Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

25 Oct 2011

Allowing Rank to Simplify Our World

Nice belt, Dude.

  • A beginner feels anxiety going for a grading to win his next rank.
  • A senior student feels like he needs to put the brakes on because he's 'ranking' too fast. 
  • A shodan feels unworthy of his rank. 
  • A black belt young in the arts feel the weight of expectations to get his next rank. 
  • Qualifying instructors compare the 'quality' of their rank against their peers and others in the arts. 
  • Teachers suddenly become aware that they're climbing the rank structure and start to look around for peer support from people who might understand their stage of development
  • There is huge dissonance between your expectations of rank and titles you might start to receive. This gets more acute when you receive titles that are 'honorary.' Are you really worthy? Or are these awards actually worthwhile?

In my opinion, there are many martial artists out there that have a set view of rank. Many understand rank only through the lens of a beginning practitioner. Rank is something to struggle with for a number of months, and then there is the need to 'work on' the next rank. The world is simple, uncomplicated, and directed; it is a world where rank is associated with incremental physical challenges.

Pretty soon, the notions of rank and the idea of how it works collides with other expectations and assumptions, and the world becomes less simple. The most major event that arrives is the stereotype of a black belt that everyone has. Yet people in the know understand that a first dan or shodan has really only started the journey. Truthfully, I knew jack when I got my first black belt. Not to belabour a point, the  shodan needs to leap over this mountain of expectations built up within himself. It is far from the small incremental challenges previously faced.

I think the internet has been both a boon and bane to rank, the value of your own effort, the quality of your skill, credibility of your lineage, and the validity of your claims. Everyone makes comparisons and seeks to benchmark themselves. But in a world in which there is no standard, you will eventually find yourself on a slippery slope trying to ascertain who is making more progress. But the internet will not tell you who is traveling upwards or downwards on that slope. Eventually you will only see what you were expecting to see.

This was never how rank was supposed to work. It was supposed to be a simple method to structure a 'coloured belt' class, and motivate people to work harder. All black belts were given deferential treatment and duly respected, both for their unrelenting focus on progress and then on their deepening skills and knowledge. No need to jostle for a bounty of rank or title, but if it came, they would graciously accept and take it in their stride. The fuss does not detract from quality or purpose. And the world becomes once again simple and clear.


Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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12 Oct 2011

Taekwondo One Step Sparring

Taekwondo One Step Sparring

Taekwondo one step sparring is the 'defacto' application of techniques found in patterns and drills of most hard style Taekwondo or Karate schools. For one steps, you have two practitioners facing off, the opponent or 'attacker' steps back into a down block, lunges forward in a forward lunge punch and leaves his striking arm in place. The defender's task is to respond to this attack by using some manner of block and strike, and an appropriate sidestep. You could get very inventive and in fact most Taekwondo schools not only do one steps, they expand this exercise to include three step sparring for good measure.

The one step sparring exercise is - or at least, it could be - the most contrived of all drills. See my other post on the new blog - with video - regarding Taekwondo One Steps

Using it as the sole drill to practice a wide variety of techniques is a sure way to achieve diminishing returns from your 'traditional' type practice. In my opinion, the one step is partly an exercise in learning distancing and timing. But the main goal is in the application of basic blocks as effective self defence tools for all students - especially beginners.

In the video, you see an application of a lower block to the inside of a strike. The previous week we looked at a lower block done on the outside of the strike. In this week's lesson, the reverse or pull back hand deflects the main strike and the block destroys the striking arm. In actuality, if both hands come together quickly as an entire blocking tool, the blocking hand can still block the oncoming strike, and then be used against opponent's body.

Beyond this particular segment of the class, we did the unthinkable - we fold for the lower block, but recognise that the opponent is moving too fast - and from having the right blocking arm next to the left ear, we perform a middle block to the opponent's secondary weapon. It is forcing yourself to use the opening and closing of the arms as an effective windshield wiper to strikes coming one at a time or too fast.

One good suggestion for the one step sparring exercise (for the attacker) is to perform the punch as fast as humanly possible whilst maintaining a facsimile of the form. I say facsimile of the form because I'd like to see you use explosive leg movement to accelerate forward. This is unfortunately not how most 'walking' stances are performed, and if you keep working at it ... come back here and share what you've discovered. And then you'd see why I stick to what I do.

Right at the end you see me deflect the strike with my pull back hand, perform an eye strike with the blocking hand - before destroying the oncoming strike. This was not rehearsed! But because we perform basic blocks all day every day, we can ad lib like this very easily and still access the basic movements in a self defence situation.

Also see Why Taekwondo is Not Good for Self Defence by Soo Shim Kwan
Colin Wee
Chung Sah Nim Joong Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do
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11 Oct 2011

Basic Taekwondo Kick a Misnomer

The term 'basic' when used to describe a 'Basic Taekwondo kick' or one of the few simple kicking techniques is a misnomer. Basic kicks are typically undervalued short range kicking techniques found in low level Taekwondo patterns. Talk about basic kicks would probably include the front kick and the roundhouse kick.

Short Range Taekwondo Kick

A front kick is done on a vertical plane where the roundhouse kick is done on a horizontal plane. The short range kick done either on the horizon or the vertical line 'compresses' the body, generating power because the upper body and the lower body crunch closer together - using many more muscles to generate power for the kick and using the body as a relatively stable counterweight.

When I think of short range kicks, I think of the kicking tool in complement to my hands. I am grabbing on to the attacker AND kicking him. I am trapping his hand AND breaking his knee. I am in a clinch and attacking his shin without letting go. In this way, the full power of the kick goes into the attacker's body ... rather than be deflected by a body that is freely moving in space.

The long range version of these kicks seem to be valued more because they are flashier techniques taught at more senior levels. Beginners might use them to keep a non-compliant attacker at bay. More advanced students use long range kicks to 'score' points on opponents.

Long Range Taekwondo Kicks

Long range techniques require an expansion of the body - meaning both the upper body and lower body travel further away from each other in contrast to short range kicks. In the case of the long range roundhouse kick, the body generates power in a pendulum swing - using the upper body as a counter weight that swings away from the leg, and the hip as a fulcrum. Power is generated by the acceleration of the leg. In my mind therefore, there is an upper limit of power that is more easily reached by long range technique - where short range techniques may have better upper limits because they use the body as a closed system to translate more muscle strength into kicking strength.

Improving Your Understanding of Taekwondo Kicks

The vertical and horizontal plane establish the outer parameters for these two kicks. Each slice between zero and ninety degrees are legitimate kicks.

Two exercises that allow a practitioner to explore the versatility of kicks are 1) exercises to challenge the practitioner to land the technique on a small target and 2) exercises the challenge the practitioner to be aware of the flight path of the technique whilst landing the strike on target

Landing the technique through obstacles and weaseling the foot through three dimensional space forces the practitioner to rotate the hip on the vertical and horizontal and extend it sufficiently for it to land on small targets on the opponent's body. Understanding the flight path of a kick allows you to take advantage of blind spots from the opponent's point of view (e.g. under arms, behind shoulders, or under outstretched legs.)

Last Words

I urge all practitioners not to devalue the short range Taekwondo kick - it is a devastating part of your arsenal and has to be the cornerstone on which all kicks are based. 

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8 Oct 2011

I see Hwa-rang on the Lawn

A couple of senior belts and I met to go over requirements and specifically trained in Hwa-rang on the lawn at College Park today.

I wasn't dressed like anything resembling the flower warrior youth group- with a baseball cap and my 'competition' gi from century ma. But we sure looked at techniques that were hard hitting indeed.

The few that I'd like to mention quickly are - a counter against a front lunging technique using a deflect then choke associated with a cross body punch; an attack to the neck as a counter against a lapel grab; a response against a punch and cross using the double blocks to parry and attack; and a ruthless joint attack or arm destruction off steps 4-6.

The Hwa-rang were known for their kicks, or their reputation was built off formidable kicking techniques. We looked at the low x block, crescent kick, and the low block/elbow strike as a response against a lunge strike. The x block is a deflect and arm capture - the crescent kick is an attack to either the hand (if the opponent is carrying a long range weapon) or if not, is aimed at the elbow or bicep. Once done, the practitioner can access Toi-gye level apps and when bringing down the leg - could expand the body and send the leg strike into the oppnent's knee or thigh on the way down.

Surely, something a Hwa-rang would appreciate.


Colin Wee
Chung Sah Nim (Principal)
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3 Oct 2011

The JDK Sparring Program

One of the few things I wanted to accomplish for the Joong Do Kwan was to introduce a sparring 'program' in which students, especially beginners, would learn sparring skills and would steadily improve in their abilities. Last week, we had a few friends visit our kwan, and we took the opportunity to look at the beginner to intermediate stages of our program.

The main problem when it comes to sparring? Sparring should only be part of your entire bag of exercises. Everyone however equates great sparring skills with great martial art ability - and this is a mindset that many instructors try to dispel.

Basic Skills Start Way Before You Spar
Lots of good sparring skills can be introduced way before opponents go head to head. During warmups, students can be prompted to raise their hands above their jawline, and to tuck their chins down into their shoulders. If you get your students to do side skips you can also make sure they're moving on the balls of their feet rather than on their heels. See Warmup Drills to Increase Coverage for Sparring

Non-Contact Drills
We have this multiple person non contact sparring drill where we get one person against two opponents. The 'defender' in the middle has to try and align both of his opponents and use one of them as a shield. After some time he drops the shield and goes to the other person. The rules of the game doesn't allow opponents to grab, so this allows the 'game' to proceed fairly fluidly. This exercise helps students increase awareness, increases cardiovascular fitness, and helps introduce some really good tactics to use in a multiple person scenario. See Taekwondo Non-contact Sparring Training, Multiple Person Drills

Moving Around
Beginners start their sparring training just moving around each other in a circular fashion. They back themselves into a circumference of the circle around each other. Every four seconds they are told to switch and change direction. Hands are held up defensively, breath is managed, and footwork needs to be light.

Calibrating Power
Beginners not only land kicks or strikes on to kick shields and striking mitts - they MUST land and practice strikes on an opponent's body. This is the way in which they are taught to moderate their strikes and control how hard to launch a kick and how to appropriately target an opponent's body. Their opponent should accept strikes comfortably and should communicate whether they need to be struck harder or softer.

Basic Coverage
I think that going up and down the line doing kicks and blocks is great to make sure everyone is getting basic movements correct. But trying to resolve 'the block' as a technique and the speed at which an opponent comes at you is very difficult. So what we do is to repeatedly fold for blocks, swinging the arms together and using that fold as a basic skill for providing coverage.We then use this move - bringing the elbows together against strikes and covering the body to ensure that there is enough speed to deal with an attack. Beginners are paired up with intermediate or above students. They are instructed to only block, and opponents are told to attack with large looping techniques that are easily seen. Students need to continue Moving Around properly. 

Basic Coverage is tested using attacks that are less telegraphed. Once the student can continue Moving Around smoothly, breathing naturally, and able to recognise attacks, it is time to up the ante.

Distancing and Attacking
Beginners are now allowed to use one or two techniques (typically a lunge punch and a front kick) to attack their opponent. The opponent should be an intermediate belt and above and is told to cover and block only. Beginners learn to move around, target, and place strikes on opponent's body in a dynamic environment.

Applying New Techniques
The beginner and intermediate practitioner has a lot to learn and needs to improve the speed at which he is processing things around himself. One tool in which can be used to help the beginner is the use of the 'Sparring Bingo' game. The student is presented with 9 techniques and whilst sparring needs to cross out techniques used. This lightens the mental burden the student has, and yet allows them to try different techniques against an non-compliant opponent.

Colin Wee
Chung Sah Nim (Principal)
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Taekwondo History

GM Choi Hong Hi was requested in 1952 to train the entire army in the martial arts. In 1955, 'Taekwondo' was accepted as the name to unify the kwans in Korea.

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Colin Wee
Chung Sah Nim (Principal), Joong Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do
School of the Middle Way - the point between old Okinawan predecessors and modern Korean innovations. Started as HRGB April 2000, reborn as JDK Sept 2011.
Traditional Taekwondo Techniques, Patterns, and Applications at the Traditional Taekwondo Blog. [Subscribe using email or RSS feeds] [Tkd Sitemap]. Colin is a martial art instructor with 28 years of experience across three continents. Colin leads a small Traditional Taekwondo group for adults in Perth, Western Australia. Connect with Colin on Traditional Taekwondo FB page. And help us rank on Google by clicking the '+1' icon, why don't you?
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