Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Guillotine Choke
Sources: Darren Selley, Fitness Videos

The first move in the form is to switch into closed ready stance B after splitting your hands. If the ready positions had no applications, this would be nonsensical, but lucky for us they do. Closed ready stance B can make a guillotine choke, for instance. We use this application after blocking a haymaker with the heaven hand, as shown in the right gif (two examples).

The form doesn't give you any follow up. You can continue to choke out your opponent or, if you are throw savvy, attempt to throw them.

Bent elbow crank

The upset punches in Kwang-Gae are also in slow motion, indicating body manipulation. After defending with the heaven hand, overhook your opponent's haymaker as they retract, getting the bent elbow and cranking it upwards with the upset punch. This nasty shoulder lock is called maki hiji in jujitsu. It was used a couple years back in the UFC by Jon Jones. You can use the second upset punch as a strike, as shown in the below image.
Application for heaven hand followed by two upset punches. Source: imineo, catch jutsu
Notice how the elbow crank forces the opponent to bend over backwards. To take them to the ground, perform a sweep or push back on their face with your palm.

Grasp head, guide back

The next set is:
  • Double step forward into palm hooking block
  • Step and slide backwards into low section knifehand guarding block
Suppose you attempt the elbow crank but your opponent straightens their arm, or they pull you in, or you overhook their shoulder instead. Use the double step forward to force them to bend over, and then strike/grasp the back of their head with the palm hooking block. Finally, use the step and slide backwards into low section guarding block as a quick throw, guiding their head backwards. See the footnote for another interpretation of this set. (ftn. 1)

Pass arm, two handed push
Source: anthrodan

Something else I thought of: if you don't wish to harm your opponent, you can use stepping back into low guarding block to pass the opponent's arm after defending with the heaven hand. Then use stepping forwards into cat stance guarding block as a two handed push (see right gif) to disengage.

Side kicks, shoulder lock takedown

The second time you perform the two side kicks, your hands are oriented differently. This suggests there may be an application that begins, rather than ends, with them.

After blocking with the heaven hand, use the low side kick (pressing kick) to kick in the opponent's knee. If they defend by turning in their leg, follow with the middle side kick to their ribs while grasping their arm. You then use the inward strike with front hand coming into chest to fold the opponent's arm back, granting you a shoulder lock. From here, pull your opponent to the ground. Note that the Hapkidoin in the example below doesn't need to kick before doing the takedown, although he does strike the opponent's side with his elbow.
Sources: imineo, expert village
Final Thoughts

That concludes Kwang-Gae. This isn't the only way to interpret the pattern, but it is a way to link all the applications together. Although the sets are all against the same attack, the locks and takedowns provided can be used in a number of situations. What a form does is teach you various ways you can control an opponent. It's unlikely you will ever use a set as literally provided in a form, due to an opponent's unpredictable reactions, but the more techniques you know the more versatile your fighting style becomes.

Po-Eun also begins with the heaven hand, but not the splitting hands. Furthermore, from my analysis Po-Eun seems to be more of a grappling form. The heaven hand can also be used as a head push, so that might be what's going on.


1) There is another application for this set I rather like: against a single lapel grab, you can grab under the opponent's sleeve (upset punch), pull it in while striking their jaw (palm hooking block), and then guide them down to the ground (step back into low guarding block). The double step can be used to get off the opponent's line of fire and strengthen the force of the hooking block. You can also use the shape of the palm to dig into the opponent's throat, although this isn't strictly necessary. Taekwondoin Colin Wee applies the same application against a wrist grab.
Source: One minute bunkai

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 3

Previous Posts:
Part 1
Part 2

Spearhand to face, smash onto knee

Sources: imineo, one minute bunkai
The high spearhand thrust (what my club calls an "unsupported spearfinger") has three odd features in Kwang-Gae:
  • It's performed in slow motion
  • The footwork is the slipping of the front foot (i.e. pull it in before stepping back out again)
  • It's performed in low stance rather than a normal front stance
Slow motion movements in forms indicate body manipulation. As shown in the combined gif on the left, we can use the spearhand after the heaven hand sort of like a slap: pressing out on our opponent's face while pulling in their arm with our reaction hand. We may also use the slipping footwork to get behind the opponent's leg, and then use the low stance to press out on the back of your opponent's knee. From here, you can pull the opponent downward for a takedown.

However, in both cases the next movement in the form is lifting our back leg. So if we want to get nasty, we can smash the back of our opponent's head on our knee as we take them down.
Sources: imineoone minute bunkai
Grab ears, pull down

A different follow-up after the palm heel to to step forward and grab your opponent's ears from behind their head. Grabbing ears (or just the head) is a common interpretation of the twin vertical face punch. You can use the "stomp" to press down on the back of your opponent's knee as you grab their head.

Source: Practical Kata Bunkai (Note: perspective is mirrored)
However, if you are unable to stomp their knee, instead perform a knee strike to the spine, and then unceremoniously pull their head to floor by the ears as you land into the double upset punch. You can see pictures of this application by Iain Abernethy to the right, who is analyizing a similar set in from the kata Gojushiho.

Kick out leg, turn and lift

Turning 180-degrees into a knifehand guarding block usually indicates a head crank. But I don't think that's what's going on here, because we step back into the guarding block after turning around. Furthermore, the set ends with a high punch. Why?

To resolve this, first apply the double upset punch to grab and control your opponent. Front kick the opponent's cross-side leg, aiming for their inner thigh, with the goal of knocking back their leg.

Land, turn, and step back into knifehand guarding block per the form. Your front forearm presses out on the opponent's neck, but your back hand goes for the leg you just kicked back. Grab the leg (by the opponent's pants if they are wearing away) and lift it upwards as you walk forward into the high punch, grabbing and pulling your opponent's head down with the reaction hand. This makes a crude but simple takedown.
Sources: Practical Kata Bunkai, One Minute Bunkai
In part 4 I will backtrack to the beginning of the form and post some final thoughts.

View Part 4 here


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 2

In my previous post, I suggested you could interpret the first third or so of Kwang-Gae as four different follow ups from the heaven hand defense. (fnt. 1) By "heaven hand defense", I mean using the tool to block a haymaker, and then splitting your hands to strike the opponent's neck.

It turns out you can do this for the whole form. So for the next three posts I will be covering these follow up techniques. Even if you don't agree with this interpretation of Kwang-Gae, it may get you to see some of the sets in a new light.

Additional strikes, puter kepala takedown

After striking the opponent's neck with the hands splitting, you can follow through with an inward strike followed by a downward hammerfist, for three strikes in total. As you strike, you want to get the opponent's head to lean downwards, so it's important to utilize the pulling hand in both cases.
Sources: Courtney White, Yin Style Bagua

Puter kepala takedown
Source: Courtney White
If smashing the back of their head with a hammerfist wasn't enough, we then use the next two moves -- the two palm pressing blocks -- as a takedown. This is shown on the gif on the right: it involves twisting up the opponent's arm while pushing their head down and in. You then continue moving your arms in a circular motion, forcing your opponent's body is to twist and tumble. In Silat this is called puter kepala.

Note that you are rotating your opponent's head and arm in a circle, so for this application the two palm pressing blocks should be performed continuously and with arms crossing in between the blocks, similar to how the Bagua-ist performs the motions below.
Sequential palm pressing blocks in Bagua. Notice how the arms cross in between blocks. 
Source: Yin Style Bagua.
Arm Pass and Head Twist

Now we'll begin with the second palm pressing block. After blocking with the heaven hand, overhook your opponent's head (upward moving palm) and push down their arm (downward moving palm). Grab their jaw and twist out their head while passing their arm as you step backwards into backfist side strike, twisting your opponent's whole body and forcing them to fall over. Hapkidoin Alain Burrese demonstrates this technique in this video.
Source: Your Warrior's Edge
Strike Head, Shoulder Lock

Next we start with the backfist side strike after the heaven hand. After striking the neck, knee strike your opponent (lifting the leg) while pulling them downwards, then follow with the backfist side strike to their head. Depending on positioning, you might strike with your forearm or even downward with your elbow; the stomp emphasizes putting your body weight into the strike.

Next, twist their arm behind their back with your back hand as you shift into the double forearm block, creating a shoulder lock. Your front arm maintains pressure on the back of their head. From this position you can safely escort your opponent, strike the back of their head, or do a takedown.
(Bottom right image): Taekwondo Grappling Techniques
What if your opponent grabs your leg with their free arm before you apply the lock? We can grab their arm and use the next move in the form -- double stepping backwards into reverse low block -- to pull out their arm while lifting their other arm with your front arm. Doing this may end up flipping your opponent.

Continue to Part 3

1) The origin of this idea was that I noticed Kushanku, the kata that Kwang-Gae is partly based on, uses the low knifehand front block and the cat stance guarding blocks at the start of the form, directly after the heaven hand.

 Taekwondo Grappling Techniques by Tony Kemerly and Scott Synder

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sam-Il: The Seipai Throw and Back Leg Sweep

The higher ITF forms don't get talked about very often; understandably since the majority of taekwondoin never advance far enough to learn them. This is a shame though, because these forms have a greater variety of hand and foot techniques to work with, which result in some interesting applications.

Sam-Il is noteworthy because it has a set from the kata Seipai, which is not a Shotokan kata (fnt. 1). In this post I'll cover the throw this set represents, as well as a modern variant of the throw that appears later in the form.

The Seipai Throw (Moves 9-10)

The motions used for this throw are:
  • Step forward into riding stance knifehand reverse wedging block
  • Shift into back stance double low punch, pulling the right foot
The reverse wedging block is used to simultaneously scoop up a leg while pushing out the opponent's torso. You then grab, lift, and dump them (double low punch).
The Seipai throw against a kick (top) compared with a performance of Sam-Il (bottom).
Sources: Radek Scuri, Chris Baehr
This application from Seipai is fairly well known; it appears in Masutatsu Oyama's 1970 manual Advanced Karate, as well as in earlier manuals. The above image shows it against a kick, but you can in theory defend against a hand attack first with move 8 and then scoop up the leg. The gif below shows this variant.
Source: FightLand
Notice that in this case the leg is scooped from the inside rather than the outside. You can find more detailed discussions of the Seipai throw in this Fightland article or Iain Abernethy's video on the subject.

The Back Leg Sweep (Moves 15-16)

A few moves later we see a set that I can only imagine represents a similar takedown. It is a sweeping kick sandwiched by two U-shaped blocks.
Source: TkdTeam
The effect of doing two U-shaped blocks in a row is to wheel your arms. The application for this can be seen in the Muay Thai fight below.
Source: Fightland
After reaching under the opponent's leg with your lower arm, you then bar your upper arm across your their torso. You then sweep out your opponent's standing leg with the sweeping kick while rotating your arms: lifting their leg and pushing down their torso.

It's interesting that we use an actual sweeping kick (Shuro Chagi) in this pattern, as usually sweeps are "hidden" in either the footwork or a middle kick.

Why bother including two similar applications in the same form? Okinawan kata are very compact: they have to be since each kata (or set of katas) is supposed to be a self-contained self-defense style. But in the case of the ITF forms, it seems that Choi's commanders felt more room to play around with variations of older ideas. Sam-Il also repeats two single leg takedowns from Choong-Moo: the one hand drop and the shoulder wheel throw.


1) It is, however, a Shito-ryu kata, and so this is evidence for Simon O'Neill's belief that Shito-Ryu was one of the styles that influenced early Taekwondo, as stated in The Taegeuk Cipher. The spreading of the arms in the Shito-ryu version of Seipai looks like our reverse wedging block.
On the other hand, Seipai is not one of the katas listed in Gen Choi's 1965 Taekwondo book. It's possible that this set was not taken directly from the kata, but rather from a Karate applications manual. A Study of Seipai Kata was published in 1934 by Kenwa Mabuni.