Tag Archives: guarding block

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

Working from the patterns

Very often, when people are teaching pattern applications they teach them as isolated techniques. No matter what the application is good or bad, things like, timing, distancing, positioning are very often left out. We would never do this when practicing for a sparring competition, for every sparring technique we have we are aware of where it fits into the sparring dynamic. Similarly then we have to have this for all our pattern applications.

To talk about how to draw this out of the patterns I would like to use the technique ‘gorburyo sogi’ or bending ready stance. For me this is not the preparation for a side kick, but an attack to the legs while grappling. If we look at the pattern Yul Gok, for example during a grapple we attack the legs of our opponent by sharply bringing our front foot first to the back of our opponents front knee, and then to the knee of his back leg. To do this we efficiently we need to be in L-stance. As our opponents balance is disrupted we shift our hand from the grapple to control the head and then finish with and elbow strike to the face. To put body weight in to the technique we shift to walking stance.

Again, if we were just to practice that application, we may gain an understanding of the pattern but not the skill to actually apply anything. So first of all we have to bring thing back and look at the situation we are finding ourselves in. in this case it is grappling, so with a training partner we take up the classic grappling position and just practice moving them around the floor. As we improve in this skill the movement can be more aggressive till we are actually trying to unbalance one another, switch grips, throw in basic attacks, etc.

When we are comfortable with that we can start adding thing in from the patterns. In this case bending ready stance. There are a lot of things we have to work out, does it work when I am being pushed, or pulled? What foot position do I need to have? Where should my centre of gravity be? And so on. Through practice we can answer these questions and then make adjustments to our movements. Later we can also make adjustments to the techniques themselves to better fit your own personal style.

This process should be done with all the applications, starting with the range or the situation it is being applied in, working to get comfortable at that range with basic movements, applying the techniques from the patterns, finally making adjustments

I think when we get to the last stage we can finally say that we have unlocked an application. As we continue to unlock application we will no longer have a set of isolated techniques but a more complete and integrated system.

Training Dirty

In my previous article I discussed why many instructors and style choose to omit what are deemed as dirty techniques from their syllabus. Dirty techniques being things like eye gouging, strikes to the groin, head butting, and biting. In this article I would like to go further and look at how to include these techniques into training.

Even instructors that do advocate the techniques mentioned above don’t include them in their training. This can be for a number of reasons but I feel the most common is the belief that these techniques are so low skill that they don’t need to be trained, rather just used when the opportunity arises. It is this thinking that causes me a problem. Whereas it is true that the techniques don’t need to be drilled and refined as much as the high level skill techniques the habit of applying them most definitely does.

To illustrate this point I would like to borrow the term ‘front of mind’ from marketing. This is the idea that by constantly reminding someone of a particular brand, through advertising media, the shopper will reach for the particular brand without needing to spend any time thinking about it.

Similarly we should be constantly reminding ourselves that techniques such as biting exist so that when the need arises they are there without us having to think about them.

This process starts with the patterns. Looking at all the pattern movements, studying them to find where some of the techniques are represented as in the case of the head butt in Toi Gye, or where they can be inserted as in the case of biting while engaging someone using a forearm guarding block.

Then after taking a look at the theory it is time to put it in to practice. This is where the idea of training habit more than technique is important. Of course if we started biting out training partners training would become a very uncomfortable painful place not to mention unhygienic. So the techniques are slightly altered so that they become a safe but close representation of the intended technique. For example some of what I use is:

Biting – moving toward target area and growling
Grabbing groin – grabbing t-shirt or belt knot
Eye gouging – pressing on the eye brow

With these we then move on to freer practice with these representation of techniques included. Both parties have to understand what the techniques signify so that they can react in a reasonable way. By that I don’t mean that we become bad actors but at least if an eye gouge is applied then the defender should try to prevent it even if it is just a press on the eye brow and causes no actual pain.

When you start out with this you may be thinking that it is going to be easy. That you can go all out and use all the techniques that have been taken away from you in sport sparring. However, what you may well find it that you end up with a lot of missed opportunities or start focusing on the ‘new’ techniques too much causing you to over extend and get hit more. This can be frustrating and uncomfortable for some causing them to go back to their previous way of sparring. My advice at this point is to slow down, literally slow down the fight and investigate where the techniques can be a applied and more importantly where it is reasonable to apply them. Through this you slowly bring all of the dirty tactics to the front of your mind where they should be just in case you need them

Are you ready for applications?

Anyone that has trained anyone anything will have come across students who want to jump to the more advanced things without working on the basics. The instructor will often remind the student the importance of building a solid foundation before starting more advanced skills. Yet this sound teaching practice is all but forgotten when teaching pattern applications.

First the empty form is taught and then the and then the application but without teaching the student anything about distance timing control etc. in other words the bare techniques are taught without the basic support skills.. This leads to a set of largely useless isolated techniques. No matter if they are reactive or proactive without certain general skills the techniques become academic.

In the past forms were some of the last things that were taught in some systems. They were not seen as a product that is sold which is essentially how they are treated today. They were seen as the end of a part of training where they had the techniques show so as could better remember the techniques they had learnt.

So what dd they do the rest of the time? In a modern dojang patterns/forms training could easily take up 50% or more of class time. During that time the position of the hands are feet are analyzed to pin point precision but never used. In the past I believe in the past most of a class would be taken up with moving with a partner in a number of different formats. Only with that hands on knowledge can people have the basis to make use of the information in the patterns It is important that our students know what is it like to be hit, be grabbed or grab other people before we start looking at the details of techniques.

In my own classes there are 3 fundamental formats that I look for my students to be comfortable with before I feel they will really understand the patterns. We try to explore these formats as much as possible and the ability in the formats should rise with the level of the patterns.

The fundamental formats that I look at are:


This is a very natural movement, someone hits you in the head and you throw your hands up to guard. I want my students to get used to this and be desensitized to the panic feeling. We go from four main angles (front, back, left and right) and mix in some body shots. I don’t want student trying to block every shot nor do I want them just to weather all the blows. I want them to react in a protective manner, covering their head, and then escape or find a way to counter the attack.


The students take hold of each other in a formal grip. Usually I go for tricep/elbow and back of the head/collar. Then they practice moving each other and being moved and touching target areas to represent a strike or grabbing at areas like the groin or throat etc. As we progress we vary the grips, look at defending the initial grapple, and breaking free and escaping.


This is done in a number of ways. We start with one partner standing in a guard and the other working round them practicing clearing arms to open target areas, this shown by a light tap to the area. We can then move on to moving and adding more resistance.

In all of these formats we add in various strikes and tactics as the students progress.

If you have read my previous articles you may notice that these three formats come from my interpretation of the patterns, covering from the crossed hand position, clearing from knifehand guarding block, and grappling from forearm guarding block. In themselves they seem very easy but as you work on them you can keep adding new variables to make them more challenging. They give the student the basic skills to at least understand where the application of the patterns fit

With practice the three formats can blend into each other. When covering, either person can go into limb clearing, which could be responded by grappling. This added with striking is already a fairly solid, if basic, stand up system.

From there we add in and investigate the techniques found within the patterns. Surprisingly a good deal of the techniques may have already been discovered by the students through just practicing the drills. From there we can formalize them and make our TKD to a truly integrated system

Taekwondo Grappling

The question of whether TKD has grappling included in the forms is an old one that has been answered many times. Whether a person wants to study it or not,however, is up to them. Grappling will have no place for the competitive TKD fighter but is very important for someone wishing to use TKD for self defense..

For someone starting out I would think that the place to start is getting use to the basic grappling range. This is represented in the patterns by forearm guarding block. Similar to knife hand guarding block, forearm a guarding block has a few issues when applied as a defense to a punch or mid line attack. However, it fits very well into a grappling grip maybe elbow and back of the head or lapel. From there we first get used to moving with someone and being moved around by someone. One student should be leading and the other following strongly. It is important that the ‘follower’ is not being too relaxed and just going anywhere and not resisting too hard. Both open you up to getting tossed around.

The next step is to add some sort of resistance or competition. To do this I often put something in the back of their belt, maybe a training knife, and give one student the goal of working round and getting the knife out of the back of the belt. I find this as a useful bridge to grappling as it helps with moving around and dealing with arms without the stress of being attacked. These are basic drills or games that are just to get people used to moving around with another person. There are lots of other progressing from just moving to some sort of competition.

This process I believe is actually closer to the traditional process of training. According to some of my older teachers, forms were some of the last things to be taught. Before getting in to the technical aspects people had to be given a frame of reference to what it was like to move with someone. This is why in the past forms were considered important and even secret in some styles no like today when they are typically bought from the instructors

When the student are used to holding and moving with a person we can start to adding techniques. After doing releases etc,. Since we are using a forearm guarding block frame the next logical step is to look at the forms and investigate the techniques that follow immediately after a forearm guarding block. This uncovers throws, defenses to tackles, and close in strikes. All of which can be developed and built upon to create new techniques based on the same principles.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. With a little work you could be amazed at how many movements work from the grappling holds. For me working at this range really opens up the patterns, and in fact opens up the whole art of TKD.

I hope you found this article interesting and it make you want to go and play with the close-in range of TKD. Thank you for reading.

Sonkal Daebi Makgi

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