Tag Archives: bunkai

Thoughts on Knife Defense

Recently on my YouTube feed I saw this:

Silla Knife Pattern

I have to admit that I had no idea that this form existed but with a little research it seems to have been around for many years. I have my own ideas about the pattern and the techniques included within. However, in this article I am going to focus more on knife defense.

I am not sure if there is a more controversial topic in the martial arts beyond knife defense. Many different systems have different ideas on what should be done, from simple tactics to having large chunks of the syllabus devoted to knife and blade defense.

There is really so much to write on this subject that for now I am just going to write some of my thoughts on knife defense.

 

Can you defend yourself against a knife?

This question is often posed by students and instructors alike. In my mind, it is a totally worthless question. Whether we think it is possible or not, it is something we may have to deal with. We shouldn’t make the issue academic but have a realistic look at what options we have in that situation.

 

You will be at a huge disadvatnage

Following on from the initial question, we have to be very realistic about our chances, you will likely get injured, possibly badly if you opponent has a knife. I was trying to explain this to one of my students the other day and he was surprised that I wasn’t telling him that the techniques we were discussing were full proof.

If you are taking what you do seriously you need to realistic about you chances in different situations, lest you teach you students that they are able to handle any situation with a low block and spinning back kick.

We can’t rely on attackers or criminals being clumsy and stupid, just to make ourselves feel better and add validity to any techniques or strategies we may want to teach. If you know that someone has a knife, and if you have another option, don’t engage in physical self-defense with that person.

As an additional, resorting to physical self-defense should always be our last option

 

You won’t know there is a knife

To follow on from the previous point of ‘if you know the person has a knife’ we need to realize that most time we won’t be aware the other person has a weapon.

Generally, unless you are being threatened, people don’t wave their weapons about. They don’t want other people to know what they are carrying, they are not interested in giving you a warning so that you can test your martial techniques.

 

Also in many countries carrying a knife for no reason is illegal, even if it isn’t likely displaying blades about your body would attract unwanted attention from the police.

The first you know about a knife is usually when you are being cut or maybe, if you are lucky enough, when the person is reaching for it.  It won’t be presented from 8 feet away.

 

The attacks won’t be telegraphed

Again, following on from the previous point, knife attacks are going to be close ranged, they are not going to be presented from a distance that gives you lots of time to adjust yourself to a knife attack.

Things like, check if the knife is double edged, look at the grip that is being used, check the style of knife and so on are all impossible.

The only time that you will see the knife at any sort of distance will be if there is a knife threat, in which case you should be active. Not waiting for any sort of attack

Don’t try to disarm

Disarms are cool, they look great and are a real mark of ‘skill’. However, there are extremely dangerous and difficult to pull off. Especially the way a lot of systems present them as a neat step to the side, crank the wrist and wayhey you have the knife.

The frantic aggressive movement of the knife and the cost involved if you fail make this a high risk technique.

The best disarm is to knock out or otherwise incapacitate your attacker, not go chasing his knife.

Don’t try to have a knife sub-system

As well as having held a black belt in TKD, I am also an instructor in Krav maga and Balintawak Eskrima. One of the things that these 2 systems have in common is the empty hand and knife defences are very closely linked. There is no need to completely change your movement and tactics when dealing with a knife. If we take the previous points in to account then this can only be a good thing.

Spar/drill with weapons often

As with everything, the best way to find out what works is o train live. This involves:

Gentle sparring with a dummy knife

Introducing the knife unexpectedly in to a sparring situation

Situation and pressure drill involving knives.

 

When these things are introduced into your training you will find that you and your students’ attitude to knife defense may change a lot.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Like I said knife defense is a very big topic and one that I hope to revisit in later articles. But for now these are my main thoughts on the subject

Stances and applications

When a new student starts in a martial arts class they tend to focus on what their hands are doing. This is maybe linked to how me move in everyday life, we do more with our hands that we do with the rest of our body.

I was no different, but as I have continued to study the martial arts my focus has been taken away from what my hands are doing and more in to the hips and feet. This has also affected my teaching so that I now tend to teach a lot more stances and footwork than I used to. This has also shown that a large number of new students are disconnected with their bodies. This may have always been true in the martial arts or maybe it has become more of an issue with the amount of sitting that people do these days.

In a lot of TKD training that I have had been a part of, the stances were not really broken down. There was a lot of focus on footwork in a sparring sense but not in the traditional application of the patterns. Students are generally taught the dimensions and weight distribution of the stances but not the purpose so much.

Here I am going to break down 3 of the most common stance in the TKD curriculum, their uses and how they can sometimes hold the key to applications

 

‘L’ stance

This is largely a defensive stance, our weight on the back leg shows that we haven’t really committed to anything yet. We are finding a way in often using knifehand guarding block to clear and secure limbs. Our weight is lesser on our front foot to allow weight shifting forward when the time comes.

In forearms guarding block, we keep our weight back to help prevent being thrown and to better use the front foot to kick or trip our attacker at close range.

So we can maybe suggest that all movements in an ‘L’ stance are not completely aggressive in nature. For example are the punches in Hwa Rang really punches?

 

Walking stance

The most common stance we have and opposite of ‘L’ stance, walking stance is an aggressive committed stance. Any movement done in this stance even if is labeled a block should be seen as forceful. We are moving our body weight into our opponent. Most commonly in punching we can see this but it is equally true for double forearm block, even though it is called a block the nature of the stance that is it performed in changes the application quite dramatically. I discuss this more here

 

As you can see the difference in the application is more connected to the weight distribution than to anything else. So it should be studied in depth. The standard stances are not there to be copied exactly but to give access to this concept of weight back and weight forward.

 

Sitting stance

To my mind sitting stance is the most misunderstood of the basic stances. Often it is used as a strength exercise than a fighting stance. Often we see student being asked to assume this stance for a period of time to increase strength. However, when we see it isn’t the forms it is of a very different purpose. Certainly while in the idle of a fight is not the time to start strengthen your legs but dropping in to a sitting stance.

 

I think the demotion of the sitting stance to a strength exercise is mainly due to it’s static nature. With this particular stance we are pretty much rooted to the spot, which in a competitive TKD environment it is exactly what we don’t want.

In my mind sitting stance is a stance based on throwing, tripping and sweeping applications. These are times when we may want to have a stronger and maybe even a bit of a lower stance. If we look at the opening for Yul Gok, W-shaped block from Toi-Gye, and scooping block in Gae Baek, they can all be applied in tripping, throwing, or controlling the opponent. Not that these movements are exclusively for sitting stance, there are throwing application for many stances. However, sitting stance is particularly suited to the purpose.

 

So there you have the three basics stances as I see them. So what about the other stances? Well for a good deal of the time they are variations on the basic three, for example low stance, fixed stance, or rear foot stance can all be seen as variants of either walking stance or ‘L’ stance therefore the applications can be seen in the same broad terms i.e. defensive or aggressive.

 

For me, viewing the application from a stance perspective shed new light on some of the movements that I had been struggling with. I hope it does the same for you.

What you should be listening to…

In my last post I mention that I am an avid listener to podcasts. Below I have listed a few that I think are worth your time.

 

Iain Abernethy

https://iainabernethy.co.uk/audio

One of the best, if not the best applied, traditional martial artists. Goes in depth in lots of different subjects concerning karate kata application. There is some crossover to TKD and all martial arts.

 

Live Life Aggressively

http://livelifeaggressively.libsyn.com/

I got in to this because I practice kettlebells. However, this particular podcast offers so much more than just workout tips. Excellent guests, very frank and relevant discussions. Well worth your time. A lot of the guests and even the non-guest shows you’ll listen to many times over

 

London Real

https://londonreal.tv/

A very wide range of guests, a great interviewer. Similar to the above, you’ll want to listen to some of the guests over and over

 

Jocko Podcast

http://jockopodcast2.com/

Former Navy SEAL and leadership expert Jocko Wilinks. A lot of the time Jocko will pick a book and read extracts on it while giving his own commentary. Excellent listening and great for teachers, managers, and any one in a leadership position to listen to

 

Tim Ferris  

http://tim.blog/podcast/

Lots of diverse guests and great information on a lot of different subjects, from working out and getting fitter to running your own company

 

And one more…..

Joe Rogan

http://podcasts.joerogan.net/

 I believe this is one of the original podcasts, certainly one of the first that was done well. in fact a good deal of the other podcast hosts regularly mention the Joe Rogan podcast.

 

So there you go, I hope you give some or all of these a try. There really is some great and even life changing information presented in these podcasts.

 

Happy listening

Foul Language

Like many living in Jakarta I spend a lot of time sitting in traffic. I tend to use this time listening to podcasts, I find it a good opportunity to get some good information. I will post a list of podcasts that I listen to after this article

Currently there is some really great information being delivered by podcasts. However, I have noticed a (what I find) disturbing trend in some of the podcasts I listen to. That is one of over use of profanity. Now before I continue I should say I am not overly sensitive to such language and I myself have been known to use the occasional colourful phrase in my day to day life.

The problem with what I hear on the podcast is that the use of foul language is promoted in an effort to give the podcast a realistic edge. Often you will hear the presenter saying that they promote swearing or encouraging guests to use foul language. This is often greeted with cheering and laughing much akin to school children using naughty adult words. There seems to be the idea that for something to be considered real, it has to be rough and unrefined.

Strangely I see the same trend in the martial arts. People trying to show their style as ‘real’ by also acting rough and unrefined.

These days I see martial arts instructors going out of their way to include profanity in their classes, even to the point of barely being able to give an instruction without swearing. Trying to promote some sort of tough guy image better suited to the movies than the dojang

Some would say the argument for the use of offensive language would be that cursing and the use of foul language is part of self-defense and we should be desensitizing our students to it. Whereas I agree with this, I feel it is often used as an excuse by those wanting to promote the aforementioned image. I don’t feel that this gives way to losing all control over what you’re saying in a class. We certainly should not be actively going out of our way to try to swear all the time.

The other issue with that argument is you are not making an effort to desensitize your students by merely swearing your head off all the time. This would be akin to threatening every new student with a knife when they came in the door. Anyone uncomfortable with swearing would merely leave having learnt nothing apart from your dojo isn’t the place for them. An instructor may have no problem with that and want to only teach those who can already handle swearing, that is their personal choice to have such a place, but please don’t dress it up as a teaching method

If we are going to use the argument that bad language is part of a confrontation then maybe we should treat it like any other part of training. That is to include it at the appropriate time. swearing and shouting  in situational drills either hands on or pad drills, and hard sparring is permitted in my class because that is a suitable place for foul language to be included, it may however be a little out of place during a warm up or a stretching sessions.

I do say this keeping in mind that the occasionally swear word is part of some people’s everyday language. If you and your students are comfortable with that then go for it. My point is forcing it and using bad language to give your style or teaching some sort of creditability is pointless and in fact childish

Again the idea that for something to be real it has to be unedited and unrefined is one that is both dangerous and inherently wrong and not something that we should try to pursue or emulate.

Taekwondo on the ground

90% of all fights end up on the ground

 

The above quote was made famous by those looking to promote ground fighting. Whether it is true or not the point is that we may end up on the ground, and if we do we need to know how to cope. Taekwondo and many other arts seem to be sorely lacking in this area.

So much material has been written about ground fighting that a simple on line search will turn up many, often conflicting, ideas on the subject. Form people taking ground fighting systems like BJJ or trying to adapt what they know from their own stand up system to the ground.Some even clinging to the idea that purely stand up is all they need

My view on this falls somewhere in between.

Certainly if you want to be a solid ground fighter you need to spend some time in a specialized style, the most prominent of which is probably BJJ. Spend some time on the ground and understanding it, if you have skills from your stand up system then maybe you can find somewhere where they would fit in, but do find instruction in the basics at least.

However

For applied, self-defense based martial arts the ground is somewhere we don’t want to be. We neither want to take the fight to the ground nor do we want to engage in any ground fighting. While we are on the ground we run the risk of being kicked by our attacker’s friends, a weapon being drawn on us, our loved ones being attacked while we are occupied on the ground, or many other things that we can’t control.

Considering all this, what we should be training to do is get back to our feet as quickly as possible. Training to get back up after going to ground should be the main focus of our training. For this I have a basic stage system I go through with my students

 

Dead

From various positions, your training partner just lies on top of you, makes no effort to hold you down but is merely a dead weight for you to remove.

Semi-live

Again,  from different positions you partner is on top of you and can give small resistance, correcting their position as you move, so it is no longer simply just rolling them off you, you’ll need to find other way. At this stage I don’t include striking or pain compliance and it is more about movement than anything.

Live

This is when you partner is trying to hold you down, just like stand up sparring you can focus on different strategies, pain compliance, striking etc. as can your partner. Also because of the proximity to your opponent you may find that ‘dirty fighting’ may be easier to apply.

Transition

Going from standing to the ground can be a shock, so again we have to train for it. First with just being taken down from standing then from a moving/fighting situation. It should go without saying that break   falls should be studied before attempting this type of training

 

Of course the above is nowhere near the level of a wrestling or BJJ curriculum, and I don’t ever pretend that it is. As mentioned before my objective, both for myself and my students, is to regain my feet, not to beat someone one on the ground. As an aside, Jocko Willink former Navy SEAL and BJJ black belt said on a recent podcast that fighting someone who is trying to get away from him and escape is much harder than fighting someone who is willing to engage in a ground fight. Food for thought

 

Ok, so I accept that the title of the article may have been a little bit misleading as in the stages above there isn’t strictly any taekwondo techniques. However, by being able to fight your way back to your feet puts you in a better position to apply what you know.

 

I think this is an important part of applied training and sadly on that many people miss out

Doo Palmok Makgi – The power move

When I was coming up the ranks in Taekwondo, I got to blue belt and I was introduced to the ‘most powerful block in the Taekwondo syllabus – Doo palmok Makgi, or double forearm block. First appearing in the pattern Jhoon Gun it quite rightly deserves the title as most powerful block. All of our energy is being thrown in one direction, there is no reaction hand to balance the force. Unfortunately that is usually where the understanding of this block stops. The application is very similar to all other block except that the attack may be stronger, a kick for example, strong attack means a stronger block is needed sort of idea.

 

So, I am going to lay out my own interpretation of this ‘block’ as I see it in applied taekwondo. However, before we look at the application we need to first look at the principle of ‘structure’. To explain the whole concept here would take too long but basically, if you have a good structure you have all of your balance and all of your power, if you have a poor structure then your balance and power diminishes. Some things that contribute to a solid structure are:

 

  • Vertical spine, curved a little forward
  • Stance not too narrow or long
  • Major joints stacked so they can work together

 

There are a lot more things that go to make up a structure but I am sure you get the idea by now. All of the points are covered in stance training but I find people have a habit to concentrate too much on the feet when we start discussing stance.

.If you want to see the importance of stance and structure, try to work the heavy bag with a stone in your shoe. You will quickly find that your  body shape will have an effect one everything you do. You movements will be awkward and you won’t be able to punch, kick or move as you want to. This is exactly like the application of Doo Palmok Makgi

As mentioned before doble forearm block is apwerful move, it is meant o distrupt the opponents balance and alignment to open them for throws and takedowns. I can bee seen as from the simlair point of view as sonkal daebi makgi, in the way that they are both techniques used to set an opponent up for attacks

If we take Kwang Gae as an example, your opponent may have their hands up either in a sort of guard or attack, you perform doo palmok makgi,  your (in this case) right forearm smashing across the neck and arms of the opponent, your right leg fits steps behind your opponents lead leg. This is the set up (or connect in the 3 C’s of Tactical Taekwondo), if done well your opponents structure has been compromised, their weight distribution is off and they are open for a follow up

 

As you slide back, you left arm clears and pull the opponents right arm and your lead leg catches and drags your opponent’s lead leg. This really takes your opponent off balance, extending their stance and putting them in a very vulnerable position.

 

The final move can be seen as a fingertip strike to the throat, or as using your forearm to the opponents neck to take them down.

 

I chose Kwang Gae, because I feel the application here is very nicely laid out, however if you look at double forearm block  in other patterns you can see a similar use for it being a set up for a throw or take down.

 

 

Again when I am looking through these application I am surprised and excited at how complete an art Taekwondo actually is, covering many aspects of stand-up fighting.

In the next article, I am going to be looking at TKD on the ground.

The 3 types of Taekwondo

Occasionally when I am teaching I will get in to discussion with people about tactics. A lot of students have a very misguided idea about what tactics they will be able to use in a self-defense situation. I catch students using in and out footwork and setting up big shots with their jab. All with the idea that they will have time and space to employ such methods. These methods are of course much better suited for competitive arena. There we are matched with someone of equal size and ability and try to win a competition under a set of rules.

 

To help clarify the differences we can talk about there being 3 types of TKD.The three types being, Sport, demonstration and Practical. By identifying these and their differences we can better prepare ourselves for the kind of situation we are likely to find ourselves in.

 

Sport TKD

This is the most common type of TKD. The sparring take place on a matted area with referees and judges.  We want to make our strikes as clear as possible to catch the referee’s attention and a higher number of points are awarded for more flamboyant techniques.

The situation is very controlled so the number of techniques that are used can be limited. TKD fighters tend to try to fight side on to each other so that they can easily use side and turning kicks, this side on or bladed stance also creates a smaller target for our opponent to score points on.

The tactics employed in a ring fight would include set ups, fake outs, drawing the opponent in, and general ring craft. Distance, timing, bobbing and weaving are all very important.

 

Demonstration TKD

In my experience I would put this as the second most common type of TKD. The purpose is to make TKD entertaining to onlookers who may or may not have martial arts experience. High kicks and double jumping kicks are the order of the day. We are may be not looking for a bobbing a weaving chess game but something that is visually exciting and makes people want to give TKD a try.

 

In Demonstration TKD, we want to display the particular characteristics of our art as best as we can. This can require a high degree of strength, flexibility and technical ability. We want to get everything right first time. Nothing is worse in a demonstration than missing a technique and having to do it again, especially if it is board or brick breaking.

 

Practical TKD

I struggled a little to find a name of this type of TKD, i could have gone with tactical TKD or applied TKD, I settled on practical as it has a direct application to one’s life, as opposed to an indirect application that all training can have orphysical fitness, lowering bloody pressure, dealing with stress etc. I really wanted to avoid any terms like street TKD.

 

The purpose of this type of TKD is to be used in live uncontrolled situations. We can’t depend on ourselves being prepared or having time to get in to a stance. All ranges will be viable and should be trained in attack and defense. We have to train the self-defense mind set. The movements in the patterns should be studied deeply as to the application. We need to train for short range power and explosive strikes.

If needed largely the purpose of the physical movements employed in practical TKD will be to damage a person as quickly as possible. With a view to that the real purpose of practical TKD would be not to use TKD at all

 

So there in very broad terms are the distinct types of TKD, all very different and all under the umbrella of Taekwondo. However, they all need a different training strategy, you can’t train for demonstration and expect to be successful in the sparring arena. Equally you can’t train for sport application and expect to be able to use you TKD for self defence.

 

At this point there may be people who want to point out the overlap between the types of TKD. Despite what you may think there is actually very little, in fact the only thing they have in common is that you are making contact with another person. You’d be as well trying to make connection between football and rugby, they are both team ball sports that take play on a pitch, but no one would train for rugby and expect to be successful in a football match.

You can of course train for more than one, you don’t need to specialize completely, and there are a lot of benefits to be reaped from each type of training. You do, however, need to be very clear on which type you are training and what your training goals are and train accordingly.

 

Through identifying the differences in the types of training and modifying our practice accordingly we will be far more successful in TKD as a whole