"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.
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!
Chung Sah Nim Joong Do Kwan (Perth)
Shihan, Hikaru Dojo
Founder The SuperParents A Team
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