Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Exploring the Traditional "Double Blocks"

In my previous post I wrote a lot about blocks being blocks, at the same time I do acknowledge that in a dynamic context in forms there are a multitude of practical and sophisticated applications that can be derived from them ranging from defensive to offensive, but at the same time we do need to acknowledge that we need defensive techniques as well as offensive ones. In the bullet list in the previous post where I listed some of the most often heard critizism of traditional blocks I listed
unrealistic double blocks. I did make in my own opinion a good case for traditional simple blocks like arae makki (low block), han sonnal bakkat makki (single outward knife hand block), eolgul makki (face block), momtong an makki (inward middle block), but I did not mention the double blocks at all. You know the ones I mean: the infamous W shaped block is one of them:-)

First before we start to talk about "block" I want you to very fast look over at the post "Makki does it really mean block?" that I wrote for some time ago. I really do not like the term block at all. It conjures up a mental image of a static block that hit the attack away. Makki on the other hand gives a whole multitude of meanings that open up for a lot of interesting ways of applying the techniques labeled "makki".

Have you read the post? Great, now if you have not done so allready check out my last post on exploring traditional blocks:-) If you have read it and remember it vaguely you are Ok to read on:-)

When we talk about unrealistic double blocks I find it only fair to make clear wich ones I am referring to:

  1. Hecho Santul Makki (also known as "W" block)
  2. Hecho Makki in all its forms (low, middle, closed or open hands)
  3. Keumgang Makki in all its forms (low, midle, closed or open hands)
  4. Eutgoro Makki (x blocks) in all its forms (low, midle, high, open or closed hands)
  5. "Oe" Santul makki (featured in Taegeuk Pal Jang)
  6. etc (in case I missed anyone)

These are the are the kind of double blocks that I am talking about. Often they have a big movement, chamber, leave the face wide open etc. There are many problems when looking at the movements literally. Taekwondo Poomsae favour simple techniques which for many makes them "basic" when compared to other pattern sets. I like that they are "simple" because simple movements = simple applications (eungyoung) = realistic in combat. That being said the double blocks that are listed above are included in Poomsae, allthough they are rare they do occur so we need to acknowledge them as valid techniques.

As they appear in Poomsae they are presented within a dynamic context wich means that you can find the simple obvious application by looking at its name or to insert two attacks and treat them as two simple blocks done at the same time (I know many do this), or you can find a sophisticated application looking purely at the movement, or you can see if you can find the meaning looking at the "technique" that came before it or after it to find a eungyoung (application). All except the treat them as two simple blocks done at the same time is valid in my opinion.

I know that some will think that I contradict myself now, because in my last post I made a case for blocks simply being blocks, but blocking one attack is one thing, blocking two different opponents attacks at the same time (and often not looking at one of the opponent at all during the "block") is something else entirely. If we take one of the earliest "double blocks" that appear in Poomsae, the "oe" santul makki in Taegeuk Pal Jang for instance you will soon notice that inserting two opponents and two attacks is at best "unrealistic" and in my own opinion plain suicidal to rely on in an altercation with multiple opponents. The mainstream eungyoung (application) is to block one attacker situated in front of you who kicks a low front kick at you, while at the same time you block another opponent who is situated directly behind you throwing a straight punch at your head.

Taekwondo is not the only Martial Art that have this interpretation as I have seen the very same eungyoung (application) in several Japanese Karate styles. Iain Abernethy said it best I think when he said that applications like that rely on "spider sense" (if you know your spider man you will know what he means). There is a concept in Traditional Taekwondo called "Yuk Gam" wich is essentually the 6th sense in the west where we "just know" things, but designing several fighting techniques on such a big "might work" is not realistic. Also training techniques like that if the only eungyoung were so non probable would not be a good use of training time.

The main stream eungyoung for double blocks all have similar short commings when treated this way. The Hecho Santul Makki or "W" shaped block is to block two opponents situated at your left and right side both throwing a straight lunge punch at your head at the same exact time and you not really looking at either one of them (or just at one of them)? Or how about Keumgang Momtong Makki (first featured in Taebaek Poomsae for those who do not practise the Palgwe or other pattern sets) wich in one text blocks a high section punch from the front and a middle section
punch from the side at the same time (with you only looking at the one on the side)?

Others have seen these applications and found them just as unrealistic as I have and made a very simple solution to the problem. They just take away one of the opponents. I think this is a bad solution as know you have moved one of your hands for no reason what so ever (or as they would say to be ready for the next technique).

In my own Boonseok (analisys) quest looking at the forms to find eungyoung (applications) I have gone through several different stages when looking at the basic techniques. My last post outlined several of those stages (blocks as literal blocks, blocks as shortened blocks, blocks being useless, two blocks for the price of one, all blocks are strikes, all blocks are anything but blocks etc). It is always hard to change the way you look at something just because someone else points the finger in another direction.

A few years back I read everything Patric Mcarthy and Iain Abernethy wrote (I still do:p ). They pointed their metaphorical fingers in a completly different direction than the road I was originally going and I really thank them both for that. One thing their research revealed to me was that original Taekwondo forms (before they made Chang Hon Ryu (ITF forms), Kuk Mu, Palgwe, Taegeuk, Judanja Poomsae etc) were mnemonic devises that functioned as a sumery of a complete figthing system. Each "original" form or set of forms (Eg: the Pinan/Heien/Pyungahn, Naihanchi/Tekki/Chulgi etc) was a sumery of complete fighting systems in their own right. The originater of these Kata likely had information he needed to remember and strung these together in a way that he could both practise them alone, and remember them. I recently wrote yet another post that explained how recent research in mnemonic devises reveals that the more absurd and abstract the mnemonic device, the better they function to help you remember. Good examples are using your knuckles to remember how many days each month has. Your knuckles has obviously nothing to do with keeping track of time, calender or anything at all, yet it is a simple and powerfull mnemonic to remember how many days each month has. Another good example is using absurd sentences that has nothing to do with what you want to remember as a mnemonic devise. You can pack a great deal of information into one short absurd sentence easy and I think this method will be recognized by those who read my blog and who has studied for school tests. 

Lately after creating yet another "poomsae" from scratch I can not help but wonder if there are certain moves that are "abstract" or not meant to be interpreted literally in our forms. Maybe the double blocks fall into this category? I have not explored this indepth yet but I got the feeling from creating my own Poomsae to function as a mnemonic device as I put several single handed applications together as double handed techniques to shorten the form and training time. If someone learned that Poomsae without applications with the double techniques that were originally inserted as single handed techniques and the student tried to find practical applications just looking at the movement, chances are that he will find sophisticated applications to the movements but I really do not think that he will come close to my (the originators) original intent. I am not saying that it is not worthwile to do so, but there is a difference between saying "I found this application and think it will work and it fits the movment from the form nicely" and "This is the original application for movement X".

Who knows really? The original intent might have been similar to my "double blocks" in my form where single handed applications were performed simultainiously with both arms to shorten and condense the form. Another way to shorten or condense the form would be if there were two different deflections which both had the same logical follow up you could perform both deflections at the same time and only one follow up. This way you did not need to "show" two sequences two times (so you could train both sides) and get away with just one instead.

I mean the reason you would want to keep your form as short as possible and as condensed as possible is obvious if you just want to use it as a mnemonic devise. I hated my first drafts because I felt that my training would be better spent with a partner or other drills that would be more important when training alone. Doing the movements in the air helps train the application but it in no way
comes anywhere near replacing the hands on partner practise. My solution was to do left and right hand together so I trained the movement on both sides at the same time. Maybe a few houndred years ago Tode Sakugawa, Bushi Matsumura and Itosu Anko faced the same "problem" and solved it in similar ways? No matter how you look at it, double blocks can not be taken seriously if you apply them literally (as double blocks).

Now the school of thought that I have used when dealing with "double blocks" is that you need to look purely at "movement" and forget the name of the technique. Then you need to find a practical and hopefully realistic application that fit the movement (the closer the better). This way if you find practical realistic ways of applying the techniques you have a valid reason for including them in your syllabus and in the usage og training time on training them.

I would like to say that I see a common pattern when interpreting the movements of double blocks, but I really dont. I see some as throws, others as clearing of limbs, yet others could be seen as joint locks, strikes etc.. We can never in one million years say with certainity what the "original" application to a certain technique was. We are indeed in a way "guessing", but we should make every endevour to make our guesses as educated as possible.

For instance my primary application for keumgang arae makki as seen in Keumgang Poomsae is to grab a leg and lift it up with one hand and drag/push the upper body/head (numerous variations on a single theme) down with the other arm. In Keumgang Poomsae the only leg the opponent has to stand on is swept away too (explaining the infamous crane stance or Hakdari Seogi in that form). Where did I get this application from? First through my own training where we have this very application as a defense against kicks (move in and throw/ sweep the opponent). It fitted Keumgang Poomsae very nicely all down to the chamber movement. It was perfect. Then I read through the Bubishi wich served as the textbook of both Mabuni, Funakoshi and Kanken our three Karate grandfathers so to speak (they taught the founders of the different Taekwondo Kwan) where this technique was clearly depicted without the sweep.

In the above photos you can see the eungyoung on the left and the poomsae movement on the right. As far as I know no one has ever said this is the application for this movement of Keumgang Poomsae in official texts but I really think that the fact that the application exists in many Dojang all over the world practising the traditional Ho Sin Sul (self defense techniques), coupled with the fact that a similar move is presented in Keumgang Poomsae, in addition to the application showing up in a revered text that our Karate grandfathers all had in possession and used in their study and writings makes for a compelling case. At least it is a better application than the mainstream one blocking two opponents attacks at the same time and lifting the leg for no apparant reason. The fact that you can vary the application and still have the essense of the basic technique also explains why the movement is repeated so many times in Keumgang Poomsae.

This is my most educated guess to what the original intention might have been, but I do not say it is the original meaning because how can I possibly know? The application is practical, it is fairly simple and rely on gross motor skills. It is very redundant (you can omit the sweep if you want to be more stable yourself and it will still work like a charm) etc. It justifies the training of the double block in training and in the syllabus.

On the other hand we should not be too quick to throw the baby out with the bath water (did I use that expression correctly??:p ). Just because we do not have a realiststic application to a certain technique does not mean that it has not realistic application. It is most likely there, but not yet found if you know what I mean. Many years ago I contemplated not practising Poomsae because I simply did not understand them and they did not help me toward my goal (being an effective fighter). Today I can not imagine "my" Taekwondo without Poomsae. They are my framework and point of reference for my studies not just empty performance dances using "combative motion" but something I can really use. Had I completly dismissed them early in training I might never had understood them and just practise them a little bit each time I was going up a grade for grading purposes. The way it is today I am glad I did not just scrap them:-)

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