Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

25 Dec 2017

Of Secrets and Hidden Techniques

Growing up, my wuxia diet from comics and television introduced me to a steady stream of fantastical martial art abilities where practitioners could fly, regularly displayed external qi transmission, and the most adept of them were adept because of their unique 秘宗 (Mì zōng in Mandarin, mizong in Korean and Japanese). 秘宗 basically means 'secret system'.

As a young child and my want to suspend disbelief, I just assumed that was how it worked because how else, other than for the presence of their 秘宗 would they be able to accomplish such feats?

What made me stop to think about my continued suspension of disbelief was when I came across a book called Iron Fist - not to be confused with Marvel's Iron Fist. The book presented training in 易筋经 (Yìjīnjīng in Mandarin, ekikinkei in Japanese). To my superficial understanding, 易筋经 is a series of exercises and coordinated breathing to strengthen muscles and tendons, and develop a martial form of 內功 (Nèigōng in Mandarin). That's like developing your chi but using it to manifest in physical form.

Masters of 易筋经 were able to strike a series of objects and decide where the force of their blow would cause damage. From Hollywood, this ability was captured in Bloodsport where Jean Claude Van Damme hits a stack of bricks but only breaks the bottom one. In the scene this skill is wrongly identified as 'Dim Mak' or the death touch - which is an entirely different 秘宗.

So 易筋经 was an actual martial art with reports of feats like the above brick break. This made the young Colin think that many of these special effects had some basis in reality.

This unchallenged belief in secret systems stayed in the recesses of my mind and was a subject of curiosity as I grew in the martial arts. There were times where individuals claimed various abilities, and tried to associate their claims to this belief system. Eventually, as a growing expert in my field, rather than being convinced by their claims, I started to heavily disbelieve not only their abilities but their entire credibility. Even to this day I'd immediately question any BS about psychic ability, no touch knockouts, and generally all kyusho practices.

My limited beliefs however, met another challenge which would set me on another path in later life, during several seminars with Soke Don Angier (1933-2014) of Yanagi Ryu Aikijujutsu. Don was a genius-level martial art master and the most brilliant practitioner I have ever met in all my life. The YouTube videos don't do him justice but please research of his legacy. Anyway, Don (he insisted I called him that even though I met him only a few times), was able to do the most incredible and graceful feats - but was able and willing to explain each of them in terms which we could all understand. His explanation would often include various issues like biomechanics, physics, the way the eye perceives movement, psychology, and tactics.

This was a man who was explaining that his 秘宗 had nothing to do with chi or magic. That his skills were entirely explainable by physics, and that each of us could do it. Yet what he did still looked like a cross between a Jedi mind trick and force powers.

I was blown away. Here was a man who was not trying to deceive me by using my limited beliefs and assumptions. He was gifting us his insight - however rarefied it may be, in order to progress us as practitioners.

Fast forward to my 34th year practicing martial arts. I am now at the point of steadily discovering 秘宗 within my system. Literally my growing understanding from training and practising has led me to hidden techniques I was previously unaware of. You could say this is the secret system within my own system. And I was led to their discovery by infinitesimal increments of my own knowledge. Forcing myself to test out techniques, to extrapolate from previous lessons, to use traditional training methods, and to mix and match from what I already know.

Some of these 秘宗 correspond very closely to how I was originally taught, so in a way you could say my teachers did teach me this material either directly or indirectly, and such 秘宗 are their knowledge repackaged and drilled in different ways. Then there are other bits of knowledge where the connection is less direct, and you need to look at them on a conceptual level. In such a way then they do correspond to everything I've been taught including the patterns. They are the same and yet not the same.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not shooting out a laser light show from my fingertips or knocking someone out through my winning personality. All my 秘宗 are doable, explainable, based on legitimate training, and are all tactical. In some instances, I might have snitched them from other practitioners. What? Snitched from other practitioners? So how can you believe that it's your 秘宗 or secret system. Well, it's my secret system or hidden technique because I don't believe the secret for this hard style approach is about esoteric content - I believe it is in the training methodology.

To put it simply - hard style is a meat and potatoes approach to martial training. I'm not meaning to demean it, but it'll never be a Yanagi Ryu. It'll never be as epic as the bullshit George Dillman feeds his students. When you see things from our secret system, it'll mostly appear mundane and innocuous - because they are based on tactical need.

Yet the 秘宗 is from our system transforms the way we understand the world. And it allows us to access other 秘宗 when we need it. It remains a secret to others just because of the amount of work we've done and the length of time it takes to transmit this information.

Look at this video from the Fajin Project (if you can't see it, check out Fajin Takedown Using Horse Footstep). This is a clear example of someone understanding the 秘宗 of their technique. Both of these practitioners are doing the same series of techniques - an outside arm control, gap close, and takedown. The guy in the black t-shirt looks like he's doing a fairly good job of it, and for all intents and purposes, the application is not a bad one. But when the video progresses and you see the guy on the right (in the white t-shirt) ... you know he's just doing something different ...

... There's a brush-draw and unbalancing of the opponent's lead hand whilst the back hand is ready to strike, then there's an open palm check of the opponent's body - which could have been a devastating strike to the back or side of the head, the leg is raised as a vertical strike to chin or to the underside of arm then is extended to strike the back leg, during the gap close you can see how his hip and thigh drives into his opponent's front leg, and lastly, the takedown could have easily driven the opponent face first into the pavement if he wanted to.

Just because we claim to have 秘宗 - this doesn't mean that you are doing worse off than us. We have taken pains to share as much of our insight as we can. If you sight some of said special techniques - a good number of them might even appear mundane to you. As if their presence was logical, commonsense ... in fact, anyone could have seen that before we did. Well, if you sight them and they fail to excite you or if you've tried them and they fail to fit with your bag of skills - they are after all prized as *our* 秘宗, not as yours. :-)

Keep training!

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18 Dec 2017

Lethal Martial Art Training is Not Self Defence

There's so much baggage in the martial arts. In Self-Control, Aggression, and Deescalation of Violence I discuss how the moral high ground of self-control can be self-defeating, 'defanging' the snake of your martial arts. In Etiquette, The Tenets, and the 道 of Taekwondo, I discuss how self-control allows a student to better access the combative nature of our training.

It is a difficult subject in this day and age. Many martial art classes are filled with young children whose parents are enthusiastic for them to acquire this mystical discipline from our practice of Taekwondo. These are people have no idea about the realities of violence nor the idea that learning 'a little self defence' may fill their child with a false sense of confidence.

Before he has begun his class, the instructor is already caught between the difficulties of verbalising his way through difficult issues, and an enamoured audience who doesn't really know what their children are getting from martial arts training.

So let's just train martial arts to the best of our ability then. We do this with impunity: going to full extension on strikes, aiming one or two inches behind to make boards break, nodding at the right instances when the instructor tells us a particular technique is lethal, getting our game on during sparring until our bout has to be stopped, thinking that we've taken the moral high ground because we don't lurk in dark alleyways to pounce on unsuspecting passersby, and lastly, because protective gear and soft mats prevents us from knowing the full extent of our martial skills.

All of which seems 'legit' because we are told to avoid fights and practice self-control.

Yet all of which would contribute to getting yourself jailed because you weren't trained to use reasonable force. In fact you have no idea when physical self defence is warranted. Nor did you think you have a moral obligation to defuse a situation and back away. Think about it, the smart phones are out and what do the witnesses record? They might have first seen some people shouting at each other but they've got video of you using your karate chop sockey and dropping someone to the ground. You did what you do just like you did in class. Excellent, slick technique, but how does that really look on video? It would look like you were the aggressor.

I train Traditional Taekwondo in a garage dojang. However lethal I think I am, if I really do want to hurt someone, it would be far easier for me to reach for the spade and use that against my opponents. That of course has never been my intent. If possible, I want to use the system to eschew unfairness and injustice, to protect the weak and defenceless, and to protect my family and myself. The practice allows me to gain insight into the human condition, I enjoy the physical exercise, and my little school gives me fulfilment.

However courteous and morally upright I go about my life, when things go wrong, I need to be able to think clearly despite any emotional turmoil. I must seek to defuse the situation. I must sincerely attempt to de-escalate to the best of my ability. I know that no one wins in an altercation. So I'm constantly reading the situation - I may already have my fence up with palms facing outward, and I may be slowly backing away.

If things go south, I still attempt to disconnect and distance - putting objects in the path of my oncoming aggressor. I want to make sure I'm safe, so I scan the environment and perhaps look for equipment or weapons on the attacker that he might use on me. I also shout for the attacker to stop and to seek help or attention. A great idea is to ask the attacker some nonsensical question so the guy is forced to process my ludicrous logic.

If however, this fails, then I get my cover up and to start to move tactically. I might attempt to slow him down. Or deflect the strikes. Or gap close, go for limb control or a hair grab. Or do a safe takedown and immobilisation. All this while still trying to talk him out of it.

If your sincere deescalation attempts fail. If you could not control him with a lock or takedown, and you feel your life is in imminent danger ... this is when you go for your striking tools. It's not appropriate to strike someone if they looked aggressive and are walking away. It's not a great look to cross the threshold and king hit the bikie who's talking trash about your girl. Even if the person is holding a knife, but he's eyeing the door, not making a move toward your person, and is thinking of making an escape - you cannot use 'self defence' (read lethal martial arts) techniques on them.

You also have to use reasonable force to only stop the threat. If your attacker is on the floor with a brain haemorrhage from the fall to the ground (you didn't think to hold him up), broken elbow from your arm break, collapsed trachea from the neck strike, and a subluxation of the knee from your low side kick ... well, your 'self defence' (read lethal martial arts) training did stop the attacker but the overkill will fail to protect you from the jury.

Don't fake yourself to think that people use self defence everyday and are wrongly convicted by the legal system. Don't fake yourself to believe it is better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. It is your obligation to understand how best to manage your own training. You cannot practice lethal martial arts with impunity. The training message must be clear - dangerous techniques must be used with caution, with awareness that they are to be used only when you feel your life is under imminent threat. To put it in physical terms, and I know this must be difficult to hear - the knife must literally be coming for you if you aim to shut down his airway.

If you are interested in self defence skills you lastly need to train with awareness. It's not all about the absolute speed you can throw that kick. You need to be sensitive and you have to be able to read your opponent. Spar slowly. Take off the gloves. Get close and personal. Mix it up and practice in a multiple opponent environment. You practice so you should be able to answer this one question - what did the opponent do? In a court of law, other practitioners will testify that your Taekwondo or martial art training helps you become more observant whilst under duress. You can use this to make better reasonable choices. You can decide when enough is enough on your part. You can use this to justify your actions when it comes time to.

Please research, seek guidance or legal advice on the use of force continuum.

Please visit the One Punch Can Kill website at and support their community service message.

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Note: This article was submitted to Totally Taekwondo in August 2017.

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11 Dec 2017

Why chamber a kick when we can throw it faster without chambering?

A question was posed to me about the issues between how traditionally we are taught to chamber a kick, and then what you have in sparring where kicks are thrown without the chamber. This was my reply, edited to be read on this blog.

From a historical perspective, and this might not relate fully to the chambering itself but may be of interest to your background, I believe I read somewhere that Funakoshi sensei was an advocate that the snap back of the kick was essential to deliver the full power yet reduce the injurious recoil or the vibration going back to your joints.

From my perspective, the chamber allows for the full range of motion. This means that one can deliver a textbook perfect technique at the prescribed range and towards a prescribed target. This is a teaching approach for beginners, and for instructors to ensure everyone is learning the prescribed biomechanics, understanding angles of entry, and 'parameters' (my instructor's term not mine) of various fundamental strikes.

However, for the sake of tactical delivery, the full range of motion is not always available or preferable. To reduce distance to target, it may be better to strike from where the tool is, rather than to bring it back and go for the full range of motion. Thus the end tool is picked up from where it is at, thrown at the opponent, and 'rejoins' the flight path of your textbook perfect technique at some point.

Additionally, facing off a more adept opponent may require you to explore additional angles of entry - the practitioner is forced to adapt the flight path, while considering the framework provided by the various basic kicks, in order to fly the weapon through three-dimensional space and deliver its payload to the target, and not to the obstacles placed in the way.

Lastly is the issue of makiwara training and power generation vis a vis the chambered kick. Before I trained the makiwara, I powered most of my punches through shoulder rotation, speed, and effort. I lifted heavier weights to gain more muscle mass. I hit the bag like a boxer. However, when I gained insight through the makiwara, I understood that I could pulse the legs and hips, and send much more body weight through the core, and transmit that with incredible effectiveness into the end tool. This traditional training spurred me to apply the insight that power generation is influenced by transmission of body weight at point of impact.

For the chambered kick, and for all processes we get student practitioners to go through - this is as much for timing, as it is for biomechanics. The student needs to deliver the strike within possibly 2 or 3 inches - whilst throwing a technique at considerable speed and performing under duress. This means to be able to structure the body most effectively to time the transmission of as much body weight as possible whilst remaining tactically effective and staying in the fight.

For this reason ... as a 47/8 year old practitioner, I am able to generate a heap of power whilst not having an equal amount of muscle mass as other students who are much younger and stronger than me.

On a separate note, the act of chambering a kick has additional tactical use aside from delivering the kick. In this video applying the low side kick from Bassai I show a chamber for a side kick used to clear the lead leg. It could variously be used to knee strike other parts of the opponent's anatomy or defend against primary attacks. Similarly, the chambering of the front kick can stop another front kick. The chambering of a wave kick can cause the practitioner to defend the wrong part of his body - before sidekicking the knee or ankle. Etc.

Something to think about - the chamber of the kick and its full extension lengthens the movement and stretches out the power cycle of the technique. Shortening the power cycle requires a fairly good grasp of its dynamics, and allows the practitioner to go for the zippy and punchy moves more appropriate in a sportive arena. Delivering power like this however, takes much more skill IMO. I'm not saying I don't see sloppy techniques knocking people out. I'm just saying a correctly applied kick is not only hard to read but frightening.

Anyone care to talk about chambering and combination kicks? :-)


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4 Dec 2017

How Traditional Taekwondo grows yet stays the same

The Traditional Taekwondo instructor - very
much keeping it alive ... and real.
A traditional art is a collection of wishes from long dead masters.

The Traditional Taekwondo system - any system - however inspiring or epic in proportion and tale does not describe the totality of their ability. Nor of the totality of their methodology. To gain proficiency in fighting arts, practitioners need to follow their form, vary their form, and then depart from their form to realise its lessons.

  • Follow the form by endowing it with fundamental combative skill.
  • Vary the form by drilling it mnemonically.
  • Depart from the form by addressing our opponents' abilities.

This is how Traditional Taekwondo grows ... how it changes, yet stays the same.

As a Traditional Taekwondo instructor, I feel the weight of our legacy. But this weight doesn't hold me down. It anchors me, and my role is to set my students free by allowing them to play with the system, challenge the system, and choose the best of what they like from it.

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27 Nov 2017

You can have friends in the Martial Arts industry?

Whilst reading the interview on the back cover of Time Magazine, I had this brilliant idea to do a blog post if an interview of myself - yeah, written by myself! LOL. But then I thought anyone who knew what was going on would see right through that pomp. In a flash of brilliance, I then decided to ask other people questions about Colin Wee, and then publish it as a 'reverse' interview.

Yes, there's no doubt I like hearing nice things said about me. But there was more to this exercise than having random people pat me on the back. Look past what they're saying, and reflect a little on the relationship I have with each of them; and then reflect on your own thoughts about meeting other individuals in the martial arts community. One of my respondents Kyoshi Gary Simpson for example, was trying so hard to do justice to the difficult question I posed that when he submitted his response he feared he'd ruin the relationship - what a gentleman.

In my mind the reverse interview is probably more about the people I've asked and their own jungshin or their spirit. The subject of whom they're referring to is me, but their confidence, their surety in themselves, and their open heartedness could be a great subheader for this article.

I'm proud of the collegiate relationships and friendships I've developed along the way. There was a time I was wary of opening up to the martial arts world. I chose to sequester my group, isolating it from the rest of the world. With that mentality my group was only as good as the extent of my experiences on a good day. When I shifted my mindset and allowed myself to open up - guess how much more I learned, how much further they could take themselves.

I'd like to take time to thank Dan Djurdjevic, Ken Bac, Peter Wong, Ørjan Nilsen and Gary Simpson for their generosity of time, their expertise, and their support of me and my school - and also for indulging me and this little project.

There are those out there who can provide you a moral compass, a benchmark for your own development, and insight into your own martial practice. How to find them? Well …

… you just need to ask the right questions.

1. What is Colin like as a practitioner? by Dan Djurdjevic, The Way of Least Resistance

GM Greg Henderson, Dan Djurdjevic, Colin Wee, Vincent
Cordeiro, Gary Simpson, and Nigel Farrier at the 2014
IAOMAS National Conference in Perth
Colin is a very focused practitioner who never stops learning and developing his skills. He succeeds in keeping himself ahead of the current zeitgeist by asking questions others will only think of tomorrow, making him one of the few traditional martial arts practitioners who both remain true to their arts and keep them relevant in the 21st century.

He is uncompromising in his intellectual honesty, invested as a teacher, tough as a fellow student and caring as a fellow martial artist.

His measure of sensitivity to others, combined with his mental and physical toughness and thinking approach make him a formidable opponent and a useful man to have at your back.

Dan Djurdjevic

Dan Djurdjevic has been a practitioner of Okinawan Gojuryu Karate and Ryukyu Kobudo since 1981,  a practitioner of Filipino arnis/eskrima since 1985 and a practitioner of the Chen Pan Ling system of Chinese arts since 1989. I became a bai shi of Grand Master Chen Yun Ching (son of Chen Pan Ling) in 2009 and obtained a master's certificate from him in 2011. I was awarded my 5th Dan in Gojuryu karate in 2016. Dan is presently the chief instructor of The Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts in Perth, Australia. You can find articles from Dan at his award winning The Way of Least Resistance Blog.

2. Colin's Taekwondo. Comment. by Ken Bac, Martial Arts Geek

Ken Bac - extreme right, learning how to kick an invisible
person from the back of a chair with a roundhouse kick.
I've known Colin for 8 years, being introduced by a mutual friend. Colin has helped me immensely in gaining an understanding and appreciation for real traditional martial art styles. I'm not a regular student of his, but he has been instrumental in developing my martial arts path throughout the years, so I definitely consider him as a mentor and 'subject matter expert' for all things martial! I have been doing other martial arts for the last 15 years including Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Choy Lay Futt Kung Fu.

I have done Taekwondo before, but never seen anything like Colin's TKD before. I  always had the impression that Taekwondo was very 'mcdojo-ey', a good entry level martial art but lacked the depth for serious practitioners. Colin has totally changed that opinion.

His school Joong Do Kwan, which means school of the middle way, is a very apt name for his brand of TKD. It is both modern yet traditional, and bridges the distance between these two opposites extremely well.

It looks at tradition in the way it focuses on hyung/kata, looking deeply into it and even tracing back the evolution of a kata or technique back to the Japanese and Okinawan roots to understand its context, and use some traditional training techniques like makiwara for conditioning.

However, it is also extremely modern, with the classes even resembling krav maga's strong focus on self defense applications, and modern self defense concepts such as situational awareness. And whilst true traditional martial arts classes disdain 'competition' techniques, Colin's TKD delves into these sportive techniques whilst explaining how it can be modified for practical self defence purposes. (The school also forays into the occasional tournament sparring competitions.)

All in all, an extremely good school, suited for both novices as well as serious martial artists viewing to treat martial arts as a lifelong pathway.

Ken Bac
Fellow Martial Arts Geek

3. What are some of the projects Colin is involved in. by Peter Wong, Kidokwan Perth

Colin Wee, SM Peter Wong, and Master Robert Ho - striking
a pose after a training session at Kidokwan Perth August 2017
I have known Colin for nearly 10 years after meeting him at a Martial Arts Instructors 'Cross Training & exchange of training systems and techniques' in Perth.

I found Colin a very knowledgeable and committed Martial Artist always open to new ideas and friendship. He is always very generous in sharing his knowledge with other Instructors and students. With his enthusiasm to experiment and develop new approaches, he has many projects organising instructors' training, videoing different training approaches, teaching children classes, writing articles for his Blog and many others.

SM Peter Wong, 8th Dan
Chief Instructor and Founder
Taekwon-Do Kidokwan

4. What is Colin like as a person? by Ørjan Nilsen Founder, Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings
Ørjan Nilsen on the front cover of
Totally Taekwon Do magazine

Ørjan Nilsen
Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings

5. What areas do you think Colin can improve in? by Gary Simpson Zan Shin Kai Karate

Kyoshi Gary Simpson leads a class training JDK instructors
on Kata Jitte or 'Sip Soo' in Korean
Gee Colin… thanks for giving me the toughest question of all to answer.

OK, let me couch this in the knowledge that ALL of us can improve consistently in many areas, me included. This, of course, is part of life for those who are constantly striving to be the very best that they can with the skills and talents that they possess. Natural talent is limited but skills can always be improved.

So, to answer your question on a personal level and this is just my opinion based on my own personal knowledge and experience, here is my answer for you:

Practice kata EVERY day. Do it EVERY day, without fail. Do it on your birthday, Christmas Day, Easter, when you are overseas, on holiday, when you are not feeling well. No excuses! Be extremely disciplined. This is something that I have done (every day) since 2002. I would never suggest that anyone ‘should’ do something that I don’t do. So I am speaking from a position of authority here rather than so many of the martial arts ‘textbook experts’ out there.

The benefit to you will be that your physical ability and overall knowledge of your art will soar. Your mental ability to analyse everything will heighten to levels that you cannot even imagine now. You will automatically know what will work and what will not. You will see everything in your art so much more clearly. Your reaction to any given self-defence situation will become instinctive, rather than rehearsed. This is the old way. The way that worked. Not purchasing dan grades from some pathetic grading mill and wearing high-rank belts that are undeserved and cannot be backed up with knowledge. That is delusional.

On a more minor matter, I understand your deep passion for teaching others. You are creating a nice set of instructional videos. However, the videos you are making (again, in my opinion) are too long and too rambling. You need to limit them to 3 minutes. That is most people’s attention span which can be seen from most popular song recordings. They are all around 3 minutes for this very reason.

If you do this then you will get your prime message out in a succinct and concise manner. Those who are interested will watch the whole video rather than skimming and scanning.

Are we still friends after that? I hope so. You are a quality person Colin and I value our friendship very much.

Oh, just one further thing for your readers. We met via association with our US colleague, Bruce Clayton of the San Ten Karate Association [and author of Shotokan's Secret], after both of us (separately) visited his Californian dojo back in 2007.

Gary Simpson, Kyoshi, 8th Dan
Zanshin Kai Karate Do & Kobudo
Society of Martial Arts

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20 Nov 2017

The Bruce Lee that I knew

Bruce Lee trains with Jhoon Rhee. GM Jhoon Rhee brought Chung Do Kwan Taekwondo to the US in 1956. Jhoon Rhee's first black belt was Allen Steen. GM Allen Steen trained GM Keith Yates. Keith Yates trained Bryan Robbins, my teacher. Given I also know GM Keith Yates, that would make it three degrees of separation, wouldn't you say?
Bruce Lee was born 27 November 1940 and died aged 32 on 20 July 1973 in San Francisco. In 1973, I was a little less than 3 years old, living in Asia, and our paths would only cross through reruns of 1960s television series The Green Hornet and his portrayal of Kato.

Bruce Lee as Kato
Kato was the Bruce Lee that got me interested in martial arts. Interested in a lifelong path that would make me more than myself. I didn't see Kato as Britt Reid's butler, or as The Green Hornet's sidekick. I just saw Kato as a character whose travels coincided with The Green Hornet at that point in time, but who was adept and had the strength to go at it on his own if he needed.

Kato was understated, sharply dressed, quietly confident, and could explode into action at any time. You'd be looking out for pensive energy in his alter ego, but there would be none. This is the way of the warrior, surely? As Musashi would say "really skillful people never get out of time." Meaning one can move fluidly from gentility to crudity whilst keeping mental stillness - all you need is to keep it appropriate for the situation.

And what of his fighting prowess? Compared to the action we see nowadays, this was basic choreography and almost non-existent special effects. However, Kato relied only on those skills against the bad guys. More so, his skills looked doable *and* seemed learnable.

Another shot showing the exchange between early Taekwondo and JKD.
Speculation of his death was ongoing in the late 70s in South East Asia. As a young child, I understood he had died, but was unsure of the cause of death. Some say drugs. Others would say he was cursed, a theme which played out well in the early 1990s movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. From what I understood, the curse arose because the name he was given unsettled the Nine Dragons of Kowloon. While his family tried to appease the spirits to mitigate their anger, his fame meant the protection accorded by anonymity or misdirection ceased to work.

Many would say Bruce Lee was larger than life. But I never really saw that side of him. To me, Kato was Bruce Lee. Someone who was normal. Nondescript. Believable. Someone who did the right things at the right time, against all odds - physical and spiritual, and without mouthing off. This was the Bruce Lee that propelled me on my path.

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13 Nov 2017

Etiquette, The Tenets, and the 道 of Taekwondo

2011, in kick starting IAOMAS back up in Western Australia, one of my ideas was to realise a National IAOMAS Conference. It was a brash and barefaced goal - for who am I really? I run the smallest garage dojang, and for many years I stayed clear of affiliations to any one group. So, only armed with dojang etiquette, the idea to network amongst other martial arts schools, and hat in hand, I embarked on my epic journey.

The gathering of instructors during the commencement address of the 2014 National Australian IAOMAS Conference.

Fast forward to present day Western Australia, I find myself with a small group of teenage student beginners, and one of the first pages I felt  important to put up on my website is on Etiquette. Copying and pasting a good portion from other martial art websites, I make tweaks here and there to what quickly becomes a rather tedious document.

It just seems to have so much information on deportment and decorum. I've always wanted to be known as a pragmatic applications-oriented combative technician. Yet, here I was prompting people to iron their pajamas, clean their feet, and bow. No wonder MMA people think there's this huge disconnect between the goals of traditional systems versus the laser focus of MMA training.

This was when I had a brilliant idea to look at etiquette during its most romanticized era - and I discovered that in medieval times, etiquette covers a huge range of activities including combat. And as a list of what-to-do in various situations, helps ensure bravery in combat for knights, as well as their conduct in court.

The etiquette guidelines I was working on also seemed a logical extension for the other recent addition to my site - The Tenets of Taekwondo. Though the English word 'tenet' meaning principle or doctrine, doesn't fully explain the characters for 精神 which mean spirit or essence - literally the 'core' of Taekwondo.

Capture of my blog post on The Tenets of Taekwondo

So as the 'expanded list' or the extrapolation of the Tenets, I revisit my etiquette guidelines and start to look at issues other than courtesy, integrity, and perseverance. I venture into the areas of self control and indomitable spirit to look at how etiquette impacts the practitioner's readiness for combat. And so I start to build my etiquette guidelines to ensure proper use of Taekwondo as a physical system of combat. Yes, I know many would rather steer clear of the use of Taekwondo for physical self defence - it is of course way simpler to just avoid the fight, and perhaps the intellectual difficulty of justifying brute force.

Self control to me is not just to prevent a person from losing control - most regular people don't have much of a problem with that. Self control is to establish discipline of the mind in order to maximise the focus for your training. It is to ensure you have long term dedication and not burn yourself out too quickly. Self control to me is also giving the student permission to become a vessel of their training - to respond with appropriate timing, distance, and power, when it has become necessary to do so.

At another IAOMAS event - this time in 2017. Sigung Vincent Cordeiro leads a killer cool down exercise which causes my legs to scream in pain. Yet I don't move. Is this the only verification of my self control? 

Of course self control also goes hand-in-hand with the guideline that covers provocation, encouraging the practitioner to avoid, walk away, or deescalate. But in the end, when all that fails, the guidelines prompts students to "use Taekwondo to eschew unfairness and injustice" and then heralding back to Knights in shining armor, to "protect the weak and defenseless."

The permission to do the right thing for the right reason and backed up with the right training is a gift of warriorship. It is the idea of the 'Warrior Gentleman' which is the present day extrapolation of Knights and their code of chivalry, which many believe is missing or emasculated from our educational system or the culture in a developed world.
That tedious list of protocol? Really not much different to what you have learn after graduating from business school and then realizing  the business world requires you to understand a litany of unwritten rules of where to sit, how to write, what to say, and who to carry. And what really is a burden is knowing those unwritten rules will chew you up and spit you out, they don't have your back, and they don't develop your indomitable spirit.

In working on a published but early version of my Etiquette Guidelines, I received push back from a couple of black belt friends. The general concern was that taken to extreme,  the guidelines may force you to push yourself toward physical exhaustion in pursuit of perfection of character. While I argued the page is labelled 'guidelines' not rules, they highlighted to me the need to ensure that duty of care is paramount and a dose of common sense is very much needed.

2015 Ging Mo Free Form Fighting - Joshua gets hurt, wants to continue the fight, but officials believe it better to stop the match.  As a group, we still celebrate his participation. We'd rather him not be hurt, but we've done what we set out to do, and he put on a brave front and good show. 
Again, this nurturing attitude is not a feature of MMA training. But no MMA training I've seen espouses the path of or values the perfection of character. MMA fighters and combative practitioners - seem to make a mutually-excluded feature of their practice. We don't.

Which brings me back to my own practice. Counter to MMA banner shakers, the preservation of etiquette and the traditional training system I have sought to promote have allowed me to gain a measure of skill which I would not have thought possible after I left the US; especially not having direct training from my parent organisation in Dallas, Texas. Tradition. Etiquette. Protocol. The Tenets. All have allowed me to use the dojang and my continued practice to fully contemplate what has been taught to me of my art by my instructors and peers.

I would certainly not be in the same place nor become the instructor I am now had I solely been trained for the spectacle of some boxing, a range of BJJ moves, or often poorly executed kicks done in the confines of a cage.

It is difficult to convey the value of etiquette over its tedium. It is so much easier to 'go with the flow' and identify with the pop culture worship of trash talking, the need to define and laud the self, and to raise your worth by diminishing others. Until of course, people realize that they have obsessed in showing off so much about so little.

For me? For the IAOMAS National Conference, I already knew I didn't have much to offer except my cheery self. I just saw that I had to take many baby steps to arrive at this very large destination. Eventually, this journey to organize what possibly was the best martial arts conference in Western Australia to date was only just another step on a path to meet and promote like-minded practitioners. For those who weren't there, in the 18-month lead up to the event, I coordinated multiple social events, had joint training amongst schools, hosted instructors at my dojang, engaged in constant social media interactions, and uploaded silly marketing videos of myself.

That's the pre-conference barbecue at my place - originally designated for out-of-towners, but most would arrive in Perth on the day of the conference itself. Nevertheless we had a motley crew and had a good time.  

But my real kung fu started to show as the date loomed closer. Out of the woodwork people started having their own ideas of how the conference had to be organized. This was where etiquette and The Tenets came into their own. I had to be able to pitch ideas, accept feedback, but sometimes continue with what I believed was needed for a successful event. And I had to do this whilst bringing together 70 practitioners, some of whom may not see eye-to-eye on various issues in the martial arts.

Etiquette to me is not there to create a cult following amongst my students nor engage in politics amongst other practitioners. It is not a trick for me to establish power asymmetry. It is there to build a safe and nurturing environment, to practice in harmony with peers, to value character development, and then to have deportment befitting a confident and well adjusted person. This all is the  of Taekwondo, and people who value it regardless of their art, relate to it.

The old men of martial arts (and some klingons) in Western Australia hang out after IAOMAS Masters - a closed door continuing professional development event held in my garage. Many of these gentleman have distinguished martial arts careers, are highly accomplished practitioners, and are busy tending to their own schools. YET they willingly come train in my humble garage with other stylists. How does this happen? 

I invite one and all to visit my website at - there is a link to the Etiquette Guidelines at the bottom of the About Page. I would be very happy to receive your advice and feedback on how to improve these guidelines in the spirit of the Tenets of Taekwondo. Until then, train safely.

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About the Author

Colin earned his first black belt in an eclectic Chinese/Korean system out of South East Asia in 1987. He then joined American Karate and Taekwondo Organization of Dallas, Texas in 1991 where he has trained in and subsequently promotes Traditional Taekwondo from GM Keith Yates' AKATO and Nam Seo Kwan Taekwon Do lineage. Colin's research into Traditional Taekwondo, his continuing video series shared with international instructors on The Study of Taekwondo/태권도의 공부 Secret FB Group, and his groundbreaking work with Joong Do Kwan, all comprise some of the most contemporary commentary on traditional Taekwondo hyung available today. How this came about? Colin's simple aim was to restore Taekwondo's links to older systems like those in Okinawa and China, and then to benefit from modern innovations in the sport.

Note: This article was submitted to Totally Taekwondo Magazine in June 2017. 
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6 Nov 2017

Things that Make You Go 武 [True Story]

His lanky 6' tall frame hurtled to the lightweight foldable chairs, his arm held fast in a vice grip. His eyes were transfixed, the look on his face somewhere between a cheeky smile and a grimace of shock you'd get before you know something was about to hurt. As he hit the chairs, they clattered apart before his knee gave out and he landed on the wooden decking.

I stood over him. I was still grabbing his right arm with my left, and my hand was wrapped around his neck. I was figuring if he had bear-hugged me just to take the piss, or if he was indeed drunk and trying for more than some rough play. But there was no fire in his eyes. I was looking at them all the way as he fell - it was that vacant look you get when you get TKO'd. There was no fight left - maybe even none to begin with.

A Google search for Tiger Mouth strike to neck produced this winner from - we don't train the tiger mouth strike to the neck, but this was a perfect application in lieu of the 'Judo hold' where you grab the sleeve of the dobok and then the lapel. In the situation above, the opponent wasn't wearing a dobok - so his thin shirt would not have been an adequate purchase.

Still controlling him, I looked up at one side of the room, then turned around to the other side of the room. Must have been 30 guests in all. But in under three seconds, I had taken down my assailant (aka 'the idiot') and killed their banter. The silence was deafening. I survey their faces and read no other threat, and begin to contend with how this might look. I unlock the limb control. I ease my grip from his neck. In good grace, I also help him up. I keep my movements small and relaxed. Nothing to see here, folks.

That's the BJJ version of the inside leg minor reap from We practiced this once maybe twice in the last two years, and in fact I can't find the video of it because it doesn't feature that prominently in our training. But it seems the skill is there when push comes to shove ... or bearhug.

The party was a private Christmas drinks and nibbles event held in a nice suburb organised for work colleagues. The threat anyone posed to me was minimal. The biggest risk would be a miss step on the split level. But the truth is - I am always on guard. It's worse in crowds and in public. It's not like I decide to be panicky or all pumped up for a fight, really. In fact, before I was grabbed, I was just standing there, relaxed and I was deep in conversation with my wife and her friend.

Colin training a variation of the outer reap. The outer reap is a basic Judo technique they call an osotogari. It's introduced in our school at white belt level. As you can see I've stretched out the lead arm, and I've gone for the opposite shoulder to rotate him down to the ground. 

The bear hug occurred. It wasn't an intimate cuddle. And I wasn't going to apologise, even if the incident deeply embarrassed my wife in front of all her colleagues. It was her colleague who grabbed me. He grabbed me hard. He knew I was a martial artist. He had a few drinks on board. And he wanted to test me out. We train bear hug defence, and one of the primary counters is a foot stomp to break the top of the assailant's foot. Had I done that I still wouldn't feel guilty nor would I apologise. From that perspective, he is lucky that I chose to instead pinch the inside of his thigh. His yelp of pain registered in my consciousness but the force of being grabbed got me into that state the Japanese call mushin - no mind.

I turned and I could see his face, and I was trying to recognise who he was. My mind was jacked up and time started to flow differently. I had already gone for lead arm control, and then started to stretch him out with the neck grab. And to fell him, I did an inside leg reap - what Judo would call a inside leg minor reap throw. Nothing could stop me - I was in the zone and it was that scene from the Last Samurai.

This is a screenshot of a outside leg minor reap done during a sparring session with Josh. My apologies for the poor resolution - had to zoom in. Josh was trying to do a takedown from neck level, and I reversed body position and went for his outside leg. This was a similar technique to 'Christmas Party Takedown'.

These were not exact moves specifically trained for a situation where idiot-bear-hugs-you-at-a-party. We do go for arm control, and we do go for takedowns. I could even say that the takedown is similar to the leg reap we do for beginners learning Chonji. But it wasn't a prescribed technique that brought him down, it was '精神' (Jīngshén) spirit which did. There is always a psychological element to a fight - in that instant when he slammed into me, my 精神 met and overwhelmed his. Techniques were secondary.

Don't mistake this as an issue of loss of self control or of poor technique. If there was a loss of self control, I would have continued until he was unconscious. I wouldn't have tried to measure his fighting spirit from the look in his eyes. I wouldn't have asked if he was alright as he was pinned on the ground. Self control is as much about honing yourself into a weapon, a precision tool for your art. And in this case, correct self control was used to destroy the opponent's 精神.

As for technique - I took down a six foot tall guy without muscling him. It would not have been smoother had the entire thing been cooked up at the dojang. I owned it.

That's it - found it. Inside leg minor reap. We practiced that once, and I finally found the video dated August 3 2016. The technique was used as a counter toward a failed single leg grab and takedown. As you can see Niaal has got my neck or shoulder locked up and applying downward pressure on my body - the technique cuts his legs out from under him. 

Back to the party. I'm now astutely avoiding the occasional nervous glances from the other guests and trying to ignore the change of mood in the room. I get to talk with my drunk friend, who was sobering up after the cold shock of being manhandled.  I again banter with him, and measuring my breath so I don't shake too much from the adrenaline leaving the body.

It is an unfortunate situation. People in my part of the world are surrounded with the luxury of affluence and peace, and don't understand my particular path nor the practice of martial arts. A 'friend' sought to test out those reflexes. To simply see how I'd react. Unfortunately no one knew it was going to happen, and merely saw what they saw. And what they heard was a loud crash with me standing over a downed colleague of theirs. I had his arm grabbed, and my hand was around his throat. Not a pretty sight. Definitely not appropriate for a social gathering organised at the department head's house.

There were only two people who witnessed the entire thing unfold - my wife and her colleague. And yet, even my wife had to be convinced by the feedback (read 'gossip') from other colleagues over the ensuring months that her husband correctly defended himself.

At the end of the evening, as I readied to leave and said my goodbyes, there was tension in the room with my proximity. They were skitterish. They were wary. And I don't blame them. But that doesn't change my mind about my reaction. Given the same situation, I would happily go for more force not less. Self defence is not about what people think of you, it's ensuring that you respond correctly to your safety. Your family's safety. Get complacent and that could dull your readiness. Second guess yourself and you become imprecise.

Note: This article was titled 'Things that Make You Go 武,' submitted to Totally Taekwondo August 1 2017, and published September 2017 in issue 103. It has been modified and republished on this blog Nov 6  2018.

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30 Oct 2017

Depression, Symptoms And Its Treatment From the Martial Arts Perspective

Toughness, Emotional Connection, and Male Depression published August 8 2017 was an article inspired by a local radio program Heidi, Will, and Woody. There was candour in this episode, and some raw emotions. And in a bid to increase public awareness, the deejays spurred celebrities to share times of sorrow and their personal admission that they too have cried.

With a greater exposure to people who suffered depressive disorders, I now know that depression isn't 'sadness' - which was my younger misconception of this condition. For many years, I reflected on my own understanding of sadness and the transiency of this emotion. I overlaid this flawed understanding on what I believed was depression. From what I know now, while depression does cause "feelings of sadness, and/or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed" the opposite of depression isn't 'happiness', it is clarity (APA).

Dolph Lundgren shares his personal pain from physical abuse, and the benefits he reaped from martial arts and counselling. 

When I recently reached out to fellow martial arts bloggers, I did so without any real plan of how such collaboration was going to take place. But when my online friend Fist in the Frost saw that I was working that first Male Depression article, he pushed me to discussing ways we could improve awareness of this issue.

While the martial arts industry and personalities have many faults sometimes influenced by ego and at other times by the greed for money, most in the martial arts have faith and a deep conviction that through training and practice, the extremes of our experience of the human condition can be improved. Their help however is often non-directed, ill-informed, and unfortunately poorly educated.

The following is the article written by Fist in the Frost. He wrote it from his experience both as a counsellor and a martial artist. And I must thank him for taking the initiative with this disorder. When you are done, please visit the original article Depression Stuff, and say hi. Then check through the links I've included after the article on martial arts and depression. Then lastly - share this article on FB. People who are depressed may not show you. May not know how to show you. You must give them the opportunity to come forward. Male or female.

Depression, Symptoms And Its Treatment From the Martial Arts Perspective

Generally speaking, we all have ups and downs throughout the day, week, and season.  Most folks are not usually aware of the moods that pass by if they are fleeting and mild. We tend to become aware of our emotional state when it starts impacting our quality of life.  Because of cultural influence, this article focuses on the Western male.  I can’t speak to other cultures but I can imagine in most patriarchal ones the emotional response is similar.

Although the polar opposite of depression is mania, we’ll focus on depression because it’s generally considered to be the more impactful of the two.  That’s not to say that intense periods of mania aren’t destructive in their own way, but for the most part, it’s not generally considered bad during the initial stages.

In contrast, depression has noticeable symptomology that can be sometimes confused with a physical problem.  Some symptoms can be a lack of energy, an inability to empathize with others, lack of appetite and disrupted sleep patterns.

Depression traditionally comes from one of three sources; environmental, physical or psychological.  For people living in the North, the environmental effects of being in a situation where there is little to no light for long portions of the year can cause depression.  Physical causes are usually attributed to head injury, but other neurological problems can cause the same symptoms.  The final cause is psychological.  The traditional reason is that there is an issue that is avoided, so it  manifests in some form.  In many cases, this turns out to be depression.

The ability to treat depression can be very difficult. Traditional therapies include medication and therapy.  The therapy is conversation based analysis and can often take a long time for the patient to develop insight into the cause.  If the patient is introduced into the process through doctors visit, the first thing that’s evaluated is the amount of sleep and activity the person has.  If they are seen as a deficit in these areas, the doctors will prescribe medications to allow for sleep at the very least. Currently, those who have been diagnosed with depression will also be referred to therapy.

Another difficulty using a talking analysis is that a majority of men in Western culture have some degree of difficulty describing their emotions.  It’s not only not having the self-knowledge and vocabulary that slow the process, but culture itself teaches the male (and some females) to suppress outward displays of emotion seen as negative from a very early age.

A common example is the response to ease the pain of a child.  The child is placated and often told to be quiet. There is nothing wrong with that, but the trait strays into a possibly dysfunctional area when the suppression of the child’s emotional responses are continually reinforced.  Examples of this might be, “suck it up” or “boys don’t cry.”

The counseling experience becomes difficult when the male has to learn to express emotions and emotional states that have been closed off since childhood. The counselor is challenged when the patient can only provide the response, “I’m sad.”  While the client takes the time to learn to emote and explore his emotions, the depressive cycle will continue.  Thus feedback on the counseling experience will be less than satisfactory.

If the patient (in this case the person experiencing medium to significant depression) can physically motivate themselves, activity is used to help moderate symptoms.  The use of exercise is preferred to encourage the person to resume a healthy sleep cycle.  The more the person has a habitual physical routine the better they are going to do during the recovery, which will shorten the process by lessening the symptomology.

Here is where martial arts excel in the treatment of symptoms.  Running, bicycling, swimming and lifting weights are great for a person, but in each case, when a plateau is reached, the time to spend thinking gets longer and longer. If a person is healthy, then this time is productive in the sense that they have time to sort and process.  If they are not healthy, this time is where cyclical, negative spirals in thought patterns tend to foment.

Martial arts, on the other hand, provide much of the same activity of the other sports, but adds a feature, the requirement to be present mentally.  It’s a rare thing where the practitioner can participate in regular class work and think about much else.  In schools with more conflict based practice, there is little more to focus on than what is occurring at the moment.

The depression sufferer can find a few hours of solace from symptoms and in time can realize a positive feedback cycle in time.  The more practice the better they are going to feel.

In time, depending on the severity of the depression and the ability of the sufferer to address its cause, the lessening of symptoms will continue.  However, it should be known that the path to recovery is always studded with set backs and pitfalls.  The constant to this  process should always be regular physical activity.  The course of treatment may be irregular and even when the counselor and client believe they've come to a logical conclusion further visits may be required to address emerging issues.

The best thing about a good martial arts school is the sense of shared activity and a feeling of a second family. Taking advantage of that environment to shore up one's emotional state is always recommended.

Bio: Potatoe Fist was a marriage and family counselor for ten years.  He doesn't miss it all.  He went into IT for a good reason.  Thank god for all the beatings he took in his old school to help him through the hard times.

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23 Oct 2017

External Qi Transmission

(Almost) always switched on.
Qi - the life force which is fundamental to Traditional Chinese Medicine, studied for over two thousand years, which is described by the Yin and Yang symbol, and which is most apparent in the early morning octogenarian activities - is not an area of study in Taekwondo.

I don't do Kyusho jitsu so I fortunately am not part of the crowd faking people about 'no touch' knockouts. And no, I don't have 'Real Stories of External Qi Transmission' to share.

I do however believe in qi - and I also believe that there is more to it than those interminably slow self-healing exercises, or at the sharp end of acupuncture needles.

What is martial arts? Aside from 'lots of pushups' or 'blocking and striking', it is the struggle for survival. It is the fight between you and your opponent. Sometimes your opponent is apparent, standing there in front of you. Sometimes the opponent is more than one person. Sometimes the opponent is in your mind.

The struggle while being real or physical is also conceptual. It is a war of attrition. And your advantage rests on how much you are spiritually vested into it.

When I am locked in struggle with an opponent, I am not only responding to visual stimuli. I also read feedback from physical contact points. But it goes beyond that - I sense three dimensional space. Is this just a trained ability to process all the moves he is telegraphing? Is it just combining the senses and one's intuition in a more efficient manner? Or is it that I am reading his spiritual intention? His 'external qi transmission'? However you may explain it, this helps me with decision making during encounters and helps me choose better tactical counters.

Outside of the dojang, I would like to believe that I am well-adjusted socially, I have good humour, am quite friendly and approachable, and I know how to enjoy myself. Yet, there are many instances in recent years when people would use words like intimidating, scary, and competitive to describe me. This is highly incongruent to how I understand my own behaviour to be. But only incongruous to what I do and how I behave. If people are responding to the 'spiritual vestment' from training, the 'external qi transmission,' that might explain their reaction - for I can't switch it off.

If you are looking towards improving your life through this training, I am able to guide you towards individuals who have a more rarefied understanding of this phenomena. Do not let preconceptions or personal bias stop you from exploring these areas. They may not correspond to scientific method but they are definitely part of the phenomenological world.

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