet, not to beat someone one on the ground. As an aside, Jocko Willink former Navy SEAL and BJJ black belt said on a recent podcast that fighting someone who is trying to get away from him and escape is much harder than fighting someone who is willing to engage in a ground fight. Food for thought


Ok, so I accept that the title of the article may have been a little bit misleading as in the stages above there isn’t strictly any taekwondo techniques. However, by being able to fight your way back to your feet puts you in a better position to apply what you know.


I think this is an important part of applied training and sadly on that many people miss out

Doo Palmok Makgi – The power move

When I was coming up the ranks in Taekwondo, I got to blue belt and I was introduced to the ‘most powerful block in the Taekwondo syllabus – Doo palmok Makgi, or double forearm block. First appearing in the pattern Jhoon Gun it quite rightly deserves the title as most powerful block. All of our energy is being thrown in one direction, there is no reaction hand to balance the force. Unfortunately that is usually where the understanding of this block stops. The application is very similar to all other block except that the attack may be stronger, a kick for example, strong attack means a stronger block is needed sort of idea.


So, I am going to lay out my own interpretation of this ‘block’ as I see it in applied taekwondo. However, before we look at the application we need to first look at the principle of ‘structure’. To explain the whole concept here would take too long but basically, if you have a good structure you have all of your balance and all of your power, if you have a poor structure then your balance and power diminishes. Some things that contribute to a solid structure are:


  • Vertical spine, curved a little forward
  • Stance not too narrow or long
  • Major joints stacked so they can work together


There are a lot more things that go to make up a structure but I am sure you get the idea by now. All of the points are covered in stance training but I find people have a habit to concentrate too much on the feet when we start discussing stance.

.If you want to see the importance of stance and structure, try to work the heavy bag with a stone in your shoe. You will quickly find that your  body shape will have an effect one everything you do. You movements will be awkward and you won’t be able to punch, kick or move as you want to. This is exactly like the application of Doo Palmok Makgi

As mentioned before doble forearm block is apwerful move, it is meant o distrupt the opponents balance and alignment to open them for throws and takedowns. I can bee seen as from the simlair point of view as sonkal daebi makgi, in the way that they are both techniques used to set an opponent up for attacks

If we take Kwang Gae as an example, your opponent may have their hands up either in a sort of guard or attack, you perform doo palmok makgi,  your (in this case) right forearm smashing across the neck and arms of the opponent, your right leg fits steps behind your opponents lead leg. This is the set up (or connect in the 3 C’s of Tactical Taekwondo), if done well your opponents structure has been compromised, their weight distribution is off and they are open for a follow up


As you slide back, you left arm clears and pull the opponents right arm and your lead leg catches and drags your opponent’s lead leg. This really takes your opponent off balance, extending their stance and putting them in a very vulnerable position.


The final move can be seen as a fingertip strike to the throat, or as using your forearm to the opponents neck to take them down.


I chose Kwang Gae, because I feel the application here is very nicely laid out, however if you look at double forearm block  in other patterns you can see a similar use for it being a set up for a throw or take down.



Again when I am looking through these application I am surprised and excited at how complete an art Taekwondo actually is, covering many aspects of stand-up fighting.

In the next article, I am going to be looking at TKD on the ground.

The 3 types of Taekwondo

Occasionally when I am teaching I will get in to discussion with people about tactics. A lot of students have a very misguided idea about what tactics they will be able to use in a self-defense situation. I catch students using in and out footwork and setting up big shots with their jab. All with the idea that they will have time and space to employ such methods. These methods are of course much better suited for competitive arena. There we are matched with someone of equal size and ability and try to win a competition under a set of rules.


To help clarify the differences we can talk about there being 3 types of TKD.The three types being, Sport, demonstration and Practical. By identifying these and their differences we can better prepare ourselves for the kind of situation we are likely to find ourselves in.


Sport TKD

This is the most common type of TKD. The sparring take place on a matted area with referees and judges.  We want to make our strikes as clear as possible to catch the referee’s attention and a higher number of points are awarded for more flamboyant techniques.

The situation is very controlled so the number of techniques that are used can be limited. TKD fighters tend to try to fight side on to each other so that they can easily use side and turning kicks, this side on or bladed stance also creates a smaller target for our opponent to score points on.

The tactics employed in a ring fight would include set ups, fake outs, drawing the opponent in, and general ring craft. Distance, timing, bobbing and weaving are all very important.


Demonstration TKD

In my experience I would put this as the second most common type of TKD. The purpose is to make TKD entertaining to onlookers who may or may not have martial arts experience. High kicks and double jumping kicks are the order of the day. We are may be not looking for a bobbing a weaving chess game but something that is visually exciting and makes people want to give TKD a try.


In Demonstration TKD, we want to display the particular characteristics of our art as best as we can. This can require a high degree of strength, flexibility and technical ability. We want to get everything right first time. Nothing is worse in a demonstration than missing a technique and having to do it again, especially if it is board or brick breaking.


Practical TKD

I struggled a little to find a name of this type of TKD, i could have gone with tactical TKD or applied TKD, I settled on practical as it has a direct application to one’s life, as opposed to an indirect application that all training can have orphysical fitness, lowering bloody pressure, dealing with stress etc. I really wanted to avoid any terms like street TKD.


The purpose of this type of TKD is to be used in live uncontrolled situations. We can’t depend on ourselves being prepared or having time to get in to a stance. All ranges will be viable and should be trained in attack and defense. We have to train the self-defense mind set. The movements in the patterns should be studied deeply as to the application. We need to train for short range power and explosive strikes.

If needed largely the purpose of the physical movements employed in practical TKD will be to damage a person as quickly as possible. With a view to that the real purpose of practical TKD would be not to use TKD at all


So there in very broad terms are the distinct types of TKD, all very different and all under the umbrella of Taekwondo. However, they all need a different training strategy, you can’t train for demonstration and expect to be successful in the sparring arena. Equally you can’t train for sport application and expect to be able to use you TKD for self defence.


At this point there may be people who want to point out the overlap between the types of TKD. Despite what you may think there is actually very little, in fact the only thing they have in common is that you are making contact with another person. You’d be as well trying to make connection between football and rugby, they are both team ball sports that take play on a pitch, but no one would train for rugby and expect to be successful in a football match.

You can of course train for more than one, you don’t need to specialize completely, and there are a lot of benefits to be reaped from each type of training. You do, however, need to be very clear on which type you are training and what your training goals are and train accordingly.


Through identifying the differences in the types of training and modifying our practice accordingly we will be far more successful in TKD as a whole

Deciding on applications

Alternative applications to the patterns is nothing new. If you have been involved in the traditional martial arts for any length of time you will have doubtlessly had discussions about the ‘real’ purpose of the movements that you practice every training session.

These alternative applications cover a wide range of things. From grappling, to pressure point striking, to using weapons in the forms. Whereas a lot of these approaches have merit there are some that I feel are just an effort to be different.

So when looking at applications how do we decide if an application has any value

Well, here is my process.

1. Look at the ITF encyclopedia.

I think it is a mistake to automatically believe that every movement in the encyclopedia is incorrect. It is a good place to start at least. If you don’t like the application that is presented, ask yourself why. Is it too difficult to pull off, is it unrealistic attack, or does it not put enough damage on the opponent. Again it is not so important that you like or don’t like the application it is important that you can express why, the reason should not be because you don’t see it in the UFC.

2. Look to other styles including karate.

OK so some people are not going to like this. However, through my study of other martial styles I have gained a greater understanding of the patterns from TKD. Even just to get a new view point of a particular moment it is a useful step. As one example I gained a better idea of knifehand guarding block through studying the chicken form of Xing Yi Quan.

This is especially valuable when you are looking at the grappling side of the patterns. Working on your own is great but you should also take time to study a little bit of the grappling arts to learn the principles and concepts that must be present in order for grappling application to be effective.

You should also look at the karate kata because some of the movements of the forms over time have been altered many times. Occasionally they have been altered to better meet the conditions of the mainstream applications. By looking g at the source we can maybe see how much the move has been altered and it also gives us and insight to the purpose. However, we should be able to draw a line here, lest we become the person walking round the dojo telling everyone that TKD is ‘wrong’ we should use our research to gain information and move our art forward

3. Form a hypotheses.

From the information you have you can start to look at your own applications. You should look at it from all angles. If you can’t see a block in the movement can you see a grab or a throw. For more advanced forms can you see a control?

Your application should be simple, direct, and damaging. A lot of applications where your opponent doesn’t end up in the floor are not likely to last long.

Also your applications should be linked. By this I mean that the principles or basic techniques that are represented by one application should also be present in others. If you want my view of principles you can look at the 3 Cs of tactical taekwondo here. In short you should build a system, not a selection of unrelated techniques.

4. Test.

This is where the fun starts. Grab a partner and work on the application. First as a compliant practice to see if what you think will happen is actually possible. Many time si have had a application in my head but when I try to apply it it turn out there is something a little off, this either takes some small adjustments or after a while if is still not working to completely change.

Next we go in to semi live, for this you need to decide if your application is self defence or fighting. What you pick will change how you will train this part. Whether you will be squaring off with some one or have on attacking another for example. The key here is the attack will be faster and harder and the defender will be working under some level of stress.

Finally we blend it with our system, again depending on whether it is fighting or self defense will alter how this section looks. However, the attacks and defenses will not be fixed, it will be up to the people training on how they work the new techniques in their system.



So there it is a basic step by step process of how to decide on application. Of course there are other but this is the method I choose to follow to ensure that my applications have a practical value and that they are all linked in some way.


If you are reading this then you are probably forming application to the movements in your forms. In that case I hope that these steps help you.

5 flaws with mainstream applications

As I read in many internet forums there seem to still be a lot of controversy about the applications of the movement found in patterns. Recently I have seen a number of youtube videos highlighting the mainstream applications of the patterns, while the production quality of these videos were usually quite good they still put forward a number of flaws in the applications. I would like to point these things out to make it clear why I disagree with many of the mainstream application

  • Moving towards a person to block an attack that would never have reached them

This is a very common issue with many of the movements that are presented as ‘blocks’. In a lot of patterns we move forward in to walking stance while executing a ‘low block’ or a ‘rising block’ in some cases the practitioner even turns to perform these things. We seem to be constantly turning and moving into attacks in order to defend against them. As a tactic this doesn’t make sense, and in the case of turning 180 degree to block a waiting attack it just doesn’t makes sense as a likely scenario. If you know someone is there why would you turn and throw your hands down instead of protecting your head for example?


  • Using only one hand with the other siting uselessly on the hip

It is often seen as getting ready for the next attack that your hand sits on the hip. Again why is it there instead of protecting your head? Why in none of the application are we using that hand to pull the opponent thus putting them in a weaker position? By only using one hand and hoping for a knock out strike we are also giving them opponent an equal chance to hit us. If we hold on to them and pull them off balance by pulling an arm, or clothing or even hair, we give ourselves a better opportunity to get strikes in. In the mainstream application we see a lot of one-handed techniques.


  • Placing yourself in a bad position just to make a technique work

All the way through the patterns we seem to be constantly placed in odd positions and the ‘imaginary opponents’ are making odd attacks just to make the ‘block, punch’ principle work. This includes blocking to the side in a sitting stance, blocking on one leg, blocking or striking people behind us without looking, and in some cases jumping into a block. Again in a fighting system all of these things don’t make sense.


  • Randomly placing weapon attacks my make some of the applications look better

It would seem that when we cant think of a ‘block, punch’ application for a particular movement we add something, usually a stick or other weapon. The problem I have with this is that the placing of these are completely random.  We may have one movement in three patterns that is specific to a stick attack, the rest of the time we use purely hand and foot attacks. Yes of course there is some crossover with the two attacking styles, but then why have the stick attacks at all. Also they tend to also be fairly unrealistic


  • Blocking more than one opponent at the same time

Here we see what happens when a movement is larger and the hand doesn’t go back on the hip, we are seen to be doing some combination of blocking and striking to two different people. Even in a hard sparring session it is hard to block one person, never mind when you are trying to do it in a self-defense situation against 2 opponents


With all of these fairly basic reasons it would seem to suggest that we have some of the applications for the patterns wrong. Despite this many teachers still claim that that these are what the movements are for. Maybe they claim that it is an artistic expression of a fight or even that it was the way that people used to attack. However the same people that claim those things will still teach the movement as viable self-defense tactics. An easy way for you to find out about these movements is to go an try them, not in one step sparring but find a training partner and ask them to attack you try to apply any of the movements, if they work for you great, if not then you may need to rethink what you are teaching as a martial system

Yop Joomak, the forgotten fist of Taekwondo

Maybe it is because of the sporting application of Taekwondo but it seems that over the years the applied techniques of Taekwondo have become less and less. The full complement of techniques is more than 3,000 yet today in most dojangs we would likely see no more than 7 being practiced

Of course this is an example of people training what they need to train. The 7 techniques that are practiced is enough to see you through your competitive career. When you change the focus of your training however, you shouldn’t work from the same point thinking that the handful to techniques that saw you safe in the ring are equally applicable in self defence.

Yop joomak or hammer fist is one technique that has been left behind. Rarely trained in most dojangs and largely absent in the patterns it is maybe seen as a very low skill technique and one not worth practicing. I have discussed the importance of training low skill techniques before, but I feel hammer fist deserves a little more attention that it currently gets.

For a start it is a very safe strike. Whereas with a straight punch you run the risk of damaging your knuckles. With a hammer fist you can strike full force with little or no damage to you hand.

It is also a very versatile strike. The number of directions and angle that you can strike with a hammer fist far outnumber most other strikes, and in most of these direction you can actually create more power with the hammer fist than other attacking tools.

As well as being a ‘low skill’ technique another possible reason why yop joomak is over looked is it is a softer attacking tool, whereas this is the reason it could be regarded as a safe strike, it may also create doubt in the practitioners mind that it will do much damage. This is true, but we have to also look at how many other techniques we practice that are not knock out shots. We cannot give ourselves over too much to the idea of ‘one hit, one kill’ this leads to a flaw in our training and our thinking. We should always aim to hit hard but we should never think that one strike will do the job. We should be attacking our opponent with a flurry of hard strikes then looking for an exit. Not relying on one big strike and then waiting to see what happens.

My preferred application of the hammer fist is to use it in combination with other strikes. For example, if someone is in front of me and acting in a threatening manner, my hands naturally come up to either try to calm the person down or control the space between myself and the other person. From the ‘hands up’ position a good option is to strike to the nose of the opponent with the hammer fist. After this initial strike, we can then following up with whatever is appropriate. A similar strategy also applies if the person is off to the side or even behind you.

In short then, hammer fist is a safe, versatile, and powerful strike. It can be easily applied as an opening strike in many different situations and defiantly not over looked by someone wanting to develop the practical side of their art.

Working from the patterns

Very often, when people are teaching pattern applications they teach them as isolated techniques. No matter what the application is good or bad, things like, timing, distancing, positioning are very often left out. We would never do this when practicing for a sparring competition, for every sparring technique we have we are aware of where it fits into the sparring dynamic. Similarly then we have to have this for all our pattern applications.

To talk about how to draw this out of the patterns I would like to use the technique ‘gorburyo sogi’ or bending ready stance. For me this is not the preparation for a side kick, but an attack to the legs while grappling. If we look at the pattern Yul Gok, for example during a grapple we attack the legs of our opponent by sharply bringing our front foot first to the back of our opponents front knee, and then to the knee of his back leg. To do this we efficiently we need to be in L-stance. As our opponents balance is disrupted we shift our hand from the grapple to control the head and then finish with and elbow strike to the face. To put body weight in to the technique we shift to walking stance.

Again, if we were just to practice that application, we may gain an understanding of the pattern but not the skill to actually apply anything. So first of all we have to bring thing back and look at the situation we are finding ourselves in. in this case it is grappling, so with a training partner we take up the classic grappling position and just practice moving them around the floor. As we improve in this skill the movement can be more aggressive till we are actually trying to unbalance one another, switch grips, throw in basic attacks, etc.

When we are comfortable with that we can start adding thing in from the patterns. In this case bending ready stance. There are a lot of things we have to work out, does it work when I am being pushed, or pulled? What foot position do I need to have? Where should my centre of gravity be? And so on. Through practice we can answer these questions and then make adjustments to our movements. Later we can also make adjustments to the techniques themselves to better fit your own personal style.

This process should be done with all the applications, starting with the range or the situation it is being applied in, working to get comfortable at that range with basic movements, applying the techniques from the patterns, finally making adjustments

I think when we get to the last stage we can finally say that we have unlocked an application. As we continue to unlock application we will no longer have a set of isolated techniques but a more complete and integrated system.