Monday, 29 June 2015

Applying Taekwondo the old way?

Having spendt the last few weeks fighting a vicous cold that has effectivly prevented me from training I have spendt a lot of my training time devouring martial arts books instead. One of these
books was "The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do" by Soshin Nagamine. It is a great read and I love almost everything he says in the book. I am not star struck by him though. His thoughts on philosophy and what he writes theoretically of applying martial arts is great stuff, but frankly I find that the set "Kumite" that he developed for his style contradicts a lot of what he laid out as his reasonings behind developing the Kumite drills in the first place. The book is a well worth read though and it touches on several things, that we as Taekwondoin will find very interesting.

One of the things I found interesting in the book was things that was covered that was about how to apply Karate (and which applies very much to Taekwondo too). Look at this quote from Nagamine:

"The Secret was that when a small man faces an opponent,
he must not take backward steps to evade blows or kicks;
 instead he should take forward steps or side steps so
that he can take the offensive right after defending himself."
The above quote is about what legendary Karate master Kyan found out after practising the Shuri and Tomari styles of old school Karate. Any advanced practisioner of traditional Taekwondo or Karate would recognize the concept as being key to apply his or hers art, yet many persists on taking backward steps because that is how it is done in many formal sparring sets in many martial arts Dojang around the world. I belong to one of them, but the formal sparring that steps backwards are not seen as a way to apply Taekwondo in a real fight, it is merely one training tool among many others. Our one step sparring is designed to be closer to how you would apply Taekwondo though. The 8 one step sparring from my Dojang can be seen below:

I view this not as a literal way of training self defense, but I do recognize that many useful principles can be applied in self defense, and that the drill was likely designed to have a larger overlap between the limited and unrealistic drill format here and real life applications. Again it is just merely one training tool in the tool box of traditional Taekwondo. You will not that the early one steps step forwards on a 45 degree angle, while the later ones steps just about straight in. They all have a simultanious attack and defense and they are all delivered to vital points. Stepping forward was also emphesised in "Karate the art of empty hand fighting" by Brown and Nishiyama in 1960. Nushiyama being a student of Gichin Funakohsi:

"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."

Stepping forward either on an angle or straight in has always been a key to applying traditional Taekwondo techniques, and it has been preserved from the root arts of Taekwondo into modern Taekwondo. It is also a key to understanding the applications of Poomsae as the vast majority of "Makki" techniques are presented either from a turn or a forward step. Only rarely do you step backward and "block" in Poomsae. The reason for this is that the turns are telling you to get off line of the attack and receive it while countering (which means you will be side stepping either to the sides or any forward angles to straight ahead, almost never by stepping back). This "key" that is often overlooked and or not understood by many instructors, masters and students today is the reason why people do not see any link between Poomsae on one hand and real life application on the other.
Nagamine tells a short story to illustrate how Kyan used the "secret" he had found in an actual confrontation in his book:

"The two fought in a vacant lot by the Hija river.
Kyan stood in natural stance,
keeping his back to the river.
When Matsuda tried to deliver a blow to Kyan`s abdomen
as though to strike makiwara (striking post), Kyan instantly
shifted his position to evade the attack
and simultaneously kicked the Outer part of Matsuda`s thigh.
Matsuda flew spinning into the river"

Here we get a detailed look at how the root arts of Taekwondo was applied long before the sportification process began. Again we see the importance of moving forward and to get on the offensive as well as defending in the same time.
In Japanese Karate it is often stated that there are three modes of initiative. Late initiative, simultaneously initiative and preemptive initiative. The "late initiative" is what you often first learn and is the most basic one. Here you react from Your opponents attack, you block, parry or redirect the attack and then counter with your own attack. It is the most basic and not the most efficient or optimal way to defend yourself but we do not live in a perfect world so we should train to use this the best way we can. Most of the pure block kick punch applications are made from this concept of late "initiative". What I have been speaking (or writing about) in this post is how the root arts of Taekwondo used to be applied. Here we are defending and counterattacking at the same time. This is only possible by moving forwards (either on an angle or straight forward). The preemptive initiative is when you sense an attack will occur and strike before the attack is made. An example of this is what is optimal in a self defense scenario where you think you are going to be attacked by someone so you punch first and then flee the scene. Knowing when the attack will come is often not viable hence why the root arts of Taekwondo focused on the simultanious initiative.
Nagamine also gives us insight as to where the perfect place to move in relation to our opponent is in the book:

"The most advantageous ma-ai is generated
by placing the opponent in sight
and simultaneously getting
out of the opponent`s sight"
This can be acchieved either by moving behind the opponent or behind where the opponent will end up, or it can be done by using other tactics to obscure his vision. I described in an earlier post how the "parry-pass" method of applying the standard high section block can be used to blind your opponent for a short space of time. "Ma-ai" Nagamine is using above is a Japanese term which is often translated as distance, but I guess that that is a loose translation as I would infer it being more as a "position" based on the quote above.
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  1. This fits well with the concept of "ukemi" being "receiving", not "blocking". It is something that I've been working hard on for the past couple years after working with a couple very good reality based self defense guys. Thank you for the insights.

    1. Thank you for taking Your time to comment and giving feedback:-)

      If you practise Taekwondo and use the word "Makki" you might be interested in knowing that "Makki" does not really mean "blocking" either (well block is one valid translation but there are others as well). Here is a link about the word "Makki" :

  2. The terms "tori" and "uke" from Japanese MA has never meant attacker or defender, nor does it have something to do with who is doing the punching or blocking.
    It is a gross mis-translation which stems back to the fundamental differences between "eastern" and "western" approaches to the game...

    "tori" (取) means "to take" in modern speech, but is in MA context more accurately translated as "(the one) obtaining initiative".
    In much the same line, "uke" (受) means "to get; to receive", but can also be used in certain situations as "to accept".

    1. I will admit to not having enough language knowledge to be precise enough. Thank you for the information.

    2. Thanks for your additional input Øyvind:-)

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