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Son Duk Sung
The following steps are just laid out this way for the sake of convinience. Do not take the steps literally. You can apply all or any one of them if you so whish.
Step 1: Rid yourself and/ or your Dojang of sport mentality. Or at least dont be dominated by it.
The current publications being produced by the Kukkiwon or endorsed by the Kukkiwon are all heavily dominated by sport mentality. What I mean by this is especially apparant in the works on Poomsae. Ask anyone what the "traditional component" of Taekwondo is and the answer is likely its forms. The latest publications from around 2006 onwards have all more or less completely ditched absolutely all applications of the movements, and more importantly their only reasoning when explaining the way to perform Poomsae is to do it any other way than the way described here will result in deducted points (in competition).
Now for the people out there serious into Poomsae as a performance sport there is no problem with this approach, BUT for 95% of the students of Taekwondo who have no interest in sport but wants to practise a martial art this sport only reasoning is, in lack of a better term "dumbing" down Poomsae. As an example of this I once attended a Poomsae seminar. The teacher of this seminar had the performance of Poomsae down to a T. It was beautifull to watch, and he knew the exact way to perform each and every technique in each and every Poomsae. The thing was though that the students who attended the seminar had learned their Poomsae in a slightly different way so they kept asking him questions as to why the movement standard had changed (as it had changed in their point of view). The teacher consistenly brushed all questions off as "if you do it any other way you will get deducted for points". He was successfull in this until the Bittero sonnal bakkat makki (Twisting knife hand outward Block) found in Taegeuk Yuk Jang. Here there was a red belt that was corrected because he had his elbow of his blocking hand sticking very much out to one side instead of pointing down toward the ground as it is "supposed" to be. When corrected the student asked why it should be done this way, and the teacher answered with the deductive points reasoning. This was not a satisfactory answer to the red belt who did not have any interest in competition so he pressed the matter further. The teacher was unable to come with a satisfactory answer so it evolved into a discussion between everyone on the seminar.
What I noticed was that eventhough there were many high ranking people there, and that the teacher himself being highly ranked no one could agree on it so I stepped forward and explained the bio-mechanical reason being that turning the elbow outward made you lose the involvement of the large body muscles on the side of the upperbody and gave a much poorer aligment of the body. I also explained how used as a deflection lifting the elbow outwards made the block cover a lot less of your
|Basic Application of an inward block|
Another way sportive mentality has broken Taekwondo is when it comes to free sparring. In the old days low kicks, punches to the head and grabbing + sweeps were the norm not the exception. I asked my teacher again about this fact a few weeks ago when I attended an instructors course held by the Traditional Taekwondo Union. He confirmed all of this. I can undestand why we dont do face punching but if I had my own Dojang I would throw Olympic sparring out and never let it back in! Poomsae movements are based on what you do in an emergency so there will never be a true complete overlap between sparring and Poomsae but there will be a lot more overlap between them if you started using hand techniques, simple kicks and grabs again. Simple changes that anyone can do but few dare to for some reason. The dominance of sport mentality in Taekwondo is one of its main problems today in my own opinion, and it needs to change soon because when or if we loose the Olympic sport status (which might happen very soon) those who have practised Taekwondo as a martial art will still have its martial art, but those who have only Olympic aspirations will have nothing.
Step 2: Include the training methods included in the old Kwan (plural)
When we want to get back to martial art Taekwondo and we want it to be respected once again we should look back on the Taekwondo that was practised at the time Taekwondo was a respected martial art. This makes all the sense in the world to me, but few seems to be interested in it. If we get back to the subject of Poomsae we should all at the very least learn the hard style kick block punch applications that was ALLWAYS included in the older textbooks of Taekwondo. We might ridicule them today, but at least the students that were exposed to them had a starting point and knew how to use the most basic deflections, and strikes of Taekwondo. Today I often observe a total disconnect between "traditoinal basics" and the Olympic sparring basics. One is treated as outdated useless techniques and the other as highly refined competition techniques.
Strong traditional basics was one of the biggest strenghts of old style Taekwondo, but we need to understand them well if we are going to have strong basics once again. Look at the earlier example of the twisting outward knife hand block that perfectly illustrate this.
Another often used but by these days almost extinct training method (in the Kukki Taekwondo at least) is the formal sparring. I am here taking about 3, 2, and 1 step sparring. I have written a little about them before and many think that they are outdated and detrimental for the development of the practical minded martial artist. Personally I think that we should include them, but not be stuck in them. They are just a template for drilling. Great to introduce new concepts, or even starting to learn how to cope with another humanbeing standing in front of you. In short I would say that 3 step sparring drills how to receive an attack more so than how to counter. The counter is included at the end. The usable bit of 3 step sparring is the last bit, but you drill how "to get there" by including more steps. To include more steps you have to step backward. Stepping in any other direction you will find it akward to include more steps as the attacker would have to reorient himself to you for each step. 2 step sparring on the other hand is there to teach you how to shut down a combination to dominate an agressive opponent. 1 step sparring is there to drill how to receive and how to counter as well as how to enter your opponents space. In my org at least the 1 steps all move forward. The earliest ones on 45 degrees and the laster ones more and more straight forward. There are many faults with these drills and training methods when looked at in isolation but that can be said of anything we do in training. You wont hit anyone better by doing pushups alone, you wont be good at sparring by skipping rope, you wont be better at self defense by doing solo performance of a form yet all of these things are great to have in your training tool box. If your Dojang does not include formal sparring I urge you to reconsider their inclusion.
Step 3: Include basic grappling skills into Taekwondo
At the very least a Taekwondo student should master the following:
- How to break fall
- How to free himself from any grab
- rudimentary locks, throws and sweeps
Step 4: Include close range strikes into Taekwondo
By this I mean the things many now consider to be "not Taekwondo" but which again was common knowledge not that long ago. Knee strikes, elbow strikes, finger strikes, headbutts, strikes using the shoulder and hips to unbalance the opponent etc. These are all found within Poomsae and most likely they are in your step sparring if you do them. It should not matter where your opponent is in relation to you. If hes in kicking range you kick, punching range you punch, closer than punching range you knee strike, elbow or finger strike him (at a vital point) and set up a throw or sweep. If he grabs you,
Step 5: Include vital point knowledge into Taekwondo
Rudementary vital point knowledge should be taught with the very first technique and be expanded upon thoughout the students studdies. A black belt should know how to aim his strikes to vital points on any part of the body (face, back of the head, stomach, leg, arm etc) while the masters should have "advanced" knowledge of how to manipulate the vital points. "Keupso" is Korean for vital point and in Taekwondo the knowledge of where to hit was common knowledge until the sport focus took over. A red belt should without trouble be able to list 30-40 places to direct his strikes toward. A black belt should with ease be able to list a couple of dozen more. This knowledge (how to manipulate the vital points through striking them) is known as "Tae Heol bop" in Korean. The other one which should be taught along appropriate techniques for grappling is "Ap Heol Bop" or manipulation of vital points through pressure or grasping. It requires strong fingers and accuracy but it can for those who are sensitive put them straight out of the fight alone or at the very least be helpfull when applying other techniques that require grabbing.
Example of Ap heol bup to release from grab:
Another example of where ap heol bop can be applied can be seen below:
Step 6: Include Dallyon as part of your training
Dallyon or forging was something seen as very important in the old Kwan (plural) and if you look to any old textbook odds are in the favour of you finding at least some reference to this kind of practise. Breaking is in part dallyon at least in old school Taekwondo. Another is the inclusion of the Dallyon Joo or Kwon Go which is perhaps better known as a Makkiwara in the west. References to weight training implements, striking boards/Makkiwara, gripping jars etc abound in the older writings on Taekwondo. Choi Hong Hi`s 1965 book and even his 15 volume Encyclopedia gives perhaps the most thorough introduction to them. He being the founder of Oh Do Kwan makes this important as it was a very influential Kwan in the beginning of Taekwondo. Shihak Henry Cho also makes references and demonstrates the striking board, weight training, speed ball and Heavy bag in his book: "Better Karate for Boys" so we have written testemony that these things were in use in Ji Do Kwan also (My teacher also has confirmed this to me several times). Son Duk Sung demonstrates both dumbells training and the striking post in his books which means that this was also included in Chung Do Kwan. In "A modern history of Taekwondo" by Kang and Lee we see in the history section of the Song Moo Kwan that the training consisted of roughly 1 hour of punching the makkiwara with at least 100 strikes and weight training before the actual training even began! Apart from this body conditioning excersises such as striking each other with blocks etc using forearm drills and others was also widely taught. All of this made for tough, strong Taekwondo people that were feared martial artists. Contrast this with how we often see black belts that are out of shape and overweight. I recognize that sometimes we are talking injuries or other health related problems to be the culprit in this, but for many pure lazyness and easy training is the true culprit. You would be hard pressed to find an out of shape Taekwondo black belt in the early days of Taekwondo but today they are all over the place.
Step 7: Introduce a "new" Dobok
This is actually related to several steps in this post. What I mean is that as late as the 1980s in Korea you could still find Dojang and Taekwondo students wearing what we today would call a "Karate gi" or Y-neck. These were essentually what those of traditional Karate styles today wear. They were a lot thicker than the modern V-neck and could therefore withstand grappling, break falling and self defense training. The modern V-neck was supposed to be a uniform strictly for competition not for training. But people being poor meant that they had only enough money to buy one uniform. So instead of buying one for training and one for sport competition they bought the one for sport competition. Soon the V-neck was the prefferred uniform in use. These days the man originally responsible for the V-neck regrets making it part of Taekwondo as it has in part influenced the training that can be done with it. Case in point: at a black belt seminar (actually this has happen many times while I have been present) there was a guy who had just bought a crisp new competition v-neck dobok that was great at what it was designed to be: An Olympic sparring uniform lightweight so it would not be as warm when competing. As part of our syllabus we have throws where we dump the opponent down on the floor. We often find ourselves without matts however so when drilling these we try to hold back so the opponent does not get hurt too much. In this guys case my teacher demonstrated, lifted him up using his own momentum against him and held back so he would get a softer landing. The result was that my teacher was standing holding to pieces of cloth one in each hand and the man who had just been demonstrated upon got a hard landing after all.
In TTU (Traditional Taekwondo Union) we have a thicker Dobok which is opened all the way down as a Y-Neck. This makes it possible to include all the aspect of traditional Taekwondo as a martial art and not just the modern components of Olympic sparring and performance sport poomsae. If you have any kind of "power" I urge you to introduce a thicker more durable Dobok in your Dojang. Dont get overboard though: The colour should be kept very simple and it should be as little writing as possible on them. I think many who have introduced Dobok often go overboard with the colour schemes making the martial artists look more like a circus act than actual martial artists. Again in the TTU we have a white uniform for white belt to 1st gup. A black jacket and white pants for 1-3 degree black belt. a White jacket and black pants for 4th degree to 7th degree black belt. And a white uniform again for 8-9th dan. My teacher is a 9th Dan and he simply wears a normal white uniform. Those who have read this thouroughly will notice how it all goes in a circle and ends up like it was in the beginning. This is OK. What I do have a problem with is when you have the right upper part of the uniform, and the left lower part of the uniform in blue, and the other side in red for instance. Or if it is chock full of patches patches and more patches. I swear some martial artists have more patches than a NASCAR driver.
Those were some of my personal opinions, but the factual need is for us to (re)introduce a Dobok that can stand up to traditional taekwondo training, and which should be so designed as to make us look the part we are seeking: As a Martial Artist and not a circus act.
Step 8: Throw away breaking for demonstration, bring back breaking for testing stopping-Power!
This one is something I have close to my heart. In the Kwan (plural) and in traditional Taekwondo breaking was seen as a way to test stopping power of your technique. Today especially in Korean demonstrations of Taekwondo the boards are laughable thin and there is so much cheating with the roofing tiles and slabs that their breaking demonstrations has been of no source of "awe" for me. Give me a solid simple front kick that can go through an untampered wooden board a couple of inches thich over a triple sommersault kick barely breaking a wooden paper board a fraction of a fraction of
Choi Hong Hi 1965
Taekwondo techniques are very powerfull but we need to demonstrate this to ourselves, other martial artists and the general public and stop flipflopping through what is essentually a "thick" piece of paper! Stop doing the showcase movie breaks and bring back the simple powerfull power strikes that was once a feared and respected part of Taekwondo. And dont give me that "Boards dont hit back" comment. Of course they dont, but learning how to develop power and testing it on a stable motionless object is the first step before being able to apply that to a live moving target.
Step 9: Introduce the "real history" of Taekwondo
Taekwondo has a proud history in its own right. Im not talking about the 2000 years myth, but the recent repackeging and reformatting of Chinese Martial arts (Hwang Kee, Yoon Kwae Byung and Yoon Byung In), Shotokan Karate (Choi Hong Hi, Chun Sang Sup, Lee Won Kuk, Hwang Kee, Ro Byung Jik), Shudokan Karate (Yoon Byung In and Yoon Kwae Byung) and Shito Ryu Karate (Yoon Kwae Byung) as well as the indirect influence of Korean culture and cultural memory of Taekkyon (the focus on mobility and leg techniques). Once we embrace this "true" history of Taekwondo we can start looking at our roots for more insights to our current system. This has opened up so very much for me that I can not even start to begin to tell you. All of that knowledge would be out of my reach if I did not know where to look for it. Those who deny any ties to the root martial arts of Taekwondo also cut themselves off from all that knowledge. Accepting and embracing it would put an end to one thing that has made people from other martial arts make fun of us for so long. It is so apparant that we have a strong kinship to Karate that denying it is just sad.
Once it is accepted we can look at the writings of Kenwa Mabuni and Gichin Funakoshi to name a few who can teach modern Taekwondo students a whole lot about how Poomsae functioned in the root martial arts of Taekwondo, how to apply the basic traditional techniques and so much more.
Step 10: Seek what the founders taught and sought. Do not blindly follow their footsteps.
The Kwan founders (those who founded the different Kwan in 1944-1950s) taught a martial art. It was only later that these founders lost Power and a younger generation started developing it as a martial sport. They did a great job with this but they also lost a lot on their way to get there. We should study what the founders of our art wanted us to learn: An holistic martial art for Health benifits, physical education, moral culture and self defense. Sport might have been a part of that vision but only a tiny aspect of the whole. Today it is pretty much the dominant if not only factor within Taekwondo. We should never stop questioning what has been passed Down to us however as there are things that was taught in the old Kwan that would be bad for your health such as excessive "dallyon" for instance. We should seek what they sought, not blindly preserving but keep taekwondo alive and developing it further. But we need to know where we came from to understand where we are now and most importantly know and understand where we should go from here.
(Bonus Step 11: Share this post on facebook, twitter, etc)