Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Questions and Answers Challenge Part 2:

Here is part two of the questions and answers challenge:

6: Erich: What are your thoughts on the new poomsae by the kukkiwon? Do you believe they bring back some important traditional techniques ( i.e. twist kick, hook block, etc.) to kukki taekwondo? Do they have practical applications in your opinion?

I have a pretty grumpy old man answer for the question, but even though I want to anwer "They are rubbish" and then stop, I will try to make out a case for why I think that. I will also want to make another thing clear too: The new Poomsae are developed for competition only (and that is how it is for the time being), and so it is unfair to judge them on other criteria outside of that, so eventhough I find them to be rubbish, they really are not (rubbish) in their given context which is competition. Keep that in mind when I start talking them down, because context is everything really, so I do realize that I am being unfair to them, but I am honest about it and that will hopefully make you take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt. 

The biggest thing I have against them is that Poomsae has a wide ranging role in Taekwondo, but one of the most important ones in my opinion is to give the practisioners a living mmnemonic device to remember and drill proven combat (as in life and death) techniques. The Kukki-Taekwondo Poomsae that we have today (Taegeuk and Judanja) gives us this in my opinion based on my study of them. I find applications and they flow. They show me specific tactics and overall convey a strategy to survive a life and death enconter. They interrelate to each other, revisit and expands on previous shown principles etc. The techniques they contain is overall simple, grounded and effective. I am in other words combativly very happy with the Poomsae we do have. They also have a lot of philosophy attached to them, they contain several "Nae-ki" (inner) excersises and breathing/health excersises, that increases the overall value of the forms, but still is wholly inline with the combative information recorded within them. The new Poomsae have nothing of this. It is clear that it is a mish mash of traditional techniques and modern techniques, traditional footwork and modern footwork, and a lot of acrobatic showy flashy kicks that does not work well together. 

In theory you could make a Poomsae based on both the traditional and modern forms of Taekwondo. Introduce the sequence with a traditional way of receiving and defending a realistic attack, deal with it in a way that increases the distance and finish with a kick for instance. That is not how it is done in the new forms however. The traditional techniques for the most part does not seem to have been well sequenced either. Based on what I have seen it looks like they are developed to "look good" instead of actually being good, while the forms we do practise today does not for the most part "look good" but are good. To be fair "looking good" must be a chief thing to value when you are developing forms only for competition so the reason why I do not like them is based on another context.
Another consideration on why I do not like them is that the new Poomsae will not be Poomsae that can follow you to your grave. While the Taegeuk and Judanja Poomsae will for the most part and with small modifications could be practised far into your senior years, the competition Poomsae is so full of acrobatic and showy kicks that they will be totally unrealistic for people to practise once they reach their mid 30s and beyond unless they practice insanely hard. Again this context is not what they were developed for so I am being unfair.

You mention that the new Poomsae brings back important techniques and while this is undoubtedly true, if we need Poomsae to bring these techniques "back" we should strive to develop Poomsae that gives us a true dynamic context to present them in? Personally I have always been taught these "lost" techniques as a normal part of my Gibon Dongjak (Basics) and within formal sparring and self defense techniques. There is in other words no reason to "bring them back" because they were never "lost".I do see that others who practise in different Dojang that might have lost these techniques might benifit from them being "brought back" through these Poomsae but once again since they are so difficult and solely for competition how many will really study them? Why not develop an application rich grounded Poomsae to reintroduce these techniques so we get a true dynamic context to apply them in? Besides we have these techniques documented in the Kukkiwon Textbok, and I believe more people that study "kukki-Taekwondo" would benifit from actually reading it, than study these new competition poomsae (unless they want to compete on a world level). 

So to recap: I personally do not like them because I do not see any inherent value in them outside of the context they were developed for; which is competition on a world level. I do not think there is any shred of application beyond on a technique basis, and I do not think they are a good source to reintroduce "lost" techniques. That being said they were made to ensure that the most advanced world leading athletes were judged on more difficult Poomsae because the level or performance of the normal Poomsae has become so similar on the highest levels that judging them purely from the normal poomsae has become difficult, and for this purpose I am sure they work fine. That is not where my focus is on though, and so long as they do not start grading people on them and replace the Poomsae we do have with the new ones I am fine with them "being out there". It has little to no impact on me and my training :-)

7: Colin: If you were starting over, what system would you explore first?

That is one thought-provocing answer Colin! But it is also a very open ended one. Do you mean that if I started over as in "if I stopped Taekwondo today", or as in "if you were starting out today but did not know any systems"? I can not for the time being picture myself quitting Taekwondo at all, I am too happy with it and its possibilities eventhough this blog keeps highlighting things I feel mainstream Taekwondo could do better. If I were starting out today is a little harder question. I am one of the few who took a long time to research before I started studying my chosen system. If you will indulge me I will take you back 18 years to 1999:-)

I was young, and I had transferred to a new school which was located in at the time at least a very tough neighbourhood. Newspaper articles frequently referenced the yuth gangs clashing in violent ways, and fights were both brutal and frequent (18 years later and it is a very quiet neighbourhood). I had always been interested in martial arts, growing up with Karate Kid, Turtles and to a lesser degree Power Rangers, but my friends were much more interested in soccer (or football). I devoted my self to soccer, and later basketball when I got a little older, but then my basketball time was put down due to a lack of interest (in the end we were 4 people on the time playing games). When it was put down for the third time, I decided to switch to martial arts, both because it had always been an interest, and because of new reality (for me) at this school. There was a Shotokan Dojo located just a few 100 meters away from that school, and I was thinking of starting there, but then I started researching on the internet (which we had just gotten because it was 1999). 
I read about all the Karate styles, and all the Taekwondo and related styles, the Chinese styles and just about anything I could get my yahoo, kvasir or other now outdated search engines to find for me :-) The one who "sold" takwondo to me was Choi Hong Hi. He wrote about how scientific and modern it was, how it focused on science to produce power, and there was no mumbo jumbo in it. I also noticed that Taekwondo contained everything that I could see Shotokan and other martial arts contained, but it also contained high kicks. At the time (and now for that matter) I was unflexible and stiff. I figured a system that gave me everything any Karate style could give me, but also forcing me to kick high would give me an aditional health benifit without me loosing out on anything. I was ready to begin in Taekwon-Do, but then a friend told me about this other Taekwondo club with a Korean instructor who was Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and everyone else wrapped into one. I was a little hessitant at first because I had also read about "copy Taekwondo" which was not at all the scientific and effective Taekwon-Do of Choi Hong Hi, but I tried a class anyway because of my friend. I therefore ended up in that particular Dojang which I am glad to say I am still a part of :-) 

Given the fact that I chose Taekwondo because it contains all techniques you find in Karate while it also foces me to stay flexible I think I will be staying with it for the foreseeable future. Now if we move into fantasy land and say I have to quit taekwondo and start anew I think I would have few choices indeed. Classical Okinawan Karate would be high on my list because I find it fascinating, but at the same time it is nearly impossible to find. I would also loved to study with Samir Bernardo in Brazil because his interpretation of Karate is likewise very fascinating. Or I might have travelled to Australia to train with you Colin or Dan Djurdjevic, or perhaps the UK to practise with Stuart Anslow, or Iain Abernethy or Spain to practise with Simon O`Neill :-) As you can see I have always weighted the instructor higher than the style he or she teaches, and today I am even less interested in "systems" and more interested in instructors. If you take the group of people I just listed you would see that it contains several "styles" or systems and none of them are similar, each unique in their own right. What you can extrapolate though is that I like practicality and formsbased martial arts which all the people I listed teach. None of them are particular sport focused, and personally I do not care for or about sport. So in short: Any system that is practical, self defense focused and forms based will do :-)

8: Jan Ivar: "Linjegymnastikk" (Marching up and down the Dojang hitting air) aka Traditional tkd vs target based/ goal centered training. What I mean is: Do we use up our training time to repeat basics in the air, and should we use more training where the instructor gives feedback to students who trains on their own where they have a specific purpose/goal.

This is one that has been difficult to answer. Marching up and down the dojang floor punching, blocking and kicking air is in my opinion both worthwile and good if it is a part of the overall mix, and not a too big part at that. In the Kukkiwon Textbook it is clearly stated that Gibon Dongjak (Basic technique) training is there to sharpen the Poomsae. You therefore practise basics to become better at Poomsae. I dissagree a little with the Textbook because there are many techniques in the system that do not appear in Poomsae. For many who do not have instructors who introduce these techniques in basics they become "lost", but it can be a great way to keep them if the instructor is good at organising the training. It also isolates functional movement and perhaps most importantly create a strong body-mind link that many people do not have. If you take a blindfold on and perform 2-6 moves in say Taegeuk Il Jang you will be at the place where you should be at and do the moves as you should do them if the mind-body link is strong. If it is weak you will be in the wrong place and the techniques might have been done incorrectly. The thing is though that Gibon means fundamental and that is what the question is all about is it not? We should have a good foundation, but we should also build upon them. If you do not then you have great "form" but you might be lacking in other areas such as timing, power generation etc.

So should we be training more independently and have the instructor there for feedback on a specific goal and or purpose? It depends on the class and the Dojang really. If I were to open a small Dojang on my own I would gear the training toward a specific goal of self defense and fighting because that is where my interest is. I would still do basics in the air though, but the combinations that I would pick would be real world applicable, and it would be just one part of an inherent whole. I would spend just as much if not more time actually hitting stuff, working with a partner, Poomsae etc. In a normal Dojang setting though there are multiple goals such as "art", "sport", "fighting/duelling", "self defense" and much much more. The group of people is usually relatively large too, which also lends itself to the air punching kicking and blocking that you see. I also suspect that many instructors pick out combinations that are non-applicable on their own whims instead of planning their training and their combinations of basic techniques accordingly. If we are talking single techniques in repetitoin that is sharpening that one specific movment and that is good, but it is not goodt if that is all you do, or if that is the majority of what you do (but again that is my own subjective opinion).

I would suggest that you listen to Iain Abernethy`s podcast titlet "The case for Kihon" which is in my view quite brilliant on this very matter, and I fully agree with his views there. As for making your training specific and goal oriented I can tell you how I do it. I have three areas of focus to my training; Mind, body and spirit. This is mostly about the "body" part of the training, but all three areas are adressed in my own training. I keep a training jurnal. All you need is an empty book and a pen. In the book I write down each session I have and what we did, how I felt and what I need to work on. Typically we work on many different aspects of Taekwondo so it does highlight what you need to work on even if that thing is only done a few minutes in class. For instance Tuesday 28th of March I trained with Master Anna Kim and in my notes I wrote that I had to work on my Apchaolligi (front axe kick) and cardio. I then tailoured my own training sessions 7th of April (I was sick for a week), 11th of April, 13th of April and 16th of April on these two things on my own. I then practised with her again 18th of April and I picked some other stuff to work on. I use the Dojang sessions to work overall Taekwondo and then tailor my own training on my own time to the things I discover during the Dojang classes. In the first few pages of my journal I have written down my goals for Taekwondo which I review frequently and I work my own training to suit them as well. Dojang practise is usually twice to three times a week, so spending an hour or 45 minutes here and there efficient quality training for what you want is how I go about my buisiness. Depending on goals I get my teacher(s) to review what I have been working on or I videotape myself using my mobile phone and review myself and restructure my training accordingly.

9: Brock:  How can I mentally get back into tkd? I just can't stand the Olympic style, watered down version that sense to be the norm now. I found a lot of happiness in doing forms. I received my b.b. then started doing judo. I just received my shodan I'm judo. I would like to blend the 2 together with some form of self defense techniques. I really like the older tkd style

Hi there Brock :-) A few years ago when I studied Taekwondo in Korea I found that it was very sport specific training, and I missed the more self defense martial artsy version I "grew up with" back home. The solution was that me and my friend started practising Hapkido at two evenings a week. In many ways this Hapkido was closer to the Taekwondo we knew from back home than the Taekwondo we were currently practising in Korea. We did get much from both though, from the sport specific one we learned foot work, kicks, counters, and a lot of training methods etc, we also learned all the Poomsae and the way to do them coupled with bio-mechanics. From the Hapkido we got better at break falling and rolling, and we got a lot of development on joint locks, throws and sweeps that we allready knew from Taekwondo. 

The solution to your problem is not an easy one, but I stay motivated by doing additional study outside of the core curriculum while still being part of the Dojang. If you are like the "typical" Dojang student you might practise 2-3 times a week perhaps 3 hours. Now if you nudge in one short session in there with things you like to focus on I am guessing that will help a lot with your motivation. I for instance practise in a Dojang that normally do not teach indepth applications to forms. I first started teaching them to small groups in the weekends when the weather permitted and I loved it. Now when I teach I introduce concepts like the pulling hand in every session I teach little by little. Being black belts means that we take care of our own development. We have now been given the foundation, and shown the door so to speak, but we will have to enter on our own and decide which door to take, which path etc. No matter what you want to do within Taekwond; basics and Poomsae will be important (unless you practice solely for competition sparring which I take it you do not). This will be drilled in most Dojang no matter how "watered down" it seems. Take this aspect, enjoy it and develop it side by side on your own time. Start teaching your Judo-Taekwondo hybrid to a small group who likes these things. Or perhaps just one other person. 
Be the change you want in Taekwondo and carve out "your Taekwondo". That is what the black belt is all about :-) Talk to your instructor(s) and you might be suprised at how much they know or how much they can implement if they are just made aware of your wishes. I tell you this because I remember reading about an American Karate student who travelled numerous times to Okinawa to traing and he got basics and Kata both armed and unarmed. When the "bunkai craze" started rolling he asked his okinawan teacher if he knew any bunkai because all he had learned was basics and forms. The teacher then demonstrated bunkai to every form the student had learned, joint locks, throws, strikes the works. He asked his teacher why he had not taught these things too. The teacher answered that he thought the student only wanted basics and kata and that he had been content with what he was getting. Now if you are going to talk to your instructors about this please remember to keep it civil, as some might take offense to words like "defanged" and "watered down" etc. 
I hope this helps? And if all else fails, find something you like and stick with it :-) (that might even mean to find another style alltogether).

10: Stuart (AKA the famous one):  How in-depth is Kukki TKD's hoshinsul, in regards to the syllabus, training and gradings?
Hi there Stuart :-) For those reading this who do not know, Ho Sin Sul means Self defense techniques. Often when Ho Sin Sul is mentioned in a Taekwondo-setting the thing(s) being referred to are those things in the syllabus that falls outside of the "core" which consists of strikes and defenses. For example: Joint locks, throws, sweeps, release techniques etc. 
As far as I know Kukkiwon Textbook does not have any dedicated self defense chapter in it, and I also believe that Ho Sin Sul is not mentioned in there either. Throws, joint locks etc are in there, but they fall under the kyorugi and poomsae applications. The thing is that many "traditional" dojang still practise ho sin sul just like in the ITF. In gradings this amounts to demonstrating on a compliant or semi compliant partner often in a one step sparring setting or a variance of one step sparring setting. If you take my organisation as an example we have 8 wristhold releases (some just releases, some into joint locks), 4 defenses against holding of the body (lapel grab, bear hug etc), 4 defenses against punch, 4 against knife and 8 against kicks (throws). Most of these are learned from green belt onward, and are demonstrated on gradings. After what I learned about the ITF and these kinds of techniques it seems like it is very similar, and instructor specific. I teach applications along with the forms, the first form has two variety of elbow joint lock so the white belts learn both. In my organisation the self defense techniques appear as I said around green belt onward starting out simple and gradually more complex (first ones simple releases from grabs and counter strikes, later on into joint locks etc). 
Many make the simplified distinction Kukki-TKD = Sport and Chang Hon TKD = Martial art for self defense. In truth there are many sportified Dojang in Kukki-TKD but that is also the truth in Chang Hon Dojang if we are being honest. Likewise there are many traditional Kukki-TKD Dojang out there practising just as "traditional" as you would expect any "ITF Dojang" to be.

That being said you ask for how indepth it is and this will undoubtfully ruffle a few feathers but I think that generally ALL Taekwondo/Taekwon-Do/Tae Kwon Do Dojang are pretty shallow when it comes to self defense. Lip service to the important aspects of awareness de-escalation and escape is sometimes given but again it is lip service. Awareness is sometimes treated as the instructors say "Be aware", but that is not really good enough. I know you (Stuart) know your stuff and teach it very well, but I am sure you understand where I am going with this when I say that for the most part what I have seen in all Dojang I have observed the self defense aspect is almost if not entirely preoccupied with the physical aspect and the more important stuff (for self defense) is either mentioned and that is it, or not even mentioned at all. 


  1. To q6: Here is a short youtube link to (hard style) Applications for the New Hansol poomsae, by the creator Master In Choul Jeong:

    1. Thanks for sharing that:-) I will edit the post with your contribution :-)

  2. No prob :) I was going to ask your opinion on Master Jeong and Donghee Lee (youtube example:, but never got round to it. Maybe for the next q&a :)

  3. The new Kukkiwon forms aside, do you think Taekwondo would benefit from new forms/tul/poomsae that utilize modern footwork? One frustration that both I and my students have experienced with the disconnect between forms and sparring, and I've often wondered if shadow-boxing-esque forms would make a good supplement (not replacement) for the traditional forms.