Friday, March 16, 2007

REPOST: The Long And Short Of Tae Kwon Do

This is a repost of a previous article, in response to the letter by "Little Cricket" in the "Short Legs Kick Ass" article I posted below:

Awww,... Look at the junior Rat.. He jumps, he spins; watch out he may bite!
Yessiree folks, this is an actual vintage early '80's photo of the Rat Boy, complete with authentic Beer and pizza stains. Yes, it's part of my first Black Belt test, and this photo proves that it was perfectly acceptable for an assistant instructor to wear flannel shirts at Black Belt tests in Oregon in the old days.
--With that said, this post has been a long time coming and will surely piss some people off. Let me say it now: There are a lot of shortcomings in Tae Kwon Do as a martial art.
My training came at a time when the Koreans were desperately trying to organize TKD to become an Olympic sport. This was an exciting prospect, and I'm afraid it's one that has practicly ruined TKD as a self defense art.
Pre-Olympic TKD was closely tied to Hapkido and Korean Judo. Our school practiced both. Our Master, Tae Hong Choi, once commented that TKD was structurally very close to Shotokan Karate, and at the time, it was true. There were powerful sparring sequences and a lot,lot of breaking boards and bricks. We gave demonstrations in front of thousands of people during festivals where Mr. Choi would disarm swordsmen and demonstrate the best of combat Hapkido. Choi had trained Special Forces in Vietnam. Those were heady times, When after events the Master would lead us, his entourage of Black Belts into seedy bars for after-hours celebrations. The training was solid, and the anarchic structure of the organization led to deep trust and friendships I'll always remember.
Then came the Olympics. The hands came down, short-range fighting became non-existant, and head-hunting became the rule.
Tae Kwon Do has always emphisised kicking techniques, but after the Olympics, TKD fighters had stopped using their hands altogether. While the flash kicking is way fun, and exellent gymnastic exercise, it sucks for self-defense. A good wrestler can easily move in on high kicks, and the groin is constantly exposed when you kick high. I know. I lost a tournament fight when I attempted a high hook kick and a Kenpo guy blasted me in the groin with a short counter-kick.
The most natural method of fighting is to hit with your hands. It's easy, quick and effective. The best thing for me is when I started training with my friend who was a boxer. Traditional boxing drills brought my hand speed up considerably, as well as hitting power. Not the brick-breaking type of power, but stick-and-move power, very mobile. Of course, modern TKD does not allow hitting to the head, so they are miserably outclassed by fighters that can hit fast and hard.
In this way, modern TKD has lost it's way. In the past, fighters from Korean systems, like Chuck Norris, who dominated the tournament scene in the '60's-'70's, were power to be reckoned with. Now the system has degraded into a pure sport, where the exercise is great but don't try this shit for self defense.
Tae Kwon Do would find a re-awakening by going back to it's true roots as a brawling Korean art with heavy Japanese and Chinese influence, yet retaining it's Kim-Chee-flavored national heritage.


Hand2Hand said...

Hey Dojo Rat,

Regarding what you said about tae kwon do, I'd just like to say


You said what I've been saying for years. What is it with all these TKD books and websites saying TKD goes back to the Silla dynasty?

BULLSHIT! It goes back to the Japanese Occupation of Korea. It was founded by Gen. Choi Hong Hi, who was active in several movements to drive the Japanese from Korea.

Gen. Choi admitted as much himself that TKD was a hybrid of both Taekyon and Shotokan. In fact, when he founded TKD, he taught Shotokan kata.

At the time, it was a much more effective (and complete) fighting art.

But it's not just TKD that's been watered down for the masses. The average Japanese Karate dojo is much more hung up on maintaining the ancient samurai ethos than with promoting practical self-defense.

And don't get me started on the Chinese arts. Most of them teach watered down forms and little, if any, sparring.

It wasn't always this way. But, as Japan, Korea and China moved into the late 20th Century, they turned their martial arts into something for the masses.

As my JKD instructor once said, "If you want to learn a real fighting art, go to an art from a Third World Country." He is partial to the various forms of Escrima, Kali, Arnis and Silat. As he pointed out, there's some pretty uncivilized places in those countries where some people practice martial arts because they don't know if they might have to really defend themselves.

Lastly, I liked your comment about brick and board breaking. These days, it's possible to get a black belt without hitting anything. I have a good friend who has a 2nd dan in TKD, but he can't punch a standard heavy bag full force without having his wrist collapse on impact.

If he were my student, he'd still be a yellow belt.

Little Cricket said...

As you say, and must know better than I, there must be some elements to TKD which *are* worth learning and are useful while fighting. I'm enough of a novice that I feel I have a lot to take from TKD still. I'd be really interested if in the future you do post more of your thoughts regarding what you learnt from taekwondo.


Dojo Rat said...

Little Cricket:
Please excuse an old warriors simple opinions; stick with your teacher and get a good foundation in the arts, I did.
Then move on and experiment withother styles, but get a good foundation first!
Dojo Rat

Little Cricket said...

Hello Dojo Rat,

Yes, definitely, as I said, I feel that I have a lot to learn from TKD and don't have any intention of switching styles. Anyway, at the moment, my complaints about not being able to get in high kicks are probably more due to my own shortcomings in practice, and there is still scope for improvement in *me*.


Hand2Hand said...

Hey LC,

I learned TKD back in the late 1970s, so it was a much different art than what is called TKD these days.

TKD is great in terms of promoting stamina and flexibility. However, if you want to get the most out of your TKD as far as a martial art, and you don't want to take the time to cross-train in any other art, here's my advice.

1. Get a heavy bag. Even if your school has one, you should have one at home to practice with. If you can't or won't drill holes in the ceiling to hang it, then buy a bag stand.

I think the heavy bag is a must-have piece of equipment for any student of any art that includes striking. The $200-$300 investment for the bag and the stand will be well-spent.

2. Get a speed bag or speed ball and work your hands with it. The current crop of TKD dojangs teach almost nothing as far as good hand techniques.

3. Work on good punching with your heavy bag. Take your time and strengthen the wrists, working your way up to punching it harder. You don't want your wrists to collapse when you punch a drunk in a bar or mugger on the street.

4. Emphasize strong basics. You should practice your basic techniques such as your reverse punch, knife-hand, front, side, roundhouse and hook kicks regularly. The spinning and the high-jumping kicks should be kept only a minimum.

If you use them in a fight, either in the ring or the street, save such techniques as a coup de grace.

Little Cricket said...

Hi hand2hand,

Hey, thanks very much for taking the time to write up those pointers. I will get started with practicing my punching on the bags at my school. I must admit I hadn't focussed as much on punching as basic kicks while practicing on my own.