Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Guillotine Choke
Sources: Darren Selley, Fitness Videos

The first move in the form is to switch into closed ready stance B after splitting your hands. If the ready positions had no applications, this would be nonsensical, but lucky for us they do. Closed ready stance B can make a guillotine choke, for instance. We use this application after blocking a haymaker with the heaven hand, as shown in the right gif (two examples).

The form doesn't give you any follow up. You can continue to choke out your opponent or, if you are throw savvy, attempt to throw them.

Bent elbow crank

The upset punches in Kwang-Gae are also in slow motion, indicating body manipulation. After defending with the heaven hand, overhook your opponent's haymaker as they retract, getting the bent elbow and cranking it upwards with the upset punch. This nasty shoulder lock is called maki hiji in jujitsu. It was used a couple years back in the UFC by Jon Jones. You can use the second upset punch as a strike, as shown in the below image.
Application for heaven hand followed by two upset punches. Source: imineo, catch jutsu
Notice how the elbow crank forces the opponent to bend over backwards. To take them to the ground, perform a sweep or push back on their face with your palm.

Grasp head, guide back

The next set is:
  • Double step forward into palm hooking block
  • Step and slide backwards into low section knifehand guarding block
Suppose you attempt the elbow crank but your opponent straightens their arm, or they pull you in, or you overhook their shoulder instead. Use the double step forward to force them to bend over, and then strike/grasp the back of their head with the palm hooking block. Finally, use the step and slide backwards into low section guarding block as a quick throw, guiding their head backwards. See the footnote for another interpretation of this set. (ftn. 1)

Pass arm, two handed push
Source: anthrodan

Something else I thought of: if you don't wish to harm your opponent, you can use stepping back into low guarding block to pass the opponent's arm after defending with the heaven hand. Then use stepping forwards into cat stance guarding block as a two handed push (see right gif) to disengage.

Side kicks, shoulder lock takedown

The second time you perform the two side kicks, your hands are oriented differently. This suggests there may be an application that begins, rather than ends, with them.

After blocking with the heaven hand, use the low side kick (pressing kick) to kick in the opponent's knee. If they defend by turning in their leg, follow with the middle side kick to their ribs while grasping their arm. You then use the inward strike with front hand coming into chest to fold the opponent's arm back, granting you a shoulder lock. From here, pull your opponent to the ground. Note that the Hapkidoin in the example below doesn't need to kick before doing the takedown, although he does strike the opponent's side with his elbow.
Sources: imineo, expert village
Final Thoughts

That concludes Kwang-Gae. This isn't the only way to interpret the pattern, but it is a way to link all the applications together. Although the sets are all against the same attack, the locks and takedowns provided can be used in a number of situations. What a form does is teach you various ways you can control an opponent. It's unlikely you will ever use a set as literally provided in a form, due to an opponent's unpredictable reactions, but the more techniques you know the more versatile your fighting style becomes.

Po-Eun also begins with the heaven hand, but not the splitting hands. Furthermore, from my analysis Po-Eun seems to be more of a grappling form. The heaven hand can also be used as a head push, so that might be what's going on.


1) There is another application for this set I rather like: against a single lapel grab, you can grab under the opponent's sleeve (upset punch), pull it in while striking their jaw (palm hooking block), and then guide them down to the ground (step back into low guarding block). The double step can be used to get off the opponent's line of fire and strengthen the force of the hooking block. You can also use the shape of the palm to dig into the opponent's throat, although this isn't strictly necessary. Taekwondoin Colin Wee applies the same application against a wrist grab.
Source: One minute bunkai

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 3

Previous Posts:
Part 1
Part 2

Spearhand to face, smash onto knee

Sources: imineo, one minute bunkai
The high spearhand thrust (what my club calls an "unsupported spearfinger") has three odd features in Kwang-Gae:
  • It's performed in slow motion
  • The footwork is the slipping of the front foot (i.e. pull it in before stepping back out again)
  • It's performed in low stance rather than a normal front stance
Slow motion movements in forms indicate body manipulation. As shown in the combined gif on the left, we can use the spearhand after the heaven hand sort of like a slap: pressing out on our opponent's face while pulling in their arm with our reaction hand. We may also use the slipping footwork to get behind the opponent's leg, and then use the low stance to press out on the back of your opponent's knee. From here, you can pull the opponent downward for a takedown.

However, in both cases the next movement in the form is lifting our back leg. So if we want to get nasty, we can smash the back of our opponent's head on our knee as we take them down.
Sources: imineoone minute bunkai
Grab ears, pull down

Grabbing the ears and thumbing in the eyes are two favored alternate applications for the twin vertical face punch. We're going to use the former, but a little differently than you might think.

Source: Krav Maga Training
If you use the heaven hand against a right haymaker (your opponent's right) and then split your hands, your right hand will be next to your opponent's right ear. You can grab their ear -- or perhaps their hair -- and pull it down as you do a knee strike (lifting the leg). Now reach around and grab their left ear with your left hand. As you push your opponent's head up with the double face punch, you force their body to turn around, meaning that you are grabbing their ears from behind!

Use the next move, twin upset punch, to pull your opponent to the ground via the ears. You can use the leg lift beforehand to knee strike their back or kick out their leg to aid the takedown, but I think that the "stomp" is there to emphasize the downward motion.

Kick out leg, turn and lift

Turning 180-degrees into a knifehand guarding block usually indicates a head crank. But I don't think that's what's going on here, because we step back into the guarding block after turning around. Furthermore, the set ends with a high punch. Why?

To resolve this, first apply the double upset punch to grab and control your opponent. Front kick the opponent's cross-side leg, aiming for their inner thigh, with the goal of knocking back their leg.

Land, turn, and step back into knifehand guarding block per the form. Your front forearm presses out on the opponent's neck, but your back hand goes for the leg you just kicked back. Grab the leg (by the opponent's pants if they are wearing away) and lift it upwards as you walk forward into the high punch, grabbing and pulling your opponent's head down with the reaction hand. This makes a crude but simple takedown.
Sources: Practical Kata Bunkai, One Minute Bunkai
In part 4 I will backtrack to the beginning of the form and post some final thoughts.

View Part 4 here


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 2

In my previous post, I suggested you could interpret the first third or so of Kwang-Gae as four different follow ups from the heaven hand defense. (fnt. 1) By "heaven hand defense", I mean using the tool to block a haymaker, and then splitting your hands to strike the opponent's neck.

It turns out you can do this for the whole form. So for the next three posts I will be covering these follow up techniques. Even if you don't agree with this interpretation of Kwang-Gae, it may get you to see some of the sets in a new light.

Additional strikes, puter kepala takedown

After striking the opponent's neck with the hands splitting, you can follow through with an inward strike followed by a downward hammerfist, for three strikes in total. As you strike, you want to get the opponent's head to lean downwards, so it's important to utilize the pulling hand in both cases.
Sources: Courtney White, Yin Style Bagua

Puter kepala takedown
Source: Courtney White
If smashing the back of their head with a hammerfist wasn't enough, we then use the next two moves -- the two palm pressing blocks -- as a takedown. This is shown on the gif on the right: it involves twisting up the opponent's arm while pushing their head down and in. You then continue moving your arms in a circular motion, forcing your opponent's body is to twist and tumble. In Silat this is called puter kepala.

Note that you are rotating your opponent's head and arm in a circle, so for this application the two palm pressing blocks should be performed continuously and with arms crossing in between the blocks, similar to how the Bagua-ist performs the motions below.
Sequential palm pressing blocks in Bagua. Notice how the arms cross in between blocks. 
Source: Yin Style Bagua.
Arm Pass and Head Twist

Now we'll begin with the second palm pressing block. After blocking with the heaven hand, overhook your opponent's head (upward moving palm) and push down their arm (downward moving palm). Grab their jaw and twist out their head while passing their arm as you step backwards into backfist side strike, twisting your opponent's whole body and forcing them to fall over. Hapkidoin Alain Burrese demonstrates this technique in this video.
Source: Your Warrior's Edge
Strike Head, Shoulder Lock

Next we start with the backfist side strike after the heaven hand. After striking the neck, knee strike your opponent (lifting the leg) while pulling them downwards, then follow with the backfist side strike to their head. Depending on positioning, you might strike with your forearm or even downward with your elbow; the stomp emphasizes putting your body weight into the strike.

Next, twist their arm behind their back with your back hand as you shift into the double forearm block, creating a shoulder lock. Your front arm maintains pressure on the back of their head. From this position you can safely escort your opponent, strike the back of their head, or do a takedown.
(Bottom right image): Taekwondo Grappling Techniques
What if your opponent grabs your leg with their free arm before you apply the lock? We can grab their arm and use the next move in the form -- double stepping backwards into reverse low block -- to pull out their arm while lifting their other arm with your front arm. Doing this may end up flipping your opponent.

Continue to Part 3

1) The origin of this idea was that I noticed Kushanku, the kata that Kwang-Gae is partly based on, uses the low knifehand front block and the cat stance guarding blocks at the start of the form, directly after the heaven hand.

 Taekwondo Grappling Techniques by Tony Kemerly and Scott Synder

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sam-Il: The Seipai Throw and Back Leg Sweep

The higher ITF forms don't get talked about very often; understandably since the majority of taekwondoin never advance far enough to learn them. This is a shame though, because these forms have a greater variety of hand and foot techniques to work with, which result in some interesting applications.

Sam-Il is noteworthy because it has a set from the kata Seipai, which is not a Shotokan kata (fnt. 1). In this post I'll cover the throw this set represents, as well as a modern variant of the throw that appears later in the form.

The Seipai Throw (Moves 9-10)

The motions used for this throw are:
  • Step forward into riding stance knifehand reverse wedging block
  • Shift into back stance double low punch, pulling the right foot
The reverse wedging block is used to simultaneously scoop up a leg while pushing out the opponent's torso. You then grab, lift, and dump them (double low punch).
The Seipai throw against a kick (top) compared with a performance of Sam-Il (bottom).
Sources: Radek Scuri, Chris Baehr
This application from Seipai is fairly well known; it appears in Masutatsu Oyama's 1970 manual Advanced Karate, as well as in earlier manuals. The above image shows it against a kick, but you can in theory defend against a hand attack first with move 8 and then scoop up the leg. The gif below shows this variant.
Source: FightLand
Notice that in this case the leg is scooped from the inside rather than the outside. You can find more detailed discussions of the Seipai throw in this Fightland article or Iain Abernethy's video on the subject.

The Back Leg Sweep (Moves 15-16)

A few moves later we see a set that I can only imagine represents a similar takedown. It is a sweeping kick sandwiched by two U-shaped blocks.
Source: TkdTeam
The effect of doing two U-shaped blocks in a row is to wheel your arms. The application for this can be seen in the Muay Thai fight below.
Source: Fightland
After reaching under the opponent's leg with your lower arm, you then bar your upper arm across your their torso. You then sweep out your opponent's standing leg with the sweeping kick while rotating your arms: lifting their leg and pushing down their torso.

It's interesting that we use an actual sweeping kick (Shuro Chagi) in this pattern, as usually sweeps are "hidden" in either the footwork or a middle kick.

Why bother including two similar applications in the same form? Okinawan kata are very compact: they have to be since each kata (or set of katas) is supposed to be a self-contained self-defense style. But in the case of the ITF forms, it seems that Choi's commanders felt more room to play around with variations of older ideas. Sam-Il also repeats two single leg takedowns from Choong-Moo: the one hand drop and the shoulder wheel throw.


1) It is, however, a Shito-ryu kata, and so this is evidence for Simon O'Neill's belief that Shito-Ryu was one of the styles that influenced early Taekwondo, as stated in The Taegeuk Cipher. The spreading of the arms in the Shito-ryu version of Seipai looks like our reverse wedging block.
On the other hand, Seipai is not one of the katas listed in Gen Choi's 1965 Taekwondo book. It's possible that this set was not taken directly from the kata, but rather from a Karate applications manual. A Study of Seipai Kata was published in 1934 by Kenwa Mabuni.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Technique Focus: Upward Palm Block

Since my previous posts on the guarding block and W-block/mountain block turned out pretty well, I thought I'd do another technique focus, this time on the upward palm block. Why this technique? Because I think it draws a lot of confusion from taekwondoin, and because its "standard" application -- lifting up a punch -- is nonsensical. Some have tried modifying the motion to lift a face punch over the head, but this is not the motion we practice in the forms, which only goes up to chest level. It makes even less sense for the palm scooping block variant in Gae-Baek, which is never supposed to reach your centerline. (fnt. 1)

Fear not, for it is not a useless technique. In this post I will provide five applications for the cat stance movement, plus four additional applications for its variants (front stance upward palm block, riding stance palm scooping block, and front stance twin palm upward block)

1) Same-side wrist grab defense (Sam-Il)
Two applications for Sam-Il 25-26
Sources: (Middle Row) EliteMartialArtOC, MannyMelgoza
(Bottom Row) OneMinuteBunkai

In the pattern Sam-Il we perform cat stance upward palm block followed by cat stance twin palm pressing block. These two movements provide a simple wrist grab defense.

Open your hand to relieve pressure. In Hapkido they call this "live hand". Then perform upward palm block. This twists your opponent's arm. Peel them off you by grabbing the meat of their thumb with your opposite hand. From here, you can perform a kotegaeshi (outer-wrist) throw, using both hands to bend the opponent's wrist downwards (twin palm pressing block).

This is my favorite same-side wrist grab defense: it's simple and can be pulled off quickly.

2) Front kick defense (also Sam-Il)

Although lifting a punch with the palm upward block is ridiculous, it works a bit better as a kick defense. We can use the same set in Sam-Il as a front kick catch and takedown. After lifting the opponent's heel, grab their foot with both hands and twist their ankle, pushing their foot downwards with twin palm pressing block.

3) Tackle defense (Ko-Dang)

Sources: Code Red Defense,
Karate Culture
The technique works as a crossface against an opponent who tackles you with their head outside your body. As shown in the left gif, you use the circular trajectory of the upward palm block to get around their head and then crank it upwards. This was my application for the upward palm blocks in Ko-Dang. We then follow with a step-back and front kick in Ko-Dang, which may represent breaking our front leg free of the opponent's grip (the step back) before kicking them.

4) Trip and takedown (Joong-Gun)

The cat stance may be used to trip an opponent's standing leg while you lift their heel for a takedown. This was my application for the opening set of Joong-Gun. Catch an opponent's front kick (ready position). As they retract to try to get away from you, lift their knee up towards their body to unbalance them (move 1). You then kick their groin or standing leg (move 2), before moving in for a trip and takedown, raising their heel with the upward palm block.
Sources: TakingItToTheMMAT, Dan Djurdjevic, Five5Six
5) Arm lock/break (Joong-Gun)
Source: StuartA

Finally, the upward palm block can be used as a rudimentary arm lock. If you grab and pull your opponent's wrist from inside with your reaction hand, you supinate their arm, exposing the back of their elbow to your "block". Stuart Anslow (right image) uses this application for the opening of Joong-Gun, after using the knifehand inner forearm block to reverse a wrist grab.

6) Head crank (Kwang-Gae)

This is for the front stance upward palm block found in Kwang-Gae. Unlike the cat stance upward palm block, this is performed with the back hand. When you analyze the movement in context, with the double step and turn we perform in the form, it makes a head crank takedown. It is shown in the image below. See my post on Kwang-Gae for a more detailed description.
Source for left image: manny melgoza

7) Leg scoop

Source: NASDI01
The palm scooping block in Gae-Baek -- like its name suggests -- can be used to literally scoop up the opponent's leg. In the Silat application for Gae-Baek 28-29(and 30-31?) in the left gif, the instructor hooks the opponent's ankle with the leap into rear-foot X-stance, then scoops up the opponent's other with the palm scooping block while sitting down at a 45-degree angle. He then submits his opponent with an ankle lock.

8) Overhook/Whizzer

Another application for the palm scooping block -- if you take the "scooping" part less literally -- is just overhooking an opponent's arm. Russ Martin has an application for Gae-Baek 9-11 which is just overhooking an opponent's arm, punching them, and then striking down on their inner elbow (supporting arm for backfist) while striking them again with the front backfist.

9) Double leg takedown (Choong-Moo)

Finally, performing two upward palm blocks can be used to scoop up both opponent's legs for a double leg takedown (specifically, Judo's morote gari throw). I covered this in my post on Choong-Moo. The reason I think the movement represents a double leg takedown here is:

1) The previous move can be used either to put the opponent in a snap clinch, as a grip break, or to lift their arms, all common ways to set up a double leg takedown.

2) The following two moves can be used as a contingency single leg takedown if your opponent defends by stepping back with one leg.

3) There are several other throws in the form, suggesting that Nam Tae Hi designed Choong-Moo with this strategy in mind.

4) In my club we were taught to do the motion as a wide scoop, which is consistent with scooping up an opponent's legs. (fnt. 2)

Sources: Mercuryu Judo, Practical Kata Bunkai, NIKandSi

Not only do odd techniques like the upward palm block have practical uses, you can find equivalents of them in modern arts. If an idea is a good one, then we should expect it to be rediscovered by others.

Happy searching.


1) This brings up the inevitable question of "okay, so if the standard application is useless, why did General Choi teach it?" A lot of the standard applications should be regarded as mnemonic tools for teaching rather than practical self-defense applications. General Choi shows the double arc hand block as catching a throw pillow, for instance, when in reality it has more practical uses.

2) I come from a pre-sine wave school. It's common for us to go down during the chamber and up during the block-proper for certain movements, although for the most part we stay level during patterns.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Yul-Gok: Some Applications

Palm Hooking Block
Yul-Gok is a peculiar form. I was once told it was based on Heian Yondan, but the similarity is only superficial: Yul-Gok borrows some movements from the kata, but the sets are all different. Yul-Gok also introduces the "palm hooking block", which according to Stuart Anslow is not a shotokan karate technique. Instead, this post by Sanko Lewis claims it's based on a Taekkyeon block. (fnt. 1)

In this post I'll discuss four sets from the pattern and my preferred applications.

Irimi nage (moves 28-29/30-31)

Irimi nage vs a jab-cross. Source: AikiBushi
This set (knifehand twin outer-forearm block followed by supported spearfinger) does not appear in any karate kata that I've seen. But it does appear in another martial art: aikido. (fnt. 2) Unlike karate, we perform our twin outer-forearm block with a cross-arm chamber. This can be used either as a defense against a jab-cross (as in the left gif), or as a parry-pass against a single attack (see image below).

For the jab-cross version, the front hand deflects an opponent's jab outwards, and then the rising block (back hand) comes up and deflects their cross inwards. The effect of this is to turn your opponent's body slightly sideways, which allows you to place your front hand on the small of their back (supporting hand) as you move forward and hook their head with the spearhand "strike". This throw is known as irimi nage ("entering throw") in Aikido. It helps if you come from a club that performs the spearhand at a downward angle, as my club does, but apparently this isn't the official version.

The other use of the cross-arm chamber is as a parry-pass against a single attack. This is shown in the image below. The ultimate effect should be the same: turn the opponent slightly and get access to their back.
Sources: Rogue Warriors and Southern Minnesota Martial Arts
The Opening Set

An intercepting block.
Source: Fitness, Workout, & Exercise Videos
I was originally taught that the opening move of Yul-Gok was a slow punch. It turns out it's not a punch at all: it's "extending your fist horizontally". Furthermore, it isn't even centered like a punch is. What's going on?

One interpretation (from Sanko Lewis) is that it's an intercepting block in disguise, based on the logic that sets should begin with defensive techniques. The off-center location of the movement makes this feasible. Follow up with the two punches as strikes.

A second interpretation I like is that it represents your arm being grabbed and pulled. After having your arm pulled, you quickly pull back and strike the inside of the opponent's elbow (first middle punch). This lowers their head, allowing you to punch their jaw (second middle punch). The exact motions you use can be altered for practicality: you might hammerfist down on their inner elbow and uppercut their jaw, for example.

Elbow Roll Throw (Ending Set)
Turning into double forearm block as a throw.
Source: Dan Djurdjevic

Speaking of striking the elbow, one application for pivoting 270-degrees into double front block is a throw via rolling into the opponent's inner elbow. You can see Dan Djurdjevic show this in the right gif. In some arts this throw is called sumi otoshi (corner drop), although this is different than the Judo throw of the same name.

The front arm pulls the opponent's arm. The back arm rolls down into the opponent's elbow as you pull. We can use the previous move (rear foot X-stance backfist) as a strike. As you grab their arm (reaction hand), use the leap forward to ram into your opponent as you hit them with your forearm -- a backfist can be used if you have great accuracy, but as a ramming move, your forearm has a much higher likelihood of connecting. After you strike your opponent, quickly step out and rotate, performing the throw.

Mind you, this is just the interpretation that I prefer. The leap forward into the backfist could represent some kind of pull if you grab your opponent from behind, or a forceful takedown if you have them in a lock. There is also a locking application -- present in both the Encyclopedia and in Hapkido -- that vaguely follows the movements. If you look at the images below, the "leap" into the backfist is stepping behind your opponent. You then turn and put them into a lock with the double front block motion.
Alternate application to Yul-Gok 36-37 (bottom row flipped horizontally). Source: RussMorr
I doubt this is the intended application, but it might be a good alternative application to teach.

Palm Hooking Blocks

Finally we get to the palm hooking blocks. As stated above, the block is supposedly derived from taekkyeon. The motions are also reminiscent of "cloud hands" found in taijiquan (in fact, most taekkyeon hand motions may be based in taijiquan or a similar art). If you perform multiple palm hooking blocks continuously (rather than finishing one before starting the other), they do look like outward cloud hands, so a simple application for this set would be just deflecting a jab-cross outward before striking.

One application is use the first hooking block as a strike. The movement has a cross-arm chamber (although it usually isn't emphasized) similar to karate's shuto uke chamber, and Stuart Anslow in Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-do Hae Sul notes that the cupping shape of the palm makes it an ideal tool for striking the head. So we can use the reaction hand to parry an attack (chamber), before striking the opponent's head.
Source: Practical Kata Bunkai

What if your opponent blocks you? Use the second hooking block to grab and drag the opponent's hand, pulling it as you punch them. In the pattern's official instructions, the second hooking block and the punch are meant to be performed as one motion. This application is very similar to Iain Abernethy's knifehand block drill shown in the right gif. (Fun fact: in the 1965 version of Yul-Gok, the movement is a "knifehand hooking block".)

The form follows with a second lunge punch the second time you perform this set. You could grab the back of the opponent's shirt, then step behind them for a throw (reaction hand pulls, punching hand pushes). Another interpretation is to use the first "punch" to press onto the opponent's elbow after you grab their arm, putting them into an armbar. You then move forward into the second lunge punch to strike their head.
Application for Yul-Gok 18-21. Source for top row: Orjan Nilsen
Since this set has many other applications, I will post an addendum later with a more detailed discussion.


1) A couple other "blocks" that might not have a Shotokan basis are the nine-block and double arc hand block in Gae-Baek. I don't know all 26 Shotokan kata so I could be wrong, but these two blocks are usually associated with taekwondo. The nine-block is used in jujitsu as an arm break. The double arc hand is reminiscent of the body pushing in taijiquan.

2) Aiki-jujitsu was being taught in Korea at the time Yul-Gok was developed (it's what Hapkido is based on), and we know that early taekwondoin studied jujitsu, as locks appear in both The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do and General Choi's 1965 book Tae Kwon Do: The Art of Self-Defense. There is more evidence of an aiki-jujitsu influence in the 1st Dan pattern Gae-Baek.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kwang-Gae: The Knifehand Low Front Block

This post will be a couple applications for a move that's baffled me for some time: the closed-stance knifehand low front block (Moa So Sonkal Najunde Ap Makgi) at move 12 in Kwang-Gae. The movement is performed in a circular manner -- from head to groin -- with the knifehand hitting your opposite palm. Similar movements appear in kung-fu forms, taekkyeon , kukki-taekwondo (with a hammerfist), and of course karate.

The first application uses the set:
  • Cat stance high guarding block
  • Double step and turn 180-degrees into front stance upward palm block
  • Closed stance knifehand low front block
After defending against an attack, employ the primary grappling application of the guarding block: back arm wrapped around the opponent's arm and front forearm striking the opponent's neck. From here you can pull their arm (reaction hand) while cranking their head back and downwards (upward palm block) as you double step behind them and turn 180-degrees. Your palm continues upwards, cranking the opponent's head further and exposing the back of their neck. You then strike with the knifehand low front "block".
Source for leftmost image: mannymelgoza
In the form you practice the upward palm block on the other side before striking, so you strike with the right knifehand. But if you are holding the opponent's head with your right hand, then you would strike with the left.

The second set is:
  • Closed stance knifehand low front block
  • Combination low side kick (pressing kick), middle side kick to the side, keeping both hands low
Source: Karate Culture
I'm going to steal Karate Culture's application for the low circling hands: catching the opponent's head and pushing it downwards, perhaps using the other hand to press on the small of their back. Although they use this from outside the opponent's arms, I don't see why it can't be used from inside as well. From this position, simply kick out the back of both opponent's legs (the double side kick).

Application for Kwang-Gae 12-14. The two side kicks are aimed at the back of the opponent's legs.
Although these two applications may seem obvious in retrospect, it took me a long time to find something I was satisfied with. To me this is evidence that even if a section of a pattern seems mysterious or confusing, don't dismiss it outright: there might be something you're missing.

Putting it all together

One way to interpret the first four sets of Kwang-Gae is as various follow-ups from the Heaven Hand defensive position. After blocking a swinging attack, strike their neck (hands splitting). From here you can attempt a headlock (opening move); a bent elbow crank (circular upset punch), or one of the two sets described above.
Sources: Practical Kata Bunkai, Darren Selley,  Catch Jutsu, mannymelgoza, karate culture 
So rather than being a disparate set of techniques, the first third of Kwang-Gae can be viewed as an analysis of the Heaven Hand as a defensive tool.

Read more Kwang-Gae applications here.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Do-San: Additional Applications

Previous posts on Do-San:
Do-San Applications, Part 1

In this post I will finish providing applications for Do-San, focusing mainly on the spearhand strike and wedging block sets.

Head Hook Takedown

The supported spearhand thrust followed by the release motion and turn comes from the karate kata Heian Sandan, and has many applications. It can be used as a throw, for instance. Use the supporting hand to press on the small of the opponent's back while you turn and thrust their head downwards.
Source: Practical Kata Bunkai
There are many variations of this throw. Rather than press on the small of the opponent's back, you might overhook with the supporting hand, due to the way we setup the spearhand. From here you can grab the opponent and pull with the backfist motion as you spin. Push their head with your open palm.

Source: Practicaltaekwondo
Another variation is to link your arms when doing the takedown. This isn't what we do in the form, but it's common in other arts. However, the motion is reminiscent of the supported ridgehand strike in both Choong-Moo and Gae-Baek.

Knee/Hip block takedown

The above application doesn't utilize the wrist turn -- something re-added in later by Gen Choi (fnt. 1). However, Matthew Sylvester has another takedown utilizing the release motion with wrist turn as a knee block. Karate Culture has a similar application in the bellow image: using the rotated spearhand to block the hip as the other hand pulls.
Source: Karate Culture
Strike back of head

Source: practicaltaekwondo
Another application for the spearhand is a strike to the back of the head. I rather like this one because in my club we perform the spearhand strike at a slight downward angle (aiming at the ribs/solar plexus), meaning that in the right situation we can strike across the back of an opponent's head with our knifehand.

Wristlock escape

So the standard application you may have learned for the spearhand set is escaping a grab. You pull away with the release motion, then spin and hit them with the backfist. For a simple wrist grab this doesn't make much sense; why would you expose your back like this? However, some pattern analyzers have expanded on this idea and suggested that it's a wrist lock or armbar you are escaping, evidenced by the wrist turn (which also appears in the kata Heian Sandan).
Source: katashotokan
I can't say I'm a big fan of this one. However, I mention it because it's a commonly cited application.

In my previous post I interpreted the wrist turn as creating an armbar: turning over the opponent's elbow with your palm as you pull their wrist down towards your hip.

Sparring application

  KatarinaTerzic Conrad
Finally, a sparring application I was once taught for this set was to use the release motion to parry a front kick. You then follow up with a spinning backfist strike. This depends on how exactly your club performs the release (it seems that every club does it slightly differently), but if it's anything like the image on the left your grandmaster probably preferred the "parry a kick" interpretation.

Brush-grab-strike, armbar

Now on to the second backfist: since the backfist uses the same wrist-to-wrist chamber as the low block, we can also use the full motion as brush-grab-strike against a straight punch. After striking our opponent's face with the backfist, step out and turn 270-degrees, pulling the opponent's arm (outer-forearm block), and then pressing forward onto their elbow (back hand punch).

Roundhouse punch defense

For the wedging block set, there's an application from Russ Martin that I rather like. The block is performed at a 45-degree angle, so we can use it to stop a haymaker/roundhouse punch. From here you can front kick the opponent's knee or, as Mr. Martin suggests, use the rechambering of the front kick as an o soto gari sweep.

Source: RussMartinAppliedTKD

Application for front hand, back hand punch combination.
Source: practical kata bunkai
Russ Martin has some other application ideas for Do-San in the source video.

To add a little more detail to this: the first punch after you sweep can be used to hook the opponent's head and push it forward. The second punch can be used to crank their head -- something useful if they grab you -- finishing the throw.

Double lapel grab defense

Ignoring the 45-degree angle, this set can be used as a double lapel grab defense. There are two versions of this: first, you can come over your opponent's arms and press them down with the wedging block chamber, then grab their head and press into their eyes (wedging block). Follow with the front kick to their knee or groin. Perform a knee strike instead if you are too close.

Wedging block chamber
as a strike.
Source: Fighting Arts
The other version is to use the wedging block chamber to strike the opponent's radial nerves. This comes from, and the author claims he learned this from an Okinawan teacher. You then use the wedging block to grab the opponent's arms, and then pull them in as you kick the groin or inner thigh. Follow up with the two punches.

Tomoe Nage

If you want something fun and different to practice, wedging block followed by front kick may be used as a tomoe nage (circle throw) sacrifice throw. Read about it here. Use the wedging block to grab your opponent. Then, as you fall on your back, use the front kick to kick them up and over you.

Wedge Throw

The riding stance knifehand strike is commonly interpreted as a simple wedge throw. In Capoiera this defense is so common that it's been given the name of "Vingativa" (meaning "vindictive"), named because it is used as a quick counter to a missed kick. However, the movement may be used against a hand strike as well.

Capoiera's Vingativa. Source: Howcast
Use the knifehand strike with chamber as brush-grab-strike, deflecting the opponent's attack inward. Before or as you strike, step forward in riding stance, knocking your hips behind your opponents. Land close enough so that you can use your full arm (including elbow) to push.

From here you can sweep out the opponent's leg and pull their arm. Use the foot movement into the second knifehand strike as the sweep. You could also interpret the second knifehand strike itself as a further pull (if you keep your hand closed), although it's likely just practicing the motion on the other side.
Sources: Tom Hill's Karate Dojo and Tigon Karate

1) In the 1965 version of Do-San, there are no instructions for a wrist turn, and old performances of Do-San do not include it. However, it exists in Heian Sandan -- the form this set is taken form -- and Gen. Choi added the wrist turn back in by the time of the 1986 version of the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Taekwondo Guarding Block Explained

The most common hand technique in the ITF forms is probably the knifehand guarding block, let alone all its variations (closed-fist, low, ridgehand). I wanted to dedicate a post to this technique, because I find it to be poorly understood. It's usually interpreted as a corruption of the karate move shuto uke, because it uses a different chamber. This perspective is frustrating for two reasons.

(Top) ITF Taekwondo guarding block
(Bottom) End of karate kata bassai dai
Source: shotokankataman
Firstly, the chamber does come from karate. Historically there were multiple versions of the shuto uke chamber, just like there were multiple versions of the low block chamber and rising block chamber (fnt 1). It's likely that multiple versions of the same uke were taught precisely because different chambers had different applications, but as karate became more standardized and uke became nothing more than blocks, practicing multiple chambers became unimportant. A remnant of our chamber still exists at the end of the karate kata bassai dai (fnt 2). Either early taekwondoin liked this variation better or were eager to differentiate their own art from karate.

Secondly, our chamber has plenty of applications; it's just that they are different from those of shuto uke. We shouldn't say that a spoon is a poor utensil because it can't cut like a knife. Furthermore, the ITF forms are designed with this chamber in mind, so we must take it into account when discovering applications. Something to keep in mind is that the knifehand guarding block -- like all makki or uke -- is a template movement. It has several applications, albeit by varying the movement slightly. This is a feature, not a bug: it's intended to make learning the forms easier because you don't have to learn a new movement for every single application.

In this post I will cover eight such applications -- six for the knifehand version, two for the closed-fist version -- using examples from the forms. Two obvious applications I'm skipping are 1) using the guarding block as simply a block or 2) as a "fence" to keep distance from your opponent, as neither utilizes the chamber.

Application 1: Against a roundhouse punch

One use of the chamber -- in fact, I'd say the primary use -- is to block a roundhouse punch (haymaker). I've found numerous examples of this; a few are in the image below. Use the high (back) arm as the primary part of the block, with the other hand supporting. In the next motion, simultaneously strike the opponent's neck (front forearm) while overhooking their arm (back arm). This is a simple, effective response to a haymaker that you see in several self-defense curricula.
Sources: John Tichen Karatemannymelgoza, Gun Carrier, CrossFitFight Method, and Victor Marx
The block isn't quite a wedging block. It's more like a steeple block or leverage block from barekuckle boxing. You're parrying a punch with an upward arm motion.

This application lends credence to the idea that karate/taekwondo blocks are done in two motions because the first motion (the chamber) is the block. In this case, the block-proper is a strike since your front forearm strikes the opponent's neck, but it's not a strong strike and the purpose of the move is to control your opponent. You can follow up with more strikes -- particularly knees or hand strikes to the back of the head.

Application 2: Head Crank

I was skeptical of this when I first read about it in Stuart Anslow's books (Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul), but after analyzing the forms myself I find this is one of the more common applications. If you move your hands closer together (remember: template motion), then it's like you are grasping someone's head in between them. Your hands twist as you move from the chamber to the block-proper, cranking the head.

Sources: Richard Conceicao, Stewart McGill
Generally, any 180-degree turn into a knifehand guarding block could be a head crank. One example is the first three moves of Choong-Moo. After blocking an attack with the twin outer-forearm block (move 1), you perform an inward strike to your opponent's neck while pushing up their jaw (simultaneous inward strike and knifehand rising block, move 2). You then turn 180-degrees and crank the head (knifehand guarding block, move 3), throwing them to the floor.

This may also be used for Toi-Gye move 22 -- after the upward knee strike -- the end of Hwa-Rang, and in the Kukkiwon form Koryo.

Application 3: Deflect, hook wrist

Single whip for deflection and striking.
Source: Enter Tai Chi
The chamber can also be used to deflect inward, in a manner similar to Tai Chi's single whip (see image). Rather than grabbing the arm and pulling to your hip -- like we do in most basic blocks -- we can instead hook the wrist, which allows additional follow up techniques.

One example is the following application for Gae-Baek 19-20, which I learned in an Aikido class. After using both palms or forearms to deflect a straight punch or knife stab (guarding block chamber), you then strike the opponent while simultaneously overhooking their wrist (guarding block). It's important that you hook so that you can grab your opponent's wrist from underneath. This allows you to supinate their arm as you pull it out with the nine-block.

Grab their wrist and pull it out and downward while raising your other forearm under their elbow, spraining their arm (nine-block). This is shown in the image below. You may then use move 21 as a takedown.
Application for Gae-Baek 19-20. Source for right column: Howcast
Application 4: Tackle defense

The guarding block works as a simple defense against any tackle or charge. Stepping backwards into the defense, the front arm blocks the opponent's neck, while the back arm overhooks their arm. This allows you to redirect your opponent's energy as they shoot for your legs.
Source: Gun Carrier
From here a few follow-ups are possible. You could strike your opponent's head, or you could try to transition into a lock.

Application 5: Front kick catch

The overhooking motion of the back arm can also be used to catch a front kick, as I detailed in my post on Joong-Gun. The front hand either strikes or posts on the back of the opponent's head. You may then use the follow-up move in Joong-Gun -- front stance upward elbow strike -- to throw your opponent as you simultaneously pull down their head and lift their leg. Use the stance shift to step outside the opponent's standing leg, tripping them as you throw.
Application for Joong-Gun 7-8/9-10. Source: TakingItToTheMMAT
Application 6: Pushing takedown

Source: Yin Style Bagua
Occasionally you see the guarding block used as a type of wedge throw, trying to push your opponent down over your hips. I think there are better techniques for this, but you do see this sort of thing in Chinese martial arts such as Bagua (left gif). The idea is that you are deflecting then returning energy, taking advantage of your opponent's retraction.

This is commonly applied to using multiple guarding blocks in a sequence, such as in Won-Hyo and some Kukkiwon forms. In the following defense for a grab, perform an elbow strike as you shoot back your arms (first guarding block chamber). Then push out the side of the opponent's head (first guarding block) while hooking their shoulder. Continue into the chamber for the second guarding block, pushing and throwing the opponent via their head and shoulder.
Source: Bunkai Jutsu
Application 7: Two-handed pull

This is specifically for the closed-fist version of the guarding block. The parallel motion of the two fists makes a good two-handed pull. You may have noticed that in a number of forms (Won-Hyo, Joong-Gun, Choong-Moo, and Gae-Baek), this pull follows a side kick. You may use the side kick to either kick out the opponent's leg or to set up a trip/reap, and the closed-fist guarding block to pull your opponent over it.

Tai otoshi throw
One form that this may be the intended use for is Choong-Moo, because you land backwards after you side kick (move 15). This allows you to trip as you pull your opponent, similar to a tai otoshi throw. The follow-up 45-degree roundhouse kick may then be used as a contingency move in case your opponent steps over your tripping leg -- a common defense against tai otoshi. Use it to sweep our their front leg.

Application 8: Standing Armbar

A similar interpretation is grabbing your opponent's wrist with your front hand and elbow with your back hand. You may then use the pulling motion to create a temporary armbar. We can use this for the same set from Choong-Moo described above, this time for a distance grab. Kick the opponent (side kick), pull them forward into an armbar (closed-fist guarding block), and then use the 45-degree roundhouse kick to either kick their head or sweep their front leg.
Possible sequence of defenses for Choong-Moo 15-17, from the Self-Defense section of the Encyclopedia

I have provided 8 applications for the taekwondo guarding block. To those of you searching for applications within the forms you know, I hope this has been helpful.

The karate chamber for shuto uke has its own share of applications: knocking away a limb, parrying a straight punch, etc. I would encourage you to learn both versions and keep what works for you.


1) In Hayashi Ha Shito Ryu Karate, the rising block is chambered inside the reaction hand like in ITF taekwondo. The founder, Soke Hayashi, claims he learned and practiced both versions and that they had different applications. Source.

2) Thanks to rjan Nilsen of Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings for bringing this to my attention.

3) Incidentally, the application for the end of Bassai Dai makes a good follow-up to this application of the guarding block. You can view it here (practical kata bunkai). Combined with the roundhouse punch defense, personally I would teach this as an application for the two consecutive guarding blocks in Won-Hyo.