Sunday, September 24, 2023

Where to go from here?

Recently I came across a YouTube channel and podcast called "Tul World". The hosts are an ITF 4th Dan and 8th Dan. They recently had an episode called "Choong Jang - What Are the Hands Doing?" A student had asked them why the hands come together during the low front kick in Step 27 of Choong-Jang.
The movement in question

The 8th Dan, to his credit, mentions that in some cases grabbing your own arm in forms can represent grasping the opponent's arm (This is an old kata interpretation principle from the kaisai no genri). But the 4th Dan seems dismissive of this idea. They point out that General Choi provided no application for the touching hands in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do, and the application provided for the low kick was kicking someone sitting in a chair.

In the end, the two hosts do not know why the hands touch in Choong-Jang. I imagine for the student who originally asked the question, this was a disappointment.

(By the way, I know an application for the touching hands in Choong-Jang. But this post isn't about Choong-Jang).

I also listened to an old episode of the Hello Taekwondo podcast titled "Why we still do traditional taekwondo forms". The guest, an 8th Degree Kukkiwon black belt, discusses the usual reasons (they improve kids' coordination, help with power, etc). Near the end though the interviewer seems to get excited about the "original meanings" of the movements and states he'd like to know what they are.

My takeaway from these two podcasts, as well as other media I've encountered is:

- There is still an interest among taekwondo students to know how to apply their patterns

- Instructors are largely unaware or uninterested in applications

Now, I no longer actively practice taekwondo. I'm currently learning Tai Chi (Yang style 37 postures). But I still know all these applications; they are just sitting in my head, and I'm wondering what to do about them.

The Weird Lack of Interest in Pattern Applications

Compared to Karate, Tai Chi, etc there is almost no one sharing taekwondo pattern applications. Reasons to explain this include:
  • Most students and instructors believe there are no "hidden" applications, so they don't bother searching for them. At the same time, the punch/block/kick only interpretation of patterns clearly doesn't work.
  • Taekwondo has been largely sportified. Even ITF, despite its claim to be a self-defense art, focuses on acrobatic displays against multiple opponents at competitions instead of practical self-defense
  • Patterns are difficult to understand without grappling knowledge, which most taekwondo students lack (despite it "officially" being part of the art, it's rarely taught)
  • Any student interested in practical fighting tends to leave taekwondo and go study another art
Two throws from the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do: an uchi-mata (top) and a shoulder throw (bottom). Early taekwondoin cross-trained in Judo, which was popular in the Korean peninsula, and included locks and throws from Judo into their self-defense routines.

Maybe pattern applications just don't fit into the way taekwondo is taught and trained. In order to properly learn how to apply patterns, you'd have to add some kind of free-grappling to the curriculum (like Iain Abernethy's "kata-based sparring"). 
I did a search for other taekwondoin doing application research. It's pretty scarce despite the art's popularity. Channels I found that are more-or-less still publishing include:

And those are all ITF channels. For WT/Kukki-taekwondo I find... almost nothing. This is odd since this is by far the more popular style of taekwondo. Two channels I will mention are:

It's been 14 years since Stuart Anslow released Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul and 15 years since Simon John O'Neill released The Taeguek Cipher. I have to conclude that while these books influenced many individual instructors, they didn't make a larger impact on the taekwondo world.

A much more recent book (2019) is Ciarin McDonald's Old School Perspectives on Taekwon-Do. Judging by the positive reviews, there is still an interest in this stuff. 

How to Teach Applications?

I mentioned that some sort of free grappling is necessary to learn how to apply the patterns. While I'm suggesting changes to how I'd teach taekwondo, more live sparring would also go a long way, and like the patterns sparring should progress (start with light contact, work up to full contact for those who want it).
When I was going through the color belt ranks we spent a lot of time on "martial busywork": linework, memorizing one-step sparring (which was often unrealistic) and kicking combinations (mini-patterns of just kicks). We could have minimized this stuff and added more live-training. In my opinion, an ideal curriculum would work like so:
  1. Striking days where we focus on hitting bags and pads, kicking technique, and live sparring
  2. Grappling days where we practice locks and throws, falling techniques, and free wrestling
  3. Traditional / self-defense days where we analyze and practice self-defense sets from the patterns, integrate striking and grappling, and discuss internal principles

The division doesn't have to be one-third each way, e.g. we could focus on striking more than grappling. But I think even understanding the basics of grappling would go a long way. The goal here is not to turn taekwondo into MMA, but (A) teach taekwondo's full curriculum, (B) be able to apply the patterns, and (C) give students the confidence to defend themselves.

What to Do Next?

I guess I shouldn't bemoan the lack of video content when I myself don't produce any. The problem is finding partners, since I no longer actively practice taekwondo.

I'm also considering a book. Although I could draw another e-book (I've been working on some Original Koryo drawings), I'd ideally like to take live-action pictures for a longer book explaining multiple patterns, similar to Stuart Anslow's books.