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 simply 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 this guy.

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.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Something strange about Ilyeo

In past articles I've written that if you want to know a pattern's original intent, it's important to study earlier versions. The ITF patterns have changed in subtle ways between General Choi's 1965 book and his 1983 Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do; most of these changes have been compiled by Matt Gibb. But the kukki-taekwondo patterns appear to have changed as well. By happenstance I came across some changes to the 9th-dan poomsae Ilyeo. You can view a video of the form below:


The strange thing about Ilyeo is its asymmetry. Movements are repeated, but on the same side. The diamond block in right back stance (R.B.S.) is performed four times in total. The only symmetric set is the front kick followed by the flying side kick at the end of the pattern. This is strange since all the Kukkiwon patterns, except the Original Koryo, are symmetric.

Anyway, Ilyeo includes a weird stance called "reverse crane stance" (ogeum seogi). It comes from the kata Chinte and is also found in the ITF pattern Se-Jong. It is performed by raising one foot behind the knee of the standing leg. 
Source: Blue Dragon TKD
I noticed that videos of Ilyeo differ in the hand motions during the stance. Some utilize a right spearhand thrust, others a left. Some use one and then the other -- since the stance occurs twice in the form -- but not always in the same order.
Source: Sejong Taekwondo Dojang
Confused as to which version is correct, I askedof Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings to look up older versions of the pattern for me. He sent me the 1975 version (from Taekwondo Poomse by the World Taekwondo Federation) and the 1986 version (from Tae Kwon Do Textbook Vol III by Kim Jeong-Rok).

According to the 1986 version, for the first crane stance a left spearhand is used, while for the second a right spearhand is used. These instructions match the video above, although in some older videos the opposite is true.

But there's something different about the 1986 version: the fourth diamond block is in a left back stance (L.B.S.). You do a three-quarters turn into it after a left hand punch.

In this version of Ilyeo, the first front kick is performed with the left leg, whereas in the modern version the first front kick is with the right leg.

If you travel further back in time to the 1975 version, the text instructions are symmetric. At least, movements are performed equally on both sides (with the exception of move 1). So the diamond block is performed twice in R.B.S. and twice in L.B.S. In this version of the pattern, the spearhand is always performed on the side of the raised leg, but you perform once on either leg.


There is some ambiguity because the images in the 1975 book don't match the text instructions. Case in point: even though the text says that the second side kick should be with the right leg, in the image you see the left leg used.



Nonetheless, text instructions for a symmetric Ilyeo exist, and that makes sense given the other poomsae are symmetric. This begs the question: why was the poomsae changed? Why are the two spearhands mirrored when the stances are not? The original name of the pattern was Silla, after the ancient Korean kingdom. It was later changed to Ilyeo, a Buddhist term meaning "oneness". From the taekwondo wiki:
일여 (ilyeo) refers to the Buddhist concept of oneness of the mind and body, the immaterial and material. The form therefore represents the oneness of mind and body achieved through training, and thus it represents the essence of martial arts. Stemming from Buddhism, the goal of spiritual life is Ilyo, oneness or nirvana. Only in this state is ego overcome. The ideal of taekwondo is Ilyo. It is a discipline in which you concentrate your attention on every movement and in doing so, shed all worldly thoughts and preconceptions.
funikoshi4.png
Funakoshi's "Neck Ring"
throw
Perhaps the repetition in modern Ilyeo is intentional, like a Buddhist mantra. I personally prefer the symmetric version, however.

The Reverse Crane Stance

One of the applications of the supported spearhand is a throw where the head is hooked (spearhand) and the small of the opponent's back is pressed inwards (supporting hand). The leap forward in Ilyeo can aid this throw. So what is the use of the reverse crane stance?

In the case of the left spearhand, which appears to be the original version, you can perform a leg hook, called a "ko uchi gake" in Judo. It's an unusual throw for a taekwondo form, but then again the stance itself is unusual.
Source: moncoachjudo

Friday, September 27, 2019

Gae-Baek first nine-shape-block and flying side kick

Gae-Baek is the favorite pattern of many ITF students, and its unusual movements invite close analysis. Here is an application for the set including the first nine-shape-block and the flying side kick. The whole set is:
  • 19: Right back stance knifehand guarding block
  • 20: Shift left foot slightly right into riding stance nine-shape-block (left arm high)
  • 21: Keeping left foot planted, turn counter-clockwise 270-degrees into front stance low knifehand block
  • 22: Back leg roundhouse kick, aimed at 45-degrees
  • 23: Flying side kick with the same (right) leg.
It's typical to teach the nine-shape-block as an elbow break, but that doesn't fit the context of the form. Instead, there are other arm locks the nine-shape-block could represent. After using the guarding block as an overhook and neck press, we can setup a hammerlock on the same arm.

Nine-shape-block as a hammerlock, two variations. Image source: Practical Kata Bunkai (top), Sidewinder JiuJitsu (bottom)
Shown above are two variations: one with the left arm pulling the triceps from underneath, the other with the left arm overhook the opponent's triceps (the "Kimura"). Either variation may be used to create a hammerlock.

Having set up the lock, we use the counter-clockwise turn to get behind the opponent. This lock will force them to bend forwards, so we use the knifehand low block as a strike to the back of their neck. It's possible to use this block to push down the opponent's shoulder instead. But having already created a shoulder lock, it seems more parsimonious to simply strike the opponent.

The two kicks

From behind the opponent, kick in the back of both legs with the roundhouse kick. Here you may see why the kick is aimed at 45-degrees (an odd instruction): that's where the opponent's legs are located! This kick will topple your opponent forwards. Finish with the flying side kick as a drop kick to the back of the head.

This double-kick strategy -- one kick to the legs and the second kick to the head -- may exist in other patterns. Koryo for example. The Kukkiwon poomsae Ilyeo features a flying side kick after a front kick, and may have a similar application.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Eui-Am 5 move set


It's my belief that the five move set from Eui-Am encodes two follow up techniques after using the wedging block against an attack. The set is:
  • Front stance knifehand wedging block
  • In place, open-handed circular block 
  • Bring front foot back into cat stance twin palm downward block
  • Shift front foot into back stance reverse punch
  • Slide backwards into back stance low inward ridgehand block, bringing back arm into chest
The first technique will use an unconventional application of the circular block: an arm lock:

Source: Martial Gamer

Block a left handed attack with your right leg forward. Use the long arc of the circular block to wrap over the opponent's elbow while you pull their forearm down with your reaction hand. Doing this with enough pressure will injure the opponent's shoulder.

The finishing move the form provides is the cat stance twin palm downward block. Because this lock forces the opponent to lean left, the cat stance is probably meant to trap their left leg. You may then use your two palms to push the opponent's face to the floor.

For the next technique we will still utilize the wedging block with the right leg forward, but this time against a right handed attack. From this position, our right hand is pushing on the opponent's neck. Grab their head and pull it downwards (pulling hand) while you either grab or underhook their right arm (reverse punch). We finish with a puter kepala throw, also known as "the clock" takedown. This is performed by sliding backwards while pulling the opponent's arm and pushing their head in.

Source: Craig Gray
Eui-Am is noteworthy for being the first of the "new" forms, not one of the original 20. Some ITF-schools do not teach these forms, for fear that they were made to be challenging to perform and do not have the self-defense value the original 20 do. But I find the movements in these forms have both applications and a logical arrangement behind them.