Friday, 23 November 2012

Matchoe Kyorigi, Taekwondo`s forgotten art?

Taekwondo is often presented as a uniquely Korean ancient martial art with no ties to "foreign" Martial Arts. I actually believed that people today would know better, but just a few days ago I was faced with several individuals who eagerly defended "the 2000 years myth". It did not matter how much logic I presented so I gave up and said I would agree to disagree with them. I am getting older and wiser I think as a few years back I would probably not given in so easily.

One thing that does show that Taekwondo has been influenced by Karate however is something I have concentrated on in my classes lately as there is a grading for our students comming up and Machoe Kyorigi is one of the requirements for all grades (in different guises of course). Machoe Kyorigi is predetermined sparring divided in our system into:
  • Sambon Kyorigi (3 Step Sparring)
  • Hanbon Kyorigi Son Dongjak (1 Step Sparring Hand Techniques)
  • Hanbon Kyorigi Bal Dongjak (1 Step Sparring Foot Techniques)
  • Hanbon Kyorigi Eungyong Dongjak (1 Step Sparring combination* techniques)
  • Dubon Kyorigi (2 Step Sparring)
  • Mechigi (Throwing)
  • Anja Kyorigi (Formal Sparring from seated position)
*Eungyong means "practical" but it is in this case often translated into our language as "combination" because the formal sparring uses one foot technique, hand technique and a self defense technique and mixes them together into the counter attacks in that kind of sparring.

As far as I can tell all of these maybe except the 1 step sparring with the feet are directly imported from Pre World War 2 Shotokan Karate. Not only that but General Choi Hong Hi shows examples of most of these types of sparring in his 1965 Book, and Son Duk Sung also shows in his 1968 Book both 1 and 3 step sparring. In General Choi Hong Hi`s 1965 book he writes that the foot sparring comes from Taek Kyon and maybe that is true (I do not know) but Taek Kyon is famous for their leg techniques and that kind of sparring is pretty unique in my experience to Korean derived hard style martial arts. I have not seen or heard of any Karate Dojang engaging in one step sparring with leg techniques.

That being said though, today there seems to be a decline in training time devoted to Machoe Kyorigi in Taekwondo. Are they falling out of favor? Do they have their place in the syllabus? Are they just "Karate leftovers" that we are finished with and ready to substitute for other ways of training?

The reasons I ask this is that fequently I hear from students and instructors alike that formal sparring is a waste of time, nobody moves like that and in the case of 3 step sparring it teaches the beginner to move backwards in a straight line and that is not optimal for fighting. Students complain that it is "boring" they are too "rigid" and that they have no relevance to other parts of training (Poomsae are often treated the same). There are even Dojang within the organisation that I belong to that are neglecting the Machoe Kyorigi and in some cases do not teach or practise whole subsets of Machoe Kyorigi (maybe the remove 3 step sparring and concontrate on 1 step sparring for instance). This results in "Grading panic" that occurs roughly every 6 months in these kinds of Dojang where all they do the last 2-3 weeks before grading is Machoe Kyorrigi and Poomsae because like it or not they are part of grading requirements in our organisation and students fail if they can not perform them properly.

Personally when I had responsibility of my own group within the Dojang I belonged to, I would do Machoe Kyorigi EVERY training session. I might pick one type and focus on it or maybe just "blast through them all" not devoting much training time on them in one session and focusing on them another but the fact remains; "grading panic" never happened within that group as all of the students practising knew every kind of Machoe Kyorigi that their rank demanded they should know, and they would have trained in them regularly all season leading up to the grading. My philosophy was that as they were required in our syllabus we have to teach and train them. If people got bored so much that it bothered them I would point them in direction of other Dojang that downplayed them or other martial arts that did not include them.

Some people are bored with "air practise" but they will gladly grit their teeth and march up and down the Dojang floor punching air as at least it is good for techniques and they do burn some calories. I just do not get why Machoe Kyorigi can not be used for technique development as well? If you are focusing on midle section punch and long front stance would it not be better to do 3 step sparring so atleast you would have a partner to aim that punch at and learn distancing as well as developing technique? Do not get me wrong, first you must learn the technique without a partner, and it is easier to focus on "form" when not having a partner present, but if we are to push ourselves and get better we need to "increase the workload" and putting a partner in front of you is one way of doing just that.

Maybe the problem is not so much the excersise itself but rather the way it is often (in my view) wrongfully presented as a way of practising self defense/free sparring/fighting or whatever. When looked at in isolation you will see that the kind of formal sparring Machoe Kyorigi is, are not a good way of training for any of these:
  • Free Sparring
  • Competition Sparring
  • Fighting
  • Self Defense
If you view the Machoe Kyorigi in the above context then yes, they do not add much to the training and I do understand that they might be discarded in favour for other means of training. I have written before that I believe that for frail students or people with issues that the Machoe Kyorigi are a great introduction to partner work as it is within a "safe" context and that there are attacks being used against you that you need to defend against. The formal context of them and that you always know just what to expect helps these students to gradually learn to cope with that fear of a fist traveling at high speed toward your face.

I believe that the problem here is that of context. Yes there are attributes that are being trained that overlap with over "contexts" like the role of the attacker in 3 step sparring is to deliver 3 attacks with a good posture, speed and form. All of the contexts listed above might need good attacks but the contexts dictate what the definition of good attacks are. For instance in two step sparring number two in our syllabus against a high section punch, front kick combo from the attacker is a knife hand block against the bunch, a downward parry to the frontkick toghether with body evasion and a front kick witht the leading leg to the opponents groin. That counterattack might be good for a "fighting" context, but it is not good or even allowed in a "Taekwondo competition" context.

We need as instructors to either identify the context of the drill we are practising OR discard it if we find that it does not fulfill any context we are training for. I would put Machoe Kyorigi into a Martial Art Context. Meaning it is not training solely for fighting or self defense it is a part of what makes Taekwondo not only "Martial" but a "Martial ART". Maybe the best description I have ever heard of Machoe Kyorigi is: "Training to learn how to harmonise with you opponent". I do not remember where I read it or who said it but it was someone in the Shotokan comunity.

Today however it seems that Machoe Kyorigi is loosing its place within Taekwondo and that sparring drills for competition sparring are being done in their place. Therefore I call Machoe Kyorigi Taekwondo`s forgotten art.


  1. I love formal sparring which we call one step sparring. I also do kicking one step sparring but I just call it "kick counters" but include it as a type of one step sparring for my students. None of my students are black belts or even close so I do not worry about 2 or 3 step sparring until they get closer to that level. One step sparring is important for self defense and in my training my masters ALWAYS had us do them. I had required ones to memorize with my first instructor then my second instructor who was a korena grandmaster had use make up our own, or gave us some ideas to build on and we just did random ones we wanted and tried out. I think having required ones is better and later when students are higher in rank have them develop their own (but make sure they are realistic). So many schools have the stupidiest and most unrealistic one steps that really make me mad. none of them would ever work and would just get yo killed or you would never even remember to do it if you were attacked. Just like poomsae, one steps train your body to be under your control and have better coordination and crsip technique which will always carry over in real fighting.

    1. True Words:-) Interesting to hear that Your different instructors had different ways of using 1 steps in Your training though. How do you approach them? Do Your students learn scripted ones or do they make their own?