Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

18 Sep 2017

Ten Ways to Spot a Fraud in the Martial Arts

I knew this one fraud in the martial arts who happens to be a highly intelligent martial artist. No, he doesn't practice Traditional Taekwondo. And no, he doesn't live in Perth, Western Australia.

Let the word 'intelligent' sink in a little.

Yes, you heard me right - he is an intelligent martial artist. In fact, at some time in his career he must have been an amazing instructor. He speaks well, explains his concepts clearly, has a good working knowledge of technical moves, but as he stands there and waffles on, you have this nagging suspicion he's become jaded with that fundamental knowledge.



So while able to converse in depth on subjects which may convey practical and effective combat methods, everything now issuing from him has to include some esoteric concept drawn from acupuncture, aikido, kyusho, dim mak, no touch knockout, or other vague oriental gobbledegook.

That's a warning bell - as soon as he opens his mouth, you are struggling to understand how to use what the fraud is telling you. How would this new knowledge be used to defend you in a life and death struggle? The information seems so important - the man is an experienced martial artist, is convincing, and is backing his reasoning with a heap of arcane-sounding knowledge.

Compare this to my instructor - when I went up against him in 2006, he was a 9th degree, and had become an old man with bad knees. I was in my mid 30s, knew my stuff, and I wasn't about to go light on him. Yet he beat me thoroughly - with better timing, good technique, and excellent control.

Ten Ways to Spot a Fraud in the Martial Arts

  1. A fraud requires extensive elaborate and esoteric commentary about technique (almost always including the words chi or ki) to make it work. 
  2. Frauds need you to think of themselves as an infallible repository of martial knowledge.
  3. The fraud thinks that the more you train, the more your hard style system needs to look like Steaven Seagal's Aikido in Under Seige.
  4. Frauds love surrounding themselves with legit high-ranking practitioners.
  5. Frauds often point out what they have done for other expert-level martial art instructors and fighters. Helping beginners struggling with basic moves is too pedestrian for them.
  6. Frauds disappear when either a true expert or loud disbeliever appears.
  7. Look at their uniform - it's spotless, almost shiny. Frauds will never test themselves.
  8. Frauds will fail to try, will avoid mistakes, or will talk their way out of a mistake. Martial artists are real - mistakes are real - and we address mistakes. Not ignore them.
  9. Frauds love their certificates and ranks. Either they're yammering on about their achievements or they've returned to a 'menkyo' system where they're just beyond it, and all other ranking is child's play to them.  
  10. To frauds, a well placed kick in the you-know-where is beneath them.
Last, I'll leave you with some entertainment from YouTube - and perhaps you can see the related humour.



Keep well my friends.

And train hard.

Upcoming Articles
  • Sep 25 Learning Martial Arts from YouTube
  • Oct 2 The Modernity of Yesterday is the Tradition of Today
  • Oct 9 Talking about One Technique


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11 Sep 2017

Criticising the Low Block



To be sure, I'm not really criticising the low block - I'm criticising my video 'Using Taekwondo's Down Block as Limb Destruction'. I'm also criticising the lack of negative feedback as people lap up what could be a poor approach to developing self defence skills by sticking to a by-the-numbers training exercise.

In the video I'm shown stepping to the inside, deflecting oncoming strike, holding on to the proffered arm, and then performing a down block or hardan markgi to the extended limb. In later iterations of the move, I counter strike to the opponent's head before hitting the top of his forearm, and add in a headbutt when I'm up close.

To be fair, there are some good takeaways here - the deflection of the striking arm, the ability to use the down block in a devastating strike to an extremity, and of course the introduction of a function for this basic technique which tends to be ignored by yellow belts and above.

This video is public - yet no one has picked me up on why I chose to step inside the strike. Why would anyone in their right mind do that? And if ultimate relates to self defence why the adherence to a regimented one-step framework for the exercise?

If the opponent is going to strike me, he's going to come barrelling into me, striking me with both hands. Tactically, I would prefer to be on the outside and counter striking him. If he has a weapon and striking to my centreline, that deflection is only going to work for maybe a split second, and then I'm going to have to deal with the secondary tool and the follow up strikes with the primary weapon.

Of course there is the situation where I had no choice but to go to the inside. In which case, the above video should be contextually part of a larger series which shows how to control the limb and to fight back from exactly the position I have found myself in. Just compare this down block with the Wedging Block from Dosan used in that position.

All these videos and blog articles are great - but people need to be aware that training methodology hardly comes through from a specific video like this. Guard against thinking such a one shot approach covers it. Guard against the tradition-was-how-we-did-it teaching. And you should question everything you see online - even if it comes from a well respected practitioner.

Upcoming Articles
  • Sep 18 Ten Ways to Spot a Fraud in the Martial Arts
  • Sep 25 Learning Martial Arts from YouTube
  • Oct 2 The Modernity of Yesterday is the Tradition of Today

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4 Sep 2017

Performance Anxiety


In addition to being a martial artist, I have also have a long history as an archer. The following article was sent to one of my archery students and his parents. I have modified it slightly so that it reads better for martial artists. While the article can be specifically applied to events which cause anxiety such as competitions and events that require physical self defence, any instructor knows that the positive effects of good training impact all other areas of a practitioner's life. In this case, the discussion pertains to all issues impacting the individual, and how we may better cope with such pressures and continue to perform at our very best. Cheers, Colin

The BIGGEST cause of choking and how to prevent it!
Posted by Dr. Alan Goldberg- Peak Performance for Athletes, Coaches and Parents on Thursday, 18 May 2017

In 1985 Olympic Gold Medallist in Archery John Williams came to Singapore on an IOC Sponsored Coaching Seminar of which I was one of the participants. One of the biggest things he communicated - if you're competing you shouldn't be coaching. To paraphrase for the martial arts community - You shouldn't be looking at video of yourself practicing, and you shouldn't be trying to analyse what you're doing. You should just simply do what you do to perform your best. Simply said.

That's me in 1985 - by that time I was already in my second year of representing Singapore - and training martial arts. Because of archery I found I could skip school for cool events like this one plus go on free trips through the year. 

I have a article I printed off some years ago on 'Test Anxiety'. There are three components of this anxiety. In summary:

  1. negative thoughts and self depreciating self-statements during pressure tests
  2. appraisal of your personal physiological state, and 
  3. behavioural tics which affect preparation and training.


As a coach I like to focus on broad concepts and the ideals of what we're trying to do with the individual archer. I say this to frame instances when I do have to correct aspects of a practitioner's form. Again, I'm careful not to use the word 'goals' as reflected in Dr Alan Goldbergs video above. Such goals as he mentions are training-oriented, or at least is a practice-oriented process, and should be left in training.

In my own experience there are times when I may correct an archer, or when I attempt to modify a certain aspect of their form, this may result in a better or more consistent shot. However, left alone, that archer then might think that to continue to emphasize that specific instruction or to work on that specific component to the nth degree - which results in an over-exaggeration of the initial tweak - which in turn results in over-correction, and then screws up his form.

Dr Goldberg mentions that an athlete can even bring these goals or expectations or understand to a competition. "I want to win" or "I need to push myself harder" or "I want to beat this competitor". However, he says when you bring these goals, it creates an inner urgency which then wrecks your performance.

The more you focus on the process or the outcome or the game plan, the further you are from being "in the moment".

As an practitioner, or as a parent, or as a coach ... we must guard against anything that brings you 'out of the moment' or away from 'the zone'. When the coach tells you to focus on something, you may temporarily do so, but being in the moment is where your efforts should be directed to. This pertains to both sportive competition and self defence!

What to do during practice - take some time to dump all unproductive thoughts on paper. Or compartmentalise them in your mind and park them - and resolve them later. Focus on positive thoughts during your setup and warmup.

What to do before an event - have a plan of what you're going to do, sleep well, do not eat a heavy meal, banish neurotic thoughts, and go through personal relaxation techniques.

During the event - step through the mental visualisation plan that gets yourself into the zone.

After the shoot - reward yourself regardless how well you did. Give yourself a good break. Other pursuits are important too. And make sure you go through rest, recuperation and rehabilitation!
This is a really good video for all of us.

ps. Look at the martial arts weapons he's got hanging on his wall!

Upcoming Articles
  • Sep 11 Criticising the Low Block
  • Sep 18 Ten Ways to Spot a Fraud in the Martial Arts
  • Sep 25 Learning Martial Arts from YouTube
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28 Aug 2017

USE OF FORCE TO F*** YOU UP [NSFW]

JDK Instructors during cool downs led by Sifu Vincent Cordeiro at IAOMAS Masters Feb 2017

No video snippets on YouTube is presented with full context. So any video is open to criticism.

Saying that, when I forwarded a clip from a RBSD self defence seminar, and where the instructor extolled the need to use techniques on his opponent that would 'fuck him up,' my black belts pointed out this was inappropriate verbal scripting - especially featuring on a public YouTube video.

Some self defence instructors while pressure testing participants need to rile you up. To press emotional buttons. They do that so you can perform under the pressure of real combat. The word 'fuck' is deployed often, as are techniques that allow self defence practitioner to indeed 'fuck a person up'. I understand where they are coming from and have no issue with that.

Our black belts however, were questioning the sharing of this training tactic, especially when broadcasted to the general public via YouTube. In our training, we talk about use of force and reasonably force. We escalate our techniques as the situation dictates, and simply use the minimum of force required to escape or stop the threat. It's not that we do not use aggressive force or cannot mount hard core physical self defence - it is that we need to promote the using of reasonable force to stop the threat that's coming their way.

From a private conversation, one of our black belts said "I appreciate a certain level of aggression is required in a self defence scenario, but I don't know about enjoying or celebrating aggression at that point." What he's saying is that aggression is needed up to a point, and when it goes beyond that, it becomes a level of violence that is unnecessary, inappropriate, it is against our tenets, something which we should not promote, and which our teaching method should actively avoid.

I'm really proud of how far we've come and our ability to juggle the conflicting pressure to do the right thing, and the positive and nurturing messages we're sharing about martial arts. If you are able, come chat with any one of JDK's instructors about the issues of martial arts and self defence.

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  • Sep 4 Beating Performance Anxiety through Proper Training
  • Sep 11 Criticising the Low Block
  • Sep 18 Ten Ways to Spot a Fraud in the Martial Arts

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21 Aug 2017

News: Style v Style Fight in Vietnam



Xu Xiaodong a Chinese MMA fighter recently knocked out a Taichi Master and went viral for issuing a challenge to other traditional stylists whom he claimed were 'frauds' has sparked other 'style v style' fights. This particular one seemed to have occurred mid July 2017 between Canadian Wing Chun exponent Pierre Francois Flores and Vietnam Karate Black Belt Đoàn Bảo Chau.

Here are some observations from the fight:

  1. Why are they fighting on a non-matted tiled floor?
  2. Does anyone notice that there's a massive weight class difference?
  3. Anyone bothered there's no referee? No mouthpieces? 
  4. 0:20 Flores asks if it's okay if he uses an open hand or closed hand striking - meaning that there were no real talks before the event to solidify ground rules.
  5. Đoàn solely depends on kicks. He has absolutely no guard up. And little or no ground experience. 
  6. 0:36 Đoàn is in trouble when Flores gets him in a standing clinch. His body shots are absorbed by Flores, and he narrowly escapes a knockout hook by Flores. He does land a glancing hook to the jaw, but because of the angle it causes little damage. 
  7. The fact he uses a side kick whilst Flores closes at 1:05 and a roundhouse at 1:06 indicates to me that he has little experience against opponents who engage in close quarter fighting. 
  8. The tackle at 1:09 by Đoàn seems to be a result of desperation rather than a tactical move. 
  9. Flores connects with a non-Wing Chun head high roundhouse kick in 1:42 that rocks Đoàn. 

While most of my observations are done from the perspective of the Vietnamese, I find this fight uneventful and non-inspiring. Đoàn seems to have little real experience in combat beyond the confines of mid to long range exchange of kicks. This was a mode of training which was in vogue 30 years ago - and he's not evolved from it. The following video is of another sparring match I found on YouTube featuring our plucky Karateka - he sure loves his side kicks.



Flores seems to blend some MMA moves with his skill set though I am unconvinced he does credit to the world of Wing Chun. I just haven't seen the breadth of his experience against a worthy opponent, and I feel like this video - especially if it goes viral, will be shared for all the wrong reasons.

This next one is of Doan practicing in his backyard.



While this is an unfair statement - unfortunately, I've seen better exchange of skill in my garage between open styles and open weight divisions. It's not that I'm saying that these two practitioners aren't quality guys - I'm pretty sure this event didn't do justice for either of them.

Here's a video of the post fight debrief ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIBDhk2MrWE

Want to see style v style that's got a little more organisation and excitement?



Colin

Upcoming Articles
  • Aug 28 Use of Force to F*** You Up [NSFW]
  • Sept 4 Performance Anxiety
  • Sep 11 Criticising the Low Block

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14 Aug 2017

Self-Control, Aggression, and De-escalation of Violence

The Tenets, Nijukun, and various other martial precepts call for self control of all who walk the path. Self-control seems to be a core theme for those trained to inflict violence on others.

What is the relevance of such self-control in this day and age? For the most part, the general population needs lessons in how to live life fully, rather than to avoid violence and the instigation to preserve civil peace.

Sparring - but with the switch off.

Few who undergo martial training dedicate themselves enough nor have the right guidance to really become effective as practitioners. So instructors who urge self-control are taking the moral high ground and going through the motions. For what is a head high roundhouse kick? Or the backfist you use in sparring? Most practitioners have never known true violence. They would not have advantage over criminals who are more familiar with tactics that work a damn sight better the sparring moves you might have been trained in.

I'm not saying self-control is irrelevant to the dojang. A training environment needs individuals practicing potentially dangerous techniques safely. Instructors need a student body familiar with the same preamble. Registered companies need to have the right policies and waivers in place.

When does self-control become self-defeating? The answer is when it so utterly defangs the practitioner without having prepared him or her against the unknowing face of a real threat.

Preparation isn't simply turning a kill switch on, making the student an unerring assassin. An instructor who lives in a monochromatic environment, and who spouts such classic one liners like 'better to be judged by 12 than be carried by six' or 'better him than me' or 'strike first and strike hard' is poorly equipped to guide you through the use of force for your physical self defence.

I am not a lawyer and can't pretend to know any or all the nuances of the legalities of self defence. I am however very clear that the practitioner is ethically required to use tactics that only meet the level of threat. If the attacker is stealing your wallet, you can't close off his airway. If the attacker is holding a weapon but doesn't look like they intend on using it, you can't close of his airway. If the attacker is attempting to escape, you can't pull him back into your house and close off his airway.

In summary, you really can't go 'full throttle' on an attacker unless you fear for your life. Meaning, you can't use attacks to the head or neck, and if he slips and looks like he's going to hurt himself badly - you are obligated to prevent that from happening.

Most reasonable people will be intimidated by threatening behaviour, and simply by the presence of a weapon. But when does intimidation stop and when do you feel like your life is really being threatened? More importantly, when do you feel threatened to the point where you can use self defence before the point where that blade is stabbing you repeatedly in your gut? Or when that trigger is being pulled?

The signs, if they are going to be present are not unlike what you see when you have a committed sparring opponent in front of you. It begins with a steely gaze and then maybe a face wipe - that's when you have a 'thousand yard stare' where the attacker looks everywhere but you. This dehumanisation helps to reduce you from a person to a victim. Thens there's the clenching and unclenching of fists. The deep breathing. The pacing. Movements become more cagey, more erratic, and more tense. Then there's the preemptive tightening of the body before the sudden move to strike.

Some or all of these signs will come almost all at once - and that's where you can justify your full use of force until the threat has been eliminated or when you can make your escape. Remember, you can't drag a person back to the house and finish him off at your leisure - once the threat is gone, you cannot use self defence tactics and you again become obligated to help keep the person safe - unless of course the environment continues to be a threat to your person.

What if you only train in tactics that have percussive force, where there's only one dial setting for striking power? Or if you couldn't predict where your strike will land? Or you had no clue how to lock him down and control the situation? These are some of the elements absent from most hard style training. Not only absent but probably is the cause for most hard style instructors being unable and unwilling to discuss the force continuum with students.

There is no denying the difficulty in making the leap from kicking or punching targets to handling issues like de-escalation of violence, force appropriate tactics for self defence, or  the balance between sufficient self-control and then being mature enough to turn on aggressive physical self defence.

Upcoming Articles
  • Aug 21: Wing Chun v Karate Fight in Vietnam is a Disappointing Show Proving Nothing
  • Aug 28: Use of Force to F*** You Up [NSFW]
  • Sep 4 Performance Anxiety


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8 Aug 2017

Toughness, Emotional Connection, and Male Depression

By all accounts, I'm tough.

But this issue of toughness, expected to be part of the male identity seems to be a larger issue which may lead to some men spiralling down the dark stairwell of male depression.


Heidi, Will, and Woody's interview with Wayne Schwass on Male Depression

I was prompted by the interview Heidi, Will and Woody had with Wayne Schwass. It is a worthy topic that they're highlighting and promoting. The central theme this is is one of emotional connection and social support.

Emotional connection apparently means men can value strength of character, what they believe people expect them to be, you know the stereotype of the strong and silent man, but have the wherewithal to connect with their social network, and then have the perspective to seek help at any instance where they slip down the slippery slope of mental depression.

For me, I am not entirely convinced by the male stereotype. I do seek physical strength, tactical combative ability, and mental toughness. I train and test myself constantly. Over the last thirty or so years, I challenge myself during so many opportunities, facing down my innate fears. However, as an individual, I am not ashamed to say there are issues which push me to seek help from physiotherapists and doctors. I mean, if you need to seek legal advice, do you shy away from this? Same thing.

Over the many years of being married, the positive of being married to a very understanding and emotionally healthy spouse is that I myself am also better at understanding what negatively affects me emotionally. And when I do, I am also able to help myself improve. It's not a final destination. It's how to be aware that you need some distance from the stress, some quiet time, a way to recreate, and to manage your total emotional well-being. It could be that it is important to be candid about the last time you, as a man, cried. But really, it is to ensure you continually manage your overall mental and physical health.

Please come visit if there's anything I can do for you.

Upcoming Articles

  • Aug 14 Self Control, Aggression, and Deescalation of Violence
  • Aug 21 News: Style v Style Fight in Vietnam
  • Aug 28 Use of Force to F*** You Up [NSFW]

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7 Aug 2017

Application Training is Not Complete Training

This isn't a Seagal-is-a-hack post.



This post is about applications.

There are hard style martial art instructors (including Taekwondo instructors) right now scrambling to come up with 'applications' for their patterns. Applications are used to justify aiki-type handlocks or takedowns, esoteric knowledge, to demonstrate credibility of their forms, or perhaps to solidify their cult of personality amongst their students.

It's the new trend to train applications, you could even say it's a cult of 'applications training'.

This video in particular has no 'applications'. The sensei does not explicitly show moves from his kata or pattern then try to demonstrate what they can be used for. Notice though, the man talks for over half an hour purely on concepts. He's giving a behind-the-scenes look at how things work in his martial art. You could get hundreds of applications from the concepts he's discussing. Then in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it instant, he also does eventually say that it all comes from patterns.

Key points:
  1. These concepts can be used interchangeably with each other to take down the opponent - or take his head off. 
  2. They underlie the 'applications' people are trying to come up with from their patterns. 
  3. Training in concepts or these pre-requisite skills complement kata-based training or application training. 
If you think for JDK training is about producing applications, this is not what we're about. We we do feature a lot of applications from forms - but our training attempts to be goal-oriented. Some of what we do may look like the form, some require a stretch of the imagination, while some mix a wide variety of other techniques which don't seem to come from that particular form. What I'm saying is that the form is there to set you free - not to lock you into it.

An expert created a form once. Then I learned it. Adapted it. But that form - in its 40 over moves - does not represent the totality of that expert. You can say the form is the well wishes of a friend who has long since passed. I speak like this because when we stopped looking for overzealous mimicking of the form, we were able to see the world like how this sensei does! Shuhari, folks. 

Some industrious instructor may try to deconstruct moves to where that younger black belt was holding onto the ball and moving it around. I can just imagine them saying: "Here are one hundred applications to teach you head manipulation ...". It's like trying to paint a masterpiece using a paint-by-numbers kit.





Upcoming Articles: Please note I'm taking out Tuesday articles and only publishing articles on Monday. Having the audience that I'm reaching out to, the networks that I have, and my producing articles singly for this blog it's unsustainable to do more than one article a week, and then manage the FB page, and YouTube Channel. Thank you for understanding.
  • Aug 8 - Martial Arts and Male Depression
  • Aug 14 - Self-control, Aggression, and Deescalation of Violence
  • Aug 21 - News: Style v Style Fight in Vietnam

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1 Aug 2017

Do You Need to Get Struck in Practice? Do Children?

The following video shows me setting up my assistant instructor Mr Holder to receive impact. It's a demonstration to show how the arms come together in order to stop an oncoming strike. That's me holding the strike mitts and hitting his arms.



The fold of the arms is a prelude to Yop Markgi, often referred to as a Taekwondo middle block, or sometimes an outside block. Often it is trained in a one step sparring exercise where an opponent throws a centreline strike, and you 'block' this strike with the extended Yop Markgi technique.

The fold of the Yop Markgi is rarely trained to cover against attack - though many 'combative' or 'self defence' type instructors would use it liberally in close quarter fighting. In JDK, it deconstructing a technique or sequence to further understand its value is vital to our practice. For beginners, deconstructing it this way is helpful to learn parts of the technique before consolidation later in the lesson.

Obviously the deconstruction of the technique is a good topic to discuss but isn't what we are focusing on for this post. It is looking at the need to receive impact whilst performing the technique. Mr Holder folds his arms, and I am delivering a firm and committed strike towards his arm. Very soon after this video, we will be delivering the same force to both of the children.

The arms will act as shock absorbers. If the students drop their chins and are ready for the strike, the rest of the impact will dissipate into their system and go down into the floor. The strike may sting their arms a little, but by and large they wouldn't feel any pain. Whilst going through the motions, I will also increase the intensity of the strikes, upping the volume of the breath, and progressively applying forward pressure as I push them back through the line.

This is the start of desensitisation in JDK. And it is of vital importance that it accompanies the trainee as they progress through the ranks. We need for the student to keep their cool and their composure whilst facing challenges. They need to think clearly. And they need to move tactically. Can't do this if they're reduced to a tears at their first jolt. Can't do it if they get panicked by a little jarring of the body.



Lastly, can't do Taekwondo if you are just practicing a facsimile of it. These techniques require you to prepare your body for combat - deliberately and safely. If you don't know how the technique really works to protect you or how you work it to apply maximum power, well, you might be in for a rude shock when you need to make it work for you.

Mr Holder said that sometimes I look a little scary. And that's why it's important to slowly nurture those children. They need to be comfortable with the situations we're putting them through. So we have to read their readiness, and to push them just enough so they're excited to continue, and not too much that we shut them down.

Keep training folks!

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  • Aug 7 - Application training is not complete training
  • Aug 8 - Martial Arts and Male Depression
  • Aug 14 - Self-Control, Aggression, and Deescalation of Violence
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31 Jul 2017

Rebooting the Founder of Taekwondo [Historical Faction]

Taekwondo began in a roiling mess.

Framed by World War II and the Korean Civil War, Taekwondo’s beginning was marked by famine, civil unrest, and political jostling. It was a World away from ours and it had just seen the back of a 35-year Japanese colonial administration bent on obliterating Korean culture and national identity.

Figure 1 Korea in 1948, famine and civil unrest during pre civil war days taken from   http://www.unmultimedia.org/s/photo/detail/187/0187900.html

It was a World punctuated by massive and frequent loss of human lives. Losses linked to crackdowns, not by the recently-deposed colonial occupation, but to the strong arm of Korea’s own police and military forces.

Figure 2 Cheju Massacre 1948 taken from http://mtwsfh.blogspot.com.au/2009/07/1948-trying-to-kill-robeson-promoting.html

Present day Taekwondo practitioners seem not to reflect much on those early events and might know only a few key dates that might include the end of WWII, the demonstration in front of President Syngman Rhee and perhaps the adoption of the name ‘Taekwondo’ as Korea’s new martial art. Then there are those websites that cite the development of Taekwondo starting from Korea’s 37 B.C. Koguryo Kingdom and 10th century Silla Hwarang warriors. It seems Taekwondo’s history is threatening to go the way of The Forgotten War.

Figure 3 Some have cited Taekwondo’s history is attributed to Hwarang Warriors as depicted above taken from http://www.hwarangdo.com/pics/hwarang1.jpg

 This article is part of a series looking past history as a mere listing of dates and immersing readers into it’s day to day reality, specifically in Taekwondo’s development after the end of WWII. The goal was to look at early modern-day Taekwondo through the eyes of one of its key modern architects – the self-proclaimed founder of Taekwondo Gen Choi Hong Hi.

Unfortunately, while we can learn many things from historical research, there were those day-to-day details that had to be ‘filled in.’ But this is not just some alternate timeline based on fantasy. This is a story considering factual events through the intervening years, paying closer attention to elements leading to the traditional Taekwondo schools that exist nowadays. We use the word ‘tradition’ not just describing an instructor who thinks students need to be able to do a certain number of pushups or to endure a certain amount of suffering. For what it’s worth, I call my school ‘traditional’ because we practice a version of Taekwondo exported from Korea in the mid 1950s. What we do looks similar to Karate, but it’s definitely Taekwondo.

You could say Taekwondo’s long lost cousin has just cracked open that family album no one has looked at in years.

The start of this series was scheduled to commemorate Taekwondo’s 57th Anniversary April 11 2012. We would like to thank Stuart Anslow for its inclusion, and for his outstanding work promoting the best of our art worldwide. Lastly, this work is dedicated to GM Keith Yates and the amazing group of practitioners in the American Karate and Taekwondo Organization.

As is typically experienced by all beginners to Taekwondo, we’ve begun our series from the start, with Taekwondo’s Chonji hyung. It’s not another historical film clip but a glimpse into the inspiration for how our art came to be – found scratched on the cell wall where a young Choi is imprisoned for his participation in the Pyongyang Incident and facing his imminent death at the hands of his Japanese captors. Of course we know Choi doesn’t eventually die there, and the subsequent piece continues at a point about a year after, when his fortunes have dramatically changed. Despite being much healthier, Choi continues to exude a pensive and restless energy.

Before you go any further, let me ask you: if you had a few months left to live, what would you be thinking of? What loose ends would you choose to tie up if you had a chance?

Come and suspend disbelief. Enjoy this journey back in time with me.


Choi on February 4 1945


Figure 4 The cover of Yul-gok's Four Seven Debate taken from http://www.tower.com/korean-neo-confucianism-yi-toegye-yulgok-reappraisal-edward-y-j-chung-paperback/wapi/100040535


Heaven and Earth are inseparable. 
They are neither two things nor one thing. 
It applies to all who are on the path. 
This wondrous fusion is the secret I have yet to share. 

Note: The above was inspired by Yulgok’s renowned Four Seven Debate on Myohap - Wondrous Fusion, a philosophical debate about moral cultivation; lessons of which can be extrapolated and applied to Taekwondo’s tactics, which include both powerful hand strikes and phenomenal leg attacks. Chon-ji was found as graffiti scratched into the cell wall where Choi was imprisoned as a rebel for involvement in the Pyongyang Hahk-byung incident. Like the pattern he eventually named, Chon-ji is all or nothing, resolving two sides of the same coin, and is the cornerstone of a very potent system. We know the end of WWII several months after saved Choi from a probable death sentence and this prison term identified him as leadership material for the new Korean army.

Choi on April 30 1946

I’ve got a hot steaming cup of tea in my hands and I’m looking out from my office onto the main square. The few personnel starting their day are all walking briskly. You know they’re feeling the morning chill through their service uniforms. Their caps seem to be pulled lower on their heads, and their green tunics are clinging closer to their bodies.

Figure 5 Choi in 1946, a far cry from the squalor of the year before taken from http://www.kidokwan.org/?page_id=110

The morning chill doesn’t bother me. It’ll disappear mid morning anyway. What I’m keen for is to wash the taste of breakfast down. What they had in the officer’s mess was awful. The vegetable omelette was grey and smelled off. The rice cooked with red and black beans was hard. The kaktugi kimchi was somewhat edible. I’m trying not to complain about this. At least we have food, there’s still a lot of people going hungry in Korea at this time.

I chose not to tell the guys I was training this morning. I told them I had a full day dealing with paperwork from the closure of the South Joseon Defense Academy. In reality, the transition to the South Joseon National Defense Force was just shuffling papers around. My job hadn’t really changed much beyond training of military interpreters and focusing on the next batch of commissioned officers.

What I really needed was time to myself. Our recent training sessions have had the guys practising the fluid long-range kicks and moving around – just like my early days training in Taekkyon. The relaxedness, the explosiveness and having that range of motion – it’s good fun! It’s everything I thought was missing from those days at Chou University just three years past.


Figure 6 Group practice with Choi and a few of his students in the early years taken from http://www.taekwondo-mg.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=29

Sensei had us do kata training over and over again then. Afterward it was pounding on the makiwara. But we always came back to kata. I don’t miss it, really. But what I wanted to feel today was kime. ‘Focus’. Long-range kicks don’t have that sort of physical shock. Relaxedness doesn’t result in that sort of feedback. That ‘shock.’ And it’s even worse when you try to kick with combat boots on. So while I disagree on just using kata over and over again in training, kime remains a part of how I generate significant power in upper body strikes; with whatever footwear I have on.


Figure Choi - destruction practice taken from http://narama.taekwondo.cz/taekwondo/teorie/historie-bojovych-umeni-v-koreji-a-vznik-taekwon-do/

I’m walking to my desk and now wondering whether Lee Won Kuk has had the same thoughts as I have. He too trained under Sensei and has just started a new kwan here in Korea last year. But he’s teaching Karate kata to Koreans. While he’s not doing badly, I’m not sure I would do it exactly that way.

Let Sensei’s Japanese students formalise his teachings. Let them enjoy their karate. Lee should know the problems with the training method. It’s too rigid. It’s too slow. Inflexible. It won’t work for our new defense force anyway.

I hear female footsteps on the rough concrete floors before seeing the woman. “Sowi? Annyong haseo?” – Good morning, sir. It’s one of the secretaries with my sealed inter-department mail. She’s quite attractive.

I can smell the KT&G cigarette she’s been smoking as she leans in to deliver the packet. Close enough for a strike to the temple. Followed by a takedown to the floor. I feel my abdominal muscles tense and I tighten my breath a little. But as those thoughts fly through my mind, my fingers hold my cup still. Today, she’s lucky she’s got me there to protect her.

Ohae haji maseyo – don’t get me wrong - my way has to be better. I’m going to improve on this whole mess, one technique at a time. I can create a better system. We can have a brighter future.

Note: The above was written a few months after Choi, together with a group called the 110 founding fathers, joined the newly opened Military Language School in Seoul. Choi was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant there and, at the time of writing the above, the South Joseon Defence Academy closes down and in it’s place continues the South Joseon National Defense Force. Many practitioners obsess over basic skills or significant life’s lessons learned early in their martial arts careers. As a Shotokan trained practitioner, what kind of skills do you think Choi would value? How do you think he would ensure such skills continued to be transmitted; irrespective of his politics? Do you think he successfully achieved the ‘wondrous fusion’ he dreamt about in 1945?

The article, originally titled ‘Choi: The Beginning,’ was part one of a four part series, submitted to Totally Taekwondo March 18 2012, and published in issue 38 April 2012. If you're interested to understand the impetus for me to write this series, see Choi: The Beginning.

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25 Jul 2017

What role does Taekwondo have in a post 9/11 world?

Q. Unarmed combat versus terrorism? How do you establish relevancy in a post 9/11 world?

Back street's back. Better rock your body. JDK Taekwondo Perth starts off one training season without the uniforms to look at blunt edge impact tools. These are the days before we retreated to my garage.

The heart of unarmed combat is about protecting the ones you love. But as an anachronistic civilian self defense system, is easily out-gunned in today's world. However, this post isn't about acts of terror or random acts of violence. It is about the relevance of a budo or a moodo in the 21st century. The key essence of the switch from the study of a jutsu to that of a system which helps character development is where you find the true value of Taekwondo for the modern practitioner.

I heard a saying once some time ago which read everything changes, but the World stays the same. What does that mean to you? To me, this refers to the human condition, and the constancy of the issues we often face - that is irrespective of how fast technology seems to change, or the speed at which we hear of news from around the world.

As a system to envelop yourself in the path of 'do' or that journey of self reflection, a system such as Taekwondo can help the practitioner center themselves within an environment which is in constant flux. This is the advantage Taekwondo brings the modern practitioner - in its recreation of anachronistic combat and the resulting analogies to life's issues, practitioners have a wellspring to draw hope and inspiration from.

Q. So you have a world with constant violence, and you feel Taekwondo's role is to help the individual?

I think the reader would be antsy to hear of the readiness of practitioners to fend off one on one attacks. Unfortunately, terror attacks are typically not one-on-one, and most practitioners do not train with enough regularity or realism to mount a good defense against a committed terrorist. I'm not saying this can't happen, I'm just taking the weight of anticipation off your shoulders - most civilians have no idea of the realities of combat, and the facsimile which they practice could put them in a dangerous situation if they choose to act in such a situation.

So here you are in a world of constant violence. Not only of potential terror plots in your locale, but news of attacks in well known locations throughout the world. Not to mention the unending wars in countries which are at the forefront in the fight against terror. It seems like there's no stopping this violence. An individual can be overwhelmed without even being in the heart of a war zone.

The practice of Taekwondo brings you back to the here and now. You need to center yourself in your practice, or people will get hurt. You need to concentrate on what is instructed, so that you can progress. And you need to be aware of your training area so that you don't hurt yourself. These are all important lessons in perspective - to be there. To be focused. To be alive. And to be grateful for the opportunity to train, and for that brief instant while you're in the dojang to leave the immensity of reality outside the door while you contemplate your 'do'.

Q. How does a martial art teach philosophy?

The dojang, which is your training hall, is a place for moving contemplation. As a microcosm of the world, one gets to apply physical movements within its environs as analogies to understand relationships, transactions, and your place beyond the dojang. We do not strive to extract metaphysical meaning from each and every tactical exchange. But as we endure and exceed the challenges placed before us in this environment, this changes us bit by bit.

Beyond physical training and combat, Taekwondo has its Tenets to help the reflection of one's personal progress on the path. The Tenets of Taekwondo are:

  • Courtesy
  • Integrity
  • Perseverance
  • Self-Control
  • Indomitable Spirit

Together with the physical training and the reflection and discussion inspired by the Tenets, this guides the willing practitioner to develop traits that make them a moral and respectable individual.

Q. Apply your Tenets and explain Wikileaks.

Taekwondo is here to make us contemplate what is valuable to one's growth, and how we can be honest with ourselves. How to do the right thing. And how to make sure we support the right people and the right values. This is to benefit our loved ones. Our community. These things are simple and idealistic. And when this thinking comes into contact with grey areas - people attempting to do the right thing but which has been deemed illegal by governments, this is where our Tenets are really tested. But the world is not a stage in which our Tenets are paraded on. The Tenets guide our own introspection and our own action. They propel us to examine what we know, to seek out what we don't know, and to support what complements the path we've chosen. I didn't make WikiLeaks appear, but I feel gratitude for the sacrifices to bring this tool into public domain. If it was me to decide, I would use it more as a political tool, and not to 'air dirty laundy.' I'm not demeaning all of what it does, I am simply saying that it can be used for the greater good while lessening the risk it often actualises.

Q. And do you think self defence is still applicable in this day?

In this day of surveillance cams, crowd source videos, the awareness of the force continuum? The idea of self defence first is the idea of protecting the 'self' and those loved ones who are important to you. This is my indomitable spirit forging a path which diverges from other people. Sure an attacker can use a gun. Sure they can grab a knife. Or a bottle. Or a stick. But how often do they train with that weapon? How often do they go to the range and practice for real? Who's to say the gun won't jam? The knife won't slip? My thinking is that I'm going to be the best prepared I will be. And this is what they're going to face. To hell with people who try out martial arts for a few months. To hell with those arm chair warriors who say this won't work because MMA is where it's at. They have the right to choose their own path and to waste their own lives.

Q. How do people relate to you as a Traditional Taekwondo instructor?

Most people can't see beyond the every-day disguise I wear. I never really take off that dobok, even when it's off.

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24 Jul 2017

Why Share?

The Impetus for Sharing Training Video

The garage sets the scene, and the quality is gritty at best. But you're welcomed into a private training session, and the 'cheap and cheery' tone keeps it feeling 'real'. This is the Joong Do Kwan Video Training series, and they've been sharing snippets from their twice weekly sessions since December 2015.

The impetus to output these training videos was to showcase and share traditional taekwondo training methods with Taekwondo instructors and practitioners worldwide. Colin Wee, who heads Joong Do Kwan in Perth Western Australia, only makes the videos available on a secret FaceBook group called The study of Taekwondo/ 태권도의 공부.

The video is grainy, and the angle looks like we just stuck a cheap camera on top of a shelf. 

Since studying pattern applications and history some 15 years ago, Colin has discovered that there is often more resources available to the Karate community than for Taekwondo practitioners. "The videos are a gift to all who practice Taekwondo," he said, "and anyone is free to take it or leave it. But the idea is for our community to feel like they have ownership of this material."

At the time of writing, some 44 videos of core applications and techniques have been uploaded to this FaceBook group, and 52 videos - typically featuring shorter techniques have been uploaded to YouTube. The videos on FaceBook cover applications from a variety of Chang Hon forms all the way up to Kwang-gae, but also cover kicks, aikido content, and limited non-Korean material. Most of the videos demonstrate techniques and concepts, then repeates the lesson in four different directions so to present different perspectives.

Ron Jenson, fellow member of
Study of Taekwondo FB Group flies
in to Dallas to be my demo partner 2016.
Of the videos uploaded, the three that have been liked the most have been those covering: basic block flow drills, the double block/knifehand and punch strike in wonhyo, and one in which Colin attempts to learn Nam Seo Kwan Hyung in his living room. Nam Seo Kwan is a pattern unique to the lineage he practices under GM Keith Yates. Of the videos which are most commented on, the top are those that covered back kick training, the Won-hyo Teacup and Saucer stance as a mnemonic for wrist grab counters, and the one featuring the Po-Eun punch across the body drill.

"My philosophy has always been to share whatever I know," Colin says. "I know we could improve it by editing the videos better, or improving the backdrop, or scripting out our verbage. But it'll take too much effort to do that at the moment."

The videos have allowed Colin to improve on some aspects of training. Being able to see how instructors communicate is a big plus, and being able to document what has been covered or drilled is another.

The biggest impact however has been to stress the importance of JDK's Training Methodology. In the videos, you'll often see an application applied on one side or the other similarly. Meaning, the recipient will perform the same technique, not move, and then perform it to receive a strike coming from the opposite hand. Otherwise, you'll see the same move being applied to the front of the body as it is to the back of the opponent's body. This has been an important development in JDK's training approach in the last few years, and one which they are eager to share to other Taekwondo instructors.

While most of the videos have been only published on The study of Taekwondo/ 태권도의 공부 Colin has pushed a few applications from his non-Korean training to American Karate and Taekwondo Organization's FaceBook Group - which is also a closed group that only members can view.

The videos shared to the American Karate and Taekwondo Organization have a viewing uptake rate of about 40% of the group's total members. Since the The study of Taekwondo/ 태권도의 공부 is a secret group, such statistics are not known. All we can surmise is the positive reception Colin has received from the group's members means that the videos are viewed and people remain interested without feeling the need to hit the 'Like' button.

Colin's appeal is for individuals to 'donate' their time to build the Taekwondo community and to support those others like Totally Taekwondo who do. For him, the video resources shared become the joint property of all practitioners. His appeal is for all black belts to see community building as part of their responsibility; and that the worldwide Taekwondo community will benefit from any concerted effort.

For more information on how to access these videos, please join the JDK Library or The study of Taekwondo/ 태권도의 공부. Or please visit Colin's new YouTube Channel.

Editors Note: This article was written and submitted to Totally Taekwondo in February 2016, and modified on July 23 2017.

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18 Jul 2017

Inspirational Posters

"Don't Practice Until You Get it Right. Practice Until You Can't Get it Wrong." reads a poster my daughter left on the bench.

There are tons of inspirational messages on the web. Posters I've seen decorating people's houses. All of them extol some positive view of life, proposing that you strive a little, or ignore some, so that you keep some of your sanity.

But few know what real perseverance looks like. Not until you've bled. Sweated. Get smashed repeatedly to hone your art. Experienced destruction of your self esteem for it to be rebuilt - stronger. Then come back on your own accord for more.

Few know the call of self control until you have someone else's life in your hands, and you need to pull back or some permanent injury is about to be inflicted through your action. Yes, Taekwondo can do that.

And few of those people who spout inspirational messages really knows what it takes to nurture a person until you understand the code we live by is there to develop your students' character so they avoid using that deadly force in the wrong situation - and instead use it for good and the protection of the people they love and whom they protect.

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  • Historical faction on Choi Hong Hi.


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17 Jul 2017

Taekwondo - However it was called in USA in the early 1990s

I train Traditional Taekwondo in a small garage in Perth, Western Australia. When I say 'Taekwondo' I really mean I continue an 'American Karate' lineage, which was what I was eventually told I was learning when I first started in the US.

Between 1993- 1994 I led a private training session for a small group of student practitioners before school started. We exercised a bit and then basically sparred hard for about an hour. One of my teachers visited a session one day and was shocked to see me kick a guy in the groin, and then while he was bent over halfway, knee him in the face so hard he popped back up to a standing position. It was no surprise he fed this back to my Taekwondo instructor who took me aside and very nicely, but firmly, gave me an extremely long lecture about just how easy it was to break someone's jaw and how long it would take for that jaw, wired shut, to heal. As a background to this photo, the guy on the right is my good friend Victor Gonzales. When I met Victor in 1991 he was a cancer survivor, and had lost his arm to bone cancer as a teen. You couldn't stop him from enjoying life - you can see it in this shot. He loved every bit of it. And this was what we both had in common. Victor passed on soon after graduation. Sharing both these stories for this one photo seemed to be a related learning opportunity.

Some practitioners know me for a limited number of application videos I've shared online (both through The Study of Taekwondo FaceBook Group and YouTube), my focus on striking post training, and an old blog (this one) which has a training diary of sorts - of wildly varying quality covering fundamental skills and concepts of training.

Observant practitioners would have noticed I often emphasize that early Taekwondo, whilst having strong links to Japanese Karate, does not need to feel inferior because of such beginnings. My argument is that Japanese Karate has its own share of political baggage. So while some might get defensive about Taekwondo's connection to Japanese Karate, Taekwondo is really an excellent opportunity for practitioners to define their own martial path.

This kodak moment was taken after a Saturday morning training in 1992 at my sister's house. In the early 1990s I would be hitting the gym about 5 days a week, train officially twice a week, assisted two additional Karate for PE classes on weekdays, fought two weeknights, and then would take Sunday off. 

My school is called Joong Do Kwan, or School of the Middle Way. I tell people we are the point in the middle, drawing from older styles and influences, but also benefitting from modern innovations and developments. While the name pays homage to the original Chung Do Kwan, it directly relates to the training I received in the Southwest USA in the early to mid 1990s.

It was during that time I went to Dallas to attend college at Southern Methodist University. SMU is a private university situated in a very nice part of the world. I arrived in 1991 already a black belt from an eclectic Chinese/Korean style, and it didn't take me long before I noticed a small photocopied martial arts flyer stuck on a noticeboard at the gym.

Proctor Dojo (circa 1996) is led by Sensei Mike Proctor, who I am indebted to for helping me develop the tenacity needed for hard style training. In recent years, the lessons he has shared have extended way beyond the dojo. This photo is of him and the black belts whom train regularly in his converted garage. 

In no time, I was a regular in the SMU Martial Arts Club. But there were huge differences in the training from where I was schooled in Asia. To say there was a culture shock and I had to adjust would be an understatement.

Firstly, I was welcomed warmly. You would find it hard to get past the door in Asia if you came from a different martial art school. If you did manage to join the group, you'd be considered an outsider, distrusted until you've proven your loyalty and worth; a process that could take many years. In Dallas, even from the outset, everyone was kind enough to talk with me, help me through initial sessions, were super courteous, and did not hesitate to invite me to join them for a sandwich at the local deli after training.

SMU Martial Arts Club I was a part of ran Taekwondo lessons on Saturday morning and Aikido lessons afterward (same with Wednesday evening classes). The Aikido class eventually converted into an aikijujutsu lineage and was named SMU Gendai Bushi Dojo. Here I am with (L->R) Ted Gambordella, Paul Hinkley, and my instructor Bryan Robbins. And that's me wearing the most ridiculous red gi top I bought because JCVD made it look so good in Bloodsport.

Next, I was amazed at the amount of presentation, discussion, and opinions shared throughout the session. When I trained in Asia, no one dared speak. Even my master would speak sparingly. When he did speak, it was more like a grunt cajoling us to go at it harder, or to jump higher, or to do something faster. At SMU in contrast, you could expect anything from incisive observations to a discourse of techniques by Sensei Bryan Robbins. Mr Robbins was a tenured physical education professor and ex-Olympic coach; and was comfortable and extremely experienced teaching all levels of practitioners on how to perform certain techniques, what difficulties you might experience whilst doing it, how to land it successfully, and their accompanying applications.

I remember being astounded by this 'chatter'. But as I turned my listening ears on, I found that much of what was being discussed matched a lot of the non-verbalised insight I had from my own experience. I soon relied on this information for my own learning and found it was a great way to share experience. I even felt beginners had good insight to offer when discussing their own experiences learning techniques.

The last major difference I noticed was how much difficulty I was having sparring the other black belts. It's not to say we didn't spar back in Asia. Nor is it to say we didn't spar hard against each other. But on so many levels I was outmatched and outgunned, and often by people I initially felt could not be faster or more durable than I was at the time.

SMU Gendai Bushi Dojo. This shot was taken at a seminar led by the late Soke Don Angier of Yanagi Ryu Aiki Bugei, a martial arts personality with an incredible back story, and someone whom I consider has a 'genius' level martial ability. That's me on the far left.

SMU Martial Arts Club was a curious place. The gathering on Saturdays just didn't compute to my Asian brain. I was told by my instructor that the club hosted various black belts from other styles, and whilst we start off with regular warmups, basic drills, and self defence applications, when we proceed to work on patterns, each group then breaks off and practices their own patterns by themselves. So while I was learning Chon-ji for instance, there would be those performing patterns from Wado Ryu, Kempo, Shotokan and sometimes patterns from Chinese stylists.

Then we would regroup and spar everyone. It was this part of the class which made the club one of the best venues a black belt could hope to train at.

My growing conundrum in regard to sparring was that some of the best fighters in the club were also those instructors who would stress the importance of technical precision and patterns. The level of detail they wanted was exacting. So much so I thought there were times when I felt discussions stopped us from putting in the repetitions I was used to back in Asia.

Proctor Dojo circa 1990 - before I joined it, and before I widened the hole in the wall to the left and outside of this picture. 

For instance, whilst performing line drills of basic blocks, who would be told to pay attention to the tilt of the head, the raising of the chambering arm, the flight path of the block, the height of the blocking arm, the pull back of the chambering hand, the stance, and the breath out.

Additionally, this applied to kicks too. I remember having to 'relearn' how to throw a roundhouse kick at short range. By relearn, I mean I'd never had to do a short range roundhouse before. So I had to listen to the emphasis on kicking at the horizon, the spinning of the support foot, the rotation of the hips, the attitude of the foot, the guarding hands, the snap back, the compression of the body, the re-chambering snap of the kick, and the reformation back into a defensive stance.

While at some point I believed this information to be an overkill, I eventually took a leap of faith and figured it a necessary part of the training I needed. I also supplemented in-class training with my own reading and research, and sought to remember and explore every little bit of information that was offered by my instructors.

And if you were interested, there wasn't any shortage of information available. Black belts spent an inordinate amount of time training, and not just training in unarmed fighting. You could see black belts after class going onto mats to do groundwork. Monthly you'd see a group go train kobudo for several hours in the afternoon. Not to mention right after hard style, you can go train soft style Aikido also led by my Taekwondo instructor. Every so often, you could also drive to other schools to visit gradings or competitions. Given black belts train free, SMU under the Southwest Taekwondo Association as it was called then was your all-you-can-eat buffet, if you so desired.  

Some black belts would additionally go to a by-invitation-only dojo led by high-level and well respected Karate instructor Sensei Michael Proctor. You might call these sessions a fight club and you wouldn't be too far off. Over the course of two hours all you do is fight. That's three minutes on and one minute off. The rules governing applicable techniques centred around the idea that it's okay to hurt but not to injure. Meaning, you could go for the knees or groin but you control yourself so your opponent walks out of training on his two feet. 'Control' doesn't mean that strikes aren't going to land hard on other areas. The first time I fought there, my nose was bloodied and my nerve endings were screaming at me. I was battered and bruised, kicked into the plywood wall, and was literally brought to the brink of tears.

Close to the end of my time at SMU, I recall a conversation between several black belts after training one day. This one black belt was talking about how he visited a Kyokushin Karate training session, and was chuckling about how tough these guys were. He said they demonstrated how they could break baseball bats by kicking them with their shins. And then matter-of-factly said they're really tough, but when they sparred, they just couldn't touch him. The reason? They weren't as well trained as our group.

I kept quiet about my surprise but I was secretly a little proud. Proud because it had taken me several years and a lot of time and effort to acquire what I felt were pretty amazing skills. And it seems such skills compared favourably against other serious stylists.

But imagine my mixed emotions to hear from not one but several senior instructors that sparring is not the be-all-and-end-all of martial arts; that if you're good at sparring, all that means is that you're good at sparring. What does such conflicting information mean to my limited young black belt brain?

When I look back at the training at SMU, it seemed like it was not one class, but two classes. You've got the beginner or coloured belt program, and throughout the first bit of training you'd be put through the paces and required to line drill the various basics. We'd do a couple of basic punches, sometimes combining fundamental blocks and punches. Then several basic kicks like the front kick, front leg and back leg roundhouse kicks, a side kick, and maybe a back thrust kick. Very little, if any, 'extreme' or aerial techniques were practiced.

Then we'd all train as a group and work on some 'self defence' drills, which comprised of blocks, counters or takedowns. The black belts would often choose to work amongst themselves, and would run the prescribed sequences before varying it or adlibbing. It was at this point where the class became a mad skunk works between various stylists.

So the question could be asked what was it that we were really practicing? I was taught Taekwondo forms, but the training we got would challenge every one there - whether you be a Taekwondo or a non-Taekwondo practitioner. Does this mean that the style only gets you so far? And then afterward becomes a launchpad from which you embark from?

When I finally got good at sparring, I felt unstoppable; I no longer had the fear that plagued me when I started. Not because it wasn't painful - I had become desensitised to this kind of pain, and I knew most of my partners had excellent control. Without fear, I could see that our sparring could be described as a high-level transaction. It was like both fighters were testing their knowledge against the other, and these concepts fed our insight into fundamentals.

Taking this all in, my aim with Joong Do Kwan has not been to merely replicate the conditions found in SMU. My emphasis has been to unify our training using the Taekwondo pattern set as a core curriculum; this was not something that might have worked well in that club setting because of the range of stylists. But using the patterns-as-syllabus has allowed me to seed that intense but brilliant exchange throughout our present training.

It's been decades - but I still wear the patch and feel
great loyalty to AKATO, GM Keith Yates,
Sensei Bryan Robbins, and Sensei Mike Proctor.
Some would be surprised to know I have also de-emphasized sparring as a training tool, favouring a range of sensitivity drills, traditional training tools, close quarter work, 'self defence' sequences and scenarios to build up all round skills. In my mind, this complements the pattern-as-syllabus approach, and makes for more well-rounded practitioners.

It's been a long time since I left SMU, but the lessons I learned there are very close to me. Taekwondo, whether it be called American Karate, American Taekwondo, or Traditional Taekwondo, has been an opportunity for me to grow as a person. The very best Taekwondo I know will always be of that upstairs dance studio filled with a motley crew of black belts from all over who play without politics, who train without egos, and who are interested in only what works.

This article was first submitted to Totally Taekwondo in April 2016 and published 22 January 2017.

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