Yul Gok

It is has been a while since I took a look at a pattern in full so this month I will be breaking down some of the movement in Yuk Gok. Quite a long post this month due to the number of things covered in the pattern.


Similar to Do San, Yul Gok seems to be largely overlooked by TKD practitioners. The main reason for this seems to be the number of ‘soft’ movements contained within the pattern. However, within Yul Gok there are a lot of very interesting movements that are worth deeper study. Studying this pattern in depth also makes us ask some very important questions about pattern practice and pattern application.

Sitting stance punch
The opening movement of the pattern brings up one of the issues of pattern practice. This would be pattern movements changing over time. When I learnt Yul Gok, many years ago I was taught that the foot moves out in a slight arc rather than straight out to the side into a sitting stance.
An example of this can be seen in this instructional video with GM Donato Nardizzi

In other recent videos and speaking to current practitioners It seems that this arc movement has been removed. Such a small detail may not make much of a difference in the competitive arena, especially if everyone is using the updated movement. However, it makes a large different to the application.

If you move the foot out in an arc, I see this movement being applied as a reap. Shifting your left foot (in the case of the first movement) behind the leg of the attacker while grabbing and twisting their shoulders with the slow motion punch movement of the hands. This movement may not be enough to take down the opponent but will hopefully be enough to take their balance. The following double punch is there to continue the counter attack.

Inner forearm block, front kick double punch.

The next movement, although labelled as a block, I like to apply as a collar or clothing grab. Again we see the raised crossed hands preparation, similar to Do San we can see this as a natural defence to an attack. We then work to secure the opponents attacking hand but instead of going for a hair grab, as in Do San, we try to grab the shirt of the attacker. When we have hold of these points we are in a better position to control our opponent and counter. This goes in to the 3 C’s of tactical taekwondo. Our counter in this point is a kick to the groin and a double punch.

Palm hooking Block

Again, this movement brings up a couple of questions. It is seen in mainstream application as grabbing someone’s wrist from a punch. There is a very good reason why it is seen like this. However, if we look at other applications, when we are always grabbing the arms and wrist of the opponent, then why do we need a movement specially for this? Grabbing, holding and hitting is a basic skill of the self defence side of TKD one that is present in many possible applications and never done in the large movements that are presented here.

In my take on this pattern, this is actually an anti-grappling technique. If some one grabs you by the arm or wrist the twisting movement here will help release your opponent’s grip and reverse the situation and grip them. The crossed hands position here is to assist the release and grab with your other hand. This in turn clears the way a punch as seen in the pattern sequence

Bending ready stance

This is by far one of my favourite applications in the pattern and maybe in all patterns. I think the issue here is the name, ‘ready stance’. It gives the impression that is it a stance you adopt in preparation for something. I even heard one 3rd degree putting forward the idea that it is a stance used for intimidation. Clearly it is not an intimidating stance at all, in fact it is a stance that would invite attack from any possible opponent.

In my opinion bending ready stance comes under taekwondo grappling. The hands in in the forearm guarding block position, which I had written about before as being a stand up grappling position. With this we add the leg position and to me it looks like your front leg is attacking the knee of your opponent’s front leg (left on left as in the pattern). The following side kick can be applied low and attack the rear leg of the opponent. These are down in order to unbalance the opponent. You then locate their heads with your forward hand and execute an elbow strike. This is easily on target as all you are doing is aiming for your own palm.

Twin knife hand block

This again falls into the grappling side of taekwondo. I apply this when the opponent has hold of you in the traditional grappling grip, back of the neck/collar and triceps/upper arm. The movement is to separate the arms of the opponent and create space. This allows you to perform the next movement as a unbalance/take down

The Jump
Jumping in the patterns remains one of those topics that people argue about. In the mainstream, it is seem as jumping over something to attack. In self defence, if there is an object in the path of a would-be attacker, you would generally want to keep it there. Not try to remove the obstacle yourself.

Others say that jumps are just for performance basis. In some cases I can see where they are coming from.
In the case of Yul Gok, right now I would say that the movement it there to make the movement (back fist or clothesline) more powerful. I realise that for some of you this will seem a woefully inadequate explanation, but it is where I am in my study for the time being.

Double forearm block

I have written about the double forearm block before, but mainly in the patterns that come after Yul Gok. In this pattern I actually think there is no real application here.
I have a couple of reasons for this.
If it is a defensive movement, whether the mainstream block or the application I promotion this blog, you need a movement after it. You cannot just block and expect that the attacker will give up. In the pattern that is exactly what happens, we block left and right and finish.

The other reason I think that there is no real application to this movement and it is more for performance or a philosophy, is that ending patterns with a left right movement is very common, and of these instances ending with a block left and right is also very common. If something is repeated so much through all pattern practice, then I would suggest there is maybe a reason other than self defence that is it there. The same goes for the crossed hand position, although there are some places where it can be applied, there are other instances where the crossed hands position can make an application more difficult.

So a rather long post this month, but I think the pattern Yul Gok is deserving of a lot more attention that many people give it. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it thought proving at least.

Thoughts on joint locks

As I mentioned in ‘the skill trap” article in many martial arts classes wrist and other small joint locks are very common. I believe this is mainly because of the following reasons:

– They are sometimes difficult to do so give the idea of skill
– They cause pain but not injury, so it gives the feeling of effectiveness
– They look cool
– They are a lot of locks and variations of locks so they can pad out a curriculum

As a purely academic martial arts pursuit joints locks are an interesting area of research. When dealing with self-defence, it is maybe something we should be aware of but maybe not something that should make up a large part of your practice or strategy.

According to Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate where many of the movements in ITF Taekwondo patterns come from:

“One must always keep in mind that since the essence of karate is found in seeking to ed the confrontation in with every single thrust or kick, and one should never be grasped or grapple with an opponent. One must be careful not to be defeated through concern with throwing an opponent or applying a joint punishment hold”

This is a sentiment that is echoed by many of today’s self defence experts.

I myself have hand many conversations with students and teachers of other styles about the effectiveness and use of joint locks. In my earlier years in the martial arts I was keen to learn as much I could about these methods, mainly for the reasons stated above. In my later years however, I have come to a different understanding as my training has developed.

There are a number of things to be taken into account when studying joint locks

They are not as easy as you think
Locks are great fun to practice with each other, when you are training with a compliant partner or with someone who believes in the system. You give each other a bit of pain, don’t go too far and generally have a good time. It is different when they person doesn’t want to be locked and s intent on punching you.

They are not finishers
I once had had a conversation with a person who was convinced that he could put someone in a lock and keep them there till the police arrived. There are a few things wrong with this.
You don’t know how long the police will take
Over time the attacker can sometimes fight out of a lock
The police may not arrive before the attacker’s friends or someone who thinks you are the attacker.
Locks (on their own) don’t facilitate escape
One thing about putting a joint lock on someone is that you have to be there to put it on. If your goal is to escape, then a joint lock actively stops you from being able to do that.

There is of course the option of going to the next stage of a joint lock, which is a break. However, it takes a certain mindset to follow through with a break.

Joint locks are a gift
Constantly searching to grasp your opponent limbs and wrap them up, you are going to miss a lot of opportunities to strike and escape. Of course, grasping and locking is part of martial arts as I stated before, but they are a support to the other skills in the martial arts.

Take the opportunity to grab and twist certain parts of your opponent’s body, but don’t just wait for those opportunities to arise. Work on other things till they become available to you

They are context driven
The above may sound like I am against joint locks, however I am actually still in favour of them in a big way. I am in favour of using them in the correct context and understanding their purpose, they are still in my pyramid of skills, but they take up a smaller amount are laid on the foundational striking and grappling skills.

They can be use to subdue an opponent in certain circumstances, especially one that you don’t want to, or can’t punch and kick. They can be used to open up striking areas or setting up other larger techniques. However, like most things, if you misunderstand their use they will not be as effective as you want them to be.

Overall, joint locks should be a part of what you do, there are after all some movements in the patterns which facilitate joint manipulations. They are fun and worthy of investigation. In my ext article I will be breaking down another one of the ITF patterns

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.


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.


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:


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