Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kwang-Gae: The Knifehand Low Front Block

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

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

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

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

Putting it all together

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

Read more Kwang-Gae applications here.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Do-San: Additional Applications

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

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

Head Hook Takedown

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

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

Knee/Hip block takedown

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

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

Wristlock escape

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

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

Sparring application

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

Brush-grab-strike, armbar

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

Roundhouse punch defense

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

Source: RussMartinAppliedTKD

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

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

Double lapel grab defense

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

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

Tomoe Nage

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

Wedge Throw

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

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

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

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


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Taekwondo Guarding Block Explained

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

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

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

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

Application 1: Against a roundhouse punch

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

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

Application 2: Head Crank

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

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

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

Application 3: Deflect, hook wrist

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

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

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

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

Application 5: Front kick catch

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

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

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

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

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

Application 8: Standing Armbar

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

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


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. For the first W block, control the opponent's grabbing arm while blocking their punch. Then move in and hammerfist their head with the front arm of the block. 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
As for the stamping motion: you could 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

9-7-2018: This interpretation is out of date. See a better one here.

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 a few 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
A third option for the low pushing block is a strike to the back of the opponent's head after using the W block to create an 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