Monday, 2 February 2015

Back to the Source(s) Part 4; Grappling in Contemporary Sources?

So we have looked at throws, joint locks, and the usage of the the non striking/blocking hand and seen that the sources depict Taekwondo as a very holistic martial art with a diverse selection of tactics. The feedback on this series has largely been positive and this is by far the best work I have ever done in this blog (my personal humble opinion) to demonstrate what I have been trying to get accross for so long now: The founders and pioneers of Taekwondo knew far more about their martial art than what people are giving them credit for today. Also another thing I have been trying to say for years is that Taekwondo contains so much more than high kicks and sparring in an Olympic format. There has also been a great deal of negative feedback which started back at part 1 in this series and that is that the sources I use(d) in this series were too old. Taekwondo has evolved so there are no grappling techniques in "pure" Kukki Taekwondo. Perhaps there were grappling in the old days (1950s-70s) but there is no grappling what so ever in Taekwondo today. Well this post is purely for those "nay-sayers" and while I know what I should tell them (I know you are going to read this and smile knowingly) I will instead write a rather lengthy post using contemporary sources so that we can once and for all put the belief that there is no grappling in Taekwondo firmly to rest beyond any doubt!

Before I start this post for real I want to write a small caveat: The grappling in Taekwondo can not compete with the grappling contained in a dedicated grappling art. The grappling contained in Takewondo is simple, easy to apply and effective for the purpose it serves (combat/ self defense). The grappling in Taekwondo will not allow you to outgrapple a wrestler but it might save your butt when something smelly hits the fan.

There are a lot of different Taekwondo "styles" out there in the world today but more often than not you can trace their roots back to either the Kukkiwon or "WTF Taekwondo" or the Chang Hon Ryu or ITF Taekwondo. I will therefore use mainly these two orgs official sources as the basis of this post. These sources are:
  1. Kukkiwon Textbook 2006 edition
  2. The 15 volume Encyclopedia
I will try to follow the same "recipy" that I have used so far in this series; throws/ sweeps/ take downs, locks, and active usage of the pulling hand. I trust these books are "contemporary" enough for the naysayers. Since I have a copy of the Kukkiwon Textbook next to me right at this moment I can just as well start by looking at that. First we have throws: Are throwing skills part of Kukki Taekwondo as it is portrayed in the Kukkiwon Textbook? Short answer is YES but the naysayers probably need proof so first up we have this page:


Well my work here is done:-) There is no shadow of a doubt that grappling skills is a fundamental part of Taekwondo as it is depicted in the Kukkiwon Textbook. I will go so far as to say that those who claim to teach "Kukki Taekwondo" but does not teach grappling on any level is not really teaching "Kukki Taekwondo". That might be a little harsh and I could be so diplomatic as state that they are teaching a "Limited Version" of the Kukki Taekwondo system, but why limit yourself?

I can hear the naysayers now: That was a lucky break. That is the only reference in the Kukkiwon Textbook. Well those who will undoubtfully think that out loud when looking at the above picture would be very wrong. Here is another referance to grappling:
Ok so there are a few written references to grappling in the Kukkiwon Textbook. It is a big book, and it has been updated several times. Surely there are no actual practical and illustrated examples involving grappling in the Kukkiwon Textbook? After all we "know" Kukki Taekwondo does not contain any grappling you say? Well again I have to dissapoint you and point out that the Kukkiwon Textbook contains a lot of examples of grappling. Lets start with throws which many say is not a part of Taekwondo



Someone said sweeps and Take Downs?

The worst part is that these are not all the examples from the book there is actually more but I believe these should be more than enough to make the following thing clear: There is throws, sweeps and take downs in the Kukkiwon Textbook. If you are not practising any in the course of your studdies you are either practising a limited Version of Kukki Taekwondo or you are not practising that kind of Taekwondo at all.
What about joint locks? Are there any examples making use of joint locks? yes we have that too :-)
We have now seen that throws, sweeps, take downs and joint locks is a part of Taekwondo. But one thing that is also in the Kukkiwon Textbook but which many claim is not a part of Taekwondo is an active use of Dangki Son.


When the claim is that the Dangki Son is not a part of Taekwondo and that I am a revisionist I must say that these are an awfull lot of examples on something that apparantly does not exist in Taekwondo:-P
I will end this post right here (I will deal with the Chang Hon Ryu`s primary source in a later post). I hope that this post (or rather the whole series) will be shared and spread far and wide to all that believe that Taekwondo is just high kicks, that the founders knew only "kindegarden Karate", that there is no point in looking at our forms because vital concepts such as the pulling hand was lost, etc so they can see just how wrong they are. I highly recommend that you start looking at the sources and resources of your Taekwondo before looking at the current situation (with the focus on sport and poor understanding of how to apply the system) and judge the past on the basis of the current situation alone. It is time to take back Taekwondo as an holisitc Martial Art. Time to look at the sources and reclaim traditional Taekwondo!

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. If you feel you need more grappling, just take Judo.

    1. You do know that you just commented this excact video link in part one? And that it was thouroughly discussed there? :-)

    2. Sums it up:

  2. Ørjan, is the backlash you are referring to stemming from the FB TKD Group (no names, I just haven't been on in a while) or is it stemming from the general martial arts community. Unfortunately people do not want to believe evidence to the contrary because their reality is shaken or debased. Personally this happened to me the first time I looked into TKD history and it's origins but instead of fighting the truth, I embraced it. Most people have troubles with that principle. I was only happy to go into older books and realize the art was incomplete.

    I think you have done a great job highlighting that point to people that will listen. Keep up the hard work.

    1. The series has not gotten any negative feedback in the study group but I have seen comments elsewhere as well as gotten mailed about it and the negative feedback centers around "this is old Taekwondo and Taekwondo has evolved" etc). The Picture I used in the part about throws actually spurred some discussion on wether Choi Hong Hi meant for throws to be trained in "modern Taekwon-Do" or if it was only included in the 1960s . The negative feedback has come from people ranging from colour belts to 7th Dan, but the positive feedback (which was much more than the negative) came from the same range of people:-)

      I do hope that this post will put an end to the endless forum discussions on wether modern Kukki Taekwondo contains grappling or not. Simply post the Picture about the fundamentals of Taekwondo (taken from page 171 of the Textbook) and smile :-)

  3. While seeing this stuff in books is great, and does prove that these techniques do exist in Taekwondo, it is sad that one has to refer to books to find them. What is important is that these techniques exist in the dojang as well. And it is obvious that this is where the problem exists. We all (Kukkiwon included) need to do a better job of practicing these techniques on a more frequent basis so that we do not need to open up a textbook to 'prove' a technique exists in our art.

    1. Yes you are right that we need to actually train this stuff. I am lucky because my teacher devised the Matchoe Kyorugi (formal sparring) to include all aspects of Taekwondo. We have formal sparring sets ranging from basic (only blocking) to grappling, sweeps, throws, etc. What I want to be better at is taken what is trained in a formal setting into a more free setting. But I have allways had joint Locks, throws, sweeps, etc in my Taekwondo studdies because of my teacher and I am very grateful for that. Had I studdied elsewhere I might have learned only Block kick punch Taekwondo coupled With some Foreign techniques added for ho sin sul (self defense).

      Opening up a textbook to "prove" that a technique exists or not is a little faulty though. The textbook can only "prove" what is "supposed" to be in the art. If it is not trained by anyone in the globe but exists in the textbook does it really exist in the art? Everything in this series (the throws, the Locks, the sweeps) or variations of them exists in my orgs syllabus allready and you will learn them for your 1st Dan.

      I have no problem With People wanting to specialize in a sport or a simplified system as long as they are being honest about it. The problem does not exist until the simplified system trained or sport trained students starts telling everyone and their mother that many aspects are totally missing in the system when in fact they are there for anyone to see if they study the complete system.

      The one thing I do that has not been done in the past to a large degree is trying to link these techniques (the tactics we have in the system) back to the Poomsae I practise.

    2. I am also lucky to have an instructor who teaches these techniques and even has us free fight with the option of taking our opponent to the ground.
      Being a practitioner of traditional Taekwondo with strong Moo Duk Kwan roots, you can see that other MDK practitioners (in the vid linked above) practice a similar style of sparring, allowing takedowns and some ground fighting. Although this is not how all MDK practitioners spar, it shows that it does exist, as my school spars in a very similar fashion.

    3. GM Chun's book on TKD is pretty reflective of that philosophy. I always go back to it and the style in that book is pretty close to how my old Master did things. Love it!

    4. Yes, I actually am from GM Chun lineage and so we teach very close to what you see in his books. Thats the way we do things and i am very fortunate to be able to train under his association and have trained with him in person as well.

    5. I really really want to get my hands on that book :-) I have it on my "to buy list". Nice sparring in that Clip. I do similar outside the Dojang but not nearly full contact. I would love for the official sport Version of Taekwondo to morph into what you shared. If the sport Version would allow that kind of techniques as shown in the Clip more of Taekwondo would be used daily and accross a bigger specter of its practisioners instead of just a Select few People who still practise it as a martial art :-)

    6. I just got a chance to look at the video this morning and I would love it if TKD was practiced more like that in sparring. That is similar to what I do as well outside of the Dojang. Brilliant! I watched this video just before bed and if you compare the TKD guy to the Karate guy you can see a diff with hands and the like. Frankly, the lack of hand usage costs him:

  4. I would love for this style to become more mainstream as well. It would completely rebuild Taekwondo's reputation from a game of tag to a real combat oriented martial art. This style of sparring would also force instructors to become proficient in and teach on a much more frequent basis, the sweeps, throws, and even some ground fighting as they would no longer be an "unnecessary" extra due to the current rules of the sport. Instead, allowing these techniques would bring them to the forefront of our training and they would regain their place as an important aspect of Taekwondo training.

  5. Getting the "lost" techniques (falls, joint locks, sweeps etc) into mainstream training once again is not a big problem. Most of Taekwondo`s grappling is extremly easy, straight forward and effective so it is easy to pick up. If instructors who do not know this stuff would seek out these aspects of their art all they would need to do to introduce it was to incorporate it into Step sparring drills. The problem of it being too Advanced or hard to learn comes when you do not go the Taekwondo way but try to pick up another dedicated grappling art instead (this is my opinion). A dedicated grappling arts wrist lock will be full of nouances and this is great for those who allready know the Taekwondo Versions, but it makes it harder to learn for beginners who are focusing on kicks and punches With joint locks as a supporting Method to learn them from a primary Method viewpoint of the dedicated grappling arts perspective.

    Another problem is how do we get the lost techniques from the step sparring and into free sparring if all you have ever been exposed to is Olympic sparring? The distance, foot work, tactics, and strategy is all wrong for grappling, suddenly you need to relearn how to free spar.

    A few aspects I have been working on these last few years are: Conditioning (forearms, fingers, knuckles, all attacking Tools and the upper body to handle being attacked), free unformal drills for trapping, joint locks, and opening up my opponents guard, changing my attacking Tools and targets to suit the closer distance I am finding myself in. There are also a lot of techniques and attacking Tools found within the Taekwondo system that are not used. Thumb and other finger strikes, spear hand formations, claw, openhanded, half closed fist etc. These are often great when you need to enflict pain and or damage to an opponent but you are too Close to do what you would label "Power shots" With the fist.

    Rewamping the free sparring into what we saw in the Clip while still keeping the high kicks is a great way to promote a much more diverse Taekwondo than what we usually see, and I bet that in these MMA days it would greatly increase the interest in it from grown up students instead of all the beginners being kids.

  6. It is up to the instructors to figure out which nuances are important to the TKD version of these locks (unfortunately the Masters/Instructors are also the problem). For instance, one of the things I recently realized was not properly and often taught in TKD, was the softness required to attach a wrist lock. In class we are mostly taught to block hard which pushes our attackers limbs away or damages their limbs but when the next "move" in a sequence calls for a grab, we have already made life harder by having to chase the limb. I think this is byproduct of oversimplification and lack of education with a dash of perception of TKD being an exclusively hard style.

    I think the best way to get techniques into Free Sparring is to just do it and learn from the mistakes. Watching MMA or other fights would provide a better understanding in that avenue. Good books on "realistic" self defense do a decent job at showing what distances work with what techniques. It is then up to the Master/Instructors to analyse this data (much like we do with Applications, etc.) to determine what works best in a Free Sparring context.

    One also needs to help clarify the idea of what works in what environment slowly during lessons. Ever since my Sa Bum Nim started working security, he often says "this will work during self defense but not in sparring" or a variation of the sentence to suit the environment. Conscious hard work and effort win this battle. His change in perspective is what triggered this. Personally, it wasn't too hard to transition because I was more Martial and less Art from the beginning of my training. Maturing as an adult is key for this to succeed.

    I am with you in terms of the change in my outlook and what I train. When we engage in reality based sparring we think about the changes in distance and tool used to attack. You also toughen the limbs and body depending on your level of hardness used so that is a win overall. This change is outlook is one based on occupation and how you choose to train. Controversially, I don't mind a high kick in self defense, but I caution anyone and to know WHEN to USE it. It wouldn't be my first preferred attack and I often get flak for suggesting it from "serious" SD practitioners.

    1. Your opening paragraph is very interesting. The concept of "sticking" instead of smashing the attacking limb away has largely been lost. Some still learn it but there is no standarized Korean term for sticking in Korean so I feel the concept is largely "lost". In Choi Hong Hi`s book from 1965 (and probably in his 15 Volumes as well) there is an interesting concept in the defensive Chapter about "Hooking" or "Hooking Block". It is really what we mostly have lost, instead of smashing the attacking limb away you redirect it just enough and "hook on to it". He differentiates between hooking and grasping (grasping block) so I really think this is one of very few instances in KMA that the concept of "sticking" is documented. I need to reread the Kukkiwon Textbook to see if the same or similar concept is written in there also.

      Another "lost step" on the jurney of getting these concepts into free sparring is to drill them in the correct distance. Often when People practise sparring or drilling sparring techniques they stand and focus on the long range. What if we start closer like how Bruce Lee starts in Enter the dragon (cross hand position), or even closer With both hands crossed? Drill from this distance, then learn how to flow from a kick that is blocked (long range) into punching if the distance is there, into trapping if the punch is blocked as well, into grappling if Your hand or body is grabbed into a "finishing strike". We focus too much on the looong range of feet and then dabble a little With punches (my personal experience), while I do try to focus much more on closer ranges when I practise by myself or With People outside the Dojang.

  7. Nice Information!!! This information helps me in the future as now I am going start taekwondo training. I think grappling is an important part in taekwondo. Some of friends advise me that clothes are an important part so you must select the right taekwondo uniform for your protection

  8. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly that love and read more on this topic. If possible, such as gain knowledge, would you mind updating your blog with additional information? It is very useful for me.