Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A combative study of the "forkshaped punch/Chetdari jireugi"

Chetdari jireugi anno 1986
Training and studying Taekwondo at a University in Korea made me do things I would not normally do. Being a "traditional" Taekwondo student I believed that you had to perfect your poomsae one at a time and only what was required for your grade. But at the Korean university all Taekwondo students had to learn how to perform all of the Kukkiwon Poomsae. This made me the only 1st Dan that I knew of that could perform all the Poomsae from Taegeuk Il Jang to Poomsae Ilyo (I never really got the jumping sidekick down but I know that Poomsae well enough to be well aqainted with it). One experience was that the higher the Poomsae the more "strange" and "exotic" techniques appeared. One of them was the "Cetdari Jireugi", also known as "forkshaped punch" or simultainious punch with both hands to the front.

The technique appears first in Poomsae Sipjin (required for 4th Dan). In the later half of the Poomsae you do a bawi milgi (rock pushing) followed by a front kick and as the foot steps down into ap koobi seogi you do the chetdari jireugi.  At the very end of the Poomsae you do it again, but this time you are in back stance. According to Kukkiwon Textbook the technique in question belongs to a group called "Teukso Jireugi" (special punching), wich in it self underlines the "exotic" and "strange" nature of the technique.

The Kukkiwon textbook offers no illustrated or detailed application for the technique but it does describe how it can be used:

Quote from Kukkiwon Textbook 2006 edition page 241:
Chetdari jireugi (fork shape jireugi): the two fists punch the opponents trunk equally. Two arms shaping the form of "u" letter horizonally. In fact, the left fist makes a momtong bandaejireugi, when the left foot is placed forward, while the right fist a momtong barojireugi in the same stance (The strange sentece building is just a part of the quote it is not me I promise:-p ) At that time the left shoulder turns 45 degrees and the right elbow slightly bent, the fist closer to the left forearm by a fists width."
End quote.

According to the Kukkiwon textbook you use this punch to strike your oponents upper body with both fists at the same time. In a competition setting I see this work just fine. In a matter of fact I have used it extensivly in my Olympic sparring as a tactic to increase the distance between me and my oponent if we got to close. Shoving is not allowed in the sport of Taekwondo but a chetdari jireugi works brilliantly and is within the rules of the game. The problem arrises when we take the technique out of the olympic sparring context and into a self defense or more realistic combat setting. The chetdari jireugi is a truly all in attack as you leave yourself so incredibly open to counterattack. This is fine in a sporting context where facepunching is not allowed but a punch to the face is a good and simple counterattack to this technique.

Chetdari Jireugii in usage
There is another problem too though with Kukkiwons application and that is a matter of form. The form does simply not fit Kukkiwons function. In Kukkiwons own description you turn your shoulder 45 degrees and bend the elbow of the right hand. You can not make contact with your oponent with both fists at the same time and with the same power, eventhough that is excactly what the Kukkiwon says is the function of the technique. Me and a friend asked a very high ranking Kukkiwon master about this at a training camp in Korea. He pretended to not understand our question, and everyone got very annoyed with the "Norwegians" who would not quit asking such silly questions as to the whys of Poomsae movements. In the end a student from Iraq (also a high ranking master) confirmed that the Kukkiwon textbook application was valid, and when faced with the function not fitting with the form he changed his mind and said it was one punch delivered to two oponents at the same time. The oponents standing at different distances to the defender.

With this we saw that our questioning had to come to an end because that was one of the worst applications I had ever heard. The rest of the students was very happy though so this application is undoubtfully being taught at a great number of Dojangs today:-p Actually the Iraq Master might not have come up with this application out of thin air. You see one of my older books (forerunner to todays Kukkiwon Textbook written in 1986) uses this excact application to the technique. The distance between the front and back hand was also longer at that time.

Obviously the Kukkiwon teaches the technique as a double punch either against one or two oponents, and they have no intention (at this time at least) to think of other ways to use it. I do not doubt that different teachers around the world teaches several different applications for the technique but the official Kukkiwon application is the most widely practised and taught. To find the key to use the technique in a more "realistic" setting we have to look elsewere. Where does the technique appear in other styles and how is it applied there?

Shotokan`s Chetdari Jireugi
In Shotokan, Shito Ryu and most if not all Shurite Karate we find the technique in one of the most ancient, widespread and maybe the most distinctive pattern there is. Namely Chulgi/Tekki/Naihanchi/Naifanchi il Hyung/Shodan Kata. The reason I first look at Shotokan and Shurite is because of the founders of Taekwondo studied these two styles the most (Shudokan is not longer in existance anymore. At least not the way Toyama Kanken taught it and so there is no way to really investigate that root anymore). In Shotokan and Shito ryu the application is the same as in Kukkiwon, but some circles of Shito ryu gave me one application that was a little more realistic: Only the front fist punches the oponent wile the other guards the "center line".

That was a little better application for the technique but I was still not satisfied. I remembered that Choki Motobu was famous for his fighting prowess and he based his fighting style on the Naihanchi/Chulgi Kata/Hyung, and so maybe I could find an even better combat application in his writings? I got a hold of "Motobu Choki Karate My Art" translated by Patrick McCarthy and started to study his writings.

Choki Motobu performing
the technique in 1935
I learned several important things by Choki Motobu. One of the first things that struck me when thinking of the practical application of martial patterns is that you must not be a total prisoner of the pattern when it comes to application. Just read this: Quote from the above mentioned book page 89 regarding step 4 in the pattern. The elbow smash: "In practical application one should not impact with the left elbow, but use the clenched fist instead. In the Kata, the elbow looks better, but dont forget its practical application" End Quote. In other words the "master of practical Karate" as he is known as did not rely completly on the Kata. He was not afraid to change the techniques as long as the strategy of the Kata was followed.

On the technique Chetdari Jireugi he writes (Quote from page 90): "Here both hands are thrusted out to the left side without changing ones posture. It represents a way wich to receive and respond to the opponents attack. When the hands are used together like this it is referred to as Mefutode (married couples hand)." End Quote. Here I learned something truly amazing. remember the post "Get some function in your form"? I wrote that you had to use the whole motion to come up with a practical meaning of the movement. Here you have one of the Pioners of Karate say that the technique represents a concept regarding how to tackle an attack using both hands together. The motion is therefore not that important in this case as it is the concept of dealing with an attack with both hands working together that is important. The movements making use of this concept might look like Chetdari Jireugi or it might not. karatebyjesse.com feature a great article on just this very concept (click here to read the article. It will help your Taekwondo a lot). Actually that might have been the end of this study, but I am not done quite yet, you see in the book by Choki Motobu I found several different fighting drills making use of this concept and as a bonus staying relativly close to the motion of Chetdari Jireugi. The ones illustrated in the article I linked to above does not follow the motion of Chetdari Jireugi, allthough they are also good examples for conveying the concept of husband and wife hand. I do not want to plagorise the whole book by Choki Motobu but I will give a few example photos here so you can see the chetdari jireugi motion used in a practical context. Remember that Choki Motobu thought the technique showed and represented a concept and as such you will not find picture perfect examples of the technique here.

Striking application
The first one is a striking application. You receive the oponents attack with the back hand, pulling him toward you while striking him with your lead hand. A number of follow ups are possible after this technique.

Hammerfist strike to the ribs
Here you see a variation on the first one. The attack could be a grab, push or punch it does not matter, but the key is to receive the attack with the back hand and stike the oponents ribs (or head if you want) with a hammer fist strike.

Grappling application
Here Motobu uses the technique in a more elaborate way. Picture the last application. The oponent tries to punch you with his free hand before you land that devestating hammerfist strike. This is a natural way for the oponent to react so it is wise to be prepared. Here Motobu jams the attack at the source and uses the lower arm to put pressure on the oponents elbow.
After looking at the motobu-ryu Karate application of the move I remembered one more place that could shed some light on the technqiues combative context. The place is "Chin-na" wich is not a seperate martial art but a part of the whole in many styles of Kwon Bup (Quan Fa), like Ho Sin Sul in Taekwondo today. Chin-Na is the art of restraining the oponent with locks, grabs etc.

Illustration from "Analasys of Shaolin Chin Na" page 211
This is essentually a variation on the last application from Choki Motobus writings.
Instead of using a trapped arm as a fulcrum here we see the oponents shoulder used instead.
 Here the chetdari jireugi can be seen locking the arm in a simular way as Choki Motobu demonstrated, but here the fulcrum is the oponents shoulder. As you can see the different styles all share the movement but the applications are different from style to style. If your goal is realistic combat application for all techniques you need to look at many different sources to find your answer if you do not study under a teacher who teaches indepth applications for the moves.

I find Kukkiwons application striking one oponent with both fists simultainiously to be a "good" application but not the most effective one. In a sporting context were face punching is not allowed this application works very well. Most of todays instructors only experience of combat being the sportive context it is no wonder why such an application is taught openly. I think that the founders of Taekwondo included the technique because they thought it was an effective combat technique as it was legal to punch to the face well into the 70s (until after Sipjin was created) and as such the application Kukkiwon teaches today would not be effective in the sport at that time.

The founders did unlike most of todays instructors have a lot more experience with real world violence since they grew up under harsh conditions. First in a land conquered by Japan and afterwards in a war torn land during and after the Korean war. It is therefore not strange if the original application the makers of Poomsae Sipjin intended was more inline with the ones shown in this study than the one presented and taught by the Kukkiwon today.

What we can learn by a study like the one I have embarked on is that the notion of "styles" is a very artificial way of cataloging the martial arts. As they all are made for self defense or combat they will all when realisticly applied look very much the same. If a Taekwondoin or a Karateka or a Kwon bup student use the chetdari jireugi in combat it would all look the same no matter what style he is in.

I think that after all of this digging what most important to learn is that styles are artificial and limiting and we need to acknowledge that and start studying everything from a realistic point of view. I am no less a Taekwondoin if I choose to use Chetdari Jireugi the same way Choki Motobu used it instead of how Kukkiwon says it should be applied. Every motion in Taekwondo and in the martial arts have multiple applications. They are only movements and it is important for any serious student not to be contempted in being on the level as their teachers but push trhough boundaries and develop as well as take charge of their own learning. I am myself learning Taekwondo from a 9th Dan teacher, but the most important thing he has ever learned me is to think for myself and not blindly follow him. I appreciate his sentiments and hope other Taekwondo students have similar wise teachers:-)


  1. I came to this post by accident; and I just want to give you a little advice: All the 'practical usages' of the fork-shaped punch listed in the article are wrong.

    They are wrong in the sense of using a screwdriver to hammer nails, or to paint walls, or to cut meat - it 'might' work, but it is not what the screwdriver was created for. So they are highly unoptimal and irrational.

    Screwdriver was created to drive in screws, you know. As the fork-shapes punch was created to ....

    1. Hi there anonymous. Can you please enlighten me as to what the fork shaped punch was created for then? Do you know the originator of the form Naihanchi personally or have accsess to his personal writings where he openly states the function of the fork shaped punch? Are you one of the members of the forms comitte who made Sipjin in the mid 1960s or a Direct student of one who told you excactly what it was meant to be doing?

      I presented striking one opponent at the same time, i presented punching two opponents at the same time and I presented the oppertunity for using it in sparring. Are all these usages wrong for you?

      I present many additional variations of the usage of the fork shaped punch. Three of which come from one of the pioneers of Karate and famous for his deep understanding of Naihanchi. Will you tell me he is flat out wrong in his understanding?

      Could you please tell me what you believe the function of the movement is then if it is not punching two spots on one opponent, punching two opponents at the same time, pushing and creating distance for following up on kicks, and all the other alternative irrational Applications in this post? :-)

      I think you should Research Choki Motobu a little before stating that his understanding of the technique is irrational, highly unoptimal etc. His Applications were very much based on real life experiences and are not the result of theoretic analisys.

  2. Excellent and very exciting site. Love to watch. Keep Rocking.