Thursday, 29 January 2015

Back to the Source(s) Part 3: What is the other hand doing?

One feature that I have tackled before on this blog (a very very long time ago in fact) is the seemingly unpractical "pulling hand" or "Dangki Son". This refers to the iconic feature in our basics and forms where one hand is pulled back to the hip or seemingly placed in "guard positions" like in front of the Solar Plexus. I have lost Count on how many times I have heard phrases such as "That wont work on the street", "Chambering on your hip leaves you wide open", "If you are going to put your other hand
on your hip you better be ready to block with your face" etc. It does not help when we do the same chambering and pulling back to our hips when doing formal sparring either. I think that the hand on the hip coupled with the huge focus on "stances" are the two primary reasons why Traditional Martial Arts such as Taekwondo and Karate have lost their place as self defense arts in the publics mind. The complete lack of grappling in modern Taekwondo does not help either, but when we look at the source(s) of Taekwondo we saw that there was quite a lot of grappling in the traditional martial art of Taekwondo (an extreme amount compared to the popular belief that it is "non existant"). So if we do look back at the sources what do we find?

Today we have two main advantages and those are: We have the written works of the Korean Pioneers (at least I have a few), and two: We can share information just by touching a few buttons. Actually come to think of it we have a third but it is closely related: we have accsess to a lot of material left us by our Teachers Teachers (Toyama Kanken, Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni and also their contemporaries). In short at this point of time in history we have accsess to a whole lot of information at our fingertips. I like to think of Taekwondo sometimes as a huge puzzle. Every book you will read will contain some pieces of the puzzle but not all. Therefore it is not enough to practise the totality of the content within Choi Hong Hi`s 1965 book and say you are now practising a traditional art of Taekwondo (you can of course substitute the book with whichever you feel like). What we can do is to look to all the information at our disposal and try to see the bigger picture conveyed through their works. This is part of what I do and I call it "study".

So before we start looking at specific "Korean" examples lets take advantage of the times we live in and look back before the Kwan (Schools) that later formed Taekwondo was founded. Lets look at the textbook written at the time the Kwan founders studdied there and see what it says about the pulling hand:

As you can see above the quote is from his 1925 book, but almost the same sentiment (but slightly different wording) has appeared all through his 1958 Karate Do Kyohan. The 1925 quote is as Close as I get because sadly I do not have an english translation of his 1935 book, only 1925 and 1958 book and a Japanese edition of his 1935 book. The demonstration in the Pictures however which are from the correct time period does make it crystal clear that the Kwan founders who studdied with Gichin Funakoshi did learn this usage of the Dangki Son and that makes me wonder why it is a seemingly "lost" application to the masses. It is equally lost in modern Shotokan so it is not a Taekwondo specific mystery but it does seem to have been taught in the 1930s at least and the meaning was included in his works up until he died. Another great part of the 1935 Karate Do Kyohan is that it demonstrates how the Dangki Son works when you have an outside grab and the inside grab and how the targets that are opened changes if the dangki son works optimally. 
Gichin Funakoshi taught and inspired a lot of the Kwan founders but not all, what about the other "grandfathers" of Taekwondo? Here is the suprise for many: They all taught an extensive usage of the pulling hand. But dont take my word for it as they say a picture is worth a 1000 words.
I am sure I can find a picture of Mabuni as well but I think that I have made my point which is that the Kwan founders no matter who you look into had a working knowledge of the pulling hand/ Dangki Son, and they brought this knowledge with them to Korea when they formulated their Schools. This is vital information when we look at our forms for combative meaning. And for all those people who say that deeper applications such as those using the dangki son actively are not part of Taekwondo because the founders never knew about this can sit down have a nice cup of Korean green tea and look at this series of posts. There really is no discussion about the Kwan founders knowledge because the sources tell the story. We can not judge the past when we are only looking at the modern situation, we need to look into the sources and draw a conclusion from them, not the current situation.
So we do now know that the Kwan founders knew about the pulling hand and how to put it to good use. The question then remains: Did they teach this on to the next generation of students? This is also a vital link when we look at our forms because it was the 2nd generation who founded the Kukkiwon and made the KTA forms we use today (Taegeuk and black belt forms).
My answer to the above question is two folded. I believe the Kwan founders taught the principle of the active usage of the Dangki Son but I also believe that they taught it as a teaching aid to teach the principle of power generation. Withdrawing one hand to the hip while the other goes out does make it easier to teach power generation than simply punching with one hand. I know that statement will be ridiquled by many but I believe it to be true. However at some point there should be a change in training focus where the chambering hand is either put to good use (dangki son as described by Funakoshi) or held in a guarding position so it is ready to attack and defend. This shift in focus does not happen in most Dojang (plural) and that is the problem with using it as a teaching tool.
In 1958 one of the first books on KMA was published by Hwang Kee. This book (Tang Soo Do Textbook) gives a very good image to the Moo Duk Kwan as it was practised at the time. It contains Hyung (forms), basics, conditioning drills, training equipment, self defense, etc. I am in no way fluent in Korean but I do have a basic understanding of it and it does have pictures and that helps:-) In the book there are several pictures where the pulling hand gets pulled to the hip without any practical reasoning, but there are also examples that demonstrates the practical application of the pulling hand. The concept of the Dangki Son was both taught and practised in the Moo Duk Kwan. Modern Kukki Taekwondo is a synthesis system made by representatives of all the Kwan so looking at what the Moo Duk Kwan did is important to understand the current system we practise and study today. Below is an example on the usage of the Dangki Son from the 1958 book
In the opening picture of this post you can also see how one hand is pulling to take the opponent off balance while the sweep is being done. This source show us that the function of the pulling hand was not forgotten by 1958 and it was still a principle that was drilled and taught as part of the martial art at the time. 
In the first English language textbook on Taekwondo written in 1965 by Choi Hong Hi he describes in the early sections the usage of the pulling hand as a teaching tool (he does not say it is a teaching tool but he gives the "traditional" explanation.) Later in the book however he demonstrates his knowledge. The Dangki Son in active usage can be divided into 4 parts. Sometimes you use one, sometimes more and sometimes all four are used. 
The 4 parts of Dangki Son are:
  • Hooking
  • Grasping 
  • Twisting
  • Pulling
Choi Hong Hi describes each in a very systematic and detailed way with good illustrations. "Hooking" is what you do if you and your opponents limbs collide. That can happen if you deflect his strike or he deflects yours etc. After you have "hooked" him you grab (grasp) his limb/ sleeve or anything you can get a hold on. You then twist it and pull it toward your hip. But if he grabs your wrist you dont need to hook and that is why I say that there is not allways a need for all 4. Depending on your goal and situation you might just grab him and pull etc. Below are 4 illustrations from the 1965 book that focuses on each stage of the Dangki Son process.
So far we have seen the Dangki Son in practical use in both the Moo Duk Kwan and in the Oh Do Kwan. We do however have sources from other schools of what was to become Taekwondo too. If we fast forward to 1968 we have two books that both contain Dangki Son. The first one is Sun Duk Sung & Robert J. Clark`s book on Taekwondo Korean Karate. Sung & Clark write that the reason for pulling the hand back to the hip is because of newtonian science. The book is for white belts and colour belts that are working their way up to black belt so giving this answer would appear to be a way to explain the "simplified" hard style applications he provides. Even so there are examples in the book that make use of the pulling hand. Below are a few examples from his 1968 book:
Another book from the same era is Sihak Henry Cho`s book: "Tae Kwon Do; Secrets of Korean Karate". Some will probably remember this one from the recommended reading series and it is one of my favorites:-) Seemingly it depicts basic hard style Tae Kwon Do but if you look at what his non striking hand is doing when he is using a traditional technique in usage you will notice that more often than not (he does pull his hand on his hip for no apparant reason from time to time) he is doing "something"; Pulling, checking, clearing the opponents limbs out of the way etc. Of all the KMA books I have Sihak Henry Cho is the one that uses the Dangki Son most actively. Take a look below for a few examples from the book:

As you can see the non striking/blocking hand is doing something in each and every picture above. I would say that the sources are very clear on what "the other hand" is doing and that this knowledge was passed on well into the 60s (the last two books we have seen in this post are from 1968). The reason for Sihak Henry Cho being so "active" with his "other hand" is probably because he is from Ji Do Kwan lineage and the Ji Do Kwan was famous for its focus on live sparring and realistic application of "hard style" Taekwondo. So if you are a Taekwondo student and you are wondering as to why you place your hand on your hip this post should give you a pretty decent starting point to look into what "the other hand" is doing. Once you grasp this concept the basics, poomsae and its applications become so much clearer. Is this all there is when it comes to the concept of Dangki Son? No far from it, this is actually a small sample of the possibillities, if you go back even further in the sources of Taekwondo (early Karate, and Chinese Martial Arts roots) you will get a lot more applications than merely grabbing and pulling, but that is for another post another time.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and that it has made you think a little more on why the basics are the way they are:-)
I hope you enjoyed the post. The information on this blog is provided free of charge but I would like to ask you a "favour" or "donation". If you read this post and found it informative, please share it with others on facebook, twitter, or mention the blog to a friend that you think will like it. If you are on facebook consider looking up the blog there and give it a "Like" :-) Thank you for your support :-)

The Facebook page can be found on


  1. Congratulations , very good post , I have the books Cho, Choi , Funakoshi and Son among others, and have come to the same conclusion : the study of TKD is apuzzle !, and we do not teach in dojans there I learn of the true masters in books.

  2. it was a wonderful chance to visit this kind of site and I am happy to know. thank you so much for giving us a chance to have this opportunity..