Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thinking about an ebook

This blog began as a hobby project to introduce myself to blogging and to share the pattern applications I've been researching. In the past 14 months I've written 40 or so posts, including full analyses of at least three forms. The overarching goal of my posts was to show that applications to the ITF patterns exist and that they are not particularly esoteric. You can find them in other martial art systems.

I don't want to keep up this blog indefinitely though. Lately I've thought about writing an ebook. It seems like the next logical step and I enjoy systematic analyses of entire forms, something a book is better suited for.

There are some obstacles, however. I never found a consistent partner to take pictures with, so making something in the style of The Taegeuk Cipher or Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul is not possible. Nor can I use online images (like I do in this blog) for copyright reasons. Therefore, my only real choice is to use drawings. This sounds lame, but there are some advantages to drawings. One criticism of The Taegeuk Cipher (and to a lesser extent Hae Sul) is that the grainy black-and-white images are too hard to make out. Drawings are easier to see and can be used to highlight the necessary parts of a technique. Judo instructions often contain drawings for this very reason.
Instructional depiction of Judo's O soto gari throw
This would also be an opportunity to practice drawing, so I'm killing two birds with one stone. I did some test sketches, shown below. While my drawing ability is not where I'd like it to be, I am able to depict a technique, so with more practice sketching out an entire form is feasible.
Some test sketches for a set in Sam-Il. Final images would use digital coloring for contrast, shown on the lower right.
As you can tell from above, I would be analyzing Sam-Il. I am choosing this form because currently no book has been published on it. It's also one of the early ITF forms, the 4th or 5th made overall, and it contains some interesting techniques.

This means I'll be working on the ebook rather than the blog. I do have some unfinished posts lined up about sets in Gae-Baek and Eui-Am, but I'll keep them on the back burner for now.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

15: Moon-Moo one-legged stance

Moon-Moo is a 4th Dan form known mainly for its emphasis on kicks, but there are some odd hand techniques in there as well. In this post I will discuss the strange one-legged stance where you perform a low block with the standing side and a knifehand block with the other hand. One application is shown below:
Sources: Kinetic Dragon Tutorials, Returning Wave Systems
The outward knifehand block is used to check under the opponent's jaw, pulling their head back, while the low block controls their arm. You then press your knee into the back of the opponent's knee, causing them to lose balance. From here you can throw them with a quick pull backwards.

Now the question is: how do you get into this position? The hint the form gives you is the two palm pressing blocks, a set which appears in several other forms.

Option 1: Arm Drag

For the first possibility, I'm going to steal another idea from Karate Culture: using the dual palm blocks to get an arm drag.
Source: Karate Culture
Use the first palm pressing block to push down the opponent's arm (lower palm) while reaching under their tricep (rising palm). Then pull out their arm out and down as you step forward (second lower palm). This places you behind your opponent, and you may perform the one-legged stance.

This is a simple application to learn, and arm drags are useful to set up all sorts of other techniques. But if you are a forms purist, you may dislike how this technique requires you to close one of your hands. Keeping this in mind, I will provide a second interpretation.

Option 2: From a failed arm lock

An instructor once showed me a locking application for two palm pressing blocks. I can't find an exact replica online, but the description of it is this:
  • Imagine an opponent grabs your right lapel. Circle your right hand over and down (1st palm pressing block) and then up again (upper hand for 2nd palm pressing block). This rotates the opponent's arm so that the back of their elbow points upwards
  • Your left hand at first comes up to block an attack with the back of the wrist (upper hand for 1st palm pressing block) or as a spearhand to the opponent's throat. It then comes down to press into the back of the opponent's elbow (2nd palm pressing block)
  • From here you can try to drag them to the ground, or knee strike them (one-legged stance)
Left: Application for the 2nd palm pressing block, upper hand raising the opponent's (twisted) arm, lower hand pushing their elbow down. Right: Following up with a knee and elbow strike, another use for the one-legged stance.
Sources: Martial Arts 101Phil Schroeder 
What if your opponent pulls away their arm as you attempt the lock? From here, reach over their right shoulder and quickly transition in the control position shown at the top of this post.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

14: Po-Eun headlock defense

Just a short one today since I mentioned it in my last post.

What is the purpose of the U-shaped grasp? Wrestling away a stick? If so, why is the next movement performed in slow motion? A more plausible interpretation of the set is a throw via lifting and dumping the opponent on their head. It is particularly useful against a side headlock.
Source: Waza Wednesdays
Use the inverted upper hand of the U-shaped grasp to push the opponent's face away from you. Then place the lower hand behind their leg. Lift them into closed stance twin elbow thrust, and dump them onto their head with the low block, backfist combination.

In looking up side headlock defenses, I've noticed that few include both the face push and leg scoop (that's why the Waza Wednesday video was a fortunate find) but several include one or the other. This defense uses the face push. This defense uses the scoop and lift.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Are there too many forms?

A problem with traditional martial arts is the abundance of static patterns. Besides the traditional forms (kata/hyung/tul/poomsae) schools like to add on partner exercises and kicking sets. All this material to memorize leaves less time for live training such as sparring. It's also said that the old karate masters only knew a handful of kata. Indeed, Chinese martial arts (which Karate is based on) typically have a small number of patterns. This has got some researchers asking: are there too many forms?

I would say that in theory no, there cannot be too many forms, because I see forms as records of techniques. There can be a problem of studying too many forms in-depth, because the end result will be that you know many techniques poorly and no techniques effectively. I liken the situation to Judo's throwing curriculum. Officially there are 67 Kodokan Judo throws, some of which have many variations. But top Judo players have only 2 or 3 go-to throws that they win matches with time and time again. So why learn 67 throws if they only end up using a handful? Because 1) it allows them to pick the throws best suited to their body type and 2) it increases their understanding of the art of throwing.

Of course, no one is going to accuse most taekwondo schools of too much in-depth study. Form applications are rarely taught. Instead, a great deal of time is spent memorizing forms, getting the movements exactly right, ending right where you started, and making them look pleasing to watch. Live training is spent learning punching and kicking techniques; form applications (most of which involve grappling) would detract from this. Due to the limited time most taekwondoin have to train, I've wondered whether we can simply teach less forms. This way there would be time to go over the self-defense applications of each form we teach.

However, selecting a handful of forms to teach is difficult in the case of taekwondo, since many of the patterns are specialized to certain self-defense situations. I would consider neither Po-Eun or Joong-Gun to be good general self-defense forms. But Po-Eun contains a neat side headlock defense, and Joong-Gun contains useful ways to escape a leg grab. I can't say I draw my self-defense knowledge from a handful of forms; it's more like I have compiled information from various sets across all the forms I know.

So how do you limit the time we spend teaching forms but keep useful material? There are a few options.

Teaching the techniques, not the forms

One method is to avoid teaching forms altogether: just teach the techniques. This is often suggested on martial arts forums.

The pros are that we could skip the whole interpretation process and get into how to use the technique right away. Some of the most respected martial arts out there (BJJ, boxing, wrestling, muay thai) don't bother with forms. Almost every technique they teach can be tested in sparring. Furthermore, the students would not have to memorize anything they do not know the application of, which speeds up the learning process.

However, this line of logic ignores the other core uses of forms. Forms are for solo practice, to be performed on the student's own time when they don't have a partner. The student is meant to not just learn a pattern, but to make it their own. Forms can be used to practice techniques with full intensity, especially the "dangerous" techniques contained in the art. They are also useful for training stamina, balance, moving meditation, and muscle memory. Finally, most instructors do not know the techniques contained within forms, so if we jettison them then a number of techniques would be "lost". People who are interested in making taekwondo like MMA or kickboxing would not mind this, but the fact is that we are not MMA and many students do enjoy the traditional aspects of taekwondo.

But if we are keeping forms for their conditioning value, then surely we don't need 20+ in our curriculum. The conditioning value could be obtained from as little as one form. So what can we do instead?

Core forms vs optional forms

Instead of jettisoning forms entirely, one could slim the syllabus down to a small number of core forms that students have to memorize, but keep a number of optional forms that students may voluntarily learn as they progress. One could even personalize the optional forms: different students would learn different ones. If you think about it, the availability of free online information about forms makes this possible. No longer do you need an instructor to teach you a form, although the instructor can provide some applications to the form if they are knowledgeable enough.

This brings up the question of which forms should be core and which should be optional. When I pose this question, many taekwondoin seem to favor the simpler forms. Personally I prefer the advanced forms, because their applications are more one-to-one with their movements.[1] But it's ultimately subjective based on the knowledge of the instructor.

What do you think? Do we have too many forms? How would you teach forms differently, if at all?

[1] For the record, if I had to select four core forms I'd use Do-San, Choong-Moo, Gae-Baek, and the Modern Koryo (yes, really). I think these forms provide a strong set of self-defense techniques. Hwa-Rang, Po-Eun, and the Original Koryo would also be contenders. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

13: Choong-Jang ground kick, a falling technique?

The ground roundhouse kick in Choong-Jang (move 12) is an annoying move to perform, as well as to find a proper application for. The idea that you should go to the ground just to kick an opponent's groin doesn't hold much water, so usually one of two alternative explanations is proposed:
  • The form assumes you have fallen to the ground and this is you trying to keep back an opponent until you can get up again
  • The movement is a drop takedown
Stephen Kestling
The first one isn't very satisfying, because we begin from a standing position. Nor does it look like any ground kicks found in other arts. (For some examples, see the right image). The second idea is interesting, but I have difficultly coming up with a practical drop throw based on the footwork. In the original set in Woo-Nam, the move preceding the ground kick is a sliding lunge punch, not a flat spearhand thrust, so it seems that moves 11 and 12 were not intended to be a part of the same set.

However I did recently think up an idea similar to the first option: what if it's a falling technique? The difference being that you can use the footwork prescribed in the form to get into the ground kick position. In fact, the collapse down onto one knee looks like the first part of an Aikido falling technique an instructor once showed me, in response to a strong shove that will take you to the ground. After searching online I found an example, shown in the gif below.
Source: AikidoInstitute
The backwards roll is the advanced version. What I want to call attention to is the first part of the technique, where the aikidoka cross-steps the back leg and collapses onto his back knee/hip. Instead of doing a roll, from here you can use both palms to hit the floor, bracing you. As this point, you have the exact setup for the roundhouse kick in Choong-Jang/Woo-Nam.
Backroll setup vs Choong-Jang ground kick setup.
Source: AikidoInstitute, Taekwondo-Mika
My point is that the set is probably meant to be applied against someone pushing you to the ground, not that you begin on the ground. Is it a set I envision myself ever using? Not really, but I find it a more reasonable explanation than the two provided above. After you brace yourself, kick your opponent with the ball of the foot roundhouse kick.

The rest of the set

What about the ground punch directly afterwards? Punching the opponent's groin? Actually, I prefer Paul O'Leary's explanation (which he details in this post) that it's a takedown. The back hand traps the opponent's instep while the "punch" pushes out on their knee, taking them to the ground. From here, still controlling your opponent's leg, you use the next two movements in the form -- clockwise step into side elbow strike followed by clockwise turn into closed fist guarding block -- to flip the opponent onto their stomach and possibly get a leg lock.
An example of forcing the opponent onto their stomach with a clockwise turn. It's difficult to see, but the tori semi-circles around with his left leg, keeping his right leg in place. Source:

Friday, December 8, 2017

12: Do-San (and Taebaek) 360-degree spin

A while ago I posted some applications for the 360-degree spin in Do-San. Looking back, I realized that I provided no application with the guarding block beforehand. So in this post I'm going to provide two: one for Do-San and one for a variant of the set used in the kukki-taekwondo form Taebaek. The first application, an overhook and torso push, is shown in the gif below.

Source: WeAreGoodCompany
  • Use the knifehand guarding block simply as a block, deflecting a punch outward while stepping in. (In the gif, you can also see the chamber used as a block)
  • Overhook the opponent's arm with the supporting arm of the supported spearhand thrust
  • Now that you have the overhook, use the spearhand to push onto the opponent's torso, or perhaps their face.
  • Use the 360-degree spin while pushing on the opponent's torso/face to take them to the ground, pulling with the left hand (backfist)
Most schools practice a downward "release motion" in the set (although neither the 1965 or 1985 versions of the form instruct this). This can be used to aggressively push down the opponent before spinning. The 1985 version of the set instructs a turning of the palm. This can be used if you are pressing on your opponent's face to turn it downwards, causing them to further lose balance. In the gif the defender steps behind the opponent to do the throw. This is ideal, but even if you can't step behind you can try using the whole 360-degree spin as the takedown.

A similar technique can be seen in the gif by Dan Djurdjevic below. Here the pull back (guarding block chamber) is used to pull the opponent's arm. As the opponent resists, move back in the forward direction (guarding block), and then get the overhook and torso push.

Source: Dan Djurdjevic
The overhook and torso push is the first deeper application I would teach to a student. It's simple to remember and to perform.

Taebaek version

The kukki-taekwondo form Taebaek has this set, and performs it almost like we do, but they add in a strange motion: pulling the spearhand behind the back before you turn. I don't practice this form, but something it might be is encircling the opponent's head, in order to throw them as you spin. In this case the intended application would be a head-and-arm throw.
Sources: TaekwonWoo, James St. Pierre
  • Use the knifehand guarding block (called "double knifehand block") as a grappling position. Back palm gets a collar tie, front palm gribs their arm.
  • Step through (spearhand thrust) and then encircle opponent's head while pivoting (pulling the arm behind the back)
  • Finally, use the spin into backfist as a hip throw
This hip throw application also works for Do-San, as the downward release motion some clubs practice can also be used to wrap the head.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

11: Koryo low section hammerfist

Sources: Majest, Ebrahim Saadati
Before I take another break from the blog, I wanted to look at a set from the kukki-taekwondo form Koryo. Near the end of the form is a circular, low section hammerfist strike, performed in slow motion. It seems there is no consensus -- or even many ideas -- on what the movement is for. After playing around with it though, I found something which might be close to the original intent of the set.

We can apply the movement against some sort of double grab (like an attempted front bear hug), beginning with the preceding move, the elbow strike.
  • Turn 90-degrees as you step forward and elbow strike your opponent, creating space. 
  • Push off the opponent's left arm with both of your palms (arms shooting upwards).
  • Circle your left arm around your opponent's right elbow, trapping their arm and bending it inwards.
  • Lift up your left arm (chamber for knifehand strike) to wind back your opponent's body. You can pop their elbow by extending your arm (knifehand strike) and attempt to throw them by turning 180-degrees as you do in the form.
Left: App for movements 25b-26.
Middle: The lock from the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do
Right: Jon Jones using the lock in UFC 172.
The left hand is closed because it is the active hand, and the movement is performed in slow motion to represent that it is manipulating the opponent's body (not that you would actually perform the movement in slow motion), as opposed to being a hard block or strike.

This lock is known as maki hiji in jujitsu, and is present in Gen. Choi's Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do. It gained some notoriety a few years back when Jon Jones used it in the UFC. You can see a Jujitsu player demonstrating the lock in the gif below, as well as using the turn as a takedown. The difference is that the Jujitsu player uses a two-step tenkan turn, whereas in Koryo it seems that you only move one leg before turning.

Source: Submissions 101
The defense to this lock is basically to pull in the opponent before they can get a solid crank, as explained by Stephen Kestling here.

Credit to Orjan Nilsen for suggesting a front bear hug defense for the set, and to Peter Jones for the idea that a circular low section block could be used to make a maki hiji lock.