13 May 2018

Flexibility and Current Science

A recent academic publication (April 2018) (see the abstract here) provides a meta-analysis of the current literature (23 articles) regarding types of stretching and their effectiveness. The conclusion is that static stretching provides the greatest increase in flexibility (range of motion) compared to other types of stretching. Stretching should be done at least five times per week. (The full article suggests that there is no benefit to stretch every day of the week. Five days per week is enough; six days per week is okay, but seven days per week has no additional benefit. I'm guessing a day or two of rest per week may actually be beneficial, although it is not mentioned.) The stretching duration should be at least five minutes; however, there is no benefit for stretching more than ten minutes. So in short, for the greatest increase in flexibility, use:

  • static stretching 
  • five days per week 
  • for around 8 minutes per muscle group. 
To get the most out of your time, try to do stretches that include several muscles at once. For instance, the regular front split stretches the psoas and quads in the rear leg and the hamstring of the front leg -- and if you flex the front foot and toes back, the calf muscles are stretched too. In this way you can stretch at least four muscles groups by doing just one regular stretch.

By focussing on more than one muscle group, it will still require at least 30 minutes of almost daily devotion to get general, overall flexibility of the lower-body. Therefore, I recommend Netflix-stretching. 😅 I also recommend using PNF-stretching initially to quickly get into a deep stretch, and then staying in the deep stretch for the suggested eight minutes.

Finally, remember, that if you feel any severe pain, sharp or stinging pain or extreme burning sensations, stop the stretch immediately. Also, refrain from hard stretching while injured.

In the video below you can listen to a discussion about stretching in general and also hear about the article mentioned above:

10 April 2018

The Twisting Kick

The twisting kick 비틀어차기 as it is called in ITF Taekwon-Do is, I believe, an iconic kick of Korean martial arts. It is a prominent kick in ITF Taekwon-Do, practised in Kukki Taekwondo (although much less so in WT Taekwondo*), it is a staple kick in Taekkyeon, and can also be found in Tang Soo Do curricula, with variations of it present in Hapkido as well. It is a kick seldom observed in Japanese and Chinese martial arts, although variations of it is sure to be present in some non-Korean martial arts. I have found it an effective technique to use on non-Korean stylists whom are unfamiliar with this deceptive kick.

Twisting Kick at Middle Height
Photo taken by VS Force ©

The term "twisting" is a translation of the Korean biteul-eo 비틀어, based on the verb biteul-da 비틀다, which means to twist or wring something, for instance wringing water out of a wet towel. In the case of the twisting kick, it denotes the outward corkscrew motion of the kick, and also the twisting motion that occurs throughout the body when kicking; often the torso and arms are twisted in the opposite direction of the turning of the hips and vector of the kick. Not only is the kick surprisingly deceptive because of its uncommon out-curved line trajectory, but with correct training it can also be quite powerful because of the way it accelerates. To get power in the kick, one has to strongly rotate the hip outwards, swinging the knee in an arc towards the target, and finally flicking the lower leg out, all in a smooth whip-like snap. The twisting kick is almost always performed with the ball of the foot in ITF Taekwon-Do, as I demonstrate in the photo above.

The video below is a tutorial for how the kick is usually performed in ITF Taekwon-Do.

You can see a WT / Kukki Taekwondo tutorial of their version of the twisting kick here.

For beginners, I teach the twisting kick in steps: First, lift the knee up as if you are going to do a front kick. Next, drop the knee side-ways, so that your lower leg aims towards the horizontal. Finally, flick the lower leg out, into a snap kick. Now attempt to do these steps fluidly, rather than separately. To do the kick at middle and high heights, the knee should be brought diagonally across (rather than straight up), then the hips should be swung outward so that the kick comes out in a nice C-shape arc toward the target.

High Twisting Kick
Image from ITF Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4
In ITF Taekwon-Do one is usually admonished to keep the standing foot flat at the moment of impact because it ensures a more stable base. However, there are certain kicks, such as this one and the spinning reverse turning kick, where the forces involved in the kick put a lot of strain on the knee-joint of the standing leg. Therefore, especially when the target is at a weird angle, I'm a little lax with the flat-foot rule. I let the tensions in my joints and body indicate if it is "safe" to put my heal flat or not. Generally, when I perform this kick at middle or high sections, I do not have my standing foot flat, but rotate on the ball of the foot. Pictures in the ITF Encyclopaedia also show the heel of the standing foot lifted off the floor at the moment of impact.

At lower heights, the twisting kick is quite effective when targeting the lower shin, side of the knee, the inner thigh, and the groin of an opponent positioned in front of you. The side of the knee can be kicked either on the inside or outside and will cause the opponent's leg to buckle. Be careful, as the knee and supporting tendons can be seriously harmed by such an attack, especially when the leg which is being attacked is bearing much weight.

As a middle section kick, it is ideally used when an opponent stands to the side-front of you. Common targets include the floating ribs, bladder, solar plexus (diaphragm), and kidneys. In ITF Taekwon-Do the ball of the foot is the primary attacking tool. When wearing shoes, the toes (tip of the shoe) is an effective weapon. For a middle twisting kick the instep is not an effective attacking tool and not prescribed in ITF Taekwon-Do. However, an often under utilized option is the knee. The twisting knee kick works very well at a middle height for someone standing close to you and towards your oblique.

High Twisting Kick
Photo taken by VS Force ©

High Twisting Kick
Image from ITF Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4
As a high kick, a flexible practitioner may effectively employ this kick against an opponent standing right next to them, kicking their face. The knock-out point on the side of the chin (acupressure point ST-5, known in Korean as daeyeong 대영) is a good target. In the Korean martial art Taekkyeon the high twisting kick is often used for an opponent in front of you. Using the instep as the attacking tool, the kick targets vital spots on the side of the head, such as the chin, the angle of mandible, or temple.

In Taekkyeon, the twisting kick is known as naechagi 내차기, and is usually used to attack either the lower limb or the head. The low kick targets the ankle or lower shin, inner thigh or inside of the knee; while the high kick is aimed at the head. An attack to the head is called a high (nopeun 노픈) naechagi or a gyeotchigi 곁치기. The video below shows a gyeotchigi.

In Hapkido the slap kick (bitgyeo chagi 빗겨 차기) is reminiscent of a twisting kick. The verb bitgyeo-da suggest a skidding quality. Hapkido's slap kick is similar to an ITF vertical kick, but it hits the target in a diagonal skidding motion, unlike the ITF vertical kick that slaps the target with more of penetrative force, rather than skidding. Hapkido's bitgyeo chagi also uses the instep as the attacking tool, like Taekkyeon's gyeotchigi; whereas ITF's vertical kick employs the footsword.  There is another kick in Hapkido that has a very slight twisting quality to it, namely the center-toe kick, also known as front toe kick or spear foot kick. The Korean jokki jireugi 족기 지르기 translates as toe-stabbing kick. The kick is performed like a front kick with the toes pointed (spear foot), however the extended leg twists outward in the hip-socket at the moment of impact. The most common target is the side of the groin or other sensitive areas and pressure points. I'm not sure if Hapkido's front toe kick really qualifies as a "twisting" kick as the general vector of the kick is not performed in a C-shape arc.

As for the twisting kick in non-Korean martial arts, I have not yet been convinced that it is the same kick. I've been pointed to the uchi mawashi geri and gyaku mawashi geri in the Karate styles. I've looked at several examples of these kicks on YouTube and what I've seen are simply not twisting kicks as I understand it; instead, they are what we in ITF Taekwon-Do may call hooking kick and outward vertical kick, or fan kick (buchae chagi 부채 차기). After more personal research I found a kick in Kyokushin Karate called uchi heisoku geri, which I think may very well be considered a twisting kick. I wonder if the fact that the founder of Kyokushin Karate was a Korean, may be the reason this kick is part of their curriculum. I've been told that there is an equivalent kick in some Chinese martial arts as well as in the Brazilian martial art Capoeira; however, I have not been pointed to specific examples to be able to confirm this.

The twisting kick is one of my favourite kicks. It is a relative short range kick, and is therefore useful in the punching range and because of its unconventional vector, it is quite difficult to notice and defend against. Before practising the twisting kick, I strongly recommend warming up your knees and stretching your groin and hip flexor muscles. Another tip for the kick is to keep your leg relaxed and perform the kick in a whip-like action as this will increase the speed and power of the kick.


* While the twisting kick is part of traditional Taekwon-Do curricula, and can therefore be found in some Kukki Taekwondo schools, I think it is seldom practiced in WT Taekwondo schools. It has been my experience that most WT Taekwondo practitioners I have spoken to, don't practice it, and surprisingly, many people don't know about it. I think the reason for this is that the twisting kick was not powerful enough to score a point in full-contact WT Taekwondo competitions, in part because it is often taught with the instep rather than the ball of the foot, in Kukki/WT schools. However, with the new WT rules that allow for points scored to the head with light contact kicks, it is foreseeable that the twisting kick may make a comeback.

14 March 2018

South Africa Trip 2018

My annual trip to South Africa in January and February this year was quite a blessed one. Apart from spending some quality time with family and friends, I also had the opportunity to visit several martial art schools and friends.

In Cape Town, I visited the Instructor Jaren Philips' ITF Taekwon-Do school in Green Point, where I shared some thoughts on Korean body culture and the overlap between Taekkyeon and ITF Taekwon-Do.

With black belts at the Green Point Dojang.
In Kwa-Zulu Natal I visited my friends at the Pinetown Stingers Dojang where we practiced some of break-falling and joint-manipulation techniques.

With some members of the Pinetown Stingers Club. 

In Centurion I presented an ITF principles seminar with participants attending from the greater Pretoria region, Potchefstroom, and the Vaal Triangle. The workshop centered on re-thinking how we apply fundamental motions in a practical manner that makes full use of different possibilities presented to us within the context of the Theory of Power.

WIth some participants at the workshop in Centurion.
I was delighted to be able to visit the Potcheftroom Taekwon-Do school this year. I started this dojang exactly 20 years ago and couldn't have imagined that it would continue to exist for such a long time. The school have always been relatively small, but the quality is consistent and under instructor Philip's care, I am happy say that the Potchefstroom Dojang is doing very well.

With some students at the Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club.

Apart from my Taekwon-Do adventures, I also gave an introductory Hapkido seminar in Cape Town. There are hopes that from a small Hapkido training group a Hapkido school will open in the Mother City.

With Anthony Lapperts
I also introduced, for the first time in South Africa, hopaesul -- the study of a Korean weapon known as hopae. The introduction was presented to some higher level black belts as an addendum to the Centurion workshop.

With the Korean weapon, hopae

18 December 2017

Hapkido Master's Certification

This afternoon I made a quick pre-Christmas visit to the Korea Hapkido Federation headquarters 대한합기도 협회 in Seoul to meet with my Hapkido mentor Director Bae 배성북. He presented me with my Hapkido instructor's certification ("Certificate of Master" 사범자격증). I had complied with the requirements already in May, but I hadn't had an opportunity to visit the headquarters to pick up the certificate until today.

In Hapkido, after promotion to a 4th degree black belt and upon completion of a master's seminar (usually stretching over a few days), the English title "master" may be used. The Korean title sabeom 사범 applies. In ITF Taekwon-Do this is equivalent to an international instructor certification. (Read more about these titles here.)

My Hapkido journey started in 2006, when I came to Korea the first time. I feel very blessed to have grown in Hapkido under the positive influences of some great instructors: Master Jo at whose school in Gunja I started my Hapkido training, my friend Dr John Johnson who was instrumental in teaching me the foundational principles of Hapkido and guided me as I started out on this journey, Master Duke Kim (Kyongho) who prepared me for my first black belt, Master Kim Hoon who supported me for my 2nd and 3rd Dan and showed me a more practical version of the style, Master Bae Sungbook from whom I've learned tremendously and who I consider an important mentor in Hapkido, and my friend Dr Leo Chung with whom I co-hosted several martial arts workshops and regularly train with and learn from. I'm very appreciative of them all.

01 September 2017

Some thoughts on McGregor beating up Jesus

So, last week there was the big Mayweather-McGregor fight. McGregor made some comments back in 2015, which were dug-up possibly by Mayweather fans that wanted to paint McGregor in a bad light and get good intending Christians on board because the comments may be considered blasphemous. McGregor claimed in an interview, that if he faced Jesus as an opponent in the ring, he’d be able to beat him up. There are three thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw people sharing the meme of McGregor claiming that he’d beat up any man alive, including Jesus.

First, why the fuss with McGregor? Here we have Mayweather, convicted for assaulting several women he had been in relationships with, as well as other people.

See: "Floyd Mayweather has a disturbing history of domestic violence"

Let’s compare that for a moment with McGregor, who although he has a foul mouth, seems to adore his wife and treats her with great respect, and does not have a criminal record.

Why the need for the McGregor memes about his impossible, fictitious encounter with Jesus in a fight. Why didn’t I see any memes denouncing Mayweather for the misogynistic, violent thug and convicted criminal that he is? (There probably were a few such memes circulating the Internet, but I just didn't happen to see them shared within my SNS circles.) I’m just saying, what is more probable, that McGregor will beat up Jesus, or that Mayweather will beat up another woman? What is an actual concern here in our day and age? People beating up deities or men abusing women and children? Let’s rather talk about the issue of violence in general against women, children, and the marginalized, minorities, and gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transsexual people, and also animals. Let’s call out McGregor on his luxurious fur coats or on the implied acceptable bully behaviour that’s embedded in his statement of beating up the pacifist Jesus.

Second, from McGregor’s statement, his Biblical knowledge is rather lacking, stating: “Me versus Jesus in the Octagon? I tell you what, there's not a man alive that can beat me... But Jesus ain't alive... maybe he can come back from the dead, I don't know. I'd still whoop his ass.” Why do Christians get upset at someone who clearly don’t know the Biblical account of Jesus dying on the cross, then being resurrected on the third day, and finally ascending alive into heaven. If McGregor believes that “Jesus ain’t alive,” there is hardly a reason to take his comment seriously.

My last point is actually the very first thought I had when I saw these memes, and maybe it is the most controversial, but it is this: Jesus being beat up, tortured, and finally executed—without once putting up a fight to defend himself—is at the core of the Christian faith. One need not be a UFC champion to beat up Jesus. Jesus was in both his message and his actions a pacifist. It would hardly be a moment of pride for McGregor to beat up someone that never raises his fists, even in defence, but actually turns the other cheek. In fact, Jesus as the innocent victim, as the scapegoat killed by a community, is central to the messianic mission—this was the very revelation of his mission: that we humans resort to violence and that power-over-others is what we idealize, hence our adoration of fighters like Mayweather and McGregor. However, Jesus came to reveal the antithetical nature of God as non-violence, all-loving, as servant-to-all, who would rather be killed himself, than to retaliate in violence. Rather than finding McGregor’s statement offensive, I find it revealing—a revelation of the truth of the human condition, as was exposed at the execution of Jesus on the cross. If you are interested in these ideas, I strongly recommend the French philosopher René Girard’s works about mimetic desire, mimetic rivalry, and the scapegoat mechanism.

23 August 2017

Lessons to be learned from an unfortunate death

There is much that can be learned from this incident in which an MMA fighter killed a body builder.
1. They have now both lost their lives. The MMA guy is sure to go to jail for manslaughter. And for what? An insult? This seemed to have been just an ego fight between two "tough guys". At any point, one of them could have swallowed their pride and walked away. He (the MMA dude or the body builder) may have been taunted as a coward for walking away, but that is nothing compared to the eventual consequences. Now we have a dead tough guy and a jailed tough guy that will probably be incarcerated for most of his life, and the end of both of their athletic careers.
2. The kick -- what we in Taekwon-Do call a reverse turning kick -- is one of our strongest kicks because of the spinning momentum. My instructor has often called it a deadly kick, and it was clearly not hyperbole.
3. The myth that high kicks are not effective in a 'street' fight is simply that; a myth.
4. Size does (not) matter. There is no question that size matters. But a trained fighter (in this case the MMA guy) can still do serious and even lethal harm to an untrained big guy (the bodybuilder).
5. Just because it is a combat sport, doesn't mean it is not effective "on the street". MMA, like other combat sports, can be used effectively against untrained people.
6. But combat sport, and also other forms of combat training, doesn't necessarily make for good, civilian appropriate self-defence. A civilian defense system can sometimes provides alternative and more civil responses than simply breaking someone's skull.
7. Sadly, I suspect with the increased popularity of MMA and UFC, we are likely to see more and more of these "accidents". As more people start to train in fighting techniques with the main goal of gaining a knock out (or "tap out"), and without a moral emphasis and an encouragement of "control", we are likely to see more young, ego-driven, testosterone hyped thugs (a title they probably embrace as part of their tough guy image), beating up (and sometimes killing) other people, for no sensible reason apart from their pride. Even Rickson Gracie, one of the pioneer MMA athletes who retired undefeated from the sport suggested that MMA gives a bad example, an "extreme sport without a code", often lacking humility and respect. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a combat sport, it is ultimately only about winning using violence.
8. The MMA guy's follow up to go beat up his opponent on the floor was clearly inappropriate; however, it was also simply part of his sports training. That is what one does in MMA. If someone falls you follow them to the ground and you continue to beat them up until the referee stops the fight. The lesson here is that one tends to perform how you train. A valuable lesson, albeit a sinister way to for us to see it.
9. One difference between how traditional martial arts (focussing on civilian self-defence) and a combat sport is practiced: in the traditional martial art the practitioner is usually taught to defend and then retreat. Once the assailant has fallen, the "defender" would retreat, away from harm, rather than follow them to the floor to break their skull. This was not an "assailant-defender" situation, but because we usually perform how we train, I hypothesize that a traditional martial artist would have reacted differently once his opponent had fallen. I'm not saying that in traditional martial arts we do not teach to follow up, but there is usually a different emphasis -- one of offensive-defence, rather than only offense.
10. Finally, in traditional martial arts, practitioners are required to practise a level of "control" which puts the moral responsibility on them -- but in full contact combat sport the onus is on the referee so that the practitioner does not have to think about the hassle of "control" and "ethics" and such bothersome moral considerations. There are many ways to differentiate between a traditional martial art and a combat sport or general combat system. One definite difference is that traditional martial arts contemplate ethical considerations beyond simply sports rules and fair play. Good traditional martial arts usually actively teach some form of ethical code based on a particular philosophical worldview. And this incident between professional MMA fighter Anar Ziranovshows and the now deceased power lifter Andrey Drachev shows us why.

09 July 2017

Taekkyun: An Essay

I was recently asked to write a 700 word essay for a magazine about my experience in Taekkyeon. Below is the first draft of that essay. 

Taekkyeon: Korea’s Folk Martial Art
By Dr. Sanko Lewis

Although I couldn’t understand the words, I could easily hum along to the soulful pentatonic melodies. The grannies happily sang the songs of their youth, while rhythmically stepping in a triangular pattern, bending their knees in a rhythmic bounce with each step, and swinging their arms this way and that way, as if wading through barley fields. The uninitiated seeing these elderly women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties—one even aged ninety-three—singing and moving to the rhythm of their ancestral songs would easily mistake the activity for a folk dance, rather than a martial art.

My first encounter with Taekkyeon, Korea’s most authentic martial art, was quite providential. I’ve already been practicing Korean martial arts since I was a teenager. I had a fourth degree black belt in Taekwondo and also a black belt in Hapkido, but I was eager to experience the lessor known Taekkyeon. Both Taekwondo and Hapkido are strongly influenced by Japanese martial arts—a legacy of the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Taekwondo evolved from Shotokan Karate, and Hapkido evolved from Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu. Taekkyeon, however, was a folk martial art practiced before the annexation of Korea, and suppressed nearly into extinction during the occupation. I knew that if I truly wanted to understand Korean martial arts, that I had to learn Taekkyeon. I was thrilled when I discovered that there is a respected Taekkyeon instructor at the very university where I just started working.

He was an oriental medicine doctor by profession and taught acupuncture and Taekkyeon at the university’s “Life Long Education Center.” The center offers different classes to retirees, hence the reason this class was filled with Korean grannies who came for acupuncture lessons on Wednesday and Friday mornings. I only attended the Wednesday morning class because on Fridays it clashed with one of the literature classes I teach in the English Department. When the grannies finish their acupuncture lesson, an hour of Taekkyeon followed. Halfway through the Taekkyeon class, someone would sneak out to switch on the rice cooker, for afterwards it was time for lunch. The grannies brought fourth numerous containers of homemade Korean side dishes—pickled chilies, beans glazed in honey, fern-shoots brined in soy sauce, stir-fried mushrooms, sweet lotus root, spicy kimchi—everyone shared in the merry potluck. I became very fond of these ladies who treated me like a long-lost son who they had to reintroduce into their culture. They not only fed me (and made sure I ate more than enough), they also taught me their beloved folk songs, and even showed me how to put on the white hanbok—a traditional Korean outfit—worn during Taekkyeon training. I found the unusual knot used to tie the jacket in the front and the pant legs tight against the ankles particularly challenging, and when my knots were jumbled one of the grannies would re-knot them properly. I loved training with the grannies and enjoyed being part of that unique community, but after a few months I realized that I wasn’t learning much anymore. The grannies went through all the fighting motions, but they never actually sparred, and even if they did, I would have felt much too uncomfortable sparring against them. It was then that I started looking for another Taekkyeon group where I could learn the more practical side of the martial art. My Taekwondo instructor in Seoul did some research and found me one of the most reputable Taekkyeon schools in the country, located in Insadong, a “traditional street” in downtown Seoul.

Even at this school, with a clear sparring focus, and known for hosting regular “Taekkyeon Battles,” I was surprised to discover the use of traditional Korean music. Warm-ups were done to the rhythm of a folk song and occasional singing, and during sparring sessions a live folk music percussion band accompanied the “battles.” Taekkyeon is innately connected to the traditional folk rhythms of Korea. Taekkyeon’s fundamental movements are based on a triangular stepping pattern known as pumbalbgi that follows the three-beat rhythm found in traditional Korean music. There is a conspicuous bounciness about Taekkyeon that echoes the up-and-down motions seen in Korean traditional dance. The knees are rhythmically bent and extended so that the techniques acquire a wavelike motion quite distinct from the martial arts of the neighboring China and Japan.

Not unlike a dance, the movements should be enjoyed. “Don’t be too serious,” advised Grandmaster Do one evening, “you should always smile while doing Taekkyeon.” And so I smiled, thinking back to the cheerful grannies that taught me to sing their childhood songs.

23 June 2017

New ITF Taekwon-Do & Hapkido Gym: Soo Shim Kwan ◦ Seoul

Master Kim Hoon
After about two decades of running gyms in Seoul, Master Kim Hoon has decided to take a sabbatical and a well-deserved rest. Therefore, the 'The Way' gym has closed at the end of May. I have been part of Master Kim Hoon's gym for nine years and have taught ITF Taekwon-Do and other martial arts at 'The Way' for most of that time.

With the closing of 'The Way', I suddenly needed a place for myself to train, and also assist my students in their journey towards black belts and beyond.

At first I thought of getting a training space close by my home. However, 'The Way' dojang was the only ITF Taekwon-Do space in central Seoul; we often received international visitors that wanted a place to practise ITF Taekwon-Do in the city of its birth. I thought it would be a terrible shame not to continue to have a "home" for ITF Taekwon-Do in Seoul that is accessible to most people. Although I live in Seoul, I live on the eastern outskirts, which might be a little difficult to access for tourists and other people interested in ITF Taekwon-Do.

I therefore decided to find a place more centrally located. I found a rooftop one-room apartment that I think will do the job. It is located in the Yongsan District, which is in central Seoul, close by the Itaewon and Noksapyeong neighbourhoods that are well-known among foreign residents in Korea. During the pleasant summer months one can exercise outside on the rooftop, with Namsan Mountain and Seoul Tower in the background. And on rainy days and during the cold months one can train inside. The idea of a rooftop training space has always appealed to me as historically that is where many martial artists in cities used to practise their discipline.

Dr Sanko Lewis going through a personal exercise routine

Soo Shim Kwan ◦ Seoul will function as my private dojang where I can continue my own martial arts practise. I'll also use it for private teaching and to continue the monthly "Seoul Martial Arts Circle" workshops that I've been hosting for several years. My focus will continue to be Korean martial arts, with emphasis on ITF Taekwon-Do and Hapkido, but also Taekkyeon and Yusul when time allows.

I will move into the new premises early July 2017. The first week or so will probably be dedicated to renovations, but I plan to get training there as soon as possible and will spend much of my time during my summer vacation at Soo Shim Kwan ◦ Seoul.

12 June 2017

Ten Suggestion for Martial Arts Learning at Black Belt Level by Manuel Adrogué

My friend, Master Manuel Adrogué, shared the following ten suggestions to black belt level martial artist, which I thought quite insightful. You can read his full post here, and be sure to visit his website for more of his writing.

Ten Suggestion in Connection with Martial Arts Learning at Black Belt Level by Manuel Adrogué

My suggestion in connection with martial arts learning at black belt level is:

1) If you want to learn, seek for knowledge (that is the point of reading books), if you want to improve, train hard.

2) During the first 15 years of your training, become really good at one thing (do not diversify) yet do some cross training (but make sure you are learning your stuff at a good school: if you feel your punches and kicks are weak and no one is telling you, leave that place and do not fool yourself just because those surrounding you accept mediocrity);

3) Do not judge other martial arts you do not fully understand, and always suspect you might be missing something;

4) Invest training by repeating the traditional methods but do not accept tradition as something written in stone (notwithstanding, keep faith on things beyond your current comprehension if stated by a trustworthy person);

5) Someone who does not have superior skills will never lead you to superior skills not matter his rank or certification (let me remind you that martial art skills are essentially physical fighting skills);

6) After 25 years of training the same thing, cost of opportunity raises dramatically and for every hour you spend training the same stuff in an unrealistic hope to improve would be better spent in adding a new skill;

7) If you misdirect your energy on arguments over terminology, legitimacy, heritage or details about
style you are not getting any better and actually working for the evil industry by refreshing the "organized despair" Bruce Lee was talking about in 1970;

8) Loyalty in the martial arts is not a commitment to limit yourself to one teacher (when you start school as a kid just one teacher teaches you reading and basic math, but as studies get higher, more specialized teachers show up, and in university they multiply by dozens. I do not see any reason for high martial art education to be different);

9) If you are a martial arts books fanatic, at minimum try to double your readings with other books (for me it is some legal readings plus history/religion/politics but any serious area will work –hey, superhero stuff qualifies as serious to me) so that you develop your rational thinking and a different referential point, plus that is what you will probably be making a contribution to the martial arts world by knowing that extra material; and

10) If you have read all this up to this point, you are in danger. I recommend you try to get a life outside the martial arts (I picked a beautiful gal who gave us four kids and for those two reasons I have a great excuse to spend some time out of the martial arts). Pick a sport, an art, or something that will make you smile and live! The martial arts are highly addictive and will attempt to override more important aspects of existence: GOD, LOVE TO BE FOUND IN PEOPLE. Ridendo dicere verum. 

11 June 2017

Exploring the Definition of Taekwon-Do

On another blog, I stumbled onto this contemplation on the "Definition of Taekwon-Do" which I wrote many, many years ago for a little Taekwon-Do publication in South Africa. It was a surprising discovery to find my old writing on someone else's blog. Since it was never published here on my own blog, I thought I'd share it here now.

Exploring the Definition of Taekwon-Do

Reference: Definition of Taekwon-Do (ITF Encyclopaedia: Vol. 1, p. 21-23.)

In volume one of the Encyclopaedia, the definition of Taekwon-Do begins with the statement "A way of life." It would do you good to read through this section in the Encyclopaedia on your own. However, I would like to highlight and comment on some sections.

"To put it simply Taekwon-Do is a version of unarmed combat designed for the purpose of self-defence." This statement says much about how we should consider Taekwon-Do. Firstly it is a form of combat. It is, in other words, a method of fighting, battling or making war! The goal of this combat, fighting or war is self-defense. In Korean history, the Korean nation only went to war as an act of self-defence. This is the same in Taekwon-Do, only fighting when needing to protect yourself or your loved ones.

"It is the scientific use of the body in the method of self-defence; a body that has gained the ultimate use of its facilities through physical training and mental training." It is quite clear that Taekwon-Do training has two parts; physical training being the one and mental training being the other.

The definition continues to say that though Taekwon-Do is a martial art: "…its discipline, technique and mental training are the mortar for building a strong sense of justice, fortitude, humility and resolve." It is Taekwon-Do's aim to uplift the character. The Taekwon-Do Black Belt should courageously and firmly stand for what is right no matter the circumstances, and with humility. (Note how humility is defined in Taekwon-Do: Moral Culture, Part Two, C. Be Humble.)

"It is this mental training," continues the section, "that separates the true practitioner from the sensationalist content with mastering only the fighting aspect of the art." When a student asked his Grand Master 'What is the essence of Taekwon-Do training?' the Grand Master answered: 'It is just mind training.'

Because Taekwon-Do is first and foremost an art of fighting, it has the innate possibility of being misused. Taekwon-Do is a "lethal weapon" intended for the "rapid destruction of…opponents." It is therefore imperative that "mental training must always be stressed to prevent the student from misusing it." This mental training is known as Moral Culture in Taekwon-Do. A student trained in Taekwon-Do, but without the Moral Culture to govern it, is to be compared with a gun in the hands of a child!

How little time is spent on anything else but the fighting aspect of the art? Most Taekwon-Do classes focus only on the fighting aspect. There are many reasons for this, but I am not going to discuss them now. However, the Black Belt must, therefore, make it his or her self-proclaimed obligation to spend quality time at this mental training that is so ignored. This mental training is one of the reason we can call Taekwon-Do an "art of self-defence".

Added to self-defence is "health". General Choi says that Taekwon-Do: "…indicates the mental training and the techniques of unarmed combat for self-defence as well as health…" How pitiful it is when we teach people how to defend themselves against aggressors, but we neglect to teach them principles for healthy living. If we do not teach our practitioners how to defend themselves against an unhealthy lifestyle we can just as well stop teaching them to defend against an enemy, for both have the ability to shorten the life. Self-defence should be broadened to self-preservation, which includes protection from various forms of attack on one's well-being. Do you now understand the importance of something like "Health Principles" in martial art study? It is the natural overflow of studying an art of self-defence.

Taekwon-Do is also defined as a "scientific" method of self-defence. "[I]nvolving the skilled application of punches, kicks, blocks and dodges with bare hands and feet to the rapid destruction of the moving opponent or opponents." This says quite a lot about the characteristics of Taekwon-Do. As a scientific method, it should include the "scientific use of the body" through scientifically sound techniques. In other words, the use of "punches, kicks, blocks and dodges" should make sense scientifically. This means that their use should make sense both on an anatomical/biological level as well as be in coherence with the science of physics.

Taekwon-Do's technical superiority is clear when we consider its understanding in the fields of anatomy and biology in such teachings as "Vital Spots", "Blocking and Attacking Tools" and the "Training Secrets" and in its use of Newtonian Laws in such principles as the "Theory of Power".

What many overlooks is that Taekwon-Do's ultimate goal, as an art of self-defence, is fighting against "moving" opponents. As an art that relies on traditional physics, Black Belts should familiarise themselves with these theories of motion, balance and momentum in the context of human combat. The Encyclopaedia states: "Most of the devastating manoeuvres in Taekwon-Do are based especially on the initial impact of a blow plus the consequential additional force provided by the rebound of the opponents moving part or body."

When I tell students that Taekwon-Do has much in common with styles such as Tai Chi Ch'uan or Aikido they are shocked. This is because of an unbalanced understanding of Taekwon-Do. Clearly, they have never read the following sentence that follows on the previous quote: "Similarly by using the attacker's force or momentum, the slightest push is all that is needed to upset his or her equilibrium and to topple him or her." Does not this sound like something from an Aikido lesson? No, dear reader, this is basic Taekwon-Do theory and part of the "definition" of our art!

The final thing I would like to highlight from this section of the Encyclopaedia is that Taekwon-Do, which is "A way of life" should be natural and instinctive. "In the case of the students of Taekwon-Do who have been in constant practice or the experts themselves, they spend no time thinking, as such an action comes automatically to them. Their actions, in short, have become conditioned reflexes."

In conclusion, I hope that from the above, you as a Black Belt have become aware of some of the voids in your understanding of Taekwon-Do. Study these voids and through practice fill them and you will have attained the mind of a Taekwon-Do Black Belt.