Friday, 1 May 2015

The Past often holds the answer to todays problems

In my last blogpost "Principles of defending with "Makki" techniques" I shared some (in my opinion) great insights into the principles of defence as taught in the older Kwan (forerunners of modern Taekwondo) and Karate. Those principles were gathered from the book: "Karate; The art of Empty-Hand" by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard Brown" and as I said in that post if you enjoyed the writings in Choi Hong Hi`s 1965 book or any of the more classice Taekwondo books out there this book is also for you:-)

When I am not practising, working or spending time with family and friends, chances are that you will find me reading a book (or writing blog posts :-P ). I believe that there is a great distinction of studying Taekwondo and merely practising it. If you do the latter you show up at the Dojang and do whatever the instructor tells you and learn whatever the instructor tells you. If you do the former (study) you will also show up at the Dojang and practise, but you will also practise at home, experiment, and research everything Taekwondo. My own teacher has allways told the black belts in our organisation to aquire knowledge but not hold it solely to ourselves. He believes that if Taekwondo is to grow in a positive direction one should seek out answers and knowledge and then share it so other people can benifit. This blog is therefore not only for me to take notes and organise my own thoughts on Taekwondo (allthough that is certainly a big part of it) but it is also my contribution to Taekwondo.
The information I share here is often toward likeminded individuals that are seeking more than just a sport, more than just sparring and more than just kick block punch Taekwondo. I often find these things when I am looking backward at the art as it was in the past and reading this "old" Karate book is a part of my own research into Taekwondo. In it I found many "nuggets of wisdom" as I like to call them and I thought I should share a few with the readers of this blog. First out is an alternative Application to Eulgeul Makki (face block or high section block) as well as one of the most important "keys" to understand Gibon Dongjak (basic techniques) and Poomsae (forms). Here is a quote from the book:

"An example of the additional use of the withdrawing hand:
Ordinarily, the withdrawing hand is used to add force to
the technique of the opposite hand.
However, it can be used in other ways,
for example, to pull the opponent into the punch of the other hand.
Shown below is its use with the rising block:
grasp the wrist of the opponent`s attacking arm
with the withdrawing hand and, while pulling it down,
block upward with the other arm at the opponent`s elbow joint,
breaking the arm."

Image Source: "Karate; The art of Empty-Hand"
by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard Brown"

I find this quote very very interesting. First off Nishiyama was taught by Funakoshi at the same university as several Kwan founders. Secondly: the pulling hand`s function was very well written and given in Funakoshi`s books but few seemed to grasp it eventhough it was there for everyone to see. Today it is not uncommon for black belts in both Karate and Taekwondo not to have a clue about this function and they are happy to do it "because of tradition". Here in 1960 we have a direct student giving the function of the pulling hand and showing a very different application to high section block than what you usually see today. In Chin Na or Quin Na (art of seizing and catching pronounced Keum Na in Korean) this is a well known technique and it is referred to "lifting Chin Na" as it directs the lock upward. For those of you who read my blog regulary you will perhaps note that this very application was documented in the Application of eulgul makki series that I wrote. So eventhough the application might seem "lost"it really isnt. It has been preserved at least as far back as Funakoshi and it is still taught today (even in Taekwondo believe it or not)

The next quote is regarding predetermined sparring also known as Formal Sparring also known as Matchoe Kyoreugi (one step sparring in this case).

"As proficiency is developed, the length of time between blocking and counterattacking
should be gradually shortened. It is also important to pracice grabbing, pulling, or
 pushing opponent`s attacking arm to throw him off balance."
(emphasis added by me)
In my school we are taught "set" formal sparring. So we do not make our own in the beginning. We learn 8 three step sparring, 8 two step sparring, 8 one step sparring and so on. Then as we are going through the last ranks before black belt we are encouraged to play around with the set ones by adding a natural follow up technique and after a few black belts we start making our own. This process ensures that everyone are at the very least practising those 8 set predermined sparring, as well as that all get the same start, and that we have a descent "base" to make our own from. In our 8 set one step sparring we block and counter at the same time. The first 4 we move diagnally forward to the attackers inside and outside. In the last 4 we are moving straight into the attack With very little body shifting. It follows a very natural progression and it is a concept that I also emphasise in my own Taekwondo. Another key that is not used enough in the set formal sparring that we have (allthough it is fairly common) is the part that I emphasised in the quote above.
To me the key to applying Taekwondo not as a sport but as a martial art is to make full use of ones basic techniques and more importantly the Poomsae we practise. A huge part of applying Taekwondo in a realistic self defense situation and which is inline with our Poomsae movements is to grab, pull or push the opponent so he is off balance. We are from natures side hard wired to prioritise keeping our balance above most other tasks as a reflex. Just like you dont think of removing your hand from a hot surface, if you loose your balance the body will try to regain it BEFORE doing much else (unless trained to a large degree so you can undo the reflex). Therefore keeping your opponent off balanced you will nullify his attack and greatly hinder his defense. He is preocupied with regaining his balance. Therefore I am very happy to see that this was a huge part of the Authors thoughts on predetermined sparring as well. This does not mean that the book is chock full of great examples. Most are of a kick block punch variety, but his thoughts on this matter are great. I can not help but wonder if he is repeating Funakoshi`s knowledge here?  
Another good quote from the book is when the author goes into the defensive one steps where the defender moves into the attack instead of stepping back:
"In these defensive movements involving stepping in,
timing and a good strong stance are especially important.
The outstanding advantage of this kind of defense
is that it enables the defender to stop the attack before it is fully focused,
making it easy to throw the attacker off balance."
Again these thoughts on defense are great to read as they describe effectivly what I would call old school Okinawan Karate. Step in, nullify the attack before it gains momentum, do some damage and get out of there. This is also very much in line with how we are taught to move in our Poomsae. If you are learning kick block punch applications to your Poomsae you might have noticed that in application you move bakwards while in Poomsae you are almost allways moving forwards when blocking. That is because the Poomsae are teaching you how to survive a life and death encounter with no rules, while they are often intepreted through a "sportive lense". Block kick punch Applications can be done very well and to great effect (as proven in Taekwondo`s case in the Korean war and Vietnamese war), but Poomsae teaches us so much more than that, and the key to understand Poomsae is right here in these quotes from 1960 :-) Below is a one step that follows the above quote. Notice the distance that the high section block is applied and the follow up.

Image Source: "Karate; The art of Empty-Hand"
by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard Brown"
He moves in deeply (I would have preferred to use the front knee of the stance to crash into his front leg if I could), he blocks at the source, and he imidiatly grabs and pulls the opponent off balance while attacking with an elbow attack. Change the stance a little and the block plus do the elbow to the head and you will see the beginning two moves of Naihanchi or Tekki used in an effective way.  The Author mentiones the importance of a strong stance. Stances are often overlooked in application and their importance too is often overlooked. When you look at the distance between the attacker and the defender in the above illustration you will no doubt recognize that the strong stance is important as this is grappling distance and the importance of keeping your balance has allready been discsussed in this post. When you are applying Taekwondo or Karate at a more modern sportive distance the stances are not of great importance, but at the distance shown above it is. Another thing to note is that while the attacker here attacks with a straight lunge punch, the defense would be equally (I would say it would fit even better) effective to a haymaker punch toward your head.

Below is another great example of the proper distance to apply the art, and the techniques to use at this distance:

Image Source: "Karate; The art of Empty-Hand"
by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard Brown"
The defense is a low block into a punch followed by grabbing the arm and a knee strike. In one simple movement the defender has changed the situation dramaticly and he is dominating the opponent. In Poomsae you can look at any low block front kick combo and see the above scenario unfold. I say front kick as it starts with a knee lift. The actual kick could be used to great effect as a follow up to the opponents legs and keeping the pressure on.

Many people today are strugling to make sense of their traditional martial arts system and how it relates to combat and self defense. I have found that the answer does not necesarily lie withing an outside art (although cross training can be a great thing) but most answers can be found by looking at the roots of the system we have now. Kukki Taekwondo is pretty "modern" by martial arts standards (kukkiwon being founded in the 1970s, and the Kwan`s that it merges were from the 1940s onward) but the lessons inherent in the system as well as a great deal of its technical content is built upon long traditions from a time when it was a matter of life and death. If the Poomsae or basic technique seems to be unrealistic or impossible to apply in real life the answer is often that the technique in question is either misinterpreted through a sportive lense or that it was meant for competition fighting in the first place  as is the case of many of our more unrealistic kicking techniques for instance. But then again unrealistic for what context? The high kicks are not unrealistic for Olympic sparring or certiain fighting purposes but I would not rely on them "on the street" to save my life however.

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  1. you know i just had a conversation with someone where i was trying to explain that if you don't understand the limitations of your art, you really haven't studied it. he really didn't get that. because of the sporting influence, and often because the way we are shown things as beginners we tend to miss stuff like the above. most TKD people collapse once an opponent is inside the traditional sparring distance. something the old timers, and those above, illustrate they were quite aware of. indeed i once had an instructor who used to say that infighting "was the way of all right thinking people"

    1. I might have to steal that last quote of Yours. I really like that. My own teacher once expressed that a traditional taekwondoist or a taekwondoist who is trained in traditional taekwondo should be able to defend himself effectivly at all combative ranges. When I see Things like this in books written in the 60s I cant help but think that that is a lot closer to what he was originally taught when compared to the mainstream today. It is sad that so few Taekwondo People do not Experiment With the closer ranges as much of Our arsenal of techniques (especially) the hand techniques function sooo much better at Close range than from longer ranges.

  2. Orjan - great post! I love reading/seeing nuggets of info like those you've found and posted above - it makes the art so much more dimensional.

    richardc - how true - although I prefer a more robust type of sparring, even with the point-sparring our school uses (break after each point, but we do allow head contact) - I see the confusion when I move in on them. In fact, they keep on me about needing to try and score first to be successful at point fighting, but honestly, I'm having too much fun countering by moving in on them and watch the confusion set if we could just spend more time practicing the options once I've moved in rather than just scoring with a punch, etc. and then having to break. :P Regards - Ron

    1. Thanks Ron:-) I will share much more in the future:-) I have many more books to read and even more to reread (if that is a Word). There is simply so much great information in older books that has been overlooked and or even lost. One thing I like in partiqular in older books when compared to modern ones (90s - 00s) is that the older books was not completly focused on sport and performance. Today you pick up a Poomsae book you will most likely see how the Poomsae are to be performed in great detail, but you will be very Lucky if you can find just one Application in it (any Application). While in older books you will find Application to just about every technique in the basics Chapter if not in the forms Chapter.