The Tao of Taekwondo

Notes and reflections from a deeper practice of traditional taekwondo

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Practicing tornado kicks

Recently I've been working on my own tornado kicks and helping a few people in the dojang think about theirs. This tutorial gives me a great way to break down the movements and think about loosening up as I throw the kick. The biggest improvements for me have come from focusing on the almost corkscrew motion of the rear leg, which tends to lower my centre of gravity and also opens up my stance. Also, landing with the plant foot pointed backwards helps to turn the hips over, a problem I was having with my left leg kick especially.

Have a gander at this and see if it helps you out.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tan jun in self-defense

We were training some of our black belt self-defense techniques today, trying to undertsand more of the mechanics of power. Three things stood out clearly, and they are obvious, but they clicked into a groove for me today.

First, the body is a lever and the tan jun is the fulcrum, controlling the angualr momentum of an encounter means occupying the centre. At the centre is stillness, away from the centre is motion. Staying in the centre means occupying the place of stillness so that small moves generate large motions in ne's opponent.

Second, the lock is obviously important because it puts you in a position of control. But another way to think about is the one who executes the lock is the one who establishes the centre The lock is what allows you to use your centre and immediately puts your opponent on the rim, No lock, no centre, no angular momentum, no control.

Third, the real encounter, once the lock is set, is between the tan juns of both fighters. Once I am in my centre, I want to position my tan jun in a way that moves you around. I might want to lower you in which case, I will force the centre down. If I want to turn you, I project my ki away from you. Once I have control and centre, my tan jun does the work. This is different from imagining that the work of turning and leading and redirecting an opponent's energy and force happens in the extremities. It is not about hands, arms and feet, but rather about retunring to centre.

So, start in your centre, join your opponent with control, lock on to them and return to your centre, making it the centre of both of you. Move your opponent as you move one body.

This was most evident in some of our shoulder grabs techniques where part of the technique is a redirection. In shoulder grab number 3, the oppoentn moves at you with arms outstretched and you lock under and over his or her arms and drop straight to the ground while turning. The opponent will come down with you and rll out. The only motion is the dropping of the tan jun to the ground, forcing the opponent to the ground and the rotation of the body which redirects the opponents energy. A loop ensues and the opponent ends up on his or her back. It's a very efficient move.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Our academy philosophy: Patience

Photo by aloshbennet


In our dojang, we live by three codes: the tenets of taekwondo, which are largely shared among most Kukki style dojangs, an oath that was written by our sambum's teacher, Master J Sun Choi, and a philosophy that's particular to our own school. This is the first of a series of posts on these philosophical tenets of our community.

Our academy philosophy consists of four simple individual practices: Patience, Love, Respect and Humilty. The first of these is patience.

The first practice ground for patience is with oneself. Once we have learned to be patient with ourselves, we can be patient with others. When we have developed compassion for our own challenges, we can treat others with compassion as well.

In my experience the practice of taekwondo seems to progress in a similar way among many people. When we first begin, we are enthusiastic and we learn fast. The first training session for many people is an amazing experience, where they learn kicks and blocks that are simple to execute and they quickly become aware of their own power, power that they made not have known they even had. As one progresses, and meets more and more complex and difficult techniques, one begins to encounter different challenges. Do you remember your first roundhouse kick? Really understanding that kick took me a full year. Every chance I have to practice it, I continue to do so. There is always more to learn about this most basic of kicks.

As techniques are learned, the student become more and more aware of the finer details of techniques. This can be a frustrating experience. One might work for months at turning the hips over, coordinating arms and legs while kicking, or spinning and maintaining balance. Progress slows and doubt creeps into the student's mind. This is exactly when patience comes into play.

Taekwondo is a physical training. As we learn to do new and different things with our bodies we are doing three things at once: we are learning how to use our muscles and skeletons in new ways so that things become easier, we are growing new connections between brain cells that result in things seeming more natural and our minds are struggling to find clarity so that the technique becomes integrated well. The only way to advance in each of these three areas is to practice. You simply have to do repetitions over and over, listening carefully to instruction, integrating your learning and practicing mindfully and with concentration. If you train well, your mind will experience the um of receiving instruction and the yang of integrating it in practice.

This repetition never ends - this IS what training is. You may execute 50,000 roundhouse kicks in the dojang before you ever have to use one in real life (and pray you never do). Each one of those practice kicks sharpens your ability to draw on that skill when you need it.

Patience is the ability to recognize this, and to settle one's mind into the reality that time, practice and understanding are needed to cultivate technical perfection. You must be patient with yourself. People who aren't used to working with their bodies might expect bodies to learn as fast as minds. It's not possible. We can learn how to read faster than we can learn how to execute a roundhouse kick perfectly. Remember, you are building a body, a brain and a mind together and your spirit needs to be patient with that process.

A patient mind leaves you open for learning and your real progress wil become more apparent to you.

A good patience practice:

Next class, notice that when you are learning something that your body is learning how to do it easier and your brain is working when you feel it coming more naturally. Stop and check that your mind has slowed down to the pace of the body and the brain. Growing new muscle and brain cell connections takes time. Slow your thinking down and be patient with your progress. Notice the little things you are doing. Take a moment at the end of class to meditate and reflect on your progress and identify one very small way you changed.

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The deck of cards from hell

Inspired by this post from a great website on conditioning, I am starting to use a deck of cards to help me focus on my regular workout, especially when I'm away from home. Here's how it works...

Take a set of playing cards and assign one exercise to each suit. You might do what I am doing which is as follows:

  • hearts are sit ups (core)
  • diamonds are push ups (you could do a diamond push up as well!)
  • spades are hindu squats (because you dig into the ground)
  • clubs are ankle raises (which build your legs, which you use for clubbing)
If you have a bit of space and want to work on techniques, you could do something like this:

  • diamonds are roundhouse kicks
  • hearts are front kicks
  • spades are side kicks
  • clubs are back kicks
And so on...

The idea is to shuffle the cards, and draw them one at a time, executing the number of reps of that particular exercise. Take a one minute rest every ten cards.

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