Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hae Sul 4: Gae-Baek elbow lock takedown

So much for the first double arc hand block in Gae-Baek. Now for the second.

There is a lock in aiki-jujitsu derived arts called hiji kime osae (elbow arm bearing pressure), also called hiji gatame (elbow pin) or rokkyo (sixth teaching) because Aikido names are confusing. We can use Gae-Baek moves 25-28 to create this lock. The set is:
  • Front stance double arc hand block
  • Maintaining stance, back hand upset punch
  • Half step 180-degrees into horizontal elbow strike, left palm hitting right elbow
  • Leap forward into rear foot X-stance double forearm block
Sources: HowCast, coshigould
Besides the source video, another example is here. Details
  • Assume a same side wrist grab against your right arm. Rotate your right arm counter-clockwise, and use your left palm to grab the back of the opponent's hand. (Double arc hand block)
  • From here you can grab your opponent's knifehand and peel it off and down with the upset punch, pronating the opponent's arm in the process, which allows you to...
  • Turn 180-degrees and match your elbow with your opponent's, putting them into an armbar. The left palm in this case is bending your opponent's wrist in towards their body, putting them into a secondary wrist lock.
  • Use the leap as a quick-and-dirty takedown. Put forward pressure on your opponent as you lean your weight on them and bend their wrist and arm towards their body with the double forearm block.
Aikidoka perform this lock more continuously, so step 2 -- using an upset punch motion to pronate the opponent's arm -- is barely noticeable because it's done while the defender is turning. The takedown can be done either by dragging the opponent out or by putting forward pressure on them. If you don't wish to harm your opponent, then don't use the literal leap. Leaning onto your opponent should be enough, and might explain the use of rear foot X-stance: placing all your weight forward.

The preceding move in the form -- the twin vertical face punch -- may be used as an initial strike: a quick pop to the face if an opponent grabs your wrist.


You may have noticed that the aikidoka first raises his opponent's arms to head level, just like our double arc hand block. However, other martial artists have argued this is a bad idea, and that it's better to keep your opponent's wrist close to your body. Alain Burrese, a Hapkidoin, says you never need to raise your opponent's arm above your armpit. He also performs the takedown by leaning back on his opponent and sitting down.
Source: Your Warrior's Edge
Although it's not a leap, you can still see the use of the double forearm block, bending both the wrist and arm in towards the opponent's body.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hae Sul 3: Hwa-Rang twin block set

Hwa-Rang moves 4-6 is clearly based on the opening of Heian Nidan, but adds in an odd bit of footwork: slipping in the front foot, and then sliding out into fixed stance for the third move. Funny enough, the footwork for Heian Nidan has often changed in between different versions of the form:
  • Heian Nidan: Remain in back stance for all three moves
  • Pinan Shodan: First two moves in cat stance. Shift into ready stance for move 3
  • Pinan Sono Ni: First two moves in cat stance. Slip front foot into riding stance for move 3
None of these are quite what we do in Hwa-Rang; it's just interesting that different karate masters felt a need to alter this set.

Slipping the front foot is not just cosmetic: it can be used to get around an opponent's leg, to create space to pass an arm, or as a sweep. Take a look at the following application for the opening of Won-Hyo from Matthew Sylvester's channel
Source: Practical Taekwondo
I like this application, but although he identifies it for Won-Hyo I think it works a little better for Hwa-Rang because 1) the upward punch is a better torso attack than a knifehand strike, 2) If the opponent resists the foot sweep, we can use the forward slide as a takedown.

Therefore, here is my modified version of the above application.
  • Use the crossed-arm chamber for the twin block as a parry-pass. I.e. parry an attack inward with your front arm, then grab and raise up your opponent's arm with your back hand as you step forward. I noticed that in the Encyclopedia, the student performs the move with a half-turned front fist. Though this is likely an error, you can use the half-turned fist as a side backfist strike to your opponent's face or jaw as you lift their arm. Dan Djurdjevic shows something close in the image below.
Source: Dan Djurdjevic
  • Grab their shirt with your front hand. Pull them in as you perform the upward punch, striking their solar plexus or driving up under their ribs.
  • Sweep out your opponent's left leg with your right leg (slipping the right foot back in)
  • Use the slide forward to knock out your opponent's hips as you bar the front of their body with the punch, knocking them to the floor.
This sort of hip bump or "wedge throw" is a simple takedown: by ramming into someone with the slide you take their balance. Below is a gif of Lyoto Machida using such a technique in the UFC.
Source: Bleacher Report
This is also what I think might be going on in Pinan Sono Ni, with the slipping of the front foot into riding stance.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Hae Sul 2: Gae-Baek drop takedown

In General Choi's books the double arc hand block is portrayed as catching a frisbee or throw pillow -- something that got a chuckle out of me the first time I saw it. Here I'll analyze the first time the movement appears in Gae-Baek and get something else out of it. The set is:
  • Front stance rising block 
  • Maintaining stance, low block
  • Maintaining stance, double arc hand block
  • Lift and bring in front foot to bending ready stance A
Of note, this is the first time in the ITF forms that a bending ready stance is not followed by a kick. In my club we tend to turn an extra 45-degrees as we perform the stance, in preparation for move 9.

A common interpretation for the last two moves is a two-handed "push" followed by a sweep. To avoid retreading old ground here's a different application, shown in the combined gif below:
Sources: One Minute Bunkai, Maul565
  • Assume an opponent grabs you. Use the rising block as an upward strike to their jaw (not in the gif) as you grab a hold of their wrist with your reaction hand.
  • Use the low block to crank their arm
  • Continue the crank into the double arc hand block. The top arc hand strikes the opponent's jaw
  • You can use the bending ready stance as a knee strike to the back of the head, but the interpretation I like is stepping behind your opponent and dropping to one knee, throwing them to the ground.
There are a couple other uses for the rising block. In the form you move backwards into it: it could be that your opponent is doing a grab-and-punch to the head and you are defending (a rising block, properly used, makes a good round punch defense). Another option is that your opponent is doing a double grab, and the rising block is breaking one of the grabs. Something similar is shown in the images below.
Left: rising block against a round punch. Right: rising block and low block against a double grab.
Sources: KDCombat System, Richard Moon

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hae Sul 1: Dan-Gun rotary throw

I've decided to try a different format for these posts. Rather than long, encyclopedic explanations of forms, I'm going to focus on single sets at a time. This will hopefully make things more digestible. For the inaugural post, let's return to Dan-Gun.

The twin outer-forearm block has changed between karate and ITF taekwondo. In both karate and kukki-taekwondo the front fist faces inward. This works well for one of it's main applications: a simultaneously rising block and strike to the jaw. The chamber is also down at the hips, meaning both arms travel upwards.

Twin block from Choi's 1965 book
Oddly, ITF taekwondo made two changes to the movement, and not at the same time. By the time Choi's 1965 book Taekwon-do: The Korean Art of Self-Defense was published, the front fist faced outward, but the trajectory of the technique was the same as in karate (right image). By the time the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-do was published 20 years later, the chamber had altered into the cross-arm setup we practice today.

Because of these two changes, the applications differ from the karate version. The orientation suggests that both hands could be grasping something. Take a look at this shoulder lock from an old Judo self-defense manual.
Source: Art of Manliness.
Originally from Modern Judo and Self-Defense by Harry Erwin
In case you can't see it, the back hand rising "block" is used to lift and turn the opponent's arm, while the front hand grabs the opponent's shoulder, pinning them. Even the initial defense looks like the low chamber from Choi's 1965 book. A common variant is to grab the head rather than the shoulder. Although the defender uses a 180-degree turn, often a three-quarters turn makes this lock easier. This brings us to Dan-Gun. The set we'll analyze is:
  • Front stance high punch
  • Front stance high punch
  • Three-quarters turn into back stance twin outer-forearm block, sliding the back leg
  • Front stance high punch
An application for the first three movements are shown in the gif by two Krav Maga instructors below:
Source: Stewart McGill
  • Use the setup hand to parry a round punch as you enter and thrust your elbow over your opponent's shoulder (first high punch). Make sure you grab and pull your opponent's arm with the reaction hand
  • Take another step forward, raising the opponent's arm while you pull down their shoulder (second high punch)
  • Continue by stepping out with your back leg and doing a three-quarters turn into the twin outer-forearm block, raising their arm and pinning their shoulder or head. This twists the opponent's arm behind their back, putting them into a shoulder lock.
Although the example gif above is against a round punch, I've also seen Krav Maga instructors use this technique against a blunt weapon -- like a bottle or club -- similar to the Judo knife defense above. Twisting the opponent's arm back in this way makes it difficult for them to hold onto their weapon.

The Rotary Throw

You have a few options from this position. You could knee strike your opponent, attempt to pin them, or you can do what in Aikido is called a kaiten nage, or "rotary throw." The latter is what the form recommends, with the final high punch.
Source: Rogue Warriors
As you walk forward into front stance, use the opponent's own arm as a lever to throw their body (remember: they are in a shoulder lock). You can also use your reaction hand to press down their head so they are forced to flip over.

There are a lot of online tutorials on this throw if you're interested in more detail. Just be warned that the entry for aikidoka is very different -- they don't really defend against punches -- but the throw itself works.
Bottom row: SouthQueensferryTKD

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Guillotine Choke
Sources: Darren Selley, Fitness Videos

The first move in the form is to switch into closed ready stance B after splitting your hands. If the ready positions had no applications, this would be nonsensical, but lucky for us they do. Closed ready stance B can make a guillotine choke, for instance. We use this application after blocking a haymaker with the heaven hand, as shown in the right gif (two examples).

The form doesn't give you any follow up. You can continue to choke out your opponent or, if you are throw savvy, attempt to throw them.

Bent elbow crank

The upset punches in Kwang-Gae are also in slow motion, indicating body manipulation. After defending with the heaven hand, overhook your opponent's haymaker as they retract, getting the bent elbow and cranking it upwards with the upset punch. This nasty shoulder lock is called maki hiji in jujitsu. It was used a couple years back in the UFC by Jon Jones. You can use the second upset punch as a strike, as shown in the below image.
Application for heaven hand followed by two upset punches. Source: imineo, catch jutsu
Notice how the elbow crank forces the opponent to bend over backwards. To take them to the ground, perform a sweep or push back on their face with your palm.

Grasp head, guide back

The next set is:
  • Double step forward into palm hooking block
  • Step and slide backwards into low section knifehand guarding block
Suppose you attempt the elbow crank but your opponent straightens their arm, or they pull you in, or you overhook their shoulder instead. Use the double step forward to force them to bend over, and then strike/grasp the back of their head with the palm hooking block. Finally, use the step and slide backwards into low section guarding block as a quick throw, guiding their head backwards. See the footnote for another interpretation of this set. (ftn. 1)

Pass arm, two handed push
Source: anthrodan

Something else I thought of: if you don't wish to harm your opponent, you can use stepping back into low guarding block to pass the opponent's arm after defending with the heaven hand. Then use stepping forwards into cat stance guarding block as a two handed push (see right gif) to disengage.

Side kicks, shoulder lock takedown

The second time you perform the two side kicks, your hands are oriented differently. This suggests there may be an application that begins, rather than ends, with them.

After blocking with the heaven hand, use the low side kick (pressing kick) to kick in the opponent's knee. If they defend by turning in their leg, follow with the middle side kick to their ribs while grasping their arm. You then use the inward strike with front hand coming into chest to fold the opponent's arm back, granting you a shoulder lock. From here, pull your opponent to the ground. Note that the Hapkidoin in the example below doesn't need to kick before doing the takedown, although he does strike the opponent's side with his elbow.
Sources: imineo, expert village
Final Thoughts

That concludes Kwang-Gae. This isn't the only way to interpret the pattern, but it is a way to link all the applications together. Although the sets are all against the same attack, the locks and takedowns provided can be used in a number of situations. What a form does is teach you various ways you can control an opponent. It's unlikely you will ever use a set as literally provided in a form, due to an opponent's unpredictable reactions, but the more techniques you know the more versatile your fighting style becomes.

Po-Eun also begins with the heaven hand, but not the splitting hands. Furthermore, from my analysis Po-Eun seems to be more of a grappling form. The heaven hand can also be used as a head push, so that might be what's going on.


1) There is another application for this set I rather like: against a single lapel grab, you can grab under the opponent's sleeve (upset punch), pull it in while striking their jaw (palm hooking block), and then guide them down to the ground (step back into low guarding block). The double step can be used to get off the opponent's line of fire and strengthen the force of the hooking block. You can also use the shape of the palm to dig into the opponent's throat, although this isn't strictly necessary. Taekwondoin Colin Wee applies the same application against a wrist grab.
Source: One minute bunkai

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 3

Previous Posts:
Part 1
Part 2

Spearhand to face, smash onto knee

Sources: imineo, one minute bunkai
The high spearhand thrust (what my club calls an "unsupported spearfinger") has three odd features in Kwang-Gae:
  • It's performed in slow motion
  • The footwork is the slipping of the front foot (i.e. pull it in before stepping back out again)
  • It's performed in low stance rather than a normal front stance
Slow motion movements in forms indicate body manipulation. As shown in the combined gif on the left, we can use the spearhand after the heaven hand sort of like a slap: pressing out on our opponent's face while pulling in their arm with our reaction hand. We may also use the slipping footwork to get behind the opponent's leg, and then use the low stance to press out on the back of your opponent's knee. From here, you can pull the opponent downward for a takedown.

However, in both cases the next movement in the form is lifting our back leg. So if we want to get nasty, we can smash the back of our opponent's head on our knee as we take them down.
Sources: imineoone minute bunkai
Grab ears, pull down

A different follow-up after the palm heel to to step forward and grab your opponent's ears from behind their head. Grabbing ears (or just the head) is a common interpretation of the twin vertical face punch. You can use the "stomp" to press down on the back of your opponent's knee as you grab their head.

Source: Practical Kata Bunkai (Note: perspective is mirrored)
However, if you are unable to stomp their knee, instead perform a knee strike to the spine, and then unceremoniously pull their head to floor by the ears as you land into the double upset punch. You can see pictures of this application by Iain Abernethy to the right, who is analyizing a similar set in from the kata Gojushiho.

Kick out leg, turn and lift

Turning 180-degrees into a knifehand guarding block usually indicates a head crank. But I don't think that's what's going on here, because we step back into the guarding block after turning around. Furthermore, the set ends with a high punch. Why?

To resolve this, first apply the double upset punch to grab and control your opponent. Front kick the opponent's cross-side leg, aiming for their inner thigh, with the goal of knocking back their leg.

Land, turn, and step back into knifehand guarding block per the form. Your front forearm presses out on the opponent's neck, but your back hand goes for the leg you just kicked back. Grab the leg (by the opponent's pants if they are wearing away) and lift it upwards as you walk forward into the high punch, grabbing and pulling your opponent's head down with the reaction hand. This makes a crude but simple takedown.
Sources: Practical Kata Bunkai, One Minute Bunkai
In part 4 I will backtrack to the beginning of the form and post some final thoughts.

View Part 4 here


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kwang-Gae & The Heaven Hand, Part 2

In my previous post, I suggested you could interpret the first third or so of Kwang-Gae as four different follow ups from the heaven hand defense. (fnt. 1) By "heaven hand defense", I mean using the tool to block a haymaker, and then splitting your hands to strike the opponent's neck.

It turns out you can do this for the whole form. So for the next three posts I will be covering these follow up techniques. Even if you don't agree with this interpretation of Kwang-Gae, it may get you to see some of the sets in a new light.

Additional strikes, puter kepala takedown

After striking the opponent's neck with the hands splitting, you can follow through with an inward strike followed by a downward hammerfist, for three strikes in total. As you strike, you want to get the opponent's head to lean downwards, so it's important to utilize the pulling hand in both cases.
Sources: Courtney White, Yin Style Bagua

Puter kepala takedown
Source: Courtney White
If smashing the back of their head with a hammerfist wasn't enough, we then use the next two moves -- the two palm pressing blocks -- as a takedown. This is shown on the gif on the right: it involves twisting up the opponent's arm while pushing their head down and in. You then continue moving your arms in a circular motion, forcing your opponent's body is to twist and tumble. In Silat this is called puter kepala.

Note that you are rotating your opponent's head and arm in a circle, so for this application the two palm pressing blocks should be performed continuously and with arms crossing in between the blocks, similar to how the Bagua-ist performs the motions below.
Sequential palm pressing blocks in Bagua. Notice how the arms cross in between blocks. 
Source: Yin Style Bagua.
Arm Pass and Head Twist

Now we'll begin with the second palm pressing block. After blocking with the heaven hand, overhook your opponent's head (upward moving palm) and push down their arm (downward moving palm). Grab their jaw and twist out their head while passing their arm as you step backwards into backfist side strike, twisting your opponent's whole body and forcing them to fall over. Hapkidoin Alain Burrese demonstrates this technique in this video.
Source: Your Warrior's Edge
Strike Head, Shoulder Lock

Next we start with the backfist side strike after the heaven hand. After striking the neck, knee strike your opponent (lifting the leg) while pulling them downwards, then follow with the backfist side strike to their head. Depending on positioning, you might strike with your forearm or even downward with your elbow; the stomp emphasizes putting your body weight into the strike.

Next, twist their arm behind their back with your back hand as you shift into the double forearm block, creating a shoulder lock. Your front arm maintains pressure on the back of their head. From this position you can safely escort your opponent, strike the back of their head, or do a takedown.
(Bottom right image): Taekwondo Grappling Techniques
What if your opponent grabs your leg with their free arm before you apply the lock? We can grab their arm and use the next move in the form -- double stepping backwards into reverse low block -- to pull out their arm while lifting their other arm with your front arm. Doing this may end up flipping your opponent.

Continue to Part 3

1) The origin of this idea was that I noticed Kushanku, the kata that Kwang-Gae is partly based on, uses the low knifehand front block and the cat stance guarding blocks at the start of the form, directly after the heaven hand.

 Taekwondo Grappling Techniques by Tony Kemerly and Scott Synder

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sam-Il: The Seipai Throw and Back Leg Sweep

The higher ITF forms don't get talked about very often; understandably since the majority of taekwondoin never advance far enough to learn them. This is a shame though, because these forms have a greater variety of hand and foot techniques to work with, which result in some interesting applications.

Sam-Il is noteworthy because it has a set from the kata Seipai, which is not a Shotokan kata (fnt. 1). In this post I'll cover the throw this set represents, as well as a modern variant of the throw that appears later in the form.

The Seipai Throw (Moves 9-10)

The motions used for this throw are:
  • Step forward into riding stance knifehand reverse wedging block
  • Shift into back stance double low punch, pulling the right foot
The reverse wedging block is used to simultaneously scoop up a leg while pushing out the opponent's torso. You then grab, lift, and dump them (double low punch).
The Seipai throw against a kick (top) compared with a performance of Sam-Il (bottom).
Sources: Radek Scuri, Chris Baehr
This application from Seipai is fairly well known; it appears in Masutatsu Oyama's 1970 manual Advanced Karate, as well as in earlier manuals. The above image shows it against a kick, but you can in theory defend against a hand attack first with move 8 and then scoop up the leg. The gif below shows this variant.
Source: FightLand
Notice that in this case the leg is scooped from the inside rather than the outside. You can find more detailed discussions of the Seipai throw in this Fightland article or Iain Abernethy's video on the subject.

The Back Leg Sweep (Moves 15-16)

A few moves later we see a set that I can only imagine represents a similar takedown. It is a sweeping kick sandwiched by two U-shaped blocks.
Source: TkdTeam
The effect of doing two U-shaped blocks in a row is to wheel your arms. The application for this can be seen in the Muay Thai fight below.
Source: Fightland
After reaching under the opponent's leg with your lower arm, you then bar your upper arm across your their torso. You then sweep out your opponent's standing leg with the sweeping kick while rotating your arms: lifting their leg and pushing down their torso.

It's interesting that we use an actual sweeping kick (Shuro Chagi) in this pattern, as usually sweeps are "hidden" in either the footwork or a middle kick.

Why bother including two similar applications in the same form? Okinawan kata are very compact: they have to be since each kata (or set of katas) is supposed to be a self-contained self-defense style. But in the case of the ITF forms, it seems that Choi's commanders felt more room to play around with variations of older ideas. Sam-Il also repeats two single leg takedowns from Choong-Moo: the one hand drop and the shoulder wheel throw.


1) It is, however, a Shito-ryu kata, and so this is evidence for Simon O'Neill's belief that Shito-Ryu was one of the styles that influenced early Taekwondo, as stated in The Taegeuk Cipher. The spreading of the arms in the Shito-ryu version of Seipai looks like our reverse wedging block.
On the other hand, Seipai is not one of the katas listed in Gen Choi's 1965 Taekwondo book. It's possible that this set was not taken directly from the kata, but rather from a Karate applications manual. A Study of Seipai Kata was published in 1934 by Kenwa Mabuni.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Technique Focus: Upward Palm Block

Since my previous posts on the guarding block and W-block/mountain block turned out pretty well, I thought I'd do another technique focus, this time on the upward palm block. Why this technique? Because I think it draws a lot of confusion from taekwondoin, and because its "standard" application -- lifting up a punch -- is nonsensical. Some have tried modifying the motion to lift a face punch over the head, but this is not the motion we practice in the forms, which only goes up to chest level. It makes even less sense for the palm scooping block variant in Gae-Baek, which is never supposed to reach your centerline. (fnt. 1)

Fear not, for it is not a useless technique. In this post I will provide five applications for the cat stance movement, plus four additional applications for its variants (front stance upward palm block, riding stance palm scooping block, and front stance twin palm upward block)

1) Same-side wrist grab defense (Sam-Il)
Two applications for Sam-Il 25-26
Sources: (Middle Row) EliteMartialArtOC, MannyMelgoza
(Bottom Row) OneMinuteBunkai

In the pattern Sam-Il we perform cat stance upward palm block followed by cat stance twin palm pressing block. These two movements provide a simple wrist grab defense.

Open your hand to relieve pressure. In Hapkido they call this "live hand". Then perform upward palm block. This twists your opponent's arm. Peel them off you by grabbing the meat of their thumb with your opposite hand. From here, you can perform a kotegaeshi (outer-wrist) throw, using both hands to bend the opponent's wrist downwards (twin palm pressing block).

This is my favorite same-side wrist grab defense: it's simple and can be pulled off quickly.

2) Front kick defense (also Sam-Il)

Although lifting a punch with the palm upward block is ridiculous, it works a bit better as a kick defense. We can use the same set in Sam-Il as a front kick catch and takedown. After lifting the opponent's heel, grab their foot with both hands and twist their ankle, pushing their foot downwards with twin palm pressing block.

3) Tackle defense (Ko-Dang)

Sources: Code Red Defense,
Karate Culture
The technique works as a crossface against an opponent who tackles you with their head outside your body. As shown in the left gif, you use the circular trajectory of the upward palm block to get around their head and then crank it upwards. This was my application for the upward palm blocks in Ko-Dang. We then follow with a step-back and front kick in Ko-Dang, which may represent breaking our front leg free of the opponent's grip (the step back) before kicking them.

4) Trip and takedown (Joong-Gun)

The cat stance may be used to trip an opponent's standing leg while you lift their heel for a takedown. This was my application for the opening set of Joong-Gun. Catch an opponent's front kick (ready position). As they retract to try to get away from you, lift their knee up towards their body to unbalance them (move 1). You then kick their groin or standing leg (move 2), before moving in for a trip and takedown, raising their heel with the upward palm block.
Sources: TakingItToTheMMAT, Dan Djurdjevic, Five5Six
5) Arm lock (Joong-Gun)
Source: StuartA

Finally, the upward palm block can be used as a rudimentary arm lock. If you grab and pull your opponent's wrist from inside with your reaction hand, you supinate their arm, exposing the back of their elbow to your "block". Stuart Anslow (right image) uses this application for the opening of Joong-Gun, after using the knifehand inner forearm block to reverse a wrist grab.

6) Head crank (Kwang-Gae)

This is for the front stance upward palm block found in Kwang-Gae. Unlike the cat stance upward palm block, this is performed with the back hand. When you analyze the movement in context, with the double step and turn we perform in the form, it makes a head crank takedown. It is shown in the image below. See my post on Kwang-Gae for a more detailed description.
Source for left image: manny melgoza

7) Leg scoop

Source: NASDI01
The palm scooping block in Gae-Baek -- like its name suggests -- can be used to literally scoop up the opponent's leg. In the Silat application for Gae-Baek 28-29(and 30-31?) in the left gif, the instructor hooks the opponent's ankle with the leap into rear-foot X-stance, then scoops up the opponent's other with the palm scooping block while sitting down at a 45-degree angle. He then submits his opponent with an ankle lock.

8) Overhook/Whizzer

Another application for the palm scooping block -- if you take the "scooping" part less literally -- is just overhooking an opponent's arm. Russ Martin has an application for Gae-Baek 9-11 which is just overhooking an opponent's arm, punching them, and then striking down on their inner elbow (supporting arm for backfist) while striking them again with the front backfist.

9) Double leg takedown (Choong-Moo)

Finally, performing two upward palm blocks can be used to scoop up both opponent's legs for a double leg takedown (specifically, Judo's morote gari throw). I covered this in my post on Choong-Moo. The reason I think the movement represents a double leg takedown here is:

1) The previous move can be used either to put the opponent in a snap clinch, as a grip break, or to lift their arms, all common ways to set up a double leg takedown.

2) The following two moves can be used as a contingency single leg takedown if your opponent defends by stepping back with one leg.

3) There are several other throws in the form, suggesting that Nam Tae Hi designed Choong-Moo with this strategy in mind.

4) In my club we were taught to do the motion as a wide scoop, which is consistent with scooping up an opponent's legs. (fnt. 2)

Sources: Mercuryu Judo, Practical Kata Bunkai, NIKandSi

Not only do odd techniques like the upward palm block have practical uses, you can find equivalents of them in modern arts. If an idea is a good one, then we should expect it to be rediscovered by others.

Happy searching.


1) This brings up the inevitable question of "okay, so if the standard application is useless, why did General Choi teach it?" A lot of the standard applications should be regarded as mnemonic tools for teaching rather than practical self-defense applications. General Choi shows the double arc hand block as catching a throw pillow, for instance, when in reality it has more practical uses.

2) I come from a pre-sine wave school. It's common for us to go down during the chamber and up during the block-proper for certain movements, although for the most part we stay level during patterns.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Yul-Gok: Some Applications

Palm Hooking Block
Yul-Gok is a peculiar form. I was once told it was based on Heian Yondan, but the similarity is only superficial: Yul-Gok borrows some movements from the kata, but the sets are all different. Yul-Gok also introduces the "palm hooking block", which according to Stuart Anslow is not a shotokan karate technique. Instead, this post by Sanko Lewis claims it's based on a Taekkyeon block. (fnt. 1)

In this post I'll discuss four sets from the pattern and my preferred applications.

Irimi nage (moves 28-29/30-31)

Irimi nage vs a jab-cross. Source: AikiBushi
This set (knifehand twin outer-forearm block followed by supported spearfinger) does not appear in any karate kata that I've seen. But it does appear in another martial art: aikido. (fnt. 2) Unlike karate, we perform our twin outer-forearm block with a cross-arm chamber. This can be used either as a defense against a jab-cross (as in the left gif), or as a parry-pass against a single attack (see image below).

For the jab-cross version, the front hand deflects an opponent's jab outwards, and then the rising block (back hand) comes up and deflects their cross inwards. The effect of this is to turn your opponent's body slightly sideways, which allows you to place your front hand on the small of their back (supporting hand) as you move forward and hook their head with the spearhand "strike". This throw is known as irimi nage ("entering throw") in Aikido. It helps if you come from a club that performs the spearhand at a downward angle, as my club does, but apparently this isn't the official version.

The other use of the cross-arm chamber is as a parry-pass against a single attack. This is shown in the image below. The ultimate effect should be the same: turn the opponent slightly and get access to their back.
Sources: Rogue Warriors and Southern Minnesota Martial Arts
The Opening Set

An intercepting block.
Source: Fitness, Workout, & Exercise Videos
I was originally taught that the opening move of Yul-Gok was a slow punch. It turns out it's not a punch at all: it's "extending your fist horizontally". Furthermore, it isn't even centered like a punch is. What's going on?

One interpretation (from Sanko Lewis) is that it's an intercepting block in disguise, based on the logic that sets should begin with defensive techniques. The off-center location of the movement makes this feasible. Follow up with the two punches as strikes.

A second interpretation I like is that it represents your arm being grabbed and pulled. After having your arm pulled, you quickly pull back and strike the inside of the opponent's elbow (first middle punch). This lowers their head, allowing you to punch their jaw (second middle punch). The exact motions you use can be altered for practicality: you might hammerfist down on their inner elbow and uppercut their jaw, for example.

Elbow Roll Throw (Ending Set)
Turning into double forearm block as a throw.
Source: Dan Djurdjevic

Speaking of striking the elbow, one application for pivoting 270-degrees into double front block is a throw via rolling into the opponent's inner elbow. You can see Dan Djurdjevic show this in the right gif. In some arts this throw is called sumi otoshi (corner drop), although this is different than the Judo throw of the same name.

The front arm pulls the opponent's arm. The back arm rolls down into the opponent's elbow as you pull. We can use the previous move (rear foot X-stance backfist) as a strike. As you grab their arm (reaction hand), use the leap forward to ram into your opponent as you hit them with your forearm -- a backfist can be used if you have great accuracy, but as a ramming move, your forearm has a much higher likelihood of connecting. After you strike your opponent, quickly step out and rotate, performing the throw.

Mind you, this is just the interpretation that I prefer. The leap forward into the backfist could represent some kind of pull if you grab your opponent from behind, or a forceful takedown if you have them in a lock. There is also a locking application -- present in both the Encyclopedia and in Hapkido -- that vaguely follows the movements. If you look at the images below, the "leap" into the backfist is stepping behind your opponent. You then turn and put them into a lock with the double front block motion.
Alternate application to Yul-Gok 36-37 (bottom row flipped horizontally). Source: RussMorr
I doubt this is the intended application, but it might be a good alternative application to teach.

Palm Hooking Blocks

Finally we get to the palm hooking blocks. As stated above, the block is supposedly derived from taekkyeon. The motions are also reminiscent of "cloud hands" found in taijiquan (in fact, most taekkyeon hand motions may be based in taijiquan or a similar art). If you perform multiple palm hooking blocks continuously (rather than finishing one before starting the other), they do look like outward cloud hands, so a simple application for this set would be just deflecting a jab-cross outward before striking.

One application is use the first hooking block as a strike. The movement has a cross-arm chamber (although it usually isn't emphasized) similar to karate's shuto uke chamber, and Stuart Anslow in Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-do Hae Sul notes that the cupping shape of the palm makes it an ideal tool for striking the head. So we can use the reaction hand to parry an attack (chamber), before striking the opponent's head.
Source: Practical Kata Bunkai

What if your opponent blocks you? Use the second hooking block to grab and drag the opponent's hand, pulling it as you punch them. In the pattern's official instructions, the second hooking block and the punch are meant to be performed as one motion. This application is very similar to Iain Abernethy's knifehand block drill shown in the right gif. (Fun fact: in the 1965 version of Yul-Gok, the movement is a "knifehand hooking block".)

The form follows with a second lunge punch the second time you perform this set. You could grab the back of the opponent's shirt, then step behind them for a throw (reaction hand pulls, punching hand pushes). Another interpretation is to use the first "punch" to press onto the opponent's elbow after you grab their arm, putting them into an armbar. You then move forward into the second lunge punch to strike their head.
Application for Yul-Gok 18-21. Source for top row: Orjan Nilsen
Since this set has many other applications, I will post an addendum later with a more detailed discussion.


1) A couple other "blocks" that might not have a Shotokan basis are the nine-block and double arc hand block in Gae-Baek. I don't know all 26 Shotokan kata so I could be wrong, but these two blocks are usually associated with taekwondo. The nine-block is used in jujitsu as an arm break. The double arc hand is reminiscent of the body pushing in taijiquan.

2) Aiki-jujitsu was being taught in Korea at the time Yul-Gok was developed (it's what Hapkido is based on), and we know that early taekwondoin studied jujitsu, as locks appear in both The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do and General Choi's 1965 book Tae Kwon Do: The Art of Self-Defense. There is more evidence of an aiki-jujitsu influence in the 1st Dan pattern Gae-Baek.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kwang-Gae: The Knifehand Low Front Block

This post will be a couple applications for a move that's baffled me for some time: the closed-stance knifehand low front block (Moa So Sonkal Najunde Ap Makgi) at move 12 in Kwang-Gae. The movement is performed in a circular manner -- from head to groin -- with the knifehand hitting your opposite palm. Similar movements appear in kung-fu forms, taekkyeon , kukki-taekwondo (with a hammerfist), and of course karate.

The first application uses the set:
  • Cat stance high guarding block
  • Double step and turn 180-degrees into front stance upward palm block
  • Closed stance knifehand low front block
After defending against an attack, employ the primary grappling application of the guarding block: back arm wrapped around the opponent's arm and front forearm striking the opponent's neck. From here you can pull their arm (reaction hand) while cranking their head back and downwards (upward palm block) as you double step behind them and turn 180-degrees. Your palm continues upwards, cranking the opponent's head further and exposing the back of their neck. You then strike with the knifehand low front "block".
Source for leftmost image: mannymelgoza
In the form you practice the upward palm block on the other side before striking, so you strike with the right knifehand. But if you are holding the opponent's head with your right hand, then you would strike with the left.

The second set is:
  • Closed stance knifehand low front block
  • Combination low side kick (pressing kick), middle side kick to the side, keeping both hands low
Source: Karate Culture
I'm going to steal Karate Culture's application for the low circling hands: catching the opponent's head and pushing it downwards, perhaps using the other hand to press on the small of their back. Although they use this from outside the opponent's arms, I don't see why it can't be used from inside as well. From this position, simply kick out the back of both opponent's legs (the double side kick).

Application for Kwang-Gae 12-14. The two side kicks are aimed at the back of the opponent's legs.
Although these two applications may seem obvious in retrospect, it took me a long time to find something I was satisfied with. To me this is evidence that even if a section of a pattern seems mysterious or confusing, don't dismiss it outright: there might be something you're missing.

Putting it all together

One way to interpret the first four sets of Kwang-Gae is as various follow-ups from the Heaven Hand defensive position. After blocking a swinging attack, strike their neck (hands splitting). From here you can attempt a headlock (opening move); a bent elbow crank (circular upset punch), or one of the two sets described above.
Sources: Practical Kata Bunkai, Darren Selley,  Catch Jutsu, mannymelgoza, karate culture 
So rather than being a disparate set of techniques, the first third of Kwang-Gae can be viewed as an analysis of the Heaven Hand as a defensive tool.

Read more Kwang-Gae applications here.