Competition Benefits



If you have read any of the other article in the blog you could easily get the impression that I am against competition. However, this could not be further from the truth. This time round I would like to too at some of the positive aspects of competition and where competition crosses the line to stop being useful


These days you could split TKD, or in fact any martial arts style, in to competitors or traditionalists. Both groups seem to have a pretty poor opinion about the other.

Traditionalists often have the opinion that sport martial artists are uncultured and can only use sporting techniques that are in some way inferior. Sometimes they hang on to the belief that their techniques are superior because they are too effective or dangerous to be allowed in a sporting arena


Sport martial artists have the opinion that the traditionalists practice ineffective techniques. They spend their time living in the past dealing with unrealistic attacks and silly unworkable defenses.


To be honest both opinions have merit. Whereas sporting techniques really belong in whatever arena you compete in, people who only practice traditional forms can often suffer from never having their techniques being tested


I have spent time in both camps and seen the attitudes of each. I think that the words ‘sport’ and ‘competition’ are often confused. Whereas sport will lead you in one particular direction, lack of competition won’t lead you anywhere in a practical sense


For example, it you have been training for a while, what gauge do you have to know if your techniques are powerful as they could be? You may train one particular kick 50 times a day and think that it is a good strong kick. That is until you have a competition against some on who practices 100 times a day.


Such an experience would surely reset your scale as to what hard training really is. I am sure if you are reading this article you have been through such an experience. Likely afterwards you went back and examined everything you did and grew because of it.


Competition requires us to push our limits and often times we find we are capable of much more. In his book Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about people believing lifting a certain weight was impossible, until someone stepped up and did it. Afterward the same feat was accomplished by many others. Would this have happened without some form of competition?


Competition can bring out the best in people. It pushes people to their limits and to find strength or skill that they never thought they had. When you adrenaline is up and you are against someone either directly as in sparring or indirectly in breaking competitions you have a will that in normal training you may not experience.

Lastly, competition is real. Self-defense can be seen as a competition, a very serious one but a competition all the same. No one ‘lets’ you perform your techniques. You have to fight them through. If you are not use to some form of competition then you will be left wanting when someone suddenly doesn’t want to play your game.


In my classes we often have competition, sure we spar but we also turn drills in to completion. I ask the students, “can you apply your technique (a punch) better than your partner can apply their technique (the defense). Then we work at it, people get hit but it lets them improve and grow as they realize that what they though was a solid technique has a gaping hole it. They grow through competition and at the end their understanding of all the techniques get better.

However, it is important to make the diction between attacking the person and attacking the technique. I see this a lot and it usually ends up in an argument. One partner resists, the other partner complains or goes harder, before long people are complaining about their training partner. In my classes I insist that people attack the person in the prescribed way or ways. Within the attack they are allowed to be as aggressive and hard as they like, what they are not allowed to do is to intention change their attack to mess up the defense.

For example, if we were practicing the opening technique from Do San, the arms cover, move to a control by hair grab, then counter with a straight punch. The attacker can throw a hard, fast haymaker. They can move, they can shout and swear at the defender. All of those things are ok but what they can’t do is throw the haymaker and duck or move their head in anticipation of what they know is coming.

Of course the argument there is “it might happen” yeah, sure it might, but is it likely? Probably not. So we keep the training in the parameters of what will happen most of the time.


When people start attacking the technique as in the above example is when people get confused about what is effective. This is when I feel that we can cross over in to sport. That is when we start attacking the techniques of an opponent rather than the opponent themselves

As we train the standard techniques sometimes we think up counters against the techniques. This is possible because people know what is coming. In some cases the counter is very effective and that causes the original technique to be dropped from the curriculum. Not because it is ineffective in its self but because in a sporting context people learnt how to deal with it therefore something new had to be developed.

In sport this is very much the way things go so we can kid ourselves on to think that what we do is effective because we beat other trained is in truth the result of people attacking techniques rather than people. Which is fine, but we must acknowledge the difference.


In short, competition helps us all grow but we must be careful the parameters of the competition that we set.

Po eun, The jewel of TKD

Just as we all have patterns we hate, we all also have the patterns we love. For performance value and spectacle many people would choose the likes of Juche or Moon Moo as a favorite to watch. There are many patterns people love to practice too, for example I know people that really enjoy practicing Gae Baek

For me however, the real jewel of TKD is Po Eun., the series of movements in a single stance and the sideways motion makes it stand out against all other patterns. Certainly when I was starting out in TKD I used to enjoy watching the senior grades performing this short explosive pattern. It is however, left out of many competitions, maybe because of the apparent lack of technical difficulty or flashy techniques

It is maybe this lack of flashiness that draws me to this pattern. The lessons that can be learned from studying Po Eun go well beyond its ascetics. I think

Right from the beginning of the pattern we are introduced to some close in grappling movements. Taking the practitioner from a position of disadvantage, to a clinch, to a series of movements designed to break down ones opponent.

The series of movements that come next could be described as the signature of Po Eun, commonly seen as ‘punch blocks’ it is, in my training, a method of dealing with close in grappling. Pulling arms down while punching, gaining head control, culminating in a double leg throw/take down.

If you look at some of the older Chinese systems you will see some partner practice very close to Po Eun within them. Crossing hands and trying to find or create openings in your partners defence.  Often this is done in a natural stance, because you shouldn’t be pressuring forward. In fact I think this is the reason for the constant sitting stance in Po Eun, it is not really to do with moving to the side, for the most part, but mainly because during the closing in fighting you shouldn’t be pushing too hard forward or yielding too much.

Try facing a partner in sitting stance and crossing forearms then slowly start trying to work round your partner’s arms and make contact. As you progress with this you may want to start grabbing arms this si fine but you shouldn’t start to go overly fast. As with everything you should go at a speed that you can investigate the movements and techniques. From there you can start applying to movements from Po Eun, this maybe happening already in a natural way.

Hidden within in the simplicity of this pattern are a series of effective close range striking and grappling techniques. That are worthy of in depth study. It is also worth mentioning that it is one of the very few patterns that the practitioner learns to generate power in all direction. By that I mean there are upwards, downwards, forwards, backwards and sideway motions.

Po Eun is a very important pattern for applied TKD and is worthy of the attention of any serious practitioner.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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