Sunday, April 8, 2018

E-book update: The Study of Sam-Il

Yes, it's happening.
Here's what will be included:

  • 60+ application drawings
  • Analysis of both the 1965 and 1983 versions of the pattern
  • Explanation of Sam-Il's logical structure; i.e. how all the sets tie together
  • Some thoughts on the design of the Ch'ang Hon patterns
The drawings are mostly done, but editing everything together will take some time. 

What's with the title?

It's a reference to The Study of Seipai by Kenwa Mabuni

What will it cost?

Not free, but not expensive either. I'm thinking the $3-6 range.

Where will it be sold?

Not Amazon, because you have to convert the e-book to Kindle format, which is a pain for a picture book. I'm thinking Google Play Books if possible, and if not that then some aggregator service.

Will there be a print version?


When will it be done?

I'm aiming for some time in May.

Will the applications be material that's already on the blog?

With the exception of the above picture and the set with the two U-shaped blocks, no. That's because my opinion on some of the sets have changed, such as the set with the palm upward block. The applications covered in this blog will go into an "Alternate Applications" section.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

16: Yoo-Sin/Chul-Gi waving kicks

Source: Shotokankataman
Recently I came across the kata interpretations of a Mr. Nathan J. Johnson. Johnson holds that most karate kata were originally for weapons, not unarmed fighting. While I don't agree with this perspective, Johnson makes an exception for Naihanchi, also called Tekki Shodan or (in Korean) Chul-Gi. He claims this pattern is a series of police control/arrest drills, originally meant for Ming dynasty Chinese police. In his view, the point of Naihanchi is to wrestle a suspect to the ground, meaning that you are behind your opponent for most of the kata. I've analyzed Naihanchi using this theory and it works surprisingly well.

One of the sets from Naihanchi appears in the ITF pattern Yoo-Sin. In this post I will provide a police arrest interpretation of the set.

We start with the front backfist strike, which represents a control tactic demonstrated by George Vranos in the gif below.
Source: George Vranos
The "primary" vertical arm underhooks one of the opponent's arms (getting a half nelson), whereas the "secondary" horizontal arm overhooks their other arm. This provides control over the suspect. Notice how Mr. Vranos then grabs the back of the opponent's neck after the underhook. This turns the front backfist strike into the outer-forearm block performed next in the pattern.
Source: George Vranos
What's missing in the gif is the waving kicks. These are used to kick in the back of the suspect's legs. Combined with the head push in the opposite direction, the intent is to knock the suspect to the ground. We first kick in their right leg and push their head right (outer-forearm block). If this doesn't work for whatever reason, we kick in their left leg and push them left.


Just because this may be the intended application of the set in Naihanchi/Chul-Gi, doesn't mean it's what the creators of Yoo-Sin had in mind. As Mr. Johnson points out, the Okinawans who imported the pattern from China did not know its original meaning, and so came up with their own interpretations. They thought that Naihanchi was either a fighting pattern or reactive self-defense pattern, not a proactive police arrest pattern. If you search for "Naihanchi applications" online, you will find all sorts of other interpretations. Taekwondoin likely came up with their own interpretations as well.

This means that in order to understand the set's purpose in Yoo-Sin, we must analyze the rest of Yoo-Sin, which I haven't done. But I thought the above interpretation was neat and despite Mr. Johnson's theory being a good one, I haven't seen the "police arrest" interpretations of Naihanchi online.

I am still working on the Sam-Il E-book, by the way. I'll post an update within the next two weeks.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thinking about an ebook

This blog began as a hobby project to introduce myself to blogging and to share the pattern applications I've been researching. In the past 14 months I've written 40 or so posts, including full analyses of at least three forms. The overarching goal of my posts was to show that applications to the ITF patterns exist and that they are not particularly esoteric. You can find them in other martial art systems.

I don't want to keep up this blog indefinitely though. Lately I've thought about writing an ebook. It seems like the next logical step and I enjoy systematic analyses of entire forms, something a book is better suited for.

There are some obstacles, however. I never found a consistent partner to take pictures with, so making something in the style of The Taegeuk Cipher or Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul is not possible. Nor can I use online images (like I do in this blog) for copyright reasons. Therefore, my only real choice is to use drawings. This sounds lame, but there are some advantages to drawings. One criticism of The Taegeuk Cipher (and to a lesser extent Hae Sul) is that the grainy black-and-white images are too hard to make out. Drawings are easier to see and can be used to highlight the necessary parts of a technique. Judo instructions often contain drawings for this very reason.
Instructional depiction of Judo's O soto gari throw
This would also be an opportunity to practice drawing, so I'm killing two birds with one stone. I did some test sketches, shown below. While my drawing ability is not where I'd like it to be, I am able to depict a technique, so with more practice sketching out an entire form is feasible.
Some test sketches for a set in Sam-Il. Final images would use digital coloring for contrast, shown on the lower right.
As you can tell from above, I would be analyzing Sam-Il. I am choosing this form because currently no book has been published on it. It's also one of the early ITF forms, the 4th or 5th made overall, and it contains some interesting techniques.

This means I'll be working on the ebook rather than the blog. I do have some unfinished posts lined up about sets in Gae-Baek and Eui-Am, but I'll keep them on the back burner for now.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

15: Moon-Moo one-legged stance

Moon-Moo is a 4th Dan form known mainly for its emphasis on kicks, but there are some odd hand techniques in there as well. In this post I will discuss the strange one-legged stance where you perform a low block with the standing side and a knifehand block with the other hand. One application is shown below:
Sources: Kinetic Dragon Tutorials, Returning Wave Systems
The outward knifehand block is used to check under the opponent's jaw, pulling their head back, while the low block controls their arm. You then press your knee into the back of the opponent's knee, causing them to lose balance. From here you can throw them with a quick pull backwards.

Now the question is: how do you get into this position? The hint the form gives you is the two palm pressing blocks, a set which appears in several other forms.

Option 1: Arm Drag

For the first possibility, I'm going to steal another idea from Karate Culture: using the dual palm blocks to get an arm drag.
Source: Karate Culture
Use the first palm pressing block to push down the opponent's arm (lower palm) while reaching under their tricep (rising palm). Then pull out their arm out and down as you step forward (second lower palm). This places you behind your opponent, and you may perform the one-legged stance.

This is a simple application to learn, and arm drags are useful to set up all sorts of other techniques. But if you are a forms purist, you may dislike how this technique requires you to close one of your hands. Keeping this in mind, I will provide a second interpretation.

Option 2: From a failed arm lock

An instructor once showed me a locking application for two palm pressing blocks. I can't find an exact replica online, but the description of it is this:
  • Imagine an opponent grabs your right lapel. Circle your right hand over and down (1st palm pressing block) and then up again (upper hand for 2nd palm pressing block). This rotates the opponent's arm so that the back of their elbow points upwards
  • Your left hand at first comes up to block an attack with the back of the wrist (upper hand for 1st palm pressing block) or as a spearhand to the opponent's throat. It then comes down to press into the back of the opponent's elbow (2nd palm pressing block)
  • From here you can try to drag them to the ground, or knee strike them (one-legged stance)
Left: Application for the 2nd palm pressing block, upper hand raising the opponent's (twisted) arm, lower hand pushing their elbow down. Right: Following up with a knee and elbow strike, another use for the one-legged stance.
Sources: Martial Arts 101Phil Schroeder 
What if your opponent pulls away their arm as you attempt the lock? From here, reach over their right shoulder and quickly transition in the control position shown at the top of this post.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

14: Po-Eun headlock defense

Just a short one today since I mentioned it in my last post.

What is the purpose of the U-shaped grasp? Wrestling away a stick? If so, why is the next movement performed in slow motion? A more plausible interpretation of the set is a throw via lifting and dumping the opponent on their head. It is particularly useful against a side headlock.
Source: Waza Wednesdays
Use the inverted upper hand of the U-shaped grasp to push the opponent's face away from you. Then place the lower hand behind their leg. Lift them into closed stance twin elbow thrust, and dump them onto their head with the low block, backfist combination.

In looking up side headlock defenses, I've noticed that few include both the face push and leg scoop (that's why the Waza Wednesday video was a fortunate find) but several include one or the other. This defense uses the face push. This defense uses the scoop and lift.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Are there too many forms?

A problem with traditional martial arts is the abundance of static patterns. Besides the traditional forms (kata/hyung/tul/poomsae) schools like to add on partner exercises and kicking sets. All this material to memorize leaves less time for live training such as sparring. It's also said that the old karate masters only knew a handful of kata. Indeed, Chinese martial arts (which Karate is based on) typically have a small number of patterns. This has got some researchers asking: are there too many forms?

I would say that in theory no, there cannot be too many forms, because I see forms as records of techniques. There can be a problem of studying too many forms in-depth, because the end result will be that you know many techniques poorly and no techniques effectively. I liken the situation to Judo's throwing curriculum. Officially there are 67 Kodokan Judo throws, some of which have many variations. But top Judo players have only 2 or 3 go-to throws that they win matches with time and time again. So why learn 67 throws if they only end up using a handful? Because 1) it allows them to pick the throws best suited to their body type and 2) it increases their understanding of the art of throwing.

Of course, no one is going to accuse most taekwondo schools of too much in-depth study. Form applications are rarely taught. Instead, a great deal of time is spent memorizing forms, getting the movements exactly right, ending right where you started, and making them look pleasing to watch. Live training is spent learning punching and kicking techniques; form applications (most of which involve grappling) would detract from this. Due to the limited time most taekwondoin have to train, I've wondered whether we can simply teach less forms. This way there would be time to go over the self-defense applications of each form we teach.

However, selecting a handful of forms to teach is difficult in the case of taekwondo, since many of the patterns are specialized to certain self-defense situations. I would consider neither Po-Eun or Joong-Gun to be good general self-defense forms. But Po-Eun contains a neat side headlock defense, and Joong-Gun contains useful ways to escape a leg grab. I can't say I draw my self-defense knowledge from a handful of forms; it's more like I have compiled information from various sets across all the forms I know.

So how do you limit the time we spend teaching forms but keep useful material? There are a few options.

Teaching the techniques, not the forms

One method is to avoid teaching forms altogether: just teach the techniques. This is often suggested on martial arts forums.

The pros are that we could skip the whole interpretation process and get into how to use the technique right away. Some of the most respected martial arts out there (BJJ, boxing, wrestling, muay thai) don't bother with forms. Almost every technique they teach can be tested in sparring. Furthermore, the students would not have to memorize anything they do not know the application of, which speeds up the learning process.

However, this line of logic ignores the other core uses of forms. Forms are for solo practice, to be performed on the student's own time when they don't have a partner. The student is meant to not just learn a pattern, but to make it their own. Forms can be used to practice techniques with full intensity, especially the "dangerous" techniques contained in the art. They are also useful for training stamina, balance, moving meditation, and muscle memory. Finally, most instructors do not know the techniques contained within forms, so if we jettison them then a number of techniques would be "lost". People who are interested in making taekwondo like MMA or kickboxing would not mind this, but the fact is that we are not MMA and many students do enjoy the traditional aspects of taekwondo.

But if we are keeping forms for their conditioning value, then surely we don't need 20+ in our curriculum. The conditioning value could be obtained from as little as one form. So what can we do instead?

Core forms vs optional forms

Instead of jettisoning forms entirely, one could slim the syllabus down to a small number of core forms that students have to memorize, but keep a number of optional forms that students may voluntarily learn as they progress. One could even personalize the optional forms: different students would learn different ones. If you think about it, the availability of free online information about forms makes this possible. No longer do you need an instructor to teach you a form, although the instructor can provide some applications to the form if they are knowledgeable enough.

This brings up the question of which forms should be core and which should be optional. When I pose this question, many taekwondoin seem to favor the simpler forms. Personally I prefer the advanced forms, because their applications are more one-to-one with their movements.[1] But it's ultimately subjective based on the knowledge of the instructor.

What do you think? Do we have too many forms? How would you teach forms differently, if at all?

[1] For the record, if I had to select four core forms I'd use Do-San, Choong-Moo, Gae-Baek, and the Modern Koryo (yes, really). I think these forms provide a strong set of self-defense techniques. Hwa-Rang, Po-Eun, and the Original Koryo would also be contenders. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

13: Choong-Jang ground kick, a falling technique?

The ground roundhouse kick in Choong-Jang (move 12) is an annoying move to perform, as well as to find a proper application for. The idea that you should go to the ground just to kick an opponent's groin doesn't hold much water, so usually one of two alternative explanations is proposed:
  • The form assumes you have fallen to the ground and this is you trying to keep back an opponent until you can get up again
  • The movement is a drop takedown
Stephen Kestling
The first one isn't very satisfying, because we begin from a standing position. Nor does it look like any ground kicks found in other arts. (For some examples, see the right image). The second idea is interesting, but I have difficultly coming up with a practical drop throw based on the footwork. In the original set in Woo-Nam, the move preceding the ground kick is a sliding lunge punch, not a flat spearhand thrust, so it seems that moves 11 and 12 were not intended to be a part of the same set.

However I did recently think up an idea similar to the first option: what if it's a falling technique? The difference being that you can use the footwork prescribed in the form to get into the ground kick position. In fact, the collapse down onto one knee looks like the first part of an Aikido falling technique an instructor once showed me, in response to a strong shove that will take you to the ground. After searching online I found an example, shown in the gif below.
Source: AikidoInstitute
The backwards roll is the advanced version. What I want to call attention to is the first part of the technique, where the aikidoka cross-steps the back leg and collapses onto his back knee/hip. Instead of doing a roll, from here you can use both palms to hit the floor, bracing you. As this point, you have the exact setup for the roundhouse kick in Choong-Jang/Woo-Nam.
Backroll setup vs Choong-Jang ground kick setup.
Source: AikidoInstitute, Taekwondo-Mika
My point is that the set is probably meant to be applied against someone pushing you to the ground, not that you begin on the ground. Is it a set I envision myself ever using? Not really, but I find it a more reasonable explanation than the two provided above. After you brace yourself, kick your opponent with the ball of the foot roundhouse kick.

The rest of the set

What about the ground punch directly afterwards? Punching the opponent's groin? Actually, I prefer Paul O'Leary's explanation (which he details in this post) that it's a takedown. The back hand traps the opponent's instep while the "punch" pushes out on their knee, taking them to the ground. From here, still controlling your opponent's leg, you use the next two movements in the form -- clockwise step into side elbow strike followed by clockwise turn into closed fist guarding block -- to flip the opponent onto their stomach and possibly get a leg lock.
An example of forcing the opponent onto their stomach with a clockwise turn. It's difficult to see, but the tori semi-circles around with his left leg, keeping his right leg in place. Source: