Tag Archives: patterns

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.

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.

Deciding on applications

Alternative applications to the patterns is nothing new. If you have been involved in the traditional martial arts for any length of time you will have doubtlessly had discussions about the ‘real’ purpose of the movements that you practice every training session.

These alternative applications cover a wide range of things. From grappling, to pressure point striking, to using weapons in the forms. Whereas a lot of these approaches have merit there are some that I feel are just an effort to be different.

So when looking at applications how do we decide if an application has any value

Well, here is my process.

1. Look at the ITF encyclopedia.

I think it is a mistake to automatically believe that every movement in the encyclopedia is incorrect. It is a good place to start at least. If you don’t like the application that is presented, ask yourself why. Is it too difficult to pull off, is it unrealistic attack, or does it not put enough damage on the opponent. Again it is not so important that you like or don’t like the application it is important that you can express why, the reason should not be because you don’t see it in the UFC.

2. Look to other styles including karate.

OK so some people are not going to like this. However, through my study of other martial styles I have gained a greater understanding of the patterns from TKD. Even just to get a new view point of a particular moment it is a useful step. As one example I gained a better idea of knifehand guarding block through studying the chicken form of Xing Yi Quan.

This is especially valuable when you are looking at the grappling side of the patterns. Working on your own is great but you should also take time to study a little bit of the grappling arts to learn the principles and concepts that must be present in order for grappling application to be effective.

You should also look at the karate kata because some of the movements of the forms over time have been altered many times. Occasionally they have been altered to better meet the conditions of the mainstream applications. By looking g at the source we can maybe see how much the move has been altered and it also gives us and insight to the purpose. However, we should be able to draw a line here, lest we become the person walking round the dojo telling everyone that TKD is ‘wrong’ we should use our research to gain information and move our art forward

3. Form a hypotheses.

From the information you have you can start to look at your own applications. You should look at it from all angles. If you can’t see a block in the movement can you see a grab or a throw. For more advanced forms can you see a control?

Your application should be simple, direct, and damaging. A lot of applications where your opponent doesn’t end up in the floor are not likely to last long.

Also your applications should be linked. By this I mean that the principles or basic techniques that are represented by one application should also be present in others. If you want my view of principles you can look at the 3 Cs of tactical taekwondo here. In short you should build a system, not a selection of unrelated techniques.

4. Test.

This is where the fun starts. Grab a partner and work on the application. First as a compliant practice to see if what you think will happen is actually possible. Many time si have had a application in my head but when I try to apply it it turn out there is something a little off, this either takes some small adjustments or after a while if is still not working to completely change.

Next we go in to semi live, for this you need to decide if your application is self defence or fighting. What you pick will change how you will train this part. Whether you will be squaring off with some one or have on attacking another for example. The key here is the attack will be faster and harder and the defender will be working under some level of stress.

Finally we blend it with our system, again depending on whether it is fighting or self defense will alter how this section looks. However, the attacks and defenses will not be fixed, it will be up to the people training on how they work the new techniques in their system.

 

 

So there it is a basic step by step process of how to decide on application. Of course there are other but this is the method I choose to follow to ensure that my applications have a practical value and that they are all linked in some way.

 

If you are reading this then you are probably forming application to the movements in your forms. In that case I hope that these steps help you.

Yop Joomak, the forgotten fist of Taekwondo

Maybe it is because of the sporting application of Taekwondo but it seems that over the years the applied techniques of Taekwondo have become less and less. The full complement of techniques is more than 3,000 yet today in most dojangs we would likely see no more than 7 being practiced

Of course this is an example of people training what they need to train. The 7 techniques that are practiced is enough to see you through your competitive career. When you change the focus of your training however, you shouldn’t work from the same point thinking that the handful to techniques that saw you safe in the ring are equally applicable in self defence.

Yop joomak or hammer fist is one technique that has been left behind. Rarely trained in most dojangs and largely absent in the patterns it is maybe seen as a very low skill technique and one not worth practicing. I have discussed the importance of training low skill techniques before, but I feel hammer fist deserves a little more attention that it currently gets.

For a start it is a very safe strike. Whereas with a straight punch you run the risk of damaging your knuckles. With a hammer fist you can strike full force with little or no damage to you hand.

It is also a very versatile strike. The number of directions and angle that you can strike with a hammer fist far outnumber most other strikes, and in most of these direction you can actually create more power with the hammer fist than other attacking tools.

As well as being a ‘low skill’ technique another possible reason why yop joomak is over looked is it is a softer attacking tool, whereas this is the reason it could be regarded as a safe strike, it may also create doubt in the practitioners mind that it will do much damage. This is true, but we have to also look at how many other techniques we practice that are not knock out shots. We cannot give ourselves over too much to the idea of ‘one hit, one kill’ this leads to a flaw in our training and our thinking. We should always aim to hit hard but we should never think that one strike will do the job. We should be attacking our opponent with a flurry of hard strikes then looking for an exit. Not relying on one big strike and then waiting to see what happens.

My preferred application of the hammer fist is to use it in combination with other strikes. For example, if someone is in front of me and acting in a threatening manner, my hands naturally come up to either try to calm the person down or control the space between myself and the other person. From the ‘hands up’ position a good option is to strike to the nose of the opponent with the hammer fist. After this initial strike, we can then following up with whatever is appropriate. A similar strategy also applies if the person is off to the side or even behind you.

In short then, hammer fist is a safe, versatile, and powerful strike. It can be easily applied as an opening strike in many different situations and defiantly not over looked by someone wanting to develop the practical side of their art.

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.

Competition Benefits

Competition

 

If you have read any of the other article in the blog you could easily get the impression that I am against competition. However, this could not be further from the truth. This time round I would like to too at some of the positive aspects of competition and where competition crosses the line to stop being useful

 

These days you could split TKD, or in fact any martial arts style, in to competitors or traditionalists. Both groups seem to have a pretty poor opinion about the other.

Traditionalists often have the opinion that sport martial artists are uncultured and can only use sporting techniques that are in some way inferior. Sometimes they hang on to the belief that their techniques are superior because they are too effective or dangerous to be allowed in a sporting arena

 

Sport martial artists have the opinion that the traditionalists practice ineffective techniques. They spend their time living in the past dealing with unrealistic attacks and silly unworkable defenses.

 

To be honest both opinions have merit. Whereas sporting techniques really belong in whatever arena you compete in, people who only practice traditional forms can often suffer from never having their techniques being tested

 

I have spent time in both camps and seen the attitudes of each. I think that the words ‘sport’ and ‘competition’ are often confused. Whereas sport will lead you in one particular direction, lack of competition won’t lead you anywhere in a practical sense

 

For example, it you have been training for a while, what gauge do you have to know if your techniques are powerful as they could be? You may train one particular kick 50 times a day and think that it is a good strong kick. That is until you have a competition against some on who practices 100 times a day.

 

Such an experience would surely reset your scale as to what hard training really is. I am sure if you are reading this article you have been through such an experience. Likely afterwards you went back and examined everything you did and grew because of it.

 

Competition requires us to push our limits and often times we find we are capable of much more. In his book Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about people believing lifting a certain weight was impossible, until someone stepped up and did it. Afterward the same feat was accomplished by many others. Would this have happened without some form of competition?

 

Competition can bring out the best in people. It pushes people to their limits and to find strength or skill that they never thought they had. When you adrenaline is up and you are against someone either directly as in sparring or indirectly in breaking competitions you have a will that in normal training you may not experience.

Lastly, competition is real. Self-defense can be seen as a competition, a very serious one but a competition all the same. No one ‘lets’ you perform your techniques. You have to fight them through. If you are not use to some form of competition then you will be left wanting when someone suddenly doesn’t want to play your game.

 

In my classes we often have competition, sure we spar but we also turn drills in to completion. I ask the students, “can you apply your technique (a punch) better than your partner can apply their technique (the defense). Then we work at it, people get hit but it lets them improve and grow as they realize that what they though was a solid technique has a gaping hole it. They grow through competition and at the end their understanding of all the techniques get better.

However, it is important to make the diction between attacking the person and attacking the technique. I see this a lot and it usually ends up in an argument. One partner resists, the other partner complains or goes harder, before long people are complaining about their training partner. In my classes I insist that people attack the person in the prescribed way or ways. Within the attack they are allowed to be as aggressive and hard as they like, what they are not allowed to do is to intention change their attack to mess up the defense.

For example, if we were practicing the opening technique from Do San, the arms cover, move to a control by hair grab, then counter with a straight punch. The attacker can throw a hard, fast haymaker. They can move, they can shout and swear at the defender. All of those things are ok but what they can’t do is throw the haymaker and duck or move their head in anticipation of what they know is coming.

Of course the argument there is “it might happen” yeah, sure it might, but is it likely? Probably not. So we keep the training in the parameters of what will happen most of the time.

 

When people start attacking the technique as in the above example is when people get confused about what is effective. This is when I feel that we can cross over in to sport. That is when we start attacking the techniques of an opponent rather than the opponent themselves

As we train the standard techniques sometimes we think up counters against the techniques. This is possible because people know what is coming. In some cases the counter is very effective and that causes the original technique to be dropped from the curriculum. Not because it is ineffective in its self but because in a sporting context people learnt how to deal with it therefore something new had to be developed.

In sport this is very much the way things go so we can kid ourselves on to think that what we do is effective because we beat other trained people.it is in truth the result of people attacking techniques rather than people. Which is fine, but we must acknowledge the difference.

 

In short, competition helps us all grow but we must be careful the parameters of the competition that we set.