What’s The Difference Between Karate & Tae Kwon Do? (Part 2)

Well my last post on the differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do certainly got a quite a lot of discussion going (especially on the Facebook page).  So I thought that I would look at the subject a bit further.

First of all though, after my last post it was commented by some Tae Kwon Do guys that I had mainly described Tae Kwon Do from a sports perspective.  I totally accept that comment.  But I will repeat what I said in the last posting:-

“Tae Kwon Do has been through a number of incarnations starting with a form that was quite close to Karate, through to a much more Olympic sport oriented version.   Therefore we have to accept that not all of my observations will apply to every Karate/Tae Kwon Do style.  These observation are intended to be of a general nature”.

I think it is fair to say that those who practice applied practical Tae Kwon Do will generally learn two approaches.  For competition, they will use a stance and techniques as broadly described in my earlier posting, yet for practical applications they use more traditional stances as used in the patterns (which after all contain the more “street-wise” self defense moves).

There is also another quite pronounced difference in approach in some (but not all) versions of Tae Kwon Do and that is the inclusion of a sine-wave movement.  This where the practitioner will raise their centre of gravity up as they approach the half way mark of the technique (usually seen as a chambering position) then sink down as the technique is executed.  When executed with a step, the practitioner will move up and down in a sine-wave motion.  The theory behind this is that the on impact the striking surface (lets say the fist) will have both a forward vector  (from the step) and and downward vector (from lowering the body) applied to it, thereby increasing its impact.

Karate and older versions of Tae Kwon Do will remain at the same height throughout the step.  This removes the downward vector of dropping the body weight, but makes more use of compressing the supporting leg half way through which is then released like a spring to increase the drive forward.  I would like to emphasise that I’m not saying either method is better than the other, just that they are different.

You can clearly see the difference in these two video clips.

The first is Ed Newcomer, 6th Dan Internation Tae Kwon Do Federation and the second is Kanazawa, 10th Dan Shotokan Karate.

Sometimes in the Tae Kwon Do (with sine-wave) version, there appears to be a little pause half way through, or the first part of the movement seems to be slow then accelerate during the second half of the movement.  In contrast, Karate and older versions of Tae Kwon Do accelerate from the very beginning of the movement.

I am going to take a guess here and suggest that for those that practice the sine-wave version, that this is seen as a training method rather than a practical way to step.  After all, how often do you need to take a full step like that when sparring/fighting (and if you did, you wouldn’t start slowly).

If I’m wrong, then I’m quite happy to be corrected, it is just a guess!

The older version of Tae Kwon Do which is still very widely practiced does actually look a bit more like Karate than it does Tae Kwon Do with sine-wave (just my opinion).  You can see and example below with former World Patterns Champion, Ray Smeathers.

Another difference between the more modern version of Tae Kwon Do and Karate is that the Tae Kwon Do exponents usually make a “ch” sound as they exhale with each technique.  You will notice that this is missing from the Kanazawa’s kata and Smeather’s pattern.  I have seen/heard this so many times that I know it is intentionally put in, though I don’t really know why.

As exhaling on completion of technique is practiced in Karate, Kung Fu and older versions of Tae Kwon Do, without the “ch” sound, it is clearly not required make exhalation happen.  Again I can only guess, but it seems to be a way to let the instructor know that the student is exhaling at the right places. Maybe it is felt that the “ch” sound makes the exhalation happen more quickly (again a guess . . . . I don’t know).

I would appreciate any Tae Kwon Do exponents who practice with the “ch” sound, to please leave a comment below to let us know the true purpose of it.

Again I emphasise that this posting (as with the last one) is simply to look at the  differences between Karate and Tae Kwon Do so as to help practitioners gain a better understanding and hopefully a better appreciation of the other style.  It is not intended to be a one-up-manship for either style.

It was commented last time that I was “brave” as comparisons between styles often end up as a big slagging match.  I would love for people to comment and fill in any gaps that I’ve let out, but I will delete any derogatory comments about any style or organisation.  Keep it friendly.

What’s The Difference Between Karate & Tae Kwon Do? (Part 1)

Karate and Tae Kwon Do are related styles.  Tae Kwon Do is largely based on Shotokan Karate.  When Karate was first introduced to Japan by Funakoshi, it had very few high kicks.  As high kicks became more prevalent in Karate decades later, some Karateka turned to Tae Kwon Do to perfect these kicks.

So both styles have been influenced each other to some degree, yet they have a very different flavour and (sadly) often a lot of rivalry.  So I thought I would have an unbiased look at what the differences are, and what has influenced them to become so different.

This is not intended to be an attack on either system.  Instead, I hope it will give people of either style a better appreciation of where the other style is coming from.  I have to confess though that whereas I have a in depth knowledge of Karate, I am basing my opinions on Tae Kwon Do on my observations; so I don’t claim that I am necessarily 100% correct.

I also have to point out that as there are many styles of Karate and Tae Kwon Do and that my Karate observations will be mainly from a Shotokan (and the older traditional Karate styles) perspective.  Tae Kwon Do has been through a number of incarnations starting with a form that was quite close to Karate, through to a much more Olympic sport oriented version.   Therefore we have to accept that not all of my observations will apply to every Karate/Tae Kwon Do style.  These observation are intended to be of a general nature.

So having established that, what actually drives the differences?  I would say that the main driving factor is that Karate is primarily focuses on hand techniques with legs as backup, whereas Tae Kwon Do is primarily a kicking style with hands as backup.  This leads to a number of other changes as the styles gear themselves up for their favoured techniques.

The first thing is the stance.  The Karate stance is generally lower.  As Karateka focus on hands, the legs are often more “coiled”, ready to drive the body forward.  The body weight is lower, knees relaxed but more bent and the legs often have a feeling of being “sprung-loaded” ready to drive forward.  This is very sensible for a puncher.

However, if you are primarily a kicker, you may not want your legs “spring loaded”.  Tae Kwon Do fighters often like to kick of the front leg.  To do that, you want your legs to be “looser”, with the stance generally higher and legs straighter.

One of Karate’s most favoured techniques is the reverse punch.  To do this properly you need a full hip rotation.  This in turn means that you feet (when viewed from the front) are about shoulder width apart and the weight distributed fairly evenly between the feet.

If however, your favoured technique is a leading leg kick, you are more likely to fight with your feet in line and most of weight on your back leg, allowing that front leg to come up very easily.

The first time I sparred with my brother in law who is a 2nd Tae Kwon Do, we took up our fighting stances and squared up to each other.  With a bit of a smile on his face he looked at me and said, “big target”.  My first thought was, “is he trying to say I’m fat”?  However, it got me thinking.  He had been taught that standing side on makes you a smaller target.  With respect to Tae Kwon Do people who are taught that, I think that’s a flawed argument for several reason.

  • Many Tae Kwon Do techniques are aimed high at the head and if you train for hitting the head, then the torso is a much bigger target (side on or front on).
  • With circular techniques like roundhouse kick/turning kick, which come in from the side, a side on profile obviously offers the larger target.
  • Many of us (unfortunately) have a side profile as wide as our front profile 🙂

Respectfully I would suggest to Tae Kwon Do fighters that your side on fighting stance has nothing to do with being a smaller target, it is to do with your front leg kicking being much easier.

Punching is also effected.  In Karate, the punch is powered by the hips with the shoulders relaxed and low.  The “spring loaded” legs also drive the hips round very fast.  In Tae Kwon Do, the punch is also primarily powered by the hips.  However, when feet are in line (for front leg kicking), it is not so easy to get the hip round.  Also with the legs almost straight (not spring loaded) the hip rotation is not so easy to drive forward.  Therefore Tae Kwon Do compensates by committing the shoulders slightly more than a Karateka does.  Being a newer art than Karate, Tae Kwon Do has some boxing/kickboxing influences which the older traditional Karate styles do not have.  Boxing/kickboxing also commits the shoulder that little bit more than Karate.

The arms are also held differently in the fighting stance.  Being Karate’s main weapons, a Karateka will tend to be hold the arms more forward (a Karateka will usually expect to engage with his hands/arms first).  The arms provide a defensive barrier keeping the opponent at bay and allowing time for the hands to cover the both the head and body.  The leading hand usually points towards the opponents head, ready to extend the moment the opponent come to close and also guards his own head.  The rear hand is usually about stomach height ready to take a powerful finishing blow and also covers the lower torso.

Tae Kwon Do fighters on the other hand expect to engage with their legs first.  Kicks to their body are often intercepted with their own leg coming up looking for an opening to counter kick.  There hand therefore tend to be kept further back and higher to guard to head (as the legs already guard the body).

So that to my mind is the main differences between Karate & Tae Kwon Do.  Both can kick and punch.  However, Karateka will not kick as efficiently, especially of the front leg as half of their weight is on that leg.

Tae Kwon Do people will not punch as efficiently as their legs are not sprung loaded to drive forward and the feet being in line makes the hip rotation that little bit more restricted.

I hope this will give a better understanding on the differences and with that understanding, hopefully a bit more tolerance.  I hope people will comment and leave their views, just keep it respectful or comments will be deleted.

 

Hiki-te Bunkai

I haven’t done any video’s for a little while and it seemed about time that I did.  Unfortunately, my “partner in crime”, Keith, has gone his own way now so I enlisted the help of another friend, Artchi (yes, that is how he spells it).

So with Artchi’s help, we had a look at hikite (pull back hand).

This video goes with an earlier posting that I wrote about hikite back in May 2010, exploring the multiple different uses for hikite.

The Martial Arts Paradox: By Russell Stutely

I received the following posting from Russell Stutely as I’m signed up to his newsletter.  I thought it made such a good point that I decided to share it with you.  It emphasises the point that I keep trying to make about learning your kata bunkai and understanding what the moves are really for.  I hope you enjoy it.

“The paradox of making the MA simple yet incorporating a lifetimes of study. How can it be achieved? Has it been done before? What will happen to our system?

Of course this has happened before. It has happened with every single MA out there. Every single one has been simplified from where it was, made easier than it once was.

The knowledge of the art has become much more superficial. Lifetimes study to truly understand Kata has lost its real meaning. It does not mean, keep training till you can perform the Kata correctly all the way through and score 10 out of 10 from every judge. It means it takes a lifetimes study to truly understand why every move is made and what it is really for.

Now, maybe in the old days with slow communications it took a lifetime, but not now. We can be anywhere in the World in a day, back then it took a day to travel 30 miles.

This simplification that has happened in for example Shotokan, has resulted in a system with 3 or 4 punches, 7 or 8 kicks, a few  blocks, a few stances and a load of Kata.

Which, for the majority, is just some combinations of the above in a set order. Is that really a lifetimes study? To put this into perspective, about 15 years ago I was watching a tape with all 26 Shotokan Kata on.

My sister, a Dance Teacher, saw it and said that it looked real easy to learn. I told her she knew nothing about the MA and not to be so silly, as these Kata are known by only the very top people who have taken years to learn them.

She replied, with “I could learn them in a week”. The bet was on. I lost, convincingly.

She performed them superbly well. No in depth knowledge, but the performance of the moves was beyond reproach!

Does this sound like a watering down to you? The performance of the moves is there, but with no depth of knowledge.

A perfect singer, who is singing in a foreign language. Hitting all the right notes, but not understanding a word!

More later

Kind Regards

Russell

www.RussellStutely.com

How To Put The “Whip” Into A Linear Punch (Part 2)

In Part 1 of How To Put A “Whip” Into A Linear Punch, I looked at how to use the hips properly to generate a waveform motion through the body for basic punches.  Many people struggle with this because as beginners we tend to move the whole torso as one, rather than generating movement from the hips and simply relaxing the rest of the torso so as to let it flow naturally.  This puts tension into the body and takes away our power.

The method used in the first video is great for single basic techniques, especially Choku Zuki (straight punch in upright standing stance) and Gyaku Zuki (reverse punch), where we end with the hips square to front or just 10 to 15 degrees past square.  Well in this next video we take it a step further.  When you snap a towel (or your belt), you have a “pull back” just at the end of the forward movement.  We can incorporate this “pull back” to gain extra whip/snap when we perform a snap punch, or multiple techniques (e.g.  stepping punch, reverse punch or block then reverse punch).  That pull back at the end of the first techniques not only puts an extra whip/snap on the end, but also initiates the hip movement for the second technique.

Now I know that not everybody will have been taught this way, so before you watch my video, please have a quick look at this one by Master Kagawa, 8th Dan Shotokan Karate and Technical Director of the JKS.  As he performs Age Uke (rising block) you can clearly see his hips rotate fully, then just settle back slightly at the end of the movement.  This settling back (or pull back) gives that extra little “whip” on the end the rising block and can be used to initiate the next technique (which is usually a reverse punch).  So for anybody who has not seen this before (and there will be very many who haven’t), I’m not making it up.  This is nothing new, it’s always been there, its just always explained in detail.  I’ve been lucky with my teachers.

[Waveform punch Part 2]

How To Put The “Whip” Into A Linear Punch

I usually focus on the practical application of techniques on this website, but today I’m actually going to focus on technique itself.  I think this one is important, as it can greatly enhance the power of your punches and other strikes.

The Karate masters of old often taught that we should use our body like a “whip”, but this is not always easy to do, especially if you practice a predominantly linear style.  In practically all sports, power is generated from the hips, transferred to the shoulders, then to the arms/hands.  However, people often struggle to do this in linear styles.  I believe that this is because we are often taught that everything finishes together, whereas in most other activities they are taught to move in sequence.  I believe that this is partly brought about by the fact that we focus (kime) into one spot, whereas in most other disciplines (including other sports) they move through their target.  When a golfer hits the ball, he does not stop there, he moves right through it (as does anybody using any kind of racket or bat to hit something).  When somebody throws a ball, they do not stop at the instance of release, they move through that point.

Yet with a linear punch, we stop dead at the point of focus, especially in basic form.  Even in freestyle, at the point of focus we strike and retract rather than moving through, and I think this is what causes the problem for so many.  Many people end up moving the shoulder and hips together, rather than in sequence like everybody else.  The only way we can move shoulder and hip together is by tightening the muscles of our torso and locking them together.

Yet we are always told that we should be as relaxed as possible and that movement comes from the hips . . . . . . . or as some would say, the Hara (Japanese) or Dan Tien (Chinese).

If we are locking the shoulders and hips together, we cannot be completely relaxed.  Also, movement cannot be said to come from the hips (Hara/ Dan Tien) as the whole torso moves as one.

If we truly generate the power from the hips and we are truly relaxed in out torso, then the hips should move first, creating a small rotational stretch in our body as the shoulders are left fractionally behind.  When stretched, the body naturally wants to return to its original shape, so the shoulders will start to rotate as well, just fractionally behind the hips.  However, as we are not actually focusing on our shoulders and the torso is relaxed, there will be a feeling of the shoulder and arm being “thrown” by the hip, rather than having to focus on moving them and extending the arm.

Chinese circular styles seem to achieve this whip like feeling more easily as a circular techniques goes through its target and does not stop at the point of impact (unlike a basic linear punch).  Some of the modern day masters talk of a putting in a waveform motion.  The Russian martial art, Systema (The System) also talks of a waveform.  This is often compared to the standard Karate/TKD punch and advocated as being much more powerful.  However, I believe that this is because most people are not really aware of how to put the waveform into their linear technique.  Using the method described above and demonstrated in the video below, it is relatively easy to get this waveform (whip) into a linear punch.

I must put in one disclaimer however, and that is that many advanced Karateka/TKD practitioners do this naturally as they learn to relax.  However, I don’t think that most of them are actually aware of the mechanics of it, certainly very few will explain it in this manner.

When I’ve shown this before, I’ve had people say that they loved it, but had never seen anything like it in their own club.  I believe that I may have “re-framed” things a bit, but everybody should be training this way.  By re-framing it I hope to make it clearer; I am not introducing something new here.  If this concept is new to you, please give your feedback below on what you think of it.  If you have been taught this concept, but this video makes it clearer please tell me.  If you think I’m a mad Karate heretic, then say so 🙂

[Waveform punch]

Tae Kwon Do: Alternative Applications For Blocks

Most of our video applications on this blog are primarily from a Karate and Kung Fu perspective (as they are the styles that Keith and I do).  However, we thought we would do something a bit more geared to Tae Kwon Do as we did not want TKD practitioners to feel left out 🙂

But first a little background.  The applications to many Karate moves were “dumbed down” when Karate went public.  Firstly Karate was introduced into Okinawan schools to help physically prepare students for national service (and you don’t want school kids damaging each other).  Then when Karate went from Okinawa to Japan at a time when Japan was modernising very fast, traditional martial arts were seen as obsolete, except as a method for physical and character training (more dumbing down).  Then during the American occupation of Japan after WWII, martial arts were banned; so to be allowed to practice the Japanese had to claim it was more for self development and sport than for self defence and then had to practice accordingly (even more dumbing down).

Tae Kwon Do’s General Choi would no doubt have learnt this dumbed down version (as did the vast majority of Japanese masters).  However, the more it is investigated the more it is apparent that Karate’s basic “blocks” do not work well as blocks.  Yet these same “blocking” movements can be quite efficiently applied as close quarters strikes, arm locks and releases from grabs.  Although we don’t know for sure what the original intentions of the creators would have been, it is far more likely they would have been used as close quarter strikes/grappling then for actually blocking.  If they were used for blocking, then it is more likely that the block occurred at the chambered position and the completed position would have been a some kind of counter (strike/lock/etc).

To add to the confusion for Tae Kwon Do practitioners, in some versions of Tae Kwon Do these blocks were adapted to make them “more efficient blocks”.  In other words, to make them better at what they were not really meant to be used for.  In particular, the chambering position has been changed in some versions of Tae Kwon Do (other versions of Tae Kwon Do still chamber the Karate way).

However, I’m a believer that if you change a movement, you usually gain something and lose something.  Throughout the centuries, Okinawan and Chinese martial arts masters have changed their arts to suit their physiques, their environments and their own mental make up.  They gained an advantage for their personal circumstances but maybe lost something that could have favoured their masters circumstances.  So change is not necessarily a good or bad thing, as long as it can be used by the practitioner for their own personal circumstances.

Whilst the adapted chamberbing position used by some versions of Tae Kwon Do will have lost some of the original applications from its Karate roots, they will have gained some new applications.  Not better, now worse, just different.

In the video below, Keith and I look at how some the amended Tae Kwon Do chambering positions can be used for close quarters strikes and grappling applications.  We don’t claim that these would have been what the originators had in mind, we simply don’t know.  Nobody dose.  We simply believe that these are additional applications in your arsenal, for moves that you are already doing. For any Tae Kwon Do practitioners who have not seen these types of applications before, Keith and I are far from unique in our way of thinking. There are some very good books on the subjects, most notable are show below.


[Applied TaeKwonDo]

If you are interested in Tae Kwon Do specific applications, then the books below are leaders in the field:-

Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s New Book – “Shotokan Myths” (More Than Just Shotokan): Part 2

Recently I wrote about Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s new book, Shotokan Myths.  Well now it is available for purchase (details below).  I have had some private correspondence with Shihan Yokota and there was one thing in particular that he said that I consider very important and I wanted to share with everybody. With so many “reality based” martial arts and the rise of mixed martial arts, many people have questioned the effectiveness and validity of the traditional martial arts.  Many Japanese masters have been secretive or aloof and have not bothered to explain the finer points, keeping Westerns on a rather superficial level.  I’ve seen some Japanese masters teach up in Scotland, UK, where they actually pretend that they can’t speak English properly when you know full well that they can (from people who have actually visited the masters own dojo).

I have to say that I do not believe this of all the Japanese masters, but certainly some are like it.  Yet here we have a Japanese master at the very highest level who is not only wants to teach all that he knows, but is actually concerned that if he does not, that Karate will become obsolete.  As I said before, although the book has “Shotokan” in the title, it should be of interest to other styles as well, especially those with Shotokan in their lineage.

Anyway, here in Shihan Yokota’s own words (and with his permission to reproduce it):

“I want to share the knowledge so that the western karate practitioners will see the “light” so to speak. There should not be so much of mysticism about Karate. Almost all the things can be fully explained. But it was easier for many “masters” to keep them as mysterious or “secret”. The fact is many “masters” did not know the answers or have the ability (or motivation) to explain them. Many Japanese instructors are afraid to speak up as that would reveal the inability of those masters or the organizations. It has been more than 60 years since shotokan karate was introduced to the western world. I believe it is about time somebody to speak up and let the western practitioners know it is ok to ask and challenge what you read or learn from the Japanese masters. Without this quest we cannot hope to improve karate and it will end up in a museum some day. Ossu”

ISBN #978-1-4568-0709-2 (Hard cover) US$29.99
#978-1-4568-0708-5 (Soft cover) US$19.99
You can order your copy now from the publisher, Xlibris:
• Phone (Toll Free): 1-888-795-4274
• Fax: 1-610-915-0294 or 1-610-915-0293
• E-mail: orders@xlibris.com
They will ship internationally (shipping charge will apply).

Extra note:  I don’t know about other countries, but shipping and handling cost quoted for posting to the UK are extortionately high.  I have asked Shihan Yokota to get Xlibris to confirm.  However, Shotokan Myths is also available from Amazon in paperback or hardcover where S & H costs should be more reasonable from there.

UPDATE: You can now get it from Amazon:-

In the UK

 

In the USA

Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s New Book – “Shotokan Myths” (More Than Just Shotokan)

Shihan Kousaku Yokota, 8thDan Shotokan Karate is releasing a new book, Shotokan Myths, which should be available from mid December.

Firstly, I would like to say that so many other styles have spawned from Shotokan, that this book should be valuable to a far wider audience than just Shotokan Karateka.

So who is Shihan Kousaku Yokota?

Yokota is an 8th Dan with 46 years of Shotokan Karate experience. He specializes in Asai ryu karate which is based on JKA style Shotokan with some White Crane Kung Fu blended in.  He also practiced Okinawa kobudo (nunchaku, sai, tonfa, 3 sectional staff and 7 chain whip).

I have read some of Yokota’s articles in Shotokan Karate Magazine where he wrote about how a number of myths have developed over the years and become ingrained into Shotokan folk lore (and from there into numerous other styles of Karate and TaeKwonDo).  He exposes many of these myths in an intelligent and well informed manner, explaining historical, social and practical reasons why certain practices have been introduced and how they have come to be accepted as “traditional” Karate practices, when in fact many of them are relatively new to the Karate world.

So on a blog that focuses largely on practical applications (bunkai) to traditional martial arts, why would we be interested in myths and the historical/social reason surrounded their coming into being?

Well simply put, if we know what is “real” from what is not, then we can make more informed decisions.  We tend to look how to apply our katas/patterns/forms, but knowing the influences that effected them can change the application.  For example, in one article in SKM, Yokota examined the myth that all kata’s should start and finish in the same place.  This was never a requirement for the Okinawan masters.  However, when Funikoshi took it to Japan, Karate started being taught to much larger numbers of people.  There was not the same small close group of master and only a few special students.  Therefore the students had to be given a way to measure their own performance.  Having katas finish on the same point that they started gave a form of measure (for example, consistent stances length in both direction).  To achieve this, some of the katas had to be adapted.  Most Heian/Pinan kata’s today follow a capital “I” shape.  However, originally the shape of the kata was more like a double headed arrow.  For example, in Kihon kata (or Heian Shodan/Pinan Nidan/Dan Gun), after doing the 3 stepping punches, instead of performing a 3/4 turn (270 degrees) it would have been a 5/8 turn (225 degrees).   This made it difficult to return to original starting position, hence changing it to the “I” shape that is so familiar today.  Many people interpret this movement as a throw.  But knowing why the change came about, gives us the clue that we do not have to spin round quite so far to execute that same throw, actually making it a bit easier to apply!

Other changes have been made to standardize katas to make them easier to judge in competition.  Knowing these things may alter how you perceive the application that put to this movement next time you examine your kata.  This is why knowing fact from myth is important to being able to practically apply your katas.  It is not just an academic exercise in learning history (though this can be very interesting in its own right).

Yokota is thorough in his research and explanation.  I therefore commend Shotokan Myths not only to Shotokan Karateka, but to all styles that have Shotokan in their lineage.

UPDATE:
You can now get this book from Amazon:-

In the UK

 

In the USA