Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

26 Sep 2013

One Step(s) ... Oh Joy

One step sparring - the most contrived of all exercises.

Having someone come at you, like the way they do, might make you think you're actually doing something - so it gets you focusing on ripping through the technique sequences as fast as possible.

I use a series of one steps from white to black in training. Each taken from or inspired by a Taekwondo pattern. The first from Chon-ji is a step to the outside of the attacking arm, performing a middle block to hyperextend or control the arm, a lower block to strike the arm, and a punch to the ribs.

Do I wait for him to complete his punch before I take a step? Oh no. I move when I see him move. I don't want the oncoming strike to accelerate and for me to cop it while it's at it's fastest. I want to deal with it before it reaches full speed. So I fire my legs when I see his body twitch.

Stepping 'outside' of the attacking arm, I want the step to be just skimming to the outside. I don't want to take a huge step too far away from the opponent's body. If I do, it'll put me again at a mid range distance for both his hands and feet. Keeping close jams his attacking side and puts me further away from his secondary weapon.

I also don't want to just stroll into his strike. While gap closing I want to raise my arms and push my elbows forward. I want something to occupy my centreline, I want my head tucked down, my body curved, and I want to exhale - in case I don't judge the entire thing properly. Counterintuitively, I don't want to turn my body away while going in. I want to head in like I'm going to headbutt the opponent. If you turn away it exposes the body and the side of the face more than is necessary.

When performing the middle block on his extended arm, the middle block is done close to his elbow and the back hand is used to control and pull on his forearm. As I don't really need to focus a strike at this moment, the body is more or less relaxed. This allows me to torque my body and apply some hyperextension to the arm - I am not trying to wrench his arm using my arm strength. I'm using the middle block as level and the body turn to hyperextend his arm.

The lower block is dropped onto the arm to show how devastating a lower block can be on an extended arm! It's not to say I need to do three or more techniques in that single one step. But as you can see, this is turning out to be a longer lesson that simply showing two blocks and a punch. So the lower block is done on top of the forearm, OR the tricep, OR the bicep, OR inside the elbow. The targetting and angle of the strike is as important as the nature of the strike - which is done 'endowing' the striking block with body mass. And just fyi - no need to know 75 ways of doing a down block ... just make sure you target the arm correctly. If you choose to do this at a seminar, partner someone with facial expressivity - and get the photographer to be ready. It's a good shot.

Anyway, after I deal with the arm, and clearing it out of the way with that lower block, I then punch to the ribs using your good ol' regular reverse snap punch to the lower ribs. I want the targetting to be at or just under solar plexus height, and vertically located from over the illiac on the hip to under the lats around the back of the body. For this one step, the point would be more over the hip at solar plexus height. I provide the range because many people don't appreciate how a powerful strike can be done to the back of the body and disable an opponent - most people just think of the head as the ultimate striking zone. They're limiting themselves.

The punch itself is done with hip vibration and focus. Focus meaning at the point of impact the body locks up so that I can transmit body mass through my skeletal frame into the point of impact. When this happens, the legs, which have previously been relaxed, support the strike and drive it home. I've written a lot about this but it takes months of coordination exercises to get this right.

Does this make sense? What I've described is still a flurry of motion, but it takes a good 5 to 10 minutes of practice and discussion to get the point across. Just as a side note - this is a strike and counter ... or 'go no sen.' Meaning the opponent launches an attack, you perceive it and you retaliate with a counter of your own. 'Sen no sen' or simultaneous counter can be highlighted from a Chon-ji inspired one step by performing a lower block on the punching arm whilst it's still right next to the opponent's ribs. It's a really good technique.

Where the first is us dealing with an arm that's closer to us, the second attempts to gap close earlier and to stop the oncoming hand closer to the opponent. It's a good principle that is used by many combative instructors to stop oncoming strikes before attempting to capture the arm - typically to control a knife wielding opponent, and then to take him down.

Both of these moves if done well apply a certain 'frontal pressure' onto the opponent. I am not simply going through some techniques against an opponent to then go through a dozen more. I am doing this technique to stop the opponent and thus my centre of gravity should be felt encroaching on his centre of gravity. If my arms fail at any time might I then knock him out with a headbutt or halitosis.

All this for a one step. Who'd have thought!

Other one steps posts:

Colin Wee
Chung Sah Nim Joong Do Kwan (Perth)
Shihan, Hikaru Dojo
Founder The SuperParents A Team
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11 Sep 2013

Not so Hyung but Not so Old

A reader of the blog stopped at JDK's FB Page and asked:

"what still gets you going about Taekwondo (sparks your interest, keeps you motivated), do you have a favorite few forms and why, consider taking some of the oldest forms (like bassai-dai or kanku-dai) and breaking them down in terms of applications, is it important to you to maintain a balance between sportive and self-defense in TKD, why, and if so, how? Just some thoughts...thank you for listening!"

When I was in the US, I practiced a system called 'American Karate.' I only learned later that what we did was Taekwondo as brought to the US by GM Jhoon Rhee, practiced in proximity to its Karate cousins, and isolated from the machinations of the ITF and WTF organisations. When I eventually left the US, I took a page out of that playbook and called what I did 'Traditional Taekwondo.'

While I use the term 'Traditional,' I'm quite a progressive instructor. I want to benefit from the source material that links Taekwondo to Japanese Karate and then further back to Okinawa. I want to embrace improvements in sport sciences within our training. And I certainly want to benefit from the self defence or situational training methodology which combative instructors promote.

In the journeys I've taken to understand the system, I have tried my best to pay tribute to the original spirit of the forms as was taught to me by my teacher. In subsequent encounters with other schools and other instructors, I have received a wide range of feedback some which I'd like to share:

  • Comment 1: Your form is a stone's throw from Karate.
  • Comment 2: ITF doesn't do it that way now, but that was how I was taught.
  • Comment 3: Your forms don't show the evolution which you've undergone.

In response - the forms are not mine. I simply use them as a syllabus. Just like in regular schools, if an inexperienced teacher sticks too closely with a syllabus, their students will get a lackluster education. The experienced teacher however, uses the syllabus as a guide and a launchpad. Likewise, I am merely the 'lens' ... the forms are just a framework for me to introduce skills and share experience.

I have made no secret that my system does continue to practice the vestiges of Chung Do Kwan kata from GM Jhoon Rhee; this has given me a link into the rich tapestry formed by Okinawan and Japanese stylists. But while I highly respect where the source code of hyungs come from, I am at the same time gratified that I don't have to put up with an institutionalised way of interpreting or stylistically claustrophobic view of such kata.

For instance, I want skills that can be immediately useful. I want to teach simple things to beginners. I want to teach more complex things to intermediate and above students. I want to teach skills than can be layered on each other so the system grows with the practitioner. Respectfully, I don't want to dissect Chon-ji and come up with 75 ways of doing the down block - that doesn't make any sense to me.

Some of the insights I have gained from looking at both Taekwondo Hyungs and Japanese Kata are:

  • 1. Some individual techniques in the forms are more valuable than others because they make sense as 'tactics' against same side OR opposite side attacks. Literally, I've got one tactic or one 'solution' in my mind, and when that opponent comes at me, I'm going to use that as my McHappy meal - applied to whatever comes my way. 
  • 2. There was some historical Karate guy that might have said something to the tune of Karate may not be the best to be used in a fight. As in a fight in a ring - with no finishing blows, groin shots, nor sneaking in additional points. With that same logic, everything we see used in a kickboxing match shouldn't be featured prominently in our forms. If you were a thinking practitioner, you might have to ask what is your purpose of training, and how do we align our exercises and drills with the end goal of the form. In fact, what exactly is the end goal of the form? 
  • 3. Traditional system means traditional training. I was at a friend's school and he was complaining to his students that I gave him a bruise when he was helping me teach my students a basic punch - to which I replied and reminded him about the shield he was holding between my punch and his body. Now I'm 5'7", and not muscle-bound. There is no way I can generate power like that by doing more pushups or by going at it on a heavy bag. In fact, unless I put on maybe 20 pounds more muscle in my upper body ... just flapping my arms around isn't going to do much good. So where does that leave you with kata? Well, if you want hyung to work, you got to work towards gaining those skills that make sense to the hyung.
  • 4. Lastly, I read somewhere recently that if you value your life or your family's life you should always carry some form of weapon with you at all times. Just having it there gives you mental clarity - that you might have to use it against an opponent to protect those you love. Similarly, when you look at a hyung ... what do you see? Do you see a grading routine? A useless part of training? Or do you see it as a collection of weapons. Which one can you use? What would you rely on if you were threatened? What would save your family's life?
This post is running away with me. But I did want to make an admission about my favourite form. The form is not a Taekwondo form at all - when I learned it it was called 'Chulgi'. Otherwise versions of it are known as Tekki or Naihanchi. 

Chulgi blew my mind away when I first started it 20 years ago because it seemed ludicrous. I was an adequate semi-contact fighter, but that was all that was in my toolkit. I couldn't use any of that knowledge to understand Chulgi. You move right, cross and uncross your hands. You move left, wave your hands and then stick both hands out. And that's about it. Yet, the more I improved my 'lens' through experience, through introspection, through a shift of focus away from semi-contact fighting ... Chulgi was the form I felt would be the only form I would need if I was pressure tested. 

This October is a sparring competition my students are training for which has meant we've not focused too much on forms over the last few months. When we spar, we switch back and forth from using a semi-contact continuous sparring type approach to the specific-rules full-contact match they will face. We are trying to leverage our semi-contact skills but also looking at some prescriptive tactics that can be used to score points and reduce chances of a lot of points being scored on them. I'm also looking at individual performance and recommending ways to deal with some expected fighting styles they will face. And of course pacing them for the 2 minute x 3 rounds they're going to sweat through. 

While the rules state that there are no above-shoulder strikes, I'm still recommending them practice sound skills in a conflict situation. Coverage and movement are important, and so is distancing with the opponent. Blitz type attacks and weapons are out of the picture. So working the ring is going to be important. Aside from the cardiovascular stress of the competition, the event is really no big deal ... it's just a bit of fun. If you saw my post on FB, I've told my students it's not necessary to win ... so long as they don't lose too badly. It's a world away from hyung and yet not so dissimilar from the mindset needed to apply traditional practices to modern issues!

Thank you for prompting me along.

Keep training!

And before I forget ... if you can, please come support the work I'm doing with IAOMAS - it's a student support organisation that was started by my friend Stuart Anslow. I'm rebooting it and would love everyone to join up!


  • Personal Reflections on Taekwondo
  • Rebooting the Founder of Taekwondo [Historical Faction]

  • --
    Colin Wee
    Chung Sah Nim Joong Do Kwan (Perth)
    Shihan, Hikaru Dojo
    Founder The SuperParents A Team
    [Traditional Taekwondo Techniques | Subscribe | FAQs | Sitemap | FB]
    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.