Tag Archives: taekwondo grappling

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

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.

Po eun, The jewel of TKD

Just as we all have patterns we hate, we all also have the patterns we love. For performance value and spectacle many people would choose the likes of Juche or Moon Moo as a favorite to watch. There are many patterns people love to practice too, for example I know people that really enjoy practicing Gae Baek

For me however, the real jewel of TKD is Po Eun., the series of movements in a single stance and the sideways motion makes it stand out against all other patterns. Certainly when I was starting out in TKD I used to enjoy watching the senior grades performing this short explosive pattern. It is however, left out of many competitions, maybe because of the apparent lack of technical difficulty or flashy techniques

It is maybe this lack of flashiness that draws me to this pattern. The lessons that can be learned from studying Po Eun go well beyond its ascetics. I think

Right from the beginning of the pattern we are introduced to some close in grappling movements. Taking the practitioner from a position of disadvantage, to a clinch, to a series of movements designed to break down ones opponent.

The series of movements that come next could be described as the signature of Po Eun, commonly seen as ‘punch blocks’ it is, in my training, a method of dealing with close in grappling. Pulling arms down while punching, gaining head control, culminating in a double leg throw/take down.

If you look at some of the older Chinese systems you will see some partner practice very close to Po Eun within them. Crossing hands and trying to find or create openings in your partners defence.  Often this is done in a natural stance, because you shouldn’t be pressuring forward. In fact I think this is the reason for the constant sitting stance in Po Eun, it is not really to do with moving to the side, for the most part, but mainly because during the closing in fighting you shouldn’t be pushing too hard forward or yielding too much.

Try facing a partner in sitting stance and crossing forearms then slowly start trying to work round your partner’s arms and make contact. As you progress with this you may want to start grabbing arms this si fine but you shouldn’t start to go overly fast. As with everything you should go at a speed that you can investigate the movements and techniques. From there you can start applying to movements from Po Eun, this maybe happening already in a natural way.

Hidden within in the simplicity of this pattern are a series of effective close range striking and grappling techniques. That are worthy of in depth study. It is also worth mentioning that it is one of the very few patterns that the practitioner learns to generate power in all direction. By that I mean there are upwards, downwards, forwards, backwards and sideway motions.

Po Eun is a very important pattern for applied TKD and is worthy of the attention of any serious practitioner.

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.