Tactical Taekwondo Pad work

Padwork is an integral part of TKD training. It is often seen as only having sport application but with a little bit of imagination we can make it suitable training aid to pattern application and self defence.

The drills I am going to talk about are hand orientated I am going to leave the leg drills for another time. Before we get to the drills I think we should look at some equipment prefrences.

The Pads and The Holder

I personally like stiff focus mitts to train punches. I find with softer pads you don’t get the same feedback. Feedback is also important when learning to hold pads for someone. There should be a small amount of tension in your arms when you are holding. Just a little bit of resistance when the punch lands so the puncher can feel how hard the strikes are. If too much the punches can be jammed or the holder can end up generating more power than the puncher. If too loose there is a danger to both the puncher and the holder for injury and strikes will never be delivered at full power as there is nothing to absorb the power. It takes time to get the skills for holding but it is an important aspect of training.

Gloves

There is some discussion about whether to wear gloves for pad work or not. For me it is a matter of what your goals are in a particular session. If you are going to be working for a long time at your max power then maybe you should protect your hands a little. If you are working on technique then I suggest you go without gloves, this helps better with the form of your hands and hand conditioning. A while back I found after working with gloves for too long that the form of my fist hand changed and still to this day I can spot people in my classes that have maybe over used gloves in their training.

The drills

These are a few examples of drills that I use in my classes. Before doing these drills you should have basic abilities in punching so that you can train safely. Time should be spent just going through basic punching combinations. This is good for the puncher and the holder to practice.

The first two pad drills are taken directly from the techniques shown in the patterns

Stripping and clearing

This drill is essentially to train your non punching hand. The drill starts as normal with the holder presenting the pads to the puncher. Jabs, straights, hooks, and uppercuts can all be used. Randomly the holder also has the choice of holding the pad for a punch but covering it with the other pad. The puncher should then clear the obstructing pad with their non-punching and then delivering the strike. I like to call for multiple strikes each time this happens, you have just cleared a pathway may as well make the most of it.

Pad control

This drill is also based on keeping both hands active. Instead of letting the holder dictate the strike used, the punch takes control of the pad by holding from behind. Essentially grabbing the holder’s hand. The puncher then moves the pad and delivers three fast strikes, then shifts the pad and delivers another three fast strikes. The strikes again range from, jabs, crosses, uppercuts, hooks, and can also include downward hammer fist and various elbow strikes. The changes and strikes should be fast, after all the puncher is punching their own hand the pad is merely in the way.

When you are well practiced at this you should try the same drill with your eyes closed.

Last three strikes of your life

This is for developing power. Once a variety of strikes have been practiced. The holder calls for a strike or punch. The Puncher then deliver three of the prescribed strikes as hard and as fast as possible. As soon as they have finished then another strike should be called. This continues till the power or form of the strikes starts to drop. Then either the partners switch roles or the puncher gets a short break and goes again.

Cover

Similar to a boxing drill, during a punching drill the holder can attack the puncher with the pads. They should be strikes aimed and the head and the puncher should cover. The reaction of the puncher should be to either grab, clear or grapple the holder. Not just to ride out the punches and continue.

Surprise

The holder engages the puncher in conversation. At a random moment the holder bring up the pad and shouts at the puncher. The puncher should respond as quickly as possible in an appropriate manner ie. Striking and backing off. The more relaxed each person can be before the strike is called the better the practice is. This can also be done with multiple people

These are just a few of the pad drill I use with my students to practice movement straight from the patterns. Of course nothing beats live practice but I find padwork an invaluable part of my, and my students, development. I hope you try some of these drills and see how they work into the TKD self defence system

Strength Training

Ok, so the topic of strength training has been covered by many people. Despite this, there still seems to be a little confusion over whether people should train with weights and the benefits of lifting heavy. In this article will be throwing my two cents in to the discussion.

The martial arts world and in fact the world in general has largely opened up to the idea that lifting weights is good for everybody. The idea of the huge, stiff bodybuilder has been replaced by a strong supple muscular human body. The question of should a martial artist should spend some time on strength training should have finally been answered. However, there are still some people that feel it somehow demeans what they do. These are the people that maybe believe that technique is enough and would rather spending their time in seated mediation than sweating in the gym or even the dojang.

Whereas meditation can be seen as an important part of marital arts training, we should not lose the site that our training is physical and having a strong body can only serve to make our practice better.

In my personal practice I use kettlebell training and some basic barbell work. I find the two complement each other and gives me a good balance of general strength and explosive power. Certainly at time when I have gone to training camps I have performed better and been more injury free than I would have been had I not spent some time on strength training.

However,

This is not the whole story, you cannot go in start a strength program and improve.  Our training should be balanced, if we add something to our training then we need to balance it in other areas of what we do.

As an example, a little while ago i was going through a  specific strength training program, through the time spent in the gym gripping the barbell etc. I found that when I was working with my Arnis teacher I started to grip the stick too hard. This made disarming me as simple as snapping a dry twig. I didn’t want to stop my strength training so I had to balance out my training. I believe that this lack of balance in training was more responsible for the ‘stiff muscleman’ image that used to be held up as a reason for not touching weights.

To quote one of the UK’s best throwing and strength athletes you need to pay attention to the 5 Ss, Strength, speed, skill, suppleness, stamina. If you ignore or focus on one of these too much you won’t reach your full potential

One last word on strength training, if you are going to lift weights then learn how to do it right. Find a good instructor and tell them your goals. Lifting weights is as technical and dangerous as practicing martial arts

What we take with us

I haven’t posted in a while, my life has been extremely busy. I got married in December and have spent the last few months preparing to leave China and move to Jakarta. Hopefully since Indonesia doesn’t have so many internet restrictions I’ll be able to post more often.

The subject of me moving country is connected to the theme of this posting. In moving country I have had to say goodbye to my students and teacher. It is never an easy thing to do, but sometimes life pushes you in a certain way. However, it did prompt me to thinking about what a person can take from training. I have moved around a lot and have always had to take as much from training as I can and make it my own.

Often I have had teachers move in and out of my life, if I don’t try to assimilate what they teach in to what I do then why bother training with them. I think that this is something people should ask themselves; what do you take from training?

I have known many good practitioners and Dan grades that have moved away from their dojang and as a result stopped practicing. Without the group or their teacher they maybe find out that their art is meaningless, and belong only in the gym. These are maybe the same people that would tell students that martial arts was part of their life.

I don’t think that someone has to leave their club or even travel to another country to find this out but just ask yourself, if you took away the dojang, your teacher, and dobok, what have you got?

In other words, does the art you practice belong to you or does it still belong to your teacher, do you still need a teacher to continue to develop. Of course we all need one in the beginning but there comes a time when you should be able to break free and start altering the art to fit your needs. It may seem strange for some especially in a system that encourages copying a form as closely as we can.

I think we all have to spend time actually studying the art that we practice so that when life does make staying at your current place of training impossible you don’t lose the art

X-Block

If there is a movement that is more derided and made fun of than any other then surely it must be x-block. I have lost count of the number of time I have seen, in person and on the internet, an instructor throwing his hands up in a mock X-block against a knife attack. This is usually accompanied with a loud theatrical kihap. Over time I feel that this one movement has become a representation of all traditional martial arts and their ineffectiveness. I have my own feelings about instructors that openly make fun of other styles for the purpose of making their style look superior but that is for another article.

The x-block is found in a number of different traditional arts. If you go with the idea that the patterns or forms were created by fighters then X-block has stood the test of time and was preserved in the forms for a reason. It is the modern interpretation of the movement that it wrong.

Even if you take a training partner and practice some short range striking and grappling you will find that there are times that your hands will naturally cross. Maybe in order to clear arms, get to the outside, strip a grab. All are applications of the different forms of X-block that can be found in patterns.

If for example we look at the rising X-block as it is found in Jhoong Gun. A high attack causes us to throw our arms up in defense, in the case of Jhoong Gun this would be our right arms. We then slip our left arm up in front of our right arm, and between our right arm and the attackers arm. The next movement is then to step round and at the same time turn the attacker away from us. The following movements are to secure the arm and counter attack to a target that is presented.

It is quite difficult to write down an application of a movement but I hope you follow it. This is just one example of an X-block application based on a natural motion or reaction. As I mentioned before there are many more, for example

Toi Gye, Stripping a grab from your wrist that has been seized in response to you trying to execute a throw.

Gae Beuk, Stepping back and catching a shove or double handed grab, before stopping the attacker with a kick.

I hope that these few examples lead you to start looking at X-block in a different light. It is much more that a useless relic but a very effective and natural motion for close combat It is deserving of in depth study.

Training Dirty

In my previous article I discussed why many instructors and style choose to omit what are deemed as dirty techniques from their syllabus. Dirty techniques being things like eye gouging, strikes to the groin, head butting, and biting. In this article I would like to go further and look at how to include these techniques into training.

Even instructors that do advocate the techniques mentioned above don’t include them in their training. This can be for a number of reasons but I feel the most common is the belief that these techniques are so low skill that they don’t need to be trained, rather just used when the opportunity arises. It is this thinking that causes me a problem. Whereas it is true that the techniques don’t need to be drilled and refined as much as the high level skill techniques the habit of applying them most definitely does.

To illustrate this point I would like to borrow the term ‘front of mind’ from marketing. This is the idea that by constantly reminding someone of a particular brand, through advertising media, the shopper will reach for the particular brand without needing to spend any time thinking about it.

Similarly we should be constantly reminding ourselves that techniques such as biting exist so that when the need arises they are there without us having to think about them.

This process starts with the patterns. Looking at all the pattern movements, studying them to find where some of the techniques are represented as in the case of the head butt in Toi Gye, or where they can be inserted as in the case of biting while engaging someone using a forearm guarding block.

Then after taking a look at the theory it is time to put it in to practice. This is where the idea of training habit more than technique is important. Of course if we started biting out training partners training would become a very uncomfortable painful place not to mention unhygienic. So the techniques are slightly altered so that they become a safe but close representation of the intended technique. For example some of what I use is:

Biting – moving toward target area and growling
Grabbing groin – grabbing t-shirt or belt knot
Eye gouging – pressing on the eye brow

With these we then move on to freer practice with these representation of techniques included. Both parties have to understand what the techniques signify so that they can react in a reasonable way. By that I don’t mean that we become bad actors but at least if an eye gouge is applied then the defender should try to prevent it even if it is just a press on the eye brow and causes no actual pain.

When you start out with this you may be thinking that it is going to be easy. That you can go all out and use all the techniques that have been taken away from you in sport sparring. However, what you may well find it that you end up with a lot of missed opportunities or start focusing on the ‘new’ techniques too much causing you to over extend and get hit more. This can be frustrating and uncomfortable for some causing them to go back to their previous way of sparring. My advice at this point is to slow down, literally slow down the fight and investigate where the techniques can be a applied and more importantly where it is reasonable to apply them. Through this you slowly bring all of the dirty tactics to the front of your mind where they should be just in case you need them

All the gentlemen are dead

In the martial arts the concept of fighting fair often gets deeply engrained in the student. We can easily get swept away with the romantic notion of being able to dispatch a group of snarling, dirty fighting thugs with very clean knock out blows and solar plexus kicks that makes us the hero of good clean decent people.

As exaggerated as this sounds I think is this the secret image that many practitioners, teachers, and even master level teachers have. If you look at some of the mainstream applications to patterns it goes some way to support this idea. Simple brutal movements are often altered to make them more palatable. What may have been at one time a head butt changed to a shoulder strike or missed out completely and is just referred to as a step forward.

Techniques like, eye gouging, head butting, and biting are not only effective but easily accessible. It is sometime this accessibility that makes people disregard them as low skill techniques that should be left for the poor philistines and thugs that don’t train in martial arts or are so low skill that they will always be there for us when we need them. One more reason that they are being left out is that they are seen as unsporting or not fighting fair. Here in lies the issue, no one said fights were meant to be fair. In fact they are very often not. I don’t think that people head to the streets looking for a challenge match, what they want is a beat down with them on the winning side. Sticking to the idea of ‘fighting clean’ or ‘fighting fair’ could very well put you at a disadvantage

One argument that I hear from people who don’t want to include these techniques is that they are not traditional. This is based on the idea that they are not in the forms. This may very well be true but the fact that some of them are low skill, for example biting, that we can make the assumption that the student is already familiar with the ‘technique’. Therefore we can use the patterns to point out positions where a particular low skill technique may be applied.

The other issue with the ‘it’s not in the patterns’ argument is that they very well could be. Take a look at the opening of Toi Gye as an example. Instead of the first movement that is often seen as a block has our hand in the same position as it would be in a shirt or clothing grab. The following movement, pulling our hand to our chest and stepping forward, looks very much like a head butt to me. Later in the pattern there is a twin vertical punch., I don’t agree with the name or the standard application of the movement I teach it as an eye gouge.

Now this may be slowly my interpretation of the patterns but my point is that they techniques can be found there if someone wants.

We should of course look for skill and try to develop ourselves in different ranges and techniques, but this doesn’t mean that we should veer forget the low level skill techniques. In my next article I will be looking at ways of safely training these techniques.

Are you ready for applications?

Anyone that has trained anyone anything will have come across students who want to jump to the more advanced things without working on the basics. The instructor will often remind the student the importance of building a solid foundation before starting more advanced skills. Yet this sound teaching practice is all but forgotten when teaching pattern applications.

First the empty form is taught and then the and then the application but without teaching the student anything about distance timing control etc. in other words the bare techniques are taught without the basic support skills.. This leads to a set of largely useless isolated techniques. No matter if they are reactive or proactive without certain general skills the techniques become academic.

In the past forms were some of the last things that were taught in some systems. They were not seen as a product that is sold which is essentially how they are treated today. They were seen as the end of a part of training where they had the techniques show so as could better remember the techniques they had learnt.

So what dd they do the rest of the time? In a modern dojang patterns/forms training could easily take up 50% or more of class time. During that time the position of the hands are feet are analyzed to pin point precision but never used. In the past I believe in the past most of a class would be taken up with moving with a partner in a number of different formats. Only with that hands on knowledge can people have the basis to make use of the information in the patterns It is important that our students know what is it like to be hit, be grabbed or grab other people before we start looking at the details of techniques.

In my own classes there are 3 fundamental formats that I look for my students to be comfortable with before I feel they will really understand the patterns. We try to explore these formats as much as possible and the ability in the formats should rise with the level of the patterns.

The fundamental formats that I look at are:

Covering

This is a very natural movement, someone hits you in the head and you throw your hands up to guard. I want my students to get used to this and be desensitized to the panic feeling. We go from four main angles (front, back, left and right) and mix in some body shots. I don’t want student trying to block every shot nor do I want them just to weather all the blows. I want them to react in a protective manner, covering their head, and then escape or find a way to counter the attack.

Grappling

The students take hold of each other in a formal grip. Usually I go for tricep/elbow and back of the head/collar. Then they practice moving each other and being moved and touching target areas to represent a strike or grabbing at areas like the groin or throat etc. As we progress we vary the grips, look at defending the initial grapple, and breaking free and escaping.

Clearing

This is done in a number of ways. We start with one partner standing in a guard and the other working round them practicing clearing arms to open target areas, this shown by a light tap to the area. We can then move on to moving and adding more resistance.

In all of these formats we add in various strikes and tactics as the students progress.

If you have read my previous articles you may notice that these three formats come from my interpretation of the patterns, covering from the crossed hand position, clearing from knifehand guarding block, and grappling from forearm guarding block. In themselves they seem very easy but as you work on them you can keep adding new variables to make them more challenging. They give the student the basic skills to at least understand where the application of the patterns fit

With practice the three formats can blend into each other. When covering, either person can go into limb clearing, which could be responded by grappling. This added with striking is already a fairly solid, if basic, stand up system.

From there we add in and investigate the techniques found within the patterns. Surprisingly a good deal of the techniques may have already been discovered by the students through just practicing the drills. From there we can formalize them and make our TKD to a truly integrated system