Thursday, November 17, 2016

Kick catching in Joong-Gun, Part 1

So I have a schema for Joong-Gun, and I think it works pretty well: Joong-Gun is a form about kick catching. There are eight "scenarios" Joong-Gun is built around: four when you have caught your opponent's leg, and four counters for when your leg has been caught. The form is organized in a logical way: first it gives you two options you can use after catching a front kick, then the counters for those respective takedowns, then a takedown you can perform after catching a roundhouse kick, a counter for that, ditto for a side kick. These applications follow the form very closely, explaining the odd stances (cat stance, low stance, etc.) and even the ready position.

I believe that the five forms preceding Joong-Gun -- Chon-Ji through Yul-Gok -- form a basic toolset for striking defense. Joong-Gun, however, is the first form not based on any of the Heian/Pinan kata, and thus may be the first truly original taekwondo form in the ITF set. Constructing a form based around kick catching -- and placing it relatively early in the ITF set -- makes sense given taekwondo's emphasis on kicking.

In this post I've going to detail three of the eight scenarios in Joong-Gun, covering both the beginning and end of the form.

Application 1: Front kick catch and takedown

It's important to the take the opponent's likely reaction into account when discovering applications. This not only makes the form more usable, but it also reveals interesting things about the form, as many movements are designed to be "contingencies" in case your opponent counters you.

If you catch a front kick, your opponent will almost always retract to escape the grab. One thing you might do is go with their momentum and push their knee up and into their chest, forcing them off-balance and allowing you to perform a takedown.

  1. Assume you have caught your opponent’s front kick with an overhook (ready position)
  2. As the opponent retracts, use the side block (inner-forearm block) to lift their knee up and inwards into their chest. Your hand is open because you are lifting the opponent's leg with it. This pushes the opponent off-balance.
  3. Kick the opponent's groin or inner-thigh with the front leg front kick.
  4. Use your back leg to trip/sweep the opponent's standing leg (cat stance) while lifting their heel (upward palm block), forcing them to fall over.
Application for Joong-Gun 1-3

Cat stance as a leg sweep
Although cat stance is usually seen as merely a close range stance, it has application as both a sweep (when moving forward) and as a leg hook (when moving backwards). Though in practice, it may function more like a trip (see left gif).

What makes this a good application is that it explains all parts of the form: the open hand for the side block, the fact that you keep your hand positions the same while you do the front kick, and the use of cat stance. The heel lift is a much more satisfying application to the upward palm block than the ones usually offered:
  • Punch defense: doesn’t work; raising the punch doesn’t deflect it
  • Arm break: doesn't work; the motion just isn't strong enough.
  • Strike: I can't think of a valid striking target for this movement
Furthermore, none of those three applications explain either the cat stance or the circular trajectory for the upward palm block. As shown in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-do, the hand travels out before going down and then up. You can use this motion to scoop under your opponent’s heel. (fnt. 1) There's also evidence of the move's use as a heel lift in Choi's 1965 book Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defense.

Use of upward block as a heel lift (left) and
cat stance as a trip (right) in Choi's books
An alternate use of the opening move is to use it as a push rather than a lift. As you turn 90-degrees use your forearm to push the opponent's leg outward, possibly dropping them. In this case the hand is open to increase the surface are of your forearm. Dan Djurdjevic demonstrates this application in the linked video.

Application 2: Side kick catch and takedown

The side kick catch-takedown also requires a retraction to work. It uses moves 29-31 of the form, although move 29 (the palm pressing block) is being co-opted as it was also the end of the previous set.

1. Dodge the kick toe-side, allowing the kick to penetrate
2. Catch the kick, with one hand coming up on the ankle and the other down on the knee (palm pressing block).
3. As the opponent retracts their leg, bending their knee, pull the back of their knee in towards your hip and their ankle upward as you step in and turn 90-degrees towards them. This places you in the closed stance angle punch position, with your upper hand (the “punch”) grabbing their ankle. This forces the opponent’s body to turn over.
4. Use your lower hand to wheel the top of their knee upwards and your upper hand to pull their ankle downwards as you step towards them, as if you are trying to fold their leg into their body. This forces them to the ground, and you end in the U-shaped block position.
Application for moves 29-31
The low stance for the palm pressing block is not relevant for here (although it is for the previous set). Step 3 might be enough to take the opponent to the ground, but the U-shaped block may be used to finish the job. The arc hands are not used to catch a stick -- as is commonly taught -- but rather are used to grasp your opponent’s leg.

The kick catches in Joong-Gun all seem to assume the kick has been caught from the inside. If the kick is caught from the outside (e.g. catching a side kick ankle-side), variations of these takedowns may be usable, but there are other options which might work better (e.g. back leg sweep).
Another example of the leg twist application,
from One Minute Bunkai

Application 3: Side kick catch counter

At the beginning at this post I stated that each takedown had a counter in this form. But there is only one move left in Joong-Gun: another U-shaped block, which might as well be practicing the motion on the other side. This bugged me for a long time: each of the other three kick catches had counters which worked well, so why was this last takedown missing a counter? Is the form incomplete?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think the counter utilizes two moves: the second U-shaped block and the return to ready position. I know that the “official” view is that the ready positions are just symbolic and don’t have any applications, but I often find that this isn’t the case. So let’s analyze how you might counter this takedown.

As I stated above, if your side kick is caught, is it in your best interest to retract your leg so that you can grab or strike your opponent. One good option is to twist your leg in such a way that you end up in a front kick catch position -- which is the opposite direction that the opponent will want to twist your leg. This is still bad, but not quite as bad as being turned over, in which case the only real way to escape is to cartwheel away.

However, the form also gives you another solution, which is to place one hand on your opponent’s elbow and another on the side of their head. You can see a Muay Thai fighter use this defense to set up a sacrificial takedown against a roundhouse kick catch. From the perspective of Joong-Gun, however, it prevents the opponent from turning us over.
The U-shaped block as part of a
kick catch counter

The sacrificial takedown, while it might work on the mat, is not ideal since we want a way to escape the catch while staying standing if possible.
The other three counters in the form share two qualities

  1. They counter your opponent’s motions.
  2. They all end with getting on top of your opponent’s head in some way.

The second U-shaped works fine for countering the leg turn. What’s left then is that you can wrap your top arm around the opponent’s head as you return to ready position, putting them in a front headlock so that you can strangle them until they let go of you. I’ll spare you the poorly-drawn stick figures and include a picture of the front headlock instead. If you want to follow the form by the letter, you will be using a cup-and-saucer (fist in palm) grip, but you could in theory use other grips.
Application for Move 32 and return to ready position

Hopefully this has got you thinking about the movements in forms a little differently. In future posts I'll cover the remainder of Joong-Gun.

Read part 2 here

  1. Russ Martin also has a good application where he uses the upwards palm block as an overhook (whizzer), trying to lift his opponent. I would argue that this application doesn’t fit the context of the form, however.

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