Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

31 Jul 2008

Hitting Opponents With 'Invisible' Sparring Techniques

I was at SciTech over the holidays and was looking at this one exhibit that showed how a rotating drum could make stick figures within it appear to move smoothly. The science behind it is called 'persistence of motion'. Meaning the brain cannot process visual images faster than a certain frame rate, and thus the previous frame is 'melded' with the next frame and the mind provides the visual continuity for the stick figure to move.

I have used this persistence of motion theory against opponents before in order to reduce their reaction time against techniques sent against them. I have not made an exhaustive study of this, but I thought it would be cool to discuss some ways to trick an opponent to see what you want him to see.

The persistence of motion trick that I came up with was integrated with the concept of feinting. I would during the course of the sparring session send out a staple not-too-aggressive technique - for this example I would use a 'short' instep kick from the back leg. This is a good kick to check forward motion or stop a side kick. So I would do this once or twice and ensure that I'd do it a certain way, holding my arms just so that the motion would be imprinted on the opponent's mind. When I am going to throw the 'real' technique I then fire off the instep kick but drive it with vertical acceleration off the front leg. This allows me to launch the front foot as a long range roundhouse while the instep kick is still in the air coming back down. Really experienced sparring buddies of mine would swear that they felt the constriction of fear when this roundhouse kick seems to appear from nowhere flying into their faces. I've also varied the second kicking technique to use other non-basic kicks which have worked fairly well - though should only to be used in a sportive setting.

The next technique would be a hook kick to the head. Typically hook kicks are seen way before they land. My version, launched from back or front leg is performed within the shadow of the opponent's lead hand. Stoop down in front of a combative opponent and you'll see the lead hand blocks the peripheral vision in a tight vertical cone under the arm. All you've got to do is figure out how to send any kick into this shadow, and your initial movements are more or less disguised. So my hook kick would more or less appear magically at the side of the opponent's head over their shoulders - streaking toward them. It's a horrible nasty trick, but alas can only be done by adept-level kickers.

The last thing I would present is the lunge punch, a favourite of mine and something I learned from my instructor Michael Proctor Sensei. I've added to the general theory. Make sure the opponent is 'weighted' on his feet, generally by timing his bouncing and doing a kiai when he is coming down to the ground. Then launch forward but don't move your hands. All the opponent sees is something coming towards him - the static picture confuses his brain. Punch only at the absolute last second. The punch is done this way - your front hand blocks his line of sight. Your back hand 'punches' the back of your front hand. The front hand is pulled down to let the back hand pass. All the opponent sees is the fist about 4 inches from his face. This is a great gap closing strategy which can be launched nicely instead of kicks - and is DEAD EASY.

I'll talk a little about combination kicks next.

Anyone want to add anything else?



Traditional Taekwondo Goes Green

My green belt surprised me last training session.

He's not been coming to training very much in the last few months, but has just started coming regularly again. But to my joy, he has been practicing outside of class and ... it shows. When I sparred him, he was much faster and smoother, had better coverage, and had excellent combinations.

He must have had the time to mentally assimilate a few skills he acquired while we were working on him a couple of months ago. He was due for a belt grading then, but did not make it ... so I'm really happy with the natural progression he has made by himself.


30 Jul 2008

Chon-ji: Low Block Gets Makeover

My white belt did a variation off the low block last night. Fold for a left low block but simultaneously look all the way over his right shoulder. The left heel comes off the ground as the body turns to accomodate the gaze backward. Then direct the gaze quickly to the front and perform the block.

This is a bid to reduce martial arts on train tracks (tm) ... created by static stances, techniques done in the air, and linear movement.


25 Jul 2008

Typical Sedentary Teen Gets Transformed Into Hardcore Martial Arts Fighter for Hit MTV Show

Super Hilarious!

See below cut and paste writeup of the show.

Video available at

Milwaukee, WI - May 15 2008 - Master Chan Lee, a martial arts trainer for college athletes and martial arts champions, has finished the filming for an upcoming episode of MADE - the extremely popular MTV show that is just beginning its ninth season and is embarking on its 100th episode. In this new episode, Mr. Lee is the local celebrity coach of a small-town Wisconsin teenager who is on a mission to be "MADE" into a martial artist.

Master Lee said, "After more than 30 years of martial arts training and coaching, working with this Wisconsin teenager (whose identity is secret until after the initial showing) has been one of my most rewarding experiences. I'm excited to see how the episode will turn out after over 100 hours of filming.

During past seasons, each episode of MADE followed one willing candidate as they embarked on a mission to transform their life. Whether it was becoming a varsity football player, the homecoming queen or a cheerleader, each teenager dreamed of breaking out of their shell and finding out what they were really made of and what they could achieve when given the tools and training. This is the first episode of MADE where the candidate wanted to be transformed into a hardcore martial arts fighter.

Master Lee was selected as the celebrity coach of this episode following a selective interview process by MTV and was required to be away from his five martial arts schools in the metro Milwaukee area for most of the six weeks of filming.

"At our schools, martial arts is primarily about personal character development instead of just kicking and punching. That is what I emphasized during the training."

A final airtime for this episode will be established within the next few days. For more information on MADE, visit

For more on Master Chan Lee, visit

Related Links

24 Jul 2008

Beginner Sparring Advice - Keep it Simple

In my school traditional taekwondo sparring is introduced as an incremental activity. Beginner students are not expected to spar freestyle (jiyu kumite) against random opponents at the get go. Instead, they go against instructors (me namely) and train for coverage, blocking, and movement early on. In other words, they don't get to attack - they only defend. Lucky them! This is to coach them to achieve good breathing and observation - in a relatively gradual manner.

Once beginners cross a certain point where they can more or less keep a level head, then they are allowed to use strikes - sparingly. Meaning they are 'authorised' to use one weapon at a time. The first weapon, a long range one, is the front lunge punch.

What kind of tools do expert hard style practitioners use in sparring? You still see a lot of basic techniques used effectively. Certainly the effect of experience allows these people to dish out a variety of techniques, and beginning students do not have the same experience. However, if you notice, aside from experience, timing, strategy, etc., expert practitioners have a good amount of confidence, commmitment, and follow through. These last three concepts can be communicated on a physical level to traditional taekwondo beginners fairly easily.

These are the factors that will allow a committed and focused beginner wielding only one type of punch to  provide a significant sparring challenge to even senior students. One punch, after all, is sometimes all that is needed.

Once this weapon successfully lands, other weapons are gradually authorised, and the beginner uses their increased confidence with other tools. It becomes almost too easy.

My Student's Post on Beginning Sparring Training: I survived ... barely
Taekwondo Sparring Posts

Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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16 Jul 2008

The importance of repetition, and taking breaks inbetween by M Clark

In the beginning of my training, I myself had the wrong idea about learning karate, and I'm sure that others will sympathize with me. I would focus all of my energy on one concept or idea trying to perfect it by doing as much of it that I could during that moment. However, once the pressure was off, I would drop it to the side, and put my energy towards the next challenge. I guess that my energy was towards meeting the various requirements towards my next belt rank test. However, this kind of training does not help improve one's memory of the lower basic foundational movements which support the higher requirements.

Our bodies, and minds need to cover the beginning material properly over and over again with much focus as we advance in knowledge. This builds up our abilities, and strengthens our understanding. Too often I have seen a higher black belt stopped in his/her tracks by a simple beginner movement because they had been focusing only on improving a higher kata.

How our minds work:

"The fact that repetition helps you to memorise is well known, but the importance of the time between repetitions is less well known.

The timings are particularly important because if you don’t revise often enough you will forget things. And if you do it too often (especially in the early stages) you’re going to be wasting a lot of time, and confuse yourself.

....Breaks are incredibly important because your brain needs time to fix itself and recuperate. You may think that your understanding of what you’re studying is highest immediately after you finish studying. In actual fact, you will have a greater understanding following a 10 minute break!

Why is this?

Well, when we create a new connection in our brains, that connection is weak. Over a period of about 10 minutes, it gradually strengthens and becomes more stable.

If you don’t take enough breaks, those weak connections interfere with other new connections and you become confused. So you need to give your brain enough time to make those connections strong. When they are strong, they will be able to handle any interference.

After that first 10 minutes, your brain cells will reach their peak strength. At this point you will know the subject better than you did when you started your break.

Unfortunately your learning then begins to fade again.

The new connections begin to weaken again until they finally disappear. If we don’t do something about this, we will forget a lot of what we’ve learnt.

We stop the degrading process by repeating (or revising) what we previously learnt. This fires off the connection in the brain again, and makes sure it stays strong.

So when you’ve finished revising, take another 10 minutes break and then revise again. And then do the same thing a 3rd, and final, time. Experiments have shown that 3 activations, with 10 minute breaks in between, make the memories the strongest and last the longest."
taken from Improve Human Intelligence

Revision has to be ongoing to maintain the information, but each person has a different "need" for the amount of revision necessary to keep the information strong in their minds. I would suggest that it is a safe bet if beginner basics is included in one's personal training frequently. They can be useful as a "warm up" if done in slower speed, and with less power.

A Sensei can incorporate this concept of how we memorize into their lessons. For example, teaching a pattern to a student. It may be to the student's benefit to segment the instruction into shorter 10 minute periods interspersed with a more familiar exercise/activity to give the mind a "break". These activities can be similar, and supportive to the movements of the pattern, or just random conditioning exercises such as squats, sit ups, push ups, etc.

Taekwondo Shoes

Gordon White from The Blue Wave Taekwondo School and Blog has just written a product evaluation for a couple of Taekwondo shoes. An excellent article for anyone looking for martial arts equipment. Colin

Ray Hanas

Beginning Sparring in Traditional Taekwondo

Beginning Sparring 

I like to start my students off doing things later than other schools. Take beginning sparring for instance, I prefer my students to start sparring closer to when they're green belts rather than when they're white or yellow. Training for sparring however starts immediately in my school, and increases in progression. Contact and pressure testing starts at yellow belt - typically with me starting a 'programmed' sparring experience. Meaning I 'spar' with the students and they only get to block. I coach them through stuff and then allow them to use limited weapons (like one or two punches). And then at later stages they get to attack me without fear or reprisals or work with people much less skilled to practice rhythm, techniques, and distancing. Integration comes in cycles.

Currently, I'm starting off my orange belt with beginning sparring much quicker. She's leaving for an overseas position in two months, and I wanted to accelerate her training ahead of 'normal' progression in my school so she adequately faces off greater challenges in other schools whilst maintaining a steady center through it all.

Beginning sparring type exercises have already started a couple of months ago - though I try to keep it simple. The last one or two sessions have featured similar sessions - with me attacking, but this time attacking with greater strength, speed, intensity, and using weapons typically used in sparring. This includes head high strikes, thigh kicks, centreline strikes and takedowns.

The overall objective at first is to desensitize against threat from aggressor and to maintain measured and steady breathing cycles. Other objectives include blocking and coverage with elbows, forearms, kneeds, and forehead ... rather than other sensitive areas of the body. Also want the student to show measured footwork, making sure to move at regular intervals and to randomize direction whilst reducing target areas.

Early in the beginning sparring session you could see my student's body quiver imperceptibly when the adrenaline hits - there was a distinct fight/flight syndrome occuring! We took one or two rounds to bring that under control so that arm and leg movement continued using regular large muscle breathing to moderate air intake. The holding of the breath during the onset of the attack was still a major problem. This should correct itself in the next 2-3 weeks.

During about the 12-15 minutes of this session, the student was:
1. taken down twice
2. struck on the body core three times with light force
3. struck on the side of the body lightly twice
4. struck in the forehead and side of the head lightly multiple times
5. struck in the thigh moderately twice-thrice

From previous Traditional Taekwondo training the student shows some aptitude in upper body coverage. Strikes to the facial region or upper body were not easy and therefore were not taken advantage of during this slug 'em out session.

The student however should improve falling. Breakfalling skills were not apparent and student stopped her fall using an extended arm. Without opponent 'help', injury would no doubt have occurred.

In the upcoming weeks I anticipate including more varied striking combinations, slightly harder impact, takedowns and chokes.

All in all a good session. The student more or less maintained control over most limbs while standing, improve footwork through the session, control emotions, and was able to finish off the session uninjured.

Beginning Sparring Links

Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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15 Jul 2008

Beginning Taekwondo

Beginning Taekwondo and Taekwondo Reaction Hand

A student brought a colleague from work with her last session. I was giving him the stock standard beginner lesson. Pretty brain dead - 1) show and explain the forward balance, 2) show the basic punch with pull back hand, and 3) put basic punch on forward balance to get a lunge punch.

The basic punch, I'm sure I've mentioned this before, like many other basic techniques includes parameters. Beginners to Taekwondo learn a solar plexus level strike. The next rank does it to nose high. Done any higher for an opponent your height or any lower, you decrease the striking effectiveness AND you increase the chance you break your fingers or wrist with the angle of impact. As you gain more experience, the parameters show how to modify the strike and land them on the opponent who's moving and bobbing about.

The reaction hand or pull back hand is introduced with the analogy of the log cutter. Imagine two people holding on to two different ends of the saw. Synchronised right, the motion makes cutting wood effective and less tiring. I grab onto the beginners two hands and we do a piston like motion to re-create this back and forth sawing action. I say that this balance or synchrony is something that good technique will create and should be sought out. If something is awry, the instructor should be alerted and/or you should seek to vary technique until such balance occurs.

The motion of the taekwondo reaction hand or the pull back hand or the chambered hand is also highlighted to create a 'system' with the upper body. Strikes are more powerful because the mass of the body striking the opponent includes the entire upper body - rather than a limp reaction hand flopping at your side. Strategically, the pull back hand allows you to control the opponent's limb and prevent the opponent from pulling away from the strike when he sees something coming at him.

Taekwondo Techniques Beginner Links
Overview of Essential Information for Beginners to Traditional Taekwondo
Taekwondo v Raw Beginners
Teaching Taekwondo Techniques to Children and getting them to Kick Right
Teaching Beginning Forms in Traditional Taekwondo
This Day in History 1991 Welcomes Token Asian to SMU Martial Arts Club
Training Safely for Beginners
Beginner Grading Results Sample
Power Generation and Commonsense
Hitting Harder Physics Made Simple for Beginners
Answering the Question of How Martial Arts Builds Confidence
Don't You Just Hate Random COmpetition Advice?
Breaking and Destruction for Beginners
Chon-ji: Steps 18 and 19 as Osotogari
Traditional Taekwondo in Perth Western Australia
Beginner Self Defence Tip: Trained v Untrained
Chon-ji: Low Block gets Makeover
Typical Sedentary Teen Gets Transformed into a Martial Artist
Beginning Sparring Advice: Keep it Simple
Importance of Repetition and Taking Breaks in Between
Beginning Sparring in Traditional Taekwondo
Beginning Taekwondo
Beginning Taekwondo Perspective on Self Defence: HOw to be Effective When Fear Strikes
Taekwondo Syllabus
Rolls: YOu Need Confidence by William Mioch
He Hit Me and Said Sorry
Nat from TDA Asked if I am Causing Conflict

Lastly, beginners to Traditional Taekwondo should look at all my posts on our first pattern Chon-ji.

External Links
Beebleblog: Why You SHould Not Lock Your JOints During Exercise

Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
[Traditional Taekwondo Blog | Subscribe | FAQs | Sitemap | FaceBook]
And help us rank on Google by clicking the '+1' icon, why don't you?
How much do you know of Taekwondo? Come take our Taekwondo quiz to find out.

10 Jul 2008

Australasian Taekwondo Magazine V17 N2 p76 July 2008

I've been featured in this month's Australasian Taekwondo Magazine titled 'Man of Tradition'. The article was nicely edited, and I am happy to have appeared in the magazine. I'm including the full interview below. Colin


1. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about how you began training in martial arts, and what path led you to practise traditional taekwondo?

I loved martial arts before I began martial arts.

At the time, it wasn’t difficult for me to fall in love with the idea to learn a martial art considering all the Bruce Lee movie re-runs on television and so many of my classmates practicing one martial art or other. Our teenage illusions of grandeur gave us all a momentum that made nothing else seem more interesting. Making some inquiries, a classmate offered to introduce me to his ‘Master,’ and not knowing any better, I took a leap of faith and was led into this strange new world.

So in 1983, I started training against my parent’s wishes. From what little was told to me, the style I was practicing was called ‘Ninjado,’ and it started in the late 60s comprising content from various Chinese styles and Hapkido. I must admit the name still causes me some embarrassment.

Irrespective of the raised eyebrows and the constant ninja jibes, my instructor Master Tony was generous with his time and provided excellent all-round training. The skills I learned were appropriate for my age, and no one can fault him for the rigorous and very reasonably charged classes.

Several years after I earned my black belt and right after my stint in the army, I left Asia to attend university in the United States. It didn’t take long before I visited the SMU Martial Arts Club in Dallas Texas and the varied group of black belts from the American Karate and Taekwondo Organisation (A-KaTo), then known as Southwest Taekwondo Association. This was my introduction to Taekwondo and its Chang Hon patterns.

2. Can you explain the difference between the traditional style of taekwondo you practise and modern ITF/WTF (chang hon/kukkiwon) taekwondo? Do you identify more with this Korean style, or the Japanese/karate style from which taekwondo developed?

From what has been told to me by A-KaTo GM Keith Yates, A-KaTo’s Taekwondo was brought over from Korea in 1955 via the auspices of Tang Soo Do practitioner GM Jhoon Rhee. Note and compare this time period with the military martial arts demonstration for South Korean President Syngman Rhee in 1952, historically significant for Taekwondo as President Rhee who would then ask for all troops to be trained in that martial art, and the subsequent accepting of Taekwondo as the official name of that style in 1955. GM Jhoon Rhee’s early Taekwondo export, still used by A-KaTo, continued to be practiced in the Southwest USA separate from the Taekwondo further refined by the ITF and WTF organisations.

So where global Taekwondo embarked on rapid fire expansion, A-KaTo black belts continued early Taekwondo’s close ties with Karate, often cross training with Karate instructors and practicing Shotokan forms for their black belt gradings. In fact, you would be hard pressed to tell apart an A-KaTo Taekwondo practitioner from a Karate-ka, all of whom are clothed in traditional fold-over white Karate gis and whom practice ‘Taekwondo’ basics in a manner that Funakoshi Sensei, Father of Modern Karate, would be proud of.

To generalise, Traditional Taekwondo as practiced by A-KaTo stylists, favours keeping a low centre of gravity (COG) and engaging in combat at close and medium range distances. Like Karate, hands and legs are used inter-changeably, though basic kicks are mostly preferred. Most modern ITF/WTF Taekwondo favour a higher COG to engage the opponent at mid to long range distances. Legs are modern Taekwondo’s preferred weapon, though hand strikes are involved at end-points and never over-shadow sophisticated kicking techniques.

Traditional Taekwondo however is not Karate, and does show subtle variances. Take for instance the upper block. A-KaTo black belts can be seen folding higher for more coverage, tend to use the back hand to deflect oncoming strikes, and may have more than one ‘flight path’ for the blocking forearm to bypass the opponent’s coverage. All of these are pragmatic modifications to increase protection and to effectively strike a non-compliant opponent.

Coming back to the comparison, my style is ‘Traditional Taekwondo,’ but the word ‘traditional’ is used different from the greater martial arts community. ‘Traditional’ to me does not communicate a predilection for rigorous training drills, nor the usage of an unchanging official training syllabus, nor the creation of a student population so fearful of my demi-god status they quake before the ground I walk on. Traditional Taekwondo to me is the essence of Taekwondo as it was handed to me by my A-KaTo instructor Shodai Bryan Robbins. My use of ‘traditional’ simply values the version exported out of Korea during the mid 1950s. This version of Taekwondo is unique in that it is a focal point for both Japanese stylistic influences and improvements for use as a training program by the South Korean military.

Such reasoning allows me to seek value from systems which had an impact Taekwondo’s early formation. This does not mean haphazardly collecting tricks here and there. It does mean however that I am not opposed to the value we can draw from our Karate cousins. While the rest of the Taekwondo world has chosen a path of progression, I have chosen one of regression. For me it is not an issue of nationalistic origin, Taekwondo is Korean; my interest lies with the original work and impetus to produce Taekwondo. What a waste to lose that snapshot and its ties to a rich historical tapestry of martial art knowledge.

3. Taekwondo in Australia is quite homogenised compared to the myriad styles and variations in America. Is the traditional taekwondo style you practise popular there?

Early Taekwondo formulated by General Choi Hong Hi in the 1950s and likewise promoted by A-KaTo runs through a dozen or so schools in the Southwest of the USA. Aside from A-KaTo, there are several hundred other schools teaching this approach within the region. I am told by GM Keith Yates that for the upcoming U.S. Karate Championships to be held this upcoming July in Texas almost half of the 600+ competitors will perform one of the Chang Hon forms.

The myriad styles you mention may come about as the generic term ‘American Karate’ or ‘American Taekwondo’ is used liberally to describe not only Taekwondo but also Karate, kick boxing, and some enterprising ‘self defence’ systems.

The homogenisation of Taekwondo as you indicated in Australia is possibly not dissimilar to what is happening everywhere else around the world. Modern Taekwondo after all is a global vehicle driven by ITF and WTF organisations. In fact, a student of mine who recently visited Korea couldn’t find anything other than WTF studios. The closest he came to Chang Hon was seeing a youth in a back alleyway practicing our Won Hyo pattern.

Compared to the immense number of ITF or WTF studios, I’d say ‘Traditional Taekwondo’ groups practicing early Chang Hon and those ‘Classical Taekwondo’ groups practicing Pyung Ahn forms are just holding the fort. Though not insignificant and in no way a dying breed, Traditional Taekwondo is not in a position to take the world by storm.

4. When did you first develop an interest in investigating the bunkai for the Chang Hon forms? How have you studied this and what have you learnt?

After starting a school in 2000 and putting my instructor’s hat on, I soon realised I was unhappy with the structure of the syllabus I inherited. The problem I had was that none of the forms, basic techniques, ‘self defence’ or other training drills seemed to be work together; it wasn’t a real ‘program’. Looking to take on what Bruce Lee must have referred to as the “classical mess,” I decided that I needed to understand where my place was in the grand scheme of things, and then to create a workable training program for my school.

To verbalise my issues and to gather my discoveries, I started writing a book called ‘Fighting Heaven and Earth.’ My aim was to identify the relevance and unique personality of Taekwondo, and to legitimise Taekwondo’s training program.

I was still unconvinced that I had finished the job even after completing the manuscript. I had taken a year to finish the project, had a book that won high praise from international instructors, created order in my universe and legitimised my style. Yet, without further work to flesh out techniques and applications, the book would just be a clever coaching manual with a limited shelf life. So I went back to the drawing board used my core ideas to re-architect my entire beginner training program.

My work since has been to form a complete training program using Taekwondo patterns at its core structure. This simply means that all drills that are included in the syllabus are associated with each pattern the student learns. These skill-appropriate lessons also anticipate learning issues and lead to a more confortable progression through the ranks.

Despite knowing I will be judged by my peers when I depart from the status quo, I have noticed a few benefits which have galvanised my confidence and my determination:

1. Beginner-level patterns have fewer techniques, forcing beginners to practice those techniques and their variations over and over again. This repetition and application creates brilliant technical quality.

2. The syllabus requirements are easy to remember as they drawn directly from each pattern; even my youngest student is capable of remembering all past requirements with ease.

3. What I call ‘event horizons,’ or the various instances during which coloured belts get their ‘aha’ moments and a resulting leap in performance tends to occur earlier than they occurred on the old training system, and they occur with at more predictable junctures during their time on the ‘new’ syllabus.

To conclude, each pattern helps me focus on issues to improve my students’ combative and self defence effectiveness. When the students go through their "aha" moments, and were able to reflect on the cumulative knowledge I’ve sought to include throughout their lessons, they were filled with excitement, and just loved how it all fitted together.

5. Does much of your study involve looking at the Shotokan forms from which they derived? Is it easy to find the similarity between the two?

Anyone can easily find information online prompting comparison between Shotokan katas and ITF Chang Hon forms. There are indeed similarities between the two styles as Shotokan kata ‘source information’ is dispersed throughout a great many Chang Hon patterns. These similarities are even more pronounced when you look at Chang Hon performed by Traditional Taekwondo students.

In my study of patterns, I have looked closely at how a number of our forms compare with Shotokan Heian and older katas. Digging further into this rich resource, one will eventually encounter official ‘bunkai’ (applications) associated with these Shotokan kata. It is at this point, and I say this with immense respect to my Karate brothers, you’ll need to suspend disbelief when you look at the effectiveness of the bunkai proffered. In my opinion, some Karate bunkai have close-to-zero street value for your average martial arts student. Shotokan doesn’t contain all the answers!

So while I have no problem drawing inspiration and borrowing from Shotokan teaching, and I have done so previously; I don’t believe that Taekwondo’s value is derived from it being a facsimile of Shotokan Karate. In fact, Taekwondo benefits from being dissimilar to rigid and non-adaptive Shotokan practices. Having this mindset, my discussions with a highly regarded Shotokan author and online friend, have shown how the combative perspective from Traditional Taekwondo can add value when applied to the analysis of Shotokan kata.

Similarities will be ever-present, but it is in differences are where each art finds its finest (or worst) hour. As for my own investment of time, I continue to keep myself open to reviewing as much from Karate as I can. Chang Hon Taekwondo, however, occupies most of what little time I can spare.

6. I notice you also practise the pyong-an (heian) formset. Do you do these in more of a karate style, or more like modern tang soo do clubs?

The Pyung-ahn (Okinawan ‘Pinan’) formset is what Korean Karate or ‘Classical’ Taekwondo stylists practice, and what Shotokan stylists now call their five Heian katas. No, I don’t practice the Pyung-ahn formset. I do however practice older Shotokan kata Balseck (Japanese ‘Basai’), Chulgi (Japanese ‘Tekki’), and Sip-soo (Japanese ‘Jitte’). If readers are interested to see these and other Traditional Taekwondo forms, you can purchase ‘A History of Korean Karate in America’ DVD off

These three kata are leftover from our Tang Soo Do lineage and were transmitted before Gen Choi purged them from Taekwondo. At certain instances through these kata, I have chosen to express some techniques ‘Karate’ style to suit my syllabus. While I am not in the business of modifying kata for the sake of change, freedom of expression is always an instructor’s prerogative.

It’s hard to say whether our practice is more similar to Shotokan Karate or to modern Tang Soo Do. We owe our existence to the auspices of a Tang Soo Do practitioner. However, we often cross train with karate-kas. And then there are people like me who have modified parts of the kata – either back to a previous version or breaking away from how everyone else does it.

I’m getting cross-eyed by looking too closely at this.

7. A lot of taekwondo people don’t really like to discuss taekwondo’s Japanese roots (and many don’t even know about them! If I read another history that begins ‘Taekwondo is an ancient Korean martial art that dates back thousands of years’…). Do you find this an impediment to learning about taekwondo’s history and influences?

From my readings, I understand that Taekwondo Founder General Choi Hong Hi was a qualified Shotokan black belt instructor; his rank of 2nd dan being a high achievement indeed at the time. It is also generally understood that details of either his Shotokan training or early Taekyon background are not available to those searching for them online.

What we can be sure of is that the Korean Armed Forces were formed in 1945, and General Choi played an influential role promoting ‘Taekyon’ martial art training to a small group of soldiers. Then in 1952, during a military demonstration featuring a segment which displayed Korean martial skills, President Syngman Rhee was so impressed with what he saw he ordered all his soldiers to receive training in the martial arts. Whether it was from 1952 or from before then, we can be sure of three facts: 1) Jhoon Rhee brought a mostly complete set of Taekwondo patterns to the States in 1955, 2) Shotokan source material is prevalent through a good many of those Taekwondo patterns, and 3) Taekwondo patterns hardly resemble the flowing Taekyon patterns as currently accessible off

Frankly, I don’t see how these facts can justify the great number of websites pointing to a Taekwondo history dating back thousands of years. But then I don’t see many Taekwondo instructors greatly interested in looking to deeply at historical influences, and for good reason. When I first embarked on my own pattern research, to merely document the techniques and possible applications for all patterns to black took me 6 months, a ten tabbed spreadsheet, and a very forgiving wife.

No, I don’t think the superficial placing of Taekwondo to practices predating Christianity is the main impediment to learning about Taekwondo’s history. The main problem I see is the nonchalant cutting and pasting of the same preamble time and time again. Taekwondo practitioners the world over are just not investing the time to research, discuss or document their martial art.

From my vantage point, the massive evolution of Taekwondo since the early 1960s makes a study of Taekwondo’s background history and early influences largely unnecessary for anyone other than a ‘Traditional Taekwondo’ student. The study of Taekwondo progression in the last 40 years, both as a sportive and self defence system, is much more compelling for a modern Taekwondo student. Modern Taekwondo practitioners should look at maintaining the forward momentum they are on, and taking some thought leadership in regard to this art.

8. How is the bunkai incorporated into your training syllabus? Do you teach other self-defence techniques, or is it all centred around the forms?

The importance of Taekwondo patterns cannot be overstated in my school. The patterns form a complete training program, containing strategic combative lessons, defensive and offensive applications, and variations for drills. These are skill appropriate, helping students progress on their beginning martial art journey.

Other schools differentiate between regular practice and self-defence techniques; ‘self defence’ sometimes referring to hand locks or close quarter combat or ground work. As most of these are contained within my syllabus, I don’t refer to them separately as self defence drills.

When I do decide to have a self defence session, I break from the syllabus and include such things as situation awareness, decision-making, deception, and makeshift weapon techniques. These are typically not covered by our regular practice, and are based mostly on research and work I have done from 1991-2003 in regard to women’s self defence and rape prevention.

9. Have you found much interest in your bunkai study from any ITF instructors/practitioners? Are there any other instructors you discuss these kinds of ideas with?

By and large, I try to keep to myself; but the truth is that when I have reached out over the years, I have met outstanding people who so happen to be martial art experts. I have gained immensely from developing such online relationships and following up by meeting and training with these online friends during my travels.
Indeed there is a small group of high ranking martial art instructors and authors that I frequently reach out to. I have maintained a good deal of dialog through emails and the occasional telephone conversations with them. Not always do we all see eye to eye, but this is unsurprising for the depth and breadth of issues discussed.

A Taekwondo instructor I consider my closest peer and friend is Sabumnin Stuart Anslow of Rayners Lane UK, Founder of IAOMAS, and author of the monumental book ‘Ch’ang Hon Taekwondo Hae Sul – Real Applications to the ITF Patterns.’ Stuart, ex-ITF and now a Ch’ang Hon stylist, is one of the most knowledgeable instructors I have met, and he truly keeps me honest - it’s rare to get constructive criticism from another practitioner, especially one not from the organisation you initially began training with.

I have had excellent high-level discussions with Shihan Dr Bruce Clayton of Mariposa, California, author of ‘Shotokan’s Secret – The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins’. The book provides unparalleled insight through historical research into Okinawan and Japanese hard style martial arts, and it remains an inspiring force for me. Dr Clayton has an expansive by-invitation-only forum and we have exchanged thoughts on a good many technical issues.

I owe a lifetime of gratitude to my senior instructors A-KaTo Grandmaster Keith Yates author of the new book ‘Complete Guide to American Karate and Tae Kwon Do’, Gendai Bushi Dojo Shodai Bryan Robbins, Renbudo Shihan Mike Proctor, A-KaTo Sensei Paul Hinkley, and Molum Combat Arts Association Sifu Tim White. Every email response I receive is treasured; it’s also nice to know these amazing gentlemen don’t think I’m a crackpot.

As for sharing information, I think the work I do on my online forum and more recently on my blog is all part of professional development. Opening yourself up like this is an invitation for harsh and sometimes unfair criticism, but if you’re not prepared to get your nose bloodied, you won’t get to learn some really good constructive lessons.

10. When did you establish your club in WA? How many students are you teaching there?

I started a small training group as a corporate inter-department activity in mid 2000. Since then we have only accepted adult students from inquiries off our website; the minimum age for entry being 14yo. The club has always had about 6 students in all and remains non-commercial till this present day.

Given that I have a rather open-door policy, I have accepted martial art students from other styles and where appropriate invite them to wear their current rank until they grade to their next rank with me. Through the years, I have had students with a wide range of expertise from WTF Taekwondo, ITF Taekwondo, Wado-ryu Karate, Shotokan Karate, Goju-ryu Karate, and Shaolin Kung Fu.

Talk about my school would not be complete without mentioning the amazing network we have created in the last few years. Through my association with the International Alliance of Martial Arts Schools I am happy to be friends with Kancho Nenad Djurdjevic from the Wu Wei Dao Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts. I’d be remiss in not mentioning my friend Terry Bridgeman, a Savate instructor who is an absolute treasure and whom I met off the Western Australia Martial Arts Instructors Association. Last, but not least is Choy Lay Fatt Sifu Vincent Cordeiro, a real gentleman who leads by example and is a model of what I hope to be.

11. Do you also teach Aiki-jujutsu? If so, is it taught with taekwondo, or separately?

As part of the ‘black belts train free’ policy at the SMU Martial Arts Club, attending the Aiki class after our Taekwondo session didn’t cost me anything. I spent nearly 4 years practicing Aiki, and learned some mind-blowing hand locking, break falling and throwing skills.

Aiki made my own bag of tricks more complete, but later proved to be a major source of frustration when I tried to include basic Aiki techniques as a module within my ‘hard style’ syllabus. Intermediate students ended up being able to perform the requisite Aiki techniques well enough for their gradings, but weren’t able to take these techniques any further.

Nowadays, a cut down list of hand-locking and breakfalling techniques are still included through my coloured belt program. Unlike previously, I make sure these soft skills are incorporated into the entire training system. Fewer Aiki techniques are featured, but are practiced more often as part of the skills required of all students. Also, ‘Aiki’ skills are taken directly from technique sequences within Taekwondo patterns; they do not form a separate or arbitrary ‘aiki module’ as I originally tried to do. It’s therefore not difficult for me to identify them as indigenous to Taekwondo.

While teaching hand locks means that I ultimately bring forth knowledge from my time with the Gendai Bushi Dojo, I officially do not teach Aiki-jujutsu nor Aikido. The fact that my picture is still displayed on their website and that my teaching certificate indicates exposure to Aiki-jujutsu merely attests to my teacher’s generosity and his faith in me.

12. You’re obviously quite a prolific blogger, and your school’s forum is quite active. How have you found the Internet useful in studying and teaching martial arts?

I started my blog end of last year to capture practice-based information on Traditional Taekwondo. I made sure to post soon after each training session, discussing in detail one of the techniques covered during the session. Over a period of nine months, the blog has now enough content to adequately cover the first four of our patterns. The blog is currently ranking highly for several search terms and attracts about 1800 visits a month.

I think a well-structured blog and an online forum are excellent tools to support on-going physical martial arts training. It’s typically difficult to impart theoretical knowledge during class. Blogs allow instructors to gather their thoughts, reach out to their current and future students, and encourage questions or discussions. Creating an online resource allows generations of students to learn from an easily accessible wealth of knowledge. Beyond just being an information asset for your school, the Taekwondo world needs instructors and senior students who can reflect on their training, document Taekwondo specific content, and work on verbalising concepts and key ideas.

Be aware however that it is easy to get jaded in an industry typically clouded by massive egos, self-righteousness, politicking and commercialism. You might find those who seem to be on the path but who might mislead you with their own tunnel vision. In online relationships, as in life, be careful of your step and tread carefully.

As for my blog, I try to write non-authoritatively and am happy to field discussion from all corners. Creating a casual blog has allowed me to meet some fantastic individuals online. More than that an online network of resources has helped this martial artist of 24 years increase his motivation for hard training. I highly recommend all martial artists cast their own net and reach out to like-minded and inspirational individuals online.

From the Blue Wave Taekwondo School on Chung Do Kwan Training in Osan Airforce Base 1963-1964

And from Colin's Traditional Taekwondo Blog, This Day in History 1991 Welcomes the Token Asian Black Belt to SMU Martial Arts Club ... Come Get Some, Baby


ps. A related post referencing this interview is at A Short and Ugly Historical Explanation of Karate, Taekwondo and Kenpo

Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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