Wednesday, July 30, 2008


During hyung practice last night, I am discussing Pyung Ahn E Dan with a green belt. In this discussion, I mention that I've always thought that each of the 5 pyung ahn have their own sort of personality or flavor to them, and that I've always found it to be a bit of an amateur psych test to see which form is someone's favorite.

So I ask my black belts: "What's your favorite Pyung Ahn?"

#1: E Dan.
#2: E Dan.
#3: E Dan.
#4: E Dan.
Me: E Dan.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Tan Tui Love

Every summer, it seems my focus in training returns to the famous Tan Tui set. I've been practicing the sets now for about 3 years, but with nowhere near the intensity of my Tang Soo Do training. I often add them to my class drills without explicitly calling it Tan Tui, because I enjoy how they flow right into normal TSD techniques.

Historical reasons aside, I've been contemplating why I enjoy the techniques of Tan Tui so much. To be perfectly honest, they aren't exactly special. In fact, once you've practiced them enough, they lose their exotic (to a karate person anyhoo) luster and just become another technique in your repertoire. In fact, I've thought of making Tan Tui required for black belts to know. When I mentioned this once, the irony of having black belts learn a "basic" form was not lost.

As I practice more, I find the Tan Tui movements to be especially useful in 2 distinct areas: upper body relaxation and using the legs to drive power into a technique.

Almost every karate student has done a punching drill in horse stance. Watching from the sides, you should be able to see a distinct difference in efficiency and power generation. Senior rank should have pretty loose upper bodies, allowing their core to lead the body. Lack of excess motion creates a faster technique because they are doing less. Junior rank, in a futile attempt to keep up with their seniors, attempt to force the technique. Their arms and necks tense and they start to throw a punch that is disconnected from the rest of the body, relying only on the arms and shoulders. After 100 punches, they start to get winded and wonder why the yudanja have just started to form perspiration. When I first started doing Tan Tui, I practiced with far too much tension, and was very disconnected in my movements. Even though it looked powerful, it was off-balanced and nowhere near its potential.

Tan Tui motions, especially 1 and 3, work the shoulders and require them to be loose and moving in a large frame. Remember when you were a kid and would let your arms hang dead while you spun in a circle? Remember the force that whipped your arms as a result? Tan Tui feels kinda like that. It has a whip to it that translates well to Tang Soo Do.

As for the second point, Tan Tui loosely translates to "springing legs". Ask a Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do person to visualize a form that earns such a name, and I imagine you would get a very different form. I would expect to see a lot of jumping spinning kicks, maybe even a 540 or tornado and butterfly kicks. In Tan Tui, the spring refers to the momentum generated by transitioning from one stance to another. Moving from a horse stance to a front stance, you really feel that back leg getting into the action.

Of course, both of these principles should be expressed in the practice of Tang Soo Do. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten, especially with junior ranks.

So why add ANOTHER form if students are struggling to correctly perform their current curriculum? Let me attempt to answer from an instructor's perspective.

Frequently in class, I remind students to pay attention to their stance and transitions, hip rotation, relaxing the upper body and any other tips I can come up with. Sometimes they stick, but I often find myself saying the same darn thing every class. The pessimist in me thinks they've long since stopped listening to me, no matter how I spin it.

Then, we go to a clinic, and my students work with another instructor. The student returns to class and says to me in that star-struck amazed manner "Master so-and-so mentioned that we should be paying attention to hip rotation in our movement, as that is the source of our power." As I explode internally with frustration thinking "what sort of q-tips did Master so-and-so use to clean out my student's ears????" I politely gather myself and say reverently "Yes, Master So-and-so sure knows her stuff." Conversations like this have given me an affinity for bourbon.

Tan Tui is a lot like that. It's a new (from our perspective) way to teach something old; something that you should already be practicing. The focus is just different enough that you can really understand the needs for relaxation. Once you catch the feeling, you get a bit of an epiphany and apply the new found knowledge to your other hyung and movements. Ironically, that's a very circular path, as the movement principles used in Tang Soo Do were largely acquired from Hwang Kee's training in Tai Chi and--you guessed it: Tan Tui.

Tan Tui is practiced in many schools of Kung Fu, especially in the northern styles. There are 2 major differences: 12 and 10 "road" style with a few other number variations in the wild as well. Within these 2 schools are a world of difference in terms of speed and tempo, techniques, height of stances, size of frame and more. A few Shaolin versions don't even feature the famous "yoke punch" but do regular punches like you'd see in karate. If it is in the cards, I'd love to have a "Tang Soo Do" flavor of Tan Tui for my school with it's own emphasis, expression, and lessons to pass on.

We'll see...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More Summer Reading: Shui Hu Chuan

Shui Hu Chuan (水滸傳) is considered one of the major classics in Chinese Literature. It is known in English under several titles: The Water Margins, Outlaws of the Marsh, and All Men Are Brothers. The image to the right was created by Miguel Covarrubias for the Pearl S. Buck translation.

My instructor spoke of this book often as a "must-read" for martial artists. The same for his instructor, and HIS instructor. For many years, I've toyed with this book but have never made it all the way through. The Buck translation (All Men Are Brothers), while it was the first English translation, is not a stirring read in my opinion. I have since found the Shapiro translation (Outlaws of the Marsh) to be far more entertaining, despite its flaws with the English language.

Since I am only halfway through the book, I can't comment much, except to say that is a great adventure novel with themes of loyalty and virtue throughout. There is a good deal of talk about fighting and violence, with a good deal of humor as well.

This weekend, I read the chapter telling the tale of Wu Song. Wu Song, who becomes the village hero after killing a dangerous tiger with his bare hands, is later exiled as a criminal for avenging the death of his brother. During his exile voyage, his guards are coerced into murdering him. Wu Song, while wearing a yoke and manacles, manages to defeat his enemies and break free.

Upon reading this, I stopped. The name of Wu Song was familiar to me, but I couldn't remember why. Later, the phrase "Wu Song Breaks the Manacles" bounced in my head, and with a little help from Google, I found this:

Obviously, the form represents a bound man fighting several people. Neat! This form was also featured in an edition of Kungfu Magazine, which is probably where I read about it originally.

Just wanted to share this with everyone.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Breaking Fun: A Shameless Plug

Lately, I've found it very hard to shop for wood at the local big box stores. The quality of pine will vary wildly, and I don't have time to sort through 10-12 foot planks looking for the ones that will yield the most boards.

I strongly recommend using the good folks at BreakingBoards.Com Their web site isn't pretty, but they're selling boxes of wood, for Pete's sake!

I have used their wood for a few testings now, and I have found it worth the extra price. Every piece of wood is excellent and free of knots, warping, staples, sap, etc. They are sent in easy to transport cubic boxes (with a pleasing pine aroma added at no charge) and they ship quickly. Shipping is expensive, but it's a 25 pound box, so you have to expect a little premium.

Compare this to:
1. Going to the big box store.
2. Sifting through the wood.
3. Picking wood and waiting for someone to cut it (or transporting the planks and DIY)
4. Sorting the wood into various grades (OK, Bad, Horrible)
5. Burning 30% of the unusable wood in your fireplace.

All in all, I would highly recommend their services, and no, I'm not getting any free boxes for this review. :)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Breaking fun

The other day, we spent some time in class talking about the spear hand strike and other fingertip strikes. Fingertip strikes are amongst the legendary techniques, and among the few strikes that impress even the most skeptical of anti-breaking martial artists. We've often heard the tales of ancient masters plunging their hands into buckets filled with sand or beans to strengthen their hands and deaden their nerves to the pain.

Jack Hibbard's book Karate Breaking Techniques outlines similar strategies for refining the spear hand strike, but an especially helpful hint he gives is to practice with 3" strip boards instead of the full-sized board. Work your way through the increased resistance, and perhaps you too will one day break 4 boards with a spearhand strike.

One of my eager black belts was quick to follow this advice, and promptly brought in a stack of 3" strips for our yudanja to attempt. Knowing full well he didn't have access to a power saw, I asked where he had the cuts done. The gentleman at Home Depot did it for him. I'm sure that he was NOT particularly thrilled with that task!

A few of us decided to give it a shot and we all succeeded, at which point we had a 6" board to try. To his credit, the student who bought the wood was brave enough to attempt it. It didn't work out, but luckily his fingers bent in the correct direction, and no major injury was sustained. I didn't want his hand to look like that of Shinjo sensei of Uechi-Ryu fame (above.)

There's nothing worse than an unbroken board in class. It just silently mocks the group, questioning the ability of everyone. It needed to be broken for the good of the club. The question was how. To break it with an "easy" technique such as a kick or punch would not have been enough. A fingertip strike had to be used, but I was in no mood to break my hand!

I decided to try a technique I've used in sparring from time to time: a beak strike, or washide uchi as it is known in the Japanese arts. It's done as a sharp, whipping strike, and I felt I'd have better luck with it than a thrusting strike.

Luckily, it worked, but not without some discomfort. Specifically, it ripped a little bit of fingernail back. Oddly enough, Hibbard's advice about keeping the nails trimmed short rung true in my head about 30 seconds too late.

I really like the power in the Washide Uchi strike, since the fingers can press against each other for strength, and can deliver a sharp blow to a hard area such as the solar plexus, jaw, or temple. The small surface area of the strike penetrates very nicely as well.

In all, I was very glad to be successful. A missed break often carries a lot of psychological baggage with it, making you question the power of your strike. To know I could at least break something with it was a positive inroad for the development of this strike.

World Championship Video. Lots of people.

Friday, July 18, 2008

WTSDA World Championship

I recently returned from the WTSDA World Championships, held in Orlando, Florida. We had a massive turnout from many countries around the world. It was amazing to see so many people uniting for a FRIENDLY martial arts tournament. Listening to 1500-2000 people lined up together and performing punch exercises is a very breathtaking and amazing experience.

I was lucky to be one of the staff photographers for the event, which essentially gave me free run of the facility to take pictures of competitors, Masters and more. I probably snapped around 2000 pictures over the course of the weekend, which means I got about... 4 good ones. So while I didn't compete, I still ended up learning a lot about timing and competition.

An interesting thing about shooting an event like this is that you get to see everything, but you don't really see any of it. I couldn't tell you much about the forms or matches I shot because I was focused on my own timing. Even a good picture doesn't tell me too much about the person's form, it just tells me how they looked for 1/160th of a second.

I haven't had time to fully digest the experience, so I will post just a few highlights from the weekend.

  • Getting to see my instructors and their baby for the first time.
  • Taking out my earplugs to listen to the entire group line up and kihap together.
  • Watching a hard-fought match between 2 men who didn't speak the same language, ending with smiles and an embrace.
  • Bagpipes. Nuff said.
  • Happy kids with their medals getting an autograph from Grandmaster Shin.
  • Seeing the Grand Champions of a WORLD organization being from the US, UK, Puerto Rico and Mozambique!
  • Watching as my students volunteered their time to work at the merchandise table so others could enjoy the tournament.
  • Seeing the enthusiasm of the international instructors as they worked with Senior Master instructors.
  • Getting lost in the advice Master Strong was dispensing when I should have been taking pictures. :)

That being said, there were a small handful of people who took competing for the big trophy way too seriously. There were some hurt feelings and some very poor attitude displayed that was not true to the purpose of us getting together. I blame it on youth and rashness, and I hope as they get a little older they see more value in my points listed above than a silly (albeit very nice looking) cup.

In all, I had an excellent time, and the tournament reminded me of why I'm proud to be part of the WTSDA.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Good Reads!

I love books. That solitary fact is the only reason I have not gone insane at my current vocation. Working at the University gives me access to literally tens of millions of books. If Ohio State doesn't have it, I can get it from one of several OhioLink institutions across the state. (Chances are, your local university or even public library is plugged into a similar system. Harass your local librarian today!) If that doesn't work, OSU offers free Interlibrary Loan to staff and faculty, which gives me access to almost every library on the planet. I think of what Hwang Kee did with his local library and wonder what would have happened with the sort of access I have today.

I started to think of books that I would classify as "must read." Books that have fundamentally changed my perspective on the martial arts. Books that I have borrowed from extensively to improve my understanding and teaching of a subject. I've decided to try to list a few today, and I encourage others to add their submissions. I'm linking to Worldcat records of these books to help you find a copy in your local library. AbeBooks is also good if you want to buy.

I have divided my list into technical and non-technical books for simplicity sake.


Millman, Dan. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Great, eye-opening book. It was just made into a movie, so I'll have to look into that.

Wooden, John. Wooden on Leadership. John Wooden was a legendary basketball coach at UCLA. His system of leadership fits very nicely into a dojang.

Culling, Louis. The Incredible I-Ching. This is the book that has helped me understand I Ching the most. It is very small (less than 50 pages.) but uses some interesting math and analogies to get across the meaning. Unfortunately, it's way out of print.

Cook, Harold & Davitz, Joel. 60 Seconds to Mind Expansion. This is another outstanding, small, and out of print book. This is my favorite book in terms of meditation, and helps my ADD brain find a little focus when I meditate.

Yang, Jwing-ming. Tai Chi Theory and Martial Power. A great job of explaining how the Chinese arts think about "power" and how it ties in with I ching, qi, and more.

Caputo, Robert. Tang Soo Tao. This book is part technical, part biographical. The technical stuff isn't much different than anything else, but the bio of training in Korea, Japan, China, and his study of Buddhism is pretty interesting.

Twigger, Robert. Angry White Pyajamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons From The Tokyo Riot Police. Very funny/sarcastic, but some good points as well.

Nichol, C.W. Moving Zen: Karate as a way to gentleness.

Urban, Peter. The Karate Dojo: traditions and tales of a martial art.

These last three are really good for a sort of anthropology study of martial arts culture. Very entertaining, but some of the thoughts are a little dated.

More later...