After punching techniques Sonkal Daebi Makgi is one of the most, if not the most common, technique found in the patterns. However, little or no time is spent in modern teaching investigating the application of the movement. Often it is labeled as part of a ready stance in preparation to attack. However in my opinion knife hand guarding block is one of the most important movements in the patterns
There are a couple of things wrong with the idea of knife hand guarding block being used as a guard, the most obvious of which is that is is fairly ineffective for that purpose. It is quite an open movement and it doesn’t protect a person’s head. The hands are placed relatively low, and the front hand is extended too much for an effective guard. Other reasons against the guarding application would be, why have guarding block all the way through the forms? and also that a guard is very basic and would be trained in other ways during martial instruction.
So what is it for? For me understanding the knife hand guarding block is the keys to understanding a lot of the movements found in the patterns. If you think of a fight you opponent will instinctively bring his arms up to defend himself. We then need a way to get in and attack. This is where the knife hand guard block comes in as technique to get you opponents arms out of you way. This is far from a reactive block or a ready stance, but rather a proactive technique to move or grab the arms of your opponent and move them to open up target areas.
The most basic example of this is the opening of Dan Gun. The front hand could be used to move or secure the arms of the opponent before stepping through with the attack. However, there is a good chance that your first attempt will fail, so what then? The answer is also in Dan Gun, you apply another knife hand block. The three knife hands in pattern means you have practiced left-right, right-left combinations. So you can work round an opponent arms and try to ‘get in’ also if your first attempt is grab then you can respond with the second.
This idea is supported by entering techniques being a feature of many traditional martial arts. You will see them represented in many forms from China and Japan. In fact I was actually in the practice of the Chinese martial art of Xingyiquan that the entering application of knife hand guarding block occurred to me.
To apply a knife hand, or indeed any entering technique, well you need good timing and distancing skills. In order to train this we have ot start simply and build slowly. First of all we have to we have to feel what it is like to work around someone’s arms. To do this I get a partner to stand with both arms extended and I just work around them moving from inside to outside, using knife hand guarding blocks. When we feel comfortable with that practice we progress to my opponent holding his arms in a guard to practice moving and pulling his arms. Then we add movement to the drill and finally start to add in attacks and counters.
Use of the knife hand guarding block is what I see as one of the foundation skills, of Taekwondo self-defence and a lot of time should be taken to understand and apply it. When it is mastered many of the other techniques of the patterns will become clearer and easier to apply