Training Warriors for the 21st Century

Training Warriors for the 21st Century
Joong Do Kwan Traditional Taekwondo cross training with Kidokwan Perth

28 Aug 2007

Beginning Sparring Part One: Problems Encountered

Pick on someone smaller, won't ya?

I am going to provide some sparring skills training to a black belt practitioner; partly to assess his skills and partly to work on a progressive training system for his students. I thought to take the opportunity to discuss some basic challenges students have when starting sparring training. The following is a basic list of sparring skills I came up with off the top of my head.

1. Objectives: I've seen most schools throw their students in the deep end. Sparring skills should be built up in a progressive manner, similar to other skills acquisition they are doing. Pressure testing should come much later. First off is to define what the students are doing and what they should be looking out for. I tell my students they should be focusing on a) recognising strikes and techniques used by their opponents, b) gauge distances, and c) test simple techniques - reaching out to opponents lightly.

2. Distancing and Reach: Many people have difficulty understanding distances when time-pressure is against them. Also tunnel vision and reduction of peripheral vision make distancing more difficult. Students need to re-learn how to guage distances for sparring and improving their spatial awareness for martial art techniques.

3. Targetting: Students have no clue how to perform a technique let alone where to hit the opponent. I tend to point out major possible areas before sparring. This should be in line with complementary drills like one-steps during practice sessions. Beginners should not overly think about specific strike points, but look for big targets to aim techniques at.

4. Weapons to Use: Many students start off sparring knowing 4-6 strikes (hand and foot), 3 blocks, and 3 stances. But when faced with such a pressure test - how many things can a student think of at once? One or two only! In fact this continues even up to when the student becomes an intermediate or advanced belt, but it's just processed at a faster rate, so it seems that they've learned a lot more.

5. Combinations: The student can think of one or two things. Block. Strike. Strike Block. They can't think of combinations. These can be 'handed' to them so that they can engage a sequence without having to be so aware of everything.

6. Protection and Coverage: Here's a downblock, mid block, and up block - all great for blocking things that your grandmother throws at you. Now block something from the Chuck Norris brown belter who's training with you. Doesn't work at all! Students need to be taught more coverage skills. They've got to be taught how to move away so that the opponent needs to always track them. They should know how not to walk into a technique!

Who's protecting your opponent from you?

7. Stamina and Endurance: Never smoked a day in my life ... yet I feel like I have emphysema as I try to dance around the room. You can't breathe because you've not been taught how to breathe during sparring. In fact whatever new breathing technique you've learned in a hard style system is most often WRONG. It's not the student's fault he's holding his breath! This is natural when you start getting stressed and tensed.

Can't breathe? Pick up a healthier habit!

8. Fear and Discomfort: It's confronting, and is one of the exercises that really tear down the walls of confidence in a person in order to build it up again - stronger than ever. But to have a person face such fears, you need to be cognizant of it and cater to this period of training. Once they cross that hump, then you can let it coast, but before that happens, the student cannot think of much else let alone technique or distancing, relaxation or proper movement.

Bring along protection at all times.


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26 Aug 2007

Your Views on Traditional Taekwondo Blog

This is a Traditional Taekwondo Blog created to look at techniques from training sessions in our weekly Taekwondo practice here in Perth, Western Australia. It's been easy for me to focus on my Taekwondo students as they progress, and discuss things that matter to their practice. So, tell me ... would you like to see me discussing more advance techniques? Or would you like me to discuss basic Taekwondo techniques but with a coaching perspective? Such may be a departure from the basic Taekwondo syllabus (though I'll still endeavour to cover basic techniques but not so frequently). Let me know and I'll try to cater to your interests.


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24 Aug 2007

Taekwondo Side Kick of Won-hyo

Taekwondo Side Kick of Won-hyo

The Taekwondo Side Kick is the second kicking technique appearing in Traditional Taekwondo. It appears in Won-hyo and is called yoko geri in Japanese. If the front kick is a kick known for its ease and speed, the Traditional Taekwondo side kick should be known for its power and penetration. One of my martial arts instructors said that the side kick is the most difficult to perform of all the 'non-gimmicky' kicks. He was right.

There is more than one side kick in Taekwondo's Won-hyo

There are two side kicks that appear in Won-hyo Hyung! It's true! One requires you to take a step back and prompts you to think about it as a defensively applied side kick in response to an opponent's attack. The second one is an offensive penetrative side kick going forward.

The kick from won-hyo we practiced last was a basic side-on side kick. We stood the students facing 135 degrees away from the target (pointing bodies to 8 0'clock or 5 O'clock), raising their knees at about 90 degrees away from the target and then firing the blade of the foot at their targets. We started with the motion in the air, then progressed to working with an opponent (holding hands for stability), and then worked on the kick shield.

Maintaining dynamic balance with the side kick

COG for the side kick has to be between the support foot and the target, and should tend towards the striking area. Not to do so is a mistake a lot of beginners or non-kickers make. Such kicks look great in the air but rarely do much of the damage that side kicks are capable of. Also to the the foot rotating in the right direction, there needs to be some vertical rotation in the hip (bearing about 135 degrees away from the target) - so that the kicker's gluteus maximus moves toward the target area. (If you have problems with your side kick, you should look at my post Calibrating the Side Kick.)

Maintaining control means not locking out the legs while doing the side kick

Another critical success factor for the taekwondo side kick is to remain level whilst kicking or drop the support leg lower (allowing the knee to maintain some bend). Standing up or tensing the shoulder muscles whilst kicking AND straightening the support leg reduces maneuverability, and doesn't allow for dynamic support. The base leg has to be involved in the entire movement. The kicking leg goes forward, and thus the support leg has to move in the opposite direction based on vector forces.

Which part of the foot to use for the side kick?

Blade or heel of the foot? I didn't stress much on this last night. Typically I kick with the blade of the foot - but lately, with suspected joint inflammation/arthritis developing in one of my hip joints, I've opted to reduce as much torque on the hips as possible. So I've been experimenting with focusing power into the heel and adding a little more 'snap' in the leg extension - so the lower leg travels faster. This seems to increase power and keep my joints happy.

Taekwondo Side Kick Muscles
We'll talk about this image in later posts.

Targeting the Opponent with the Side Kick

The side kick is 'punched' out from the hip to the opponent in a straight line. If we are not discussing tactical advantage, the best way to launch this kick is when it is fired parallel to the ground. This achieves the longest reach and allows the kicker to generate a good amount of power. This is counter intuitive for Taekwondo practitioners - raising the side kick reduces its power, decreases it's reach, and opens your groin up for counters. Tactically it is most sound to raise the knee to chamber but fire the kick downward to the thigh or knee or even apply it as a foot stomp to the shin or instep.

For a comparison of the basic side kick, check out Taekwondo Side Kick: Yul-guk v Won-hyo. The post compares the side kick as it is introduced in Won-hyo and later how it is practiced in Yul-guk. The following video compares this side kick from Won-hyo to a thrusting side kick - a variant we practice for close quarter encounters.

Related Links

If you liked this post, check out Roundhouse Kick Muay Thai v Taekwondo and if you want a combo to make an offensive side kick work nicely, check out Nat's post High Low Combination Jab - Side Kick. Don't forget to read through the comments on the end of this post - some are quite good.

Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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23 Aug 2007

Martial Arts Grading: Oral Section

This isn't a post on a technique, but still important as it refers to basic skills necessary to make techniques work.

Many Taekwondo schools would require grading students to mouth out the names and the meanings associated with the patterns. I thought of doing this as well, but stopped short when I realised that after the short term memory fades, so will the meaning of the patterns be forgotten.

I still wanted an oral section, and I wanted the section to help build a better black belt and a better martial artist. So I made sure that my oral tests would really be a test for the student. I started doing this about two years ago for senior students - I would ask them to compare different techniques in the same taekwondo pattern or different patterns. Whilst huffing and puffing from the rest of the grading, the oral section puts them on the spot and forces them to think about the technique, perform a critical analysis of what I asked for, and then verbalize their answer. This is what I wanted from my students - to make them pragmatic instructors, thinking fighters (as opposed to Taebo instructors).

Last weekend I brought this level of difficulty down to 7th kyu. Aside from other things, I asked my student to perform "Step 13-14" from Dan-gun - a past kata. I deliberately left out the description of the technique (which was lower and upper blocks) so that he'd be forced to run through the kata in his mind, count the steps (with everyone looking at him in expectation), and then perform this. And the best thing that happened? He counted the steps wrongly and performed the wrong technique - so was placed in another predicament and forced to re-access his counting.

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14 Aug 2007

Dan-Gun: Knife Hand on Premium Unleaded even in Back Balance

Let's see a show of hands for those who can do a knife hand strike with some power behind it.

The Soodo-marki or shuto in Dan-gun is a rather flimsy move when you try to pit it against a lunge punch or a leg. Yet the knife hand is a versatile striking weapon, with greater angles of entry and speed than the basic punches learned in Chon-ji or Dan-gun.

Creating the power with the blade of the hand is tricky. For our beginners, I teach folding for the knife hand (done korean-style with two hands held parallel away from the opponent) with a supple waist, hip turn and lead foot with heel held slightly off the ground. Then a step into a back balance with the lead foot lightly touching the ground. The swing around move is preempted by using the waist and hip to rotate sharply towards the lead foot, sitting the backside down in mid-air, and pulling the lats and arms downward - sinking them alongwith the center of gravity. This means that the striking weapons are pulled down into gravity using your bodyweight, and that their velocity is then accelerated through lats and triceps contraction. This is one of the reasons why this particular shuto is held fairly close to the body - extend it and it would be all triceps - no lats to connect the strike to the body core.

An analogy is that of the ice skater - spinning with arms out is slower. Pull the arms in and the spinning gets much faster. The knife hand pulled backwards into the body gets increased speed. Drawbacks are that you need to be closer - but I reckon this is where you'd be anyway.

Much of the force comes from the contraction of the body, rather than a swinging out of the arms. If it were only the arms, the strike would feel flimsy. Start doing the hip turn and sitting down correctly, and you start feeling a lot of boney impact.

PMA: Knife Hand Practical Applications


10 Aug 2007

Chon-ji: Drills and Variations

Last night we departed from the 'prescribed' applications and drills from our Chon-ji syllabus. We started off with the drill using a lower block to defend against a high and then low punch to centre-line. Then a middle block to defend against a low to high punch to centre-line. Check out the previous post on this drill ... Chon-ji Middle Block Drill with Partner.

The variation we did was using the lower block to defend against a grab and punch. The attacker or opponent grabs wrist/elbow/shoulder and then performs a roundhouse punch with the other hand. The fold for the lower block defends against the oncoming punch - irrespective of the hold, and then the lower block or hardan marki is used as a groin strike.

This is a nice oyo or variation in that it takes the theme of 'folding' to block a separate technique, and then uses the block as a strike at the end of the technique. What I also like about this application is that it requires the user to 1) change the position of the fold to meet the oncoming strike, and 2) to rotate the body core in order to slip past the truncated oncoming roundhouse strike in order to strike the groin. So while a 'typical' lower block will be done on the line, this application would require the body to be rotated away from the blocking hand. All in all a very healthy exercise in order to show the white belt that you need to modify theoretical techniques in order to place the strike onto the opponent's body.


6 Aug 2007

Taekwondo Do san: Double Knife Hand Against Lapel Grab

Close Quarter Fighting - Do-san Taekwondo Pattern Step 13-16 defence to a double lapel grab.

Sunday we practiced defence against double lapel grab using step 13-16 of Do-san pattern. Applied for two situations - one where you are held against a wall and can't drop your weight or move forward easily, and two where you have some freedom of movement.

For the first situation (against a wall), we used the fold and double 'striking' motion to effect a nikyo or 'wrist turn in' or a 'Z-lock' wrist lock. Turning to the right, you reach over the opponent's left hand and grab the blade of his hand with your left fingers with thumb in the webbing of his hand. Turn back to face opponent and rotate his left hand. Your right should put pressure on his left elbow. His arm should now be bent - his hand in front of your left chest/shoulder and his elbow directly in front of your right shoulder.

For the second situation, the attacker has grabbed your shirt or gi. The arms fold over his arms and then you drop your weight like a pile driver onto his forearms. The movement works by pulling your legs upward, so that you are 'suspended' in the air, and while you are brought down by gravity, your arms strike downward on his arms, then lock in to bring your weight on top of his forearms. Follow up with a shoulder grab, head butt, and front kick to the groin.


3 Aug 2007

Troubleshooting the Front Kick

Troubleshooting the Front Kick if you can't seem to balance correctly upon impact

Face off with the kick shield and kick it with a regular front kick. Most often you'll find if you're off the target you've got a tendency to spin and the target wobbles. You'll find the support leg experiencing a lot of torque-ing forces.

I've noticed that this happens especially for the Do-san back leg front kick because many people pull the knee up straight towards the target and then fire off the kick. This means that, if you draw a line from the back foot to the target, it comes up a little away from the supporting leg.

Troubleshooting this, you can raise the knee and apply inside tension using the inner thigh muscles - this draws the striking knee closer to the support leg. Any front kicking action then is applied from closer to the COG and centreline - in fact the whole body shifts closer to the support leg. This reduces spinning forces on the rebound, and allows you to strike with better hip power.

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