Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

27 Jun 2017

You want your child to learn discipline

Everyone does the same thing in our Perth Dojang. Everyone trains equally as hard. You only challenge yourself every time you come. Lose control and people get hurt - so you have to have the wherewithal to concentrate and always be present. This is the  development of martial arts discipleship - and the potential to hone your child's inner strength.

It's a bit misleading when you see a class of young students fall in line and bow to each other at a dojang. The instructor calls out some command, and the class moves to obey. Parents like that. Oh, it shows my child can finally follow orders. It shows my child has some discipline!

I've had some children start training with us recently. In the last month, I've:

  1. Exercised them as hard as the other adults in the class. 
  2. Smashed my forearm into theirs, inflicting some pain onto targeted areas, and have allowed them to return the same to me.
  3. Gotten into their personal zone by pushing them up against the wall so that they know how to escape from this position and perform counters that would debilitate me. 
  4. Grabbed them while they're on the ground, and while they're performing their escape, applied some level of discomfort into their ribs as a stress test before they retaliate. 
  5. Increased their spatial awareness and am developing their high level coverage by taken two strike mitts and whacking them on the side of their heads, while they protect themselves by raising their elbows. 

They have to apply self control in order to perform many of the moves I've described. They need to concentrate and have the presence of mind so that they don't get hurt; this class is unforgiving - lose focus, and you will instantly regret. These are immediate areas of practice which develop the inner sense if discipleship - the true meaning of discipline.

Discpline to me is not just lining up and listening to someone bark commands. That's just the culture of the training hall you join. Discipline is the ability for you to centre your mind, and to apply yourself.

I also am teaching them elements of The Tenets of Taekwondo. I teach them how to enter the dojang by bowing, how to engage safely and respectfully with other training partners, and how to greet visiting instructors formally. I also say what I want to do, and do what I say I wanted to do - to show them that there is integrity in our action. And just by the fact that we're challenging them bit by bit, and them returning, shows a level of perseverance that is not only commendable but is a notch for their own self worth. Self-control we talked about - which is demonstrated by every one of us at every turn. And then there's indomitable spirit. While this is a little more difficult to learn, they stand in the presence of individuals with indomitable spirit - and they will eventually learn by emulation.

I am happy to chat with you about the benefits of martial arts training for children or teenagers. Please let me know if you have any questions. Or come to our dojang if you live in Perth.

Colin Wee

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26 Jun 2017

What was your worst experience in the martial arts?

The background to this story is some weird illness I experienced in 2004 which resulted in hip inflammation so bad I could hardly walk up stairs with my right leg. At the time we were trying to launch our little martial arts school in Perth - and any demos of kicks were done waist high with my left leg. This affliction nearly ended my martial arts career because I thought it was a back injury that was radiating down my leg, and that the medical professionals just couldn't find the real issue.

This photo was taken a year or so after the incident when my hip inflammation had been resolved and when I started getting back in shape again.-These are some of my coloured belts in Perth. Look at me - I'm tiny! So easy to pick on!
Anyway, it debilitated me for a year - which affected my exercise, training, and of course fear of pushing my body. When a very clever GP finally diagnosed the hip inflammation, the pain was taken away with a few little tablets miraculously.

The story begins with me travelling ...

I often travel and meet up with new martial artists. But I'm just going to withhold their names and details because these people still exist and still practice. Anyway, I arrange to meet him at his training center - it's some kind of mixed group that gathers to cross train, before the days of MMA. Only problem - and this should have been my first warning bell - he's a no show. The group is there, but no one knows me. Anyway ... they seem friendly enough to chat. I think there was a guy that was doing some Escrima, and then others who were just gearing up.

I get approached to join in their sparring match. The first guy I get paired up with is this huge, very fit guy who's wearing Muay Thai shorts and a plain t-shirt. He asks me whether I had any experience, and I said some. That was about it. And then he started a relentless attack which involved thigh kicks, punches and strikes. The thigh kicks didn't bother me - I brought my leg up, turned it out, and caught his lower shin on the top of my shin each and every time. And since this didn't bother him, I assume he'd been viciously conditioning his legs.

After not really training for a year or so - to say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. It was full on, and I was under pressure. There were more than a few times when I had to create distance by simply stepping back and turning full around, then coming back again. Anyway, you get my drift.

With time pressure to be a good father, I
foolishly make cuts to warmups, I also
struggle to train consistently. And I
do not get enough sleep as before. I'm
mid 30s, getting injured, and
stretched thin.

Then it happened suddenly. I was in a standing clinch with him. My head was down, and I fired an-over-the-shoulder strike ... and you know when something sickening happens, it happens in slomo ... I felt it hit him full in the neck. And I felt it slowly from the pit of my stomach to the edge of my thin cotton padded mitts. The strike landed on something squidgy and there was movement from the larynx. He just stopped short. Just froze in shock and pain - knowing full well what just happened, I immediately held on to him while we stood there. You could see his eyes starting to bug out of his skull, and he held on to his neck with both hands.

Fortunately, the strike entered from the side - and missed hitting him square on in the throat.

To cut a long story short, after several moments of him trying to panic-swallow then breathe, that session stopped, and I went to fight another two people who were a little more controlled. One of them also told me the first guy was a knockout artist and always went for the kill.

The next day, my guy who was supposed to have met me at the club called me to apologise for not being there, then told me something like he had to bring his member to the hospital that night to get checked out. Hmm.

The takeaway lesson? If you're not in training, go easy. Don't get thrown (or cajoled) into the deep end unless you have someone there to coach you through it or to ref you out of it. Also is the need to stress and reiterate self-control. Self-control for any technique in a safe match means you identify the target before you strike out. No blind techniques allowed. Especially given that the ground was concrete - not matted. And lastly, if anyone is injured they should not walk out of that training hall by themselves - they should be accompanied until they can be checked by a medical professional. This could have ended very badly folks. Be careful of how you train! And be careful of who you train with!


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20 Jun 2017

You are a teen. You feel misunderstood.

Your parent gives you advice, offers their life coaching services, or their parental wisdom - but you don't know where that advice is coming from. You may not be totally against chores even though they're a drag, it's just that you don't really want to do them right then. The family is doing something but just at that time you're talking with friends. What do they know about your needs. It's your life, after all.

Colin Wee, before and after. The photo on the left was taken in 1981 when I was eight, the year before I put myself on a portion controlled diet, and two years before I started martial arts training. The photo on the right was taken 2011, thirty years after. I so coincidentally found the same belt - one of my favourites - and decided to put it around my waist to see if I could still wear it. This, folks, is the net effect of hard work, effort, and a lifelong commitment to practice. No one needs to tell you how good it is, or how well you're doing. I do it because I want to, and the inner satisfaction it brings ... is value above many other things I possess in life.

While I am a parent, I'm not your parent. When I put myself in your shoes and think of your life issues, the above scenarios could probably get me annoyed.

Young adults. Teens. Children. Irrespective of your age or where you are coming from - any untrained person who walks into my dojang is put on a path to develop the kind of power, confidence, and strength of character I have personally forged over my 34 years training in some kind of martial art. I've also practiced other warrior arts and have served in the military for over a decade and a half.

More so than the physical training, is the honing of a warrior's mind. Sure, there is a powerful confidence in being able to handle yourself in a physical confrontation. But we also have a code that drives us - which allows us to develop an inner confidence, a peace that comes from self control, and an understanding of how the world works around us.

It's not an answer to all of life's issues, this code - The Tenets of Taekwondo - allows us to understand what it is we can control, and what are those issues out of our control. Once you figure this out, you develop this rock solid self determination.

Lastly - there is no such thing as age or gender in JDK. You come to us and you put on a uniform you cease to be 'just a girl' or 'just a kid' or 'too young' or 'too immature'. At each and every level you will have the chance to apply yourself and earn the respect for what you put into the practice.

Welcome to JDK.

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19 Jun 2017

JDK's Favourite Traditional and Obsolete Kick

This was not one of the kicks that was taught to me.

Meaning there were a slew of kicks I was drilled in as a coloured belt and a young black belt, and then there were leg movements in the patterns that didn't see much light of day except for when we were practicing patterns. The two patterns I'm referring to are Bassai (or Balsek), and Tekki (or Chulgi). These two hyungs link us back to an Okinawan heritage which extends us at least 300 to 400 years in the past.

Together, these patterns inspired JDK to look at their humble Axe Kick type movement typically delivered to mid and low level. We had to go through several steps to understand how they fit into our close quarter tactics, and then we had to look through several variations in order to start applying them within our training environment.

These 'traditional' kicks are applied differently to how you see modern kicks done - with practitioners preferencing their delivery to mid to long range targets. The technique has gained huge favour with our practitioners because the kick helps the user maintain good hip and foot stability, which then means we're free to continue to use our hands to strike, cover, and grapple.

Similar kicking movements are present in Taekwondo pattern Toigye, and at a stretch, pattern Po-eun.


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12 Jun 2017

Kime 決め | Jeab 제압 | Focus

The entry for kime in Wikipedia refers to "instantaneous tensing at the correct moment during a technique." This is a physical or biomechanical definition of the English term 'focus', in comparison to what you may think of focus to mean 'concentration' or to be 'in the zone'. The noun for kime means "to decide" which for hard style martial arts could indicate the point at which you've designated for your technique to stop.

Hardan markgi - the lead arm is crossed in front of the face, folded on the side of the opposite ear, cuts downward, and stops on a point right at the edge of the shoulder line. At the point of impact, the legs drop lower, the abs tense, and the entire body becomes united by that one motion. This is 'Kime 決め | Gyeoljeong 결정 | Focus'. Imagine having a limb pulled taut by the chambered arm, and having a strike which accelerates 70kg of body weight right on your arm. It would not only destroy your arm, the pain would sear upward and debilitate your ability to continue. Photo taken 2004 in front of Cottesloe Beach.

By 'instantaneous tensing,' this refers to the deceleration that occurs whilst you are stopping a motion, and the muscle lock down of your skeletal system brings the process to a complete halt. For a down block or hardan markgi, this could be the point 45 degrees down from your shoulder, at the shoulder frame, and over the knee where the hardan markgi is performed.

The resulting muscle lock down refers to the 'instantaneous tensing' in order for the entire body to perform the strike - as simply just waving your hand and moving it into the right position means you've only moved a small portion of your body mass towards the target. The more you get the 'instantaneous tensing' timed with the strike, the more impressive, and the more powerful the strike.

Many people mistakenly believe that they need to put in more movement or more muscle to gain more power. It is true in a sense - if you can pack on 30 pounds more muscle, you will gain a significant amount more striking power. However, this kind of paradigm puts a lower ceiling to your power generation ability - mostly limited by the limb that you're swinging.

You could also interpret 'focus' is to dedicate your entire training, your entire spirit, and your entire being to that single strike. Your body has been willed into one point. Few people who've never embarked on warrior training would understand this kind of mindset.

Note: Thank you to my friend Ørjan Nilsen of Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings and his martial art network for the translation of Japanese term to Korean.

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11 Jun 2017

Tenets of Taekwondo

A 'tenet' is a doctrine or principle - ideas that can guide behaviour and action. The calligraphy however, indicates that these are not just a list of items to follow but they are Taekwondo's '精神' (Jīngshén in Mandarin, Jungshin in Korean) or the spirit of Taekwondo.

Spirit is used synonymous with 'essence' - and indicates the core of our physical and mental practice.

The individual Tenets of Taekwondo are: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control, and Indomitable Spirit.


(Lǐ yì) Courtesy is understanding dojang etiquette, and then seeking excellence in manner within the dojang and beyond. Walking this path allows you to prepare your mind for practice. Courtesy is the generosity of spirit.


廉正 (Liánzhèng) integrity refers to moral and ethical principles. Integrity is about having honesty, saying what you will do and doing what you've said - to use the appropriate method to control adversity as you experience it. Integrity is clarity of spirit.


Perseverance is not just indicating striving in the face of adversity. 忍耐 (rěnnài) means to endure, to tolerate, to recognize that you must work past temporary pain in order to secure expertise. Perseverance is to have spiritual patience.

Self Control

A loss of 克己 (Kèjǐ)  self control can be disastrous in the dojang and in daily life. However, the tenet of self control is more about adopting a mindset that allows you to focus and apply yourself to the best of your ability. This tenet is not only about not doing the wrong thing - but doing the right thing when the time comes. Self control is to seek spiritual discipline.

Indomitable Spirit

百折不屈 (Bǎi zhé bùqū) indomitable Spirit is that which allows you to be unconquerable, to never be dominated. You submerge yourself on the path in order to draw from the wellspring of your practice. To be broken a hundred times yet refusing to yield. It is the spirit of courage.

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10 Jun 2017

Side Kick in the Air v Landing it on the Bag

One of my students commented today that the side kick done in the air - for instance, during the form - differs from the side kick done on the bag. The one in the air requires you to balance on that support leg, whereas when you're striking the bag, you've got to direct body mass into the bag. This is one of my contentions with hyung - and that is, everything needs to be *applied*. The form of the kick is shown, but if it is that you want to lay into your opponent, you'll need to know how to send it laterally, and make impact. If you want to take the opponent down, you'll need to know how to impact that front leg, on the inside or out to bring the person down. The hyung is only about 40 steps long - it can't tell you everything. It only references other skills that you need to know in order to be functional in opposition to someone trying to knock you out. Everything in the form has to be 'applied'. Just doing the form is not sufficient to understand the Martial Heart.

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3 Jun 2017

Avoiding a Kick to the Gut using Tactical Body Movement from Hwarang

Taekwondo Pattern Hwarang Vertical Knifehand Step 6 to 7 is used as Tactical Body Movement to cave out the midsection of your body - shifting it so that it reduces the impact from an oncoming kick or strike or weapon attack. The elbow stretched forward means that the attacking limb has to move that much further to reach you, and gives you contact reference points in order for you to control the attacking limb and then apply strikes or takedowns as counters.

Much of hardstyle training begins with punching or kicking, and doesn't require the practitioner to think of any need of suppleness through the core - in order to avoid strikes or to better counter an opponent trying to control you. In Karate, many schools practice 'taisabaki' or body movement. This is absent in many Taekwondo schools.

Flexibility and the ability to move your trunk out of the way is an important skill so that you may gain a few centimetres - avoiding the brunt of most strikes. The elbow going forward whilst your trunk is pulled back means that the opponent has to go even further around your barrier before reaching you.

In Pattern Hwarang, the vertical knifehand comes around, over and down. In our example where we use the technique against a kick, it is very easy to reach over and push either from the front of the face, or pull from the back of the opponent until the opponent is taken off his base and falls backward.

The preamble is an interesting one - and discusses the trend you see on YouTube for all applications to always end in some form of takedown. This prescriptive type countdown seems to indicate that you might need to spend as much time doing Judo or another throwing art as doing Taekwondo - which is not the case.

Many of the throws and takedowns we use in JDK come naturally because we train in takedown concepts rather than in a particular techniques. When you do this, the throw or takedown occurs easily without need for a lot of practice to finesse moves.

I am not saying we can't learn anything from judoka - I am saying that it doesn't take a lot to gain a working level of skill and use that skill without need for some pattern sequence fussing or nagging you to end the encounter in a specific way.

If it's needed, yes, I take the person down. If it's not needed, I leave him to drop to the ground screaming in pain. The application doesn't need to tell me how it should end.

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1 Jun 2017

What is a Dojang?

Dojang 道場 - where we practice 'the way'.

Colin Wee adopts the opening salutation from Sip Soo or Jitte, an Okinawan pattern from around the 18th century. In the background are cleaning implements hanging up on the wall of his garage dojang. This black belt training session circa 2013 was led by Kyoshi Gary Simpson of Zanshinkai Karate, an 8th dan Shotokan Karate instructor.

To many it is the venue you go for your two weekly classes of Taekwondo where you dress up, go exercise, learn how to kick and punch, struggle to remember patterns, and spar with opponents.

One of the early interpretations I've come across is that a dojang is a meditation hall. It is a place where you contemplate your journey along the way or your study of '道'. 道 is not an academic subject - it is an inner journey which you embark on. Thus it can be an activity steeped in tea, or Japanese chess, or playing the shamisen, or practicing the way of the sword, or engaging in some form of mudo like Taekwondo.
Joshua Lay, currently Shodan, during his 6th gup belt grading in 2014. We invited several black belts from external schools to come help us with the sparring component of his grading. Josh had to fight multiple fighters from Goju Ryu Karate, Chinese Kung Fu, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai - both singley and in multiple opponent rounds. The sparring component itself spanned at least an hour. This was only one obstacle along his way.

The venue of the dojang is really any place designated for you to immerse yourself in mental, physical, or spiritual contemplation. It could be that secluded wooden structure in some idyllic woods, or a basketball court in some gym, or even a garage in Western Australia.

When I talk about Taekwondo, I take an older and quite unfortunate definition, and paraphrase it to say 'tae is to kick with the feet, kwon means to smash with the hand, and do means to train with the mind.' 道 in this case of course does not transliterate to "train with the mind" but this does hint at the mental state which is valued by those on the path.

Do ultimately creates layers of its own definition whilst the individual is pursuing some form of introspection. It may take on a spiritual context, but really it is a pilgrimage with an indeterminate end point. The purpose is to submerge yourself in the journey to simply see how it unfolds, to discover its rewards by using its trials for self-improvement.

Niaal Holder, currently 3rd Dan, faces a corridor of opponents determined to not let him pass. The way in martial arts is often analogous to these physical analogies. In this case, Niaal had to overcome an impossible challenge, and going beyond it allows the individual to reflect on this success. He could of course choose not to do it. At which time the grading would be cancelled, he would most likely quit the school, and discover that no one really cares. Of course the instructor bears each student's burden in his own way. But after all, this journey is a personal one - and you can choose to see the positive or you can dwell on the negative. It is up to you. As a side note - just look at the energy in that photo. Can you locate the two grading students? Like other events on the path, it's hard to really capture the essence of what an individual takes away on their own subjective journey. 

The martial arts dojang is a nurturing and safe place. It has to be preserved as a safe place through the tenet of self-control. There are two ends of this spectrum of self control. One is that practice can be dangerous and lethal. So we study techniques with 'the safety on' and we do want to ensure the wellness of all student practitioners within a controlled environment.

At the other end of the 'self-control spectrum', the dojang is also a place which challenges each student at every turn. This is in order that practitioners to focus and eventually perform feats they were not capable of when they started. We gradually desensitise student practitioners to physical intimidation, proximity, and pain (within reason). Superficially, these challenges are physical, but the truth is there are mental and spiritual challenges that they will need to push through in order to reap the benefit of martial art training.

As the student encounters these obstacles and pushes past them, they grow as practitioners and as individuals. The ascension through these events occur at similar points for each student, though individuals may experience them in their own time frame.

Proctor Dojo. Sensei Mike Proctor invited me to his garage dojo in 1991, a year after this photo was taken. Participants go there, fight for 3 minutes and rest for one. No rank is issued. Class does not a really consist of a 'formal' lesson plan. I remember my first session vividly. It really was a meeting point where my inadequate training, faulty assumptions, inexperience, came to face an acid test of opponents who were uncompromising in their own practice. I was kicked into the wall and clipped into place by the cracks holding on to my t-shirt. I was on the verge of tears as Mr Proctor asked me if I was okay. All I could do was will myself to stand up, and press on. And I think that was one of the truest ways I believed I earned my black belt. No one can take it away from me.

Go past your fears. Win the day. Become a stronger person. Or retreat. Quit.

Taekwondo is not for everyone. Many cannot even think to join the dojang for fear of the rigorous training and their own inadequacy. Embark on the way, have your weaknesses exposed like a raw nerve, then quit, and maybe feel worse than worthless. In truth, no one will think less of you either in the dojang or outside either way - unless you decide to betray your own fears and your misgivings.

For parents who are concerned for their children, we invite you to understand more of these issues. To answer the question Should Children Get Struck in Practice. But if you are uncomfortable with this manner of training, please do not bring your child to Joong Do Kwan. There are many institutions in Perth which provide adequate child care facilities; that has never been our mission.

It is an interesting relationship between those who are young in the path and those more experienced. Juniors are depending on their guidance, yet the guidance may come in a form you are not exactly expecting. The trainee may then form an impression of this senior based on some 'real world' or 'civilian' measure which is inappropriate for the practice of Taekwondo. In this photo, guest instructor Colin Wee teaches at Kidokwan Perth. He has taken a fellow black belt down to the ground and is in the process of applying an elbow lock or some strike whilst the opponent is unable to counter. At the same time, you can see that he has held the opponent up so that the resulting impact with the ground would not be dangerous, and his knees are hovering above the opponent's ribs, not smashing into them - it is important to maintain Training Safety! These two sides of the coin are what characterises the dojang - and should be something all practitioners need to reflect on as they nurture themselves and others on the way.

The path may follow you out of the dojang! To let it weigh you down, or to use it to raise yourself up ... how you interpret the phenomenological world is entirely up to you. As an instructor, I can help you along the way, but your journey is yours to travel.

Some of the questions you may contemplate after this article:
  1. What are your fears, and how do you manage them? Do you avoid them? Have you confronted your fears? Can you see a time where you have dealt with a fear and moved on?
  2. Have you met a person who exudes a different 'energy', a quiet confidence, or has an unexplained presence about them? How do you think this can be achieved?
  3. What do you think you need to do to earn your black belt one day? Or if you are already a student practitioner, what do you need to do to become a master of your art?

An expanded version of this article was submitted to Totally Tae Kwon Do Magazine. Please also read Tenets of Taekwondo and Dojang Etiquette.

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