Everyone has a certain amount of fear in their lives. Not the sort of fear that has you crying or throwing up as a result, but the kind of fear that presents itself as a spurt of adrenaline, or even the reluctance to do something because of fear of failure.
When I was writing my first book, Practical Taekwondo: Back to the Roots, I decided that a good way of putting myself, my concepts and my style to the test was to work on the doors. I was fed up with discussing techniques with people who had no real fight experience. I had experience of confrontation from my time as a Special Contable, and even used to volunteer for the fight bus, butmthathad been a few years beforehand I wanted to serif I still had. Plus, saying something along the lines of ‘well, it worked for me on the door’, tended to shut up most of the people I was discussing these with.
I had always pressure tested my techniques, being fortunate enough to have training partners that weren’t afraid to give me a serving of non-compliance, and who were able to take a beating and still offer constructive feedback. But. I still had a need to actually Get back out there and put my teaching and neck on the line. I also needed to earn some money, so I was killing two birds with one stone.
I spent just over a year on the doors, working three nights a week and got my fair share of non-compliance. I also got some servings of ball-shrinking fear.
All three servings centred around knives. The first was a death threat that I probably to too seriously, especially as he seemed to pick me at random from the rest of my crew. I wasn’t even the one who had chucked him out. It was early on in the night, and I had roughly five hours until the end of it. I as shitting myself the whole time, wondering if some pissed off, pissed up nutter was going to stab me. I had a job to do however, so I stayed at the venue, toughed it up, psyched myself up for the walk to the and and went home for a stiff drink and a bit of xboxing.
The second one that stands out was at Smeatharpe Folk Festival. Two ‘gentlemen’ wandered up to get in. Unfortunately one of them looked like a zombie. His eyes where in the back of his head, and his nostrils were rimmed with white powder. I explained that because I believed that zombie-boy had been taking a copious amount of drugs, that I would not be admitting them that night. Conversation over, they ambled off and I went back to checking that everyone else was of a suitable type.
Shortly after, zombie-boy’s friend returned. He had been wearing a large fireman’s coat, and this time he had his lead hand tucked inside as if he was gripping a weapon. The first thing I thought on seeing this was that he was holding a knife. Guns are very rare in the UK, and I didn’t think he’d be pulling an impact-based weapon on me.
Whilst I checked his arm with my lead hand, I quickly squelched my radio to get back-up. This time I was much calmer than the other one, as I had done a number of full contact knife drills in class before and fifteen students had failed to tag me once. I knew that I could make the techniques work but, and is is key, I knew that there was no way I was going to able to let my Taekwondo instincts kick in. This was because the ground was coated in thick, slippy mud. Back up appeared and the chap left with no trouble.
The third time hammered home the fact that kicking was probably not a good idea unless it was below knee-cap level. Cullompton is a village in Devon. It has a couple of pubs, some shops and a lot of very bored kids whose parents didn’t give a shit about where they were so long as it wasn’t at home.
Needless to say, these kids would get their hands on cheap booze, and then try to either get into our pub, or big it up. One night, as these things tend to do, it got out of hand. Fists flew, heads cracked into walls, and I spotted a chav tugging very hard at his trousers, trying to pull something out of his pocket.
The build-up to this part of the night’s entertainment had been incremental, nothing the tension up over a period of hours. As a result, my body was flooded with adrenalin.
Some people get shaky hands when they’re scared, one chap I worked with said his buttocks shook. Me? My bloody legs shook. Not just shook, they blurred they were vibrating so fast. I thought I was going to drill through the damn pavement. Nothing I tried stopped it. Again, I realised that for me, kicking anywhere high was not an option.
Because I had cross-trained in boxing, knockdown karate, Muay Thai, BJJ, JKD Submission grappling, three schools of Kempo, and reality-based personal protection, this wasn’t as big a deal as it would have been if I was a “pure” Taekwondoka.
God forbid I hadn’t had an arsenal to draw on. A fight is a traumatic-enough experience as it is without realising that your strongest techniques can’t be used in the way that you’ve been taught to use them.
This is why I believe that there needs to be a shift in the way that kicking is taught in the art we all love. One reason for the lack of low kicks in the majority of syllabuses has to be ascribed to the rules of no kicking below the belt. Because that rule was introduced not only low kicks, but also sweeps were removed from one of the most popular aspects of Taekwondo. It’s well known that if something is no longer practiced as it was, that the skills gradually reduce, teaching of it stops. If teaching stops, then the knowledge is lost as black belts without that knowledge become instructors.
In the modern world, having such restrictions on an art that claims to be the Korean art of self-defence, makes a fallacy of that claim. If you programme a rule into someone that they cannot kick below the belt, then they simply won’t. Removing this ability will then impair their ability to defend themselves, something that as instructors, we have a duty of care to provide.
Similarly, programming people that head kicks are best, again through the rules, the scoring methods and through all of the media and photos that abound, is not a good idea. If someone is acting on instinct – which they most likely will when under a massive load of stress – and they attempt a head kick in unsuitable conditions they risk putting themselves in even greater danger.
Because I have a somewhat ‘independent’ approach to how I teach Taekwondo – one person even claimed that my book on Taekwondo applications had nothing to do with Taekwondo, and didn’t follow the Tenets! – I already teach these techniques and allow them in our sparring. What I want to see is more mainstream clubs adopting this approach. Our beloved art needs to live up to its claims, and without such a shift, it can’t.
Good article Matt. There is a reason many believe you should not use high kicks in self defense. But don’t forget TKD has developed as an Olympic sport, and what is now practiced is a far cry from the TKD of the 60’s (when I began TKD) and I suspect from the TKD of 1945.
Thanks Rick, I would have loved to see what it was like then!
Much different now, WTF has its place as a sport that requires great skill and dedication at a high level of competition. I teach my students the weakness of sport against true taekwondo martial art.
Really enjoyed this post Matt, from very limited experience I know how years of Dojo experience disappear into the ether in the hurly burly of a scuffle but really interesting to read about your experiences, the physiological effects (hope that’s the right use of physiological) and how you felt that affecting your combative decision making.
Thanks, and yes that’s correct :). I shall be writing an article on how to introduce fear to training in the near future