Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Taekwondo and jointlocks; a historical journey 1920-2006

Image Source: Self Defense Karate
Henry Cho, 1969
One thing that should not come as a suprise if you follow this blog is that 1: Taekwondo contains joint locks and has had them since long before modern Taekwondo got its name. 2: I prefer to keep my terminology Korean for consistancy. I recently read an excellent post on applications for a single technique in an ITF or Chang Hon Ryu form where one of his applications was named a "kotegaeshi"  (Outward wrist throw/lock). I advice you to follow that blog even if you do not train Chang Hon Ryu because the writer does a great job and there is a lot of overlap between the "different" Taekwondo/Taekwon-Do.

I have been working really hard lately so I have experienced something of a writers block, but the issue gave me an idea for a post, namely; Looking into some of the basic Taekwondo locks and their terminology, their place within Taekwondo etc. This derailed quickly into a historical jurney to demonstrate the fact that Taekwondo has always included joint locks and grappling from its root arts to present day. If you have heard that Taekwondo contains no grappling of any kind and that all grappling taught in Taekwondo today is a direct influence from say Hapkido then I strongly suggest that you take my hand and go on a little journey with me :-D


When talking about Taekwondo and joint locks or any grappling for that matter we need to put it into the proper context. This is perhaps more important when looking at the application and environment of said techniques, but I also feel that there is a need to say that Taekwondo contains Taekwondo-grappling and not simplify it to be Taekwondo contains Hapkido/Yudo grappling. As you will see this might be true on a Dojang to Dojang basis but it is not as easy as that.

Historical context:

In modern times and in certain cases as far back as the 1970s what people did was to teach and learn rudamentary Taekwondo, or Taekwondo as a pure striking art. They then either cross trained or incorporated techniques from other arts to fill the void. Often these techniques came from Hapkido or Yudo. As an aside the Yun Mu Kwan (later reopened as Ji Do Kwan) started out as a pure Yudo school, Yudo being the Korean pronounciation of Judo. Many have therefore concluded that Taekwondo contain Judo and Hapkido techniques, and on a Dojang to Dojang basis that might be totally true. On the other hand we have basic grappling that has always existed within Taekwondo all the way back to the root martial arts.

The different Kwan that opened between 1944-1960s emphasised different aspects of the martial arts. Some had a very Japanese way of doing things, others tried to differentiatet themselves by developing something uniquely Korean (the development of new forms for instance) and others maintained their Chinese roots. Another aspect that some embraced and others did not was the emphasis on sport vs martial art. We see this perhaps most clearly in the divide between the Su Bahk Do Association with Hwang Kee and Yun Kwae Byung on one side and the other major Kwan in the Korean Taekwondo Association spearheaded by Choi Hong Hi on the other. This is simplified history though, it is truer to say that this occured also on a Dojang to Dojang basis, because Choi and others within the Korean Taekwondo Association emphasised the Martial Art as well as sport. The Dojang that emphasised the "traditional" ways regardless of them trying to develop into something "Korean", keeping their Chinese roots or doing things just like their Okinawan teachers had taught in Japan all kept some grappling in them. This is because the Kwan founders all learned joint locks, throws, sweeps, and various grappling methods from their teachers. This is a well documented fact, and these techniques were passed on to their students which is also a documented fact. These students are the ones who really made "Taekwondo" (The only Taekwondo Kwan founder to keep his influence until his death was Choi Hong Hi. You can count Hwang Kee to if you like, but he never joined the Taekwondo movement, allthough his students did and so he is also an important man in Taekwondo history), and these students also taught and passed on these techniques (again documented fact).

You should keep this in mind when some even very high ranking masters tell you that all the grappling in Taekwondo came from (insert another martial art here) at a later date and originally TKD did not contain grappling. As I said earlier, on a Dojang to Dojang basis that might hold true, but there is a difference between stating this as fact, when we have so much documented evidence and subjective training experiences to contradict it. Still the notion persists, and it is not that long ago that I had an almost heated discussion with a high ranking Hapkido/Taekwondo Korean master who stated as fact that all Taekwondo grappling came from Hapkido. The only thing he had to back up his claim was his own subjective training experience, but as I said: We do not have the burden of proof on our side when these kinds of people make claims like that, they have. And when we have a truck-load of documentation and subjective training experience to contradict these claims they need something more than "because I say so", or their own training experience as a valid argument. If that is all they have, then they should not state it as empirical fact, but state it as it is: Their own subjective experience.

Lets take a little walk through the history path if you like :-)

Gichin Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka (also known as Gigo) Funakoshi taught the founders of several Kwan. Lee Won Kuk (Chung Do Kwan), Ro Byung Jik (Song Mu Kwan), Chun Sang Sup (Yun Mu Kwan, some say that he was taugh by Toyama Kanken instead, but most say Funakoshi), and Choi Hong Hi (Oh Do Kwan, allthough his Karate instructor seems to be a "Mr. Kim" not Funakoshi directly).

In 1925 Gichin Funakoshi published his second book Karate Jutsu (Karate techniques) where he included descriptions on many grappling techniques, and illustrations and descriptions on nine in particular. On the left you see an application of the "low block" of Naihanchi (Or Chulgi Chudan Hyung) and on the right you see "sticking hands" from Bassai Kata /Palsaek Hyung. Funakoshi himself described these as applications from these two forms so the link between forms and applications, between the martial art they studied and grappling was there from the start. Funakoshi would go on to publish several other books, and in each and every one of them with a technical content (except the one directed at beginners published in the 1940s) contained a lot of grappling. This is important because Funakoshi taught and influenced most of the Kwan founders and therefore left a big impression on Taekwondo.

1925 Karate Jutsu by Gichin Funakoshi

From 1935 Karate Do Kyohan the same technique is demonstrated

Above you can see a picture taken from one of Gichin Funakoshi's classes in 1935. To the far left in dark clothing you will see Gichin Funakoshi himself. A little right near the center you see one student dumping another in what appears to be an application from Kushanku Kata (Kongsokon Hyung), where you lift the opponent up into a firemans carry and then dump the opponent behind you. On the far right you will see to people engaging in ground fighting (probably not sophisticated like you will see in Brazillian Jujitsu, but a rudementary jockying for dominant position and striking so you get up is probably more what is going on based on the overall Karate strategy. Many believe that the Karate that Funakoshi taught was only Kata and basics, but his books and pictures seems to give us another view on this. I have read all his books that have been translated into English and I can say that based on his writing it seems that his Karate developed into less and less directly combative applicable after WW2 started and especially after it was finished, His 1935 publication Karate Do Kyohan (not to be confused with the 1958 Karate Do Kyohan which is the most normal one you will see in stores) contains loads and loads of applications when compared to other books of the era. The "double block" which we today call Keumgang Momtong Makki (as you see in Taebaek Poomsae, one hand high section block and the other an outward middle section block) is explained as a defense and counter in one move against one opponent. In newer books it is explained as two blocks against two opponents at the same time. This is interesting because most Kwan founders would have been in contact with him and studdied with him before WW2 or during WW2, which would mean that the 1935 publication is the most representative documentation for what they would have learned.

In 1934 Kenwa Mabuni teacher of at least on Kwan founder published "A study of Seipai Kata" which included a large number of applications, several of which was grappling oriented. Below is a picture from that work where he demonstrates a joint lock against the elbow joint of his opponent. This is something Yun Kwae Byung would probably have learned along with the Kata when he studied, and it is something he taught to his students when he started teaching in Korea around 1946 if my memory serves me correctly (might be as late as 1948). Besides the Yudo/Judo link from the Yun Mu Kwan roots, this is another source of "Taekwondo grappling" from before the system was even started.

As you can see the grappling techniques were firmly embedded within what the Kwan founders was taught in Japan and I am sure the same can be said of the Chinese roots of Hwang Kee (Mu Duk Kwan who learned Tai Chi and Ttam Tui in China), and Yun Byung In (Chang Mu Kwan who learned Chuan Fa in Manchuria before studying Karate under Toyama Kanken in Japan). These people taught these techniques to their students who again taught it to their and so on. Is a straight armbar a Taekwondo technique? As you can see so far in this article it has been taught in Taekwondo since long before Taekwondo became a thing. It is still taught today, but these days many say it is a Hapkido technique. To me it is a matter of context of application. Hapkido contains the technique, and Taekwondo contains the technique but we apply it differently because we have a different primary strategy that underpins our art but I will come back to that later. Let us first see if the different Kwan truly did practise rudementary grappling and joint locks to further illustrate the point that Taekwondo has had and still does have joint locks and grappling, and that while Hapkido has influenced A LOT of instructors since, that does not mean that Taekwondo itself does not have rudementary grappling and joint locks.

Below are two examples from Mu Duk Kwan, founded by Hwang Kee around 1945. The examples are from his 1958 publication Tang Su Do Textbook (Korean language). I showed and used these as examples before and was ridiculed because Hwang Kee never truly joined the Taekwondo movement, but as I said then and still do: He was the teacher of a lot of important masters who joined the Taekwondo movement and therefore had an important influence on the development of Taekwondo. The greatest influx of Mu Duk Kwan students into the Korean Taekwondo Association happened around 1962, and they were represented in the comitee that made the Taegeuk forms, so to say that Hwang Kee or the Mu Duk Kwan is irrelevant to the development of modern Kukki-Taekwondo is not correct. 

In traditional Taekwondo Union we have the second technique above (defense against a lapel grab into an elbow joint lock) in our syllabus for coloured belts. This is among the techniques many people today say is a direct influence of Hapkido. It is not... This is one among many basic joint locks that have always been a part of Taekwondo. The first example too is often seen as an example of a "typical hapkido joint lock". Hapkido contains both technqiues of course, but Taekwondo has had them from the start and not from Hapkido but from its root arts.

In 1959 the very first "Taekwondo Textbook" was published. Hwang Kee published several texts before this one, but the 1959 book by Choi Hong Hi was the very first book to use "Taekwondo" in its title and as a name to refer to the martial art that he was writing about. This book too contained some examples of basic grappling and joint locks.

Again in the Taekwondo organisation that I belong to (Traditional Taekwondo Union) these are coloured belts techniques. Perhaps not as "bread and butter/ meat and potatoes" as a lunge punch or front kick, but it is still there in the syllabus on a relatively low rank. Seeing these techniques performed today many will say they are an influence of Hapkido and depending on the instructor that might be true, but Taekwondo on its own had these technqiues from the very beginning. The basic armbar was shown even in the 1920s by Funakoshi in his writings. To say this is a Hapkido technique when it is so well documented to be a continued technique in Taekwondo's development just shows ignorance. To stand fast with the conviction after reviewing the evidence is stubborness. I say this because many years ago I too believed it to be a Hapkido influence. However after doing some research I had to change my mind, because there was so much evidence to contradict my views.

I am not sure when the picture above was taken, but it does show that the founder of Song Mu Kwan Ro Byung Jik taught grappling techniques as well as the more common strikes in his Taekwondo.

In 1965 Choi Hong Hi published yet another book on Taekwondo, this time in English. The book was published for two reasons I think. One it was to serve as a textbook representative of the KTA (Korean Taekwondo Association) which Choi Hong Hi was the president and leader of at the time. He included many Hyung/Kata that people today would say is Karate forms along with many of his own forms. I believe the "Karate forms" were included to satisfy the different Kwan so that the book could function as a textbook no matter which Kwan you belonged to. The different Kwan did perform the different forms in different ways but the differences was not great, and as a reference this would do nicely. The other reason was that Choi would tour the world demonstrating his Taekwondo and give out the books to people and open up Taekwondo Dojangs outside of Korea. The first tour if I rememeber correctly was in 1965 so that the book was published in time to be taken with them on tour. In the book Choi demonstrates a lot of locks and throws (+sweeps and anything else that you`d expect from old style Taekwondo). Below you can see one of the throws and a quote from the book.

So for all of those who say they teach "pure Taekwondo" (whatever that means) and therefore no grappling, look long and hard on that quote. It does not matter if you train Choi`s Taekwondo because this is the textbook (an early one but still) of the KTA who would later go on to make and found the Kukkiwon and the WTF (and Choi would of course make the ITF with the help of the KTA).

In 1966 Choi published yet another book based on the 1965 book it seems but in Korean this time. Based on the pictures it seems like the content was similar if not the same as the 1965 book. The first picture I share now is a throw and the second one a joint locking technique. The throw seems to be the same or at least similar to the one done in the picture of Funakoshi and his students does it not? Even if the angle of the photographer is a little different?

The second picture above demonstrates a joint lock on the elbow joint and wrist from a lapel grab. It is a small variation from the technique we saw in Hwang Kee`s book from 1958. Throws and joint locks was still part of the 15 Volume Encyclopedia that Choi would write much later, so eventhough these illustrations are from an early source it does NOT mean that Choi abandoned these elements of Taekwondo later. Those who do not teach these techniques because they teach "pure Taekwondo" should keep that in mind too.

In 1969 Sihak Henry Cho authored a book called Self Defense Karate. Cho had a Ji Do Kwan background, and since early Taekwondo was pretty close to Karate many early instructors of Korean martial arts (Taekwondo, Tang Su Do, Kong Su Do etc) market their art as Korean Karate, or simply Karate. The name/label Karate was better known than the Korean terms, and the technical content of the arts were very similar. This is a Taekwondo book though, as what Cho was teaching was Ji Do Kwan Taekwondo. The book itself is fairly short, and it focuses on what I would call typical Taekwondo Ho Sin Sul (Self defense) techniques that you will still see in traditional Taekwondo dojang. Releases from grabs, counters to punches etc. The illustration below is from someone laying their hand around you while sitting on a bench besides you. Even though this is a contrived scenario in my personal opinion, the likelyhood of you ending up in this position with an opponent in a clinch setting is very likely, so the technique itself is very relevant to us. What he basicly instructs us to to is overhook the opponents arm, crouch slightly and put pressure against his elbow joint.

 I have spoken to some online who have claimed that Cho only taught Taekwondo as striking, but his book on Self Defense while being heavily striking focused (most are releases from grabs and counter-attack with striking) does show some basic grappling too, like the above technique where she presses on the elbow joint. I have used this in free fighting with loose rule sets (basicly do what you want, but dont do any real damage) where in a clinch I've overhooked the arm and used my shoulder as one point, and done pretty much the same as in the above picture. I make a point of not pulling my own fingers though, I wrap my fingers around my wrist, but it is the same technique. It is an application from a move in Hansu Poomsae for anyone out there practising that Poomsae (it's for 8th Dan so I do not think many have looked much at it beyond learning it for competition purposes). The scenario where someone out of the blue puts an arm around you that warrants this kind of lock against the elbow joint might be contrived, but you will find yourself in this position if you practice close quarters, and do anything that resembles a clinch.

Another interesting joint lock that you will see in this book is a simultanious wrist and elbow joint lock that in the book is done into a hammer lock (twisting the arm up the back):

The picture seems a little akward perhaps but she is in high heels and it is a transition before they go into the hammer lock. I simply chosed this picture to illustrate how simple joint locks are in Taekwondo and always has been, and because it is easier to see what is happening in this picture than in the final posture.

Another highly interesting thing that appears in this book is finger locks. I do not recall seeing this anywhere else in any Taekwondo book. They might be out there, and I learned them as part of Taekwondo Ho Sin Sul, but this is the oldest and only documentation I have that they appear in Taekwondo.

Here the finger joint lock is used as a release from a grab, and I just love how he ends it with saying that you should follow up with any striking technique that the defender finds appropriate for the situation. I will look closer on the application and role of joint locks in Taekwondo later, but it is pretty much as used here, as a support system for strikes. We have grappling, joint locks, throws, sweeps and everything else, but they exist for our striking, not apart from it.

Modern Taekwondo:

We have looked at sources ranging from the 1920s to 1969, and when I have done this in earlier posts one thing people tend to try to "arrest" me on is that these sources are dated, and not relevant to modern Taekwondo. These sources might be dated, but joint locks still exists in the 15 Volume Encyclopedia of Choi Hong Hi as seen below (all pictures taken from the 1986 version that is downloadable from the internet as pdf's and I highly recommend people to invest some reading time into the first few ones if they do not have a great interest in the forms themselves, not matter what lineage you come from):

aaaaaaaaaand if you are still reading this blog post (I am impressed) you will also be interested to know that in the Kukkiwon Textbook as late as the 2006 edition (and probably the never ones as well) there are a lot of examples of joint locks and throws, not as individual basic techniques but within the Kyorugi section of the book (and some joint locks in the application to specific Poomsae in some noteable examples).

So yeah, that is joint locks being part of Taekwondo from long before Taekwondo was formulated (1920s) until present day in both Chang Hon Ryu/ ITF Taekwon-Do and in "WTF"/ Kukki Taekwondo. They have always been a part of the overall system, and we can back this up with continous documentation, and subjective training experience from people who were there. There are subjective experiences that counter this point, and that is quite all right, but their subjective training experience is not enough to put it forward as cold hard, be all end all fact. If they make a claim that all grappling in Taekwondo comes from (insert another martial art here) then they need to back up their claim with some new ground breaking evidence. Subjectively I know a large number of instructors who did not learn any of this within their Taekwondo framework, and who did indeed patch this up with (insert a martial art here) techniques instead. Again that is to be expected even when Taekwondo spread at the rate that it did both geographical and at that speed. Also some high ranking instructors had black belt ranks in two or more martial arts. If you had a 4th Dan in Taekwondo and a 4th Dan in Hapkido, which kind of joint locks, throws etc would you teach? You would probably teach the things you know best and the generation of students that came after this instructor would believe that Taekwondo was only strikes and all grappling came from Hapkido. I do hope that I have put out enough documentation to support the view once and for all that in some Dojang and in Taekwondo as a whole there has always been some joint locks and grappling included, and that people will think twice before throwing out blanket statements of subjective experience as fact.

I will write a follow up post on the "basic basic" joint locks of Taekwondo and their Korean terminology in a hopefully nearby future post. If not it will be done in the far future :P


  1. Alright - this isn't hate mail for these old photos, so don't get me wrong. The photo with the chick in the awkward hand-on-elbow-grabbing-wrist stance, that looks like an arm grab before a drag to climb up that limb to control the body or neck. :-)

    1. The woman on that photo does not do the technique justice. It locks pretty unstable and she clamps her fingers instead of wrist. Also her position in relation to the opponent opens her up for a body takedown, but depending on what happens next that might be a tactical trade off. In the book though this is it, there is no follow up.