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

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The Double Punch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Thank you

Why Tactical TKD

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Journey – part 2

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

 

Krav Maga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balintawak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Journey – Part one

A little while ago I received a notification from WordPress that I have been blogging for 5 years, this coincidences with my 50th post. To mark this milestone I am going to write about my own personal journey in the martial arts.

To make it a little easier to read I have divided it into two parts

As I said in the ‘about’ section, I started TKD when I was 16 as a very unfit teenager who could run the length of the hall without turning purple and collapsing. over the years i got better physically but I was never much of a competitor despite winning a few medals over the years. I was always more interested in the application of the movements found in the patterns. I think it is that interest that has led me to study different martial arts.

I am also lucky that I travel with my work quite a lot which has exposed me to a lot of different cultures and teachers.

So here it is… my journey part one

 

Chinese styles

After achieving black belt in TKD and training in Scotland, Italy and Russia I moved to China. Originally for a year but ended up staying for 15 years. While in China I had the opportunity to train in a number of arts. At first I studied the Chinese internal martial arts, initially under Professor Liu Yuzeng who taught Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua. It was under him that I discovered how different training in the Chinese martial arts were. Training was done early in the morning and consisted of practicing the movements and forms over and over, we would start with the short explosive movements of Xingyi, then move on to the circular walking of Bagua and then finish with the softer movements of Taiji before closing with qigong. Although I enjoyed the training I think I was too young and inexperienced to really make the most out of it. I had gone from the pad work and sparring of Taekwondo to just movement practice, I often felt frustrated with not fully understanding what the aim of the training was.

Training under Professor Liu gave me a keen interest in Baguazhang, which eventually caused me to move to what could be regarded as the birth place of Bagua, Beijing. It was in Beijing that I met Zhu Baozhen, who I regard as my main teacher of the Chinese styles. Similar to professor Liu, Zhu Laoshi (teacher Zhu) taught all three of the internal arts, however he mainly concentrated on Baguazhang from the Yin Fu lineage. Similar to Professor Liu his practice also consisted of single movements repeated many times and the circle walking forms, but he also included a lot of standing qi gong. In fact for my first class under Zhu Laoshi, all he taught me was the standing practice and walking method specific to his line of Bagua.

Although both Professor Liu and Zhu Laoshi were both highly skilled in their arts and very capable teachers, I feel I was in a better place to learn from Zhu Laoshi. This was both in my understanding of the Chinese arts and also my Chinese language ability.

I spent about 4 years with Zhu Laoshi, then due to circumstance I stopped training under him regularly. Sadly Zhu Laoshi passed away in 2014

Aikido

While training in Bagua I also took up Aikido, this was mainly to get some more partner practice. I had read that Bagua and Aikido were somewhat linked so it seemed logical to try Aikido to supplement my training.

In the beginning I got a lot out of training in Aikido. Our teacher, the only female teacher I have had, was highly technical and appeared to really love the art. Through the Beijing dojo I also had the pleasure of training with Horii Shihan from Japan on a number of occasions

Everyone in the dojo started out really enjoying the training, however over the years our teacher seemed to get progressively more frustrated with her situation. I don’t know if she wasn’t getting the recognition she wanted, wasn’t developing herself as much as she wanted, or if the issue was purely financial. Whatever the reason it started to show in the classes. There was a distinct lack of patience with new students coming in to the dojo and even some of the classes were trained with an atmosphere of displeasure.

In time the dojo was to close, it reopened months later and all the students went back for a while but as the frustration continued the students, including myself, started to fall away. Aikido still leaves me with a sense of unfinished business. One day I still plan to return to the art.

Continued in part two……

San Makgi – The most misunderstood ‘block’ in Taekwondo

I mentioned in a previous article that Do San was the most hated pattern in TKD, but how it contains some very strong applications. The same can be said for san makgi. When teaching Toi Gye, it is difficult for new students and teachers to go through the section of the pattern with 6 san makgi in a row with a straight face. The movement looks so odd and unmartial, I have heard it called may things, cowboy walking, space invaders, this silly move, and many more things.

The mainstream application, to defend a kick or a punch, has a lot of common flaws in it, and generally leads instructors and practitioners to view it as an exercise to work the hips.

In an effort to give it some martial validity, some teachers present this as a forearm strike with a block and even a kick added. I have a few issues with this particular interpretation.

Firstly, you are changing the basis of the movement. When executing san makgi we are driving both arms,  and one leg with the hips at the same time, of you change it in to 3 movements, a kick, block and forearm strike then you are changing the way that the movement is being performed. You can read more about my views on movement variance here.

Also, why a forearm strike, it seems a fairly impractical attacking weapon, when a knife hand would be much more effective and in keeping with the attacking tools that are represented throughout the patterns.

Even the kick seems like a little bit of an afterthought when I have seen this being demonstrated it always seems cramped and uncomfortable for the person demonstrating the kick. Techniques, as a rule, should never looked forced or uncomfortable.

So, my take on san magki is a little different.

Going back to a recent article I wrote on stances and applications, I suggested that sitting stance is mainly used in tripping and throwing movements. This is exactly what I think san makgi is.

What is seen as a kick, is actually stepping over/round the opponents leg. We are aiming to have our ‘kicking leg’ land either in front or behind our opponent lead leg, depending on the orientation of the opponent, either facing towards (leg behind) or away from you (leg in front). This puts us in the position to throw our opponent over our leg.

Our arms are going to be used to pull the opponent over our lead leg. The back hand on the opponents arm and the front hand on the body. Again it depends whether the opponent is facing you or facing away from as t where your hands are.

The hip motion brings the movement of the hands and feet together at one time, planting the foot as we pull our opponent over

Of course to do this we have to gain position, this s the reason for the repeated movements in the Toi Gye pattern., as the opponent moves back to avoid the first attempt then  they open themselves for the second, front to back, or vice versa

 

To complete the sequence we have another misunderstood move, doo palmok miro makgi. If we use the application above, then the purpose of the ending block is easier to understand.

If the trip is done to the front, then there is a danger of it not having much effect, more just unbalancing the opponent. They can easily just get back up and continue their attack. Doo palmok miro makgi helps us to maintain the dominant position by wrapping the arm and helping us locate the head of the opponent.

With this application of the technique I believe that there is less changing of the movement from thr way it is presented in the patterns. Making it a stronger use for the movement rather than changing everything to make it fit the block punch system. As with everything else, the techniques cannot be taken on surface understanding, they have to be trained and adapted to the person and situation only then can it be included into a personal system

I realise that explanations of techniques are sometime difficult reading. I am hoping soon to make some video demonstrating the various application that I have discussed here.

Until then I hope that you enjoy my discussion on the various techniques.

 

Happy Training!!!

 

 

Sparring Drills part 2

Previously I wrote an article on some sparring drills I use with my students. In that article the sparring drills covered a number of different skills and approaches.

In this article I will be looking at drills specifically that deal with altering the tactical mindset of my students, from sport sparring to self defence

As with all sparring drills it is important that you set things up correctly, make sure everyone is aware of the rules of the particular session and proper safety precautions are observed.

These are slightly more advanced drills and time should be taken to introduce the skills needed to deal with the situations that will be presented before going in to the drills. More information on this can be found on the time under pressure post.

 

No gentlemen

A very common point sparring drill set up is to have maybe 4-5 pairs sparring on the floor with the rest of the class waiting in a line. When someone scores a point off their opponent they bow out and join the end of the queue while their partner stays up and spars the next person.

Usually, as the rules of the sport demand, the students bow, touch gloves and then begin. When I am looking for a more reality based version of this drill, I remove the bowing and glove touching. The new student can run in from the queue and attack immediately. The student who is already up has to deal with the initial attack, normal point sparring rules apply

15 seconds

This is one of my favorite drills, and the only one that I don’t necessarily fully explain to the students before they practice.

The drill is just simply introduce 15 seconds, of time before sparring. During this 15 seconds the students are free to do whatever they want. They can find a better position, they can grab a weapon, try to talk the other students down. After 15 seconds there is a signal and the sparring begins.

Often, as I stated before, when I introduce this drill I won’t give much instruction. I will just tell my students that they will wait for 15 seconds before they start sparring. Always they will wait in their ready position, usually with a puzzled expression on their face. Even if I move to multiple attackers or weapon based attackers they will wait and then fight. After we have done this a few times, we discuss what else could be done with the 15 seconds that they have.

The main point of this drill is to open their mind to other options and to get them thinking outside of the ring where you always have to fight.

 

Weapons

Again, this drill is very simple and the main purpose is to open the students’ mind and get them use to having more options and get use to a non-competition sparring format.

After the students are comfortable with weapon defenses, I lay dummy weapons out, these can be rubber knives, padded sticks, or even just pads and kick shields. During sparring if they can the students can pick up any of these and use them to attack.

 

The first few times maybe no one will pick up a weapon, or both with run for different weapons. However, as they students get more use to this format they will develop different tactics for the situation. Those could be be kicking weapons away, fleeing when someone picks up a weapon, preemptive attacks when someone is picking up a weapon and so on.

 

Ok, so a few of my favorite drills to teach mindset and to break students out of a competitive sparring format.

I hope you find these useful, if you try any of them in your sessions please let me know how it goes.