Training Warriors for the 21st Century

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

20 Nov 2017

The Bruce Lee that I knew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13 Nov 2017

Etiquette, The Tenets, and the 道 of Taekwondo

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

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

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

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

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

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


Capture of my blog post on The Tenets of Taekwondo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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About the Author

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

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

Things that Make You Go 武 [True Story]

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

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

A Google search for Tiger Mouth strike to neck produced this winner from https://i.ytimg.com/vi/L25nqXFQY6g/hqdefault.jpg - we don't train the tiger mouth strike to the neck, but this was a perfect application in lieu of the 'Judo hold' where you grab the sleeve of the dobok and then the lapel. In the situation above, the opponent wasn't wearing a dobok - so his thin shirt would not have been an adequate purchase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The Bruce Lee that I Knew
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