23 March 2017

Matseogi versus Gyeorugi

It was Dr George Vitale (VIII Dan) who first impressed it on me that the Korean term General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, designated for sparring is different from the general term used for sparring in most other forms of Korean martial arts—including in Kukki (WTF) style of Taekwondo. In General Choi’s ITF Taekwon-Do we use the term matseogi 맞서기, whereas in most other forms of Taekwon-Do the term gyeorugi 겨루기 is used.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. I just assumed it was one of those general differences in terminology that are typical across styles. It was only after considering the systematic progress off “sparring” in ITF Taekwon-Do that I realized that the use of the term matseogi rather than gyeorugi was very deliberate. Of course, I should have known better. The more I study General Choi’s use of (Korean) terms, the more I realize how pedantic he was about his choice of terminology. Unfortunately, much of this is lost in translation, and often official translations into English are far from ideal. But I digress. In this essay, I want to explore the meanings of gyeorugi and matseogi, and point out why the distinction is important.

The term gyeorugi is based on the verb gyeoruda 겨루다 which means “to compete, vie for, or content with”. One could also use the term in a political sense, for example when one politician opposes another during an election. The inflexion gyeorugi, in the context of martial arts, basically means to dual, or to fight as in a competition. There is an obvious sport or competitive connotation to the term. Hence, the English translation of gyeorugi as "sparring" is rather appropriate.

On the other hand, the term matseogi does not denote a sport or competitive meaning, although it does suggest a confrontation of sorts. The term matseogi as a whole has a particular meaning that we will get to soon, but I’d like to first break the word into parts: mat 맞- and seogi 서기. The former, based on the verb matda 맞다 means to face something, as when you turn your body towards someone to greet them. This example of facing to greet someone is, in fact, one of the ways the word is generally understood. (Not to be confused with the homonyms that mean “correct” and “agreement”.) Seogi, based on the verb seoda 서다 literally means to stand up. If we were to read mat-seogi in this way, within the context of Taekwon-Do, it simply means to take in a position facing your training partner. This interpretation seems very appropriate when we consider the pre-arranged sparring (yagsok matseogi 약속 맞서기) exercises, like three-step sparring (sambo matseogi 삼보맞서기) and two-step sparring (ilbo matseogi 이보맞서기).

However, the term matseogi is generally used as a whole, as an inflection of the verb matseoda 맞서다, meaning “to oppose, to confront, to stand up to or stand against, to face an enemy, or resist a force”. As pointed out earlier, unlike gyeorugi which has a sport competition association, matseogi implies a completely different type of conflict. Instead of a sport connotation, matseogi has a self-defence connotation. The implied meaning is not competitive, but combative. Orthodox ITF Taekwon-Do pedagogy (and by this I mean what is in the ITF Encyclopaedia) has basically no training geared towards competition and tournament sparring. The implication, at least for ITF Taekwon-Do, is that all the so-called “sparring” drills, from three-step sparring to free sparring and self-defence exercises, have as their end goal not improving one’s tournament sparring ability, but rather to improve your self-defence skill.

It might actually be a good idea for ITF practitioners that participate in tournament sparring to refer to this activity as gyeorugi, so not to confuse it with free sparring (jayu matseogi 자유 맞서기) which is a form of sparring without rules or limits on attacking tools or targets; in other words, a reality based fighting exercise, which is part of ITF's systematic pedagogy. As I explained in my essay on the purpose and value of pre-arranged sparring, each type of matseogi is part of “a continuum of training that becomes progressively less abstract and approaches the real combative encounter in a systematic way relative to the practitioner’s skill level,” for the purpose of combat (i.e. self-defence).

In short, gyeorugi refers to competitive or tournament sparring, while matseogi refers to combat as in a self-defence situation.

17 March 2017

Korea Hapkido Federation - Ulji Kwan - Colour Belt Syllabus

I started Hapkido at an Ulji Kwan dojang back in 2006. The Ulji Kwan is one of the big Kwans in the Korea Hapkido Federation. Having spoken to some sources, apparently, the Ulji Kwan group, and particularly Master Jo's dojang where I started my Hapkido journey, is a very traditional style of Hapkido.

Since my Hapkido base is with the Ulji Kwan, I thought it valuable to share Master Jo's colour belt syllabus. Just before he retired from full-time teaching, he video recorded his colour belt syllabus with the help of instructors Duke Kim 김경호 사범님 and (Dr) John Johnson 사범님. I also got to help out a bit with the recording behind the scenes when they started the project.

Following are links to the colour belt syllabus from lowest (8th geup) to highest colour belt rank (1st geup).

Videos of the higher ranking syllabus (1st Dan and 2nd Dan) can also be found on Instructor Duke Kim's Youtube-channel. Note that in Hapkido the colour belt geup numbering is in descending order (8 to 1); however, at black belt the geup numbering follows an ascending order (i.e. 1st Dan, 1st geup through 11th geup; and 2nd Dan, 1st geup through 13th geup).

My own style of Hapkido has evolved somewhat away from how it is practised at the Ulji Kwan, possibly to a slightly more Chinese influence: a chi-na 逮捕, as the Chinese call it, or geum-na  금나 as it is known in Korean, way of doing joint-locks and throws. Or at least, towards a more ITF Taekwon-Do way of integrating geum-na. Those that have trained joint-locks, throws and other such grappling techniques would know that I fully incorporate ideas such as ITF's sine-wave motion to explain and perform many of these techniques.

06 March 2017

Martial Artists Sharing Ideas & ITF's Sine Wave Motion

About a week ago some friends and I came together to hang out and have a quick dinner. Since we are all martial artists, it didn't take long for us to start talking about martial arts in general, and pretty soon we were on our feet sharing ideas. It was indeed a most memorable evening and a great way for any martial artist to spend his or her time, with other like-minded people, putting egos aside and learning from each other. The stylists, myself included, in the video represent experience in the following arts: Kukki (WTF) Taekwondo, ITF Taekwon-Do, boxing, Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua, Wing Chun, Kickboxing, Taekkyeon, Jeet Kune Do, Mantis, Hapkido, and others.

One thing that stood out for me is how open those practicing Chinese martial arts are to the idea of "sine wave motion" in ITF Taekwon-Do. I've had conversations about this topic with people from many different styles with different levels of agreement or dismissal. But in my experience, the Chinese stylists always "gets" it. I've long argued that as long as people continue to try and interpret ITF Taekwon-Do in a historic Karatesque manner, they will simply fail to understand the new evolutionary path that ITF Taekwon-Do has undergone -- moving away from its Shotokan Karate roots to a more Korean kinaesthetic that is more in line with Chinese martial arts, than Karatesque Japanese martial arts.

21 February 2017

Jan & Feb 2017 South Africa Report

I would like to report a little on my journey over the last two months during my annual South Africa travels.

The first dojang I had the privilege of visiting was the Pinetown Stingers club, in KwaZulu Natal. Whenever I visit the Durban area, I also try to visit the Stingers dojang. With my previous visit I wasn't able to visit the dojang, but I did visit with Sabeomnim Sean Cremer at his house. This year, however, my travels coincided with their training, so I could attend one of their session. As always, it was lots of fun training with the KZN guys. My friend Damien, who was a student with me here in Korea and also tested for his black belt under me, was also able to come through from Durban to visit. I've always had a close connection with KZN Taekwon-Do and visiting them is like visiting family.

Of course also visited my Soo Shim Kwan family.

First was my visit with Horangi Dojang in Grobblersdal. This club is just going from strength to strength under the leadership of Instructor Gerhard Louw. I was impressed with how the higher ranking students have improved since I saw them last year -- their are defintely some future champions among them, and the eagerness of the lower belts shows me that Instructor Gerhard is doing a great job.

During the two nights that I taught at the Horangi Dojang, I tried to cover several principles. On the second evening, I was requested to demonstrate some patterns. Last year when I performed patterns there, I was a little sick, so was disappointed with my demonstration. This year, I performed several patterns and felt much more pleased with what I was able to present to them. Bsbnim Gerhard and I also did Gae Baek Tul together, and we also demonstrated some slightly more advanced self-defence techniques, to the glee of the students. For the much of the evening, we practised some self-defence techniques, but more simplified since the Horangi dojang's members are mostly children.

Near the end of my time in South Africa I went to Potchefstroom and visited the other Soo Shim Kwan dojang, the Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club (PTC). Under the guidance of Instructor Philip de Vos, there is a good standard amongst the students. The Potch club have always been small in numbers, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Since PTC is an adults only club, I used the opportunity to explain some important principles. I expounded on the ITF pedagogy as a whole. The club has a few new members, so I wanted to give the students a broader understanding--a theoretical platform--to understand how ITF Taekwon-Do progressively guides a person with no prior fighting experience through a slow process of conditioning (physically and mentally), for a violent, combative encounter. I touched on ideas like the sparring phases, the Golden Move, and how ITF Taekwon-Do attempts to prevent the freeze reflex and trigger a fight response during an adrenalized encounter. The classes had a little bit of a lecture feel to them, which is not a bad thing occasionally since it is associated with a university.

Next year PTC will have its 20 year anniversary. I started the club in 1998. As part of the celebration, PTC will be the host for the National Championships in 2018. I really hope I'd be able to attend the event.

A highlight of this trip was, of course, the Hapkido Seminar that I presented in Pretoria. It was the first Korea Hapkido Federation seminar hosted in South Africa, to a primarily black belt audience.

This seven hours long hands-on workshop covered the most important aspects of Hapkido, from break falls and rolling, to joint locks, throws, pins, and even some unique kicks. The attendees were all tired, bruised and nearly broken, but their eagerness to learn kept them from quitting, and even after such an exhausting event they were still able to muster the smiles you can witness in the photo above. This seminar functioned as the first formal KHF event, with the intention of establishing an offical KHF branch in South Africa. I in particular want to thank Sbnim Sean Cremer and the other KZN members that travelled so far to attend the seminar.

Martial art wise, it was a particularly productive visit for me this year. On my way back from South Africa to Korea, I stopped over in Hong Kong, where I also got to train a little in Wing Chun, which was a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to new ideas and helped me to rethink my understanding of ITF Taekwon-Do as well.

I wish all the Soo Shim Kwan members, and all other readers of this blog, a wonderful 2017. My you experience progress in your martial art path, and also grow in the other areas of your life: vocationally, relationally, mentally and spiritually.



23 January 2017

Hapkido Registration & South Africa Seminar

I am happy to announce that the Soo Shim Kwan has registered with the Korea Hapkido Federation. This comes after my promotion to 4th Dan in Hapkido in August, 2016.

Although I have always supplemented our ITF Taekwon-Do syllabus with skills from Hapkido, these recent developments bring more formality to our Hapkido connection. It also allows our students to officially progress in Hapkido along side ITF Taekwon-Do if they so choose.

On the 29th of January, 2017, I will give a formal Hapkido seminar and workshop in Centurion, South Africa for Soo Shim Kwan and SATI black belts. The six hour seminar will cover basic Hapkido principles, break falls & rolls, locks (wrist locks, elbow locks, shoulder locks, and knee locks), throws, and other miscellaneous techniques.

14 December 2016

Why the Critique against the Slow Tempo in ITF Patterns is Flawed

One critique levied against the ITF way of doing the Chang Hong patterns is that the rhythm imposed on the techniques by the sine wave motion has taken away the clustering of certain techniques that ought to—according to these critics—be performed as small combative units glued together by a more “realistic” (i.e. more rushed) tempo, as opposed to ITF Taekwon-Do's slow tempo.

The Korean word for a group of techniques that generally go together in a pattern is called “poom” (Hangeul:품; Hanja: 品).

An example will be helpful. Take the first series of movements in the pattern Won-Hyo: a twin forearm block, followed by a knife-hand inward strike, followed by a side punch. It is understood that these three moves are part of one combative sequence. Once one finishes movements #1-3, you turn about and repeat them on the other side (movements #4-6). So, movements #1-3 are one poom, movements #4-6 are another poom, and so on.


The little video above shows how I as an ITF practitioner* performs the initial two poom in Won-Hyo Teul. Notice the relatively slow tempo. You can see the full pattern performed by Alexandra Kan here, which I think is one of the best ITF performances of the pattern online at the moment.

It is believed that in the traditional way of performing the patterns one can know where pooms are by the tempo with which a set of techniques are performed together. Usually, such a cluster is performed together relatively fast, then there will be some pause or slowing down in the tempo, before the next cluster of techniques that form a poom are performed in a similarly hurried fashion.

The critique against the way ITF practitioners perform the patterns is that because most techniques are emphasized individually due to the sine wave motion, rather than obviously clustered together, practitioners don’t know where pooms start and finish and therefore lose important combative information, since each poom is understood to be a small combative encounter.

I disagree with this critique.

Poom need not be identified by a connected tempo. There are other ways of identifying a poom. First, they tend to be a sequence of techniques in one direction. For instance, in the Won-Hyo Teul example, we can easily identify movements #1-3 as one poom and movements #4-6 as a different poom because they are performed in a general direction. Second, rational deduction suggests that these moves go together, without the need of a tempo acting as an adhesive. In other words, we can look at a group of techniques, especially if they are clustered together in one direction as in the mentioned example, and then we can ask ourselves if they logically fit together, and if so we can deduce that they are part of a poom.

Those in favour of grouping movements together through a rushed tempo argues that the patterns should be realistic, like an actual fight, hence the poom should mimic the tempo of a real fight. I personally think this is a flawed understanding of the patterns, at least as they are understood in the ITF Taekwon-Do pedagogy, and several other martial arts such as Taichi Chuan. (Read more about this in the section about “Quick Movements vs Forceful Movements” in my post about the patterns and “Accelerated Body Mass”.)

The ITF patterns are not to be understood as complete fighting templates. First, the patterns are far too structures, far too rigid and angular, far too “formal” to be reflective of actual combat. The pooms are put together in unrealistic ways. One poom is followed by a 180 degree turn, then a 90 degree turn, and so on. The imagined attackers conveniently attack you one at a time from perpendicular angles. These are just some examples of how unnatural and how far removed the patterns are from real combative encounters. I disagree that the rhythm in patterns must be reflective of a real fight. Enforcing a “fighting” rhythm is just adding another arbitrary rhythm—real violence tends to be rather chaotic and often not rhythmic at all. Rather than becoming rushed and chaotic, the patterns are contemplative and structured. Consider for a moment how forms are practised in Taichi Chuan. The critique of unrealistic rhythm and speed is applied to Taichi Chuan only by the ignorant. Most martial artists have the insight to know that although Taichi Chuan forms are performed at such very slow speeds, that is not how Taichi Chuan practitioners actually fight. The slow moving forms teach certain principles of movement and a state of mind that are lost when the forms are rushed. Similarly, although ITF Taekwon-Do uses a relatively slow tempo for performing the patterns, it is also obviously not how practitioners are intended to fight and the slower tempo is purposeful—to teach certain principles of movement.

Deciding that certain techniques are part of a poom is useful, but forcing a tempo onto them to boundary movements into a poom is counter-productive. While it might give the practitioner a clear indication of where one poom starts and another ends, it is also limiting interpretation options. Many interesting pattern interpretations occur across pooms. A simple example is in Chonji Teul. Typically, it is understood that the first poom in Chonji Teul is movements #1 & 2: the walking stance low forearm block, followed by the walking stance middle punch. The next poom is the following two movements (movements #3 & 4), and so on. However, one interesting interpretation is to view movement #2 and #3 as part of an over-the-shoulder throw as illustrated below, from the book Taekwondo Grappling Techniques by Tony Kemerly & Steve Snyder.

From "Taekwondo Grappling Techniques", p. 65

This interpretation dissolves the arbitrary boundaries of the pooms. If one were to stick to the pooms based on how the tempo is performed by “old school” Taekwon-Do practitioners, one may miss this interpretation.

When the pooms are not fully fixed, the practitioner can start to play more with different possible combinations. In other words, sticking to preconceived ideas of poom is limiting and stifles creativity. When one does not enforce preconceived ideas of where a poom is supposed to start and finish, it frees one to find more pattern application interpretations.

The critique against the ITF way of performing the Chang Hon patterns, claiming that we lose the benefit of knowing where the pooms are, is invalid. An ITF practitioner can just as easily distinguish where the pooms are as people performing the patterns with poom-limited tempos. Furthermore, when ITF practitioners practise the pooms as drills (possibly in step-sparring or other dynamic context drills), they adjust the tempo of the techniques as needed. Practitioners already do this for sparring and self-defence: it is part of the incremental stages of (pre-arranged) sparring in the ITF technical pedagogy.

Finally, I think the slower tempo of the ITF patterns are actually contributing important skills and principles, which are lost when the patterns are rushed. Principles such as relaxation, body awareness and spacial awareness , and an understanding of the acceleration of body mass are only really learned at a slower, more contemplative tempo, rather than at a rushed, supposedly more realistic tempo. The more “realistic” training, I believe, is practised elsewhere in the system.

* Although I call myself an ITF practitioner, it is important to note that different ITF groups perform the patterns in slightly different ways. For instance, some practitioners de-emphasize the hip rotation, focusing on the vertical force generated by the sine wave motion. I personally apply both hip rotation and sine-wave motion (where appropriate) in my performance of the patterns. 


Arc-hand thrust

In Taekwondo the arc-hand thrust #반달손 #뚫기 is often used to attack the throat (trachea).

In ITF Taekwon-Do the other hand is sometimes used to pull the opponent closer while simultaneously attacking the throat. One hand thrusts, while the other pulls. This yin-yang (음양) type movement is one application of the so-called Reaction Force principle, that is part of ITF Taekwon-Do's "Theory of Power".

A common variation in Taekkyun 택견 is as a #takedown: the arc-hand pushes the opponent's throat or even face, while the other hand is used to reap one of the opponent's legs, and so topple him.

#koreanmartialarts #martialarts #fundamentalmovement #무술 #무도 #무도인 #사범 #호신술 #selfdefense



21 September 2016

Soo Shim Kwan Clubs at the SATI National Tournament

The South Africa Taekwon-Do Institute hosted its first annual national tournament on Saturday, 10 September. The two Soo Shim Kwan clubs, the Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club (PTC) and the Horangi Taekwon-Do Club from Groblersdal, participated in this event.

Riana Serfontein, Adéle Wolmarans, Philip de Vos (instructor),
Edrich Louw, Jakes Gous, and PW Conradie.
PTC was represented by six participants and won a total of 11 medals (2 gold, 3 silver and 6 bronze) for their participation in the sparring, patterns and power breaking categories.

Horangi Taekwon-Do Club (Grobblersdal)
Back-right: Instructor Gerhard Louw

The Horangi club entered 23 participants and won a total of 41 medals for their participation in the sparring, patterns, power breaking and special technique breaking categories, resulting in the Horangi dojang to position itself as the second best performing dojang of all the participating dojang.

A big congratulations to instructors Philip de Vos and Gerhard Louw and all the Soo Shim Kwan students for all your hard work and positive attitude. Well done!

01 September 2016

A Sine Wave Motion Description

Following is a description of the sine wave motion:
“Your waist rises as you twist and falls as you overturn. Rise equals go, fall equals strike. Together they mean to strike like a rolling wave. Each part must be clearly differentiated; all must be done like lightning. This is facilitated by keeping the body relaxed until the final instant.”
Actually, this is from a book on the Chinese internal martial art Hsing-I by Robert W. Smith (Hsing-I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing, 2003).

Had I not revealed its source, practically all ITF practitioners would have agreed that it is a reasonable description of the “sine wave motion”. I have written in several posts in the past that the principles taught by the so-called “sine wave motion” are hardly unique to ITF Taekwon-Do, as this quotation clearly demonstrates. (You can read a previous mention of the similarities between ITF and Hsing-I here.)

A main reason ITF Taekwon-Do's “sine wave motion” is so controversial is because the term is a misnomer -- it is not an actual sine wave. It may have been an attempt by General Choi who proposed the term to make it sound more scientific. We should keep in mind, of course, that English wasn't his first language, not even his second language (that was Japanese), and neither was he a physicist. I have heard accounts that he adopted the term after that is how someone else (an English speaker) described what General Choi was trying to explain as a “sine wave motion”. I don't know if there is truth to this, but I do believe that if another term than “sine wave motion” was used, even if it was just called “wave motion”, it would have been less controversial.

To get back to the quotation above, it very accurately describe how the so-called “sine wave motion” is generally used for something like a middle punch: The body should be “relaxed until the final instant,” the rising portion is when the waist is pulled back, and it is during the falling that the strike happens.

In another post from long ago, I looked at another Chinese internal style, Chen style Tai Chi Quan, and noted some similarities with the way we understand movement in ITF Taekwon-Do.

25 April 2016

A Deadly Weapon

“A while ago I was a bit disillusioned by the thought of practicing a martial art that was made out of racism, spite, politics, that was later used for murder, abduction, assassination plots, bomb scares, political gain and segregation. Been feeling that way again for a bit.”

The above is a quote from a post that someone made on a Taekwon-Do related Facebook discussion forum recently.

I remember after reading Alex Gillis’ “A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do” (a must-read) that I felt pretty much the same. Most Taekwon-Do practitioners have no idea with how much vice and corruption our martial art has been embroiled. That book came as a valuable disillusionment to me. It reminded me not to idolize the Taekwon-Do founders and leaders, and not to over spiritualize Taekwon-Do.

Later, it also occurred to me that this very unsavory history of Taekwon-Do actually validates it. Firstly, you don’t hear of flower arrangement being involved in “murder, abduction, assassination plots, bomb scares, political gain and segregation”. Only something with true gravitas (no offense to those involved in flower arrangement) could have been used—and misused—as has been the case with Taekwon-Do. Taekwon-Do is something serious. Something dangerous. This brings me to my second point.

A sword, no matter how decorative and aesthetically designed, always remains primarily a weapon. We should never be surprised to see a sword covered in blood. When it does surprise us, it can only be because we did not give it the respect it deserves. Or it surprises us because the “sword” is fake. A toy sword or stage prop smeared with actual human blood is indeed a shocking sight, as should be all bloodshed. But a real sword scarlet-stained from rust, dirt and blood, is simply true to its purpose, so seeing a crimsoned sword should not surprise us.

Why, then, should we be surprised when a martial art—i.e. a system of combative skills—is used for power, politics and war?

It is true that a sword may be used in conquest or in defence, and in both these cases it may lead to bloodshed, but the sword itself is neither inherently good nor bad for being used in such ways. What determines the value of a sword is not whether it was used to murder in greed or kill in defence, but whether it proved its metal. Was it good at being a sword? Was the blade strong and sharp? Was it balanced and adherent to the wielder’s intent?

Considering its diverse history, I think Taekwon-Do makes for a good sword.