Sunday, August 19, 2018

20: Ul-Ji opening

Ul-Ji has a unique ready position. It has no formal name, and to my knowledge appears in no other taekwondo pattern or karate kata. Combined with the two opening moves it comprises a simple application: a reverse head throw.

Source: Funker Tactical
The motion begins from a cross-hands position. You then grab the arm or shoulder of the opponent with one fist and their face your the other fist. Step backwards and forcefully uncross your arms, forcing the opponent to turn around. From here, pull them to the floor. The position of the hands in Ul-Ji suggests that we are grabbing under their triceps, specifically their left triceps, meaning we grab their face with our right fist. The opponent may escape this throw by ducking their head under our grip, in which case we follow with other sets from Ul-Ji.

Those of you who have studied patterns might note that this technique can be represented in other ways, usually with the standard low block. Another technique which often represents this throw is the "low opening block", what in ITF is called "Closed Ready Stance D" in Eui-Am. In fact, the ending of Eui-Am can represent the same throw.
Application for ending of Eui-Am.
Image sources:ITF Radix, Funker Tactical

This throw also exists in Silat, where it is called tarik kepala.

Monday, May 21, 2018

eBook released: The Study of Sam-Il

The eBook is now available for purchase in PDF form at PayHip.

You may purchase with either PayPal or Credit/Debit.

Book description:

Fighting applications for the Ch'ang Hon/ITF taekwondo pattern Sam-Il. Contains:
  • Over 70 application drawings
  • Analysis of both the 1965 and 1983 versions of the pattern
  • Explanation of Sam-Il's logical structure; i.e. how all the sets tie together
  • Insights on the design of the Ch'ang Hon patterns

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

19: Sipjin wristlock

Source: TaekwonWoo
Today I'm writing about a set from a Kukkiwon poomsae, Sipjin. This is out of personal interest: it's the only example of a sankyo wrist lock [1] I've found in a taekwondo form. The set is:
  • 1: Bull block (double rising block)
  • 2a: Pull fists away from each other
  • 2b: Right back stance left augmented outward block (inner-forearm block), right palm touching left forearm
  • 3a: Slowly open the left fist and turn it inward. Slide left foot to shift into left front stance
  • 3b: Right horizonal fingertip strike
  • 3c: Left hand punch
  • 3d: Right hand punch

The opening of Sipjin may be used as a rear bear hug quick escape. Lift both arms to loosen the opponent's grip, pulling their hands apart (step 2a) if necessary. This escape is commonly taught in self-defense sets, although it's usually accompanied with dropping one's weight into riding stance.
Source: Overland Park Karate
But if the opponent gets a secure grip, this quick escape is unlikely to work, so Sipjin contains other options. The first of these is the sankyo lock. This can be obtained by gripping the knifehand of the opponent (either their right knifehand with your left hand, or their left knifehand with your right hand) and then slipping under one of their arms, granting you the wrist lock.
Getting a sankyo lock from a rear bear hug. Source: ExpertVillage
Step 2b, the "augmented block", encodes the wrist lock. Here the primary "blocking" hand grips the opponent's right knifehand, twisting their wrist, while the supporting palm grabs their fingers.

The next movement in the set is the mysterious hand turn. We use this to transition from sankyo to a thumb lock. Doing this allows us to twist the opponent's arm even more as we pull our left fist to our hip for step 3a, causing them to lower their shoulder as you pull back their thumb. To aid this, you also push down their shoulder with the open-handed strike (step 3b)

Left: Sankyo to thumb lock. Right: Application for the horizontal fingertip thrust
Follow with two punches (steps 3b and 3c) to the back of the head.

A variant is to use your left thumb to push in the back of the opponent's wrist instead, rather than hook their thumb, but when practicing with a student we found that the thumb lock allows more control via pain compliance.

Now, wrist locks in a taekwondo form might seem like a stretch to some people. Is there any historical evidence that taekwondoin would put wrist locks into their forms?

Source: Sihak Henry Cho's 1969 book Self Defense Karate
Oh, look, a very similar lock from a 1969 taekwondo manual. The difference is that the hands are switched.

Joint locks in early taekwondo are old news. It's hard to realize now, but taekwondo was originally founded as a mixed martial art, incorporated both throwing and locking techniques. Ørjan Nilsen over at Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings has a great post on this called Taekwondo and Joint Locks: A Historical Journey. The core art is still striking. Notice how the point of the lock in Sipjin is to get to the back of the opponent's head, which we then punch.

Although taekwondo's locking and throwing techniques are no longer commonly taught, they were preserved in the forms. Finding the techniques is the way to resurrect these old ideas and increase our understanding of the art.

In other news, The Study of Sam-Il is almost finished. I'm adding a few more drawings.

[1] Sankyo is the Aikido name for the wrist lock, which literally means "third teaching" since it is the third wrist lock taught in Aikido's curriculum. Since I am unaware of any other name for the wrist lock, I am calling it sankyo.

Monday, May 7, 2018

18: Juche two-direction kick

Juche is a controversial pattern. It is often cited as being too "flashy", full of challenging kicks rather than practical fighting techniques. Juche is the last of the five "new" patterns; the others being Eui-Am, Yong-Gae, So-San, and Moon-Moo. These patterns were added to the original 20 in order to incorporate more physically challenging techniques. Juche shares similarities to these four previous patterns, such as the slow motion turning hook kick from Moon-Moo.

But Juche's challenging design doesn't exclude self-defense applications. Take steps 37-39:
  • 37: Flying two-direction kick (twisting kick with left leg, side kick with right leg), also called a "split kick"
  • 38: Land in left diagonal stance twin palm rising block
  • 39: Step left leg forward and turn clockwise into right cat stance side elbow thrust
From a standing position, it would appear we are kicking two separate opponents at once while defending a downward strike from a third opponent. But remember that in patterns we actually face a single opponent, not multiple opponents from different directions. While the two-direction kick doesn't make much sense from the air, it does make sense from the ground as a knee bar. This technique appears in at least two old karate manuals: The Bubishi and in Kenwa Mabuni's 1938 book Karatedo Nyumon.
Two-direction kick application from The Bubishi (left) and Kenwa Mabuni (right)
Here the top of the foot for the twisting kick is used to hook the opponent's heel, while the side kick pushes the opponent's knee. This straightens their leg and forces them to fall over. You can watch a video of the technique here. Given that Gen. Choi and his commanders read various karate manuals, and that Juche was the last pattern created, I believe there's a good chance they came across this technique and that it is the inspiration for the two-direction kick.

A variation is to switch the feet: use the side kick to hook the angle (pulling with the back of your foot) while you use the twisting kick to push into the opponent's knee. This is shown in the gif below.
Source: Trista Moreno
The Rising Block

The takedown leaves both you and your opponent on the ground. We want to end up in a more advantageous position, so rather than simply standing up, the form instructs you to lift the opponent's leg as you stand up so that you may pin them. The leg lift interpretation explains the use of the twin palm for the rising block, a detail that to my knowledge is unique to Juche.

Ironically, the application from the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (right) is close to what I envision for the set. But rather than defensively blocking an axe kick, you are actively lifting the opponent's leg as you get up from the ground, and they are ideally still on the ground. Also, the fact that we are in a left diagonal stance suggests to me that we lift the opponent's right leg, rather than their left leg as is shown in the right image.

Finally we use step 39, the clockwise turn into the side elbow thrust, to twist the opponent's ankle, forcing them (if they are on the ground) to spin onto their belly.

Turning 180-degrees while twisting the leg or foot can force the opponent onto their stomach. Image source:
After we flip the opponent onto their stomach we can disengage. To reiterate: we lift the opponent's right leg and turn clockwise to flip them. One way you might do this is to grip the opponent's toes with your right hand and their heel with your left hand as you twist their foot with the turn into the side elbow thrust.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

17. Toi-Gye ending: takedown and straight ankle lock

Source: ITFTuls
Lately I have neglected the color belt patterns. So for this post I'm going to discuss the last eight-to-nine steps of Toi-Gye. The set I'll be analyzing is:
  • Front stance high double forearm block
  • Three-quarters turn into low knifehand guarding block
  • Stance shift into left front stance circular block
  • Shift weight into right front stance circular block
  • Step with right leg into riding stance middle punch
  • Ready to closed ready stance C

We begin with the double forearm block followed by the three-quarters turn into the low guarding block. This set has its roots in the end of the kata Pinan Shodan/Heian Nidan, the difference being that the kata uses a closed-fist low block. The application is shown below.
Source: PracticalKataBunkai
In any situation where you can catch your opponent's arm (such as if they have grabbed you), use the back (left) arm of the double forearm block to smash down onto their inner-elbow. Then use the front (right) arm of the "block" to strike the side of their neck. From here, switch hands such that your right arm is grabbing the opponent's elbow. Reach around your opponent's head and pull them to the ground as you turn 270-degrees.

But in Toi-Gye the low block is open-handed, so we cannot grab and pull. Instead, we push from the front. This means that the takedown in Toi-Gye is more similar to the one shown below.
Source: OneMinuteBunkai
After striking with your right arm, press the opponent's right elbow inwards, causing them to lean over counter-clockwise. Then use your left knifehand to check across their face. Finally, from here use the 270-degree turn into the low knifehand guarding block as a throw, maintaining the arm lock with your right knifehand.

The Throw Fails

What if the above throw doesn't work? You try to use the low block as a throw, but you end up just moving your opponent around. Here Toi-Gye takes another page from Pinan Shodan: we follow up with a strike to the side of the opponent's neck. In Pinan Shodan a rising block is used, but in Toi-Gye we use a circular block, which translates into a backfist strike.
Failed low block throw followed by a strike to the side of the opponent's neck. Source: Chris Denwood
Using the circular block as a strike might seem counter-intuitive, but there is good reason to use it as such. A strike is a logical follow-up to a failed throw. Even if the opponent parries it, it distracts them and gives you time to switch to a new technique. The fact that the backfist ends up 45-degrees from our right means that we are striking through our target, which is what we want as this is more damaging. As always, the pulling hand may be used to control the opponent as you strike the side of their neck.

Now for the takedown: we use the second circular block as a leg pick, a more common "deeper" application for the movement. Scoop low, grab and lift the opponent's near (right) leg with our left circular block. Still lifting their leg, we step behind their standing leg into riding stance, and use the riding stance "punch" to push them over our right leg, taking them to the floor.
Circular block to riding stance punch as a takedown. Source: curranskarate
We're not done yet! The last motion in the pattern is the return to ready stance C. We use this to put the opponent into a straight ankle lock -- useful if they try to pull you to the ground with them.
Closed Ready Stance C as a straight ankle lock. Sources: Nick Drossos, Expert Village

The full set goes as so:
  1. Use the double forearm block to smash on the opponent's inner-elbow while striking their neck
  2. Use the three-quarters turn into low guarding block as a throw
  3. If the throw fails strike the side of the neck with your backfist (first circular block)
  4. If the opponent blocks pick and lift their leg (second circular block)
  5. Step behind their standing leg and push them to the floor (riding stance punch)
  6. Perform a straight ankle lock (closed ready stance C) to put your opponent in pain, allowing you to disengage and run away
Now, Toi-Gye is a symmetric pattern and we practice this set in pieces. This is why you do three circular blocks in a row near the end rather than two. The way I would visualize the movements while practicing Toi-Gye is like so:
  • 30: Double forearm block
  • 31: Turn into a low guarding block as a throw
  • 32: Throw fails, follow with strike to neck
  • 33: Practice low guarding block throw on other side (symmetry)
  • 34: Practice circular block as a strike on other side (symmetry)
  • 35: Practice circular block as a leg pick with right arm
  • 36: Practice circular block as a leg pick with left arm (symmetry)
  • 37: Step into riding stance punch as a throw
  • End: Straight ankle lock

Sunday, April 8, 2018

E-book update: The Study of Sam-Il

Yes, it's happening.
Here's what will be included:

  • 60+ application drawings
  • Analysis of both the 1965 and 1983 versions of the pattern
  • Explanation of Sam-Il's logical structure; i.e. how all the sets tie together
  • Some thoughts on the design of the Ch'ang Hon patterns
The drawings are mostly done, but editing everything together will take some time. 

What's with the title?

It's a reference to The Study of Seipai by Kenwa Mabuni

What will it cost?

Not free, but not expensive either. I'm thinking the $3-6 range.

Where will it be sold?

Not Amazon, because you have to convert the e-book to Kindle format, which is a pain for a picture book. I'm thinking Google Play Books if possible, and if not that then some aggregator service.

Will there be a print version?


When will it be done?

I'm aiming for some time in May.

Will the applications be material that's already on the blog?

With the exception of the above picture and the set with the two U-shaped blocks, no. That's because my opinion on some of the sets have changed, such as the set with the palm upward block. The applications covered in this blog will go into an "Alternate Applications" section.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

16: Yoo-Sin/Chul-Gi waving kicks

Source: Shotokankataman
Recently I came across the kata interpretations of a Mr. Nathan J. Johnson. Johnson holds that most karate kata were originally for weapons, not unarmed fighting. While I don't agree with this perspective, Johnson makes an exception for Naihanchi, also called Tekki Shodan or (in Korean) Chul-Gi. He claims this pattern is a series of police control/arrest drills, originally meant for Ming dynasty Chinese police. In his view, the point of Naihanchi is to wrestle a suspect to the ground, meaning that you are behind your opponent for most of the kata. I've analyzed Naihanchi using this theory and it works surprisingly well.

One of the sets from Naihanchi appears in the ITF pattern Yoo-Sin. In this post I will provide a police arrest interpretation of the set.

We start with the front backfist strike, which represents a control tactic demonstrated by George Vranos in the gif below.
Source: George Vranos
The "primary" vertical arm underhooks one of the opponent's arms (getting a half nelson), whereas the "secondary" horizontal arm overhooks their other arm. This provides control over the suspect. Notice how Mr. Vranos then grabs the back of the opponent's neck after the underhook. This turns the front backfist strike into the outer-forearm block performed next in the pattern.
Source: George Vranos
What's missing in the gif is the waving kicks. These are used to kick in the back of the suspect's legs. Combined with the head push in the opposite direction, the intent is to knock the suspect to the ground. We first kick in their right leg and push their head right (outer-forearm block). If this doesn't work for whatever reason, we kick in their left leg and push them left.


Just because this may be the intended application of the set in Naihanchi/Chul-Gi, doesn't mean it's what the creators of Yoo-Sin had in mind. As Mr. Johnson points out, the Okinawans who imported the pattern from China did not know its original meaning, and so came up with their own interpretations. They thought that Naihanchi was either a fighting pattern or reactive self-defense pattern, not a proactive police arrest pattern. If you search for "Naihanchi applications" online, you will find all sorts of other interpretations. Taekwondoin likely came up with their own interpretations as well.

This means that in order to understand the set's purpose in Yoo-Sin, we must analyze the rest of Yoo-Sin, which I haven't done. But I thought the above interpretation was neat and despite Mr. Johnson's theory being a good one, I haven't seen the "police arrest" interpretations of Naihanchi online.

I am still working on the Sam-Il E-book, by the way. I'll post an update within the next two weeks.