Saturday, February 10, 2018

15: Moon-Moo one-legged stance

Moon-Moo is a 4th Dan form known mainly for its emphasis on kicks, but there are some odd hand techniques in there as well. In this post I will discuss the strange one-legged stance where you perform a low block with the standing side and a knifehand block with the other hand. One application is shown below:
Sources: Kinetic Dragon Tutorials, Returning Wave Systems
The outward knifehand block is used to check under the opponent's jaw, pulling their head back, while the low block controls their arm. You then press your knee into the back of the opponent's knee, causing them to lose balance. From here you can throw them with a quick pull backwards.

Now the question is: how do you get into this position? The hint the form gives you is the two palm pressing blocks, a set which appears in several other forms.

Option 1: Arm Drag

For the first possibility, I'm going to steal another idea from Karate Culture: using the dual palm blocks to get an arm drag.
Source: Karate Culture
Use the first palm pressing block to push down the opponent's arm (lower palm) while reaching under their tricep (rising palm). Then pull out their arm out and down as you step forward (second lower palm). This places you behind your opponent, and you may perform the one-legged stance.

This is a simple application to learn, and arm drags are useful to set up all sorts of other techniques. But if you are a forms purist, you may dislike how this technique requires you to close one of your hands. Keeping this in mind, I will provide a second interpretation.

Option 2: From a failed arm lock

An instructor once showed me a locking application for two palm pressing blocks. I can't find an exact replica online, but the description of it is this:
  • Imagine an opponent grabs your right lapel. Circle your right hand over and down (1st palm pressing block) and then up again (upper hand for 2nd palm pressing block). This rotates the opponent's arm so that the back of their elbow points upwards
  • Your left hand at first comes up to block an attack with the back of the wrist (upper hand for 1st palm pressing block) or as a spearhand to the opponent's throat. It then comes down to press into the back of the opponent's elbow (2nd palm pressing block)
  • From here you can try to drag them to the ground, or knee strike them (one-legged stance)
Left: Application for the 2nd palm pressing block, upper hand raising the opponent's (twisted) arm, lower hand pushing their elbow down. Right: Following up with a knee and elbow strike, another use for the one-legged stance.
Sources: Martial Arts 101Phil Schroeder 
What if your opponent pulls away their arm as you attempt the lock? From here, reach over their right shoulder and quickly transition in the control position shown at the top of this post.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

14: Po-Eun headlock defense

Just a short one today since I mentioned it in my last post.

What is the purpose of the U-shaped grasp? Wrestling away a stick? If so, why is the next movement performed in slow motion? A more plausible interpretation of the set is a throw via lifting and dumping the opponent on their head. It is particularly useful against a side headlock.
Source: Waza Wednesdays
Use the inverted upper hand of the U-shaped grasp to push the opponent's face away from you. Then place the lower hand behind their leg. Lift them into closed stance twin elbow thrust, and dump them onto their head with the low block, backfist combination.

In looking up side headlock defenses, I've noticed that few include both the face push and leg scoop (that's why the Waza Wednesday video was a fortunate find) but several include one or the other. This defense uses the face push. This defense uses the scoop and lift.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Are there too many forms?

A problem with traditional martial arts is the abundance of static patterns. Besides the traditional forms (kata/hyung/tul/poomsae) schools like to add on partner exercises and kicking sets. All this material to memorize leaves less time for live training such as sparring. It's also said that the old karate masters only knew a handful of kata. Indeed, Chinese martial arts (which Karate is based on) typically have a small number of patterns. This has got some researchers asking: are there too many forms?

I would say that in theory no, there cannot be too many forms, because I see forms as records of techniques. There can be a problem of studying too many forms in-depth, because the end result will be that you know many techniques poorly and no techniques effectively. I liken the situation to Judo's throwing curriculum. Officially there are 67 Kodokan Judo throws, some of which have many variations. But top Judo players have only 2 or 3 go-to throws that they win matches with time and time again. So why learn 67 throws if they only end up using a handful? Because 1) it allows them to pick the throws best suited to their body type and 2) it increases their understanding of the art of throwing.

Of course, no one is going to accuse most taekwondo schools of too much in-depth study. Form applications are rarely taught. Instead, a great deal of time is spent memorizing forms, getting the movements exactly right, ending right where you started, and making them look pleasing to watch. Live training is spent learning punching and kicking techniques; form applications (most of which involve grappling) would detract from this. Due to the limited time most taekwondoin have to train, I've wondered whether we can simply teach less forms. This way there would be time to go over the self-defense applications of each form we teach.

However, selecting a handful of forms to teach is difficult in the case of taekwondo, since many of the patterns are specialized to certain self-defense situations. I would consider neither Po-Eun or Joong-Gun to be good general self-defense forms. But Po-Eun contains a neat side headlock defense, and Joong-Gun contains useful ways to escape a leg grab. I can't say I draw my self-defense knowledge from a handful of forms; it's more like I have compiled information from various sets across all the forms I know.

So how do you limit the time we spend teaching forms but keep useful material? There are a few options.

Teaching the techniques, not the forms

One method is to avoid teaching forms altogether: just teach the techniques. This is often suggested on martial arts forums.

The pros are that we could skip the whole interpretation process and get into how to use the technique right away. Some of the most respected martial arts out there (BJJ, boxing, wrestling, muay thai) don't bother with forms. Almost every technique they teach can be tested in sparring. Furthermore, the students would not have to memorize anything they do not know the application of, which speeds up the learning process.

However, this line of logic ignores the other core uses of forms. Forms are for solo practice, to be performed on the student's own time when they don't have a partner. The student is meant to not just learn a pattern, but to make it their own. Forms can be used to practice techniques with full intensity, especially the "dangerous" techniques contained in the art. They are also useful for training stamina, balance, moving meditation, and muscle memory. Finally, most instructors do not know the techniques contained within forms, so if we jettison them then a number of techniques would be "lost". People who are interested in making taekwondo like MMA or kickboxing would not mind this, but the fact is that we are not MMA and many students do enjoy the traditional aspects of taekwondo.

But if we are keeping forms for their conditioning value, then surely we don't need 20+ in our curriculum. The conditioning value could be obtained from as little as one form. So what can we do instead?

Core forms vs optional forms

Instead of jettisoning forms entirely, one could slim the syllabus down to a small number of core forms that students have to memorize, but keep a number of optional forms that students may voluntarily learn as they progress. One could even personalize the optional forms: different students would learn different ones. If you think about it, the availability of free online information about forms makes this possible. No longer do you need an instructor to teach you a form, although the instructor can provide some applications to the form if they are knowledgeable enough.

This brings up the question of which forms should be core and which should be optional. When I pose this question, many taekwondoin seem to favor the simpler forms. Personally I prefer the advanced forms, because their applications are more one-to-one with their movements.[1] But it's ultimately subjective based on the knowledge of the instructor.

What do you think? Do we have too many forms? How would you teach forms differently, if at all?

[1] For the record, if I had to select four core forms I'd use Do-San, Choong-Moo, Gae-Baek, and the Modern Koryo (yes, really). I think these forms provide a strong set of self-defense techniques. Hwa-Rang, Po-Eun, and the Original Koryo would also be contenders.