Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Tenets of Taekwondo

Whenever you see a poster advertising taekwondo classes you very often see the tenets posted along side. The implied meaning is that the tenets are trained or encouraged through the classes. However in the actual classes they are often just given lip service in the guise of:
Courtesy, bow when you enter the class and to your seniors
Integrity, don’t cheat in competitions
Perseverance, it takes a long time to get to black belt
Self-control, don’t lose your temper
Indomitable spirit, sort of a combination of all the above

This is ok for kid’s classes but for adults we should have this basic understanding of the tenets before setting foot in to the dojang anyway.

So what relevance do the tenets have to adults when studying taekwondo? For most places nothing or it is a list to remember to get you past your first grading. But within the tenets we have some good sound self-defence advice. So here I am going to break down the tenets and how they can be applied to self defence

Maybe it is the influence of the movies, or maybe I am getting older but it seems more and more, people being rude to each other shouting and swearing is how they choose to interact. However, acting in a courteous manner to everyone in everyday life can actually keep you safe. Whereas walking around showing off and being rude to people just because you happen to wear a black belt a few nights out the week can give people all the reason they need to confront you. Acting with self-respect will also earn you the respect of others. As someone famous once said:
‘Rudeness is a weak man’s imitation of strength’

“Only fight when you really have to”
This kind sentiment is common within the martial art circles but often it is used to hide behind a lack of skills. We need to be honest with ourselves both inside and outside the dojang, we need to be putting in good honest hard training in the dojang, no cheating our way out of it or taking shortcuts to make ourselves look good. Only in this way can the integrity of not using our skill unless we really have to have any meaning at all. Training with integrity can help you act with real integrity

When things get physical no matter what the odds you have to believe there is a way out and you can’t give up. This is differenct from the perseverance of turning up to the gym every week to finally get your black belt. This kind of perseverance can’t really be objectified, it is hard in the moment gritting your teeth and going for it perseverance you need. You need to train for this in for it to be there when you need it

Self-control for self-defence is two fold
First Self-control for self-defence is mainly self-control of the ego. More fights are started through ego that anything else. If someone calls you names, walks into you, spills your pint etc., you should, as a martial artist, have the self-control not to react to such things

Secondly we should look at self-control in fight, you need to be able to control your fear, and be aware of the adreneline dump this mean you will be in a position to use your training, not jam up and become useless when you need it the most

Indomitable spirit
Lastly, throughout our everyday life we should not allow ourselves to be dictated to by bullies, we should have the confidence and the spirit to stand up to people that would do us wrong. Whether this should be in the work place, street or even at home, your training should give you the strength to say ‘No’

Of course it isn’t enough to just identify the meaning of the tenets, but each one should be trained. With the inclusion of scenario based training, pressure testing and and even discussions the tenets can be brought to have real meaning and application in our world today. Just like everything else it is all in the training.


Punching Power

One of the most important things for self-defence is being able to hit hard. A fast hard punch or strike should be on everyone’s list of things to achieve. Sometimes in competition sparring we sacrifice power for speed and because of the rules of some competitions we continually have to pull punches. To counteract this we need to spend time developing power. Not the power for breaking, but power on the move. For this we need to spend time on the heavy bag and also pad work with a partner. Below are some tips to develop power in strikes.

All movement and power is about structure, structure starts with a foundation. A good solid foundation means that you can produce maximum power. Your stance should be low enough to give you a good strong root, i.e. if you punch something you shouldn’t fall backwards, and also be dynamic enough for movement. This is maybe different for each person according to weight and size so some time should be spent doing moving and punching drills. Practice punching on the move at different heights, closing distance and exiting to find that balance between power and stability.

Sometimes we can get in to the habit of playing for a heavy touch rather than a strike. One of the big differences between the two is the alignment of the arms. If we are going for a heavy touch we can ignore good solid alignment to a point. When you start developing power, however, good alignment can make all the difference.

For me when I am practicing hard punching I pay particular attention to my elbows. They need to be right behind my fist, forming a good line. They shouldn’t be flaring in straight punches or dropping on hooks. Take some time to practice air punching and getting some muscle memory to get used to the feeling of where your elbows should be. It should be the feel of strong structure that can take pressure the on the end of your fist without collapsing.

Relaxation is often talked about when practicing punching. The instructor tells the student to relax, the students shoulders drop a little bit and then away they go. Whereas this is a good start there is so much more to relaxation.
Maybe it is because people are so tense generally, that even a little dropping of the shoulders feels like we are relaxed. But what about the rest of your body, the large muscles in your core and legs also need to relax to let you produce as much power through your body as you can.

The best method I have come across for relaxation is the standing mediation from the Chinese internal martial arts. There is not enough space here to fully describe this practice but basically it involves holding a position for a length of time, usually people aim for between 20-40 mins, and relaxing your body into that position. Through this we get a kind of ‘active’ relaxation.

From there you can try moving in that ‘active relaxed’ mode, similar to taiji. You can do your patterns in this way or just shadow box. Then try to bring that relaxed movement in your pad work. You should find that your strikes feel more powerful and heavier. Also your short range strikes, elbow, knees, etc. will be stronger and need less wind up.

For a punch to be hard you need to put your body weight behind it. The part of your body that is responsible for moving you weight is your hips. There are three main ways to move your hips for punching, these are: up and down, pivoting from the centre, and pivoting from the side. My preference is pivoting from the side for just punching, but if I am pulling and punching I like to pivot from the centre as I get power/body weight going both ways.

Different styles advocate different ways of moving and there are advantages and disadvantages of each. But you need to concentrate on moving from the hips for each. To move from the hips we have to fist locate them and practice that style of movement. As well as relaxation mentioned above, doing large dynamic exercises like ‘tenkan’ from Aikido can help. If necessary you can place your hands on your hips to isolate them in the movement at the beginning and then move to a hip generated punch later

We spend a lot of time tensing up the stomach muscles when we punch, we can help the power of the punch but crunching slightly at the end of the punch. Doesn’t have to be a big movement as you are already in motion but a little crunch at the end can give your punch a good snap at the end and make sure that you have a good amount of tension at the moment of impact as well as activating as many muscle groups of the body as possible.

There are many other things that can help your punching, but these are the things I have felt most useful. It takes time to incorporate each of these ideas into your movements but with working on them and working on the heavy bag you should feel your punches getting tighter and stronger.

Happy training

The Ritual Cat

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

I came across this Zen story on the internet years ago it has stayed with me ever since. During my journey through the martial arts I have kept coming back to this story in my mind. This was mainly because the amount of ceremony that some martial arts have for little or no practical reason. Take for example bowing in to class. This should be a fairly simple action. Depending on who you are and what style you do you may bow in different ways, for some styles a short bow while entering is enough while other styles require students to kneel before they bow and they may have guidelines for when to place the hands etc. All of these are fine and essentially serve the same purpose of indicating the beginning of class or that you have entered a training hall.
But when there is too much empty ceremony applied to it that I believe it becomes a problem. There is a tendency for some teachers, especially in the ‘softer’ styles to present their art as mystical and something that is based more on faith than on physical evidence. They are then open to develop whatever routines that they want under the guise of spiritual training. Their motive for this and the type of students that they attract is a huge topic and worthy of another article all of its own.
It is not just the softer arts that suffer from this over ritualization and dogma. Take part in a hard style class and watch how they are almost fanatical about punching or kicking in a certain way for no more reason than that’s what their style did traditionally.
In my opinion as people who study martial arts we need to be constantly evaluating what we are doing and should never be afraid of asking or in fact being asked ‘why?’ if someone is telling you that the way that you hold your fist is wrong, or that you have to bow a certain number of degrees they should also be able to explain the reason behind such practices.
That is not to say that we should become the students that is always challenging the teacher and trying to catch them out, at some point we should have enough experience to be to notice the advantages and disadvantages of different techniques and make our own judgement accordingly.
Also it doesn’t mean that we should leave perfectly good schools just because students are required to bow at the beginning of a class.
It simply means that we should approach everything with a critical mind and look for the reasons in everything that we do. Through knowing this reasoning we can apply the appropriate amount of effort and attention and get the most out of our training sessions

Movement variance

With a little bit of work and coming from a principle based approach a lot of the movements of the patterns will have application that will come fairly easy. It is not meant to be a complex art as to make it complex would be to make it impractical. However, there are a few movements that are more difficult to apply than others. W-shaped block, straight fingertip thrust, and some of the back fist strikes that appear in the patterns to name but a few.
This does not mean that they are useless or over complex movements however it just means that maybe we have to look at them from a different angle. Very often I see instructors changing these movements to suit themselves and make the application easier. They will alter the timing and direction of the arms and legs to create, sometimes effective, sometimes ineffective, applications.
For me whether the application is effective or not, the habit of changing the movement to suit themselves is incorrect.
Now, often when I make this statement I get people arguing with me stating that the movement can’t be performed exactly the same way that they are in the forms due to opponents being a different size or at a different angle etc. this is a good point but it has nothing to do with what I mean by movement variance.
When we look at a movement, we have to consider the whole movement. By this I mean the stance, the motion, what comes before and after, is the ‘attacking’ tool viable, and the co-ordination between the hands, feet hips etc. all of these things were put into the movement for a reason and should be taken into account. They shouldn’t be cast aside so we can say that we have the application
As an example let’s look at W-shaped block. Basically both hands come up either side of the body, we turn 180 degrees with a stamping motion, and both hands move at the same time with the force generated from the hips. Those, for me, would be the key points, whether you use a twisting motion in the forearms is dependent on the organisation and the height is dependent on your opponent.
When looking at the application for the W-shaped block it is very tempting to change it to a one-two block and inward hammer fist strike while trying to squeeze a front kick in. Whereas this may be an effective application, I don’t see it as the application to that particular block. The reason is that we have ignored the principles that I mentioned before. There are lots of block/attack movements in the forms so why is W-shape block done differently? Of course movements have been changed over the years for sporting or aesthetic reasons but only through thorough research and practice can we make that determination and be free to alter the principles of the movement. Otherwise the danger is that we will start changing everything to suit ourselves and we will be left with a formless art where any movement could be anything.