Saturday, 17 September 2011

Label disease

Start thinking outside the "box"
In my post entitled "The hand on the hip? Why?" (Can be read by clicking here) I touched on one of the more common problems when viewing our patterns and basic techniques in terms of functionality. We can see "form" (how the technique looks like) but we can not see "function" (the purpose of the technique) by looking at the techniques themselves. Normal Poomsae training consists of performing the basic tecniques in prescribed order from beginning to end. There is no opponent, and the trainee and observer only sees "form".

I gave some of my thoughts regarding the function of the hand we pull back to our hip in that post, as many see this as something we do because "my teacher said so" or because "it is tradition", etc. It is often seen as something unrealistic and something you would never do in combat. But once the "function" of the "form" is revealed the story is quite different. I gave realistic intrepretations on the "pulling hand" and how to apply it with the motions labeled "low block", "inward midle block" as well as high block.

Modern Taekwondo
Now after reading my post regarding the pulling hand (please read it before moving on) you will have an understanding why function is so important when intrepreting our techniques and poomsae. One of the main problems we encounter when intrepreting and making sense of it all is the names of the techniques. Their "label" if you wish. You see every move in every poomsae has been prepackaged with a label, classification and put in a box for us. Read any book on Taekwondo and you will see this as they all include schematics of the different punches, blocks, kicks, stances etc, and they all have names. Picture yourself this: "Low block". If you practise and study the martial arts you will probably picture yourself or some other person performing a motion doing something like this:
  1. Prepare the blocking motion by shooting the "non blocking hand" forward low while lifting the "blocking hand" to your opposite ear.
  2. Stepping forward/backward into a stance while withdrawing your non blocking hand to your hip and dropping the blocking hand above your forward thigh (to fists hight above to be excact).
Now picture the function of the low block. Do not care of the form but think what can I use a low block for. 9 times out of 10 you will picture yourself blocking a front kick aimed at your lower belly, and the last time you will see yourself blocking a punch aimed at your lower belly:) Why am I so certain? Because I asked you to picture yourself using the function of the lower block. The low block is labeled "low block" so you are probably thinking of it as a movement where you block low. Nothing strange about that is it? The problem does not arrive when you try to use the tecnique labeled as low block in sparring since sparring is done in Taekwondo typically at medium to long range and you see the attacks comming. You might want to keep the non blocking hand in front of your body to be ready to attack or defend though. But change this to a combat and self defense scenario where the exchange happens at close range and you do not have the time to block. Are we to believe that the low block is not of any use outside sparring?

Taekwondo is famous for their
jumping kicks
What if I told you that before the 1900s the techniques in the martial arts that spawned Taekwondo did not have names for their techniques (Tode or Ti, the Okinawan old style Karate)? Or that they had "flowery" names that metaphoricly said something about the mind set or application of the techniques(Typical Chinese martial arts)? Before Itosu Anko made Karate public in the beginning of the 1900s and started teaching school children the techniques did not have standard names. They were "motions" and they had different applications that the student would study. Many applications were very dangerous and so Itosu and other pioners discuised the appliacations by giving the techniques standard names (labels). And this spread to Japan were most Taekwondo pioneers got their training, and so it krept into Taekwondo.

Just look at this quote from Kenwa Mabuni the founder of Shito Ryu and teacher of at least one Kwan leader:

From long ago, all karate styles and systems had names for their kata, however for uke-waza there were none which in fact is quite foolish. Therefore for the purpose of instruction and explanation of the various uke-waza to my students, and for convenience, I devised the following names:
Jodan uke Over-head block
Yoko uke (uchi / soto) Side block (inside / outside)
Yoko uchi (uchi / soto) Side strike (inside / outside)

Modern competition sparring  

Kuri uke (uchi / soto) Winding block (inside / outside)etc etc etc you get my point. Quote from:  Kenwa Mabuni in “Seipai no Kenkyu Goshin Jutsu Hiden Karate Kenpo/The study of Seipai”

The labels of our techniques are all quite modern and made by people who wanted to hide the true or more dangerous applications of the techniques for school children and by others very recently who maybe did not fully understand the applications themselves. Kenwa Mabuni was a very exceptional Karate master and he did surely "know" a great deal about Karate but at this time there was a lot of knowledge allready lost.

If you cant see beyond the "label" of the technique when you are searching for meaning in a combative context then you are suffering from something I like to call "label disease". Sometimes a middle level punch is just that, but a block is almost never just a block. Look at the three examples in my post on the pulling hand. Low block as an arm bar, middle block as an arm break/unbalancing technique, face block as a forearm strike to the chin/ side of the neck and this is just scratching the surface. Rick Clark has written a book on the low block called 75 low blocks. It is 75 different ways to use the low block.... I use the label as a name of the motion, not as a label on application and that works extremely well for me. I do not wish to invent 75 different names to a motion when I can say low block. But I do want to have the freedom to pursue the knowledge of what I can use the movement for and not limit myself to the name.

I must admit that I lived and trained Taekwondo while suffering from "label disiase" for many years before my study showed me where Taekwondo truly comes from and how the techniques got their names. Free yourself from label disease and experiment on how the different motions can work for you:)

All the best.  

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