Saturday, June 15, 2019

Striking targets for middle knuckle punch

The use of gloves in combat sports has led to the exclusive use of closed fists as a hand striking tool. But in bareknuckle fighting, striking with the front fist is risky due to the chance of breaking your small finger bones on the opponent's skull. This is why, in my opinion, most punches in forms are aimed at the rib or solar plexus level, while the head is reserved for other hand strikes. Bareknuckle boxing manuals also note the problem of punching with an unprotected fist, which is why the backfist ("chopper") was a favored tool to mix in with punches.

TMAs contain a number of hand strikes outside of punches and backfists. These include the:
  • Knifehand
  • Palm heel
  • Hammerfist
  • Longfist
  • Arc hand
  • Spearhand 
  • Ridgehand
  • Two-finger poke
  • Bow wrist 
  • Index knuckle (as seen in Choong-Jang) [1]
  • Middle knuckle

The latter shows up in Gae-Baek, Choi-Yong, So-San, and the KTA poomsae Cheonkwon. It is performed either straight out or upwards like an uppercut.

Middle knuckle strikes from Gae-Baek (left), Choi-Yong (middle), and Cheonkwon (right)
The important thing to know about this strike is that it is not meant to be aimed at the throat or jaw, even though that's how it may look in the above mentioned forms. Rather, the middle knuckle fist is traditionally aimed at small, vital spots such as the temple, solar plexus, philtrum (small area between the mouth and the nose), side of the neck, and the armpit.

(Left): American Kempo-ist demonstrating middle knuckle strike to armpit. Source: casadekenpo (Right) Vital point diagram from The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.
Yes, really, the armpit. There is a nerve cluster there that you can find on yourself by striking lightly with your middle knuckle. You should feel a tingly sensation when you hit. Supposedly striking this hard enough will deaden the whole arm. In Gae-Baek this allows you to use the next movement -- the nine-shape block -- as an armlock without resistance. The double knuckle fist uppercut in Cheonkwon is likely aimed at the armpits as well, as a defense against a double grab.

What of the straight knuckle punch in Choi-Yong? Here I don't prefer the philtrum as a target because while it may push away the opponent, is it unlikely to end the fight. We can use the previous movement in the form -- cat stance forearm guarding block -- as an armlock to turn the opponent. This exposes the side of their neck for a knuckle fist strike.
David Gimberline demonstrating a strike to the side of the neck. Source: Shuhari Institute
Alternatively, the guarding block might be a push as you trap the opponent's leg with the cat stance. You then grab and pull in their opposite arm, turning them, as you strike the side of their neck.


[1] The twin index knuckle fist in Choong-Jang is aimed at the opponent's temples. Presumably the index knuckle gives you more motor control to dig in.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The ITF low block chamber

Last time I talked about the knifehand guarding block and the theory that originally it was the chambers of basic techniques that were the blocks. To show another example of this, let's look at the ITF/Ch'ang Hon low block chamber.

In Choi's 1959 book Tae Kwon Do Teaching Manual, the Shotokan karate low block chamber is used. But by 1965, the chamber had changed to the wrist-to-wrist position. Many ITF basic techniques -- including the rising block, backfist, and knifehand strike -- utilize this chamber.

In this chamber, the blocking tool sets up inside the pulling tool, with the fists oriented such that the back of the wrists can touch each other.
ITF Low block
The traditional use of this chamber is brush-grab-strike. Meaning:
  1. You do an initial parry against a linear attack with your front hand.
  2. You do a secondary parry with your back hand (parry-pass) and grab. This forms the chamber.
  3. Pull in the opponent's arm to your hip while you use your front hand as a strike.
For the ITF low block, the "strike" is a hammerfist to the groin. This may be done from inside or outside the opponent's arm (depending on whether you parry the attack outward or inward), although for the low block is it safer to perform from outside since you leave your head exposed.

Source: Maul565
Source: Ryan Parker
What about if you parry the arm outward? From here a different strike, such as the backfist or knifehand to the neck, is preferable. ITF uses the same chamber for these two techniques.

In this 1956 taekwondo demonstration, we see both the chamber and pulling hand utilized. Source: hapkist
Other Applications

The chamber could also be used as a flinch block against a swinging attack. Since the pulling hand is on the outside, it can catch the opponent's arm and pull as your strike. This application is similar to the above gif where a punch is deflected outward.

The ITF rising block also uses this chamber. For two consecutive rising blocks, the chamber may be used to create a rudimentary figure-four lock. The application goes like this:
  1. Use the first rising block to block an attack or raise the opponent's arm
  2. Stepping forward, thread your other arm over the opponent's elbow as you grab their forearm with the blocking arm. This creates the chamber
  3. Circle behind the opponent and pull down their forearm (pulling hand) while lifting their elbow (second rising block), creating the lock.
Source: Nantanreikan Karate Dojo
From here you may walk forward or use a three-quarter turn (like in Dan-Gun and Do-San) as a throw.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The original guarding block chamber

Many schools, I've noticed, practice a variant of the guarding block chamber. Some shoot both arms straight back before moving them forward. Others begin with their hands down near their hips.

The original way to perform the guarding block, as shown in General Choi's books, is to begin with the back hand high, near the ear, and the the front hand at blocking level, such that it moves in a horizontal line when executing the block.

Guarding block from Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defense (1965) and The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do 2nd Ed (1987)
Why bring up this minor point? Because originally it was the chambers that were the "blocks", not the motions we today call blocks. The reason the back hand sets up near your ear is to defend against a haymaker. After this, you overhook the opponent's arm (back hand downward motion) and push out on their neck (front hand horizontal motion), preventing them from throwing another strike.
The traditional use of the guarding block in action. Source: CrossFit
A few things should be said about this application:

(1) This is a defensive technique, not a "strike". Although pressing on the side of the opponent's neck is uncomfortable, the purpose is to control the opponent until the situation de-escalates. If it does not, then there are several follow-ups from this position.

(2) The motion of the back hand is an overhook, not a pull. The purpose is to hold the opponent's arm in close to your chest to prevent them from attacking you further.

(3) Notice that when the application is executed, you are 90-degrees from your opponent. Hence while the chamber seems to be performed to your side, in reality it is performed in the direction of the haymaker.

Two other applications

The downward motion of the back hand has other uses. Another common application is an underhook, performed by making the movement more circular. You may simultaneously use the front knifehand to push the opponent's head forward. If you manage to place the opponent's forearm onto your shoulder, you can lock their elbow, creating what's call a standing ude gatame in Judo.

Underhook/ude gatame application for the guarding block. Source: PracticalKataBunkai
Like the overhook, there are several follow-ups from this position; Iain Abernethy shows a few in the linked video. The circular performance of the guarding block is also found in Choi's books, and in some karate styles such as Kyokushin.

The circular guarding block performance, from the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do Vol 3
The third application is a head crank, performed by bringing the two hands closer together. Working together, the movement of the two palms becomes a head twisting motion. The back hand begins high and then twists low, throwing the opponent by cranking their head.

Source: Jesse Enkamp
Another example by application researcher Richard Conceicao is here. This works well for the 180-degree turn into the guarding block in move 3 of Choong-Moo. In fact, all three of these applications are scattered throughout the Ch'ang Hon forms. Try looking for one the next time you spot a guarding block.

This post is an expansion on Ørjan Nilsen's article

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Koryo and Choong-Jang target punches

The target punch originally comes from the karate kata Chinte.

Chinte's target punch. Source: Shotokan Sensei

Both Koryo (KTA) and Choong-Jang (ITF) make changes to this technique. Koryo's version is in riding stance and sets up the punch with a knifehand block. Choong-Jang's version is in back stance and changes the setup movement into a backhand downward strike.

Both versions are commonly interpreted as grabbing the back of the opponent's head and punching their face. The trouble with this is the risk of punching their forehead, breaking your fingers. Traditional forms usually aim punches at the rib or solar plexus level, and reserve the head for other strikes (backfist, knifehand, etc).

Knifehand blocks may be used to push out the face or neck. If you push out on the side of the opponent's face with the knifehand block in Koryo, this exposes the side of their head, a target safer to punch.
Source: PracticalKataBunkai
But what of Choong-Jang? Here we perform the downward strike with a stomp. This bizarre motion, to my knowledge, only appears in Choong-Jang.

Stomping motions can be used as knee strikes or as attacks to the opponent's leg, so it may be that the stomp is the primary attack, and the downward "strike" is just setting up the target punch. Stomping into a back stance is ineffective because the weight stays on our back leg, so I favor the knee strike interpretation.

However, we can also throw in a grappling application for the downward strike, since I don't think it works particularly well as a "strike". If you reach around the opponent's face and grab their jaw, you may use the circular motion as a head crank, setting them up for a strike to their neck.

Application for Choong-Jang's downward strike and target punch. Source: Martial Arts Guardian.
Combine with the knee strike to the lower back for greater effect.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Koryo first wedging block


Source: George D
Here is an application for the 180-degree turn into the front stance inner-forearm wedging block (aka opening block) after the first "knee break".

I don't interpret the latter as an actual knee break. It's true that this technique appears in older karate manuals, but the breaking palm should be in front so as to apply more pressure. See the technique shown by Kenwa Mabuni below.

Kenwa Mabuni's knee break from Karate Do Nyumon (1938)
But in Koryo the downward palm comes from the back hand. I believe this variation works better as an irimi nage (entering throw) technique. The front palm pushes in the small of the opponent's back while you throw the opponent's head to the floor. Perform after using the preceding front kick as a kick to the groin.
Sources: DTDT, Rogue Warriors
This throw may fail if the opponent steps backwards to maintain their balance. Since you are pushing in their left side with your right palm, they will have to step back with their right leg.

Grab their left leg with both fists. Then step through and turn while pulling up the leg with the inner-forearm wedging block, tripping the opponent over your rear (left) leg. This is shown in the gif below.
Source: MEMAG
Other Koryo applications:

Double Side Kick
Low Target Hammerfist
Cross-step side kick (Richard Conceicao)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Koryo double side kick


Source: Majest
Even though I am ITF-trained, I'm rather fond of the KTA poomsae Koryo and have been studying applications for it recently. The most baffling part is the back leg double side kick performed early in the form. Koryo's ready position and opening guarding block have a simple application that is, I think, fairly well known. It comes from the karate kata Kushanku. After using the ready position as a guard to defend against any kind of swinging attack (haymaker, front bear hug, headlock), overhook the opponent's arm while striking the side of their neck.

Source: Practical Kata Bunkai
This is an old, perhaps the original, application for the guarding block. It appears not only in traditional martial arts but modern self defense systems. A live demonstration by Tony Blauer (as part of his S.P.E.A.R. system) is shown below.
Source: CrossFit
It can be used against a haymaker, front bear hug, or tackle. By pushing out on the opponent's neck you prevent them from striking or hugging you effectively. You can also throw in some quick hand strikes or knees from this position. In some ITF forms, a front leg front kick is used.

What you cannot do is the double side kick. There's no way to realistically apply it from this close a range, and why use it over simpler hand strikes? However, I don't think the two kicks are meant to be used from this defensive position, but rather as your opponent escapes from this position.

Applying pressure to the side of the neck is uncomfortable and once the opponent realizes they can't take you down, they may dive away from your knifehand.


(1) Since you have an overhook, you have tactile information that their arm is slipping. (2) Lock their arm with both hands as you turn 180-degrees stepping forward. (3) Perform the low side kick to the side/back of their knee. This will cause them to collapse onto that knee, lowering their head. (4) Perform the second side kick to the back of their head. Pull the arm back while kicking for greater damage.

I have one more application from Koryo that I will discuss in my next post.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Koryo low target hammerfist, part II


Source: Majest
Here is another application for the supported elbow strike followed by the low target hammerfist in Koryo.

Assume the opponent grabs your lapel. Use the downward palm to cover and grab their knifehand. Twist their wrist as you bring your elbow over their elbow, creating a Z-lock (aka S-lock or nikkyo). Pushing their wrist towards them will force them downwards.

Source: WOMA TV
The Z-lock works by preventing the opponent's elbow from rising as you push their wrist towards them. Since it can't rise, the lock forces them downwards. Step in close and follow with the low target hammerfist to the head.

I used to think that slow motion movements were grappling techniques, but often I see the opposite in forms: normal motion movements can be grappling while slow motion movements can be strikes. Slow motion movements may either be for aesthetics or to indicate that something non-obvious is going on.