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
Sources:
Stephen Kestling
PracticalKataBunkai
KravMagaDFW
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 originally 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: Judoinfo.com/leglocks

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
Details:
  • 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.

Friday, October 27, 2017

10: Hwa-Rang chicken wing lock


Hwa-Rang is the oldest ITF form, which just might make it the first Taekwondo form ever created. It is also one of two forms credited to Nam Tae Hi [1], the other being Choong-Moo. Based on my analysis, Hwa-Rang is mostly about limb control, whereas Choong-Moo is mostly about throws.

One simple example of limb control is moves 15-17, which we can use to create a chicken wing lock (also called a hammerlock [2]). This lock is commonly used by security and law enforcement. The set is:
  • Knifehand guarding block
  • Supported spearhand thrust
  • Turn 180-degrees into knifehand guarding block
  • (Optional) back leg roundhouse kick
The Technique

Let's start with something manageable: an attempted lapel grab.
Source: Springfield BJJ Network
Details:
  • Raise your back arm to ward off the attack (guarding block chamber)
  • Circle low so that your back hand is blocking your opponent's wrist, and grip under their tricep with your front palm (knifehand guarding block). This is the set up for an arm drag.
  • Pull the opponent's tricep towards your body (supporting hand) while you force their forearm back with the back of your right forearm (spearhand thrust). This both bends your opponent's elbow and creates the initial shoulder lock. Another example by Jeremy Pollack is below
Supported spearhand thrust application. Source: Gun Carrier
  • Turn 180-degrees and use your right hand (the back hand of the second guarding block) to press down on your opponent's elbow, putting them into a chicken wing lock.
  • (Optional) kick in the back of their legs with the roundhouse kick, taking them to the ground.
The most important tip for maintaining this lock is to put pressure on their elbow, not their triceps or shoulder, as the opponent can resist the latter fairly easily. Although kicking in the back of the legs is a suitable finish, another takedown you can do is just circle counter-clockwise while pressing downwards on the opponent's shoulder.

Instead of using the supporting hand to grip the inside of the opponent's triceps, you might grip the outside of their elbow or perhaps their shoulder, though the latter requires more brute strength.
Alternate entries to the chicken wing lock.
Sources: AikiProductionsROGUE WARRIORS 
The roundhouse kick can also be used as a contigency leg sweep in case you fail to apply the lock properly and the opponent slips free.

Entering with the guarding block

On application of the knifehand block I often see is striking the side of the opponent's neck in close range. Personally I find this difficult to perform with power (why not just punch or do a normal knifehand strike?), but if you step forward into the movement it can work as a "push", using your forearm and body weight to press the opponent backwards. This is especially useful if your opponent is already leaning back, perhaps in response to a punch you've thrown.

Most of the sets in Hwa-Rang can be interpreted as a response to your right hand punch being parried or grabbed, so let's use that interpretation here as well. Open with the first move of the form -- palm pushing block -- to push down an opponent's guard (or perhaps parry their right) and follow up with the punch. If the opponent parries while leaning back, then we step in and execute the guarding block to their neck. Although this is a "strike" because we are hitting the neck, the main purpose is to keep up pressure on the opponent and create an opportunity to perform the lock. The back hand of the guarding block circles up and then down, as in the chamber, going over the opponent's arm. We may then attempt the chicken wing lock.
Sources: Samir Seif, PracticalKataBunkai, AikiProductions
You may need to clear the opponent's parrying arm before moving in. Using the guarding block chamber -- pulling back your grabbed arm while striking into their arm with your left knifehand -- can accomplish this.


[1] Nam Tae Hi's student Han Cha Kyo made Ul-Ji, so sometimes Ul-Ji is credited to him as well. These three forms were made almost a decade before the majority of the ITF forms; they may have been meant to be a stand-alone self-defense system.

[2] "Hammerlock" can also refer to a similar, two-handed lock where you pull the opponent's elbow in towards your hip while forcing their wrist up towards the back of their neck.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

9: Po-Eun leg lift

Source (right image): MEMAG
The final two moves of Po-Eun are
  • Cross step into X-stance low front block, with the opposite palm hitting the the side of the fist
  • Step out in the same direction into riding stance low ridgehand guarding block
Unlike the knifehand low front block in Kwang-Gae, there are no instructions for the movement to be circular. Personally I prefer grappling interpretations for Po-Eun; the preceding set works well as a headlock defense, for example. However, the low front block is usually explained as blocking a front kick, so I think it's worth first exploring that application.

Front kick defense

First question: can the movement be practically applied against a front kick? Yes, actually, but not in the way you might think.

You never want to block a front kick straight on. Rather, you want to get off the line of fire and deflect the kick. One simple way to do this is by twisting your body. Take a look at the gif from one of Dan Djurdjevic's older videos.
Source: Dan Djurdjevic
Notice how after twisting, he takes a cross step in towards his opponent. He uses his front arm not as a hard block but rather as a deflection. So the X-stance low front block does work against a front kick, but the trick is that you should be facing sideways from your opponent. We can use the opposite hand (the palm hitting the side of the fist) to catch the leg after deflecting.

What's neat about this defense is that it works no matter what leg the opponent kicks with, and we can still utilize the ending move of Po-Eun as a takedown. If you catch the leg from outside, then you just use your forearm to press down your opponent's torso while lifting their leg.


But what if you catch the leg from inside? This is where the grappling interpretation comes in.

Leg lift with inside trip

Suppose we are not facing a front kick but are rather in a grappling situation. The low front block can be used as a two-handed leg pick, using the cross step to get close. You then step through the opponent's legs into the riding stance, setting up an inside trip, and lift their leg. The chamber for the guarding block -- raising both arms back -- comprises the actual throw, but as the opponent falls your arms naturally go into the low ridgehand guarding block position.
Source: MEMAG
If you catch an opponent's front kick from the inside, you can use this throw as well.

It's worth noting that the source video shows two counters to this throw, one of which is just a strike to the thrower's head. Using both hands to grab a leg leaves your head exposed, so think carefully about when it's proper to apply this technique. You might apply the previous two moves in the form as strikes: an elbow strike to the throat followed by a low hammerfist to the groin. This will distract your opponent and allow you to go for the leg lift. As before, you should be facing your opponent more-or-less sideways.
Striking applications for the preceding two moves (15-16/33-34).
Sources: DTDTRyan Parker

Thursday, October 5, 2017

7: Chon-Ji sparring combinations

One unfortunate thing taekwondoin find about their forms is that most of the sets can't be used in sparring. ITF taekwondo sparring is kickboxing-lite, and you are not allowed to grab your opponent, but most forms are designed for grappling situations.

However, you can sometimes rework sets into combinations usable in sparring. Two examples of this are the sets from our white belt form, Chon-Ji.

  • Front stance low block
  • Front stance middle punch
And 
  • Back stance inner-forearm block
  • Front stance middle punch
Instead of treating these movements as one block followed by one strike, you can rework them into three strikes each.
Source: Advanced Karate Techniques
In the above image, the karateka uses the low block chamber (the karate version) as a simultaneous side parry and punch. He then follows with the hammerfist strike, and then steps forward with a jab.

Below, Ryan Parker applies the inner-forearm block in a similar fashion. He uses the chamber as a down parry and punch, and then follows with the block-proper as a strike to the side of the neck. Personally I find that in sparring the motion works better as a rolling backfist to the face. Just like with the low block, after the two strikes you follow with a step forward and jab.
(Left) Inner-forearm block as two strikes. Source: Ryan Parker.
 (Right) A rolling backfist. Source: Tao of Peace Martial Arts
So to recap, the two striking sets are:
  1. Simultaneous side parry with front hand and punch with back hand
  2. Low hammerfist
  3. Step forward and jab
And
  1. Simultaneous down parry with front hand and punch with back hand
  2. Rolling backfist to face
  3. Step forward and jab
You can work this into a simple shadow boxing drill. Practice the first combination. Then, since you stepped forward for the jab, repeat on the other side. (This way you're also practicing a jab-cross). Now the do the second combination, and then repeat it on the other side. Practice switching between these two combinations so that you can pull them off quickly with muscle memory alone.

Defending a jab-cross

Another reason we chamber basic blocks to block two punches, not one. If your opponent throws a high jab-cross, for example, we can use the inner-forearm block against both punches. So the set would be as follows:
  1. Down parry jab while counter-punching (chamber)
  2. Deflect cross outward (inner-forearm block)
  3. Step forward with your own jab-cross
Jab-crosses are commonly thrown as different levels, so if your opponent throws a high jab-low cross, then you may perform the low block as the second defense instead.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

6: Choong-Jang arm drag to rear naked choke


Here's an application straight out of a jujitsu class. It uses the set from Choong-Jang:
  • Back stance low ridgehand guarding block (move 37/39)
  • Stance shift into front stance nine-shape block (move 38/40)
  • Chamber for move 41, i.e. crossing both arms across chest while moving backwards
The use of the first two movements are shown in the gif below.
Source: Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy
Details:
  • Use the guarding block chamber as a "wax off" motion against a push or attempted grab.
  • Circle downwards, gripping the opponents wrist and triceps with the back and front palm of the guarding block respectively. (For the ridgehand guarding block, both palms face upwards)
  • Pull to the side while stepping forward behind the opponent, getting to their back. 
  • Use the upper arm of the nine-shape block to get a choke, while you use the lower arm to press on the opponent's lower back, breaking their structure. 
  • You can then use both arms to do the choke as you drag your opponent backwards.
Using the lower arm of the nine-block to break the opponent's structure is not a trivial step. The rear naked choke is difficult to escape once balance is lost. Other tutorials recommend you use your knee to break the opponent's balance instead, such as this one by Stephan Kestling.

I admit that I am adding extra footwork to the form (stepping forward while you pull) and changing the nature of the nine-block somewhat. But I believe this is a good self-defense technique for any taekwondoin to know: arm drags and rear naked chokes are both grappling staples. The crossing of the arms (chamber for move 41) is how Stephan Kestling mimes the movement.
In Stephan Kestling's version of the rear naked choke, the knee is used to break the opponent's structure.
Source: Self Defense Tutorials
I also believe this to have a higher chance of working than the usual "joint break" application given for the nine-block, where the lower arm pulls down the opponent's wrist while the upper arm rises under their elbow. This may seem like a good application for this set on first glance, but it's unlikely to work against a resisting opponent because it relies on weak shoulder muscles. A better way to break with the nine-block is to overhook the opponent's arm and get a figure-four lock, shown in the bottom half of the below image. This is more stable and lets you use stronger muscles to break. I believe this is the use of the nine-block in Gae-Baek, but it does not fit the movements in Choong-Jang.
Top: "Joint break" application for the nine-block from the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do. I have doubts about this application. Bottom: A different way to break with the nine-block.
  Sources: Total Self Defense, Radek Scuri

Monday, October 2, 2017

5: Choong-Jang head crank with thigh kick throw

Source: David Veiras
Traditional forms are often confusing at first glance. But when I first saw Choong-Jang I thought, "This form I get. This looks like a self-defense form." The form has eye pokes, throat strikes, low kicks, strikes with the elbow, strikes with the palm heel, and downward throwing motions. Choong-Jang borrows heavily from the retired form Woo-Nam[1]. Studying differences in the sets might reveal things about the form's design.

In this post I'll provide an application for the set
  • Back stance knifehand guarding block
  • Step and slide forward into back stance side elbow strike
  • Shift into back stance knifehand guarding block
  • Front leg side kick
  • Land turning 180-degrees into cat stance twin palm pressing block
Use the first move as a block (using blocks as blocks; how novel), deflecting an opponent's attack inward. Grab their arm and pull it towards your hip (reaction hand) while striking their ribs with your elbow. The slide is used to increase the strength of the strike and bring you closer to your target. From here we'll add a small hidden move: a shoulder bump, which will force our opponent to lower their head.

Source: One Minute Bunkai
Inner-thigh lift throw from the
Encyclopedia of Taekwon-do
So far so good? Next, use the second knifehand guarding block as a head crank. Grab the opponent's head with the chamber (right hand under, left hand on top), and use the "block" to crank the opponent's head counter-clockwise, from your perspective. (Aside: if you haven't been following, this is a common alternate application for the knifehand guarding block. If you bring your palms in parallel, it's like you are holding a head in between them). To complete the throw, kick out their left thigh with the front leg side kick. Turn 180-degrees and continue to crank their head, eventually pushing it to the floor (twin palm pressing block).

The throw is mechanically similar to Judo's uchi mata (inner-thigh lift throw), which appears in the throwing section of the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (right image). In an uchi mata, the kick is used between the opponent's legs in order to lift up their inner thigh. Also, in modern Judo a skipping side kick, rather than a simply front leg side kick, is used to get more leverage. In Choong-Jang I think the intent is more to kick back the opponent's leg, but if you miss the front thigh then you can turn the technique into an inner-thigh lift throw instead.

Please note that this application can potentially hurt someone's neck. Grabbing your partner's clothes while practicing the throw is safer.

Bonus: Woo-Nam version

This set has changed from its original version in Woo-Nam. In this version, the movements after the side elbow strike[2] are:
  • Bring both fists to the right hip ("cup and saucer" or "small hinge" block), while raising the left leg
  • Left leg side kick to the side
  • Land forward into back stance twin palm pressing block
In this case the throw is just an o soto gari with a head push.[3]
Left: The set from Woo-Nam, performed by C.K. Choi. Source: Byresha Boraiah
Right: An o soto gari throw
O soto gari throws are common in the forms. Perhaps that's why when Choong-Jang was made the set was reworked into a different kind of throw.


[1] The reason Choong-Jang is part asymmetric and part symmetric is that the asymmetric sections are based on Woo-Nam, whereas the symmetric sections are new material added by Kim Bok Man and Woo Jae Lim, who made symmetric forms. Woo-Nam is often referred to as "U-Nam", but according to C.K. Choi this is not the proper pronunciation.

[2] In some performances of Woo-Nam, a front stance upward elbow strike (with the front arm) is used instead. It's hard to say which is the original version, but the intended application seems to be a strike.

[3] The opening set of the original Koryo (a Kukki-taekwondo form) has the same application, except a low X-fist block is used to push down the head.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Thoughts on the Kukkiwon forms

Use of the reaction hand as an a pull from
a 1968 Taekwondo textbook. Source:
  Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings
This blog is mainly concerned with the ITF/Ch'ang Hon taekwondo forms. But what about the other set of taekwondo forms: those of WT/Kukki-taekwondo? In this style forms are known as "poomsae". The poomsae were invented a little later than the ITF forms, for an organization that wanted to make taekwondo a sport as well as a martial art. Hence, there is a lot of skepticism surrounding poomsae. How do taekwondoin know they aren't just random moves strung together? If they have applications, how did they become lost?

I haven't studied the Kukkiwon poomsae in any great detail (Organ Nilsen's blog Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings is a good source for that), but just from eyeballing many of the poomsae: they look like they have applications. That doesn't mean I know what the applications are, but the organization of the movements does not seem random and the movements are not just block-punch-kick.

There are three groups of traditional Kukki-taekwondo poomsae: the eight Palgwae forms, the eight Taeguek forms, and the nine (or ten) Black Belt/Yudanja forms. In this post I've briefly go over each group, and then touch on the new competition poomsae the Kukkiwon is developing.

The Palgwae Forms

The Palgwae forms were eventually replaced in favor of the Taeguek, but some WT schools still practice them. They are similar to karate kata in style, with deep stances and rigid movements. Like the lower ITF forms, they appear to be a mix of original sets and sets from the Heian/Pinan kata. There are eight Palgwae poomsae in total.

One thing I noticed about them is the frequent use of the front block (ap makki); that is, what Kukki-taekwondoin would call a middle block (momtong makki) or inward block. This movement is rare in karate kata and ITF forms, although both styles teach the movement in basics. If you look at Palgwae 1 for instance, it starts out with a low block just like Heian Shodan and Chon-Ji, but then moves into a front block instead of a lunge punch.


In fact, there are few "strikes" in Palgwae 1. I put that in quotes, because obviously "blocks" (makki) can be used as strikes. The front block makes a good hammerfist to the head (in fact, the inward knifeward strike, which is the same motion but with an open hand, is also in the form). It could also represent a grab or, if the opponent is lowered, striking with the elbow.
Striking application for the front block, using the pulling hand to control the opponent.
Source: Richard Conceicao
The forms that looks the most taekwondo-ey are Palgwae 6 and 7 due to the kicks, but they never get more complex than simple front and side kicks. All-in-all, I find these reminiscent of the lower ITF forms. The similarity to karate kata probably makes applications easier to find, but I'm not aware of any systematic study of Palgwae applications.

The Taegeuk Forms

In 1971 the Palgwae were replaced with the eight Taegeuk forms. These forms are simpler than even the Palgwae, although they do a good job of steadily increasingly in complexity. They are also similar to each other because they tend to use variants of the same sets. For example: the first two moves of Taegeuk 1 are walking stance low block followed by walking stance punch, whereas the first two moves of Taegeuk 2 are walking stance low block followed by front stance punch.

The most noticeable innovation with the Taegeuks is the frequent use of "walking stance", a high stance formed by simply taking a natural step forward. Walking stance is not used in any of the Palgwae forms; it was likely invented to distinguish the Taegeuks from karate kata, similar to the addition of the sine wave to ITF forms. Although this change is pointed to as evidence of Taekwondo's shift from a mixed grappling and striking art to a kickboxing art, deep stances are not completely absent from the Taegeuks, and we should remember that the merits of deep stances are debated even in traditional circles. I've read that Okinawan Karate used high stances, and even Gen. Choi wrote in his Encyclopedia that one's front stance must not be too deep. Chambers and the pulling hand are still present. The Taegeuks are also more strike-heavy than the Palgwae, including a wider array of kicks and elbow strikes.

Were the Taegeuks built with deeper applications in mind? Simon John O'Neil thinks so. His book The Taegeuk Cipher contains applications for all eight forms. Take this application for the end of Taeguek 5, for example, which is suspiciously similar to the end of our 5th form, Yul-Gok.
Application for end of Taegeuk 5 (left), very similar to the end of the 5th ITF form Yul-Gok (right).
Sources: Pal Kwon, Southern Minnesota Martial Arts
At the very least, the forms have some intelligent design to them. In Taegeuk 1 the first two low blocks are in walking stance, but the third low block -- performed with a 90-degree turn -- is in front stance, which singles the move out as a throw. Taegeuk 7 uses a ready position in the middle of the form. Some higher ITF forms do this as well, since ready positions have their own applications.

All that said, the Taegeuks are a frequency mocked set of forms for being too simple. You can read a defense of the poomsae here if you're interested.

The Black Belt/Yudanja Forms

Unlike the Palgwae and Taegeuk forms, the nine Yudanji forms are not a consistent set which build on one another. Each one was supposedly made to represent a different Kwon school, and it shows.

The 1st Dan form Koryo relies heavily on striking: including low and high kicks, elbow strikes, and throat grabs. Its ready position is reminiscent of the Heaven Hand from Kwang-Gae, although the orientation of the palms suggests it can be used as a direct strike to the opponent's face. There is a strange portion in the middle of the form where a slow motion, circular low target hammerfist strike is used; explanations of this movement I've come across include a strike to a downed opponent, a bear hug defense, or just centering your chi.
A Danish team's interpretation of side elbow strike followed by low section hammerfist as a dual strike to the opponent's ribs and groin. But wouldn't a low block after the elbow strike be better for this?
Source: DTDT
In contrast to the fast and dynamic Koryo, the 2nd Dan form Keumgang contains a number of slow-motion movements, no kicks, and a lot of repetition. It's an interesting form and I've seen some creative interpretations for it. Take the spinning angle punch, for example. It may seem bizarre at first glance, but it makes a good spinning armbar takedown.
Source: Pal Kwon
The 3rd Dan form, Taebaek, is the most karate-inspired of the set, being clearly based on the Heian/Pinan kata. There are some curious alterations, however. For the opening set of Heian Nidan, the hammerfist is changed to a punch, which is the same alteration that ITF taekwondo uses in Won-Hyo and Hwa-Rang. In any case, because it's based on the Heians it's fairly easy to guess applications for. [1]

Beside the nine Yudanja forms, there is a retired form called the "original Koryo"[2], which despite the name bares little resemblance to the modern Koryo. In fact, this is the original 1st Dan form; it was replaced with the modern Koryo around the same time as the Taegeuks replaced the Palgwae. It is surprisingly short, only 20 moves, but seems to enjoy a good reputation among those who study applications. Richard Conceicao has two videos (one, two) on this form.

Application for a set from the original Koryo ending in a low X-fist block. Source: Richard Conceicao
Officially it was retired for being too simple, which I find unlikely since although it is short it certainly isn't a simple form. The real reason for its replacement, like the Taegeuks, may have been political.

The only textbook on applications for the Yudanja forms I know of is Taekwondo Poomsae: The Fighting Scrolls by Kingsley Umoh, but it is not comprehensive.

Competition Poomsae

In the past couple years, the Kukkiwon has experimented with new, challenging poomsae for taekwondo competitions. 13 such forms have been invented (ten back in 2016, then the three recent Bee-Gak poomsae). Their introduction has been controversial, as they are clearly developed to show off taekwondo's athletic kicking techniques. Below is a performance of Bee-Gak 2.


Proponents of the new forms point out that the traditional forms don't represent what the art has become and these forms give students a chance to practice advanced kicks. Opponents state that this is a consequence of the sportification of taekwondo and the forms were not created with any practical self-defense knowledge in mind.

The new poomsae appear to be a mixed bag of kicking and traditional hand techniques. But it's not clear that these techniques have any meaning beyond looking cool. Several of the hand techniques are done in slow motion: is that for application reasons or because they provides an aesthetic contrast to the fast flowing kicks?

I will say a few points about the new poomsae. The first is that having poomsae specifically for competitions isn't inherently a bad thing, provided you keep in mind that's what they are for. Kukki-taekwondo has 17 traditional forms; 26 if you include the Palgwae forms and the Original Koryo. That's already plenty of self-defense knowledge. Second, just because a form looks incoherent at first doesn't mean it is. Karate kata applications were lost for decades, despite the fact that they are practiced world-wide. Forms just aren't made to have obvious meaning. Juche is an example of a "flashy" ITF form, but Stuart Anslow managed to find some interesting applications for it (yes, even for the split kick). Third, for all the disparaging of block-punch-kick applications, those aren't bad things to learn. Defending against and delivering strikes are more likely to help you in a self-defense situation than a complex grappling technique. My issue is that traditional forms simply aren't good at teaching block-punch-kick. The lunge punch doesn't exist outside the dojang, and no one chambers before blocking or pulls their opposite hand down to their hip. A true block-punch-kick form would look more like shadow boxing, which the kicking sections of the new poomsae sort-of approach.



[1] I don't mean that the Heians are inherently easier to understand, but rather that there is already a lot of online information about applications for the Heians.

[2] Some schools teach both versions of Koryo, and refer to them as "Koryo 1" and "Koryo 2". "Old Koryo" is also a common name for the original Koryo.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hae Sul 4: Gae-Baek elbow lock takedown

12-22-2017: This post has gone through some rewrites. I now interpret the arc hand block followed by the upset punch as creating a wrist lock.

So much for the first double arc hand block in Gae-Baek. Now for the second.

Movements 25-28 of Gae-Baek can be used to create a couple wrist and arm locks. The double arc hand "block" can used to set up an S-lock, also called a Z-lock or nikkyo. The way this lock works is similar to the standing armbar (ikkyo). Both require you to pronate the opponent's arm, but whereas in the armbar the opponent's arm is straight, in the S-lock the opponent's elbow is bent. As you bend and force the opponent's wrist towards their body, this forces their elbow upwards. So all you have to do to complete the lock is prevent the opponent's elbow from rising up.
Sources: coshigouldBlack Belt Magazine
The reaction hand for the upset punch pulls down the opponent's elbow while the upset punch bends their wrist in towards their body. This creates the lock. Applied literally, the movements create a Z-lock against a cross hand grab. But with minor modification you can create the lock against a same-side wrist grab as well.

There are other ways to apply the Z-lock. Rather than directly hooking the elbow with your second arc hand, you could trap the opponent's hand as you twist their wrist.
Another way of applying the S-lock. Source: ExpertVillage
Notice that in the form, we are creating the lock on the opponent's left arm. If the lock fails, we can then use move 27 (180-degree turn into horizontal elbow strike) to follow with waki gatame (also called hiji kime osae in Aikido). This lock is functionally similar to the S-lock and standard armbar. It involves pronating the opponent's arm while placing your elbow on top of theirs, locking their arm. The supporting hand pushes the opponent's hand in towards their body, getting a secondary wrist lock. From here, we can use the "leap" into the double forearm block as a takedown.
Movements 27-28 as an armlock followed by a takedown. Note that in the example the tori controls the right arm, whereas in the form we control the left arm.
Source: Budo Shingikan School, coushigould
"Leap" is in quotes because a literal leap is not necessary (although that would be a quick-and-dirty takedown). Look at the variation from Hapkidoin Alain Burrese below. Rather than leaning forward onto his opponent, he leans backwards and sits down, forcing his opponent to the ground with him.
Source: Your Warrior's Edge
Although it's not a leap, you can still see the use of the double forearm block, bending both the wrist and arm in towards the opponent's body.

Because both of these techniques follow from a wrist grab attack, the preceding move in the form -- the twin vertical face punch -- may be used as an initial strike: a quick pop to the face if an opponent grabs your wrist.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hae Sul 3: Hwa-Rang twin block set

Hwa-Rang moves 4-6 is clearly based on the opening of Heian Nidan, but adds in an odd bit of footwork: slipping in the front foot, and then sliding out into fixed stance for the third move. Funny enough, the footwork for Heian Nidan has often changed in between different versions of the form:
  • Heian Nidan: Remain in back stance for all three moves
  • Pinan Shodan: First two moves in cat stance. Shift into ready stance for move 3
  • Pinan Sono Ni: First two moves in cat stance. Slip front foot into riding stance for move 3
None of these are quite what we do in Hwa-Rang; it's just interesting that different karate masters felt a need to alter this set.

Slipping the front foot is not just cosmetic: it can be used to get around an opponent's leg, to create space to pass an arm, or as a sweep. Take a look at the following application for the opening of Won-Hyo from Matthew Sylvester's channel
Source: Practical Taekwondo
I like this application, but although he identifies it for Won-Hyo I think it works a little better for Hwa-Rang because 1) the upward punch is a better torso attack than a knifehand strike, 2) If the opponent resists the foot sweep, we can use the forward slide as a takedown.

Therefore, here is my modified version of the above application.
  • Use the crossed-arm chamber for the twin block as a parry-pass. I.e. parry an attack inward with your front arm, then grab and raise up your opponent's arm with your back hand as you step forward. I noticed that in the Encyclopedia, the student performs the move with a half-turned front fist. Though this is likely an error, you can use the half-turned fist as a side backfist strike to your opponent's face or jaw as you lift their arm. Dan Djurdjevic shows something close in the image below.
Source: Dan Djurdjevic
  • Grab their shirt with your front hand. Pull them in as you perform the upward punch, striking their solar plexus or driving up under their ribs.
  • Sweep out your opponent's left leg with your right leg (slipping the right foot back in)
  • Use the slide forward to knock out your opponent's hips as you bar the front of their body with the punch, knocking them to the floor.
This sort of hip bump or "wedge throw" is a simple takedown: by ramming into someone with the slide you take their balance. Below is a gif of Lyoto Machida using such a technique in the UFC.
Source: Bleacher Report
This is also what I think might be going on in Pinan Sono Ni, with the slipping of the front foot into riding stance.

Sources

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hae Sul 2: Gae-Baek drop takedown

In General Choi's books the double arc hand block is portrayed as catching a frisbee or throw pillow -- something that got a chuckle out of me the first time I saw it. Here I'll analyze the first time the movement appears in Gae-Baek and get something else out of it. The set is:
  • Front stance rising block 
  • Maintaining stance, low block
  • Maintaining stance, double arc hand block
  • Lift and bring in front foot to bending ready stance A
Of note, this is the first time in the ITF forms that a bending ready stance is not followed by a kick. In my club we tend to turn an extra 45-degrees as we perform the stance, in preparation for move 9.

A common interpretation for the last two moves is a two-handed "push" followed by a sweep. To avoid retreading old ground here's a different application, shown in the combined gif below:
Sources: One Minute Bunkai, Maul565
Details:
  • Assume an opponent grabs you. Use the rising block as an upward strike to their jaw (not in the gif) as you grab a hold of their wrist with your reaction hand.
  • Use the low block to crank their arm
  • Continue the crank into the double arc hand block. The top arc hand strikes the opponent's jaw
  • You can use the bending ready stance as a knee strike to the back of the head, but the interpretation I like is stepping behind your opponent and dropping to one knee, throwing them to the ground.
There are a couple other uses for the rising block. In the form you move backwards into it: it could be that your opponent is doing a grab-and-punch to the head and you are defending (a rising block, properly used, makes a good round punch defense). Another option is that your opponent is doing a double grab, and the rising block is breaking one of the grabs. Something similar is shown in the images below.
Left: rising block against a round punch. Right: rising block and low block against a double grab.
Sources: KDCombat System, Richard Moon
Edit 10-11-2017: For another, similar application, I recently stumbled across Paul O'Leary's old blog. You can read his application for the set here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hae Sul 1: Dan-Gun rotary throw

I've decided to try a different format for these posts. Rather than long, encyclopedic explanations of forms, I'm going to focus on single sets at a time. This will hopefully make things more digestible. For the inaugural post, let's return to Dan-Gun.

The twin outer-forearm block has changed between karate and ITF taekwondo. In both karate and kukki-taekwondo the front fist faces inward. This works well for one of it's main applications: a simultaneously rising block and strike to the jaw. The chamber is also down at the hips, meaning both arms travel upwards.

Twin block from Choi's 1965 book
Oddly, ITF taekwondo made two changes to the movement, and not at the same time. By the time Choi's 1965 book Taekwon-do: The Korean Art of Self-Defense was published, the front fist faced outward, but the trajectory of the technique was the same as in karate (right image). By the time the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-do was published 20 years later, the chamber had altered into the cross-arm setup we practice today.

Because of these two changes, the applications differ from the karate version. The orientation suggests that both hands could be grasping something. Take a look at this shoulder lock from an old Judo self-defense manual.
Source: Art of Manliness.
Originally from Modern Judo and Self-Defense by Harry Erwin
In case you can't see it, the back hand rising "block" is used to lift and turn the opponent's arm, while the front hand grabs the opponent's shoulder, pinning them. Even the initial defense looks like the low chamber from Choi's 1965 book. A common variant is to grab the head rather than the shoulder. Although the defender uses a 180-degree turn, often a three-quarters turn makes this lock easier. This brings us to Dan-Gun. The set we'll analyze is:
  • Front stance high punch
  • Front stance high punch
  • Three-quarters turn into back stance twin outer-forearm block, sliding the back leg
  • Front stance high punch
An application for the first three movements are shown in the gif by two Krav Maga instructors below:
Source: Stewart McGill
Details:
  • Use the setup hand to parry a round punch as you enter and thrust your elbow over your opponent's shoulder (first high punch). Make sure you grab and pull your opponent's arm with the reaction hand
  • Take another step forward, raising the opponent's arm while you pull down their shoulder (second high punch)
  • Continue by stepping out with your back leg and doing a three-quarters turn into the twin outer-forearm block, raising their arm and pinning their shoulder or head. This twists the opponent's arm behind their back, putting them into a shoulder lock.
Although the example gif above is against a round punch, I've also seen Krav Maga instructors use this technique against a blunt weapon -- like a bottle or club -- similar to the Judo knife defense above. Twisting the opponent's arm back in this way makes it difficult for them to hold onto their weapon.

The Rotary Throw

You have a few options from this position. You could knee strike your opponent, attempt to pin them, or you can do what in Aikido is called a kaiten nage, or "rotary throw." The latter is what the form recommends, with the final high punch.
Source: Rogue Warriors
As you walk forward into front stance, use the opponent's own arm as a lever to throw their body (remember: they are in a shoulder lock). You can also use your reaction hand to press down their head so they are forced to flip over.

There are a lot of online tutorials on this throw if you're interested in more detail. Just be warned that the entry for aikidoka is very different -- they don't really defend against punches -- but the throw itself works.
Bottom row: SouthQueensferryTKD
Sources