The Problem with Hard Style Systems like Taekwondo and Karate

Wow. Look at me. I'm so good. Haai Yahh. That's kime, focus. That's power. Check out the snap.

I'm surprised I'm posting on a topic like this at all, considering this blog is really focused on technique. However I think it's especially pertinent because of the need to apply those techniques.

This is my 25th year in the martial arts, and in the past several years I have bent my efforts into making sense of the Traditional Taekwondo syllabus I have been handed.

My assessment is that lots of the strengths of hard style martial arts LIKE focus, destructive power, and finishing blows also is where it finds its weakness.

What I'm talking about is that hard style martial arts are oftentimes challenged to equip the student practitioner to go beyond what one of my instructor's called the "kodak moment" and deal with 1) bypassing the opponent's multi-layered defences, and 2) when the opponent is bypassing your multi-layered defences.

It is not to say that hard stylists do not have the ability to deal with continuous attacks or dynamic situations. Nor am I saying that it is not necessary to develop power and focus. It is that a lot of the basic garden-variety training is only about one strike. Two at the most. And they come slowly - oh so slowly.

All the moves to deal with multiple attacks are there in the formwork. There is absolutely nothing other styles do that is not featured in a hard style system! It requires re-jigging your eyes and re-jigging your heart. Too often expertise is equated with a confidence and knowledge of all the answers. This is not true. To keep it real you need to keep an open mind, vary your techniques, and learn what works. Or how it works better.

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A-KaTo: View from the Kyu: Building a Better Kata
TKDTutor: Olympic Taekwondo
Pat's Mokuren Dojo Aikido and Judo: The Terrible Truth About Karate
No Blog of Significance: Is that really karate?
TDA Training: Is there value in Traditional Training?
Taekwondo One Step Sparring


Potatoe Fist said…
Deep thoughts Colin. Although I have no where your experience in the field I have to say my mind strays at times in the direction of how would one reduce the weaknesses in each style and maximize the strength.

My favorite is the the basic stance - so strong in one axis and absolutely weak in another. I guess we are doomed to constantly be adjusting in order to figure out the best for the circumstance. I guess one style or approach is a great start, but it can become a the hammer rule - If you a hammer you begin to see everything as a nail.
Anonymous said…
could not agree more with you Colin. There are to many Karate guys that think one punch is all that is needed. Ok if your attacking the throat or eyes that may work, but how many times do you get in a fight that is serious enough to potentially kill the guy or blind him for life.
Great post - not sure why you start it with an apology! My (albeit limited) understanding of the hard techniques we drill through time and time again is that once they become "natural" responses (the body knows what to do without a conscious decision from the brain) that you'll make the right move at the right time. My instructor mentioned the other week that front kick and turning kick can be thought of as the same technique, in that there are an infinite number of variations in between the traditional front kick and traditional turning kick. ONE of those variations will be the correct response/counter attack and you'll find it when you need it if you've got the basics truly learnt.
Colin Wee said…
I find it difficult to do a critical analysis type posting because there're so many "Karate (TKD/Kung Fu) SUX" posts out there on the net. THe last thing I want to do is to come across as having a crazy rant.

Re: Front kick and turning kick - yep, I try to frame those same parameters of movement for my students. Understanding parameters helps students figure out variations and allow people to adapt to the opponent at hand.

Of course it also justifies all the variations I use myself. :-)

As for my post, I often find myself reaching out to my initial training (in the Chinese arts), rather than hard style arts (trad tkd) for hand movements and sequences in order to deal with close quarter combat. I find that I've got to backward integrate my chinese training to the hard style to make it more able to deal with repetitive attacks - or at least to provide me something to do (like trapping or locking) beyond just trying to smack him in the head!

It's an on-going journey!

Thanks for all the responses.


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