Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Get some function in your form!

The famous "Crane Technique".
"When done right no can defend"
(Quote from the film)
One thing that I seem to keep comming back to when writing this blog is Poomsae. I admitt that this part of my training is something that has fascinated me from the beginning and that I choose a TMA (Traditional Martial Art) because I wanted to learn fighting (I was confused as of what Self defense was) and Poomsae. It was mystical, mythical and excotic all at once and I wanted to be able to defend myself like "Daniel San" from Karate Kid:) I even wanted to learn the mythical "crane technique":-D Looking back it is all very funny but back then I took my studies very seriously. I can not recount how many times I have done my Poomsae over and over again.. I still do them everywhere I go, if I have nothing else to do or I am simply waiting for somthing (or someone) I can easily dish out a Taegeuk form or three:) One thing that fascinates me these days are that there are so many people out there who practise these forms every single day but who does not know or have any idea of what the movements mean. To all these people: "This post is dedicated to all of you:-D"

Over my years of training I have uncovered some hinders that have made me blind as for the possibilities of Poomsae movements and their usage in combat. I have 4 stages to this experience and possibly other will follow but here are the ones I have gone through and one that I am seeing in the distance but I am far from there yet:
  1. Clueless stage of Poomsae training. Here you practise Taekwondo Dance rutine not Poomsae. There are suprisingly many people who find themselves here their entire Taekwondo career:-O We all start here of course. People can be expert in how to do the movements but ask them to rely on these movements in real combat and they will not be able too. Loads of books have been written about Poomsae that only focuses on this stage.
  2. Old hard style Taekwondo. This is the hard style that was taught in the old Kwan. Here all blocks are blocks, punches are punches and kicks are kicks. This is the simplest intrepretation on Poomsae there is but it can be effective as self defense and coupled with Ho sin sul training (release techniques and anti grappling techniques as well as BASIC throws and takedowns) it has proven its effectiveness in war time both in Korea and in the Vietnam war. It looks simple enough and the practisioners of this style of Taekwondo has been ridiculed for its unrealistic stanceshand on their hip and label disiase but do not underestimate them. The practisioner makes the style work, not the style.
  3. The Taekwondo nerd stage of poomsae training. I call it the Taekwondo nerd stage because you need to do a lot of research to get here on your own, and many people in the Taekwondo world seems happy with their sport taekwondo and most others feel fine with their hard style Taekwondo. Nothing wrong with that at all. But on this stage you have questioned everything in your training, you have seen how other styles does things, you have researched your taekwondo history and the styles that spawned modern taekwondo, you are doing everything you can to research more realistic intrepretation of the poomsae moves. More on how to do this later as this is the main point of todays post.
  4. The Poomsaenator stage. I have not reached this yet as I am still dabbling in the Taekwondo nerd stage mentioned above, but I can see where this is going. Maybe there are other stages that follows this one but on this stage you have realistic intrepretations on every poomsae you want to study and you know they work because they are all drilled and tested against live resisting oponents under the most realistic scenarios available (while not sacrificing safety and health).

Old style Taekwondo in a
modern context

Now if you are not yet on the hard style stage please get there as this actually helps all the other stages later. You see the stopping power of a lunging punch perfectly excecuted by a well trained martial artist is just awsome. The sheer power of those simple punches and most basic kicks (front, side and back kick) is extremely important as if all else fails you are no longer doing self defense but you are in fact in a fight. This is both the first line of defense (take him out with one or two strikes, or at least stun and run) and your back up if you can not run. Research this stage well and train dilligently under a competent instructor. Blocks are usefull too as they can be used as strikes (low block=hammer fist strike to the groin.... ouch...) or to remove obstacles e.g. a guarding hand can be removed by smashing it away with an inside middle block or you can sink under it while lifting it up with a rising block simultainiously opening the oponent up for a devestating strike. Stopping power is extremely important in any martial art that focus its strategy to end a situation with strikes

Now for the next stage you need to look deeper at the movements. Here are a few things that I think will help any student of Taekwondo that wants to look deeper in their forms be it the old imported forms from the old Kwan, chang hon ryu (ITF sanctioned Hyung) or WTF/Kukki Taekwondos Palgwae, Taegeuk or black belt forms:

  • The attacks that the forms are defending against should be considered to be "street attacks". Wild haymakers, soccer kicks, wild tackles etc etc. Do not assume the defenses are for flying kicks, or head height kicks, or lunge punches from 7 feet away:)
  • The distanse of the oponent and you should be very very close. All street encounters are up close or end up close. Think that he is already within your arms reach or even closer. DO NOT BE FOOLED BY SPARRING RANGE.
  • The whole motion of the technique(s) has to be used. There is never any "extra" motions or the "one hand does this while the other casually guards the solar plexus" techniques. I have found that more often than not the non striking/ blocking hand is controlling your oponent or creating openings while the other is striking the oponent. Even the hand that goes to the hip while punching/"blocking" has an important role to play. You can read more about the hand on your hip here.
  • Do not be afraid to steal!! Believe it or not, there are people who are researching better applications to their patterns all the time. Look at videos on youtube, go to seminars, read books etc. I have found that while there are limited resources for Taekwondoin there are a lot of research and interest in the Karate comunity. The patterns might be different but the basic techniques are essentually the same thus any good Karate application will be helpfull to your own research.
  • Do not base your applications on your oponents actions. With this I mean any application relying on your oponent to first hit you here, then step back, then kick, step forward and kick and punch you at the same time is not going to happen. Involuntary actions such as bending at the waist after being kicked to the groin, grabing your wrist to remove a your strangling hand from his neck etc should however be considered.
  • Do not fall into the trap of making your applications to defensive. All actions in Poomsae are designed to either regain initiative in the fastest way possible, or it is an offensive application. Purely defensive applications do not exist, hence the block one oponents middle level punch then turn 180 degrees to block a new oponent, then turn 90 degrees to block and counterattack a third oponent like in Taegeuk i (2) Jang is seriously flawed. If you take these defensive applications seriously you will now have two oponents that are taking turns bashing your head from behind you while you are struggling with a third attacker.
  • There are no moves for multiple attackers at once. Yes I said it. The most typical explanation for the double block in Taegeuk Pal (8) Jang is that you are blocking a kick to your front while blocking a face punch from an oponent behind you. This oponent you do not even see!. Better explanation is a takedown defense against a kick, a simultanious arm lock and choke to one oponent, using your face punching blocking hand to open your oponent up for a hammerfist strike to the groin etc. There is always one oponent at the time.
  • Keep It Simple Stupid! or KISS is something you should apply to all applications. There is BASIC grappling in our Poomsae, and the martial arts that spawned modern Taekwondo also contained BASIC grappling. You will not find complicated Brazilian Jujutsu ground fighting techniques etc in our Poomsae but you will find that there are basic arm locks, throws and takedowns in them.
Choki Motobu was
famous for his
fighting ability. This is
a technique from Chulgi hyung
Bunkai is the japanese word for pattern study. Bunkai in Karate terminology is often translated as analasys but it means to take a part/ disect like a mechanic taking apart an engine to find out how it works or what is wrong. The Korean reading of the same phrase is Boonhae. But in Korean it means simply to take appart. If you add "Hae Sul" as in "Poomsae boonhae hae sul" you have a meaningfull phrase meaning to disect poomsae and study it indepth. Hae Sul is indepth study or analasys. Personally I like the Kukkiwon textbook term: "Poomsae oongjung dongjack" wich means something like the practical meaning of poomsae movements.

No matter what term you use for it, patterns study is a hugely overlooked part of Taekwondo study. If you are wondering why you have the hand on your hip, why you are in this exact stance, why you chamber your blocks and techniques then serious pattern study is the way to go.

Thats it for now, but I will surely write more on this subject as this is something close to my heart. As for new beginners I think that the simple hard style, block, kick punch applications are sufficient in many ways, and I honestly think that a "bad" application is better than no application at all. There are moves in the Poomsae that I can not realisticly explain yet. If my students ask me about these moves I tell them that it might be (insert typical block, strike, kick application here), while there are possibly even better ways to use the technique/sequnece in question:-) Be honest about your knowledge and your students will respect you even more, than if you only give them pseudo science answers or tall tales of how training this move will open up your 6th sensce so you can block any attack from any direction even in the blind zone. 

Research on your own, steal from others, practise, drill them with a partner and make any application your own:) Use your Poomsae as a device to remember all your self defense knowledge and you will be using Poomsae in a way that is more inline with the original intent of Poomsae.


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  2. have read a few of your blogs over the last couple of days and I am happy to see that there are more of us analyzing TKD for it's practical applications, be it through poomse of TKD or Karate or whatever.I recently have begun what appears to be dabbling into realm #4 in your list. This wasn't possible without allowing myself to think out of the box by looking at different martial arts and realizing how we are all connected regardless of style. I've appreciated the dissection of Keumgang and the crane style. It has been hard trying to find what appears to be an efficient use of the grappling aspects of certain moves. Understanding that a possible interpretation helps open up other uses. Your students appear to be quite lucky. Keep it up!

    1. Thank you so much for that comment:-) It made my day:-)