Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

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

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

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

 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

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

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

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

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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  • Aug 1 - Do you need to get struck in practice? Do Children?
  • Aug 7 - Application training is not complete training
  • Aug 8 - Martial Arts and Male Depression

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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.

Upcoming Articles
  • July 31 - Historical faction article on Choi Hong Hi written for Totally Taekwondo
  • Aug 1 - Do you need to get struck in practice? Do Children?
  • Aug 7 - Application training is not complete training

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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.

Upcoming Articles
  • July 25 - What role does TKD have in a post 9/11 world?
  • July 31 - Historical faction article on Choi Hong Hi written for Totally Taekwondo
  • Aug 1 - Do you need to get struck in practice? Do Children?

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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.

Upcoming Posts

  • Why do we share what we do?
  • What role does Taekwondo have in a Post 9/11 world?
  • 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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11 Jul 2017

Are You Alright?

Are you bullied at school? Feeling depressed and feel like there's no one to turn to? Experiencing domestic violence? Demeaned? Ridiculed? Isolated?

If you like, we can ignore all of that when you train at JDK. Not so much ignoring your suffering, but we can help you focus on something other than your situation - to give you breathing room - and we won't talk about any issue if you are not feeling comfortable enough or ready to do so.

Martial Arts training is 'interesting' - we practice lethal techniques but in a controlled, nurturing and safe environment. Everything we do can be explained by physics, so in a sense as we train your body and your bio mechanical movements, we are allowing you to do extraordinary things with your bare hands and feet.

Colin Wee before and after training. Left - as a young 11 yo. Right - as a 41 year old. Yes, I have experienced bullying, and domestic violence. The martial art training I embarked on was to delve into an alternate universe in my head. It allowed me to create my own confidence and inner strength. It would be my honour to share my insight with yourself or your friends in any way possible.

While many of these things we do are confronting, the nature of the training, and the deliberate and incremental desensitisation works to develop very positive results in a wide range of people. I have seen the benefits of such training both on myself and on other people.

I may not experience what you are experiencing and I may not be able to help you solve your own personal problem. Or perhaps I can make it better just by being there. But through Taekwondo's Tenets and martial arts training I can offer you something else which will develop abilities you could only dream of. A visit to our dojang will take you out of your own world. Our training system shares a very different world view with all practitioners.

Of course I urge you to look for support from your family, teachers, friends, or your health care professionals (see Kids Helpline). But if they can't help you, I would love to share something that can. And, I will ...

... train you like your life depended on it. Same as everyone else.

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  • July 17 - My Taekwondo history from the 1990s in the USA
  • July 18 - Inspirational messages that fall short of reality
  • July 24 - Why do we share our martial arts and open ourselves up to criticism?. 

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10 Jul 2017

Front Kick Counter, and Lessons on Applications

Who reads the preambles that I write for these YouTube videos? I hope people do.

The above video shows a front kick counter. The preamble goes something like this

Published on Jun 23, 2017 
Dosan. If anything sticks out from this form, it should be that this is the first form in Taekwondo that teaches you the front kick. And then? And then everyone that teaches it hangs you out to dry by probably teaching you how to block that kick using a low block. 
Don't snort at the front kick. It is lethal and effective. It is no nonsense. It is subversive. And it will hurt you. Meaning you need to do it well enough to do the same to everyone else. Extending this logic, when people do it back to you - you need some idea as to what to do against it. 
Any basic or fundamental technique you do needs to have a counter because someone else is going to do it back to you. 
Here is one of the counters that work to stop a front kick. Just shoot your knee out - just like a fold for a front kick, to stop the oncoming kick. As the man in the video sez - no one wants to clash shins with a knee, especially at maximum acceleration. 
The circular move I do with my foot and then return fire using that front leg extension? It just occurred to me that that was what I wanted to do at the time. You can move into any other technique as you desire, or as you were trained to do. 
Lastly - the title says 'from Dosan'. Is it really from Dosan? You tell me. :-)
Let me explain it to you, focusing your attention on the main takeaway lesson. What the guy is trying to say is ...


Either during the same form, before, or very soon after. You should never really learn a technique without learning its counter. Now I didn't say you needed to look at the form for the defence. I'm just saying - if a form throws out something to you, it's just like someone using a sticky note pad and writing 'front kick'. And from that simple little note, you should be able to summarize in your head how to throw the kick, how to feint it in, variations of the technique, and defending against someone using the technique against you.

So many use the word 'applications'. And what does that word mean to you? Well, it means you take something and apply it against something else. It doesn't tell you to just apply it once. For the martial artist, the word means apply it as many times as required.

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4 Jul 2017

How Old Can a Child Start Martial Arts?

How old can a child start martial arts?

My son aged just under 3 years old tries on his first martial arts uniform while I look on - not really knowing what to do.

There are countries - I'm thinking China, Korea, and Japan - which start children in martial arts as early as 3 years old. The training provided is not like your normal child care activity. Children are made to train long and hard to establish movements that will ultimately make them proficient at high-level international sportive competitions.

Uniforms make a great costume - much the same as the telly tubby costume we borrowed from the toy library.

I fear that serious and rigorous training at that young age will rob a child of their youth - and should be embarked on with great care and deliberation. There are other programs like Suzuki Violin, or Montessori education which may be more nurturing, and might provide young parents with a value system or learning pedagogy which might help them raise their little children.

This is my son on his first day at Montessori - aged 3 years old. Montessori was a fantastic system which gave me loads of tools as a young parent. I can be more grateful

I started representing my country in Archery competitions, competing against adults when I was only 13 years old. Working backwards from there means that I started my archery training from when I was 6 years old, and started competing when I was about 11 years old.

From my experience as a young athlete, I would typically ask parents what their motivation and their goals of training are for their child at such a young age. I have no bias, if you know you want a social program for fun, that is fine. Or at the other end of the spectrum - if you have an indication that your child has some level of talent and your family has the right environment to support them, well, that's fantastic.

My son starts violin. That's his work area he's standing on, and there's his wonderful violin teacher which has guided his every step on his musical path.

My family chose to put my son aged 3 years and a bit into a Suzuki violin program because of his innate pitch and sense of rhythm. It was early days but we didn't have inflated expectations - our aim for Suzuki was to get him acquainted with a musical instrument and have the music that could accompany him for the rest of his life. After 12 years under the same teacher, he is a fairly solid musician, though we believe his plans are to not pursue it as an ATAR subject but continue with practice and activities as a nice bonus to his resume.

Colin aged 15 years old demonstrating some martial art-y stuff in front of his school. I just didn't realise that no one really was that entertained except for the guys who were doing the demo with me. We were such geeks. I am grateful for simply having the opportunity.

I myself started martial arts training when I was 13 years old - it was a passion of mine which I pursued of my own accord. It would be an activity that would see me practice an hour every day after school. It gave me a code. It gave me my fitness. And I am now a world leader in my chosen discipline.

One of my first archery competitions - I nicked the national colours off my dad, who was a National representative, and who encouraged me through his own participation.

For many years, I believed that 13 or 14 years old was the minimum age which I will accept pupils into my school. And for many years, I did that. Of the few children who did train with me, many of whom had the honour of not being treated as children but as adults in my program. There are good and bad points of that, but my intention was to train dedicated and serious practitioners through my system.
This is the most compelling before and after photo I can show you. Left is me aged 11 years old before I embarked on a portion control diet and martial arts training. Right is of me aged 41 years old - after about thirty years of training. Martial arts training I credit with everything from helping me to keep fit, to stress relief, to being a good husband, a protector for the family, and a nice person. It is hands down the best all round training I have ever received in my life. Don't let me stop you from enrolling yourself or your child in any martial arts program!!!

As an instructor, a father, and from my experience through the years as a board member of the various schools my children have attended, I am happy to start the school age child as young as 5+ years old in a martial arts training program. The caveat is that the child and you need to be ready to support the training environment in which we are creating. This includes a probation period like any other traditional martial arts school plus the ability for you to support our instruction on the floor. That however is not a pass for you to helicopter parent your child or contradict instruction or instructors.

Please note for children that young, we are using a syllabus to train the most minimal gross motor skills - this is not the same syllabus as that used to train adolescents.

I am proud of my son - he did a few years of Judo, not with my school. He also did a few months of self defence training with me. But it is not his passion, so I can only extend my invitation to him - I won't force him to do something for the sake of my own expectations, even if I know it'll be great for him. 

Last thoughts - there are many things you can teach your child even before they are old enough to get to a martial arts class. Look at the Tenets of Taekwondo - focusing just on the first three. It's not difficult for your child to emulate Courtesy if you only ever show generosity of spirit and good manners in your household and when you interact with others. Show your child how to have Integrity - by maintaining high moral values and ethical principles. And lastly, keep Persevering at activities that mean a lot to you and your family. These are three significant areas which you can share with your child - helping them become a good person without even stepping into a martial arts dojang.

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3 Jul 2017

Fight Science Video on Most Powerful Kick

The takeaway from this experiment is efficiency - doing more work with equal force. Not "about speed."

The capoeira kick transferred more body mass into the striking tool in comparison to the TKD kick. Isn't that what martial arts is supposed to be? Taking even a scrawny person and making them achieve their 100%? Not everyone is going to be accelerating their leg to 136mph, but everyone who can sling a kick should make their kick deliver up to that 18 times 'pounds of force' from each mile per hour they travel. I believe I can achieve that ratio and probably exceed it with some kicks I use.

I just might not look at buff as these guys. Might probably be better than Simon Rhee. But not by much. LOL.

As a side note - this little 'science experiment' compares apples and oranges. Notice how all the kicks are different? The only two that were probably similar are the Muay Thai kick and the TKD roundhouse. And then again the Muay Thai kick was probably done more mid range, and the TKD one extended to a long range strike - thus explaining the small gain of speed, and the massive jump in the ratio of speed to force.

Keep training. But more importantly ... keep thinking!!!

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