Sunday, April 23, 2017

Do-San: Additional Applications

Previous posts on Do-San:
Locking in Do-San, Part 1
Locking in Do-San, Part 2

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. (fnt. 1)

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 one of Matthew Sylvester's applications 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. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Toi-Gye: What's with the W Blocks?

In the middle of the 7th ITF form, Toi-Gye, there's a baffling bit where you perform six W blocks (also called "Mountain Blocks") in a row. You perform two moving forward, then turn around and perform three, then turn around again and perform the sixth. The way the movements are performed -- lifting your leg and stamping -- is also unusual. You then return to the rest of the form as if nothing happened, but this strange performance of the same move multiple times in a row has left many pattern analyzers scratching their heads about Toi-Gye.

Blocking applications for the W blocks in Toi-Gye
One proposal is that the six W blocks are meant to be a strength exercise. Personally I don't buy this; Gen. Choi provides applications for the movement just like every other move in Toi-Gye (see right image), even if they are the boring block-strike ones. There's no indication that the moves are merely a strength exercise. Instead, I think that the meaning of the blocks become clearer once you break them down into sets.

Set 1: Pull in fists to hip while turning 90-degrees, followed by a W block. A second W block is performed for symmetry
Set 2: Two W blocks, the same set from the karate kata "Jitte". A third W block is performed for symmetry.
Set 3: W block followed by "low pushing block" with left double forearm. This set has no symmetry.

In this post I'll provide applications to each of these three sets, as well as some other uses for the W blocks.

Set 1

Move 12 is performed in slow motion. In patterns a slow motion movement indicates manipulating an opponent's body or resistance, not that you would actually perform the move in slow motion. In this case, pulling both fists to your hips indicates that you are pulling in your opponent -- specifically with your left arm from the reverse punch position in move 11. You turn 90-degrees as you pull, which in a grappling situation will shift your opponent's weight sideways onto one of their legs. This also positions your elbows in line with your hips, like in the form. You then follow by using the W block as a throw, blocking their leg as you pull-push them sideways. Even the stamp is used -- albeit not straight downwards -- to push back the opponent's leg. In Judo this is called a "cross-body o soto gari", a common throw that is difficult to defend against since people have weak lateral balance. An example is shown in the gif below:
Source: Freestyle Judo
So to reiterate:
  • Pulling both fists to your hips represents pulling or "sucking in" your opponent while grappling them
  • Turning 90-degrees as you pull shifts their weight sideways
  • Use the stamping motion to knock back their heavy leg as you throw them with the push-pull motion of the W block
Set 2

This set comes from Jitte. The interpretation I prefer is against a grab and punch. The first W block represents controlling the opponent's grabbing arm while blocking their punch. You then knee strike (lifting the leg), step behind them, and use the second W block to push and pull them over your leg to throw. An example by Craig Gray (Krav Maga) is shown below; you can find another example by Colin Wee (ITF Taekwondo) here.
Source: Craig Gray
Another use I commonly see for the first W block is to deflect a punch inward. You may then use the second W block as a throw.
Source: Didier Lupo
Another option for the stamping motion is to literally stamp in the side or back of the opponent's knee. Your front forearm may be used to either create an armbar or hammerfist the back of your opponent's head.
Source: Beebhatsu R.G.
Set 3

Finally, we turn around again and perform the sixth W block, and then follow with what the Encyclopedia calls a "low pushing block" (najunde miro makgi). I know of two options for this. The first is that after performing the W block as a simultaneous block and strike to the opponent's face, use your front hand to dig into your opponent's throat, and then forcefully push them to the ground.

The second option is a contingency throw in case our W block throw isn't working. We want to pull our opponent clockwise over our left leg, so to aid this we first step in with our right leg and pull-push them clockwise (setup for low pushing block). We then finish the throw by pushing their torso downward with the low pushing block, although you can feasible dig into their throat instead. Both options are shown in the image below.
Two applications for Toi-Gye 18-19. (Note that row 2 is mirrored).
Source for row 2: monsterprone
There is a third application from Scott Synder (Taekwondo Grappling Techniques) using the low pushing block as a strike to the back of the opponent's head, perhaps after using the W block as a standing armbar.

Other Applications for W block

There are two other common applications I see for the W block. The first is a kick defense. You use the back forearm to underhook and the lift your opponent's leg, while stepping behind their standing leg and then pushing them over with your front forearm. One example is shown below:
Source: curranskarate's channel

Source: Fight Fast
The other common application is an arm break or armbar. This is, in fact, one of the first "alternate applications" I ever learned, taught to me by a taekwondoin who cross-trained in American Kenpo. After scouring the internet I finally found a video explaining the technique here. The short of it is that you use the motions of your back and front forearms to forcefully hyperextend your opponent's arm, detaching their bicep. You can find more info by Richard Conceicao (Kukkiwon Taekwondo) here. There is a Kukkiwon form "Keumgang" where you follow this move by turning 180-degrees into an inverted wedging block. This works well as a simple shoulder lock throw, as shown in the two gifs below:

Source: centralmichigantkd

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tackle Defense in Ko-Dang, Part 2

View part 1 here.

The second half of Ko-Dang covers other common tackle defenses: step back and front kick, the guillotine choke, a sideways sprawl, and a sacrifice throw.

Moves 23-27
Front kick versus a tackle.
Source: GloriaPhaeton

At this point the form "resets" and we defend from a distance tackle again. Step back with your front leg and kick with your back (now front) leg. The step back is just to gain distance, but in a closer range you might be a knee strike instead. After the kick, land forward and execute a double inward strike to the opponent's neck.

Source: Andrew Lock
For the next defense, we're going to begin with the double knifehand strike -- using it more as a double forearm block to mitigate our opponent's charge (see left image).

But of course, they're going to keep charging, so we execute knifehand rising block to their throat -- lifting their head upwards  (we can use the outer hand of the chamber to first push their head to the side) -- and side step to the right while pushing them out to the left and downward (side step into low guarding block). From here, grab their head and execute downward punch with your back hand, either punching the back of their head or pushing their body to the ground.

Moves 27-29

Source: Fight Authority
Finally we get to the guillotine choke -- another common tackle defense that makes the whole tackle idea very risky to begin with. The back hand downward punch is actually the first part of the choke; look at the right gif if you don't believe me. (He actually says, "It's like you're trying to punch the ground" in the video). This downward punch both traps the opponent's head and strikes the side of their neck with your forearm. Lift your forearm up under the opponent's neck while pushing their shoulder down with your other hand. You can also link your arms by grabbing your right wrist, though this isn't in the form.

From here, slide backwards while lifting your arms back (guarding block chamber) to choke out your opponent. Some grappling arts will tell you to fall down on your back to choke, but we want to stay on our feet if we can so we slide backwards instead.

Source: Expert Village
Next we jump straight upwards; is that a choke out too? Nope. That's actually a neck break. In order to make this work, you have to crank the opponent's head (knifehand guarding block) while they are in the guillotine, as the Hapkidoin in the left gif show. From here you jump upwards to forcefully hyper-extend their neck. Needless to say, this technique is very dangerous to the opponent; stick to choking them out.

Moves 30-32

Source: KarateCulture
This next defense is sort of like a sideways sprawl. We first use the backfist chamber as a whizzer-crossface; that is, the primary hand gets an overhook while the reaction hand (which faces outward) pushes away the opponent's face. From here, we're going to hop forward with our back leg, and then slip our front leg out of our opponent's reach, creating the rear foot X-stance. The backfist is just lifting the opponent's shoulder (which we have overhooked). You can see a similar defense in the image from Karate Culture on the right, although the positioning is different. The result of this is that you end up leaning sideways on your opponent.

From here, we should naturally turn as our opponent keeps advancing. As we turn 180-degrees (like in the form), we use our free arm to press the opponent's head to the ground (outer-forearm block). The combined two gifs below convey the basic idea of the technique. It's essentially just side-stepping your opponent's tackle, turning 180-degrees, and then pressing them to the ground.

Source: FightTips (with Firas Zahabi) and Nick Drossos
Of course in the form we perform all this vertically, because there's nothing to lean on, but the movements for the technique are all there. The hand motions are high relative to your own body, but in reality they are lower since you are leaning on your opponent. I recommend watching the video with Firas Zahabi; he explains the turn as like knocking the opponent with your hips. What's interesting is that as he turns, his legs naturally fall into the X-stance position.
Leaning weight with overhook and x-stance. Source: FightTips
Moves 33-37

We're nearing the end of the form and there's only one class of tackle defenses left: sacrifice throws (fnt. 1). The following throw is sort of like Judo's tomoe nage (circle throw), but the opponent is thrown at an angle. The two examples below show the throw from a single leg position.

Source: BruiserTV
Source: Jared Jessup
1) The upset punch with the front hand coming in used as both an overhook (back hand) and a grab which pulls in our opponent (front hand).
2) The hooking kick (fnt. 2) is used to first hook the opponent's leg(s) and then kick it/them up as you sink your butt and roll. It's aimed at 90-degrees because that's how you turn when you fall and roll.
3) The outward cross-cut we use as a follow-up strike after the opponent is on the ground

"Ground cross-cut" from the Encyclopedia
I suspect this application won't be popular, because, "What, are you crazy? We don't do groundwork." There is groundwork in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do actually: both a section on hand techniques and foot techniques. (I also spotted tomoe nage in there once, though I've lost the location) So probably unlike the majority of taekwondoin, I don't think a sacrifice throw being in a form is crazy. It would also make sense to put the sacrifice throw at the end of the form, since it's both more advanced and a last resort. And besides, why not learn a sacrifice throw? It looks fun.

Why do a sacrifice throw at an angle, rather than going straight back like in tomoe nage? The most obvious reason is that it lets you roll on your shoulder, not the back of your head. But you also end up in a good side mount position, from which you can quickly strike and then disengage from your opponent.

Moves 38-39

Finally, we reiterate the last two moves of Hwa-Rang: two knifehand guarding blocks. Use your forearm to guard against the opponent's tackle. This is the preferred tackle defense of self-defense instructor Nick Drossos. If your opponent grabs your front leg anyway, grab their head with both palms (chamber for second guarding block), and crank it away from your leg (turn 180-degrees into second guarding block). Remember that for knifehand guarding block, your arms move in parallel, so if you bring your palms closer together it's like you are holding someone's head (we also used knifehand guarding block as a neck crank earlier for the jumping neck break).
Source: Code Red Defense

That concludes Ko-Dang. My intent with these two posts was to show that the form -- rather than being a random collection of movements -- is actually a collection of thematically related defenses. It's a nicely packed little form; it's a shame it was removed from the ITF set for political reasons (fnt. 3), but many schools still practice it. I haven't learned Juche yet, but from what I've seen it doesn't appear to be about tackle defense. As I stated previously, the ITF forms are meant to comprise a single fighting system, meaning that it makes sense that the higher forms would each be dedicated to a certain self-defense situation.

The "pattern" is thus a set sequence of movement of attack and defence in a logical order. Imaginary opponents are dealt with in sequence logically and systematically under the assumption of various situations. ~ General Choi, Taekwon-Do, The Art of Self Defense

A student’s sparring or fighting style becomes his adaptation of the principles he has acquired from hyungs [forms]. The hyungs, then, are the student’s line between Tae Kwon Do training and actual fighting ~ Jhoon-Rhee, Tan-Gun and To-San

The punch-block-kick applications do not reveal what these principles or logical ordering are, but the deeper applications do.


1) Well, there are also "reversals": where you counter a single leg with your own single leg takedown. However, these are techniques you would do in a competitive situation rather than self-defense.

2) To anyone who's never practiced Ko-Dang: a "hooking kick" is not the same as a "hook kick". It looks more like an outside crescent kick, but it's called a "hooking kick" because the shape you make with your foot is meant to hook something.

3) Ko-Dang, the pseudonym of Cho Man Sik, was a political opponent of the Kim dynasty in North Korea, for which he was eventually executed. He is considered a patriot in South Korea. When Gen. Choi sought funding from the North Korean government, he of course couldn't have a form named after Cho Man Sik, so all of a sudden he had a revelation that Ko-Dang was an inferior form and replaced it with a new form, Juche, named after the North Korean philosophy of self-reliance. Needless to say, this was an unpopular move; several of Choi's commanders left the ITF organization. Chang Keun Choi -- who helped create the form Gae-Baek -- claimed that Gen. Choi was now teaching a completely different style of taekwondo. The South Korean press branded Choi as a traitor, and the Kukkiwon excludes him from their version of Taekwondo history. Choi himself was born in North Korea, and was likely hoping that introducing taekwondo to the north would help unite the two Koreas.

The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do Vol. 3

Friday, February 3, 2017

Tackle Defense in Ko-Dang, Part 1

Ko-Dang's ready position as a tackle defense.
Source: PsycheTruth
Besides Joong-Gun, the other form I have a schema for is Ko-Dang. Particularly, the whole form seems to be about tackle defense. E.g. single leg dives, double leg dives, or waist grabs. Why? It just explains the sets, and Ko-Dang has a few weird sets in it. Thanks to the popularity of MMA (where single leg and double leg shoots are commonly) there's no shortage of information on tackle defense out there, so I've compiled applications from various sources.

In this two-part post, I'm going to go through the whole form and explain the tackle defense applications.

Moves 0-22

The ready position (move 0) represents what is commonly referred to as "sprawling": pushing your opponent's head down and leaning your weight on top of them as they dive towards you. The form follows with stepping backwards at a 45-degree angle and pushing with the palm. This is simply redirecting your opponent away from you. This is shown in the gif below from Karate Culture's excellent video on takedown defense (which I'll be referencing a lot). In the form, we also follow up with a punch after the 45-degree push, presumably to the side or back of the opponent's head.
Source:  Karate Culture
The next set in the form begins with a closed-fist guarding block. Although guarding block can serve as a tackle defense in its own right (using the forearm to block the neck), this two move set may represent a defense more similar to Eskrima's "baliog pomali" (fnt. 1) First, step backwards with one leg and grab your opponent's arm and head (closed-fist guarding block). Raise their arm while pushing down their head (transition), getting an underhook while still pushing the opponent's head down with your forearm (inner-forearm block). From here, pull out their arm (back hand low block) and drop your weight. This technique puts intense pressure on the soft tissue located in the back of the neck; be very careful when practicing it. You can watch a full clip explaining the technique here, which comes the TV series "The Human Weapon".
Application for Ko-Dang moves 3-4/7-8. (Note: the upper left image is with left leg in front; the rest are right leg in front) Sources: Jose Rodriguez and "The Human Weapon."
Next up is the set beginning with bending ready stance B (a one-legged stance with a low wedging block). You side kick to the back and then perform knifehand block to the front while landing backwards. This has led some to believe you are facing two separate opponents at once -- one in the back and another in front -- but there's a better explanation.

Instead, assume an opponent has grabbed your leg. Sprawl your weight on top of your opponent (low wedging block) while lifting your leg -- further placing weight on them. (fnt. 2) From here, use your same-side arm to get an overhook ("whizzer") on your opponent's arm, and then kick free (side kick to the back). The gif below demonstrates this:
Source: Karate Culture
What about the knifehand block to the front? We use this as a head push or "crossface" to aid our escape. The image below shows a wrestler using both an overhook (reaction hand) and head push (knifehand block) used to escape a single leg grab.
Application for Ko-Dang moves 9-11/12-14: overhook, head push/crossface, and kick to escape a leg grab.
 Source: modestograppling
Now we get to the line work. These four hand techniques are performed individually on both sides before moving to the next, as opposed to being preformed together as a single set. This is because each is a stand-alone waist grab defense.
Downward elbow strike (top)
Whizzer + head stuff (bottom).
Source: JiuJitsuMag
  • The downward elbow strike while moving backwards is just striking down on your opponent's back or head. This application is shown in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do; it is currently illegal in MMA but used to be used.
  • The palm pressing block we will use as a whizzer, head stuff combo. "Head stuff" is just pushing your opponent's head to the ground. You move forward because you are pressing your weight on top of your opponent. The palm moving upwards overhooks your opponent's arm whereas the palm moving downwards presses your opponent's head. This is also a common single leg defense in wrestling.
  • For the next technique my school does a low block, but the canonical move seems to be a "downward block". The difference is that low block is an in-to-out motion whereas downward block is an out-to-in motion. Either way, the application is the same: striking the back of the opponent's head with a hammerfist. This defense is potentially lethal (fnt. 3), and is also banned in MMA. In Ko-Dang, this technique is performed once moving forwards and once moving backwards, indicating that the direction isn't important to the technique.
  • Upward palm block as a head crank.
    Source: CodeRedDefense and  Karate Culture 
  • Finally, the cat stance upward palm block we use as a head crank. The right gif shows this motion. This is also often called a "crossface", and is another common single or double leg defense, intended for when your opponent's head is outside your leg.
The palm pressing block, oddly, is not performed in low stance like it is in Joong-Gun, but rather in a normal front stance. This could be because Joong-Gun assumes your front leg is being lifted (your kick has been caught) and you are trying to drop kick free, hence you put extra weight on your front leg.

Whew. That's half the form. The second half is a bit more complex, but already we've been introduced to several tackle defense tools: sprawling, guarding with the forearm, overhooks, striking the back of the head, and crossfaces.


1) The consensus of the internet seems to be that baliog pomali is a poor shoot defense, but I leave it here because it's tackle defense related and uses the movements in the form. Something mechanically similar is the "quarter nelson", but it doesn't fit the movements of the form. An alternate application for this set would be using the back hand of the guarding block to grab the opponent's wrist and then attempting to sprain their arm by supinating it (low block) and striking up at the back of their elbow (inner-forearm block).
Push down and knee strike, a possible application for
bending ready stance B. Source: Aikidoflow

2) Other interpretations of the motion are that the opponent is lifting your leg, or that you are performing a knee strike to your opponent's face while pushing them downwards. See right image.

3)  In 2014 a soccer referee, John Bieniewicz, was killed when a disgruntled player punched him in the back of the head. A hard enough hit to the back of the head may damage the cervical vertebrae or spinal cord. Source: wikipedia.

View Part 2 here


The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do Vol. 5