The Tao of Taekwondo

Notes and reflections from a deeper practice of traditional taekwondo

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Art of War 1.19-1.24

"Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

A manual for kyrogi strategy, stemming from the principle of deception:

  1. Be active within, but hide your activity
  2. Be within range but seem out of range.
  3. Offer a target you can cover and counter attack when the bait is taken.
  4. Appear unbalanced and then strike.
  5. Be defensive if your opponent is too strong.
  6. If you find an opening that causes mindlessness, work it.
  7. Let your opponent think you are weaker than you are, an adopt a counter attacking stance.
  8. Split offence and defence. Don't let your opponent defend all the time, don't let your opponent attack all the time. Make it complicated.
  9. Use motions to feint and be in unexpected places, crowding your opponent or lurking just out of reach.

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Cambodian Bokator elbow strikes

A nice post from the Martial Arts Explorer:

Important keep your body soft and relaxed. Don’t use muscle power, use speed. Let your body be soft during the movement. Then, right before you hit, use power. All the punches and elbows of Bokator are close, in-fighting techniques, which should only travel three inches. The power comes form the speed and the air. You breath in before you hit, and when you hit, you release the air and the power comes. If you are holding your breath when you hit you will lose power and you could damage your lungs.

It is extremely important to twist the hips, twist the knee and ankle, and rotate on the ball of the foot as the elbow comes around. If you fail to twist your knee you will injure it. The master becomes subtle, relaxed his elbow shoots out and snaps like a whip and strikes the bag.

I am noticing a lot more these days, the origin of power coming from the ground and lower body. In the basic technique practice we have been drilling the last few weeks, my attention to is my core and below, standing in a solid stance and deriving power from the ground which gets torqued through the hips. All upper body techniques originate in the lower body.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Art of War 1.18

"All warfare is based on deception."
Bruce Lee says "Attack by deception, especially, is the attack of the master." Deception, when well executed, tires your opponent's resources which need to be employed and split between the attention to the moment and the attention to the alternative moment. Your opponent guesses, you remain sure. Your opponent loses her mind. You open up choices.


Art of War 1.16-1.17

"While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans."

Taekwondo is not an abstract art, it is a method of physical engagement with an opponent that is grounded in the real circumstances of the moment. There is no amount of theory or abstraction that will prepare you for a real fight. In the moment, all theory must be already be internalized and the execution of techniques must be in accordance with any advantage that is afforded to the practitioner. Pre-determined strategies might only help prepare one. Slavish attention to the game plan shades the prctitioner's senses from apprehending the real opportunities.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Noticing what self-criticism means

Yesterday in the dojang I was helping train our youth members. One youth, a 14 year old woman who embodies open heartedness, expressed to me her frustration in her training. She said her day was going perfectly until she came to train and in training everything went wrong - her breaking, kicking, stamina and accuracy was all wrong. She forgot moves in her poomsae and one-step sparring. She is a black stripe belt,and has been working to be ready for promotion, and these kinds of days are painful to her. She becomes critical of her abilities and capabilities, full of doubt and frustration.

I talked to her from the perspective of a real beginner. I shared with her that I have days like this all the time. The difference though is in how you treat what you learn about yourself. The fact that she notices that she did not meet her own expectations is a budding sign of mastery. It differentiates her from the more junior youth who come and go and don't even notice if they had a bad training day. She is able to notice what was lacking in her performance and she is beginning to be able to pinpoint the areas she needs to work on.

This is not a bad thing. It is good to know how much you suck on any given day. It shows an awareness of your body and you development that is a precondition to holding a black belt.

Her training is coming along perfectly.


Art of War 1.12-1.15

"Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:

  1. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
  2. Which of the two generals has most ability?
  3. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
  4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
  5. Which army is stronger?
  6. On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
  7. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: --let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat: --let such a one be dismissed! "

In kyrogi or a self-defence encounter, these seven considerations may come into play. In taekwondo it is this way:

  1. Which of the opponents has trained within his limitations and acts in accordance with time?
  2. Who has the most raw ability, the best skills, the quicker reflexes and the more devastating speed and power?
  3. Which opponent is able to respond best to the external conditions and make the best choices in the moment of the encounter?
  4. Which has trained with more discipline, understanding the essence of each move, having broken down the mechanics of every technique to find efficiencies and to find extraneous motions and pare them away? Whoever has engaged in this level of training and mastery has a definite advantage.
  5. Which opponent is the stronger both physically and emotionally? Strength of heart and indomitable spirit is as important as physical strength and perhaps even more so. In Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, this point is made clear. The prisoners who survived Nazi concentration camps were of stronger mind and heart than those who were of stronger body. While physical strength mattered the inner strength more often determined the survivor.
  6. Training for the encounter is a predictor of success. With no self-defence training, a taekwondoin is unable to respond to a self-defence situation. With no sparring tactics a player is not ready for kyrogi.
  7. The final point is about learning. Which opponent knows himself or herself better? Which is able to learn from and adjust to mistakes, errors, ineffective or inefficient techniques? Which has provided incentives for him or herself to improve in areas that are weak?
If we are to follow Sun Tzu's advice, training in these seven considerations leads to us developing an overall competence in our art.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Art of War 1.9-1.11

"The COMMANDER stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness. By METHOD AND DISCIPLINE are to be understood the
marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will
fail. "

Again the division of the one tao into two. The inner world of virtue and right view (in the Buddhist sense) combined with the outer worlds of right action. In taekwondo these might translate into a proper attitude combined with the method and discipline required to master techniques and tools. One informs the other.

Our school operates with a moral code that involves an oath, an acknowledgement to the tenets of taekwondo and a four part philosophy of patience, love, respect and humility. When techniques are learned within the context of a code of honour, the fighting and self-defense system becomes translated into a way of life. When techniques are learned without a code, one grows aggressive and mean spirited and irresponsible. The code provides restraint that mitigates the methods and discipline to create an art of peace and not one of war. THe art of war is the art of peace, practiced in balanced with these five constant factors.


Noticing the six A's in real life

Yesterday I was in a real life self-defense situation. Three men parked their van inappropriately in the ferry line up on my island, cutting oif people who had been lined up for hours. By cutting into the line they were pushing people off the next ferry sailing in blatant disregard of the rules.

As they got out of their van, I explained to them the etiquette of the ferry line up, but they argued that there was a space and so they were entitled to it regardless of the fact that they arrived late. When I suggested that the go to the end of the line, they said they wouldn't make the ferry. I explained that this was what they had now done to people that arrived before them and they reverted to the previous argument. They were aggressive, unwilling to listen, unwilling to make eye contact, loud and brazen.

Of course we didn't come to blows. That was never going to happen. There were three of them and me, it was in a public area among many people and it was hardly a life or death issue. But it was a self-defense situation. It was clear that these men were not interested in talking, and I suspect that they would have been quicker to violence than me. I realized later that I had progressed through the six A's of self defence, and here is my charting of my reaction.

1. Awareness

The encounter began as a conversation and I assumed that the men had made a mistake. But it quickly became clear that they knew exactly what they were doing and despite the fact that they would negatively impact others by flaunting the rules. My awareness was piqued by their physical movements (not making eye contact, raising their voices, striding around in a challenging and strutting way) and by their emotional escalation (shouting, making excuses, not connecting with an empathetic response). They were in the early stages of preparing to fight, by cutting themselves off from their feelings for others, inducing a kind of temporary psychopathy that would allow them to do damage. I noticed this and was aware of their raw response, but they didn't notice it in themselves. Clearly quick to anger, it occurred to me that these men probably have fought before out of raw emotional release. I wasn't interested in messing with them.

2. Avoidance

At the first sign of these physical and emotional signals, I backed out of the engagement. There was no chance to reason with them until cooler heads prevailed and although we stayed in the same physical space, I backed down. It was not worth pursuing a confrontation with them. Peace was served by letting them get away with their rule breaking. It was also clear that their air of intimidation had worked on others, as not one of the dozen or so other people who were watching felt confident enough to join me. Only one woman, in the car behind the van made a comment, but she was charged and quickly silenced by one of the men. Besides, I reasoned, asking the ferry crew to hold them back, or compelling them to go the back of the line would have resulted in them being on the island in our community for another hour, and I felt that it would be better for everyone if these men left the island.

To back out of the confrontation, I also had to let go of the "shoulds" in the situation. There was no point arguing that the should not have been able to get away with cheating, that somehow they should have been punished for their behaviour. What served peace was letting them cool down and letting the leave the island. That was most important.

3. Adrenal control

I was very aware of the adrenalin flowing in my system as the conversation became heated. After I backed down, I stayed in the area, and so did they and I used the opportunity to calm myself and get a hold of my own adrenalin. It was a good test for me to see if I could become calm in the presence of these men, who were taking longer to come down than I was. Once I was calm and seeing them as just visitors to the island, I realized that I had more clarity about them. They still were wary of me, shooting sideways glances at me, and knowing where I was. I think they were prepared for a further confrontation, getting their stories straight, but I was clear and calm enough that I never gave them an opening to continue the argument. I stayed near them, breathing and avoiding eye contact, but trying to bring peace to the surrounding area.

Coincidentally, I was wearing my Bowen Island Taekwondo t-shirt yesterday, and I wonder a little whether they noticed that and were just a little more wary of me, not knowing what implications that had for being in confrontation. They certainly treated me with a little more respect that the woman who spoke up, even though she was safe in her car and I was standing openly on th street with them.

It was interesting to me to note that I was not afraid. Being aware of an adrenal reaction is not the same as being afraid. I think that the experience of fear must be the adrenalin experience without awareness.

4. Assertive communication.

My silence was a very assertive act, from an um perpsective. I steadfastly refused to engage any further with these men, staying instead in a larger thought that what was most important was calm rather than confrontation. I had the impression that the men were looking for a fight, but it wasn't coming from the other side. We were in a dynamic relationship, embodying um and yang. I adopted an um stance that was as much as possible a mirror of the yang energy coming from the men. In this way we swirled, but there was quiet. Assertive yang meets assertive um.

5. Action

Non-action as action, a high taoist principle. Not every fight needs blows. Stillness and relaxation is sometimes a faster way to steal anger and restore peace than a physical fight.

6. Adjustment

In this emotional sparring, I adjusted. I moved further away from them, but still stayed in proximity, in order mostly to practice for a few minutes. Had I moved closer to the men, the situation would have escalated. This was not in anyone's interest.

In the moment, once I became clear that this was not a conversation but instead was a self-defense situation, I felt the six A's come into play. It is interesting to note how these stages appear from an um perspective, a very different take than if I had been in a yang situation.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Art of War 1.7-1.8

HEAVEN signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. EARTH comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

The ephemeral and the creative juxtaposed against the grounded and the practical. If you think of these as conditions of engagement, then heaven is the interior and creative conditions of the opponent and earth is the ground upon which you engage. The tao is the undifferentiated source of action, immediately divided into these two, the interior and the exterior, that which is out of your control and that which is under your control. There can be no choices about what heaven brings, but what earth brings is all about choices. Mastering both is the way to be completely a master of taekwondo. In training this means learning about the unpredictability of time and flow, training one to sense and take advantage of openings, and making good choices to not place yourself in danger. It could look like this:

Training in the conditions of heaven

  • Working on timing and quickness
  • Working with self-defense techniques to respond to an attack
  • Developing a sense of flow in kyrogi
  • Reading an opponent
  • Meditation to still one's mind and empty one's expectations that conditions will be those you desire. This is about acquainting yourself to work with reality.
Training in the conditions of earth
  • Making good choices to avoid confrontation. In our dojang we learn the six A's of self defence: awareness, avoidance, adrenal control, assertiveness, action, adjustment.
  • Being aware of the best places to strike an opponent, and the best places to keep covered. In simple practice, this means keeping your guard up while attacking. In more advanced practice it means striking precisely in vulnerable places, such as pressure points and debilitating bio-mechanical processes.
  • In kyrogi, training in strategy and tactics to take advantage of of timing and openings and favourable conditions.
  • Meditation to visualize techniques so that one can internalize patterns in order to support good choices in self-defense situations.

Photo by The Wandering Angel

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Art of War 1.5-1.6

The MORAL LAW causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

In the personal case, the moral law is the tao, and the ruler is the dynamic principles of taegeuk. If you are alinged with the tao, and are obidient to the dynamic forces embodied in th etaegeuk, you will attain the courage needed to stand in the face of any opponent. You are confident to know that you can flow forward or backward as the case requires, and you avoid flinching in the face of attack.

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Art of War 1.3-1.4

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

We'll get more into each of these, but this section reminds me that taekwondo as a whole style and as an art can be grounded also in high level principles. We talk of the tenets of taekwondo: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit. In our dojang we also have a philosophy of Patience, Love, Respect and Humilty and we have an oath which we recite together at the beginning of a training session:

  1. I shall follow my conscience
  2. I shall have peace of mind
  3. I shall have a sound body
  4. I shall fulfill my duty
  5. I shall have etiquette
  6. I shall express my love for others
  7. I shall increase my knowledge
  8. I shall have happiness
  9. I shall have an indomitable spirit.
When I first started practicing taekwondo, the philosophical and ethical context was very important to me, and it still is. When we train in deadly arts within this context, it deepens the physical practice and grounds it in a serious ethical and moral practice. The art of war and the way of war is a serious undertaking, and it is not merely a collection of physical techniques and tactics. It is grounded in a world view that serves life, peace and balance.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Art of War 1.1 - 1.2

"The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected."
This begins a series of relections on Taoist texts as they relate to my own practice of taekwondo. The above is from Sun Tzu's Art of War.

One way to read a text like this is to bring it into the personal. When Sun Tzu talks about war, we can read this as combat, when he talks about the state, we can read it as the person, when he talks about armies, we can read it as our own weapons and techniques. One of the features of Taoist principles is that they are fractal and that they translate through many scales. One of the tenets of taekwondo is "Integrity" meaning that we meet the world the same way, out of the same principles, no matter if we are fighting one on one, or army to army. The strategy has integrity.

So the state here could be the body and the reference to vitality is about the living energy of the body. The art of war is about the vital energy of the body, and it is training in using and protecting that vital energy. Any action that we train in taekwondo has the potential to kill or to prevent being killed. Any choice that we make is a choice that ultimately may lead to those two end points. To train in in the physical art of taekwondo without also training and inquiry ito the ethics and strategy of using these tools is, for me, to only train in half the art, and to forget the ethics of the choices .

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inside the dojang

From an interview with Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura on the teaching of karate-do. He has some nice things to say about the "do" part of karate-do. What he says about the dojo also applies to the dojang:

So the way we call dojo, it means a place you find out about yourself, place you find enlightenment, place you find your way, your sincere way. It's not a gym, club, a place of socializing or getting a date, but place to study own self, to learn techniques but also gain spiritual and mental knowledge. I hope each student studies karate, their dojo is also like a second home. Each time you come you feel so comfortable, but also appreciate and feel more serious too, similar feeling to when you go to church, or when you go to special ceremony place. You feel like, kind of dignity.

I feel this way about the dojang, and I have cultivated it as well. Bring work to the mat. Bring your fears there, your conflicts, your challenge and struggle. On the mat you can burn it off, learn about yourself and develop perspective.

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Balance and conflict

From a great essay on Aikido and conflict resolution:
Learning some of Aikido's natural responses helps people absorb conflict resolution principles at a physical level, in the body. They can then apply the principles to non-physical situations. For example, in South Africa, a colleague has been doing programs in the gold mines with management and labor. When his clients experienced the distinction between confrontation and working with an opponent at a physical level, the metaphoric light bulbs began to go on. Their willingness to consider new ways of working together on issues increased.

Aikido is rich in movements that can be used for this purpose, for example, a simple shoulder grab. If you grab someone on the shoulder, his tendency is to react, to hold his ground, and perhaps to grab at your hand. This, of course, makes him less stable and more vulnerable to additional attacks from you for his focus is on the grab, not on the rest of you. Our workshop participants work with a partner on this simple move, imagining the grab as a non-physical attack in their lives - perhaps a retort from a child or a fellow worker. They notice their internal response as they are grabbed - increased tension, rapid breathing or maybe holding their breath, etc. Next they play with the simple alternative of stepping aside, drawing their shoulder just out of reach of the attacker, so their partner loses balance in grabbing for them. The participants receive the immediate physiological and mental feedback that by stepping off line of an attack, tension dissipates, they are still in balance, and their attacker is no longer in a position to continue attacking. They are able to make a distinction between stepping aside with awareness of the source of the attack and running away or ducking the attacker's punch or grab.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Courage in space

Photo by Stelpa

In sparring, courage is needed to give your opponent space. We want to react to an opponent by charging into him, not allowing him to deliver a technique. But doing this, unless it can be sustained until the bout is won, leaves you open to attack, off balance and most importantly, out of your mind.

At some point you have to fall back , if only to breathe or because your opponent has evaded you or hit you with an effective counter attack. From this place, courage is paramount - the courage to stand in what is coming, to have the patience to read it and then to deliver a counter or a defensive technique and to let your opponent fall, tip or lose her mind.

This is true in living as wel, allowing space for others to fail, instead of charging in to attack them at the first sign of your own distress. Parenting especially, benefits from this.

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Drills to strngthn legs

Lots of work these days in the dojang on leg strength and kicking form. Three impressive drills stand out.
  1. Supported slow kicks. Standing against a wall execute slow 10 slow kicks. Hold the last kick for ten seconds. Repeat for roundhouse, front, back and side kicks.
  2. Lying on the floor, execute ten slow kicks, roundhouse, front, back and side.
  3. "T-stance squat." The easiest way to describe this is to stand with your legs in a fighting stance, turn the front foot in 90 degrees and the back foot points forward. Squat and hold.
Upper leg, thigh and hip strength are everything. These are good drills, and highly portable.


Monday, July 16, 2007

To Cause a Loss of Balance

From Mushashi's Book of Five Rings, on how to cause balance to be lost:

Many things can cause a loss of balance. One cause is danger, another is hardship, and another is surprise. You must research this.

In large-scale strategy it is important to cause loss of balance. Attack without warning where the enemy is not expecting it, and while his spirit is undecided follow up your advantage and, having the lead, defeat him.

Or, in single combat, start by making a show of being slow, then suddenly attack strongly. Without allowing him space for breath to recover from the fluctuation of spirit, you must grasp the opportunity to win. Get the feel of this.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Drills for injured practitioners

When you are injured, it's hard to get to a full training, but taekwondo is more than a physical discipline, and there are a multitude of ways of training that are easy if you are unable to give a full session in the dojang. Here are a few:

Upper Body (for lower body injuries - all can be done seated)
  • Strengthen wrists and forearms with air grabbing practice.
  • Practice punching from a seated position (a good self-defense practice)
  • Stretching wrists, shoulders, arms and neck
  • Working upper body portions of poomsae
  • Juggling for balance and coordination
  • Blocking drills
Lower Body (for upper body injuries)
  • Supported kicking
  • Slowly breaking down kicking techniques to understand them better
  • Working on poomsae (especially stances)
  • Footwork and shadow sparring with no hand strikes
  • Stretching and strengthening lower body
  • Running, walking, bike riding, swimming and other endurance cross training.
  • Reading martial arts books, websites and articles
  • Writing out patterns, one step sparring techniques or other techniques to help understand them and be able to teach them better.
  • Blogging your learning.
  • Visualization exercises, such as virtual sparring or sizing up people in public places and imagining how you might defend yourself against them or take them down. This is basically training in awareness, not as sociopathic as it sounds!.
  • Meditation to deal with the stories you are cultivating about what your injury means for your practice.
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Being in nature and seeing it with an eye to your practice. What can I learn from being in the forest? How do trees stand? How do animals prepare to pounce?
  • Using your injury as an opponent that takes your through emotional experiences of disappointment, stress, worry, fear, pain, and discouragement. This provides an excellent opportunity to really see how those emotional states affect your life.
Of course none of this is even remotely responsible to do if it means hurting yourself more. These are just suggestions, a quick list of ideas that might help inspire practice to continue even if the mat is out of the question. Consult doctors, etc. I have used all of these methods with the variety of injuries I have sustained over the years, ranging from a sprained ankle, broken toe and strained shoulder to various illnesses, food poisonings and other delightful maladies that kept me from training in the dojang. I have found that they have all expanded my practice of taekwondo beyond simply target kicking and poomsae.

And one further suggestion: if you can, come to the dojang anyway. If you are a senior belt, you can help train others, which is good practice, or you might hold targets or lead stretching. If you are a junior belt show up and do what you can and absorb the rest, making notes about stuff to practice on your own once you are feeling better.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ten self defense techniques

Two sets of self defense techniques we are currently studying. These are rough notes, more for my own mnemonic than anything.

Wrist grab techniques (all performed on the right hand)
  1. (Double hands grabbing one wrist) Use left hand to stick upper hand to wrist. Turn right wrist outside and force down with a knife hand, pointing right at the attacker's nose.
  2. Use left hand to peel opponent's right hand off and stay in contact as you roll the wrist outside and force the opponent to the ground.
  3. Use held wrist to grab attacker's wrist, step under attacker's right arm, pull his right arm through and force elbow over and down.
  4. Use held wrist to grab attacker's wrist, step under left arm, lock opponent against your back, take two steps forward and throw him.
  5. Aikido move. Bring right arm through Tan Jun and force outside stepping back with the right leg. Lead opponent around and raise left arm to turn back and drop.
Shoulder grab techniques.

  1. Attacker has hands on shoulders. Reach under and across with right hand. Execute a wrist lock and force down the attacker's elbow to drop
  2. Reach up with left hand to attacker's right hand. Deliver a palm strike with right hand to attacker's chin. Execute a wrist lock, and use right hand to force attacker down by rolling him outside.
  3. Attacker charging. Reach under with right arm and over with left arm. Engage attacker and swing him past you dropping down on the right knee as he goes by.
  4. Attacker charging. Same as before except engage a head and arm lock. Drop on the left knee and stay in contact with attacker's head as attacker sails over you. Complete by laying back on the attacker in a wide supine stance and choking with the attacker's right arm folded over his mouth. Lift head slightly to clinch.
  5. Attacker charging. Drop down to right ready crouch and block high with right hand, grabbing attacker's left hand. Reverse the stance and buckle out the right knee as attacker sails over your back.


Elements of Taegeuk poomsae

All of the eight Taegeuk poomsae contain the following techniques:

  • Ready stance
  • Traditional fighting stance
  • Front stance
  • Walking stance
  • Back stance
  • Horse riding stance
  • Cross stance
  • Tiger stance

  • Down block
  • Inner block
  • High block
  • Outer block
  • Single knife hand block
  • Double knife hand block (low and middle)
  • High knife hand bock
  • High ridge hand block
  • Palm block
  • Double outer block
  • Scissors block
  • Cross down block
  • Half mountain block

Hand strikes
  • Reverse punch
  • Double punch
  • Knife hand strike
  • Supported spearhand strike
  • Backfist
  • Supported back fist
  • Hammer fist
  • Elbow strike
  • Double upper cut
  • Side punch
  • Upper cut
  • Front kick
  • Side kick
  • Roundhouse kick
  • Knee strike
  • Outside in crescent kick
  • Jumping front kick
These techniques are basic and encoded in the Taegeuk poomsae to train them in combination. Breaking them down this way helps to isolate them so that they can be practiced alone or in combination. This list might also be used to create new forms or to create sequences of techniques for self-defense.


Practice balance in sparring

In kyrogi training, often you will be sparring with an opponent who is not a competitive fighter. Take the opportunity to let the opponent teach you about kyrogi basics. Enter kyrogi with a training goal in mind. For example you might choose to focus on taking advantage of form and line.

Inexperienced sparring opponents will often execute techniques that leave them open and off balance. Practice patience. You might even choose to spar without an attack at all focusing instead on counter attacks aimed at pushing your opponent's balance to a critical tipping point. Let them lose balance and then strike.

To do this you must be relaxed, balanced yourself and unafraid. You need to move quickly out of the line of attack but continually sense the opening.


Quad drills

Here are some good drills for leg strengthening, especially quads.
  1. Warm up with knee lifts, sets of singles and doubles.
  2. Sets of squats, to develop power and strength in the legs
  3. Kicking from a squat position.
  4. Slow kicks, supported. Place your leg in the chambered position and slowly release until full extension. Do ten slowly and hold the last one for ten seconds. At the eight second mark, try to move it an inch higher.
  5. Relax the next day, preferably with epsom salts.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Welcome to the Tao of Taekwondo

I have been practising Kukki style taekwondo for four years now and was promoted to my first dan in December.

I consider myself to be a traditional practitioner of taekwondo, in the manner that Doug Cook has written about. This is largely the product of my training and the lineage of my teachers. My sabum, Master Tony Kook was an excellent competitive player, winning two Canadian championships. And yet at our school, there has been almost no emphasis on the sport aspect of taekwondo aside from lots of non-contact sparring which we perform more to master techniques and tactics rather than developing athletes. We compete in poomsae at regular tournaments, but not in kyrogi. I'm not even sure if any of our students own sparring gear. We are essentially a traditional school. Master Kook's teacher is Master J. Sun Choi who was himself a product of the original Moo Duk Kwan.

My black belt promotion was a traditional affair, and our witness, Master Shin Wook Lim, himself a trainer of perhaps Canada's best competitive taekwondo player, Ivett Gonda, confided in us that he worried about the future of the art if the sport aspect were to dominate. He expressed his confidence in me and my three mates that we had somehow understood the traditional aspects of the art and that our promotions boded well. It was a lovely and encouraging comment and it set me on a path to discovering the tao of taekwondo as it shows up in my own practice as a black belt.

There is much about taekwondo relating to the combat sport. But taekwondo as a traditional martial art (or more accurately, a contemporary martial art approached in a traditional way) is almost a different thing altogether. It is a fertile practice ground for the exploration of many aspects of life, embodied in the root philosophies and attitudes out of which taekwondo was born. It is a worthy pursuit, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Inspired by Bruce Lee's book of notes, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and seeing so little of this way of thinking openly shared on the web, I thought I would contribute this perspective as a student. I make no claims for my expertise in martial arts. Despite (or perhaps because) I am a 1st Dan black belt, I am a beginner in many ways, and feeling that even more strongly with every passing year. There is is much to learn and explore and I welcome any readers along for the ride.

Welcome to the Tao of Taekwondo.