Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Pillars of Taekwondo Training Part One; "Basic Techniques"

In an earlier post I mentioned "The pillars of Taekwondo training". I defined them as Basic techniques, Forms training, sparring, self defense and breaking.(The post I am reffering to can be read by clicking here:)This has long been the format of what is usually labeled "Traditional Taekwondo" and I thought that I should write a little more indepth about each "pillar" this time. In this the first part in this rant I will look closer on the first one (and many will undoubtfully say the most boring one:-p ) namely "Basic Techniques".



The Korean term for basic techniques is "Gibon Dongjak" (기본 동작). Gibon is often translated as "Basic" but I like the other possibility "fundemental" better. Basic implies that it is something for beginners and that once it is mastered it can be forgotten in favor of something more advanced. Fundemental on the other hand implies the basis on wich all other things rest. Dongjak means something in the lines of "movement(s)". Thereby basic techniques ---> Gibon Dongjak --> Fundemental movement(s). If Taekwondo was a house then Gibon Dongjak would be its foundation. This really shows the importance on Gibon Dongjak since a house built on weak/poor foundation will be swept away by a small wind, a rainy day or something equally trivial, while a buliding built on strong foundations will stand for as loong as it is properly maintained.

Front Kick is one of the
fundemental moves of
Taekwondo
Every thing we do in Taekwondo in wichever "style" you belong to, if it is for sport, self defense, combat, health is done by performing basic techniques. If you are sparring you are(should?) using basic techniques against an oponent, if you are performing patterns then you are using basic techniques. If you are "doing"self defense against an attacker then you are using basic techniques in a practical way. So what excactly is basic techniques? The most common (and in my opinion crude) way of defining basic techniques are:
  • Blocking techniques (Makki)
  • Punching techniques (Jirruegi)
  • Kicking techniques (Chagi)
And thats it. This is also the basis of all the "official" or basic intrepretation of Poomsae application since all techniques must be in one of the three catagories. Each catagory can be subdivided of course. Blocking techniques (Makki) can be divided into upper section, middle section, low section blocks. And these can be divided into even smaller subgroups. For examble: knife hand blocks, forearm blocks, etc etc. I will not dwelve into every grouping as that would make for a long post, but Japanese and Korean martial arts seems very preoccupied with the notion that each movement needs to bee in a group. The above subdividing of subgroups under Blocking techniques should be sufficient in illustrating what I mean by this:-)

Typical "Line work":-)
Todays notion of Gibon Dongjack training is a group of people doing "line work" together. "Line work" means that everyone is marching up and down the Dojang floor while performing kicks, blocks or punches (or even a combination of them strung together) in unison by the instructors count. In the old Kwan however Gibon Dongjack training was seen a little wider than this. Line work as previously described is a part of Gibon Dongjak training but only one part. The fundemental movements need to be practised in isolation so that each movememt can be perfected with perfect form, speed, power and accuracy. I am sure you agree that good basic techniques should contain with all the attributes above, but if you think about it you will notice that "line work" will only get you so far in terms of perfect form but what about power, speed and acuracy?

The early masters of Taekwondo used several training aids to help them to perfect their techniques and one of the most important ones was the "Dallyon Joo" or "forging post" in English. It was essentually what the Japanese called Makkiwara and it is a striking post with a padded surface. All the "blocks", kicks and punches was trained by relentlessly pounding the Dallyon Joo over and over again. Impact training and conditioning was seen as very important maybe just as important as line work, and a great deal of time was used to train each technique so that it could be used with great power in a combative context. This training method to help refining Gibon Dongjak has all but dissapeared in these modern times as the focus on sport with padded surfaces and strict rules make conditioning work like the Dallyon Joo redundant. Why would you strike the Dallyon joo to perfect power generation in your punches when you do not get any points for punches in a match? Why condition your hands for impact when they are only allowed to strike a padded surface (WTF) or they are protected by gloves (ITF)? The Dallyon Joo is not needed if all you want is sport but it was essentual for the original martial art that became todays Taekwondo.

Stances are a vital part of Gibon Dongjak
The Dallyon Joo was not the only training aid as power and speed was seen as important but accurace too was seen as paramount. To paraphrase the second headmaster of the Chung Do Kwan; Duk Sung Son : Accuracy is the most important thing in a martial art. In a real fight you might only get one chance to strike your opponent and you need to put him down with that one technqiue. They trained for this using different training aids like removing their inside soles of their shoes to kick them wihle their partners hold them in their hands alternating them and changing their position like a modern boxing coach would use focus mitts, hitting a small target (for example a nut) tied so that it floated at chest hight or so above the floor (conected to the ceiling by a string) and kicking/punching it without stopping trying to hit it as it bobbed and weaved.

Another but largely overlooked part of Gibon Dongjak training is the health aspect. The techniques of Taekwondo if done correctly does improve health. The stances strenghtens the legs (it is just a side benifit as the stances has as everything in our training a practical purpose as well), the hip twist for power generation trains the hips, and lower back, the pulling hand tightens up your back muscles, the high kicks improve range of motion etc. Coupled with proper breathing training the fundemental movements of Taekwondo is great for your body.

One thing to consider in your training though: Your Gibon Dongjak training should reflect your training goals. With this I mean that since the traditional techniques were developed for combat and not as sport you need to take this into consideration when you train. If you want to train for sport then you should focus your fundemental movements on sport techniques and most should be kicks thrown from a "sparring" stance. The older way with line work, dallyon joo (the more traditional methods) of training were developed for another stage entirely. For effective training always keep your goal in mind when training.

Hisotricly the notion of basic tecniques that we have today does not seem to have existed prior to Anko Itosu`s introduction of Karate to the Okinawan school system. Before this time the training was forms and movements based. Your teacher would not ask you to perform a low block and a middle punch. He would just show you and say "like this, and like this". The applications were shown to the students too in some cases, but often the students needed to find out stuff on their own. In the Kukkiwon textbook (2006 edition) it is stated that the basic techniques are just training to reach and perfect the Poomsae of Taekwondo (paraphrasing yet again:-) ). So in the official Kukkiwon dogma the basic techniques are essentually just another way to practise poomsae. I say this view is wrong in that Taekwondo has more fundemental moves than the moves contained in Poomsae.

I studied Taekwondo at a University in Korea for one year, and one thing I had to learn was all the Poomsae in the Kukkiwon system (just superficial performance sport not indepth applications). One thing I noticed was that many hand techniques like one and two finger strikes, "chest nut fist", bear paw and a lot of other techniques are missing from poomsae. Yet they are described in the Kukkiwon Textbook! This coupled with the fact that a large portion of our kicks are also missing (axe kick, horse/back kick, all spinning kicks etc) makes the Gibon Dongjak training very important. If not for this part of training then the techniques will die out and dissapear.

There is strong evidence that suggest that eventhough Taekwondo has always had forms in them, it was not forms based like Karate originally was. It was technique based. At least to the general public indepth applications for the forms was not taught and as you have allready read above there are many many many techniques in Taekwondo wich never appear in any official Forms. Old hard style Taekwondo seems to have been based on the most effective punches, kicks (the more fancy ones are a new development) and blocks. Forms seems to have been trained to drill the basic techniques in large groups much like it is today with many people training forms just as basic techniques strung together. The next part of the series regarding patterns/forms/poomsae can be read by clicking here

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