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Martial Arts, Taekwondo, Writing

My Taekwondo’s MINE – What’s YOUR Taekwondo?

This is an article that I wrote a few years ago. I recently witnessed a spat  between Taekwondo practitioners as to what was and wasn’t correct for a certain technique. Seeing this reminded me of the this article, so I thought I would post it up again.

My Taekwondo has changed greatly due to the exposure I’ve had to a number of different types of Taekwondo, my boxing, karate, BJJ, ninjutsu, Kenpo, Kempo, Reality Based, FAST and other training, all of which I’ve used to enrich my understanding of the martial arts, and to enhance what I’ve learnt in Taekwondo. I hope you enjoy this article.

A while ago I read an article basically asking ‘What is Tae Kwon Do?’ This prompted me to look deeper into what I was doing, and the way that I was approaching Tae Kwon Do. I’ll give you a little background. In 1991 I started Tae Kwon Do with the TAGB. This was something that I’d wanted to do since seeing the Karate Kid (not the same I know but I’d read about Tae Kwon Do due to the Olympics, I hadn’t been able find anything much about Karate). I loved the patterns, the sparring and the step sparring but I especially liked the self-defence aspect because I’d been bullied as a younger boy, and I could emphasise with what Ralph Machio’s character wanted to do.

Gradually I came to realise that Tae Kwon Do wasn’t an ancient Korean martial art (as it was advertised in those days), nor was it much good for self-defence the way it was taught in the all the schools in my area. Whilst at Uni I had also found out about ‘Tuite’ and joined the famous ‘Tuite’ list around 1994. On there I spoke to such people as Rick Clark and Bill Burgar, and in 1995 I agreed to host Rick for his November tour.

The seminar opened my eyes two ways. The first way was that, despite being offered full support etc by my instructor at that time, when it came to it people were actively discouraged from attending the seminar. The second way was when Rick hit my first pressure point. In those days things were done a bit harder than now, and I remember the pain actually causing me to lose my sight for a minute or two. His ability to match it to techniques that I was learning at the time also inspired me, as did the fact that a high-ranking Dan took the time to just sit down and chat about the martial arts with a yellow belt (I was a slow grader due to Uni).

I kept training in Tae Kwon Do, and started to apply the points that he’d taught me into three and two step sparring. This was not a popular move with most of my partners, and I was constantly told ‘that’s not Tae Kwon Do’. Seeing blue belts being taught sweeps but being told that I was too low a grade to learn them, also started to rub as my interest in self-defence had taken on a much keener edge due to my joining the Special Constables. In the end I moved into a style derived from American Kenpo called ‘Kempo Ryu’ under one of the best instructors I’d ever had, Phil Cawood.  Finally I was learning techniques that I felt I could use on the street, and which would not only protect me but which would not cause me to end up in court myself.

Tae Kwon Do was my first love however, and in the end I returned to it full-time applying the techniques I’d learnt in Kemporyu, Shotokan, Ninjutsu and Shunryu Kempo. Again I was told that my way of looking at things wasn’t Tae Kwon Do, and that I should concentrate on the matter at hand, not whether a twin guarding forearm block is really the best way to block a reverse turning kick (a two step application). However, I had a book by Rick Clark ‘Martial Arts for the University’ and in it he had broken down the patterns in Karate and Tae Kwon Do (ITF and WTF) into the percentage of kicks found in each pattern, and the patterns of each system overall.

Fast forward to me reading the article I first mentioned and a very boring day at work. I decided I’d go through the first ten patterns of Chang Hun Tae Kwon Do, and see exactly what was contained and what wasn’t. After all, patterns are what truly define the ‘karate-like’ styles around nowadays. Breaking is done by pretty much everyone, especially the hardcore Karate styles such as Kyokushinkai, and everyone has taken kicks from external sources due to sporting requirements.

The results surprised me as I started to build up the matrix of techniques and worked out what was in the patterns. There are only six kicking techniques in the patterns up to black belt. Tae Kwon Do prides itself as a kicking art and yet the patterns, the actual core of the art only contain six of them. Even more surprising is that there are eighteen hand techniques. Three times as many of the kicking techniques within Tae Kwon Do’s patterns are hand techniques.

Inward and outward crescent kick, axe kick, pushing kick, and reverse/spinning side kick for example, are all kicks that novices begin using pretty much from the start of their training, and yet they aren’t part of the patterns that not only make up the syllabus, but which should also be considered to be the core of the art (for the reason outlined above).

For over thirteen years now, I’ve been applying my pressure points knowledge (gleaned from such excellent instructors as Rick Clark and Ken Tucker of the Ao Denkou Kai), and reverse engineering the Tae Kwon Do patterns. Sparring-type kicks went out of the window as I sought to find applications from within the patterns that could be taught to novices, and which would allow them some chance of being able to defend themselves on the street. Interestingly enough, as I examined patterns such as Sajo Jirugi (I know that they’re classed as exercises, but if you look at the definition as to what Sajo Jirugi is and what a pattern is they’re the same. This makes even more sense when you realise that Shotokan has 26 patterns. Tae Kwon Do was a determined Korean effort to rid their martial arts of Japanese influence, therefore having 26 patterns would defeat that purpose.) I came to reali se that Tae Kwon Do was far more effective than I could have ever imagined, and yet the core techniques, the ones that really worked during the pressure-testing and examination were those that utilised front kick, knee kick and side kick i.e., those that were actually found in the patterns rather than those found in one, two and three-step sparring.

We also found that simple stance changes utilising the crescent-like movement of the leg when in walking stance (forwards, backwards or turning either way), lent itself to sweeps, buckles and throws with very little effort on behalf of the student performing the technique.

So now the question rises again. What is Tae Kwon Do, and why doesn’t it more accurately present its nature through the patterns? Why weren’t the patterns designed with more kicks at an earlier stage? What happened to all the throws and sweeps that were part and parcel of the Korean martial arts and said to have been shown in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Tae Kwon Do?

I prefer to think this. Martial arts are a personal thing. No-one performs the same technique the same way, it’s a physical impossibility. No-one approaches the martial arts with exactly the same mindset either. I started martial arts because I was bullied, and wanted to look good duffing up the bullies should they ever try it again. I then wanted to learn martial arts in order to be able to defend myself on the street whilst in the Specials. That mindset has not left me, and so I approach MY Tae Kwon Do with practicality in mind. If I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of using it on the street, if it’s easily countered, if it’s too hard to learn and make a habit, if it relies to much on good conditions or a partner who knows what’s coming, and if it’s just too stupid to believe (and there are lot of ‘official’ applications out t here that fall into this category) then it’s out. I won’t waste my time learning something that won’t help either me or my family. Fortunately, I have a student who also likes this mindset and so my path isn’t too lonely.

There are those who like to practice Tae Kwon Do the way the syllabus is presented, and that’s their Tae Kwon Do. I really don’t think that we can truly define Tae Kwon Do. Even the translation can vary. ‘Foot hand art’, and the ‘kicking or destroying with the foot, punching and smashing with the hand way’ are both translations that are be used and which can both be considered valid. There is no ‘real Tae Kwon Do,’ since it has evolved too much and too far for anyone to be able to say what it is and isn’t. Obviously the different schools of thought such as the three ITFs and the WTF can all decide what is and isn’t acceptable for their association, but when you take into account all the other schools, and the fact that Tae Kwon Do students the world over study the Chang Hun, Poomse, Palgae, Taeguk, and Py ong-Ahn patterns, where do you even start to find a common thread? I say forget defining Tae Kwon Do as a whole, and define your Tae Kwon Do. Decide what you want from the art and go and find it. Someone, somewhere will be doing something similar to your ideals, and with the internet there’s no excuse for not finding it. Travelling to it is another matter, finding it isn’t that hard.

Sajo 1

Sajo 2

Chon Ji

Dan Gun

Do San

Won Hyo

Ready Stance x x x x x
Walking Stance x x x x x x
L-Stance x x x
Bending Ready Stance x
Fixed Stance x
Closed Ready Stance A x
Lower Outer forearm x x x x
Rising Block x x
Inner Forearm x x
Forearm Guarding Block x
Twin Forearm Guarding x x
Downward Palm Block x x x
Outer Forearm x
Knife hand Guarding Block x x
Wedging Block x
Outward Circling Block x
Hand Strikes
Obverse Punch x x x x x
Reverse Punch x
Outward Knife hand x x
Backfist x
Spear Finger thrust x x
Side Punch x
Inward Knife hand x
Front Snap x x
Side Piercing Kick (blade) x
Wrist Release x

Yul Gok

Joon Gun

Toi Gye

Hwa Rang

Choong Moo

Ready Stance x x
Walking Stance x x x x
L-Stance x x x
Bending Ready Stance x
Fixed Stance
Closed Ready Stance A
Sitting Stance x x
X-Stance x x
Closed Ready Stance B x x
Rear Foot stance (Cat) x
Closed Stance x
Closed Ready Stance C x
Vertical Stance x
Low stance x
Lower Outer forearm x
Rising Block x x
Inner Forearm x x
Forearm Guarding Block x x
Twin Forearm Block x
Downward Palm Block x
Outer Forearm x x
Knife hand Guarding Block x x x x
Wedging Block
Outward Circling Block x
Hooking Block x
Twin Knife hand Guarding x x
Double Forearm x x x x
Upward palm block x
Reverse Knife hand x
X-block x x x x
Palm Pressing Block x
U-Shaped Block x
W-shaped Block x
Low Knife hand Guarding x
Pushing Block x
Hand Strikes
Obverse Punch x x x
Reverse Punch x x
Outward Knife hand x
Back fist x x x
Spear Finger thrust x x x
Side Punch
Inward Knife hand
Hooking Elbow x
Rising Elbow x
Twin vertical punch x x
Twin upset punch x
Angle Punch (Hooking) x
Upset Finger Thrust x
Backward Back fist x
Twin Elbow Thrust x
Upward Punch x
Downward Knife hand x
Reverse Knife hand x
Flat Finger Tip x
Front Snap x x x
Side Piercing Kick (blade) x x x x            
Knee x x
Turning Kick x x
Piercing Back Kick x
Flying Side Piercing x
Spear Finger Wrist Release
Closed Fist Wrist Release x
Twin Fist Wrist Release x

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.


One thought on “My Taekwondo’s MINE – What’s YOUR Taekwondo?

  1. still train with Phil Cawood in Exmouth, he’s really good


    Posted by sammyjj0 | September 12, 2012, 3:35 pm

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