Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Martial Principles as they relate to our forms

I read a very interesting article written by a Goju Ryu Master last night. I am not sure if it is available online but it was entitled: "The Lost Secrets of Okinawan Goju Ryu" and it was written by Giles Hopkins. He proposed a very simplified way of looking at the Goju Ryu forms when compared to the multitude of application each technique seems to get. Simpliefied in the sense that instead of a multitude of Applications for each technique there should be one definitive one for each technique that fit within a sequence. I have myself written on this blog before in passing that there is a difference between looking at the application of a "technique" (Dongjak Eungyoung) and the application of the technique as presented in the dynamic context of a form.

When you simply look at "technique" you get so many different applications to it because you look at a general movement and you can put it into any context you want. That is not the case when you look at application of Poomsae, because in Poomsae the "technique" is demonstrated in a dynamic context. There is a technique before the technique in question and there is a technique after the technique in question (or if it is the very first or last technique in the form you are looking for you can scratch which does not apply). So when you look at Poomsae you need to see the application in the context it is presented within the form. Looking at the application of technique in isolation is very very simple when compared to looking at it in context of its form. It is way easier to find 10 different applications to the first move of Taegeuk Il (1) Jang when compared to looking at the application of the first two moves or three moves or four moves (depending on how you do your "Boonhae" or dividing up the form) in the same form. Once you look at the form and not only on technique you have not only to find an application, you need to find an application that fits the form itself.
His article gave great and logical applications to the Goju Ryu Kata Seipai (Known in Korean Martial Arts as Shipal Hyung or Shipal Son Hyung). Seipai means "18". The author of the article proposed that we should throw away everything we had learned about "school boy karate" (incorrect distance, sporting applications etc) and just look at the classical forms themselves and apply 3 martial principles. There was no arguing with his results which impressed me greatly.

The principles he mentioned were:
  • Evasion (Always move off the centerline of the opponent)
  • Ending (Always finish the opponent or threat as fast as possible)
  • Each sequence start with a block and entry technique and ends with the opponent on the ground

Are these principles something we can have in the back of our minds when we look at our (modern) forms? That is up to the one doing the Boonseok (analisys) of the form, but I think that if you chose only three principles to guide you these three are pretty solid. So lets look a little closer on the principles he mentioned and see if we can relate them to our study of Taekwondo Poomsae.

This one is pretty self evident. Most attacks dont just "happen" allthough blind violence is not unheard of, most of the time there is some prelude to the attack. Things like a verbal exhange, posturing and then the "attack" in form of a push, punch etc comes. Attacks will therefore often come from the front. The opponent might approach you from the left, right, back, etc but the verbal exchange leads you to turn to face your opponent. With this information in mind, why do just about all the Taegeuk Poomsae start with a 90 degree left turn? Most instructors will tell you that it to block an opponent that comes from your left but as I just wrote you would probably be facing your opponent allready so why the turn in Poomsae? The Poomsae is telling you to move out of the way of the attack in front so you end up 90 degrees (or less in actual application) in relation to your opponents centerline. The Poomsae does not show you how to get to this position but it does tell you to get to it.

I like this way of thinking because it is pretty common sense. Get out of the way of the attack and flank the opponent. It is also very much inline with the writings of the Karate pioneers. Mabuni, and Motobu comes to mind as two noteable masters who wrote about the angles in forms and their relation to application, it is also very much in line with the writings of newer masters like Iain Abernethy, Chris Wilder and Lawrence Kane to name a few.

This one is also very self evident. It is not in your best interest to give the attacker a second chance when your life or the life of your loved ones are on the line. Ending can refer to a great number of things. As Funakoshi once wrote: "Do not concentrate on winning, rather think about not losing". This is the mentality that differentiates "sport" with self defense. Ending the threat can be to stun the opponent so you can flee, knock out the opponent so you can flee, create so much physical harm that the opponent is no longer a threat so you can flee (break arms, legs etc) or in the worst of the worst situations take a life. The goal is not to "win" the fight but to ensure your own (or your loved ones) safety and depending on the situation there is a wide specter of oppertunities to do just that. The forms we look at uses techniques that were developed for self defense so the applications we find should either end with us being "safe" or at the very least at a great advantage over the opponent. This is why "sequences" and interpretations that only consists of "blocks" are no good outside of a demonstration. A typical example of this is how the midportion of Taegeuk I (2) Jang is often interpreted as two high blocks, and then two middle blocks against three different opponents before turning to face a fourth.

Each sequence start with a block and entry technique and ends with the opponent on the ground:
This one is the one that I find the hardest to "dogmatically" apply to Taekwondo Poomsae. That might be the design of the Poomsae or simply my knowledge level does not allow me to see how all sequences ends up with the opponent on the ground. However I do think that it is a great ending of a sequence if it does as if you remain standing you have a huge advantage. I also fail to see how each and every sequence will start with a Block and entry technique. Again it might be the design of Poomsae at fault but more likely it is my own fault for not knowing enough. But again for the most part I think it is a good principle when looking at forms. Perhaps it is possible to apply all these principles dogmatically depending simply on how you define the sequences?

Example from Taegeuk Il (1) Jang (Text only):
If we take these three principles and apply them to the beginning techniques of Taegeuk 1 Jang you will perhaps see that they can be applied to our Poomsae eventhough they came from a Goju Ryu Karate Master.

The techniques in question:

Step 1: turn 90 degrees to the left, while doing a low block.

Application step 1: The opponent in the beginning of the fight want to keep you in place so you do not have a chance of escape. He grabs your right wrist with his left hand (he is lifting his right hand to give you a haymaker). You shift out to the outside of his grabbing arm while executing a low block that frees your arm by twisting the grabbed arm and pull it to your hip while also strike down on the arm that grabbed you as hard as possible to get the attackers mind focused on pain rather than continuing his attack. Shifting outside of his grabbing arm side will also increase the distance to his dangerous arm so he will have to reposition himself to strike you.

Step 2: move forward in short walking stance and do a mid section strike while pulling the non striking hand to your hip.

Application step 2: You do not smash away his arm with your "blocking" arm from the last application, but stick with it and grab it then twist and pull it sharply to your hip while you step in from an angle and strike his floating rib with your punch. The pulling and twisting increases power in the strike, gives you a tactical awareness of his body and keeps him off balanced.

This is where many People stop the sequence, but if we are going to incorporate the principles we discussed we need to end up with the opponent on the ground.

Step 3: Turn 180 degrees to your right while executing a low block in short walking stance.

Application step 3: As you stepped in to your opponent in the last move you are now very close to him. you keep holding his arm as you did in the last application but the punching hand reaches around the opponents head and grabs his ear. You then turn and do the low block movement to put him on the ground. If he resists which is likely if you did not do the sequence fast or powerfull enough you simply "ask the Poomsae". The Poomsae tells us to strike him again (step 4) or you can incorporate step 4 by striking him as he falls from step 3.

In the above example (sorry for not having any illustrations or pictures but at least the information is free ;-) ) you start by getting offline of your opponents centerline. You finish the threat (ending), the sequence start with a block and entry and it ends with the opponent on the ground. Instead of focusing on one technique the Whole sequence flows logically from one application of technique to the next. The way the form is divided into a sequence is different from how the mainstream looks at sequences in Poomsae but it does work better this way :-)

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  1. Nice post. Regarding the applications in our Taegeuk I go from a general view, that they are symmetrical to tell you that the technique works no matter if the aggressor attacks with his right or left hand.

    For Taegeuk Il-jang I have the exact same applications for the first 2 techniques, but then I couple them with technique 5 and six (long front stance, low block and mid punch) - And I even think going to long stance and hence lowering your center of gravity would increase your chance of taking the aggressor down.

    I have also been playing with not reaching around his head, but instead going on the nearest side of his head, and using your forearm to drive him down, and then making him land on your knee, so you can strike him directly where you are.

    It is quite recently I have discovered your blogs, and I look forward to going through your posts and get more inspiration - I'm currently writing a black belt thesis about applications in our Taegeuks, and the principles I use to discover and test the applications, and I hope it is OK that I refer to your site and posts :)

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Heine:-) I think that your general approach is fine and it is something I have been playing around with also. Additional thoughts on the symetry:

      1: it could be to train one application two times on both sides
      2: as you say demonstrate that the Application will work no matter which hand the opponents use
      3: that it will work no matter if you go to the outside of his attack or inside of his attack

      There might be others as well but on top of my head those are Three explanations on the symetricality of the Taegeuk Series :-)

      In the reaching around the head to grab the opposite ear or to simply grab the same side as Your hand (without grabbing all the way around the head) are both valid. Another thing you can Experiment With (perhaps it fits another Poomsae sequence better), Grab the opponents arm and elbow him in the jaw (Chamber of the low Block, the Chamber is liftet a little more than in normal basic technique). Use the low Block movement to push him to the side and downward at the throat. You in one movment elbow his jaw, then forearm smash the side of his neck and push him downward so he bends forward or backword depending if you moved to his outside or inside.

      Simon O`Neill demonstrates a variation on this principle many times in his Taegeuk Cipher book :-)

      Hope you enjoy the blog :-)