Friday, December 28, 2007

Shut Up and Teach

Here's a quick drive-by post to wrap up 2007...

One of my favorite things about my studio is that everyone is in it together. Individual progress is sacrificed in order to help junior rank or to assist those in need. In the end, these strong bonds improve everyone's mental understanding of the techniques and concepts we practice.

But sometimes, we just try too darned hard. When we see someone struggle physically with a technique, or mentally blank on what they are supposed to do, we want to immediately swarm in and offer our correction. Maybe share a tip that worked for us, offer a word of encouragement, or show a completely different way of performing that throw.

We can't help it, we're just trying to help.

At what point does that help become detrimental? We've all heard of "helicopter parents" that constantly hover and swoop in to prevent any trauma that could possibly stem from failure. This same phenomena occurs in the dojang as senior rank partners or junior instructors work extremely hard to keep their students "on the path."

Guess what? Failure in the dojang is GREAT! (Including being the instructor who makes this error; chew on that.) I'll stop for a moment and let you recover.


Seriously. The dojang is a controlled, safe environment that allows us to step out of the familiar and try something different. If you never fail, how can I be assured that you are working to your maximum potential? Everyone screws up, forgets a step in a hyung, drops their staff or sword, etc.

Great lessons are learned from failure. Even if the lesson is as simple as "Gosh, I need to practice that more."

So when you spot someone in class struggling, let them struggle a little bit. Your time for intervention is just as they are about to become completely frustrated. Do you now offer your advice?


Try this tactic instead. Ask the student to tell you what they are trying to do. Have them walk you through the technique. If they have all the pieces, maybe all they need is some more practice.

Fictional example: osoto-gari. Yeah, I don't know the korean term for this; even if I did, you probably wouldn't, so I'll use the more recognized term.

The most common problem in my class is that the student performing the throw is still in front of their target, which creates an off balance as they try to push their opponent back while inadvertently setting them up to be reversed by the very same technique. I.e. not good.

Ask the student to walk through the move in slow motion. Ask clarifying questions:
"Where's my weight?" (If I'm not pulled forward onto the sweeping leg)
"Where should you be in relation to me?" (if they are too far away)
"Describe the motion that takes me down?" (if they are not doing a clean push/pull motion)

Now obviously, if they're supposed to be doing Osoto Gari, but are doing Ouchi Gari, it's probably best to step in and correct that problem right away. In that case, there's no foundation in place, so feel free to build one.

I think all instructors go through this period. I certainly did, and I see it in a lot of my students. That's what you get when you have a class full of science majors, I suppose. It's an important phase in your development, as it is tied in to your attention to technical detail, but it is also a phase that must be grown out of in order to further develop instructor abilities.

I'm working on it...

Thursday, December 27, 2007


As I look to move my Wednesday class to a different facility, I've come to realize how extremely lucky I've been to have a large, clean space for my OSU class. Even though the new facility offers only about 1/3rd the space we had (to be fair, our old floor was about 50 yards long) it is still far superior to what I've been able to find off campus.

Currently, I'm looking at a YMCA facility that is, to say the least, humble. But, it has plans for expansion and growth into a new building, so it is an opportunity to get in at the ground floor, so to speak. In the meantime, I would be using a space only slightly larger than my bedroom to run a class.

I know that in the past, large training floors were a luxury that came with either extreme luck or a hefty price tag. I love watching footage of schools in Japan that have 50 people training in an extremely small room. Unfortunately, I'm not quite used to this method of training.

I have some ideas for making the most out of this small space, and gaining positive benefits from the changes in training.

Line Drill:
Marching up and down the floor for a majority of class, which is my preferred method of working on basics, would have to be re-worked. Techniques could be done in place, switching sides every 10 repetitions or so. This would have the benefit of a great isometric leg workout as well. Shifting the stances to a 45 degree angle in place would also allow us to switch sides every technique. I could also get creative by practicing the technique by stepping forwards once, and then stepping backwards on the other.

An excellent drill, both for cardiovascular improvement (in place of a rapid-fire drill) which would lead to stronger, more focused techniques than "hitting air."

In a large room, all ranks can easily work on their own hyung without collision or space issues. In a small room, I'm afraid we'd have to spend time focusing on one or two forms, or rotate groups on and off the floor. Give the white belts a break while everyone else works on a more advanced form. Have the whole class work on cool down stretches while black belts work on an advanced form at the end of the day.

My instructor would always have groups demonstrate a hyung together in a very tight space, lined up practically shoulder to shoulder. It's a great feeling to see your students working together to overcome this obstacle and move as a single unit. The Spartans would be proud. Learning to work together helps to build the sunbae/hubae relationship.


As fun as it is to supervise 20 groups sparring at once, this would best be accomplished by having the class watch a single pair work at once. While not as physically demanding, it would give people a chance to examine strategies used and how to overcome them.

If I end up using this facility, it will be very interesting to see how 2 schools under the same instructor can have a very different feel while still adhering to the same traditional principles.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


That's the number of push-ups I did this morning, as my quest towards 100 consecutive, good push-ups moves surprisingly forward. 73 is far better than I have ever done before. What's odd though is how thoroughly unexcited I am by the number.

In this way, it is similar to martial arts. I absolutely despise discussing martial arts with my family or co-workers unless they are genuinely interested in it, because I feel as though I cannot generate the expected level of enthusiasm for what I do on a daily basis. I've been swinging a pair of nunchaku around my head arms and groin for about 15 years, and it's second nature enough that I don't feel it something I can "show off" for others. I honestly feel that there is so much more to accomplish that I can't get excited about showing off an unfinished product. Already, I'm thinking about how 100 is cool, but I wouldn't be content with poor form. Then there are fingertip pushups, 1 handed, handstand push-ups, planches, etc.

Ow. I could probably stand to lose about 30 pounds before event attempting such feats.

Monday, December 10, 2007


For me, testing always marks a period of introspection. In this case, it is marked not by my own testing but by our class gup test. It is a time to look back on what you've accomplished, what your future goals are, and if the work you are doing now is leading to those goals. This year is the 10th anniversary of our studio, and along with nostalgia, a fair amount of introspection has occurred.

This quarter, we were fortunate to have a good group of white belts join and stay for the term. As a result, we had a very successful test, both in numbers, but also in effort. For the most part, spirits were very high after the test. A few days later, I was able to look at the pictures of the test and was somewhat humbled.

As I looked at the photos, I saw things I wanted to immediately address. Stances, focus of eye, sparring problems, and other little quirks that I was able to glean from over 400 photographs (if you're not already, get someone to shoot the test with a digital slr camera, and tell them not to be shy. the documentation is absolutely amazing and worth the effort.) This is not to say that these things were bad but they could certainly use some improvement. And that's my role in the dojang, to push the students to their mental and physical limits, tear down those barriers and continue forward.

I am satisfied with our progress, as long as progress continues to be made. Otherwise, I'm still sitting in last week while the world passes me by.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

blogging for the sake of blogging

Sorry to all 2 of my readers out there that I've been slacking on the blog project this month. I've been doing some work that is both interesting and boring at the same time. Interesting because of the possibilities and future direction, but boring because of all the behind the scenes work. I've been playing with 2 internet mediums at work, and have been trying to simultaneously apply them to my studio as well.

I'm sure most of you have either seen or used a Wiki - Wikipedia being the most famous example -- by now. The obvious appeal (or detraction) is the collaborative nature of the software. Users can add, remove and update content as needed. The audience is the contributor, which takes an amazing strain off of one webmaster who no longer has to tinker with content. For this reason, wikis are replacing corporate intranets and file repositories as the new way to keep track of policies and procedures and communicate across groups.

Right away, I saw the potential for using a wiki in my studio. As the club is largely run by student officers, each year we have to pass info on to the new officer. Years ago, my instructor created binders for each student with the expectation that we would store info in them and hand them off to the next officer so that they wouldn't be starting off completely green. Obviously, no one really enjoys documenting what they do, and more often than not, incomplete and outdated info was being passed on. Occasionally, notebooks would even be lost. Then there was the question of passing excel spreadsheets, pdfs, graphics and all the other things our officers began using.

The Wiki allows for a more convenient method of sharing this information. Files can be uploaded and stored centrally, versions of pages are saved and controlled, and the wide-open format allows everyone to keep up with the content. If the Marketing director gets hit by a bus, we don't lose all of our advertising contacts, source files, etc.

The other "hot" thing we've been toying with is Facebook. As a college club, Facebook seemed like a natural space for exploring. Currently, the club only has a group, which is enough for now. On this group, we can host pictures and video, create events (and invite the student body) put up announcements and more. A lot of this is somewhat repetitive what we already have on the website, but it is also taking the information to the students where they are instead of pulling them to us. Club members are encouraged to join the group which in turn generates interest amongst their friends.

Well, the members who have friends, at least.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Happy 25th Anniversary, WTSDA!

25 years ago, The World Tang Soo Do Association held its Charter Convention. On this date, Masters and Black belts from across the US and World decided to form this new Association with Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin as their leader. They also established a new belt system, added 3 new hyung, and set the tone for the future progress of the art.

I have only been a part of the Association for just under 10 years, so I'm always fascinated to learn about the history and development of our art and Association. I think it would have been a very interesting and exciting time to be present for that weekend.

That's why I was extremely happy to receive in the mail a copy of the 25th anniversary DVD produced by the WTSDA. The DVD contains a great deal of history, archival footage, interviews with Charter members and gives a great summation of what the Association has done over the last 25 years.

Just in my brief time, I've seen a number of successful programs created: Ki Gong curriculum, Children's programs, Humanitarian Efforts, and a good deal of effort to introduce a sword curriculum, which is still in progress. When I look at the different directions some of our Master's are taking the art, I look forward what will be created and passed on over the next 25 years.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More on push-ups

Today was #43. It's been a glum weekend here in Columbus, with my Buckeyes losing and dealing with a cold. It was the perfect weekend to let the goal go by the wayside, actually. This morning I was still feeling pretty weak, and after doing my workout, my arms were just limp and jellylike.

This morning, I read an interesting article by Charles Linster that was very inspirational. Linster set a record in the 1960s for the most non-stop pushups, when he performed 6,006. You can read his story here.

Most interesting to me is how on "good" days he could manage to add well over 100 to his previous attempt. That's within the course of a week or two. It makes me stop and think about how 2 things.

1. Pushups aren't necessarily a function of strength, but endurance. In a way, it's a lot like running. There were days in cross country where I could run 15 miles and days where just a quick 3 mile loop felt unattainable. A lot of it is just setting a mental goal and working towards it, moving beyond fatigue and testing your limits.

2. A goal is nothing more than a base. Once you reach your goal, there is always a higher summit in the distance. 6000 pushups is mind boggling to me. Here I am, 43% of the way to my goal, only to see that I'm not even at 1% of this man's output! It is humbling and inspiring at the same time. At the same time, I can already look forward to being able to do handstand pushups, or even planches.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Jhoon Rhee and the quest for 100 pushups.

For years, I've wanted to be able to do 100 consecutive, good pushups. Once in awhile, I would actually strive towards it, never making much progress. I suppose it's because I "wanted" to do it in the same way I "wanted" to be a seven foot tall billionaire who lived on a tropical island. Wanting it doesn't necessarily make it so.

It all goes back to Jhoon Rhee.

Back in 1999 or so, there was a Masters of Martial Arts special on TNT, hosted by the illustrious Wesley Snipes. (On a personal note, I can't stand Wesley Snipes after he made walking around the Arnold Classic a living hell. How much security does one second rate star need??) Anyhoo, midway this special Jhoon Rhee, then in his late 60s, entered the stage and cranked out 100 pushups. Incidentally, he performed these pushups in 60 seconds. I was quite impressed.

Doing some research on the man, I have come to think of him as the Korean Jack LaLanne, minus the juicer endorsement.

In the basement of his stately McLean home, 70-year-old Jhoon Rhee begins his workout as he has done every day for years, among pictures of some of his heroes: George Washington, his Korean ancestors, an ancient Korean king. Midway through an hour of aerobic exercises, he drops into a split that would make a gymnast envious, bends forward until his face touches the floor, looks up and smiles.

"I couldn't do this 15 years ago," Rhee said.

Rhee's daily workout doesn't end there. He does at least 1,000 push - ups and a few hundred sit-ups every day. He even does push-ups during long overnight plane trips - when the flight crew allows. He hasn't missed a day of working out in more than 17 years.

"Who else can say they've been working out like me?" Rhee asked.

I promise not to make a habit of posting pictures of semi-disrobed elderly men in my blog, but this man is flexing at age 70, you have to give him his due.

In the past, I've started doing pushup workouts and getting far too sore in the first week, not wanting to continue. So I started modestly. I decided I would do pushups everyday, but I would start with one. One, pathetic solitary pushup. Everyday, I'd add one more. I do my best to make each one a good pushup, so no rapid-fire pushups are allowed to count, and I make the last 5 even slower.

Results? Today I did #38, which is still nowhere near my previous maximum. But I'm doing it everyday, and feeling my endurance improve greatly. I even have a little definition in my arms as a bonus. But that may be from all the extra sword work. My recently sprained wrist is also feeling a lot better and the range of motion is slowly improving.

My goal is 100, and I'm getting a little closer everyday. At this rate, I will be at 60 at the end of the month, 90 by 12/30 and at my goal on 1/9... 3 days after my birthday.

I'm sure there are more efficient systems to reach my goal, but I like this as it gives me something to look forward to everyday, and I can see my progress slowly add up. In a lot of ways, its just like the martial arts. No shortcuts, just lots of practice.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Master's Extravaganza

The nice picture
Originally uploaded by tommrkr
The other weekend, our club went to a regional WTSDA event: the Master's Grand Extravaganza in Valparaiso, Indiana. I know, it's a kinda funny name. In reality, it is an action packed weekend, featuring schools from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The weekend begins Friday night with the Fall Black Belt testing, a tournament on Saturday, and a Black belt clinic on Sunday morning.

Here's the interesting part. When the tournament ends, there is an evening show which highlights some of the events from earlier in the day. The Men's and Women's winning forms are demonstrated for the crowd, Breaking demonstrations, and the winning demo team performs again.

My favorite part, however, is from where the tournament gets its name: Master Demos. You get to see what all those folks with fancy belts can really do. Sometimes it is a skill they are known for (Master Inoshita and sword/fan, Master Ochs and Breaking) and every once in awhile, you get a neat surprise; something you may not have associated someone with. I'm one of those people who can watch Master's demonstrate their specialty all day and never get tired. I like to see how someone has put their own personal spin on a form, their own tempo and attitude. It is a rare treat for me, as the closest Master in my Association is 3 hours away! :)

Of course, I love a good show, but I also appreciate the time and effort that goes into demonstrating the craft. When I demand that my black belts start working on demos to show "their thing" this is the end goal I have for them. One day, that could be me up there, or one of my students. It has to be, or eventually we'll run out of Masters to provide demos.

I'm not a big competitor. I do reasonably well, especially in forms competition, but I don't train to win. I go to have fun and meet new people. Sometimes at open tournaments the emphasis is less on winning and more on "beating the other person." Yes, I think there is a huge difference.

That's why I like our Association events. I see the same folks several times a year. We establish a kinship when we compete with each other. We'll even give each other tips for improvement. No one is hording secrets. If we get better, our organization improves because of it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Positive Visualization for Martial Artists

I don't get to practice nearly as much as I want to. I have a day job that makes it hard to just randomly do a form in the hallway, and punching or kicking my coworkers violates many HR policies. When I get to class, I'm teaching. Before and after class, people ask me questions. Home is for sleeping and grabbing a clean dobohk before the next day.

A long time ago, I was reading a story about a famous grandmaster in a Chinese system. A student was charged the intimidating task of picking him up at the airport and bringing him to the school. During the car ride, he tried to start some small talk despite the language gap and asked "Sir, you are constantly traveling from school to school; when do you find time to train?" The master looked up and said to him "I'm training right now."

At first, the student thought he was being blown off, but came to realize an important lesson from that discussion. You don't have to be sweating or moving to be training.

I often review forms in my head. It is not as easy as it sounds, because I am as close to ADD as one can be. To get through an entire form without distraction takes serious focus on my part.

Of course, I occasionally just walk through the moves to keep it fresh in my head, but that is very different than practicing it in my head. What would you do if your students walked half-heartedly through a form in class? Probably yell at them or swing a stick!

Same goes for practicing in one's head. When doing so, I try to employ positive visualization techniques. Before competing or demonstrating, I take the week up to that point to visualize my performance. I focus on what I know to be my weaker points, such as eye contact, posture, use of the off hand, and see myself doing the form perfectly. If I'm competing in sword, I visualize my step and cut ending in time, I feel the swing and step in my mind. I hear the blade cut the air.

The convenient part about using visualization is that time doesn't always work in the same way. Mid technique, I can stop, correct myself and move towards success. Sometimes, doing a hyung "correctly" can take me up to 15 minutes.

When I practice for real, I can focus more on those weak points, remembering the feeling from earlier visualizations. I'm not sure how to explain it better, but it honestly works.

Has anyone else tried this method with success?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Successful Martial Arts Online Communities

DSC_4983 Eazy Bar Koh Tao
Originally uploaded by mureena
Over the last 10 years, I've been a member of several online martial arts discussion forums and websites. Some, such as Warrior-Scholar, are specifically dedicated to the discussion of Tang Soo Do/Soo Bahk Do/Moo Duk Kwan. Others, such as TotalProtectionInteractive
are more concerned with pure self-defense issues and tend to strip away the art and take what works. Over the years, I've learned a great deal from them all. The only downside was that we were often limited to describing what we did with words. Few people had the means or technical ability to post photos and videos. Unfortunately, martial skill does not always go hand in hand with computer skills, usually because we spend too much time developing one at the expense of the other. (note to self, practice your forms when you get home.)

One particular forum has taken an interesting approach to sharing techniques. FreestyleForum is a community dedicated to the freestyle use of nunchaku. As you can imagine, the community is an interesting mix of martial artists, jugglers, and people who are definitely focusing on the "art" aspect rather than the "martial." FSF, as I've decided to call it for the duration of this post, has embraced youtube as a means of sharing their skills and building off each other.

Moves are shared, and challenges are frequently posted to keep member's working on their chops. Someone posts an "aerial challenge" and other forumites can post their responses, using Youtube's handy response feature.

As you can see from the above video, even the beginners are quite talented. One day I hope I can make the time to move beyond lurking in that forum and actually post something.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Training Outdoors

In his books on Tang Soo Do, Grandmaster Shin wrote that the ultimate goal of the Tang Soo Do practitioner was to become one with nature. "The ultimate goal of Tang Soo Do is to live in perfect harmony with the laws of nature. To become one with nature is what we strive to attain. To understand, appreciate, and apply these laws is our goal." For me, training outdoors is a small step towards this goal. Training in all elements, on different surfaces and terrains and avoiding natural obstacles gives me a better feeling for the art, forcing me to think and rethink about what I know.

My instructor instilled this way of thinking in me very early in my training. In fact, my first outdoor training class was in my first month of training. In January. Barefoot.

What I remember most of the experience was how badly I tried to fight it. My feet were cold and sore as there was a thick layer of ice above the snow. Once you cracked that, my already sensitive feet were treated to being poked by sticks and rocks on the ground. It was all I could really think about at the time. My instructor insisted that we continue our training, repeating the same basic form over and over.

Then something interesting happened: my instructor yelled at us. Actually, that happened all the time, especially in the early days. The yelling wasn't so important, but what he yelled. "You guys are lucky" he said "you can distract yourself with the form; I'm the one standing still in the same ice and snow watching you."

At that point I noticed that he wasn't shivering, not jumping up and down, just standing perfectly calm outside the University Library at 8:30 on a Thursday night, barefoot in the snow and ice, watching a bunch of misfits in pajamas stumble through a basic hyung. We did a few more forms, and it was a little easier. I won't pretend that I was able to magically block everything out.

About a year or 2 later the club went camping. In an eerie reminder of my Scouting days, it rained most of the weekend. While hiking in a gorge, we came across a stream with a felled tree laying across it. It was on that log that I first learned Naihanchi Cho Dan. While most of us wobbled like newborn deer learning to walk, none of us fell into the water. My instructor demonstrated the form with little to no adjustment, moving full speed across this wet log in the rain.

A few years later, I was reading the Hagakure and came across this passage:

"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.”

Forgive my stumbling nostalgia as I struggle to stay on point. A great deal of training outdoors helps you to cope with struggles. It is much easier to stay in the dojang, preferably one with a polished wood floor, mirrors and a few overhead fans. Take yourself out of that comfort zone, and you begin to learn what you really know about balance, stability and endurance.

Of course, not all aspects of training outdoors are harsh. Obviously there is great beauty to train among, whether a morning fog, along water, near a prairie or the woods in autumn. In his books, David Lowry recalls his instructor would take time before beginning their outdoor training to find a special bit of natural beauty to set his sword alongside.

As the seasons begin to change, take the opportunity to train outdoors: even if just to meditate. Find what there is to learn about yourself.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sip Sam Seh for Westerners

Master Dan Segarra, formerly of the Moo Duk Kwan and now out on his own, has shared on his Warrior Scholar website his understanding of the Sip Sam Seh.

My way
Originally uploaded by Hobo pd

The major problem, from a Western Perspective, is that a great deal is lost in translation. The "song" is supposed to be a map, keeping you on the right path. Ironically, I think most practitioners cannot understand the Sip Sam Seh in its most popular English translation until they've practiced for several years. Some parts are obvious while others - Stillness embodies motion, motion stillness / Seek stillness in motion -- read like bad stereo instructions to a green belt or beginner.

You can view the Segarra work in progress here.

In many ways, I think this is a superior translation in that it has been re-arranged and broken down for a western audience. And no, I don't mean diluted or that a Chinese mind is more superior, etc. I think it just makes better sense than a more literal translation.

I try to explain to my students that Tang Soo Do is not just "Korean Karate" or "Traditional Tae Kwon Do" because those labels just beg further questions. Instead, I say that Tang Soo Do is a Korean expression of an Okinawan art based soundly on Chinese principles of movement. The Sip Sam Seh goes a long way towards explaining what I mean by that, but I think its often been too inaccessible to the lay student.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

get closer...

A drill I often do with students is to start off doing forms without a count, with the expectation that they move together. Typically, the responsibility for keeping the pace falls on the shoulders of the most senior person. They in turn must take into account the ability of the class and determine the best speed.

From there, what I sometimes do is move everyone together a little closer, so there is less space on all sides of them. Two interesting things happen from here. First, the students need to move together better. Second, the group stops watching each other to stay in time, and starts just moving in time.

When this happens, I put the students together shoulder to shoulder and about 1 foot in front and behind them. The group moves together as one, much like the phalanx formations of olden days or SWAT teams on our modern police forces. The wrong step can kill everyone.

In the dojang, it usually means someone gets punched in the head. But the same lessons are learned. It's an interesting thing about the martial arts. It is one of the few solitary activities that are often done in large groups. We're not a team in the same sense as an intramural soccer team, but I'll bet that my group has far more solidarity, built by a sense of cooperation and looking out for one another.

Monday, October 1, 2007

I have no skills.

At our gup testings, I ask the yudanja on the testing panel to be prepared to do a demonstration at the end of the test. The reasoning for this is two-fold: it is a treat for the gup students to see the leaders of the class in action, and it gives the black belts an opportunity to display what they are focusing their training around.

Each time we do this, it is met with what I can only describe as dread. No one is particularly keen on this concept (except me) and no one ever seems to know what to do.

On one hand, I'm very grateful not to have the opposite problem: a bunch of show-offy black belts who fight over the limelight. The last thing the world needs are more martial arts prima donnas.

On the other hand, it is a difficult line to tow with my students. In traditional martial arts training, humility is constantly ingrained into us. We are always told that there is room for improvement, that we only understand a small amount of what is out there, that Cho Dan is where the "Real Learning Begins." If you follow that premise, what can you possibly have to offer?

In my (humble?) opinion, it is these opportunities to explore and demonstrate that make us real students of the martial arts. Once we reach 1st dan, we should have a good grasp of the "rules" of martial arts. Our career is then spent refining those techniques, making them stronger, and suit them to our working understanding of the art.

These opportunities are those moments for growth. Not the demo itself, but the preparation and the study that goes into a demo. As you learn more, perhaps you are sent in a comletely different direction. Say you wanted to do a "simple" demo and showcase a hyung you are working on. Perhaps you might do some research into that form, learning more about it's history and the intent of the movements. You might look to other arts to see stylistic differences. Maybe you experiment with the tempo, do it backwards, mirror image, turn it into a 2 person fighting drill. Either way, being forced to do the demo led you in directions you may have otherwise not followed.

Master Homschek credits an instructor's demo using a belt as a weapon for the basis of his entire flexible weapons curriculum. It started with a belt, moved into hapkido, filipino arts, chain whips, bullwhips, neck whips, bandanas, etc until he was able to conceptualize it all into a complete system of movement.

That particular instructor, as smart as he is, probably didn't envision the following events. But he inspired a student, which is the eventual outcome I am seeking from these demonstrations.

Note: The pictures featured are from the 2002 WTSDA World Championships. At each world championship, individual Masters present one of their specialties to the audience. They didn't just get to that point, they had to practice - publicly and privately -- a lot.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Finding the complex within the simple.

Remember the slogan for the Mattel version of Othello? "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master."

Martial arts have a similar motto. All the stories of the great masters tell of unwavering dedication to basic techniques. My instructor was an advocate of constantly refining the basic techniques, and strongly believed that this is what makes you a stronger martial artist.

Before he moved, he was kind enough to give me a copy of his Master's thesis (in the WTSDA all candidates for 4th Dan and above are expected to complete a 10000 thesis on a topic that is near and dear to them. My instructor chose staff - i.e. bong -- techniques.) As I re-read his thesis, I picked up on something that I'd missed in his absence: his dedication to the basics.

You see, despite the fact that his essay is well over 100 pages, very few techniques are shown or analyzed. In many ways, his essay speaks more towards integrating the staff more into the TSD syllabus and using it to teach the basics: hip rotation, directions of movement, distancing, intent, etc. There are no fancy aerials, releases, or xtreme techniques.
It is simple, but carries with it lessons that build towards Mastery instead of Collecting.

I never consciously picked up on that before in his writing, probably because it was fed into me every day. Re-reading it gave me some perspective and focus, and made me realize how much of this I was already doing on some level.

You see, the academic quarter just began at Ohio State. With fall quarter comes a ton of recruitment opportunities for my club as all the freshmen try to find some way to "get involved." We've literally spoken to hundreds of potential students over the last week, and given a "trial class" to about 20 students total. More and more, we are getting students with previous training even black belts. Occasionally then even outrank me!

I teach them the same "first class" that I do to a raw beginner: front stance, low block, center punch, fighter stance, front kick.

I do this for several reasons. Anyone who can be humble enough to work the basics is much more likely to fit into our way of doing things. People who want to do the fancy stuff will join the wushu class, and everyone will be happy. (Not a knock on wushu, just saying they do more acrobatic techniques. It ain't my thing.)

The most important reason though, is I want to see how they respond to doing the basics. It's not just a humility test; I want to see how they think about basics. Do they just crank them out, or are they willing to go over the little details that truly make the advanced martial artist?

As I cover low block and front stance, I can suit the lesson to everyone in the room. The complete newbies are just trying to grossly imitate me. Great! Green belts are starting to move comfortably, and can be a little more precise with their transitional movements. Brown belts are working on power, red belts are working on speed. Black belts should be trying to own the technique, making it work best for them. I can feed each rank different tips (red belts work on this, brown belts fix your stance, etc) or I can give the same tip to everyone. "Think about how you use your hips" will click different light bulbs in the head of an orange belt and blue belt.

In this way, I can teach a very advanced class using basic techniques. I can go over high level concepts without having to resort to 10 technique combinations or "advanced" techniques. From there, I have the expectation that my black belts can apply the lesson to every other applicable technique.

Except for the guy who wanted to learn jump 720 split kick, no one is bored. And the new students get to see how the expectations change as they progress in rank.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Do you keep secrets?

Martial arts have traditionally been a very secretive affair. The keys of a system seen as a matter of life and death, many secrets were only transmitted to a small handful of students. Many schools have "inner students" who are trusted with key components of the art deemed too deadly or secret for average students. Some arts, at a certain degree begin to teach a completely different style of movements.
sorry, the real secrets are behind this door.
Imagine, working for 20-30 years, only to have your instructor tell you that you'd been putting your life in the hands of ineffective techniques and methods, and that you would now start "really learning." Wouldn't you be angry?

My instructor was very good about sharing his knowledge with us. He may not have always told us how to do something, but he would give us pieces and sit back to watch us figure out how to put it together in our own way. More often than not, the results were off the mark. But throughout that time, I was able to really learn something in depth about how I was supposed to me moving rather than if I'd spent time just making it look good.

Take, for example, low block. In class, when I demonstrate and teach low block, it has a very different feel than when I perform it at full speed. Why? Because I'm using low block to teach key concepts: hip rotation, circular versus linear movement, weight transfer, relaxation/tension, reaction hand, etc. The result is a big, slow low block.

What if, instead, I started from day one trying to teach my students this smaller, compact version of low block? Would it come out the same over time, or would my students be missing something?

Is it the difference between creating an aesthetically pleasing movement and adding the substance later versus the opposite? I'm not sure.

What's so special about my low block, you may ask? Can't tell, it's a secret. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Black Belt Bag of Tricks

As a gup student, and to this day, I always kept a close eye and ear on senior black belts and Master instructors to see if I could pick up something interesting from them. The one thing I truly enjoyed was getting an opportunity to see them demonstrate a special skill. Over the years, I've had the chance to catch a few things that stick out in my mind: Grandmaster Shin teaching diagonal kick, Master Strong demonstrating Oh Sip Sa Bo, Master Wick escaping 5 people holding knives to his body without being touched, my own instructor's interpretation of Bassai, and many more.

There are many folks in our Association who are "known" for a particular ability that they have especially mastered over the years. Name a facet of Tang Soo Do training, and I can give a name of someone who exemplifies that skill.

It is my goal that one day, my students will be able to inspire their junior students in similar ways. To get to that point, it takes a fair amount of practice. Not only practicing the skill, but also taking the center stage and sharing it with others.

I try to view black belt management as being somewhat different from managing gup students. Yes, occasionally classes are structured in the same way but focusing on more advanced material. Black belts also need opportunities to develop leadership abilities and receive feedback as well. Without a upcoming belt test on the horizon, goals are more open ended. New material isn't introduced nearly as often, but rather new concepts based on previously learned material.

Using this method of teaching, black belts become more and more independent and begin to specialize in certain aspects of the art. Some may find a passion for breaking, interpreting a hyung, teaching self-defense, kigong or flexibility. This is great, as no one person can really master all of these aspects. Teaching black belts becomes a matter of helping each student find the thing (or things) that inspire them and giving them the opportunity to develop that skill.

Sometimes giving them the opportunity isn't enough, and it's more appropriate to force the issue. :)

That's why I've decided to work black belt demonstrations back into our gup testings. Partially, it is a treat for our students who have worked hard to be at testing and gives them something to continue to train towards. For my black belts, it gets them off the testing panel and makes them show their chops.

Of course, if they don't have any chops, maybe this will provide the impetus to build some.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Pipe Dream: WTSDA Internet Exhibition

If you've read my previous blog entries, you know that I'm a big fan of YouTube and other video sharing sites. It is truly amazing to see how people, especially martial artists, are beginning to embrace the medium and are uploading their old videos and even converting old VHS over to the digital format.

What's even more interesting to me are that more and more martial artists are developing content specifically for sharing on YouTube. Many people are using Youtube as a training tool to post challenges to their online community. Many of these are good natured, such as the Freestyle Nunchaku forum. FN posters will often create a new stunt, or string together a combination, and encourage fellow forum members to try the same thing. This can be seen as a way to help push a person beyond their limits and take them to new heights.

Challenges can be answered using the "respond" feature in YouTube. In this case, someone directly uploads their video as a response the original. In a friendly context, this could be interpreted as sharing with the community and good natured competition. Unfortunately, posting a response to a video could also been seen as a more hostile challenge.

To avoid that, a group could simply use a set of tags to identify their group challenge. Say I wanted to get people to share their version of a form. I could tag my video as "TomsFormChallenge" and encourage others to use the same tag. A search would then bring back all of the results.

Walking to work this morning, I began to think about how such a concept could be brought to my own group. Think of it, if you will, as a friendly online exhibition. Take a hyung that is familiar to everyone such as Bassai, and encourage people to share their version online! A common tag, such as wtsdabassai could be used by all entries to allow for easy comparison and browsing.

What would be the benefit of such a project? Imagine being able to compare dozens of versions of Bassai from around the world, seeing the common foundation that makes us a strong organization, as well as the variations that make us all unique as well! I'd be interested to see what kind of trends or speculations one could gather from enough data. Would we be able to trace back practitioners through their lineages based on the idiosyncrasies of their technique? What could an E Dan, with a few years of experience in Bassai, learn by watching the Bassai shared by a 5th or 6th Dan? As you can see from above, there is enough going on in the first movement to give anyone thought.

I'm quick to realize that this idea could be very unpopular with some people. "Why would I want to post my video?" Some people may think that posting their video online is an ego trip, an opportunity to show off. Others may feel very insecure about leaving themselves open to criticism (which can often be quite nasty online.) To those people, I would say that none of us are perfect, and an error can be found in almost anyone's performance. Think instead of the potential learning opportunity!

Anyone with me?

Friday, August 24, 2007

One step sparring drills followup

This is my group as I'm teaching it. I wanted to protect everyone's identity, as well as show you a cool shot our Region's drum. I'm one of the weirdo's in pajamas in the background.

I had fleshed out a pretty good plan, well worthy of some advanced black belts who were chomping on the bit to improve their one-steps. I was ready to wow and dazzle my team with my copious knowledge of the inner workings of our one-step techniques. Did I mention I try to employ some sarcasm in my lessons?

So what happened? I was told to completely change my lesson. Our directive was now to work on more "basic" concepts. We were given a few examples, and were given an hour or so to work on them.

One of the suggestions was to talk about what I call "unenthusiastic blocking" where the defender sort of just walks through the technique and doesn't really block with any sort of power or finesse. No problem, as that's a pet peeve of mine as well.

So I decided to get really basic.

In my opinion, techniques are a secondary benefit of one step training, and I eagerly told my students this. I was met with a mix of blank stares and people looking wild eyes as if, at that moment, lobsters had began crawling out of my ears.

I believe that statement, 100%. One-step sparring is a good method of teaching footwork, distancing, timing and creating tools to use in sparring and self-defense. But it's not the most important to me. What could possibly be more important than that? Now everyone wanted to know what was the secret that I could possibly have that they were missing??????

One steps, I explained, are vital for the development of proper martial spirit.

I could feel the disappointment flush over the group. "Oh," they probably thought "here comes some lecture on how we're being too soft or easy. I know this song and dance."

Truth is, without the proper spirit, what's the point? Part of the training should be to face an unsympathetic partner who only has the goal of improving the speed and power of their center punch. To know that not responding in a determined manner could mean a broken nose. To feel what it feels like to FAIL at a technique and work to refine it over and over again until you succeed.

Yet, complacency is one of the biggest problem facing black belts. And we're all guilty of it from time to time. No one wants to hurt their partner (usually) so when your partner has low energy, we're usually just nice and bring it down a notch. Truth is, when your partner is tired or down, they need you more than any other time.

Sometimes the best way to work on fixing an "unenthusiastic defense" is to instead work on the attacker's enthusiasm. When a center punch is whistling towards your face or chest and seems hell-bent on hitting you into next week, your defense becomes a little more enthusiastic. Especially the second time!

I'm not completely sure if my message sank in completely. But, I'm glad I had the opportunity to deliver the message. I didn't see any visible objection from my assigned mentor, so I can only assume that I wasn't controversial in my thinking. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Originally uploaded by tommrkr
Over the weekend, I was officially promoted to 3rd Dan by the World Tang Soo Do Association. While I received my certificate and notification in the mail a few weeks ago, it wasn't until our Regional Director tied on the belt that it was official. It was a nice feeling to receive my promotion at "Black belt camp" amongst my peers and a few of my advanced students.

It's amazing the difference a little stripe can make in the perception of others. I don't really feel any different about my own abilities. My right spinning hook kick, for example, didn't seem to notice that I had one extra stripe and suddenly improved.

The Dan system has been an interesting experience for me thus far. While on one hand, it's just another step in the process, it's amazing to see the differences between one rank and another. It might be easy for someone to look at a 3rd and 4th dan and say "wow, they are pretty darn close to each other."

You couldn't be further from the truth. The difference between a 3rd and 4th dan, especially a junior of the former and senior of the latter can be 10-15 years of training. As it turns out, that's probably about how long the new 3rd dan has been training. (please do not email me haughtily and tell me how it takes 40 years of training to get a 3rd dan in your vastly superior organization: I honestly don't care.) My instructor, a 4th dan, has been training for over 25 years. Just because "one piece of tape" separates us in rank, doesn't mean we are contemporaries.

I once heard someone ask a colleague if they were a black belt. My friend wanted to explain that he was, in fact, a 2nd degree black belt. He was obviously proud of this distinction and wanted to make sure that it was understood: he was no ordinary black belt. For a brief moment he had succeeded until the follow up question:

"Oh, how many degrees are there?"
"Ah, well, 9."
"oh, so you're pretty low then?"

Funny how someone completely uninvolved with the martial arts can take the air out of the balloon like that. The more I think about it, 2nd dan meant diddly-squat in the big picture, so 3rd is only slightly more valuable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

One step sparring drills

For our upcoming black belt camp, I am slated to lead a small group in a one-step sparring seminar. The session is entitled "Teaching and Understanding One-Steps." As I read that, I think more about helping students understand their one-steps on a conceptual level, and give them some thoughts on how to teach. In other words, it's not a time to learn new techniques or review old ones.

The biggest problem: many students cannot remember all of their one-steps. In order to perform #23, they first have to walk through 19, 20, 21, and 22. These bits of knowledge aren't mature enough to stand on their own.

Jump Spinning Crescent Kick
Originally uploaded by tommrkr

The first set of drills I intend to cover will be primarily for encouraging memory and retention of one-steps. After all, a class runs much smoother when everyone has done their homework and come prepared. Much easier to get to the meat of the lesson instead of spending 3/4ths of the time demonstrating what people can't remember.

The easiest thing to do: shake up the numbers. There are many easy ways to do this.
    Start with #30 and work your way down.
  • Work odd numbers and even numbers, up and down. Twist: one person does odd, one does even (no copying that way.)
  • Attacker calls the defense when they step back to attack.

Other possibilities:

  • Shadowboxing:working without a partner, student tries to crank 1 defense after another against an imaginary partner. Eventually, the student smoothly transitions from one to the other without needing to pause and think.
  • Line Drill: Students start at one end of the floor, and walk up doing a different defense everytime. Emphasis leans more towards eliminating pauses between techniques rather than form.
  • Circle Drill: Student is surrounded by students who count off. When instructor calls their number randomly, they attack the student in the middle who must use the "called" technique.
  • 2 attacker one-steps. Defender is in the middle, attacks first partner with hand technique. Turns to attack the 2nd with a kick technique of the same number. For extra pressure, 2nd attacker begins attack as soon as 1st defense ends (instead of waiting for the turn.)
  • 2 attacker one-steps. Building from the previous drill, now the defender turns 90 degrees and moves into the next set of hand/foot techniques. Pressure is now a little higher to be able to recall the next technique. Also makes for some interesting footwork.

I think that is a good start. I'll discuss the 2nd problem in another post.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Summer Reading: Angry White Pyjamas

Perhaps you'd like to read a little more about the martial arts, but don't necessarily have the disposable free time to read All Men are Brothers or to invest time in studying the I Ching.

As it turns out, there are several small, contemporary books that provide an interesting look into martial arts training that don't get too preachy, and don't involve any zen koans to decipher.

Angry White Pyjamas
is such a book. An autobiographical book by Robert Twigger, it tells his tale of training in Japan. Not just any training, mind you, but a year long course geared towards teaching Yoshinkan Aikido to the Japanese Riot Police. Those of you imagining flowing black hakama and tiny little men using their ki to throw someone away in a graceful spiral can just stop. This is the nastier cousin with broken bones, dislocations, heads slamming off the floor, and more.

Twigger begins his book as a self-described "scrawny Oxford poet" with very little to show for his life thus far. Lamenting that he has never been either tough nor brave, he decides that budo is the way for him. In many ways, his choice of actions is akin to someone who makes a New Year's resolution to shed a few pounds, and does so by enlisting in the Marines: it is the most extreme route available.

As a memoir of his training, we are treated to stories of classes that are sometimes brutal, run by seemingly cold and indifferent instructors. Far from being stoic, Twigger is more than willing to describe his agony and hardships in humiliating detail. For this reason, many martial artists dislike this book. In their opinion, his "whiny" attitude does not reflect well upon him or his time spent training.

To me, his frankness and ability to share his humilation is what makes this book so truly unique. I mean, a largely sedentary grad student immerses himself in the world's toughest Aikido training course, consisting of getting tossed around and beaten everyday for a year; what else could possibly happen? Even if he walks out of the course hard as a rock, it still would take a great deal of training to reach that point. At one point, he freely admits to being pleased at the death of a sensei since it assures him a week off from training! It's pretty impressive to share so candidly what is obviously a horrible, selfish (and probably true) thought so honestly with the world.

Angry White Pyjamas is fascinating, because we've all been there to some degree. We've all reached a point where we've been physically and mentally depleted by our training, where we've wanted to throw in the towel. This book tells us that we're not completely crazy, and that it could also be just a little worse. The course, as explained in the linked video above, is about hardship, and not running away from it. That is the spirit which martial art training fosters, and this book tells that story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bag Work

Originally uploaded by sponng

Yesterday, I was elated to learn that our host has purchased a variety of heavybags. Last I had heard, they were extremely reluctant to do so, as previous bags had been abused and even stolen. You'd think their staff could notice a dude walking out with a 100 pound back slung over his shoulder, but that's what happens when you get to into FaceBook. Maybe I should offer to teach an awareness class?

Anyhoo, upon hearing this news, I took the black belts on a field trip upstairs to check them out. the bags are high quality, soft leather, and a variety of sizes and weights. After a few words of encouragement, each Yu Dan Ja took a turn on a bag and gave a few hits. What happened next was very revealing:

Most of them just didn't know what to do. Many that thought they knew what to do were misinformed. I suppose its not completely surprising. Our club has been devoid of a heavy bag for well over 3 years (I broke the old one, oops) and I'm fairly certain I'm the only one who even owns a bag. It looks like I'll have to take some time to talk about what a bag is and isn't for.

Biggest problem: You see that bag hanging there, taunting you, and you feel the need to hit it as hard as you can! This is pretty much the best way to injure yourself. It makes sense on the surface, if you think of the bag as the equivalent of an opponent. You'd want to try and transfer as much power into that bag as you can. Right?

Well, let's step back a bit first.

A heavy bag is, first and foremost, a big league feedback tool. You might be hitting that foam hand target pretty hard, but its pretty forgiving. Hit the heavy bag with bad alignment or poor form, and at best you'll bounce off it in the opposite direction. At worse, you're going to be done for the week, clutching an ice pack. If you're young and tough - and I am neither -- you might push through it, but it will catch up to you as fatigue kicks in and your technique gets sloppier.

Use the bag for developing technique. Punch slowly at first, focusing on wrist alignment and hitting with the proper part of the fist. Generate force from the hip, not all shoulder. Push off that back leg. Over time, you'll build the muscles needed to keep your punch strong. Only then is it safe to start adding force. Skip this critical step, and you're in for pain.

The bag will teach you the difference between striking and pushing. It will tell you when you're hitting the side kick with the wrong part of the foot, and it will tell you when you're off balance. That is, if you listen to the bag. If you just want to clobber it (and I'll admit, that is very fun) then you won't get anything of benefit out of the session.

Once your technique is good, then you can start to rock the bag, like the fella pictured above.

Heavy Bag Training Injuries
Heavy Bag Fun

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Don't neglect the basics.

Dave Lowry tells a story about his early judo days where a few students were promoted to first dan at a tournament. As the head instructors gave their words of encouragement to the participants, one particular judge had the following to say:

"Today, you've all taken a large step forward. Now, I hope you'll take a large step back."

While I think that Lowry was making a larger point about self-examination, there are times when all of us must take a step back from what we are working on and return to our basic techniques. As we progress in rank over the years, new challenges are placed in front of us. Other challenges we may seek out. In all of these cases, we will eventually reach a point where we feel "stuck." A place where we feel we've reached an limit on our improvement. We may even see someone who has developed beyond our ability and lament that we will never reach their level of proficiency.

At these times, I think it is most prudent to return to the basics. After all, that is what got us to where we are in the first place. It is a lot like losing your keys and re-tracing your steps.

Originally uploaded by tommrkr

I know: how on Earth will practicing front kick help with a completely unrelated skill such as nunchaku, teaching one-steps, achieving the splits, etc? Very little if you only focus on cranking out a hundred kicks.

You have to truly examine your basics. Feel yourself go from stillness to motion, empty to full, um to yang. Be aware of your body mechanics, strive to refine the motion. Move only that which is necessary.

Perhaps after a long time of practicing nunchaku, you will be very sensitive to your shoulders and upper body. Previous flaws in your basic technique are now revealed to you for improvement.

While reviewing Tan Tui 2 weekends ago, our guest Sifu mentioned the concept of the "stealing step." He talked about the deception of closing the distance, keeping the opponent focused on the still upper body while moving forward. Here within this new technique was a return to basics: avoiding telegraphic movement. Something to re-apply to other techniques.

As a result, my sensitivity to this problem been renewed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Guess who's coming to Dan Camp?

Here's just a tiny hint as to our special guest at this year's Region Five Black belt camp. :)

More on blogging and martial arts.

Following up on my previous articles on blogging, I wanted to talk a little more about blogging and specifically how blogging can be a training tool for the martial artist.

For the student, a martial arts blog can be an archive of thoughts and feelings over the years. It is a sounding board for new ideas and learning how to express your understanding of techniques and philosophy. Years later, it can be both fascinating and humbling to look back on postings to see how you've progressed over the years. BigKiai is a good example of a student blog.

Others may find some unique uses for their blog. Master Larry Dercole of the World Tang Soo Do Association uses his blog to keep folks abreast of the goings on in his dojang. Much like the old newsletter of old, the blog can be used to keep students, parents and alumni informed of what the school is up to. Unlike a newsletter, you don't have to wait for enough stories to publish online. A post here and there, with regular frequency, keeps the readers returning (or subscribing to your RSS feed, bonus!)

Instructors may even want to use their blog as instructional resource. They may use the blog to reinforce a point from the previous night's class, supplementing their advice with an article or a movie from Dailymotion. Many students retain information they have read far better than when listening. From my own experience, I certainly fall in that category, as do many of the students I attract. Posting a technical article (such as the toe kick article) allows you to touch on a few fine points that you didn't have time for in class. Taking the time to create such an article may even inspire an instructor to take their research further, maybe even writing an entire book on the subject. Other articles may be just one-time pieces, but still give the instructor experience in discussing their chosen subject matter in an eloquent manner.

Just some more reasons to encourage instructors and students to start blogging!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The dreaded toe kick

gosh, that looks painful!

Kim used to tell the story about a famous public demonstration of karate given by (Chojun) Miyagi in 1924 (another source gives the date of 1927). Miyagi performed several superhuman feats, such as thrusting his hands into a bunch bamboo and pulling one out of the center, and jumping up and kicking the ceiling of the demonstration hall. To many, however, it was Miyagi’s toe kick that was most impressive. Kicking with his big toe, he punctured holes in a kerosene can.

During our Tan Tui review class on Sunday, there was much interest in the delivery of kicks in the form. Much like in Tang Soo Do, various parts of the foot - ball, heel, instep, outer edge -- are used during kicks. The one that really caught a few people's attention was that of the toe kick. More than a few people winced at the thought of the pain caused by a toe kick. Although, I'd reckon more people cringed how much the kicker's toes would hurt rather than the person receiving the kick.

The more I think about it, the more a toe kick makes sense. When you look at the culture surrounding martial arts, it would be very likely that you would perform a kick barefoot if caught indoors, etc. Anyone who has ever sparred knows the pain of getting a toe jammed by a block, pulled back, caught on a mat, etc. Imagine if a little conditioning could go towards preventing such problems.

In modern times, we mostly wear shoes. I have a pair of wingtip dress shoes that are quite pointy at the top. Now my toe kick is reinforced by leather and rubber sole. Imagine that pointy shoe driving up into your juevos or perenium. Thoughts like that keep me warm at night!

I remember playing soccer in little leagues. It was a very common thing for new kids to use the infamous "toe ball" kick. It was extremely powerful, and usually a lot easier than the instep kick. The only problem, it was very unpredictable because of the spin. Also unless you hit the ball dead center, who knows exactly where it was going to go! From that experience I know that I can kick something with my toe and get a fair amount of power behind it. Of course, that was a leather padded air bladder, and not something extremely hard. Very much unlike THIS guy:

(check it our especially at :30 and 1:20 for the relevant bits)

I've never attempted the conditioning needed for a strong toe kick. I have, on occasion tried a type of reinforced toe kick which I found in Nagamine's book on Okinawan karate. Take your 2nd toe, and cross it over the top of your big toe and squeeze the two together. Jam that into your opponent, especially into a floating rib point, and they will be unhappy. I've yet to try this again since breaking my toe on a mat this spring.

This sort of thing interests me on many levels. Above all is the dedication it must take to hone such a sensitive part of the body into a powerful weapon. This isn't something you can do in one class and add to your toolbox. Once you acquire the skill, you then have to continually polish it or your toes will return to being floppy little pain receptors that find furniture in the middle of the night.

For more info on toe kicks, I encourage you to check out this 3 part article by Christopher Caile. Here are Parts 2 and 3.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tan Tui (彈 腿) for Tang Soo Do folks

This Sunday, I had the opportunity to invite a good friend of our club in for a special class. Sifu Mike Grigsby of the OSU Shuai Chiao club once again volunteered his time to work with us on a foundational kung fu set: 12 Road Tan Tui (Dham Toi Sip E Ro.) Of the 12, we worked on 1-5, having covered 1-3 in a previous session. As a fan of Tan Tui, I was very pleased to see my students smile as they so openly attempted movements that were at once similar and different from their normal routine. It was also fun to watch people scratch their head at Road 4.

Tan Tui, a set of 12 basic movements, is a cornerstone of many northern Chinese styles, and has deep roots within the Hui people and Islamic martial arts. Techniques such as Hwakuk Jang Kap Kwon Kyong Kyuk (yoke fist) are signature movements of these ancient arts. However, the basic purpose of Tan Tui is to build a strong foundation with leg strength and hip rotation. Its large frame movements also lend themselves well to creating relaxed, whipping movements for practicing fluidity.

Tan Tui, which roughly translates to "Springing Legs" is beneficial as a leg workout. Multiple stances are tested, and the ability to transition smoothly from one to another is the true test of skill.

When you practice these movements properly, you begin to get a feel for how the theory behind the techniques greatly affected Doju Nim Hwang Kee's interpretation of Karate. Taking the static pictures from books and working with other martial artists, he synthesized the hyung in ways that were quite unique from how they had evolved in Okinawa and Japan. It also makes you wonder what his first foray into martial arts, "hwa soo do", was like.

I also appreciate Tan Tui for its differences. To see a technique performed differently that what you are usually exposed to, it gives you a unique opportunity to consider what it is you do and why you do it in that manner.

Finally, I enjoyed having someone else teaching class for the benefit of showing my students that there are other instructors out there who share my standards and ideas. Maybe it makes me feel a little less crazy, and a touch vindicated as well. For my students, they get to hear the same lesson from a different angle, and perhaps a few will now more easily absorb the lesson.

Many instructors would cringe at the thought of allowing someone from another style, with more experience, to teach their class for a day. In the end, I like to think that my students recognize that I'm extremely selective about who I allow to influence their training and that appreciate my selective judgment.

Author's Note (6/26/08): Judging by my statistics, this article generates a great deal of traffic to my blog. I'm curious as to what people are looking for, and if I've helped them at all. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why blog from a MA teacher perspective?

Part of my Sam Dan essay discussed how martial artists instructors may find blogging to be a beneficial way to reach students. As part of my essay, I noted that I would create this blog, and post sections of my essay. Since that paper made it's way into Kwan Chang Nim's hands, I better have something useful up here should he ever want to look!

Blogging, for me, is multi-faceted in its benefits. It gives me a springboard/soapbox for my thoughts as I develop them, it gives my students an opportunity to further understand my methods and madness, and it serves as a method of building a community.

I'd like to especially touch on that last point. I strongly believe that the Internet has the potential to play a large role in the development of martial arts, as it breaks down borders and constraints, allowing people to work together who would otherwise never cross paths.

In 1968, Grandmaster Shin, Jae Chul came to the United States as a representative of Tang Soo Do. He wasn't just here to put up a shingle and start teaching in a gym on the East Cost; he - along with a few other Korean masters -- was an ambassador for Tang Soo Do. In a sense, my blog seeks to do the same: to spread a positive message for Tang Soo Do and the WTSDA across the Internet. I'm not recruiting, or being paid a commission. No one at the home office is really concerned with me (I hope!) I merely want to share my knowledge and ideas and encourage others to do the same.

Certainly, I don't purport to be on the same level as the men who brought TSD to the US. I don't need to be in order to share my enthusiasm. Instead I want to be an example of the professional and scholarly approach that is taken within our organization. Really, it's no different than holding classes in public.

I hope one day that more senior practitioners share their thoughts online. Unfortunately, most people see the Internet as a waste of resources, and it is hard to blame them for that. People engage in petty flame wars, or outright trolling online all the time. It is a fatiguing proposition to actively participate in many online ventures. Blogging, however, does allow the author some controls. As my own site, I control the content, I can moderate comments (or disallow them completely) and the only person I have to control is myself.

So, where's your blog? :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Keeping a log book.

In my last post, I wrote a bit about unintentional discoveries that come up when you start dissecting techniques and hyung. If you're anything like me, short term memory can be a very fickle thing. I rarely remember things people tell me, yet will retain information I've read or written for years. Writing down things I want to remember has served me well, whether it was remembering random AP History facts, conjugating French and Spanish verbs, or anything else. Once written, the facts are more permanently retained, with the luxury of having a backup later.

When I started to take my Tang Soo Do training more seriously, I realized that I was often forgetting details because they were being transmitted orally. Being my worst way to remember things, I decided that it was time to start keeping a journal. At the end of class, I would write down things which I found interesting.

The results of this are somewhat fascinating for several reasons. First is that I managed to write down a few things that I'm grateful for: anecdotes, background info, technical tips. I almost certainly would have forgotten these things rather quickly. Going through my journal, I am reminded of "neat" drills to revive for another class.

About a year ago, I was asked to chair a gup testing in Dayton for a fellow instructor. In preparing for the test, I looked back at my notes and found a set of combinations that I'd learned a few years ago. Coincidentally, these drills were devised by none other than my host's instructor. When I typed up these drills and gave them to the conductor, it was a memorable moment for the instructor when he realized what was being demonstrated. Consequently, these drills have been revived.

Another benefit: not only was I writing down what others told me, but my own random thoughts and ideas. Nothing worse than coming up with a seminar or lesson idea while sitting in traffic or on the bus. My notebook is littered with random combinations to try on unsuspecting students.
An unintentional advantage is that I can see how my understanding and processing of new information has changed over the years. It's interesting to see something written down that now is obvious and natural. But it only became that way to me because I felt it necessary to write down and practice later. That same lesson could have been potentially forgotten over time.

The biggest problem is over time, you will probably neglect your journal. While it would be nice to have a pocket reference of every class I've taught over the last 5 years, I only have little snippets. A week here or there. Imagine if I'd developed enough personal discipline to keep better track of these things. Oh well, there's always a goal to aim for.

So get a notebook. I like the spiral-ringed mini-notebooks, but I also like the pocket-sized Moleskine. If you're plugged in, a PDA will work as long as you back it up, or you could be a Luddite and go with the "Hipster PDA." Write things down! Then test them and share them.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Unintentional Applications

I've been taking some time lately to review Dangum hyung with my students. This is the basic dagger form within the WTSDA curriculum. I think the form is extremely interesting because there is a lot of application that lies beneath the surface of this fairly "basic" form. As a hyung, it can be very stylized at times with some high kicking and other exotic techniques that normally wouldn't see it's way into a "knife fight." What's more, the techniques themselves seem like pretty basic stabs and slashes while employing the reverse, edge-out grip.

I've been working with the yudanja in our class, working on application. This was an interesting proposition, since I normally do not teach knife work in our class. I tend to refer my students to the Experts, those who taught me what I know, within our Association. I showed one or two techniques to some junior black belts, and they may have walked away a little, well... terrified.

Dangum Hyung

On some level, I think it's good to have a little terror, as it can contribute towards a real respect for the blade. When you stop and think about how really nasty and brutal every technique can be, you start to really take your training more seriously. This seriousness applies itself to Tang Soo Do overall. Yes, we have a lot of fun, but don't forget for one second what you are training for.

I will often say that the knife is a tool, used for the specified purpose of cutting. I say this in an attempt to remove the "evil" factor from the blade itself, and transfer it instead to the grey matter of the individual wielding the tool. You shouldn't be scared of a knife, no matter how weird, intimidating or scary it may look. A screwdriver will puncture you just as easily (and often, quite nastier.)

After the student has a good feel for the form, we can start talking about how the knife can be applied. The first thing I point out is that the dangum has 4 application points: the tip, blade, back of blade and butt of the handle. When doing dangum hyung, we often think about the most obvious parts: blade and tip. In reality, almost every movement has 2-3 extra applications when we use the other parts.

Employing the punyo and back of the blade, we create locking, trapping, pressure point, and striking applications that just weren't "there" beforehand. In fact, they may not have even been imagined by the creator of the form. These movements just happen to occur on the same line of motion, and only bring themselves to the foreground when you focus on them.

That, for me, was the real lesson. I wasn't too concerned if they remembered any of my neat killer applications. I wanted them to instead experiment and see what they found or created "by accident." I see it in the face of a student when they stumble into one of these ideas, I see the real learning take place.

Now, they own that information. They aren't just parroting my ideas anymore. They have something of merit and value that they can share with their contemporaries and their own students. I especially hope that one day they can teach me something that I haven't seen, and when I pass it on I can say "this is something my students came up with. Ask them if you want to learn more."

It's starting to happen. Yay!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Using YouTube for educational and research purposes

In the previous post, I briefly skimmed over a few ways in which YouTube can help market your studio or share your art with the world. As you may have learned by now, there is a great deal of martial arts video circulating on YouTube, ranging in quality from pheonomenal to poor.

It might be extremely tempting for one to say "hey, I can learn this form/style off YouTube! Yay!" This is a great thing to say if you want to watch the veins on your instructor's forehead pulse with anger.

However, I think this is important to address, since Pandora's box is now open, and chances are you will either stumble upon or intentionally find an advanced form that you'd like to learn.

It is extremely difficult to learn a form based upon video alone. Depending on your level of experience and ability, it may be very hard for you to see exactly what is going on, and more importantly, why these subtle differences are important. In some ways, it would be akin to learning a form by only watching your instructor do it over and over again, never offering instruction or changing the angle for a better view. Ever notice how most forms online have a good portion being performed with the back to the camera? How can you be sure of what's going on then?

Let's say you are well versed in body mechanics, have a good sense of the skill you are mimicking or have just decided to give it a shot anyways. A real problem lies in the quality or accuracy of what you are copying. Many Masters, for example, will never share everything on video. In fact, they may either re-arrange small portions, perform sections out of order, mirror imaged, etc just to be able to spot the copycats from a mile away. In this case, they are sharing the essence of their art without giving away what they see to be the secrets. Unless you, or someone you know, are in a position to judge the authenticity of a video, I would be cautious in trying to duplicate their efforts. You also have to be wary of for issues of timing changes, changes made to make a form more "tournament friendly" or just accomodations for space.

The above assumes that the person demonstrating is an expert. Chances are, a lot of the video on youtube is created by someone is just the opposite. Search for videos showing Bassai and you will find dozens of style variations, and hundreds of quality variations within each style. Remember the last tournament you judged and saw 20 different Pyung Ahn E Dans? What if somone videotaped one of the poorer performances, uploaded it to YouTube, and another poor soul decided they would emulate this particular video?

That being said, YouTube can also be an excellent training tool for the advanced student who already has a solid foundation. You may wish to search Youtube for other WTSDA students and see how they compare in technique and delivery. Want to be a hyung champion? I'm sure you can get some excellent ideas from Youtube as to what works. At the very least, you learn how to pay attention to details in performance which, if applied to yourself, will help immensely. Instructors might use Youtube to come up with some new conditioning exercises, combinations, target drills and more.

For my own research, I have used YouTube heavily to research So Ho Yun, a form from the Korean kung-fu style of Sip pahl ki. So Hu Yun was allegedly among forms learned by HC Hwang, son of Hwang Kee, when sent to a Sippahki school.

This form, also performed at demonstrations by CS Kim, appears to have significantly influenced the Chil Sung and Yuk Ro hyung performed today in Soo Bahk Do. While I don't practice these forms, I'm sure the principles that lie beneath them are also expressed in Tang Soo Do as practiced today. By studying So Ho Yun, I can gain a deeper appreciation for my art and its technique and philosophy.

By digging a little deeper, I found some very different versions of So Ho Yun that all have something to offer.