Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chon-Ji and Dan-Gun: Additional Applications

Previous posts:
Chon-Ji: Using chambers to parry attacks
Chon-Ji: The front stance middle punch
Roundhouse punch defenses in Dan-Gun

In my last post on Chon-Ji, I gave three applications from the form.
  • Brush, grab, strike followed by takedown
  • Parry-pass followed by punch and then takedown
  • Takedown (o soto gake) counter
Just three seems paltry considering that karateka have said that low block followed by lunge punch has anywhere between 20 and 50 applications. However, I don't think this sort of application overload is very helpful; if you learn 30+ applications, how many of them will you actually practice? Nonetheless, here are a few more applications to Chon-Ji that I personally like. I will also discuss the remaining two roundhouse punch defenses from Dan-Gun and some alternate applications for those sets.

Chon-Ji: Front Bear Hug Defense

Believe it not, the ready position (junpei) actually has applications. It's traditionally performed by bringing the arms up to chest level, and then down again, sort of like a double low block. This could be used to push down the arms of an opponent doing a double grab.

Another use, however, is to push out the hips of an opponent bear-hugging you. You may then attempt to throw them by turning into front stance low block. This is shown in the below images, which I've stolen from Art of Manliness, but they originally come from Modern Judo and Self Defense by Harry Ewen.

Chon-Ji: Hammer-down, push

Something even simpler than the groin strike is use the low block to press down the opponent in some way. You can push down the opponent's arm (by striking inside the elbow) after deflecting inward, or if you deflect a punch outward you can use the low block to strike and push down the opponent's head, as in the gif below:
Follow up with the lunge punch to both hit and shove your opponent away from you.

Chon-Ji: Lapel grab defense

The inner-forearm block may be used to trap the arm of an opponent grabbing you, an application commonly used for the similar circular block in Won-Hyo. Wrap your arm over the opponent's arm first, then perform inner-forearm block to shift the opponent off-balance. Step forward and strike them across the face.
Source: Evangelos Efseviou
Chon-Ji: Rolling backfist
Source: Tao of Peace Martial Arts

Karateka sometimes argue about whether the inner-forearm block makes a good strike or not. I don't think it works as a strike to the neck -- as some use it -- but it can make a good rolling backfist to the face. Use the reaction hand to push down an opponent's guard during the chamber, then roll up your backfist to strike the opponent.

Chon-Ji: Rear bear hug escape

One thing I'm neglecting in these applications is the 90-degree and 180-degree turns, but people have come up with applications for them. Low block with a 90-degree turn can be a powerful pull, for example.

The front stance middle punch can be used as a quick bear hug escape. The punching arm releases, but the back arm, which comes back to your hip, functions as a rear elbow strike. Then, turn around (180-degree turn) and use low block to strike your opponent's groin.
Source: Blind Sensei
The source video for those images has several other applications for low block followed by lunge punch, in case you are interested.

Dan-Gun: Roundhouse punch defenses

I skipped two roundhouse punch defenses in my last post on Dan-Gun. The twin outer-forearm block itself can be used as a roundhouse punch defense; in fact, this is likely its primary purpose. You see similar twin blocks in other arts; e.g. it can used to simultaneously block and grab your opponent's shoulder. However, the front arm can also be used to strike the opponent, either with the forearm or the elbow.

The full defense uses:
  • Twin outer-forearm block
  • High punch
  • Turn 90-degrees into low block
After blocking, use an arm drag (reaction hand for high punch) to get the opponent's arm out of the way. Then use the high punch to strike across the jaw and also bar the neck. Finally, turning 90-degrees and performing low block will throw your opponent. Russ Martin performs a similar application below, except that he uses inner-forearm block to do the throw.
Source: Russ Martin
The reason I don't prefer this one is because the follow-up at the beginning of Won-Hyo -- an inward strike to the neck -- is much faster. Dragging the arm gives the opponent time to react with their other arm; unless your forearm strike is effective, that is.

Augmented block. Source: Fight Method
The second defense uses:
  • low block, rising block combination
Use the low block chamber as an augmented block, stopping the opponent's punch (see right image). You then hammerfist the opponent's ribs or groin (low block) and, as your opponent bends over from the blow, use the same arm to strike their jaw with the rising block, pulling them in with your reaction arm for extra force. The reason I don't prefer this one either is that striking low leaves your head exposed to their other hand, but there are close-range situations where this can work.

Here are other uses for these two sets.

Dan-Gun: Wrist grab defense

Suppose an opponent grabs your wrist same-side. Performing the outer-forearm block with your front hand twists their wrist and exposes their elbow. Push their elbow up over their head (rising block with back hand), and then walk forward while raising it (high punch), throwing them.

Source: Dan Djurdjevic

There is a similar defense against a cross-side wrist grab in the same video.

Dan-Gun: Grab defense, and low punch defense

A common application for the low block, rising block combination is to strike down on the arm(s) of an opponent grabbing you, and then strike upward with the rising block, smashing them in the jaw/neck. (Right image)

Yet another one, if you are facing a puncher, is to block a low punch (like an upset punch or maybe an uppercut) with the low block. Circle around their arm (rising block). Then, walking forward into the next rising block, defend against their other arm. You are now in the position where you are pulling one arm and pushing up the other one, off-balancing your opponent. Step out with back leg and rotate 270-degrees to throw, as you do later in the form.

Dan-Gun: Straight punch defenses

Throat punch
Some of the sets in Dan-Gun can also be interpreted as straight punch defenses.

First: knifehand guarding block followed by high punch.

After you deflect a straight punch outward with the guarding block, slide your front hand forward and use it as a palm strike to your opponent's face. Your target here is the chin; you want to push it upwards to expose their throat. But if you get their nose; well, that's okay too. Come forward and punch through your opponent's throat with the high punch. (I should point out, however, that a fore-knuckle strike is better for punching the throat than a fist).

The twin outer-forearm block, since it chambers with the rising block on the outside (canonically anyway), can be used as a parry-pass, using the rising block to deflect an attack inward. Use the front arm to strike the opponent while raising their punching arm; then follow up with the high punch with your other hand.

Twin block followed by high punch application. Source: Dan Djurdjevic

Twin outer-forearm block as parry-pass
and shoulder grab. Source:
Dan Djurdjevic 
The only issue is that this better suits the karate version of the twin block, which uppercuts with the front arm. However, in the Encyclopedia sometimes the move is performed with a half-turned front fist, as if doing a backfist (see above image), so I believe that a parry-pass followed by a backfist strike is an appropriate use of this technique.

Another option is to grab their shoulder, as shown in the right gif, we can then pull them down while stepping forward and striking upwards on their jaw (high punch).

Finally, the knifehand strike itself makes a good straight punch defense. Utilize the chamber as a parry and trap. Pull the opponent's arm in as you knifehand strike their neck. Following up with the high punch might be unnecessary, but you can always circle around your opponent's legs and use it as a throw. The gif I've chosen for this comes from a 1956 taekwondo demonstration; noteworthy not just for its age, but because you see the use of the chamber and the pulling hand.
Leg Raise

One final application for the high punch (and also a rising block): grabbing a leg and lifting it upwards. It may seem simple, but sometimes that's all you need. If you utilize the back arm of the guarding block to overhook a front kick, then you can attempt a takedown simply by walking forward and lifting the opponent's leg.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Do-San Applications, Part 1

Now that I've discussed straight punch defenses from Chon-Ji, and roundhouse punch defenses from Dan-Gun, I'm going to detail some basic arm and shoulder locks you can get from the third form, Do-San. Locks are technically a part of Taekwondo but, like the throws, they are rarely taught. You can find several in the Self Defense (Ho Sin Sul) section of the Encyclopedia. Of them, the locks I recognize are:

Standing armbar (ikkyo)
The S-lock against a same-side wrist grab.
From the Self-defense section of the
Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.
S-lock (nikkyo)
Wrist twist (sankyo)
Outer-wrist throw (kotegaeshi)
Rear shoulder lock
Gooseneck lock

The latter two are common come-along locks from police, but the first four seem to indicate a Jujitsu influence. It should be pointed out that Gen. Choi said there were three responses one can do to a grab: a strike, a release motion, or a joint lock/break; and of these, striking was the fastest and most likely to work. This is probably why the locks never gained much recognition as practical self-defense, but rather something you should do if you don't really want to hurt your opponent.

So are locks in the forms? I would argue yes; or at least you can make locks out of the motions. Here are some simple locks you can get out of Do-San, in case you're tired of the usual punch-block-kick applications.

Rear shoulder lock

You may have been taught that for the first four moves of Do-San, you block an attack and follow up with a reverse punch on one side, and then turn around and do the same to a different opponent.

But wait a minute. We still haven't dealt with our first opponent. He's not going to go down with one hit.

Two-handed hammerlock. 
Use the first outer-forearm block not just to block but to grab your opponent's arm. After punching, use the chamber for the next move to clasp your right arm around your opponent's right arm (middle image above). As you turn around (half steps) and perform the outer-forearm block, you are actually pushing out on your opponent's shoulder. Grab and pull their shoulder into towards your hip while you push their wrist towards the back of their head (second reverse punch). This creates a two-handed hammerlock. The pulling of the elbow can be done from the inside (the most literal way to do the form) or you can switch to the outside (see right image).

From this position, you may step into the back of their knee as you bring your back leg forward as in the form.

If you want something more advanced: you can transfer to a one arm hammerlock, or "chicken wing" lock. If you have the practice, you can actually get into the chicken wing lock right away, as in the example below.

1) Circle away an opponent's attempt to grab
2) Reach under opponent's arm and grab their elbow.
3) Drag opponent's elbow forward while also blocking their wrist
4) Keep dragging their elbow forward as you half-step to turn around, then slip your other hand up and through: so that the arm is below their forearm and above their shoulder

Advanced application for Do-San 1-4
Although I call it "advanced", it's actually a simple come-along lock used by police and bouncers. One detail you want to remember is to make sure you're pressing down on your opponent's elbow, not triceps, with your hand, as this will give you more control. And, of course, you can add in the first punch.
Block, punch, rear shoulder lock

Standing arm bar
So fun fact: it seems like every school does the release motion in Do-San differently.

I guess it didn't help that General Choi himself changed the official version at least once.

To keep things simple I'm going to stick to two versions: Choi's revised version (upper right), in which you twist the palm but never actually pull the arm downward, and the version I practice (lower left) where you pull the hand down as you shift your weight back, which is fairly close to the original version (upper left).

One version of the application would go as so
1) Opponent grabs your same-side wrist
2) Grab their wrist with your other hand (supporting hand), and use spearhand thrust to release.
2) Put opponent into an armbar by pressing down on the back of their elbow ("release motion")
3) Pull the opponent's arm out while pivoting, maintaining pressure on the arm. (turning 360-degrees into backfist), possibly causing your opponent to fall over.

Spearhand thrust as release. Source.
Dropping into release motion as an armbar
Spinning into backfist to aid the armbar. Gifs from Dan Djurdjevic.
The spin version is a good way to control an otherwise strong opponent. In the original version of Do-San, it appears that the release motion (which was pulling the arm down) and the spin were done together rather than as two separate steps.

What about Choi's version where the arm doesn't drop? I know that Choi stated the application of this was to escape a grab, but to me it looks reminiscent of using the palm to control the opponent's elbow.

Using the palm to pressure the elbow.
A less literal interpretation of the spearhand thrust is that it's used to straighten the opponent's arm before the armbar. Your arm will never go completely straight, but the form might be having you practice generating enough force to straighten the opponent's arm before putting them into the lock.
Spearhand thrust to straighten opponent's arm
Finally, the spearhand thrust can be used as a strike in response to a grab, which will also straighten an opponent's arm by forcing them backwards: spearhands are good for putting pressure on the solar plexus or the neck.

Overhead shoulder lock

Here's an old-school application to the two rising blocks. After blocking an attack, come forward and wrap your other arm around the opponent's elbow (chamber for 2nd rising block). Circle behind their legs, raising their elbow while pulling down their wrist (2nd rising block). To take them to the ground, just keep walking forward and pull them down. This is sometimes called a figure-4 lock.

Now, there's a big debate as to whether the rising block actually works as a block or whether the attack in that image above is realistic. The lock technique, however, can be used in other situations. In the video below, the overhead shoulder lock is used in response to a choke.


The 45-degree wedging block is commonly invoked as a defense against a roundhouse punch. And that's fine: it works well as one. But another application I was surprised to find was locking an opponent's wrist.

Commonly referred to as nikkyo thanks to Aikido, the S-lock is a potent wrist lock that is easy to create. You see it used several times in the Self-defense section of the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.

The S-lock (nikkyo)
The lock works by twisting the opponent's wrist in the same direction as with the standing armbar, and then trying to push the opponent's hand in their arm. This bends their arm and forces their elbow to rise. So to complete the lock, all you need to do is prevent that elbow from rising with your other hand.

Follow up with the front kick to the face (as in the end of the gif) and, if necessary, the two punches. The two punches could also be used to grab a weapon that the opponent is holding.

Now, I doubt this is the intended application for the wedging block set, because the two punches at the end seem incidental. I'm a fan of Russ Martin's interpretation, which uses the front kick as an o soto gari after blocking a roundhouse punch. The one thing I would add is that after using the front hand punch as a head hook, the back hand punch can be used to crank the opponent's head.


In case you can't tell, I prefer applications that end with incapacitating your opponent in some way, usually with a takedown, but sometimes through a lock or vital strike. Hence why ending a set with a simple reverse punch doesn't appeal to me.

Find more applications for Do-San here.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Even more throwing. From Po-Eun!

Po-Eun seems to be a favorite for many taekwondoin to perform. There's something aesthetically pleasing about it. It's completely symmetric, there is a long set of continuous movements in the middle of each half, and your torso faces one direction the entire time. Due to the frequent use of riding stance, many believe Po-Eun is a grappling form, but still struggle to find the applications.

So here you go: I'm going to talk about four throws dervied from the form in this post. Once again, I'll be using the more commonly known Judo names -- except for the last throw which is more of a wrestling takedown.

Seio Nage (Shoulder Throw): moves 5-7/23-25

This is one of those fortunate instances where you can find an application in another part of the Encyclopedia. It goes as follows:
  1. Opponent grabs you from behind
  2. Grab opponent's arm (angle punch)
  3. Pull down arm (forefist pressing block) while reaching up and grabbing their shoulder (side block)
  4. Throw opponent over your shoulder (2nd pressing block), while pulling out their arm (2nd side block)
Some schools incorrectly perform the latter two moves as scissor blocks. The pressing block motion is meant to go more-or-less straight downwards, so your arms don't necessarily cross.

There's also a misconception out there that Po-Eun is only for attacks from the front. I've found no evidence to support this, and if this were true it wouldn't make Po-Eun unique: in most forms your opponent is assumed to be in front of you. When you change direction in forms, it's not because a new opponent is approaching from the side, but because you are changing position relative to your opponent. The shoulder throw can be performed against a frontal opponent, but you'll need to turn 180-degrees as you step in. This throw is also included in the Encyclopedia, but its considered disadvantageous by General Choi because it's too easy for the opponent to strike you as you enter.

General Choi considered the shoulder throw against a frontal opponent disadvantageous
Te Guruma (Hand Wheel): moves 14-16/32-34

Not only does the Hand Wheel throw fit the movements well, it also explains why the twin horizontal thrust is performed in slow motion. Slow motion movements in forms usually indicate resistance, as lifting up your opponent obviously would provide. The artist even bothered to draw the judoka straining their hips and calves to lift their opponent.

The use of the U-shaped grasp is similar to the U-shaped block in Choong-Moo, but this time you grasp leg and head rather than leg and arm. The reason the upper hand is inverted is so that you can twist as you press down your opponent's head.

Iain Abernethy performing the Half Wheel throw
Obviously this throw requires a decent amount of strength. There is a version of it which doesn't require lifting the opponent -- from karate -- called the "half wheel" or "cripple wheel" throw. In this version, rather than lifting your opponent, you try to raise their leg while pressing down their head as you circle backwards. In fact, the orientation of the hands in the first step of Half Wheel look more like our U-shaped grasp, although the rest of our throw looks like the Judo version.

Variant from Steve Snyder
Another variant I have seen is picking up the opponent from a much lower body position. In the left image (taken from Taekwondo Grappling Techniques by Tony Kemerly and Steve Snyder), the U-shaped grasp is used to bar the back of the legs and front of the torso before lifting. He even inverts his upper hand to help with the push.

Whichever variant you work with, the principle is the same: lift the lower body, force down the upper body, throwing the opponent.

Ko uchi gake (minor inner hook): moves 12-13/30-31

Although the details are different, I believe that the throw represented here is some version of the small inside trip. Although the horizontal punch is the last move in the continuous set, I think it's been co-opted here as the first move in the throw.

If you are grappling with your opponent, use the horizontal punch to shift them off-balance. This distributes their weight onto one leg. You then step in with the cross step, sweeping that leg. This version is known as ko uchi gari, or "minor inner reap".

Ko uchi gari. Notice the closed fist is used to pull and the open palm to push.
Rather than sweeping the leg, you can hook it with the cross step, and then take the opponent down. The key to how this works is in the hand motions. The front block in this case is linear -- going straight down -- while your other palm comes down until the fingertips reach your pulse. To me, this represents a push-pull motion. Perhaps the previous horizontal punch represents reaching to grab the back of the opponent's shirt. You then hook their leg and simultaneously pull down the back of their shirt while pressing their chest down with your palm. The placement of the two hands in the form is an approximation of where your hands would end up if there were no opponent.

Body lock takedown: moves 17-18/35-36

Edit 5-10-17: This application is depreciated, as I found out that my club teaches Po-Eun slightly differently than the canonical version. You can find an application for the canonical version in this more recent post, but I am keeping this as an alternate application.

Some have suggested -- correctly I think -- that the last move of Po-Eun is a throw. The way the palms are oriented suggest that you are holding something between your arms. If this is the case, then the previous move must be a body lock; also called a body clinch, double underhooks, or underarm bear hug.

This isn't as far-fetched as it might seem. Remember that while the previous low front block was performed in a linear motion, this low front block is (in some clubs) performed in a circular motion, and your hands clasp at the end. Although this is usually explained as delivering a hammerfist strike to a downed opponent, it could also be wrapping your arms around an opponent's torso. The previous two moves can be used as a "duck under", lifting up your opponent's arms (twin horizontal thrust), so you can duck under to your opponent's side (movement into riding stance low block, backfist combination), before getting the body lock (low front block with fist meeting palm).

Duck under to body lock
I've also seen a low block being used to slip through a head clinch, though this seems harder to pull off than a duck under.

Possible uses of a cross step during a body lock
What about the cross step? There are a few uses for it. It could be some kind of hook or trip -- similar to the ko uchi gake application above -- or it could just be a transitory position as you move to the side or behind your opponent to perform the takedown. I've included a few images of the cross step being used with the body lock on the left. I've read that a body lock combined with a minor outside trip (ko soto gake) is a common takedown in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

So which one are we doing in the form? If you want to follow the footwork literally, probably the transitory step. If you look back at the duck under image above, the cross step would clearly go behind the opponent from that position. This can be used as a trip from behind. You then step out with your other leg into riding stance and drive with your shoulder, as shown in the gif below:

Body lock with a cross step behind to trip
Application for moves 17-18/35-36 of Po-Eun
So one version of this takedown would be as follows:
  1. Opponent grabs you
  2. Raise their arms (twin horizontal thrust) and duck under
  3. Get a body lock (low front block with fist meeting palm). Squeeze tightly
  4. Cross step behind them, then step out with other leg and take your opponent to the ground. (low ridgehand guarding block), ideally tripping them over your back leg.
There is one important alteration I'd make: the cup-and-saucer grip (fist in palm) isn't a particularly strong one. You may want to try grabbing your wrist, or using a gable grip (see right image).


Po-Eun is a personal favorite of mine, and I'm glad whenever I discover applications for it. There's a lot of interesting applications to be found within the forms if you approach them with an open mind about what constitutes "Taekwondo".

You might be wondering why there are Judo throws in the forms in the first place. There is a whole section in the Encyclopedia on throwing, but they clearly look more like Judo throws than karate throws, contradicting the common notion that taekwondo is purely based on karate. This is because most karate throws were not known at the time -- only recently being rediscovered by Iain Abernethy and others -- but Judo was being practiced in Korea (as well as a Korean off-shoot called "Yudo"). The occupying Japanese did not ban it because they considered Judo to be more of a sport than a martial art. This is likely the art that the early taekwondo masters learned their throws from, and this explains why there are Judo throws in both the Encyclopedia and the Ch-ang-Hon forms.

Taekwondo Grappling Techniques: Hone Your Competitive Edge for Mixed Martial Arts by Tony Kemerly and Scott Snyder.