Friday, 6 September 2013

Is there grappling in Taekwondo?

The question pops up time and time again. On discussion forums, articles, blogposts, from prospective students and even some instructors(!) You see the focus on competition and rapid spread of the art and its inherent focus on strikes (most notably kicks) result in what seems to me to be a Whole lot of People practising Taekwondo purely as a striking system devoid of any grappling at all! This does come With a lot of consequenses in all areas of the art. If you remove all aspects of grappling from Taekwondo (which many seems to do) you are left With a very Limited skillset.

Without any grappling you:
  • Have Limited yourself to only striking
  • Have movements and forms (Poomsae) that sometimes makes little to NO sense
  • Are open to "grappling attacks"
  • Are in big trouble once your opponent establish a grip on you

This does not look good to me. If Taekwondo was developed as a combative Method for civillian self defense and as a millitary combative program (used during the Korean and Vietnamese war) it should not have this glaring omission of such an important part of combat. For sport is another matter, in the WTF rules sparring there is no grappling allowed so you can do fine without it. Also sport taekwondo depends on such a little part of Taekwondo that you do not need to worry about forms or moves not making sense. If all you do is WTF sparring you are really doing about 2% of the whole art as it was meant to be (citation needed:p ).

What many ask is "Does WTF Taekwondo contain grappling?" and what many answers is "No!". I agree. WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) can not really be compared to ITF (International Taekwondo Federation). WTF is purely a sporting organisation and governs the sport aspect of Taekwondo. The sport that is currently recognised by the Olympics. It has at the time of writing nothing to do With gradings, or have its own syllabus that is adhered to, rather WTF recognises Kukkiwon Taekwondo ranks and support their syllabus; hence the WTF forms competition features Kukkiwon forms, and they share the same terminology on techniques etc. As WTF only governs the sport you can say that WTF Taekwondo is performance sport Poomsae and competition sparring. None of them contains any grappling (the moves within Poomsae might be Applied as grappling, but as a performance sport without an opponent it is only movement). Many People missunderstand this and therefore say that Taekwondo does not contain grappling, at least the WTF does not, but as you just read WTF is only sport it has nothing to do with the actual Kukkiwon syllabus it only recognises the Kukkiwon ranks. This might change in the future though so do not take my Word for it if you read this long after this was written in 2013. ITF on the other hand is an organisation for both sport Taekwondo (the sporting aspect of Chang Hon Taekwondo) and the martial art Taekwondo. It is not a case of two different organisations within one martial art but one Whole organisation (allthough after General Choi Hong Hi`s Death the ITF have splintered into several different organisations all claiming to be ITF).

Now what about Kukkiwon Taekwondo does Kukki Taekwondo contain grappling? Both yes and no. When the KTA (Korean Taekwondo Association) United all the different Kwan and made their own joint syllabus, forms, competition sparring and terminology etc they did not formalise any grappling techniques into the syllabus. Therefore many today say that they do not InFact contain any grappling. But there are Counters to this argument:
  • The section on sparring in the Kukkiwon Textbook contains several grappling movements such as sweeps, throws, joint Locks and these are representative of the art as a Whole.
  • The section on outlining the different techniques of Taekwondo in the Kukkiwon Textbook mentions both throws and pressure against joints.
  • The Poomsae and its Applications in the Kukkiwon Textbook does contain grappling! The pulling hand is properly used, as well as different kinds of joint Locks! (There is a lot of the Block kick punch too).
So why does not more People practise grappling and believe it is a genuine part of their system of Taekwondo? I do not really know. There is probably several different factors to this and some might be that Taekwondo has been spread rapidly and a simplification proscess has been done to help with this spreading. The focus on sport has removed the grappling as it is not relevant to sport. People start teaching Taekwondo before they understand the Whole system. Pioneers of Taekwondo often also knew Hapkido and other grappling arts. Maybe they thought that it would be better for students to simply learn a grappling art besides Taekwondo or that they threw some techniques from these arts into their own curriculum under Ho Sin Sul? (Yun Moo Kwan/ Ji Do Kwan actually started out as a Yudo/Judo Dojang! And Ssiserum (Korean wrestling) was very popular and widespread past time at the founding of Taekwondo in the 1940s-50s so the pioneers of Taekwondo likely knew a lot of grappling too).

The reason I think grappling (and Applications to the forms as well) were not codified and taught uniformly in a Dojang is that the KTA (and Kukkiwon) likely recognised two Things:
  1. The simplest way of unification of all Kwan is to build a common fundemental framework and then let the head of the different Kwan all teach this along With what the Kwan heads found important too.
  2. Different Dojang have different emphasis since different students had different needs. Some would focus more on sport sparring (no need for grappling) other would teach the millitary of to prepare the students for millitary sercive (it is still manditory as far as I know and it is a two year service) and grappling is not usually emphasised in this environment at least not now since the opponents are no linger wearing armour. Some would teach police officers who might need more grappling techniques but it would be different techniques than what is needed in a civillian self defense context.
Also an important factor is that the different Kwan had different goals and roots. The Application of the same looking techniques might have been different in a Kwan With a chinese root, when compared to one With strong Japanese roots which again might have been different to how a Kwan would teach and use said technique if the founder had knowledge of the native Korean Methods... Focusing on a broad framework like Kukkiwon has done, carefully defining the basic techniques, incorporating the Korean kicking techniques, making New forms not favouring any Kwan`s forms or Method of excecuting them, as well as the broad framework of formal sparring to unify makes Perfect sense. As well as giving all the different Dojang a common fundemental framework With which to work from it also at the same time gives the instructors room to include whatever he or she sees as relevant for his or hers students. You will see however in older books that techniques now believed to not be a part of Taekwondo were included from the start. It is not me or anyone else retrofitting Taekwondo history to include them it is just preserving what was once part of training and try to incorporate that into the mainstream once again. Techniques like:
  • Knee strikes
  • Elbow Strikes
  • Head butting (yes you better believe it)
  • Finger strikes
  • Knife hand strikes
  • Sweeps
  • Trips
  • Throws
  • Joint Locks
  • Vital Point knowledge
  • etc
can be found in older publications that predate both the ITF and the Kukkiwon and should be Incorporated into training!

So how does grappling work within the framework of Taekwondo today? This is only my personal opinion so feel free to lament me on this but (here it goes):

Taekwondo in self defense is a simple striking art at its core. It relies on momentum and the optimal distributing and transferrance of body weight to give its practisioners optimal striking Power. It also aims these strikes toward effective targets (or target areas). The defenses are likewise simple parries, checks and Blocks coupled With evasion. The evasion is not based on boxings bobbing and weaving but on superior footwork. The kicks are delivered mainly to low targets while some might go a little higher. The kicks as I see them are Limited to front, side and roundhouse/turning kicks, With the back kick for suprise attacks from the back. Grappling in "Applied Taekwondo TM " is there solely for 3 purposes:
  • Free yourself from any grip so you can continue striking
  • Gain dominant position so you can continue striking
  • Positioning the attacker to open up for strikes from the defender
Subduing the attacker solely by grappling is not the aim for my vision of Applied Taekwondo. If you practise long enough then maybe but as novice or junior black belt will not have the skill in my opinion. The grappling of Taekwondo is extremly simple and if you do practise Judo, Jujitsu, Hapkido or Aikido (any focused grappling art) you will learn all the grappling you need to know for Taekwondo within the first year. Again this is my own opinion feel free to discuss:-)

So what kind of grappling techniques do we really need to know in Taekwondo speciffically? That is for a future post I Guess:-)








7 comments:

  1. Very interesting blog. I came across it because I just started a blog about my life as a teenage Tae Kwon Do athlete/instructor. I'm a huge poomsae competitor. What are some of your favorite poomsae?

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    1. Thanks for the feedback:-) Blogging or writing in general is a great way to organize Your thoughts on different subjects and is (for me at least) a great Learning tool.

      Your question on favorite Poomsae is difficult to answer because Poomsae is a huge part of "my" Taekwondo. The two that I like the most because of Applications are Taegeuk Il (1) Jang and Poomsae Keumgang. My favorite demonstration Poomsae however is Poomsae Sipjin. My favorite Poomsae to watch if done by a skillfull Taekwondoin is Poomsae Chonkwon:-)

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  2. Hello
    i guess it's very hard to second guess what went on in peoples minds, especially when they didn't bother to write it down. i know that each master was allowed to maintain his curriculum outside of the standard forms. Mine certainly did.

    i just have trouble with allowing too much credit. i am not sure that this was really well thought out from the Kukkiwon side at least. while i never practiced ITF style, i always had the feeling that slightly more thought went into the forms. please understand that i am not saying that most of the motions explanations were anything more than the standard "block,kick,punch" that we always see, just that they seem a little more coherent on some level.

    i think that the Palgae forms (which were closer to the Japanese originals) revealed far more in the realm of locks, throws, and alternative techniques than the Taegeuks that followed. The Yudanja forms remained since the beggining, but one (i.e. me) still gets the feeling that motions were put together that sometimes seem to work together as an application, and others appear to be there because they look good. again, let me emphasize that this is just me, and may reflect just plain lack of understanding on my part.

    with regard to grappling itself, i mentioned once before my feeling that Funakoshi de-emphasized that aspect of his art so that it would not seem that he was competing with his Tokyo sponsors (Kano) Judo. there have been later Japanese practitioners who lamented the lack of grappling, and that people would get the wrong idea about the art, that is, that only consisted of strikes.

    lastly, i have heard Okinawan masters say that a foreign student would come and train, get to 1st, or second dan and "never come back". i think that this is an important point with regard not only to TKD, but karate, kung fu, etc. especially in this country (USA). the teacher can only teach what he knows.

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    1. "i guess it's very hard to second guess what went on in peoples minds, especially when they didn't bother to write it down. i know that each master was allowed to maintain his curriculum outside of the standard forms. Mine certainly did."

      I agree, it is diffucult, but this is what I have learned from my Research and my talks With different grandmasters. The KTA agreed and made the framework, but each master was free to teach "extra material" as he saw fit.

      "i just have trouble with allowing too much credit. i am not sure that this was really well thought out from the Kukkiwon side at least. while i never practiced ITF style, i always had the feeling that slightly more thought went into the forms. please understand that i am not saying that most of the motions explanations were anything more than the standard "block,kick,punch" that we always see, just that they seem a little more coherent on some level. "

      This coherentness in the Chang Hon Tul might be because it had a smaller Group of men in the making process and one man was clearly in charge and had the final say. The Palgwe, Taegeuk and Judanja Poomsae had more People involved from different Schools and the motivation for making the newer Taegeuk forms might have been different than With the older Palgwe and Judanja forms. I do see that there are less "unrealisitc" kicking combinations/techniques in the Kukkiwon Poomsae than in the Chang Hon Tul though (at least the higher Chang Hon Tul have many acrobatic and aestetic techniques in them).

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    2. "i think that the Palgae forms (which were closer to the Japanese originals) revealed far more in the realm of locks, throws, and alternative techniques than the Taegeuks that followed. The Yudanja forms remained since the beggining, but one (i.e. me) still gets the feeling that motions were put together that sometimes seem to work together as an application, and others appear to be there because they look good. again, let me emphasize that this is just me, and may reflect just plain lack of understanding on my part."

      A thourough analysis and comparison between the older forms and Taegeuk forms would be very interesting. I do not have a good grasp on the Palgwe forms but I have seen them demonstrated. I do agree that they seem to include more grappling than the Taegeuk forms, but I do not see this as a weakness of the Taegeuk forms. I see the Taegeuk forms teaching striking and parrying in the early forms and then gradually they teach more simple grappling With a Heavy emphasis on striking. The grappling Applications are more readily seen in the Judana Poomsae. It is a different route up the same metaphorical mountain:-)

      "with regard to grappling itself, i mentioned once before my feeling that Funakoshi de-emphasized that aspect of his art so that it would not seem that he was competing with his Tokyo sponsors (Kano) Judo. there have been later Japanese practitioners who lamented the lack of grappling, and that people would get the wrong idea about the art, that is, that only consisted of strikes. "

      This is interesting thinking and I can see where you are comming from:-) But would this effect not be stronger in the Chang Hon Tul then in the Kukkiwon Poomsae though? The Chang Hon Tul were made by Choi Hong Hi and students from the Chung Do Kwan both Sources have strong Shotokan roots. The Poomsae comitte that made the Poomsae consisted of People from all the big Kwan.

      "lastly, i have heard Okinawan masters say that a foreign student would come and train, get to 1st, or second dan and "never come back". i think that this is an important point with regard not only to TKD, but karate, kung fu, etc. especially in this country (USA). the teacher can only teach what he knows."

      I have heard that too, and I believe this is also a large reason why the grappling element has been "lost" in Taekwondo. People grade to black belt Level and then teach others, open their own Dojang etc. I have nothing against 1 degree black belt teaching, but there should be a 4th dan or higher in the Dojang teaching regularly as well (of course this is not always realistic in the real world though)

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  3. I had the fortune of being trained by two genrations of Masters in my lifetime. The first trained the Korean Marines. The second was his protogé and whilst trained by the first, his school is currently very WTF/Kukkiwon. I have no doubt he knows what I learned first, which was a very applied form of TKD based on fighting for ones life.

    My first master had us kick all parts of the body, practice pressure points and locks as well as an armbar for good measure. Nothing like Judo or BJJ but knowledge of throwing and trips were not uncommon and the "one-step sparring" consisted of close quarters dirty fighting. Emphasis was placed on good balance and getting out of grappling situations. It felt like I was being trained for a street fight.

    My current Master trains sparring, hands down, footwork. All of these have intrinsic value but are only one part of the equation. Patterns with grappling have been altered by the Kukkiwon to omit the grabbing (O Jang I believe, part where you knife block then elbow) portion and the front stance is now narrower as opposed to wider and stable.

    I prefer the "old" style because whilst I might not be a judoka, I am not afraid to break my fall and I am decent at getting range back to strike and throw my opponent when I am in close.

    My adventures in the Martial Arts now have made me learn some BJJ and Praying Mantis Kung Fu which all have shown me how things in TKD could work better and have expanded what I know.

    Pardon my rant, but I agree that WTF TKD has been turned into a curriculum to best teach students a subset of the art. The patterns still contain viable info, but it does get lost and not taught. As a practitioner since 7 (now 34) I have seen quite a bit of change and get passionate about a lot of it.

    TKD whilst primarily a striking art, does contain grappling, IMHO but that knowledge is not particularily focused on by most Masters.

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    1. A very interesting comment that largely aligns With my own experiences. I thank you for taking the time to share this With us (me and other Readers).

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