Interview With Master Ray Gayle, 8th Dan Tae Kwon Do

Taekwondo Master Ray Gayle, 8th Dan is a former British and European champion, Chairman of the Professional Unification of Martial Arts (PUMA), inspiration to many and general all round nice guy  🙂

As well as achieving great success in the sporting side of his art, he also has a very strong leaning towards the spiritual and self development side of martial arts as a whole.  This was one of the main reasons for my interest in interviewing him.  I have several friends within PUMA and it is clear from talking to them (and from their Facebook conversations) that PUMA has a very strong “family feel” to it.  Although there is an obvious hierarchy (as in any martial arts organisation), it is more relaxed and open than most others.  If you follow Master Gayle’s writings for a while, you’ll soon notice that he takes his training and teaching seriously, but does not take himself too seriously, which I always think is a good thing.  There is always a sense of humour present which you’ll see as you read on. Continue reading “Interview With Master Ray Gayle, 8th Dan Tae Kwon Do”

Teenage Martial Artist Fights Off Would-Be Mugger

I was surprised to see in one of my regional papers today a story about a slightly-built unassuming 15 year old Taekwondo exponent who got the better of a would be mugger.  So I thought I’d share it with you.  The following story is reproduced from the Bristol Post:

WHEN a would-be mugger approached slightly-built teenager Henry Watts determined to steal his wallet and phone, he got much more than he bargained for.

The criminal, who grabbed the Staple Hill teenager on the Bristol to Bath cycle path and aggressively demanded his possessions, had no idea his potential victim was an expert in the martial art taekwondo. Continue reading “Teenage Martial Artist Fights Off Would-Be Mugger”

Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies? (Part 2)

This post is following on from another posting that I wrote back in October 2011 about how some training methods introduced by the Japanese into Karate can be damaging to our bodies.

Going back further in Okinawan Karate history before Karate was introduced to Japan, they had the interesting concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which I have discussed before.  However, to recap:

Shu:    means that you copy your master as closely as possible, to learn his techniques in as much detail as you can.
Ha:    means that once your technique is up to a good standard, you have the freedom to make subtle changes to suit your own physique and experiences.
Ri:    means that you have mastered the techniques to the extent that they are a natural part of you.  At this point the student may transcend the master.

This is not a far cry from Bruce Lee’s famous quote: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”

The “Ha” part in particular tells us that it was expected for the advanced student to adapt their Karate to suit themselves.  Although there is a certain amount of leeway for us to do this today, we are still in the main confined to what our seniors tell us is our style.  We are not free to change our kata’s to do (for example) a Front Kick rather than a Side Snap Kick which we might struggle with.  Can you imagine the masters of old raised with the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, insisting that their student continue to do a technique that damaged their joints, simply because it was always done that way?  If you want to train in the traditional manner, rather than a “traditional style”, then maybe you should consider making little changes to suit your own body.

To quote Matsuo Basho a haiku poet, we should progress:  “Not by blindly flowing the footsteps of the old masters, but by seeking what they sought”

There are a number of examples of Shu-Ha-Ri in modern martial arts.  I hope martial artists of other styles will forgive me for focusing on Shotokan Karate, but it is the style that I’m most familiar with, (though I’m sure other styles have similar examples).

Those of us who have trained in Shotokan Karate over the decades have instinctively known (especially in the early days) that something was missing.  Not just in the unrealistic bunkai that was taught to us by our Japanese masters, but sometimes technically in the art.  We would see films or read magazine articles about masters doing great feats with seemingly no effort, yet we were encouraged to put more and more effort into our training (overly exhaling and tensing to create kime) as we progressed.  That seemingly mystical ability to generate masses of power with little effort, derived from pure technique which we thought we would attain as we progressed, seemed to become more elusive as we rose through the grades.  Very few senior Sensei in those earlier days seemed to be able to show us anything except more of the same.  As my former Sensei, Graham Mead used to say, “ We were ending up with 2nd & 3rd Dans who were really just very good brown belts”.

However, over the years things have gradually changed and mainly for the better.  Sport science has obviously shown that fast movement requires relaxation rather than more tensing.  The emphasis on deep stances has relaxed (though Shotokan stances are still deeper than many others).  Little things like bending the back leg slightly in Zenkutsu Dachi (front stance) relieves the tension on the lower spine and hips has replaced the straight back leg which was common years ago.

These all help to reduce the damage to our bodies that many early practitioners suffered from.

The availability of many other martial arts have allowed exploration to fill the gaps and bring some of the answers back into mainstream Shotokan.

Master Hirokazu Kanazawa, 10th Dan and founder of the Shotokan Karate International, also studied Tai Chi.  When he taught around the world he would often have Tai Chi seminars alongside the Karate seminars.  His Karate has become much more softer and more relaxed than most others and he has inspired many Shotokan practitioners of all associations to take up Tai Chi (including me).

The Late Master Tetsuhiko Asai, 10th Dan, lived and taught in Taiwan form many years.  During this time he also studied White Crane Kung Fu, Dim Mak (critical nerve points) and Qi Gong.  He placed great emphasis on relaxation and using the body like a whip.  He was the founder of the Japan Karate Shotorenmei and brought his own special influences to bear on the Shotokan world.

These influences along with many others have led Shotokan Karate to become very varied depending on which association or instructor you train with.  Some versions are quite relaxed like the original Okinawan Karate making it a healthy art to practice, whilst others are still quite stiff like the early post war Karate which can be damaging.

Taekwondo too has also changed significantly over the years and now has many variations.  Some associations for example have introduced a sine-wave movement into their step to also create a more relaxed manner of moving.

Please add any other examples below of how any martial art has been adapted to make it healthier to train.

Are Traditional Martial Arts Any Use To Somebody Who Is Being Bullied?

My on-line friend Colin Wee, 6th Dan TKD, has proposed an Anti-Bullying Blogging Carnival.  As I used to be bullied a lot back in far distant school days, I thought this was a good idea, so this is my contribution to the Carnival.

The obvious answer the title question is of course, YES, traditional martial arts can help somebody who is being bullied; but there are some limitations that need to be taken into consideration.

For somebody just starting their training, traditional martial arts can take quite a while to learn up to a proficient standard.  Something like Kickboxing is simpler and can be learnt to a proficient level considerably quicker.  Confidence is quickly gained when hitting an actual target (like focus mitts or punchbag).  Traditional martial arts may have more depth and include a much greater range of techniques and capabilities (grappling, pressure points, grab releases, etc); but the emphasis on perfecting technique makes them more difficult and slower to learn.

For somebody who is being physically bullied NOW, taking up traditional martial arts alone may be a bit slow to produce results.

Another factor which is much more important however is the pre-fight build up and the emotional response to the threat of violence, which is often overlooked in traditional martial arts.  A fight can be won or lost before the first punch/kick is even thrown by one person intimidating the other and undermining their confidence.  Bullies routinely use this tactic as part of their build up; be it name calling, threatening, minor pushing around; all testing the response and intimidating their victim into a feeling of helplessness and fear.  This loss of confidence and fear leads to hesitations and even freezing at a critical moment making it even easier for the bully to dominate in a physical conflict as the victim can become too scared to even fight back.

Simplistically put, the bully psyches them-self up, whilst the victim is psyched down.

Some instructors who have been in a number of altercations in their younger days assume that the pre-fight stage is a matter of common sense once you know how to fight.  It may be common sense to somebody who has actually had experience at real fighting.  But it is not common sense to somebody who has not been in that position before and hasn’t had that experience.  It certainly is not common sense to somebody who has been routinely bullied and has developed an ingrained behaviour pattern of backing down and acting passively when threatened, they just don’t know anything else.  When under this type of pressure, blood goes to the limbs (for fight or flight) and away from the brain.  Therefore the  brain does not think very clearly and relies on instincts and experience.  If the last experience when being bullied was to act passively, then the chances are that they will act passively again.  Not always, sometimes they snap and go for it, but in most cases they will do more or less the same as before.

Many years ago, whilst rising up through the coloured belts in my Karate, I trained hard, was naturally flexible and had good technique for my grade.  However, when sparring or entering in a competition I would often not do very well, even when I was faster, sharper and had better technique than the person that I was facing.  I realised later that it was because I was not very aggressive and had a passive nature.  Yes, I was bullied a lot at school and no, I didn’t really stick up for myself.

So if I was not doing well in the relative safety of sparring and competition, what would have happened if I’d been involved in a street fight?

Many traditional martial arts give little consideration to the pre-fight stages of the conflict and how to deal with it emotionally or psychologically.  Many systems do include pre-arranged sparring routines which can be used to work this area and include emotional intensity/pressure.  When you face somebody who is going to come in at you fast and strong and if you don’t block, side step or evade, they’ll take your head off; then you do get used to dealing with the adrenaline and fear but it can take a long time.

Shortly after passing my black belt I was sparring with my Sensei.  Whilst he obviously got the better of me, I stood my ground quite well and made it work for it.  He said to me afterwards with a little smile, “what happened to that green belt that I used to be able to kick all around the dojo”?

Traditional martial arts training had made a big difference to me mentally and emotionally and by the time I had obtained my black belt I had overcome much of my limitations caused by my passive nature.  However, it had taken me nearly 4 years to get there.  For somebody who is being bullied NOW, that is a long time.

This is why I am in favour of reality based training which uses scenarios to de-sensitize people to the threats, abuse and taunts, and teaches them to function even under the effects of adrenaline and fear.  Humans always learn much more quickly when in an emotional state, which is why reality based training gets very quick results and change that freeze reaction to an active response.  As mentioned above, when under pressure the brain losses blood and relies on experience.  If you can simulate a realistic experience where the victim takes action (be it assertive verbal behaviour to dissuade an attacker, or actual physical fighting back), then that becomes the default experience the next time that person is in that situation.

One of the first times I did this kind on training there was a young lady who was a reasonably high grade in Taekwondo.  When the trainer (as part of the training scenario) venomously called her a “f***ing bitch”, she started to cry.  She had obviously been through some abusive experiences in the past, but her traditional martial arts training had not prepared her to emotionally deal with this simple abuse and she went straight into the old ingrained behaviour pattern.  However, she continued the exercise and learnt a new response to take away with her, so I applaud her courage for sticking with it.  She took a bigger step forward that day than the rest of us.

I would warn however, that although learning under heightened emotional pressure produces quick results, it also hard-wires the response.  So if you overcome the “freeze” response but swing wildly, then the wild swinging could become your hard wired (and not very effective) response.  This is why I believe that scenario based training (reality based training) is very beneficial, but it should be used sparingly and should NOT become the default training method.  Traditional martial arts are the best way to obtain the best long term results, but if you don’t have the time, then you need a little extra.

Martial Arts Perth

True Martial Arts Spirit . . . . And He’s Only 11!

I came across this story by chance in a local paper.  It was just so awesome that it had to be shared.  Next time you feel too tired to train, or think you’d rather watch the telly instead, think of this young lad from the Bath TKD club.  This is where the grown ups can really learn from the kids.

The following is copied from the Bath Chronicle On-Line paper:

 

A boy who had to learn to walk and talk again after a brain tumour is now heading for a black belt in tae kwon do.

Daniel Kimmins, 11, from Odd Down was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006.

After a battle to walk and talk again, he returned to school and tae kwon do in 2009, and has won his red belt and is now working towards his black one.

Bath Tae Kwon Do Club Instructor Rob Morris said: “I truly never thought I’d see the day Daniel would return, let alone reach such a high level.

“He continues to be an inspiration to all members at the club.

“In the 20 years I have been teaching I have never seen anyone with as much fighting spirit – it is truly humbling.”

Daniel was six years old when he started suffering from constant headaches and vomiting, causing his worried mum Heidi to take him to the Royal United Hospital.

She was told he had a virus and they were sent home, but when his health started to deteriorate, the health problems returned.

Daniel was then diagnosed with a brain tumour, and was transferred to Frenchay Hospital near Bristol for two operations.

Five weeks later, he was moved to Bristol Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Daniel faced another challenge to learn to walk and talk again, after one operation to remove the tumour left him mute and unable to move the left side of his body.

The cancer had also spread to his spine, confining him to a wheelchair for two years.

Now, five years on, Daniel still has six monthly MRI scans at the RUH, and check-ups at Bristol Children’s Hospital. Although he is not yet in remission, he is improving all the time, but still has problems with balance and walking up stairs.

Heidi said she was very proud of his courage and determination.

She said: “Everything Daniel does amazes me.

“He is so determined to have a normal life and carry on with all the things he loves, like tae kwon do.

“I am just so proud of him. He is a very brave and determined boy.”

As a mark of his courage Daniel was awarded an award from his club for his “indomitable spirit”.

He has also been given a Cancer Research UK Little Star Award in recognition of his achievements.

Respect  🙂

Review: A Killing Art – The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do

I have to confess that I haven’t read this book, though I would like to when I get the chance.  My brother-in-law, Martin who is a 2nd Dan TKD has read it and has highly recommended it.  Then I saw a review on my friend Bob Patterson’s Striking Thoughts blog, so I thought I would copy it here for my TKD readers.

It is along similar lines to Shotokan’s Secret, by Dr Bruce Clayton, which is the only book that I’ve ever finished and then read again almost straight away.  Both books explore the history behind the arts in question and expose many of the so called “truths” behind the “official history” of these arts.  I do believe that it is helpful to get behind the myths of the art and get to the truth.  It helps give a bit more of an all round understanding and appreciation of the art(s) that we practice.

As with Karate (which at one stage deliberately sought to hide it’s Chinese influences) so some in TaeKwonDo have hidden some its history.  In particular, that it was mainly based on Shotokan Karate with hardly any influence from ancient Korean martial arts as is often claimed.  It’s all in the marketing and there is an element of this in every style.  Whereas Shotokan’s Secret revealed how Funakoshi and other Okinawan masters had been economical with the truth of Karate, so General Choi and other Korean masters have been economical with the truth of TaeKwonDo’s past.

The way I look at it is that our arts today are what they are.  Whether they come from Japan, Okinawa, ancient China, ancient Korea or Disneyland, the arts are still what they are.  They will not be any different just because you discover that they had different influences to what you have been told.  Besides, understanding the actual influences go a good way to understanding the full potential of the art.

Anyway, here below is Bob Patterson’s review from his Striking Thoughts blog:
(Note:  The Striking Thoughts blog has since closed).

 

Alex Gillis is a university instructor, journalist and author of A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do. He has studied the art for 25 years in both ITF and WTF styles. Much like many of us who have studied Tae Kwon Do, he has heard fantastic stories of Tae Kwon Do from his instructors and other Taekwondoists. In this book Gillis grants us access to interviews and information from the early pioneers of the art. Along the way he also debunks a lot of the fantastic claims and dubious history that surrounds Tae Kwon Do.

Simple fact: Tae Kwon Do is not thousands of years old nor did it spring from the Hwrang warriors. Rather, it’s a derivative of Shotokan Karate that Choi originally learned while in Japan during the 1940′s. Nor, for that matter, is Choi the sole inventor of Tae Kwon Do.  We have the art of Tae Kwon Do because of a poker game. The young and hot-tempered Choi Hong-Hi lost all his money on a game of poker and enraged a local wrestler by throwing a bottle of ink at him.  This loss forced Choi to flee his village and later learn karate.

The books starts before the Second World War when Korea was occupied by the Japanese and Choi was a young man ready to set off to Japan to complete his education. From there we follow the story of Tae Kwon Do from Choi’s experiences of WW II, to the Korean civil war to the war waged between the ITF and WTF Taekwondo organizations. No political detail is spared as we learn how far Choi would go to keep control of his beloved ITF.  Along the way we also learn how pioneers like Jhoon Rhee and others helped to develop the art.

Alex Gillis has written a biography of Tae Kwon Do and a gripping thriller that’s as worthy of a movie as the story of Ip Man! Included are Choi’s brushes with death and his involvement with the Korean CIA. What is also quite disappointing is the shear corruption and greed associated with Tae Kwon Do. As Gillis notes: “I am stuck on the path of Courtesy, which instructors in small gyms around the world know well but which is largely ignored by Tae Kwon Do’s leaders.”

The history of Tae Kwon Do is rightly titled ‘A Killing Art’ because it was created at a time when the martial art was used on the battle fields of Korea and Vietnam by the U.S. and South Korean military. This book is essential reading for karate players and taekwondoists and should be mandatory reading for both ITF and WTF styles.

 

 

From UK
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Natural Breathing In Karate (And Other Martial Arts)

One of biggest assets in a real fight is to be able to move naturally.  And there is no more natural bodily function then breathing.

Yet in Karate, I believe that one of the biggest problems over the years has been an over emphasis on the exhalation at the end of the technique.  In fairness to other styles, I should point out that most of my experience is with Shotokan Karate so it may not apply to other styles quite so much.  But if everybody is honest, I don’t think that Shotokan is completely alone with this fault.

An over-emphasis on exhalation at the end of a technique, especially if the exhilation continues after the technique is competeled will unnecessarily waste energy, create pauses between techniques (where your opponent could counter) and create stiffness and tension in the movements.  Not only is this counter productive for self defence, but it not the healthiest way for the body to move either.

I would guess that a lot of this come about because many of Funakoshi’s early students where lost during the War.  After the war, Funakoshi was quite old and not able to steer the teaching quite so much.  Also Karate was dumbed down a lot for political and social reasons (see my 5 part video course for more info) so more emphasis was placed on the physical development.

Over the decades Shotokan Karate (and probably most other styles) has progressed and become much more fluid and relaxed (hence more effective).  Some of the very senior Karate masters like Kanazawa, Kase and Abe have also studied Tai Chi (as does my Sensei) and have brought some of that knowledge back into their Karate.  There are still many who do it the old way tense way, but it’s changing.

However, I think that for the majority, the details of breathing are seldom broken down in the way I’ve been taught.  So I’ve put together a couple of videos to help anybody who is not quite sure of how it should be done.

Ironically, the way it performed in the more modern versions of Shotokan is quite similar to how it is done in the more modern versions of Tae Kwon Do where they use the sine-wave movement.  Although Shotokan does not rise up and down like the sine-wave, both breath in during the first half of the step to get relaxation and fluidity and exhale in the second half of the technique.  It is explained a bit more in the following video’s which I hope you enjoy.

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.

 

Pre-Emptive Strike: Modern Reality Based Training Or Traditional Karate

I am a big admirer of Geoff Thompson.  He has done a lot to promote the cause of reality training and is very much into keeping it real.  His training methods are often as much about how to avoid getting into a fight (not taught in many martial arts) as has how to actually conduct the fight itself.  Traditional martial arts generally teach you how to win in a fair fight.  But that’s the problem, most fights aren’t fair.  Sometimes you could be outnumbered, your assailant(s) could have a weapon and they often start from right up in your face without warning (rather than bowing first from a safe distance before gradually moving in).

So assuming that you’ve done all the avoidance techniques and the guy is still coming in and it is clear that the conflict is going to become physical, what is universally the best tactic to use?

Note, I said tactic, not technique.

In the words of Geoff Thompson himself:

“And if an encounter does by necessity become physical I teach and I preach the pre-emptive strike (attacking first). It is the only thing that works consistently. All the other stuff that you see, that you are taught or that you imagine might work ‘out there’ probably will not”.

And:

“If your choice is a physical response, my advice is to be pre-emptive and strike first – very hard – preferably on the jaw (it’s a direct link to the brain”.

In the Karate world in particular, people used to quote Funakoshi when he famously said:

“In Karate, there is no first strike”.

This has been taken to mean that we have to actually wait for an attacker to throw the first strike and then try and block and counter it.  This is a dangerous game to play.  Geoff is spot when he describes this as:

“not only unsound it is dangerous and extremely naive”.

It’s not so bad when you are in a competition and your opponent is just out of range, then suddenly tries to attack (usually whilst still maintaining full leg or arm range).  But in a street where somebody may be right up in your face, nose to nose, screaming obscenities at you, its not so good.  Also, in a street fight an attacker is likely to grab you and pull you around or off balance (a tactic that is banned in Karate, TKD, Kickboxing and some others sport fighting systems).

So why would Funakoshi give advice that would leave his students in a vulnerable position?  Well it is widely accepted by many now that something has been lost in the translation and what Funakoshi really meant was, that you don’t instigate or look for the fight.  However, when in a  situation when physical threat is unavoidable and you cannot get away, Funakoshi wrote in his book, Karate Do Kyohan:

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defense techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point and in the moment of surprise, escape, seek shelter, and seek help.”

Funikoshi is clearly talking about a pre-emptive strike.  He recommends that you strike a “vital point” which is not so different from Geoff Thompson recommending that you strike the jaw as it has a direct link to the brain.  He was trained for reality, not competition.  This is the part that has been overlooked in the way that so many people have trained for a number of decades.  I believe that this is largely because Karate has been dumbed down (see my 5 part video course if you haven’t already) and the fact that for such a long time Karate has been interpreted through the eyes of competition fighters.

Geoff Thompson and the other modern reality based martial arts teachers are not the first ones to train this way.  Clearly the old Okinawan masters did too.  However, after decades of being dumbed down for social and political reasons, Geoff and the other masters of reality based training have helped to bring the “lost” elements to help us make our training more complete.

Some people will (quite reasonably) have a concerns about the legalities of using a pre-emptive strike.  Firstly, as you can never be sure how far an attacker will go, it is best to make that you are still around to deal with the legalities.  No point being killed for the sake of worrying about going to court.

Secondly, in the UK at least (and I suspect most other countries), if you feel that you are in a real danger of being harmed by a would-be attacker, you are legally entitled to use a pre-emptive strike.  I don’t know about other countries, but this is a defence that will stand in a British court.  However, you will have to give good reason why you thought that you were in very real and very imminent danger.  Somebody giving you a dodgy look will not be accepted.