Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Taekwondo`s Ho Sin Sul was not dead:-O

Korean Hangul Writing
Ho Sin Sul
(Image source)
For those who does not come from a KMA background: Ho Sin Sul is loosely translated as "Self Defense" in English and refers to one of the "Pillars of Taekwondo" training. Today this part is almost lost in mainstream Dojang all over the world with the focus being on Sport Taekwondo (both Poomsae performance and Olympic Sparring). Sometimes it feels like this part has "died" in Taekwondo. I recently watched a promo video for the Kukkiwon that presented Taekwondo as a martial sport consisting of basics, poomsae and sparring (breaking and self defense was not mentioned in the video).

The few who does practise and include Ho Sin Sul does so often by incorporating outside influences (particulary from Hapkido it seems) and making it up they go. Cross training and incorporating techniques from outside sources are in my view a good thing, BUT grabbing techniques from outside sources just to have them in the system is not necesarily a good thing. You must consider the overall strategy of the art and pick techniques that enhances that strategy. If not then you get a "mish mashed Martial art" with plenty of techniques but no way to apply it.

I "youtubed" today and searched for "Practical Taekwondo" and found a clip there that I want to share with you. Maybe it is a sign that the Ho Sin Sul of Taekwondo is not dead (yet) and there is still hope to see Taekwondo as a martial art again someday.

A few comments:
The first technique shown is a defense against a front kick followed by a two handed grab... I would never envision this to be a likely self defense scenario in itself, but a two handed grab might well occur during combat. You try to perform a "nut grab" (thank you Colin from ) and see what happens. Most likely the opponent will flinch away from your grab, or grab your wrist with either on hand or both hands. "Nut grabs" seems to be one popular technique in the self defense systems of old that spawned what was to become Taekwondo. The Okinawan Bubishi (Very old Karate Manual) mentions groin grabbing several times as a valid tactic.

What I do like about the technique he shows against the two handed grab is this: It is extremely simple, it is striking based so it is well within the core curriculum of Taekwondo, he moves forward into the opponent (our forms encourage people to move forward) and he strikes the opponent with a strike that is found in Taegeuk Oh Jang:-D A round elbow to the face (Actually if you look at the whole movement for the elbow strike to the face performed in Taegeuk Oh Jang it is very likely a wrist/arm lock and not a strike allthough the overall movement certainly can be interpreted that way). 

The overall movements are found in our forms pluss the technique in question closely follows Taekwondo`s strategy and this makes me very happy. The first part though (the defense against the front kick) is pretty useless. Allthough you might encounter kicks in a self defense situation, moving backwards and loosely throwing your arm in the way is not helping at all. Moving backwards is better than standing still though, but the "low block" motion (if you can call it that) is just misplaced. I think he included that one just to give the two handed grab a combative context.  

The second self defense technique shown is against a straight punch with the leading side (look at 1 minute 47 seconds into the clip). The defender uses a "shortened" outward knife hand block wich turns into a wrist grab, kicks the opponent with a low front kick, and uses the pulling hand (twisting and pulling the arm toward his hip) while stepping forward and deliver a circular elbow strike to the oponents head.

Again this is completly aligned for Taekwondo strategy. It is simple, it is striking and it is in my own perspective very effective. Again he relies on "bread and butter" Taekwondo techniques as both the block, grab, twistin and pulling to his hip, and elbow strike feature heavily in the Kukkiwon Taekwondo system. Yes blocking is not the most effective way to defend yourself, but this is a great way to begin ones self defense journey. Using the "shortened" block it becomes more like a "flinch" and the rest of the self defense technique just builds from there.

The third technique shown in the clip (2 minutes 46 seconds into the clip) is a defense against a "hammer lock". This one I put in the "might work given enough practise box" and this is the poorest technique in the whole clip. It looks simple enough and it does use one of the bread and butter techniques of modern Taekwondo (the back kick), but there is just so many things that can go wrong and most of those things that can go wrong put the defender face down on the ground... Ground fighting is Taekwondo`s major flaw and I have not met any Taekwondo students (that has not heavily cross trained) that are comfortable on the ground. I am not saying this will not work, but I would rather use a more orthodox defense my self. That being said it does looks a lot of fun to play with does it not?:-D

The fourth and final self defense technique starts at 3 minutes and 56 seconds into the clip. This time the straight punch is used as an attack again but the defense is buildt upon. It starts the same way as technique two with a "shortened" outward knife hand block that changes into a wrist grab. This is followed with the low front kick, round elbow strike and then the defender uses the momentum from the round elbow strike to continue with a bakward spinning kick. Again I like this sequence and what I really like about it is that it incorporates the new with the old so to speak. The first part of the sequence up untill the round elbow strike is orthodox but the kicks are used a lot in modern Taekwondo training so while this is "street worthy" self defense techniques they are not so far removed from the mainstream Taekwondo students regular training.

All four self defense techniques relies on Taekwondo`s strategy of striking, the techniques are simple and they are found in normal main stream practise (the spinning back kick does not feature in any of the Kukkiwon Poomsae untill Poomsae Pyongwon and it is only here it is ever used. That Poomsae is first practised when you are a third Dan if I am not mistaken. The kick does however show up in all basic training from intermediate colour belts and up).

I wish we could see more videos like this:-) This is much more aligned with "Traditional" or "Old School" Taekwondo than its modern counterpart. There are two more clips from the same user but I will comment and share them on another day:-)


  1. Nut grab. I like it!!! So elegant and concise! :-)


    1. it is more descriptive than "groin grab" and it is a lot more "poetic" than the "balls grab":p ... The things you learn... :-D

  2. thanks for this usefull article, waiting for this article like this again.

  3. My mentor, Great Master Kim, Dea Shik, wrote (among many books) HoSinSul- Conceptual Self-Defense. You can find it on Amazon, and you will see Dr. Kim (now deceased) in still photos demonstrating HoSinSul. Dr. Kim was one of three great masters that brought martial arts to the US in the '50'. He was the first to teach martial arts in college courses at Emory University in Georgia and was a member of the University of Texas faculty for twenty years. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, and his martial arts disciples,and thousands of students. He was a great master in the old way and a good family man.RIP Dr. Kim.

    1. I’m a big fan of Gm Kim. I have three of his books, including the one you mentioned. He was (based on his writings) very knowledgeable.