Tag Archives: itf taekwondo

My Jouney – 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.

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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!!!

 

 

Grappling Revisited

In the previous post on grappling I looked some of of the concepts and training that I believe make up TKD grappling.

In this article would like to go through some specific examples of course it is always difficult to describe a technique in text, however, I hope that you will be able to understand

First the basics

Forearm guarding block

As stated in the previous article in the patterns forearm guarding block represents a basic stand up grappling position. We need to get used to getting into and moving in this position before we can start looking at the techniques

When we are ready we can start looking to see where it appears in our patterns, as always I am referring to ITF patterns here. I have linked to each pattern in the headings so if you are not so familiar with them you can check the movement i am referring to

 

Won Hyo and Yul Gok

So the first pattern that contains forearm guarding block is Won Hyo, but in my mind not where you think. Sure it is the final 2 movements of the pattern but I tend to disregard these as a stylistic. The forearm guarding block in Won Hyo are in the bending ready stances.

For me the top half of bending ready stance is a forearm guarding block, which put the stance in grappling rather than the preparation for a kick or a stance to intimidate your opponent as I heard one black belt claim.

Here as we are grabbing and holding the opponent, we are using our front leg to attack the opponent’s legs either catching behind the knee of their front leg or siding kicking the back knee, obviously for this we are kicking much lower.

We can see an similar expression of this in Yul Gok when we take advantage of the unbalanced opponent, locate his head with our front hand before delivering an elbow with our back hand.

From there we can look at Jhoong Gun.

Jhoong Gun

He we have another very misunderstood movement in the form of pressing block, it is sometimes seen as a double block or as a leg break. My personal interpretation come from using the guarding block as a lead in.

From the grapple position our opponent I burying their head, either to avoid punches and head butts or because the defender is pulling it down. Another possibility is that the opponent is attempting to grab the defenders legs. In either case we are pushing the opponents head down without back hand and lifting their shoulder without front hand sort of like an underhook. We slide into a low stance to give us better grounding for this.

The final move of the sequence shows us moving out form the line of attack while locking the arm and head. Form there we have a number of options.

Choong Moo

Finally we are going to look at Choong Moo, here we have one of the more skilled uses of forearm guarding block. From the block, we are going to turn on our front foot and perform a low knife hand block.

My take on this movement is a hip throw or cross buttocks throw. As we enter the grapple, our front hand slips from the collar to under the arm of our opponent, as we turn we load the opponent on to our hips and throw them over as represented by the hand position of the low knife hand block.

 

Ok so there we have a slightly more in depth look at the grappling application coming specifically from forearms guarding block. I would encourage anyone interested in these to look deeply into the skills and training needed to be comfortable with these techniques, from getting used to being close in and grabbing your training partners, to the necessary break falls.

Of course, if there are grappling application in the patterns, somewhere there is also anti grappling applications. However, I will keep that for another article

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.

3 Things to help your practice

In a previous article I wrote about cross training and how to approach it. However, in that article I only mentioned specifically how to train in other martial arts. There are of course many other activities that can impact your Taekwondo practice. In this article I am going to look at three things outside of the martial arts that your practice can benefit from.

 

This list is of course not exhaustive but the activities mentioned are things I have personal gained from and see a good cross over to the martial arts.

 

Kettlebells

This one will come as no surprise to most of you, the cross over between kettlebells and martial art is well documented. In fact the term ‘hard style’ kettlebells actually refers to the hard style martial arts, which many kettlebell practitioners also studied.

One of the reason that kettlebell transfers so well to martial arts is that the training isn’t really about the weight, it is about moving your body. The kettlebell is there to mere add resistance to your movement.

Studying the basic 6 kettlebell moves can greatly enhance your power generation and met-con endurance. The basic 6 are: swing, Turkish get up, clean, press, squat, and snatch.

One example workout I really like doing is:

– 1 min heavy bag,

– 1 Turkish get up each side

– Repeat 5 – 10 times

After a minute explosive movements on the bag, the Turkish get up forces you to focus on controlled movement underweight. Similar to moving from striking to grappling.

For conditioning you’d find it hard to beat the snatch, whereas a heavy swing will do much the same physically, performing high rep snatches pushes you to be more conscious of your technique while overcoming fatigue.

One very common approach to a snatch work out is called on the minute, at the top of the minute you perform the required number of snatches. For example 10 per hand. When finished put the bell down and rest the remainder of the minute. Continue in this fashion for 5mins or till form breaks down.

At this point I feel I should put a warning here. After seeing many examples of kettlebell ‘swings’ in my local gym I would urge everyone to spend the time to seek out a qualified instructor before attempting and serious kettlebell work.

 

Barbell work

Whereas kettlebells build great conditioning and explosive power, barbells build strength. At the very least you should dedicate one day a week to lifting something heavy.

The benefits of lifting are many but here are a few:

  • Improves co ordination
  • Strengthens central nervous system
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Makes you stronger
  • Makes you less prone to injury
  • Improves flexibility

There is a common misconception that barbell work will make you a muscle bound lump that moves like a dinosaur. Actually barbell work will greatly improve your ability to move.

For this I used 2 main lifts:

Deadlift

Basically taking hold of the bar on the floor and standing up with it. Sounds easy but this lift will test almost every muscle in your body.

Back squat

Load the bar on your shoulders, lower yourself till thighs are parallel to the ground then stand up again. Again sounds easy but similar to the deadlift this will test your whole body.

In these, similar to kettlebell and Taekwondo practice your focus should be on form and technique, not trying to lift as much as you can, anyway you can

 

Yoga

This one is a little new for me, I had often heard that there was some link between yoga and martial arts forms. After practicing for a short time I have no doubt that somewhere in history there was a cross over.

One of the main issue that many of my fellow trainers and student have had over the years is flexibility. Yoga, in my opinion, directly focuses on this but more than flexibly it is flexibility and strength.

 

The style of Yoga I practice is Ashtanga, know has one of the stricter and more demanding styles. It follows a fed routine similar to a pattern in Taekwondo and truly works every part of your body.

 

So in summary, kettlebells build conditioning, barbells build strength, yoga builds mobility and flexibility and Taekwondo locks all these attributes together in a skill

Of course trying to add all of these things to your practice at one and you will quickly burn out, I suggest that you pick one to start with depending on your goals. When become proficient at what you pick you may want to add more to it. Each of the activities above not only assist Taekwondo but also building to each other. Add them to your training and watch your Taekwondo and in fact knowledge of your body improve

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.