I am training in a Dojang that operates out of a school gym with very limited training time as well as equipment. I have for a long time however taken charge of my own development outside the Dojang as well as inside it, so eventhough I only make it to the Dojang twice a week I do some kind of Taekwondo practise every day, and often if you count the small minute sessions I do it several times each and every day. For the most part however I see that most of the students at the Dojang I practise at and I guess based on conversations with other masters, that the "normal" students practises Taekwondo at the Dojang 2 times a week and thats it. When you look at the training time invested coupled with all that Taekwondo encompasses there is no denying that people dont really get their pennies worth when it comes to self defense. It is therefore not strange to observe that other martial arts and "reality based systems" who give more imidiate results gets more popular with the general public. The result is therefore that old students quit after 1-3 years, and new students comes in the door at longer and longer intervals.
This is not a new trend in any way, and I believe the focus on sport that we have seen these last 10-20 years in Taekwondo has been to keep student retention high. After all they come in the door looking for self defense, they get an exciting sport instead. Some quit when they realize they dont really learn self defense (they do, but it takes a couple of years, so I dont think Taekwondo is in any way worse than other arts for self defense, I just think they tackle the self defense portion in a different way than others do), but some stays because of the sport. We have done great this way as a martial art and we have a huge number of participants all over the globe, but with the rise of the MMA we have gotten some serious competition. MMA is also an exciting combat sport (even I as a Taekwondo practisioner much prefer to watch MMA fights than look at the Olympic sparring format), and eventhough it is limited by a ruleset its fighting applications have a larger overlap with the physical components of self defense than Olympic sparring.
I do believe that the solution to the problem (that older students quit and new "older students" dont come to Taekwondo anymore) is rather simple. We simply need to gear everything or as much as possible of our training in to what people want to survive in the current market. If the public whishes for self defense we should give it to them. I am not talking about simply stressing the Ho Sin Sul part of Taekwondo training from day one, rather I am talking about giving the students the key skills for self defense, both soft and hard skills from day one. Most self defense courses are rather short time affairs. They last anywhere from a few evenings, or a weekend to a month course. We on the other hand have about 2 times a week for 6 months for white belts to yellow belts. We should be able to teach those students from day one everything a "normal" self defense course will teach in a more holistic way. Even more so if you structure your syllabus around this goal.
The soft skills of self defense is everything you do to avoid comming into a physical self defense
Another way of implementing this would be to devote 1 weekend and have lectures every 6 months that were mandatory for the students. It does not even have to take a single minute away from the precious training time is what I am getting at. Following this you can build and build more and more for each rank. Self defense is a huge area and the physical/ hard skills needed is actually just a small drop in the ocean when compared to the "soft" skills.
The hard skills
The beauty of traditional Taekwondo is that all you need for the hard skills of self defense is allready right there in Taekwondo! If you go to a self defense seminar you will learn a handfull of techniques and that would be it. Taekwondo allready have them and train them from day one, but with little to no emphasis on practical application of the techniques. I get that you need to devote a lot of time on "air punching" to get the correct form, but the instructor could demonstrate the application for the technique for everyone to see so they know what they are doing or supposed to do.
The techniques the students learn for a yellow belt in Taekwondo is usually the following:
- Arae Makki (low block)
- Momtong An Makki (inward middle block)
- Eulgeul Makki (Face block)
- Momtong Jireugi (middle section straight punch)
- Ap Chagi Baldeung/Apchuk (front kick with instep and ball of the foot)
- Apchaolligi (Axe kick)
- Ap Seogi (short front stance)
- Ap Koobi (long front stance)
- Joochum Seogi (horse stance)
When this can be done by the students, they can learn how to use their limited library of techniques in many different situations grasping the underlying principles. The front kick can be used to the groin, to the shin, or to the head if you have manipulated the opponent to bend forward at the waist by an armbar. It can be used as an entry technique, a pre-emptive attack, to create an opening, and in different distances. Likewise the punch can be taught like that as well. How to use it preemptively, good places to target, how to use the pulling hand and punch together, using multiple strikes to multiple levels of the body etc.
The students will no doubt be doing most things in the air the first month or so, but then they should be introduced to partner work. In my dojang and in many others this means 3 step and 1 step sparring. These are formal and fixed in the Dojang I belong to, but in my view they are a great starting point for deeper study and more live training. Once the students have been taught how to avoid a straight punch by sidestepping, parry and counter punch in one move, as well as countering with more than one strike and to multiple planes of the body (which they learn in one step 1 and 2 for their first grading) more live drilling can easily be implemented. The first one I would introduce for beginners would be an adaptation of the formal one. Standing in fighting stance the attacker will feed the same attack on the partner but with no signal. Next they can move around freely but still be limited to the
The point I am trying to make is that traditional Taekwondo has so much to offer in terms of self defense, but this potential is often halfhazardly taught with a focus on sport instead of self defense. We allready have the techniques, we have a formal introduction on how to use Our techniques as well as a formal introduction on partner work. We have a philosophical and ethical foundation to build upon.