Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

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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16 Oct 2017

Revisiting the Sine Wave for Tactical Training

I practice a version of Taekwondo that was exported out of Korea in the mid '50s.

That is, exported out of Korea before the formation of the ITF and WTF. Our patterns are done in long stances, we stress an equal emphasis on feet and hand strikes, and our timing and focus seem straight out of Karate 101 - All that thanks to our Chung Do Kwan lineage.

While attending seminars, another difference that has been pointed out by my ITF brothers is that I have yet to adopt Taekwondo’s new Sine Wave concept. Thus it seems I’m not keyed in on the massive evolution of Taekwondo from the 1960s and onwards.

The Sine Wave concept is one of the core components of a scientific approach modern Taekwondo instructors say defines Taekwondo. It is a power generation tactic which originally relied on a raise of one’s centre of gravity between techniques, ‘cocking’ the striking weapon fully and then dropping it when the strike is delivered. Apparently, a newer version of the Sine Wave exists which requires first a drop, then raise, before the final drop and delivery. It seems between these two, there are further variations that affect the timing and the amplitude of the drop.

A quick search on YouTube will show numerous examples of proponents pumping their legs through their pattern demonstrations; rising and falling whilst emulating sine wave graphs you might find in a tertiary-level physics or maths textbook.

Matching the number of Sine Wave proponents is the criticism of the Sine Wave from both non-Sine Wave Taekwondo practitioners and the wider martial arts community. Looking at a thread from one online forum shows the following general complaints:

  • Dislike for the bounciness and robotic rhythm
  • Affects the stability of the stance
  • Doesn’t really help with the generation of additional power
  • Other ‘hard hitting’ martial arts don’t use such exaggerated motion
  • It slows you down

They are of course right, and wrong.

As a power generation tactic, the Sine Wave can be a legitimate technique that will generate power. How often have we heard the self-defence advice to ‘drop your body’ whilst striking? The body drop stabilises you to the ground and improves the skeletal structure supporting your striking tool.

You can try this - strike a focus mitt with a heel palm whilst dropping your body with the strike. Irrespective of the body dropping perpendicularly to the strike, you strike harder when your body compresses and when a ‘lock down’ your muscles occurs at the point of impact. The effective mass behind your strike consists of your arm connected to your upper body in turn connected through your body core to your legs.

If you had done the same standing upright and relaxed, your strike would have only been driven by arm strength. An arm-only strike would have been disconnected from the rest of the body without muscle ‘lock down,’ and upon impact would have rebounded, sending your upper body backward. Without the drop of your body, your centre of gravity would have been further away from the ground and thus the effective mass behind the strike would have been far less than if you had dropped your body to support your strike.

Beyond this justification for power generation, I think the Sine Wave concept is a brilliant fit for the modern Taekwondo practitioner’s preference for high section and long range kicks. Stretching out for a high kick naturally lifts one side of your hip upwards, elevating your centre of gravity. After delivering such a kick, to drop your centre back down to reengage with upper body strikes requires the very same body drop the Sine Wave concept encourages.

Unfortunately, while the Sine Wave can be a legitimate power generation technique, there are many other power generation techniques that are equally legitimate. I myself drop body weight all the time, though not necessarily for all strikes. The reason is this - my centre of gravity is kept low to the ground anyway, so when lunging forward to gap close, I don’t want the additional rise and drop which slows me down. So while some die hard Sine Wavers might feel badly for my backward ways, I feel I can still pride myself on the speed of linear movement.

From a Traditional Taekwondo perspective, one thing that surprises me is this constant focus on the Sine Wave as a ‘new and improved’ power generation technique. In my curriculum, you don’t need to go very far beyond the basics to feel good hard-style power. To list our main power generation tactics, you have: a linear lunging motion, hip twist or vibration, shoulder rotation, dropping of centre of gravity, raising of centre of gravity (they don’t always go together,) body compression, body expansion, ‘pendulum’ swing, shearing of the arms, and a whipping action.

I think the real challenge for Sine Wave proponents is to stop thinking of the Sine Wave as a be-all-end-all power generation catchphrase. What needs to happen is for proponents to figure out how dropping and raising your centre impacts combat effectiveness vis-à-vis the sophisticated kicks Taekwondo players are renown for. For example, why do boxers bob and weave? They don’t do this to generate power. They bob and weave to make it harder for an opponent to land strikes! They move so they can locate openings! Thinking this way would prompt a person to ask how would a kicker use the Sine Wave to support hand strikes or how will it increase the versatility of close quarter defences?

In the following lists, I overview some advantages of body compression and expansion which are similar mechanics to Taekwondo’s Sine Wave motion. This is a brief description of what our school does in both self-defence and close quarter fighting. For example, when you drop your centre or compress the body, this helps techniques that are improved with gravity, like limb destruction techniques and takedowns. When you rise or expand the body, this may complement techniques like the rising block, an upset punch, or even a head butt.

Body compression and expansion from a Traditional Taekwondo Perspective

(Apex to Trough)
Limb destruction techniques
Trapping of opponent’s hands
Takedowns or joint locks
Reduction of target area

(Trough to Apex)
Rising strikes into face/neck/solar plexus
Use of non-orthodox weapons like headbutt, shoulder strikes

As an example, in a ‘self defence’ scenario, if someone made a grab for my shirt and pulled his arm back to strike, I could respond by striking the opponent’s arm with a downward forearm strike and body drop. As he falters forward I would then rise up and apply an upper block into his neck.

On the other hand, applying the Sine Wave in sparring may prompt proponents to alternate between high and low section attacks using hand and leg combinations. This is as opposed to just relying on kick combinations and then throwing the occasional hand strike.

The body compression and expansion I have mentioned above have been a part of my training ever since I was adopted into this lineage back in the early 90s. But ours isn’t a directive applied to pattern performance. It’s just a skill that complements tactics we use in our training.

My conclusion is that the use of natural body movement and good martial principles has to be at the heart of any solid martial art practice. I know there are always those practitioners overly concerned with the cosmetics of their style. Do you think this has happened with the Sine Wave? Is this why it's been taken to the nth degree?

In conclusion, the Sine Wave is not entirely misplaced, and I see opportunities where it can bring value to a practitioner. Again my own practice includes similar body dynamics; I’ve just chosen not to make too much of a fuss about it.

Note: This article, originally titled "Is the Sine Wave a New Trick for this Old Dog?" was submitted and published in Totally Taekwondo Issue 35 January 2012. This document has been modified July 28 2017 and republished on this blog.

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9 Oct 2017

Talking About One Technique

Sensei Johannes Regell, Kissaki-Kai, Sweden

I don't know Johannes.

I just happened on some of his videos on FaceBook group Passai/Patsai/Bassai Dai-Sho. What I like about this sensei and what he has produced - is the passion he exudes, and the quality of the video content. There are stylistic differences in what we both practice, but there are overlapping training areas as I do practice Bassai, which is a Traditional Taekwondo variant of the Okinawan Passai that Johannes practices.

In this video above, I like to draw your attention to his lesson - and the fact he is working just one technique from the opening sequence of Passai. From experience in video-ing my lessons, I know for a fact that however much you show on a video, there are lengths of video that you cut out or omit from the final article. Meaning that from this one technique, Johannes has produced a quality lesson where he talks about pragmatic concepts and combative tools for 8 minutes - and probably in real time spent at least double if not triple that amount of time with his audience.

Given the opportunity, and if he had more time, I'm sure he could extend this lesson incorporating different scenarios, and I reckon he could easily craft a session of a full 1.5 hour class (at least) devoted to this one technique alone.

This is the point I've been making in some of my articles and videos - that the kata or hyung is not there to limit your worldview of what a technique is. There are fundamental skills you need to know, and the kata or hyung is there to inspire you to develop those skills. If you take that idea a step further, Johannes should be able to escape a simple wrist grab for instance, cork the guy in the thigh, and then do his takedown. Or he should be able to deal with a downward strike and follow through using his sequence. Or he should be able to escape a push onto a wall and then take the guy down. All using fairly standard and reusable skills from this and other kata he has.

The instructor and the training is there to help you develop pragmatic skills - not just to emulate the technique sequence. Certainly not there to just teach you how to step through one kata.

Notice too - the brilliant inclusion of the need to 'deescalate' the situation, the need to ensure safety of the person held in the head lock, and the respectful nature of how he's transacting with his uke. This is not only a skilled practitioner but an experienced instructor who is attempting to teach values, self defence principles, and inject some commonsense to his training environment.

This one technique alone could save your life and be part of an excellent self defence toolkit - yet on the date I wrote this, his YouTube video only received 1000 over views. A simple search for the media circus that is the Connor McGregor v Mayweather Promo shows popularity way excess of 100,000 views. Where's the sense in that? I don't know about you, but there's more to life than seeing two overpaid characters mouth off at each other.

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3 Oct 2017

JDK's Longstanding Christmas Gift Idea Challenge

This Christmas Gift Idea challenge was first issued in 2008.

We have now modified it to extend all year around. The idea is: you drop a relatively small deposit of $600 for two people to train, and if you make it to all our classes without missing two consecutive weeks, we pay this sum back to you IN FULL. This works out to a payment of just less than $30 per month of training.

However - remember, if you make it to the end of the year, you get the entire deposit back.

Take the challenge!

Perth Christmas Gift Idea Challenge - TRAIN FOR FREE FOR ONE YEAR!!!

The Traditional Taekwondo Perth Christmas Challenge is for you to bring yourself and your teenager (aged 13-19) down to JDK somewhere near Nedlands in Perth and train with us for a full year for FREE
You buy the uniform. You attend classes. We take care of the rest! 
How do you train for free? This is how it works - when you start and after you make it through our two-week probation period, you put a deposit of $600 for the both of you for our regular training sessions. This does not include any grading or other event fees (but I promise that won't break the bank). If you both make it to the end of the year, we give it back to you in full - no questions asked. If either of you quit or don't participate for two consecutive weeks of classes without a medical waiver (omitting family holidays), we get to keep the cash. Up for the challenge?
This offer is valid ANY TIME during the year - one pair per family. The day after Christmas for instance, if you feel like you're stuffed or hungover - you know where to come to detox. A month after the new year, and when your new year resolution just didn't cut it ... you know I'll be waiting for you. 

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2 Oct 2017

The Modernity of Yesterday is the Tradition of Today

The modernity of yesterday is the tradition of today, and the modernity of today will be the tradition tomorrow.
We do Traditional Taekwondo. I use that word 'Tradition' so often yet few pull me up on what tradition means to a garage dojang operating in Perth Western Australia.

Go through the About page or my bio on this site and you see our lineage was transported out of Korea in the mid 20th century to the US. With that comes the contextual practice some of which harks back to Japan, and thus Okinawa, and parts of it holds the hopes for a new post-War Korea.

Our practice seeks to celebrate and promote that lineage through the way we practice our hyung. In fact, the very choice of what hyung demarcates our historical context.

However, as that quote goes - the modernity of yesterday is our tradition of today. The key phrase is 'modernity' - and the essence of that is that of being contemporary, of being relevant, and of addressing issues that are clear and present. This is what traditional practice should be - an application of tradition - forming a progressive system for our times.

Look at the above video. We are pulling out an 'application' from Dosan.

The skill to check/trap, and then counter with backfist is an excellent skill for anyone to acquire. But push through, and incorporate an elbow roll inspired by a later sequence in the form, then a variation of the Double Palmok Markgi where you cater for a punch swung wide - and now we're venturing into territory of addressing a situation, and not a specific attack. The response is applied to what the opponent does to you. It's not simply a function of a sequence.

Upcoming Articles
  • Oct 9 Talking about One Technique
  • Oct 16 Revisiting the Sine Wave for Tactical Opportunities

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