Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tong-Il strangle


Since I've previously covered a strangle in Choong-Moo and another in Ul-Ji, here is a third one from the final pattern in the ITF system: Tong-Il. While I doubt any readers know this pattern, it's another example of a Judo strangle being used in a pattern. The set is:
  • 9: L.B.S. High outward strike with right backhand
  • 10: Left inward vertical kick to the right palm
  • 11: Land into R.B.S. and perform a twin palm horizontal block in slow motion
  • 12: Step forward into R.F.S. high side block with the right ridgehand
In the 1965 instructions, step 11 is merely directed as bring both palms horizontally in front of chest. So the movement is neither described as a block or a strike, and the palms are emphasized.

I considered that this movement might be part of a throw (pushing out with the elbows) or perhaps a downward push. But neither of those two applications match the description of the movement. Instead it may be seen as setting up a single wing choke, or kata ha jime.

Use step 9 to lift and get outside the opponent's right arm. Perform the inward kick not to your palm but to the opponent's leg (although this kick to the palm is in many patterns, it's generally thought this is for show and that the intent is a kick to the back of the knee). This shifts the opponent to your right, placing you behind them.

From here, underhook their right arm with your right arm, and reach around their left shoulder with your left arm. This puts you in the "twin palm horizontal block" position.

Place your left backhand behind the opponent's head and grab their right lapel with your right fist. (This is the chamber for the ridgehand block). As you perform the ridgehand block, you pull in the opponent's lapel while pushing out their head with your right backhand, completing the strangle.

Single wing choke. Source: wikipedia
See the pictures here for step-by-step details. Or see a video here.

Why are there strangles in the ITF patterns? Judo was a popular martial art in Korea during the Japanese occupation (native Korean arts were suppressed), and most of the original masters of taekwondo had some Judo knowledge, as evidenced by the sections on self-defense and throwing in early taekwondo manuals. Although strangles are not found in these manuals (to my knowledge), it makes sense that some of the strangles from the Judo curriculum would find their way into the patterns.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Choong-Jang first spin and slide back


The set is:
  • 5: R.F.S. left two-finger strike
  • 6: In place, R.F.S. front backfist strike
  • 7: L.F.S. rising block
  • 8: R.F.S. middle punch
  • 9: Moving right leg, turn 360-degrees CCW and then slide backwards into R.B.S. forearm guarding block
The original set in Woo-Nam is similar, except a high punch is used and the forearm guarding block is in fixed stance

I emphasize the slide because it's often ignored in performances. The second spin later in the pattern has no slide. The canonical application for the slide is that you are dodging an attack, but why the spin beforehand?

Starting with the two-finger poke, we should be pulling in the opponent's left arm. Use the supporting arm of the front backfist strike to hit down on the opponent's elbow. Then you may use the strike itself as more of an uppercut to the opponent's jaw. We follow with the rising block as a quick second strike.


Source: Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings

Alternatively, you could use the rising block to raise the opponent's left arm from underneath, or to attack their outer-elbow. Whichever option you choose, grab the opponent's left arm and pull it with your left fist as you punch the opponent in the ribs with the middle punch. You could also punch the jaw (as in Woo-Nam). It doesn't really matter; what's important is that you end up outside the opponent's left arm.

Now for the spin: we use this to put the opponent into a waki gatame ("armpit hold"). By spinning into the forearm guarding block, we rotate the opponent's arm and use the back arm to place downward pressure on the back of their elbow. The front arm both twists and lifts the opponent's forearm.
Pull and punch to waki gatame. Notice how the tori steps with their right leg, although he doesn't do a full spin in this case. Source: TRITAC martial arts

Google "waki gatame" for more examples.

From here the meaning of the slide is obvious (they even talk about it in the linked video): it's a way of breaking the arm, or at least forcing the opponent to the ground to avoid their arm being broken. A more extreme version of this is to sit down on the opponent as you lean your weight backwards.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Ul-Ji strangle

Previously I discussed how the turn into the x-knifehand checking block in Choong-Moo could be used as a strangle/blood choke. Strangles are rare in forms compared to locks and throws, due to the time it takes for the opponent to go to sleep, but they do show up from time to time. There is a strange set in Ul-Ji which may possibly be used as a sliding collar choke.


We begin by using the twin side elbows to pull the opponent's left arm while getting a side headlock. This is similar to Judo's "stomach armlock", although here the purpose is to hook the head, not break the arm.


Another difference of course is that the right foot is next to the left, not in front of the opponent. In fact we use the next movement, the cross step, to trap the opponent's left instep. We may then collapse both of the opponent's legs by lifting our right knee behind their left knee, then kicking the back of their right knee with the side kick. The purpose of this is to force the opponent to either fall to the ground or bend backwards, which will make the choke easier.

Grab their left collar with your right fist. Slide your left fist under their left arm and grab their right collar. Pull out horizontally with both fists to choke.

Full instructions at: Japanese Martial Arts Center

Why the second cross step? If you are sitting down, it's typical to wrap your legs around the opponent's torso to prevent them from escaping, as shown in this video. In the absence of a torso, this looks like you are crossing your legs. This is, of course, a gi choke. It will only work if your opponent is wearing a jacket or similar.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Freestyle vs Contextual Bunkai

I don't often engage in internet arguments about pattern applications. Online it's commonly argued that the patterns don't have applications and are just for practicing basic techniques, cultural heritage, etc. despite General Choi's statements otherwise. When I point out that many of the sets in taekwondo patterns are traceable to bunkai manuals published at the time, as well as Judo/Yudo self-defense sets (Judo having been widely popular in the Korean peninsula), this leads to someone telling me I'm wrong because of what some grandmaster told them or because they can't find applications therefore they must not exist.
The rear grab defense at the start of Sipjin, a kukki-taekwondo pattern, but found in General Choi's Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.
But there is another view of patterns that I have argued against in the past: that patterns do not have a specific meaning and are instead highly interpretable. Proponents of this view will give you something like 10+ applications for the start of Chon-Ji, most of which change the pattern and are not useful to the student because are they really going to drill and live practice all those applications?

And yet, this view is pervasive throughout the karate world. Search for bunkai of any particular kata (Naihanchi for example) and you will find an abundance of interpretations, no two of which are alike! Exercising creativity to try to determine a kata's meaning is not a bad thing (more on that later), but many of these interpretations look nothing like Naihanchi. Karateka add footwork to make their applications work, or change the hand movements. Granted, Naihanchi has changed over time (Choki Motobu said so), so maybe looking for the original applications are futile. But to so grossly change a kata and say you are applying it is specious.

Another problem is that many of these applications don't work. A while back in the martial arts subreddit, someone posted a video of bunkai for the opening of Nijushiho (an advanced Shotokan kata) as snapping the opponent's head down and getting a guillotine choke. The youtube comments for the video all praised the karateka's creativity, but the grapplers on the subreddit tore into it. You can't simply pull down a resisting opponent's head, they said. It was something that "looked cool" but had no chance of working in a fight. There was the added problem that the technique didn't even follow the kata! The choke motion was added in. These two problems are prevalent among bunkai researchers who have never trained a live grappling art but are under the impression that you can change the kata and still come up with something useful.

The purpose of patterns (forms/kata/tul/poomsae/etc) is to pass down self-defense knowledge and tactics that have presumably already been tested. If you've never done much fighting yourself, what is the chance you will invent something useful?

As an example, let me use the pattern that inspired this entire blog to begin with: Joong-Gun. Through my research, I learned that Joong-Gun has an unusual structure where half the pattern is a counter to the other half of the pattern. Specifically, it teaches you four options after catching a front kick, as well as four counters in case your front kick is caught. Using this interpretation, I can go through the entire pattern and explain the purpose of every hand movement and stance. I do not need to change the pattern to make it work, and the techniques are not complicated.

But changing Joong-Gun ruins the meaning of the pattern. Even if you just rearrange the eight sets, the logical structure is lost.  Joong-Gun has something specific to teach you. It is not meant to be infinitely modified to fit whatever applications the student imagines.

Freestyle bunkai vs contextual bunkai

You might think I'm criticizing all those karateka and taekwondoin who come up with clever applications to their patterns. Not exactly. It's perfectly fine to take a movement from a pattern and think about how you might use it. That's exactly how the taekwondo patterns were constructed from karate movements. And considering the original applications have been lost, creativity is needed for rediscovery.

But I propose we make a distinction between this freestyle application of movements and the historical analysis and critical thinking needed to actually understand a pattern. Maybe we'll call one freestyle bunkai and the other contextual bunkai. Or historical bunkai or holistic bunkai.

Why am I making a big deal out of this? I don't fully know myself; I just know that patterns are not random jumbles of movements. They are supposed to teach you something. It's lazy instruction to give a student a pattern and tell them it can be interpreted however they want.

I'll end by linking to two authors who can explain this concept much better than I can: Giles Hopkins and An Open Letter to Bunkai Researchers.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Sharing some Toi-Gye drawings

These drawings were part of an eBook I abandoned on Toi-Gye. I thought I'd share them here instead. They include throwing and locking applications from parts of the pattern. The two wrist locks shown come from the self-defense (Ho Sin Sul) section of the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.

Opening set

Twin vertical "punch"



Twin elbows and first mountain block.

 The double forearm "pushing block"
Double forearm high block and low knifehand guarding block (three-quarter turn to throw)
The Study of Sam-Il is still available for sale.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Choong-Moo strangle

I've always been baffled by the two side kicks followed by the turn into the x-knifehand checking block near the end of Choong-Moo. The movement doesn't work as a throw, but it can work as a stranglehold. [1]

Suppose we begin from outside the opponent's left arm and perform the first side kick to their left knee, aiming to push it to the ground.

As the opponent stands back up, turn clockwise and underhook their left arm with your left arm. Perform the second kick also to their knee (whichever knee is closest) to both break their balance and prevent them from turning towards you. Wrap your left arm all the way around their neck and grab your right bicep. Place your right hand on the opponent's head and squeeze your elbows in. This creates a head-and-arm strangle (also called an "arm triangle choke" or kata gatame [2])

Head and arm strangle, two views
The way strangles work is they block both of the opponent's carotid arteries, preventing blood flow to the brain. In this strangle, your left arm blocks the opponent's right carotid while their own shoulder blocks the left carotid. The reason I interpret this as a head-and-arm strangle as opposed to the rear naked choke (hadake jime) or single wing choke (kata ha jime) is because of the clockwise turn into the back stance, which places you on your opponent's side. However, if you opponent turns clockwise to elbow you, you may do a rear naked choke instead.


[1] Despite the image for Choong-Moo, there is no strict rule in ITF taekwon-do for which knifehand is in front for an x-knifehand block, but it is usually the front-leg knifehand, which looks more like the strangehold.

[2] This is technically a strangle, not a choke, since it blocks blood flow and not the trachea. But colloquially strangles and chokes are often called "blood chokes" and "air chokes" respectively.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Se-Jong reverse crane stance

Last time I covered the reverse crane stance in Ilyeo. This stance comes from the kata Chinte (meaning "strange hands"), but was utilized by early taekwondoin in both Se-Jong (ITF) and Ilyeo (Kukkiwon). The stances are the same, but the context and hand techniques are different. Ilyeo seems to use the stance as a leg hook, and includes a leap forwards to throw the opponent. But neither Chinte nor Se-Jong have a leap, and using it as a leg hook is unlikely given the context. So what's going on?

I think it's a crouch.

Consider the previous two movements: we perform a knee strike (one-leg stance) to get the opponent to bend over. Then we push down their head while raising their right shoulder with the palm pressing block. Finally, we perform a downward elbow strike to the back of their head (front backfist strikes typically code for downward elbows [1]).

Sources: Sabeel Combatives, Evangelos Efseviou
By tucking your left foot behind your right knee, you can sink into the strike merely by bending your right leg. You can crouch all the way to one knee if you wish. The open palm striking the forearm maintains the underhook (not pictured), which keeps the opponent's head lowered.

This is an interesting case of the two styles of taekwondo taking an obscure movement from one kata and interpreting it differently.

[1] The technical instructions for this movement are to slap the right back forearm with the left palm, but it was later interpreted as a front backfist strike.