Friday, 29 July 2016

Dangkinun Son - The pulling hand

Dangkinun son (당기는손) or the pulling hand refers to the arm/hand that is seemingly doing nothing
in the textbook applications of Taekwondo basic techniques. This is the hand on the hip in most techniques in Poomsae. While one hand is punching, striking of blocking the other hand is pulled back to the hip. We know based on the writings of Funakoshi (and several others) that this part of the technique is actually a very important active part of it and not something passively done for the sake of it. Nor is the hand placed on the hip to be "ready" for the next move (although that happens also sometimes). More often than not the other hand is checking the opponents arm, removing his defenses, pulling him off balance and generally opening the opponent up for a strike. Taekwondo is often said to be a simplified version of Japanese Karate, Japanese Karate being an already simplified version of Okinawan Karate. I think that the Taekwondo we generally see today is simplified in the extreme (albeit with a lot of added foot techniques), not because it was based on Japanese Karate, but because over time Taekwondo has been sportified and defanged in many ways to appeal to new students. This has worked a lot when looking at the number of students as the number one sucsess criteria, but in my eyes a lot has been lost over the years. The concept of the pulling hand is one of these things. Why I devote so much time on this concept you ask? It is one of the most distinguishing features of our basic techniques, and after reading Richard Chun`s 1976 book I again was firmly reminded of what has been lost.

The pulling hand as a concept has not been officially formalized in Taekwondo litterature, at least not the way it has been by Karate pioneers, but it is there in text if you care to read, and more importantly it is present in the pictures that Taekwondo masters have provided on the usage of basic techniques, even when they do not explain the pulling hand concept in the text is still shows up all  over the place in older Taekwondo litterature. The pulling hand is still demonstrated in contemporary litterature which I will demonstrate in this post, as well as the fact it was an integral part of Taek Kyon which is purpoted to be one of Taekwondo`s root martial arts. I will not go into the validity of this claim, I will however make the claim that if at least a few techniques of Taek Kyon was known to the Taekwondo masters I belive that it provides an interesting idea that Taek Kyon might have had more to do with the Korean view of application of the martial art they did "know" (most often Karate) than what we usually credit it to have. I will also demonstrate in this post that the pulling hand concept is an integral part of Taek Kyon.

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so I will let the Taekwondo masters speak for themselves in this blog post with only short commentaries of my own. First out is Son Duk Sung. He wrote two books on Taekwondo, the earliest of which was published in 1968 and co-written by Robert J. Clark. Son Duk Sung was the 2nd Kwanjang of Chung Do Kwan (replacing the founder Lee Won Kuk when he had to escape Korea for political reasons). Sun tells us about the pulling hand the same way that Choi Hong Hi tells us, faulty application of Newton`s law of motion. He does however demonstrate the "true" concept  of the pulling hand in some of his demonstrations. 

Below Son is demonstrating an application from a standard straight punch (with hand on the hip). You will note that he does not actually pull the hand back on the application, but he does check the opponents punch with the other hand. This is one of his applications from the forms he is demonstrating in the book.

Below you can see Son demonstrating an application for what we Call Dangkyo Teok Chigi today. This technique is found as the second technique in the Pyungahn Eedan form (Heian Nidan, Pinan Shodan). We have the technique in Taebaek Poomsae today. He does not actually use the other hand for grabbing the opponent and dragging them onto the punch, rather he uses his elbow to check the opponents incomming punch and redirect it leaving an opening for his own counter-punch.

Below youca see Son demonstrate the pulling hand as a way to both open up the opponents defenses, as well as pulling him off balance. This is how you will perhaps most often use the pulling hand concept. If you look closely on the grabbing hand you will notice that it is not "just" a grab. He relaxes his index finger, concentrating the gripping force into the most strong gripping fingers there are and giving himself a structural advantage grip-wise. Also the location of the grip should be noticed as it is not at a random place, but each finger seems to be pressing on a vital point on his wrist (although that might be difficult to see due to the sleeve).

Another straight punch demonstrated, but the other hand is in active use. Here it is redirecting the opponents limb so that a strike can be sneaked in under the opponents arm.

Below you can see the pulling hand used to pullthe opponent off balance, opening up the opponents defenses in the process. Again not the gripping hand itself, as the observations I gave earlier apply here as well. Pulling the opponent forwards like this offbalances the opponent, pulls him into Your strike, leaves him with great difficulty defending himself and opens up the vital Points on the base of the skull which is exploited by Son. It is a great example of a knife hand strike the way it should be Applied.

Now that we have seen Son Duk Sung demonstrating the pulling hand concept for us in his 1968 book, let ut keep to the 1960s (the very same year in fact) and let Sihak Henry Cho demonstrate the pulling hand concept to us. While Son was from a Chung Do Kwan lineage, Sihak Henry Cho was of a Ji Do Kwan lineage. Cho never gives a written explanation on the pulling hand, but he uses it in his demonstrations more often than he does not. While Son more often than not uses the hand on the hip simply as a hand placed at the hip, Cho about 70-80%  (an estimate only) of the time uses the pulling hand concept. These are just a few examples of the book. I am sure the regular Readers have seen many of them before, but bear with me on this as the pulling hand concept is an important one to drive home.

Below Cho is demonstrating a knife hand strike. His other hand is performing a check on his opponents arm. The end position as well as the chamber he must have used to get here strongly resembles the way Taekwondo today performs its knife hand guarding block. As Makki as a word opens up for more than a static block, this application could still bear the moniker "Sonnal guoderro makki".

 Below you see Cho demonstrating a knife hand strike with a pulling action. Remember my observations on Son Duk Sung`s grip? Note Cho`s grip here as well. Index finger relaxed, power focused on the grips strong points, grab performed seemingly pressing the opponents vital points on the wrist. At the time the book was written, the chamber for a knife hand block would be from the opposite ear on the inside of the chambering arm. Therefore this knife hand strike could be seen as a practical application for a knife hand block as it was performed in 1968.

Below you can once again see Cho demonstrate the pulling hand to pull the opponents limb out of the way and increase the Power of his own strike. The grabbing hand is just as interesting here as it was in earlier pictures.

Below the Dangkinun son is used to redirect the opponents limb, opening him up for a strike. Here the opponents Dobok sleeve is grabbed, not his arm, again demonstrating that the pulling hand does not necesarily need to grab and hold on to the actual arm. You use whatever you get your hand on.

Below Cho once again uses it as Funakoshi describes it should be used, pulling the opponents limb toward himself. His gripping method should once again be studied intently, and he demonstrates an interesting application that is almost straight out from Sipjin Poomsae near the end.

Same striking tool as in the last picture, but different technique and different way of using the pulling hand. Once again it is the sleeve being grabbed, not the actual arm. Note how it makes it difficult to defend against the incomming strike.

So we have seen that the pulling hand concept was in use often (at least in Cho`s case) in the late 60s. Therefore it stands to reason that the Koreans who studied in China and Japan brought this knowledge back (or they got it from their own fighting arts as we shall see a few examples of later). The next illustrations on the concepts are from Richard Chun`s taekwondo book dating from 1976, almost a decade later. He too uses the pulling hand concept remarkable often. It was one of the things that leaped out from the pages when I read through it a few days ago.

In the first example he uses the other hand to check the opponents punch as he delivers his own punch. This is very similar to the other two masters we have seen so far, and suggests that this was a common practise in Taekwondo back then. Richard Chun is from a Mu Duk Kwan lineage by the way, so eventhough we lookat three masters all teaching Taekwondo around the same time, they are all from different Taekwondo Kwan (schools).

Below you will see how he receives his opponents attack, grabs and pulls the opponent redirecting his opponents limb, and opening him up for a strike. Note the close distance between them as modern texts often demonstrates on a farther distance than we have seen these masters do.

As we have seen very often in this post the "non punching hand" or whatever you would like to call it (I call it the pulling hand) is used here to check the opponents arm yet again.

Below Chun is once again checking his opponents arm, closing him off so he has to struggle to defend himself, while he delivers a punch. The target seems to be just below the ear, which is a great spot to hit.

Below you will see an alternate application for ditjuga jireugi also known as "C punch", or a variation on Keumgang Momtong makki as seen in Taebaek Poomsae. Here the lower arm traps the opponents kick, while the upper arm delivers a devestating punch to the opponents head. Again not the close distance between them.

 Below you can once again see Richard Chun using the non active hand as a "check".

 Below you can see Chun`s pulling hand actually pulling the opponent into the strike. This could be an application from Keumgang Poomsae. He does not grab the opponents wrist in this case, only his sleave.

The pulling hands function is very well documented in Japanese sources, and we see it being used often in the writings of the early Taekwondo masters as late as 1976. Taekwondo`s Japanese and Chinese roots are well documented, but their own Korean martial arts heritage is not well documented, and if it is documented it is often fair to say a complete fabrication. That does not mean however that we completly discount the Korean martial arts as despite what you think were still alive at the time Taekwondo was formalized. It was not complete systems anymore, and Taek Kyon pioneers had to travel all around to gather enough knowledge to recreate Taek Kyon as it is known today (this is something that is written very little about). The point I am trying to make is that Taek Kyon or at least remnants of it would still be available to the Taekwondo masters when Taekwondo was formalized. How much was used if any? How did this influence the application knowledge of the pioneers if any? We do not know, but looking through a Taek Kyon book published in 1990 with older pictures we can see how the grabbing of the opponent while striking was used in Taek Kyon as well. Below are three techniques from the book. The first technique is similar to how the Kukkiwon will chamber and execute the momtong an makki or inward block. The end position is a little higher of course but I do find this interesting.

The second technique is reminisent of a knife hand strike as seen in Taegeuk Sam Jang. Han Sonnal Mok Chigi.

The Third technique once again resembles the inward block, but here it is delivered a little lower than the end position of the kukkiwon technique.

Does this mean that Taekwondo could have drawn from Korean sources as well as Japanese and Chinese sources? The founders of Taekwondo studied in Japan and China. Few if any of them had real experience of the Korean martial arts. However over time this knowledge might have been brought in again, and might have influenced some of the "changes" the different Kwan did with their techniques, as well as clarifications on basic technique standard of the Kukkiwon. This is all speculation on my part, but it is an interesting mental path to go down. Sadly few if anyone is researching this angle, since literature on Taek kyon and the Korean martial arts in English is vurtually non existant, and the Japanese and chinese sources are so well documented (and obvious).

What about modern days though? In the Kukkiwon textbook you do see plenty of instances where the pulling hand concept is still in use. This suggests that there has been an unbroken line of transmission from the Kwan until today. Using the other hand actively as opposed to passively is not only tactical and strategicly sound, it is also highly historical.

The above illustrations are all from the 2006 edition of the Kukkiwon Textbook. As the ways in which the pulling hand are mostly the same as covered earlier I think there is little need to comment further. Suffice to say that just because we have one hand on the hip while doing solo performance of the forms, it does not mean that the hand is passive. In application it has always been a case of using this hand actively in Taekwondo!


  1. well, i guess it seems that everything that's old is new again. i remain a senior student of GM Chun and the idea of pulling in has never seemed alien to me. although i do have to confess that the idea of the withdrawing hand adding power to the punching hand was always used as an explanation even though it is fundamentally flawed.
    my experience is that in the TKD world the use of the "other arm" is grossly neglected, and is an area of quite useful study.

    Pro Tip: often it is difficult for a smaller person to pull in a larger person in the traditional (palm up) position. Have them pull back with the palm down (pronated hand) this engages the back muscles and amplifies the pulling action.

    1. "my experience is that in the TKD world the use of the "other arm" is grossly neglected, and is an area of quite useful study."

      Well said Richard:-)