Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Traditional Taekwondo Training Equipment

Today one of Taekwondo`s strong points as a leisure activity is that there is no training equipment that is really needed and training space is also not that big of a consern. Likewise you really do not need any special training uniform to do Taekwondo, all you need is a somewhat flat training space (a couple of square meters is enough) and the will to train.

You can train attributes for Taekwondo like strenght in just about all of the body, or maybe basic techniques, or forms or shadow boxing not even needing a partner to train with. Today numerous Dojang that operates
out of school gyms (very common in my country) or other such places does not have or make use of any training equipment what so ever. Not even matts (wich makes the training of Nak Bup/breask falling difficult). That being said traditional Taekwondo did make use of a lot of training equipment most practisioners has probably never even heard of today.

In Okinawan Karate there is a whole other culture to training. In the west we were told not to mess with weights because they could make us bulky but slow and that it was a lot more important to have good technique than muscle. While many martial artists in the west were taught in rented spaces where equipment were scarse or non existant, coupled with the "weight myth" it is no wonder that many stressed the traning of Gibon Dongjak (basics), Poomsae (Forms), Kyorugi (Sparring) and Ho Sin Sul (Self defense) with a few push ups and sit ups thrown into the mix while in Okinawa and China (as well as Japan in the 20s-40s when the Kwan founders of Taekwondo studdied their base Martial Arts) "Hojo Undo" was stressed a lot more. "Hojo Undo" is a Karate term that means suplemental training and consists of the use of various equipment as well as excersises that only makes use of the body. Hojo Undo is 보조 운동 Buchu Undong in Korean

In older incarnations of Taekwondo in Korea (the different Kwan that was founded in the 40s-60s) this culture of training was precerved a long time. As recently as 1965 General Choi Hong Hi of the Oh Do Kwan (and honorary member of the Chung Do Kwan) published a book he called Taekwondo the Korean art of Self Defense where he describes several training equipment that has since then fallen into disuse. The training equipment he describes were in common use in Korea at the time but I personally think that their usage was lost due to the expansion of Taekwondo westwards. Many of the early pioners did not have a lot of money and they rented spaces and taught at schools, YMCA`s, church halls etc. It would be some time before the "proffesional" Dojang came into the mainstream. Faced with the limitation rented space provides it is no wonder that the focus on technique and excersises making use of the body were stressed as the teachers at the time did not have a lot of other choices. But as we will see eventhough a lot of the training equipment has fallen into disuse they were considered an important part of Taekwondo training both in Korea and the Pioners did try to bring their use to the west when they started exporting Taekwondo.

Pick up just about any of the old writings from the 1960s-70s and you will be introduced to one of the most important piece of training equipment in Taekwondo; enter the Kwon Go, or Dallyon Joo (striking post). In Karate circles it is known as "Makkiwara" and it was considered a key piece of training equipment in Karate
Image source: Tae Kwon Do
too before Taekwondo was "born". Son Duk Sung the second headmaster of the Chung Do Kwan writes extensive about its use as late as 1968 if I am not mistaken in his book "Tae Kwon Do Korean Karate". Likewise General Choi Hong Hi also writes extensivly about it in his 1965 book, showing numerous excersises with it as well as how to build your own!

How important were this Kwon Go or Dallyon Joo as it also was known as in training? Well it is reported that Ro Byung Jik the founder of Song Moo Kwan (actually the Korean pronounciation of Shoto as in Shotokan) would strike it several houndred strikes each day, and he did not allow his students to start the main training exercise for the day unless they first strook the post at least 100 times!

Another thing that was often in use before the Korean war was trees. Being taught Taekwondo by a Korean 9th Dan old school teacher I have been exposed to this kind of training. It is always funny if new people are at our Dojang and my teacher say to everyone during training "Everybody out now!". I know what is going to happen but the looks on the faces of the newer ones who are told to go outside (we do not stop put on shoes) and told to find a tree (there are multiple trees just outside the Dojang) and strike it with knifehand strike 200 times, and then with the fist 100 times and maybe do a little blocking (low block, inward middle block, outward middle block etc) before going inside to continue our training. With the blocks and knife hand strikes we strike very hard, but when we use the fist we strike moderatly hard. We have to strike 100 strikes so you want to be able to keep on striking untill the end, but the purpose is more to correct wrist alignment, body posture, etc than to actually toughen up the knuckles as many seem to believe. The look on the passersby (there is a street a little further down from the trees) is also a great spectacle as they see a lot of white pyjamas clothed people screaming and striking trees with their bare hands... We also kick the trees, and this method of training was encouraged by Son Duk Sung in his aforementioned 1968 book:-) He also makes the point of selecting a small point on the tree in the size of a coin to use as target. This way you alos practise accuracy in kicking/striking. I guess if you want a Korean name to the tree in training it would be dallyon namo (dallyon = forging, Nahmo = tree).
Image source: Korean Karate;
The art of Tae Kwon Do

But the training equipment might have Kwon Go / Dallyon Joo in the center as a forging tool in Taekwondo, it was far from the only one. You also had Dallyon Gune wich functioned much like the heavy bag would do today. It was/ is a striking pendulum suspended from a beam or roof. It could be a steel pipe or a log
wrapped in anything that would cushion the blows a little depending on the training intensity and level of proficiancy of the practisioner. Where the Dallyon Joo trained the fists, elbow and low kicks, the Dallyon Gune was more suited for combinations, forearms, shins, etc.

Dallyon Tong is another vital piece of equipment that was in use in the old Kwan. It usually started as a box filled with sand or something "soft" but in the course of training the content of the box would be changed to harder materials as you progressed. The Dallyon Tong (forging box) was used to strengthen your fingers for vital point (keupsoh) attacks. In Taekwondo we have spear hand, one and two finger thrust to mention just a few manners of attacks that would benifit from training with the Dallyon Tong.

The training equipment did not stop at tools to enhance striking technique and forging your attacking tools however. There was also gripping jars or Danji to strenghten their grip and different weight training equipment to increse their overal strength. You might notice that gripping strentgth and finger strength is something we no longer stress in mainstream Taekwondo, but both of these were and still are vital in old
school practical application of our forms and basic technique. The pulling hand (dangki son) for instance benifits imensly by this and is a nasty technique unto itself when properly understood. To go back to the accounts of Song Moo Kwan training in the Kwan era it was expected that the students first did weight training excersises followed by pounding the Dallyon Joo before starting the actual training.

Image source: Korean Karate;
The art of Tae Kwon Do
General Choi Hong Hi`s book from 1965 documents all the above training equipment (except for weight training) in great detail showing the influence old school Karate had on Oh Do Kwan and the stories from my instructors in Korea as well as my current instructor here in Norway verify this as well as the stories from Song Moo Kwan wich was in "A modern history of Taekwondo" by Kang and Lee (also on Wikipedia).

I think that we should try to if not reintroduce these tools, then make great use of the modern equipment we have access to that promote the same training possibilities (heavy bag, kick shield, pads etc). I honostly think that we should incorporate Dallyon Joo into our training once again as eventhough the heavy bag is a close substitute there are still certain areas Dallyon Joo still has the advantage in training.

Image source: Tae Kwon Do (1965)
This is called "Blocking aparatus"
and I have only seen this in Okinawan Karate styles
and in Choi Hong Hi`s book from 1965.

Happy training everyone:-)


  1. Hello
    i have always found it kind of depressing to write material, send it to the world, and no one responds. so to cheer you up a couple of quick points on you last posts:

    1. while a kihap is translated the way you describe, i find it a pseudo metaphor. yes you do focus everything, but also to the point, the forced exhalation does a number of things to the body at once that you could not think of doing all at the same time. it raises the energy level, tightens the body core, which enables it to project the force of impact more efficiently, and also helps protect you from impact.

    there is a secondary consideration as well. you do not always shout the same thing. different syllables/sounds are thought to emanate from different areas ("energy centers") of the body. this in turn changes the effect of the technique. Kyushu (vital point) fighters of the "old school" who base their attacks on 5 elements will change the sound to correspond to the element they are weakening.

    2. kicking trees: thank you for stating that it is mostly to teach you alignment, something i think i mentioned in one of my youtube videos, but that most people don't understand. the way i had it explained to me is the ideal is to practice striking on something that is alive. problem is you run out of practice partners very quickly. dogs and cats are smarter than people in this respect, so they are out as well. the next best thing is something that is alive, or that was alive. this works out to trees and wooden dummies, makiwara, etc. the idea is you can't make it out of aluminum (never alive).

    the key to this is to not only hit it, but to hit in specific sequences. that is the way wing chun does it, and the way i learned baqua wooden dummy. eventually you respond to attacks just through unconscious pattern recognition.

    anyway if this is all to much rambling here is a link to Iranian women ninjas. apparently in a very masculine society it is one of their outlets.


  2. Thanks for those ninjas Richard. I mean each and every comment would be so much better if we just put some ninjas in them:-D

    I do have one question though: What do you mean that Kihap can be translated the way I did and wich one do you feel is the pseudo metaphor? The spirited shout (the modern translation) or the the more older a concentration of force/spirit?

    I have covered some of the things you comment about the Kihap in older posts, but this time I was looking more on the "mental side" of Kihap as this is something I rarely see in Taekwondo. Your comments on different sounds doing different things was totally new to me so I see I have a lot more to learn and study:-) Thanks for that:-)

    Your comments on the wooden dummy and kicking trees were also very interesting. I guess what I have is a Taekwondo "Karate leftover" where proper aligmemt etc is learned but not linked directly to combative usefullness. Still the basic that I have is important and it is a shame that so many people "learn" what is essentually a defanged martial art where 99 % of the time is done kicking and punching air.

    Honostly the more I research the root arts of Taekwondo and the Kwan era the more I see that impact work, strength and endurance training, and pair work (drills and sparring) were the bulk of the training.

  3. Hello
    "defanged", "watered down". yeah, when i get bitter that is exactly what i feel about what has become of both modern Tkd and karate. i know that we tend to teach in the way that we learned, but....

    i did not mean to be confusing with the way i described Kihap but sometimes it is difficult to find the correct way. there is a very subtle side (maybe even metaphysical) side to these arts that is either glossed over completely, or blown way out of proportion. yet still there are things that are important that can't be described in ways that make a lot of sense to those who have not practiced or experienced them.

    perhaps a few examples by way of some sort of explanation. i had to learn the difference in "intent" (don't remember the chinese/japanese words) vital point attacks do not work well without focusing the mind to project energy in the opponents system. you will have difficulty with a throw, or a lock without it. we used to have a sort of push hand drill where you had to train the mind to control the opponents spine. if you did the body would do what it needed to move him. other sports/arts do something like it called "visualization" but it is not exactly the same.

    i am glad that your school practices structure, most don't. i believe that it has to be tested against stress to even begin to have some sort of value. obviously without hitting things, how do you ever know how to deal with the reverse energy projection that comes back into you after you have struck someone. how do you know how your rhythm changes.

    there is a large component of the traditional arts that is left out. i have spent my time trying to explore it. i have discovered that most practitioners are unwilling to. i got tossed off the book project because the author couldn't understand the techniques or the concepts behind them because he deemed them "too confusing". the esoteric always is to those who have not experienced it.
    i have seen what many people are capable of doing. things that look like magic. i myself have done things that i don't teach because i can't explain why they work. i know there is an explanation, just don't know it.

    anyway, these are the things that one looks for after the usual kick punch stuff. that is where everyone starts, but where do they go after that.
    anyway, long winded way of saying that i wasn't trying to confuse, just didn't know how to say it.

  4. "anyway, these are the things that one looks for after the usual kick punch stuff. that is where everyone starts, but where do they go after that."

    They do more of the same but faster, higher and more "sophisticated" (harder to perform = "advanced"). That is the reality for many without a good teacher and knowledge of where to look for more. But things are changing allthough slowly:-) I mean yes Taekwondo is one of the biggest sports around today and it is in the olympics, but if they want to continue to grow, and to keep adult practisioner longer (not just in competition age, but well into adulthood) they need to start to go deeper.

    This has been done for years and years in Karate wich started roughly at the same level as Taekwondo did (no pattern analisys, focus on sport and demonstration, simplified for the masses). You will not find much if you search on material for "Kihap", but search for Kiai you get a lot of depth if you look alitle. You might even find related terms as aiki etc.

    The Boonseok of our forms are likewise very little developed, and even frowned upon by many practisioners, while in JMA this is a lot more widespread and even encouraged by many. Yes a lot of simplified kick, block punch stuff, but there is also good stuff out there. I do not think it is accidental that most "bunkai" experts are Karateka and not Taekwondoin or even tangsoodoin (who does practise the same forms as in Karate).

    I love Taekwondo because of the depth that can be reached and the great variaty in its study. You can delve deep into vital points, herbal medicine, meditation, history, strategy, philosophy, and this is only scratching the surface and not taking into account the combative practises usually associated with Taekwondo. I never get tired of Taekwondo because there is so much more out there to learn and master, and if I get tired of one aspect there is still so much more to do (i.e. if I do not want to practise competition sparring, I can do Poomsae, basics, self defense, other kinds of sparring using different rules etc)