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: Wrist grab defense

The inner-forearm block also makes a good wrist grab defense. Using the chamber strikes the opponent's wrist, forcing him to release you. You may then step in and punch. Damian Laszuk has a video on this interpretation of inner-forearm block; images from the video are shown below:

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.

You can use a similar defense against a cross-side wrist grab, except that after raising and pushing the elbow you press down to put your opponent into a standing arm bar.

Both of these defenses come from Dan Djurdjevic's Pi Quan applications 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
The only issue is that this better suits the karate version of the twin block, we uppercut with the front arm. In taekwondo the front fist faces outward, so we might hammerfist or grab a part of our opponent instead.

This may change the set too much, but I've always liked the idea of using the high punch to lift up a leg, so if you grab the shoulder with your front arm, you can then reach down and grab the opponent's leg with your back arm as you simulataneously pull down their shoulder and lift their leg for a takedown.

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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Kick Catching in Joong-Gun, Part 3

View part 1 here and part 2 here.

So far I've covered six of Joong-Gun's eight scenarios.

Ready position & moves 1-3/4-6: Front kick catch and takedown, ver.1
Moves 7-8/9-10: Front kick catch and takedown, ver. 2
Moves 11-13: Front kick catch counter, ver. 1
Moves 14-16/17-19(+20): Front kick catch counter, ver. 2
Moves 20-22/23-25: Roundhouse kick catch and takedown
Moves 26-27/28-29: Roundhouse kick catch counter
Moves 29-31: Side kick catch and takedown
Move 32 & return to ready position: Side kick catch counter

In this post I'll cover the remaining portions, which concern the roundhouse kick.

Roundhouse kick catch and takedown

That gif is almost the same as what we do in Joong-Gun. You can clearly see using both forearms to block, the setup for the back stance punch, and the side kick in there. The major difference is in how we take the opponent's balance before sweeping. In the above gif, the defender pushes with their opposite hand. Although this certainly works, it also opens you up to being grabbed, punched, or blocked.

Lifting and pushing keeps you out of
your opponent's range.
Instead, you can lift and push with the arm holding the leg, as the gif on the right shows. This takes your opponent's balance while keeping you out of their reach, and in the form is represented by the back stance punch. I tested the move with a partner (while I was overhooking his leg) and it works quite well as a push. Of course your arm can't completely straighten, so you end up pushing on your opponent's inner-thigh instead, but it still works while maintaining the hold.

The leg reap
A friend of mine disagreed with this application because he thinks the side kick doesn't make a good reap compared to, say, the hook kick. Instead, you could just use the side kick as a literal kick to the opponent's standing knee or inner-thigh. I think he has a point: the way you perform the move (side kick to the front rather than the side or back) suggests you are directly targeting the leg, and the military men who made Joong-Gun would have no reason to prefer a reap to a direct strike to the knee. However, he also didn't take the close range of the kick into account; you can hook the opponent's leg with the chamber and then force it out with the side kick like in the gif. When practicing, you should stick to the reaping motion for safety.

The full defense goes like so (fnt 1):
  1. Blocking an opponent's roundhouse kick with both forearms, stepping in to avoid taking the full brunt of the kick (double forearm block)
  2. Overhook opponent's leg and step back, using your opposite palm to block the knee, preventing the spin-out escape (setup for back stance punch)
  3. Lift and push opponent's leg while stepping forward to take their balance (back stance punch)
  4. Reap or kick the opponent's standing leg with your back leg (back leg side kick) while pulling them backwards (setup for next move)
Application for moves 20-22/23-25 of Joong-Gun

Universal block to underhook
I've noticed that a lot of traditional martial artists prefer to use an underhook to catch a roundhouse kick rather than an overhook. It's usually performed after blocking with one forearm pointed upwards and the other pointed downwards. This is called a "universal block" in American Kenpo, and is a very common roundhouse kick defense. It's reminiscient of the chamber for the palm pressing block, meaning that the "side kick defense" (moves 29-31) could also be used against a roundhouse kick.

Roundhouse kick catch counter

Remember how I said that going straight in for the sweep without first taking the opponent's balance opens you up to being blocked or grabbed? That's basically what the form tells you to do.

The spin-out escape
But before we get into the counter: the first thing you should do if your roundhouse kick is caught is the spin-out escape (left gif), in which you keep turning in the direction of the kick. Unless your opponent knows how to block this (see above), you should be able to pull free. Another option, popular in MMA tutorials, is the heel-to-hip escape. You try to place the heel of your kicking leg on your opponent's hip and then push off. This may not be possible depending on positioning, however.

Application for closed fist guarding block in Joong-Gun
Suppose you can't escape though and your opponent is coming in for the sweep. What do you do? As your opponent comes in, use your front forearm to block their neck and your back arm to block their arm, keeping distance between the two of you so that they can't properly sweep you. (Closed fist guarding block). From this position, keep trying to escape.

The set doesn't end there: the opponent may try to get around your forearm by ducking under it. This effectively turns the situation into a low single leg takedown. Because of this, the form provides you with a single leg counter that any wrestler would recognize: the whizzer and head-stuff combination.

Application for palm pressing block in Joong-Gun
A "whizzer" is just an overhook. You overhook the arm that is grabbing your leg (rising palm) with your front arm. A "headstuff" is just pushing your opponent's head down (downward pressing palm). This is a very common single leg defense in wrestling, as well as the similar whizzer and crossface combination (a "crossface" is just using a palm or forearm to push the side of an opponent's face, turning their head). You can probably guess why this move is performed in low stance, as you are literally pressing the opponent's head down as low as you can. This also sprawls a lot of weight on your grabbed leg, which can help you kick free.

This is a much more practical use of the move than its "standard" application: simultaneously blocking a punch and a front kick. Not only is that scenario ridiculously unlikely, the two movements aren't good at blocking either. Raising a punch doesn't block it; it just moves the punch higher. Similarly, using a downward palm to stop a front kick hurts your hand and doesn't benefit you beyond stopping the kick; the low stance makes you vulnerable to a counter-attack.

Conclusion & Thoughts on Applications

In these three posts I've detailed kick catching applications for the whole of Joong-Gun. These applications are organized in a logical way, and contain several design features common to the ITF forms including theme, counters, contingency moves, and overlapping applications.

Although the ITF forms are often said to not contain any deeper applications, I have found a logical internal structure to a few of them. Unlike the karate forms -- many of which were constructed independently -- the 24 ITF taekwondo forms were meant to be a part of a single fighting system and thus may represent a self-defense curriculum. As a result, other forms may be built around a certain type of scenario the same way that Joong-Gun is built around kick catching.

Are these really anything close to the original applications of Joong-Gun, or am I just retrofitting the form? Of course I can't know for certain, but I think that me retrofitting all of these applications is very unlikely. Discovering applications that A) work and B) fit the form is not an easy process. I was very careful to explain all of the form: stances, hands, footwork, and ready position; something not easy to do. I didn't come in expecting it to be about kick catching, but as I kept coming across applications to the movements the internal logic gradually appeared. At the very least, I'm confident that I've provided applications far superior to the punch-block-kick ones usually offered.

Other applications have been invented for Joong-Gun, though in my perspective they don't explain all of the form. The closed fist guarding block followed by the palm pressing block is sometimes explained as grabbing an arm and putting the opponent into a hammer lock, but this does not explain the low stance and requires additional footwork. Nonetheless, these applications do exist if you do not like the ones described here.


1) To be honest, this is the one application in Joong-Gun I'm not 100% sold on. Doing a roundhouse kick counter in three moves feels unnecessarily long. Another application from my notes is that you can use the chamber for the double forearm block as the block, and the block-proper as simultaneously under-hooking the leg and grabbing the opponent's neck. You then use the footwork into move 22/24 to step behind your opponent's standing leg, and the "punch" to push them over you. But this application has its own problems: the direction of the punch is wrong and there is no use for the side kick. I nonetheless leave the application here in the image below. It could be that the set is two defenses in one: one utilizes the double forearm block followed by the back stance punch, the other uses the double forearm block followed directly by the side kick as a sweep.

Kick Catching in Joong-Gun, Part 2

Read part 1 here

To recap from my previous post: Joong-Gun may be designed in a logical, application-counter-application format based around the theme of kick catching. The organization is like so:

Ready position & moves 1-3/4-6: Front kick catch and takedown, ver.1
Moves 7-8/9-10: Front kick catch and takedown, ver. 2
Moves 11-13: Front kick catch counter, ver. 1
Moves 14-16/17-19(+20): Front kick catch counter, ver. 2
Moves 20-22/23-25: Roundhouse kick catch and takedown
Moves 26-27/28-29: Roundhouse kick catch counter
Moves 29-31: Side kick catch and takedown
Move 32 & return to ready position: Side kick catch counter

The ones in bold were covered in the previous post. This post I'm going to cover the remaining front kick scenarios, and in the third and final entry I'll discuss the roundhouse kick scenarios. Because I already covered the first takedown in my last post, I'll cover the counter first before getting to the second takedown.

Front kick catch counter, version 1

There's a theory out there that when Taekwondo left the military and became a civilian art, several of the more "thuggish" applications of the movements were downplayed. The twin vertical high punch, for example, became a "double punch to the face", something rather awkward to pull off. The military applications of the move -- grabbing your opponent's ears or thumbing in their eyes -- better explains the orientation of the hands.

The first front kick takedown uses both arms to catch the leg, which leaves the opponent's head exposed. So the form tells you to sprawl your weight forward (front stance) and grab your opponent's ears (twin vertical high punch). This way if your opponent takes you to the ground, you get an extra pair of ears out of it.

Pull the opponent's head down (twin upset punch) while moving forward so that you are on top of them. You should hopefully be able to drop kick your leg out of your opponent's grip; but if you can't, turn and crank the opponent's head by their ears (half steps into high X-block), possibly damaging their neck.
Application for Joong-Gun 11-13
Edit 1-30-2017: I finally found an example of a similar defense, although in this case the defender puts the attacker in a clinch rather than grabbing their ears. While pulling your opponent's head down, drive your knee into their face or clavicle, pressuring them and allowing you to drop kick free. The example below shows this. When you drop kick free, try to slide down the opponent's shin. Follow up with the head crank if they are still holding on to your leg.
Source: Sifu Oliver
Another important point is to lean towards your opponent while bending your leg. Trying to pull your opponent in while bending it allows them to take your off-balance.

Of course, grabbing an opponent's ears isn't legal in any kind of sparring. So what can you do if someone grab your front kick in a sparring match? Rather than grabbing your opponent's ears, shoot your arms under their armpits as they move towards you. The motion is more like a double spearhand thrust rather than a double face punch. As you hug your opponent, drop kick free. The technique is shown in the video below.

Front kick catch takedown, version 2

The previous catch assumed both your arms were underneath. This one assumes one arm is underneath (back arm of guarding block) and the other is on top.

The usual application I see for guarding block followed by upward elbow strike is breaking an arm. I'm sorry to be a contrarian about this, but I don't see how weak upward motions like rising block, upward palm block, upward elbow strike, etc. can break the arm of a strong opponent. Joints are fragile, but they're not that fragile. Actual breaks involve strong jumping or stamping motions in forms.

Instead, imagine that you've overhooked a front kick with the back arm of your guarding block, and your front hand goes on the opponent's head (preferably the back of the neck). Use the upward elbow strike to simultaneously raise the opponent's leg while pulling down their head with the reaction hand. Then turn your body while stepping forward with your back leg (movement into move 9). This effectively throws your opponent. The two gifs below show the principle behind the takedown.

App. for moves 7-8 and setup for move 9
The version in Joong-Gun is closer to the second gif, where he steps forward to trip as he pulls the opponent downwards (front leg of our front stance). I've included an image comparing the gif to the form on the right. In the form, the takedown is also performed on the other side (moves 9-10) for symmetry. Although you don't turn your body after move 10, you do step forward; the rest of the takedown is probably implied.

You can watch a third example of the takedown, which catches the kick with an underhook, here by a Hapkidoin.

Front kick catch counter, version 2

This is based in large part on Russ Martin's application, although obviously the situation I'm applying it to is different.

The second takedown relies on the opponent placing their hand on the back of your head, so we'll begin by preventing your opponent from doing that. The defense goes like so:
  1. Parry opponent's hand outward and grab it (backfist chamber).
  2. Pull their arm in (reaction hand to hip) while you backfist the side of their head (backfist)
  3. Use the "release motion" to hammer down on the inside elbow of the arm you are holding. This forces your opponent's head towards you.
  4. The previous move didn't just force your opponent's head towards you, it also lowered it. Reach over your opponent's head (back hand high punch), grabbing either their hair or cupping around their jaw.
  5. Crank their head outward (turn 90-degrees into double forearm block). Strike them with your free hand until they leg go of you.
Normally I wouldn't recommend hammering on the opponent's inner elbow, since it leaves your head exposed. But in this case, their other hand is occupied holding your leg, so you're good to go.

Although the set appears rather long on paper (5 steps), the movements may be performed very quickly. In fact, the form directions tell us to perform the movements quickly. You could just use the back hand high punch as a punch, but personally I wouldn't risk breaking my hand on my opponent's cranium. The next move (double forearm block) makes a pretty good head crank anyway: the front arm, which is just an inner-forearm block, physically pulls the head, while you can use the back arm to strike or further control the opponent (I prefer hammering the torso).
Just pretend the right guy is holding the left guy's leg while all this is happening.
What if you fail to parry in time and you opponent succeeds in posting their hand on your head? Believe it or not, you can use the same movements, albeit a little differently. This time we'll use the backfist itself as the parry: sweeping the opponent's arm inward. From here, we'll grab the opponent's head, pull it in ("release motion"), and then also grab it with our back hand as we pull it in (back hand high punch). Pull your opponent in and force your knee into their chest, painfully pressuring them until they let go of you. This technique comes from a Muay Thai youtuber; and is shown in the images below.

Kick catch and head grab counter, version 2

Next post I'll cover the final kick-catching applications of the form: the roundhouse kick catch takedown, and its counter.

Read part 3 here


Friday, January 13, 2017

Locking in Do-San, Part 2

View part 1 here


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.

Rear shoulder lock, version 2

You can create a similar rear shoulder lock with the backfist followed by 270-degree turn into outer-forearm block. One way to do this is to lift your opponent's arm over your head (backfist), while turning and using the outer-forearm block to push on the back of the opponent's shoulder as before, and then completing the lock by pulling their elbow in towards your hip and pushing their wrist towards the back of their neck (back hand punch).

Here's a version as a single lapel grab defense that's more fun.

Circle over and press down on opponent's arm (backfist chamber), then come up behind opponent's shoulder (backfist). Step out and pivot 270-degrees while pulling out opponent's arm (outer-forearm block; not shown in the gif), and throw opponent downwards (reverse punch). The opponent shoulder rolls for safety in the gif, but in a real situation they may simple fall flat on the ground.

You then perform the outer-forearm block followed by reverse punch on the other side. Personally I like to view this as practicing the same application on the other side, but it's also a repeat of the opening set.

Find more applications for Do-San here.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Locking in Do-San, 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 three 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

Finally, 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.

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.


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.

Want more applications for Do-San? Click here.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Why the ITF patterns are not just remixes of Shotokan karate kata

I recently came across a free preview from The Taegeuk Cipher by Simon O'Neill. Mr. O'Neill is, to my knowledge, the only person who has done systematic analysis of applications for the Kukkiwon Taekwondo forms. Because I practice ITF, I don't own his book, but it has been on my radar. I do own Stuart Anslow's Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul, both volumes. While I love Mr. Anslow's books and don't wish to downplay the importance of his research, I always felt that his method was limited because he stuck to karate analysis, based on the belief that the ITF forms were derived entirely from Shotokan karate. He also works under the assumption that General Choi didn't know the applications to his own forms, because he learned karate from Gichin Funakoshi (or at least a student of Funakoshi's) who wasn't very knowledgeable in karate bunkai.

Mr. Anslow himself contradicts these two ideas, however. He notes that many sets and even movements seem unique to taekwondo, with no Shotokan karate equivalent. He frequently talks about how taekwondo was a deadly military art, and that General Choi's drill instructors derived practical self-defense drills from the forms. He provides military applications to some of the movements, like defending against a bayonet attack for example. For forms made with no applications in mind, they certainly turned out pretty useful to Choi's instructors.

It seems that Mr. O'Neill has set some of my frustration to words. He writes
Although the Chang Hon forms owe a great deal to the Karate katas, particularly the Pinan/Heian series, they contain many elements which differentiate them substantially... there are a large number of original sequences which seem to develop and go beyond the methods displayed by the Okinawan katas. The sheer volume of material provided by Choi's hyungs suggest a more exhaustive and detailed analysis of self-defense practices than those showed by the highly condensed Okinawan forms. (pg 24)
The argument that the ITF forms are just remixes of karate kata is usually based on the observance that the early ITF have overlapping material with the Pinans. But when you get into the higher ITF forms, that argument starts to fall apart. While sets from other kata (Passai, Tekki, Jitte, etc.) are certainly used, the majority of sets seem to be original, and many sets taken from karate kata have changed significantly.

Regarding Funakoshi, O'Neill also writes:
Funakoshi's pre-war books Ryushu Kenpo Toudi (1922), Rentan Goshin Toudijutsu (1925) and Karate-Do Kyohan (1935) include numerous, quite explicit references to the type of techniques in question, including lists of vital points, discussions of the effects of manipulation of these points, photographs of techniques combining seizing and striking vital points, and photographs of throwing and joint manipulation techniques. Funakoshi states in Karate-Do Kyohan that throwing and joint manipulation were as much a part of the art as striking, and his successor Egami Shigeru wrote that throwing was commonplace in the Karate that he learned. Reference is also made to the katas as a source of these techniques and of information regarding their correct application. (pg 25)
Once again, O'Neill makes my point for me. While Funakoshi didn't know applications for all the Shotokan kata, the existence of such applications was still public knowledge. The idea that General Choi never learned that karate kata contained grappling is very unlikely.

One other thing O'Neill doesn't mention is that traditional Korean forms, hyungs, were already a thing. Korea had it own history of martial arts inspired by Chinese arts. Most of these arts were suppressed by the occupying Japanese, but their presence is still felt in some of the techniques -- particularly the kicking -- that made their way into taekwondo. While the idea that kata can contain anything other than strikes seems surprising to Westerners, it may have been a given to experienced Korean martial artists.

O'Neill also documents two other karate styles that influenced taekwondo: Shudokan and Shito-Ryu. Once again, this is something I suspected -- Hayashi Ha Shito-Ryu karate chambers their rising block on the inside, like we do -- but its nice to see someone else provide detailed evidence.  And our low block chamber -- as I pointed out previously -- is present in some styles of karate; one of these two styles might be it. Even though General Choi trained Shotokan, ITF style was a collaboration between Choi, Nam Tae Hi, Kim Bok Man, Woo Jae Lim, and several others. Someone either trained in or came across these two styles.

Karate master Roy Suenaka demonstrating the wrist-to-wrist chamber and its application as a block and trap. Source.

But a major non-karate influence that O'Neill notes is the Judo/Yudo influence.
Grappling arts such as Yudo (Judo) and Yusul (Ju-Jutsu) were present in Japanese-occupied Korea, even after the 1909 ban on martial arts practice, and provided the stylistic foundation of several notable masters. Chun Sang Sup, founder of the Yun Moo Kwan, had studied Yudo in his youth. The majority of the original students of the Yun Moo Kwan (later the Ji Do Kwan) were black belts in Yudo, as the school had been established some years previously in order to teach the art, and Chun merely introduced Kong Soo Do classes into an existing dojang. At least two of the directors (Cho Young Joo and Kim In Hwa) of the Korea Kong Soo Do Association were Yudo stylists. These arts can be considered a source of grappling in early taekwondo, since it is unlikely that such high-ranking practicioners would have abandoned entirely their natural tendency to clinch, throw and finish in favor of exclusively hard striking techniques. (pg 30)
Again, this isn't surprising. The throwing sections of both General Choi's Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (ITF) and the Kukkiwon Textbook (WTF) are clearly inspired by Judo throws. But it's nice to have historical confirmation. Orjan Nilsen has provided a great set of images of old taekwondo grappling techniques here.

But what about the throws in the forms? Are they grandfathered in from Karate or are they a direct result of early taekwondo's grappling knowledge?

Let's look at a throw present in both Shotokan karate and the ITF forms: the double leg takedown (morote gari in Judo). According to Gichin Funakoshi, this appears in the kata Passai/Bassai Dai.

No, you didn't miss it. According to Funakoshi, this is where the throw is. The double rising blocks are used to push up the arms of an attacking opponent, then the double upset punch attacks the ribs. Then Funakoshi follows up with the double leg takedown, but that scooping movement is not in the form. I'd be happy to be proven wrong about this, but I can't find a performance of Passai that includes the actual takedown. Either Funakoshi adds it in, or it was removed from the kata when transferred from Okinawa to Japan.

In contrast, look at moves 27-28 in Nam Tae Hi's form Choong-Moo:

As far as I know, this set is not in any Shotokan kata, and it's absurd to suggest this has a good punch-block-kick application. But compare it to this old-timey instruction video for morote gari.

Look similar? The x-knifehand checking block goes between the opponent's arms. You then spread to lift their arms, circle your palms behind their knees as you step in, and scoop upwards.

Nam Tae Hi's primary art was not Shotokan karate, but Chung Do Kwon, which likely incorporated grappling from Judo due to the reasons stated by Mr. O'Neill.  When you take all the other Judo throws in Choong-Moo into account, and the fact that the following two moves can be used as a contingency throw in case the opponent defends, it's clear to me that the reason morote gari is here is not because it was inherited from karate, but because Nam Tae Hi had some Judo knowledge. Something to think about.

So, to recap

- While many sets in the ITF forms are taken from Shotokan kata, the majority are not, and the sets that have been taken are often changed.
- Taekwondo is not purely based on Shotokan karate, but is influenced by at least two other styles, Shudokan and Shito-Ryu.
- Judo, being one of the few martial arts legally allowed in Japanese-occupied Korea, was where early taekwondoin got their grappling knowledge from. Throws from Judo made their way into the forms.


The Taeguek Cipher by Simon O'Neill