Monday, 12 August 2013

The obsession of wrist grabs

In Taekwondo we normally divide up Our training into the 5 pillars of Taekwondo; Basics, Forms, Sparring, Self defense and Breaking (or Gibon Dongjak, Poomsae, Kyorugi, Ho Sin Sul and Kyopka respectivly).

In the self defense part of Taekwondo the focus is normally on freeing yourself from various grips. At least that is how I often see it practised and taught. Personally I think that Ho Sin Sul is Applied Taekwondo as a Whole, and freeing Your self from various grabs is just one part of it all, but it is a very important skill nonetheless and especially so for Taekwondoin who focus on striking. Having an arm grabbed, or someone does a bear hug over Your arms for instance means that the opponent has tied up one (or more) of Your striking Tools. If you base Your self defense on striking the opponent to remain safe from harm, having Your striking Tools removed is not good... Therefore I do see why this becomes the main focus for many Peoples Ho Sin Sul training.

A thing that is a little facinating though is the seemingly Obsession With wrist grabs that You will find not only in Taekwondo and its sister art Karate but in almost every Martial Art of the East... It has gotten to the point that for some the releasing and countering to wristgrabs account for the majority of their Ho Sin Sul training and that cant be good, can it?

Many outsiders, some are socalled pragmatists, others practise reality based martial arts and some do not Train at all critizise the focus on wrist grab as an "attack" we need to focus on. They see Clips on youtube, or try a beginners course in a TMA and is exposed to some static drills were one grabs the opponents wrist and the defender frees himself and Counter or reverse the grip and use a joint punishing hold. On my blog not long ago I showed the eight wrist grab releases that the students of Traditional Taekwondo Union needs to master at as a color belt.


This kind of training is not fighting and not really self defense at all. This is one way to isolate ONE TINY aspect of self defense and drill it. Some instructors fail to realise that or to convey that to their students and as the training falls under the label "Ho Sin Sul" which translated to English is Self Defense makes People believe this is strictly self defense training. In a way they are right but it is only one tiny aspect isolated from the combative context for drilling, training and teaching...

The critizism that you will usually hear about this kind of training is:
  • Not realistic "attack", no one on the street will grab Your wrist! It is therfore a Waste of training time
  • Too static to be realistic (related to the above point)
  • Too many defenses taught against one attack. This gives the practisioners "log jam"* when they do need it for self defense
  • Too complicated defenses (often said about the joint Lock Counters)
* "Log Jam" refers to what happens when a practisioner has been taught to many different defenses against one attack and the defender therfore freezes when he needs to defend himself because he has so many different solutions to choose from.

The first critizism is often stated and viewed as fact, but this might change from environment to environment and from gender to gender. Police statistics say that if you are a girl this is the first or one of the first Things you need to look out for if attacked by a man. So the "no one will ever attack you by grabbing the wrist" critizism is nonsense! At least in Norway!

If you are a guy the likelyhood of being grabbed by the wrist is further Down on the list but it is still along the top ten Things you need to look out for so you should Train this too. The majority of training against punches is time well spendt because haymakers and straight punches to the head topped the statistics. Unfortunatly many Dojan overlook the haymakers (number one on the list) and focus on straight punch defenses but again many overlook straight punches to the head because it is not allowed to strike the face in sparring (WTF rules).

Also we need to put the wrist grab in a combative context, and this is rarely done as the training often begin and end like the Clip above. There is nothing wrong to drill it the way it is drilled in the Clip in my eyes, but if the combative context is never made Clear or if that is the Whole training done (not drilling it in proper context) then the training is lacking in my view.

So combative context for wrist grabs: if you are a girl and attacked by a man he will often (according to statistics) grab Your wrist, not as an attack in itself but to hinder Your Escape and defense. Also if he wants to Control you or move you to a secondary location to continue his Assault he will probably grab Your wrist first to make initial controll of you. I am not saying this will be the only grip used or only thing done but grabbing the wrist of the victim will propbably happen and drilling a response to it is vital. Most of the responses in the Clip are Counter strikes to the side of the neck, so it is easy to relate to a stun and run strategy.

For men it is a lot more subtle but after the initial strikes have failed the NeXT thing that often seem to happen in a fight is closing the distance and clinch followed by grappling and flaying around With the arms hoping to hit something. The older styles that Taekwondo is built upon favoured attacking Three Points of the body:
  • Eyes (Nun in Korean)
  • Throat and neck (Mok in Korean)
  • The Groin (Nang Shin in Korean)
Other Points were obviously also attacked but these are frequently mentioned in older writings as well as the bubishi. In fact Gichin Funakoshi was attempted robbed in his 80s by a younger man. Funakoshi diverted his attack and grabbed his groin and kept controll of his attacker by this means untill the police came and "rescued" the attacker (if Funakoshi did not know how to fight I would not even dream of attacking the other Masters of that era as seeing how one who could not fight defended himself... :p ). The thing about attacking all these key Points of the body is this:
  • You hit it, grab it, gauge it and it is game over for the attacker or at least a very Nice advantage for you.
  • You miss and try again
  • The opponent Blocks and you try again
  • The opponent grabs Your attacking arm to remove it if it has grabbed the groin, strangling the throat or guaging the eyes or to hinder the attack to succede once more.
You see in the last point above why you would drill that outcome? In all other outcomes you just try again no harm done, but in case of that last one you have a problem that needs to be adressed... Double so for a striking art dependant on the arms as attacking Tools.

Also there is another reason as to why the wrist grab is trained so much and this is also the case of the Jujitsu and jujitsu derived martial arts (Judo, Aikido, Hapkido) and that is weapons. If you were attacked by someone openly carrying a knife or a sword (or both :-o ) and he reaches for his sword/ knife how would you stop him? Or on a Battlefield where the opponents spear is broken and he reaches for his primary back up weapon the sword? You stop him by grabbing his wrist before he can Draw the weapon. Drilling responses to these were important to samurai and Warriors of ancient times, and the Counter attack would depend on the opponent and context. The Warriors fought armored opponents so striking them made little sense so they developed grappling Counters more elaborate than their civillian counterparts. Also the panic for the grabber that the grabbed would get to Draw their weapon also meant that the grabber was likely to hold on longer than a civillian vs ruffian scenario. Hence they could not only develop and focus on grappling Counters but also make more elaborate and more damaging grappling Counters as well.

Do not get me wrong there were grappling Counters to this attack in the civillian environment too, but they were a lot simpler than the Battlefield counterparts. We must also look at the most likely opponent from each environment too as that is also part of the Equation: Trained armoured Warrior vs a non trained non armoured ruffian.

In the Clip above only two Counters are grappling Counters and they are both something that would be learned very early in a grappling art (a basic and not difficult grappling Counter).

I think I have adressed all the critics but one: "Too many defenses taught against one attack. This gives the practisioners "log jam"* when they do need it for self defense"

How many is too many? I think that you should know at leat two Counters to each likely attack. The reason? If the one you have trained the most should fail for whatever reason you need one back up plan. The Clip above shows 8 defenses for wrist grabs but there are only so many different ways you can be grabbed by the wrist:

  • Same sided wrist grab
  • Cross sided wrist grab
  • Two handed wrist grab downwards
  • Two handed wrist grab upwards
  • variation on the above
The syllabus in TTU does not really give you two Choices for each one though. In the Clip you get 4 defenses against same sided wrist grab, 1 defense against cross sided wrist grab, 1 defense for upward wrist grab one side (could be used against two hands as well) and 2 defenses were both wrists are grabbed.

The preffered strategy is free Yourself and strike allthought two simple grappling Counters are shown. This is consistant With the fact that Taekwondo was built upon civillian self defense arts. Yes it was used by the Millitary of South Korea in the Korean war and Viatnamese war but at this point of time the likely opponents were no longer wearing armour so striking was a sound strategy once again.







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