Friday, 8 June 2012

There Is Still Hope For Taekwondo "Ho Sin Sul":-)

I was almost moody the other day thinking about how Taekwondo is now seen as a childrens martial sport
Taekwondo "Ho Sin Sul"
demonstrated in the Olympics
with no emphasis on "martial" and big emphasis on "sport". I am 27 years old and in Olympic Taekwondo terms that is old. Ancient even.. You see most competitors in an Olympic Taekwondo setting is pretty much finished around 25 years old. Yes there are a few that can keep going to the ripe old age of 28-29 but you will not see many in their 30s competing in Olympic sparring at a high level. Taekwondo today is a "fun" martial activity with plenty opertunities for competition. Great for kids but grown ups practise grown ups martial arts like Karate, Muy Thai, JuJitsu, MMA, etc.

One of the things that made Taekwondo great "in the old days" was the Ho Sin Sul aspects. Ho Sin Sul is often translated as self defense in English and for many this is the joint lock, release technqiues and grappling part of Taekwondo. This is partly true as joint locks, release techniques from grabs and grappling are a part of Taekwondo only seen in this segment of Taekwondo training but it is really about applied Taekwondo not exclusively Taekwondo grappling, but how you can use your Taekwondo for self defense.

Ho Sin together means self defense and sul means skills. Skills at self defense or self defense skills covers more than a few joint locks or release techniques:-)

I then went "youtubing" (come on people lets make our own verbs:-p ) and found a few clips (all from the same guy) that I thought were great. Yes there were a few issues but overall the techniques demonstrated were simple, effective and most importantly: inline with Taekwondo`s overall strategy. I am a big believer in crosstraining and I honestly think that there is nothing wrong with incorporating technqiues from outside sources into Taekwondo. This has arguebly been done in all of Taekwondo`s development. It started out as essentually hard style Karate but later incorporated many techniques and ideas from outside sources (most noteably Taek Kyon kicks and Judo, Jujitsu, Hapkido joint locks) to form the martial art we are familiar today. Well some are familiar with it because it has had a rapid de-evolution and become "leg fencing" or boxing with the legs instead of arms in some regions with all other aspects of Taekwondo ripped out or greatly de-emphised. There is a down side with incorporating techniques from outside sources though. Different martial arts have different strategies when it comes to fighting. You have to "pick" the right techniques for the right strategy.

Taekwondo` strategy is to overpower the opponent with strikes. Do grappling skills and joint locks have a place within this strategy? Yes, but only to remove obstacles, place the opponent into a better position to strike him, or as a means to free yourself so you can continue striking. So basic joint locks and grappling should be incorporated into Taekwondo, but difficult highly sophisticated joint locks etc are fun to play with but they have essentually no place within Taekwondo`s strategy..

This time I want to share clip number two and give it a few comments:
The first technique demonstrated about 40 seconds into the video shows a defense against a shoulder grab. It is not improbable that the opponent tries to clinch and grab something to stop you from striking. Actually it is pretty much instinctive behaviour to either curl up and taking a beating or to close distance and try to control the arms and body of the striker. Here the defender uses footwork that could be taken straight out of an olympic sparring match; the forward shuffle while controling the opponents arm. He then uses a standard horse stance and pushes the opponent over his leg so a very basic version of a hip throw is executed. Is this inline with Taekwondo strategy? While it is not a "bread and butter" way of employing the Taekwondo strategy it is nonetheless a part of it. This is an example of simple grappling skills that places the opponent in a position where you can continue striking him if the situation warrants it or you can make your escape. Seen in this light the throw that seems misplaced is actually text book Taekwondo strategy and it works very well within the normal framework of Taekwondo.

The second technique is shown about 1 minute and 54 seconds into the clip. It shows a defense against a straight punch to the head. Here the defender uses a "shortened" outward knife hand block (this is a typical way of interpreting the "traditional" knife hand block), grabs the arm, steps in and performs a slightly more sophisticated hip throw. Actually the interesting part here is that it is almost a picture perfect application to the Keumgang Poomsae`s spinning and then hook punch movement that I covered in an earlier post. The footwork, the entry everything is very close to what I tried to describe in that earlier post. Again though the hip throw is more sophisticated than the one previously shown in the clip it is nonetheless still very basic and simple to perform. It is basic, and it places the opponent into a better position for the defender to either continue striking if the situation warrants it or to make his escape. This technique still works well within Taekwondo`s strategic framework. Just a sidenote: I do not think that this is an example of a technique that is "normal" within Taekwondo`s strategic framework, but it does work within it and the technique does not show up untill the form for 2nd Dan so at this stage a little more sophisticated skill set should be expected.

The third technique is demonstrated around 3 minutes 37 seconds into the video. This is a technique that shows a defense against a straight punch to the head but it would work equally well with a more curved strike that you most likely would face on the mythical "street". Look at the clip and compare to Taegeuk Youk (6) Jang and see if you can see the defense appear in that form.

 Cant see it? Look closely around 14-16 seconds into the video. The knife hand block is there followed by a dollyo chagi or roundhouse kick. First the defender uses a "shortened" outward knife hand block against a straight strike to the head. He then grabs the wrist of the striking arm and performs a movement about 90% close to the "traditional" knife hand outward block and uses this movement to strike the opponents neck. The position of the defender when he strikes the opponents neck mirrors the form of Taegeuk Yuk (6) Jang excactly!. He keeps control of the opponents wrist, strikes the oppoent with a roundhouse knee strike. Again this is exactly like the form allthough in the form you extend your foot so it becomes a roundhouse kick. It is delivered high in the form but it should be delivered low in application. The distance between the defender and the attacker decides wether it becomes a knee strike or a kick. The defender steps down into horse stance on the outside of the attackers front leg and trips him over his leg. This is also done in the form allthough there is two widespread variations. Either you step down in horsestance like in the self defense clip or you step down into front stance after the kick in the form. Either way the tripping of the opponent over your front leg is possible wether you use either variation, showing that the variations on forms are often just one or more masters personal quirks or shallow changes that does not really change the application much. This applications is completly within the Taekwondo Strategic framework and the whole sequence is literally contained within the 6th colour belt pattern!

The fourth technique is shown about 5 minutes and 23 seconds into the clip. Here the defender shows a defense against a straight strike against the head. He defends once again with a "shortened" knife hand block, counterstrikes imidiatly with the other hand but finds himself thwarted by the opponents defense. As the opponent now has both hands covering their face (one covering and the other held in place by the defender) the defender takes the oppertunity to go low and grab the opponents legs below their center of gravity (COG) and throw him to the ground. Definitly not a bread and butter technique (how many "bread and butter" have I written in this post???) but I see it works within Taekwondo`s strategic framework in that it is simple, the opponent was opened up with strikes first and strikes are the priority, and the throw itself is extremly basic. If you freeze fram the clip just as the defender grabs the opponents legs you can see that it closely (but not completly) mirrors Taegeuk Chil (7) Jang`s cross legged stance and twin upward punch. The legs are not crossed but the feet are close togheter and bent like in the form. The front foots sole is completly on the ground while the back foot only has its ball of the foot (Ap Chook) on the ground like in the form and the grabbing arms are positioned closely like the forms twin upward punch. It is possible that the technique from Taegeuk Chil (7) Jang is a stylised demonstration on the same technique as in the clip but with a different entry and finish (the preceding technique is different from the clip and the technique that follows show a double cross hands lower block that does not have any counterpart in the demonstration clip I have embedded in the post). I do not agree on the way it is employed with the entry that is shown in the clip but the throw itself does deffinitly have its place within Taekwondo Ho Sin Sul. I do not think I would use it so much as a throw as I would use it as a tackle though;)

Look at about 35 seconds unto 38 seconds into this clip to see the sequence with the crosslegged stance and twin upward punch. Note that today many places the strike lower than the performer in this video does. This lowering of the double or twin punch actually makes the form even closer to the throw or tackle demonstrated in the clip.

All in all I really like the demonstration shown in this clip and in my eyes this is a good demonstration of "Applied Taekwondo". Most Ho Sin Sul or self defense demonstration shown today in the Taekwondo comunity shows "Movie fighting" instead of techniques like theese. Wild acrobatics, breath taking aerial kicks etc are what is shown in those demonstrations. One of my seniors saw this in Korea one time (he was very excited to watch a self defense demonstration by Taekwondo University Students) and just shook his head and declared: "This is not Ho Sin Sul... This is circus". It is the young peoples martial sport that was demonstrated that night, and this is what the majority of people think of when they think of Taekwondo. No wonder then that Taekwondo today is viewed as a martial sport activity for young children before they move on to a more "serious" martial art...


  1. Hello
    as i sit here nursing an injured shoulder and feeling sorry for myself, i realized that this gives me the right to annoy everyone with my opinion on everything. so here goes:
    coming from a traditional school where these techniques were always practiced to some extent, i understand their loss in much of TKD. having said that i always had problems with the usual practice manner, and i see echoes of it in the video clips highlighted.
    1. they are always done from a "sparring distance". most of the form applications (in my opinion) are designed for close up fighting. that is where most confrontations will take place. i feel that many of the applications attributed to the forms are, in reality, sporting adaptations of them, ie. how does this work assuming a sport sparring distance.

    2. while the single lunge punch is good didactic method for beginners to illustrate principles and allow for slower application of technique, they represent too artificial a situation for more advanced students. you will never see this type of strike in mma or street confrontations. Yet we seem to practice them all the time, and don't get me started on the "knife defense" techniques that start from a mile away. when training in these "one steps" i prefer to have the students cope with jab-cross combinations-with or without a forward step. it changes the usual techniques and approaches considerably.

    3. last in my complaints: they are not usually tied to a specific goal. while the clips shown are better in this regard, think of how many joint locks, wrist grabs, releases etc. are performed just to the point where the uke taps to release the technique. the whole purpose of the chin na, to pull the opponent in, immobilize him, then kill him (olden days), is lost. a technique to just induce pain is generally not the point.

    1. I am very sorry to hear about your shoulder Richard. I do hope you did not try those "norwegian ninja moves"? I wish you a speedy recovery and I am very glad you still took your time to adress my blog:-)
      As for your points:

      1: I agree with you there Richard, but there are two things to consider: One is that having semi practical applications are better than having virtually no applications what so ever.. Two is that sometimes you need to increase the distance when demonstrating in a videoformat so viewers can see what is going on.

      That being said I do think that most of the techniques can be pulled of in a closer setting. Blocking is not the most effective method, but he does shorten them so it is almost like a "flinch block". Also some of the techniques in the clip are shown in a wrong combative context (there being nothing wrong about the technqiue itself, but the context the technqiue that the technique in the clip is demonstrated is wrong and could be shown in a better context).

      2: I agree again Richard, but again if the clip is for beginner students or colourbelts then the lunge punch does provide them with an attack that can be practised so you get the angles and movements in, before you start with more realistic distance and attacks. It is not a realistic attack per se, but it is not so far removed from reality as some of the classical one step that you see (one stepping back into front stance and low block and kihap, the other kihaps and then a lunge punch is performed). I see this as an intermediate step between the classical one step, and the methods you prefer:-)

      3: I agree. I have often seen "advanced" locking ala Hapkido/Aikido demonstrated as Taekwondo Ho Sin Sul. This is what I think is including techniques from another martial art simply to have them in the art. You include joint locks to have joint locks in the system not thinking in the least as to how it should fit in with the overall strategy. The way I see it Taekwondo does include grappling but only "simple" or "basic" when compared to specialised grappling arts like aikido. The strategy of Taekwondo relying largely on striking the grappling should either free your self from any grip so you can continue striking, remove obstacles so you can continue striking, or put the opponent into an exposed position so you can continue striking:-) Most of the techniques in the clip (so far) shows this method of grappling skills (allthough in some cases in an unapropopriate combative context) and this is why I like it:-)

      I would also add that including a few locks and "come along techniques" so you can have a "soft" option in these law suits times might be viable, BUT you would also need a lot of time training these responses. Most people will not have the time to practise both ways to the point where you can chose between them without thinking when attacked on the mythical street though.

      Thanks for your comment Richard, it was a good read for me:-)

  2. hello
    i did want to be more positive than i seemed to be.

    i love your teachers comment, it is quite apt for so much of what passes for self defense applications these days. i am quite sure that in his native language there are even more entertaining ways of expressing his sentiment!

    since you raise that specific technique within taeguk 6, i would like to mention some of my thoughts on it. i have confessed elsewhere that i am not really a big fan of the lower Taeguks, but here i thing they struck gold.

    to me this is a perfect illustration of a fundamental concept "YOU BLOCK AND STEP OFF THE LINE OF THE ATTACK AT THE SAME TIME". Seemingly so elemental but to my knowledge other than here (left and right) never repeated in all the WTF forms.

    it reminds me of the section of "original (old)" Koryo where you are shown a method of disengaging from a conflict. something that is never stressed in almost all of our training.

    i think it would be a good idea to drop the issues that you raise here into a larger forum setting as in my opinion too much of this martial aspect is getting lost in the competition framework.

    keep writing on interesting topics as it keeps me thinking
    richard conceicao

    1. "hello
      i did want to be more positive than i seemed to be."

      You did not sound particulary negative though Richard. Just speaking your mind and thats all good;)And yes I thought that he was very diplomatic when he called the demonstration "Circus". I think he held back there..

      I low the Taegeuk series. In fact one of my favorite Poomsae is actually Taegeuk Il (1) Jang:-D . The concept of blocking and stepping out of the line of attack at the same time as you put it could be extracted from just about all the Poomsae if you look at it the same way Mabuni did regarding the turns in Poomsae. Allthough I agree that the twisting motion while doing the block does this without moving to the sides and therefore is a concept on its own that is not shown in any other Poomsae to my knowledge.

      "Looking at interpretation number (2) however, the 5 Pinan kata show us that against an attack from the front we can evade either left or right to put ourselves in the most advantageous position to defend ourselves." Kenwa Mabuni.

      Full quote can be seen here:

      This line of thinking can be applied to Poomsae as well, BUT the question is: "Did the originators of Poomsae design them with this in mind??" I think that as long as we can make the applications we draw out of Poomsae more effective using this way of thinking it is all good wether the originators of Poomsae designed them whis way or not.

      Interesting comment on the old Koryo. I am still looking forward to the book that is comming out in 2013 by Master Cook and Grandmaster Richard Chun. It has an application section written by Richard Conceiaco (Free advertisment added:-D )

      Thanks for the last comment though Richard. I will try and do my best:-)

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