Tag Archives: taekwondo forms

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!!!

 

 

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Under Pressure

In these days of RBSD and applied martial arts it is fashionable to pressure test techniques and students. However, I a lot of what I labeled as ‘pressure testing’ see is somewhat random. There may be nothing wrong with an individual drill, but it is left floating, there are no easier drills leading up to it or more challenging drills to be faced after. This shows maybe a lack of thought or understanding of the training process

I can see that sometimes what is labeled as a pressure test is actually throwing students in at the ‘deep end’ without building the skills or mindset required to complete the drill successfully. In certain cases I have seen the instructor taking pleasure in their student ‘failing’ a drill, seeing it maybe as him defeating his students and proving the toughness of his system. This of course is not the purpose of drills nor training

Similar to foul language, if we are going to call something a training method then it has to have a goal and also needs to have a progression.

As I have mentioned before outside of martial arts I enjoy lifting weights. The something is true there. If you have a goal of deadlifting 200kg, but currently can only lift 140kg then obviously jumping straight to your goal would result in failure or injury. We have to slowly increase the stress over time adding small increments. The same can be said for the martial arts.

The aforementioned way of conducting drills, only benefits those who are already competent in fighting or self-protection. It is a completely useless method for students who are less able and who come to your class to learn some skills.

There are lots of ways to achieve this but in short, but in short each drill should be the right level of challenge to make the student reach a new level. Each drill should build on others to reach a specific goal. The final goal usually being ‘live’ practice under certain conditions.

I have alluded to this process in a few other of my posts, but wanted to directly make this point after seeing some class examples recently.

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

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.