Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for...

Z is for Zi Lyang

Zi Lyang means Mass and is important to consider when it comes to power of technique.  Newton teaches us that the force one exerts on an object (in this case an attacker) is equal to one's mass multiplied by one's acceleration.  What this means in practical application is that it's important to exert one's mass in the direction of the attack in order to have the greatest impact.  

The chamber (as I've already discussed) has a lot to do with setting up the attack- the leg being at the same height as the desired kick, turning the hips over in the same direction as the kick, unfolding the technique on a straight line.  The other key is mental- the idea is to take space.
"My space!"
When we do self and knife defense techniques we want to take the space that the attacker occupies.  Using the physicas of Aikido we will step in closer to the attacker, catch the attacking hand, manipulate the wrist and then drop the individual.  The rule with all of our techniques is that whatever line we start traveling down we will continue traveling down, and manipulate the attacker such that we are able to move through them on our path. 

Note the arm locks after the point of impact
When we do our techniques for breaking we aim for a point past the board so that we know we'll break through it.  If we aimed at the board itself we wouldn't be able to break through, we'd hurt our hand/foot/etc.

And when we do our forms we transition from one move to the next with controlled steps so that we translate our mass through on a straight line.

You don't have to be a huge person with a lot of mass in order to be powerful (though I'll admit that my friends who are over six feet tall and made of muscle are damned powerful); you simply have to know how to throw your weight around, as the expression goes.  Jet Li is only 5'6".  Bruce Lee was 5'7".  Jackie Chan is 5'9".  And even the tall American Chuck Norris is only 5'10".  There's not a one of them who wasn't/isn't incredibly powerful- because they know how to use their mass.

Well, that's it for my A to Z!  I hope you all enjoyed learning a bit more about my favorite past time as I certainly enjoyed teaching you.  Doing the research for all the posts this month has done just what I hoped it would do: psyched me up for my Dan test coming up in June.  I'm looking forward to having the best test I've ever had and if you're interested I invite you to stop by sometime around the 22nd to hear from an exhausted and elated me.

I still have quite a lot of bloggers to visit and if you're catching up like me make sure you leave a comment so I know how to find you.  Otherwise, I will make my way down the list and visit all the lovely folks I missed over the course of the month- one blogger at a time.

Thanks for everything you've done this month- and happy A to Z!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for...

Y is for Yup Cha Gi

Yup Cha Gi means side kick and is the last of the basic kicks that comprise the foundational kicks of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan.  Like the roundhouse before it the key to a good side kick is to turn the bottom foot away from the target- this forces the hips to open up and produces power in the kick.  The toes of the kicking foot MUST be pointed down to floor such that the heel of the foot impacts.
Note the down- pointed toes and turned base foot.

The chamber for a side kick begins by lifting the knee straight up such that it is parallel to the target (radically different than the roundhouse kick chamber).  The base foot turns when the kick is launched such that the hips open as the kick extends.  The leg locks into place shortly before impact and, when done correctly, one's uniform tends to make a terribly satisfying popping sound.

Arguably the single most important kick we learn, the side kick forms the foundation for several others including the back or mule kick, hook kick and the ever-frustrating wheel kick.  Like the others discussed, these kicks can all be done in variations: spinning, jumping and, of course, jump-spinning (which, as you can imagine,  is next to impossible unless you do serious strength training of the muscles it takes to launch one's body off the ground.  This is why the jump-spinning wheel kick is lovingly referred to as "the hip dis-locator").

As I've said several times, the fancier the kick is, the less real-world application.  The same goes here- the higher the sidekick, the more power you're losing because your momentum is going up rather than out.  And jump-spinning kicks while awesome fodder for cool fight choreography are almost never seen in sparring because it takes to long to set up and launch the kick.  No, the basic side kick is actually the most powerful because of the momentum one can generate and is used very frequently in sparring as a tool to create space between you and the attacker.

Side kick takes a lot of training and practice to perform correctly, but it pays off because it opens the door to so many other techniques.  But even on its own, it's a damned powerful kick (and my favorite, if I'm picking favorites).

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for...

X is for X Block

One move that is seen frequently in several forms is the X block, so-called because it's shape makes the letter X.

 This block is designed to both stop an attack from connecting with the body as well as assist in trapping the weapon used.  When done high like seen above you're usually stopping a staff weapon from connecting.  Turning the hands will trap the weapon such that you can grab it and gain control of it.  This move will frequently precede a breaking motion that signifies the breaking of the staff and then another attack using the two broken will ends will follow.
When done low as seen above it's usually stopping an upward kick.  Again, the next move usually involves a turning of the hands which signifies grabbing the foot and either sweeping upward to upend the attacker or pulling the foot in to take them off balance and then attack.

Due to the utility of this move it has a lot of bunkai (applications) and is worth further studying by practitioners who want to gain a better understanding of the real-world application of our forms.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for...

W is for War

If you've been around this month you've already read entries on the rather large impact that the Japanese occupation of Korea had on the development of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan.  Well, that's not even the half of it.

Wars and military occupations have prevented the development and spread of many a great idea, martial arts being just one of them.  As I've said, Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 19 45 and during that time “all dimensions of Korean traditional cultural expression were prohibited”.  So even though there was an existing martial arts tradition- “Soo Bahk”- no one was allowed to study it.  (And now you’re all saying “Oh!  So that’s why Tang Soo Do was founded in 1945!”, right?  Yes.)  

He got five whole years where he could properly study and expand the art.  And then the Korean war started in 1950.  (Noticing the theme?)  He and his gym all moved south to seek safety from the north.  When the war ended, he was able to move back to Seoul, but had to practice in a gym without a proper floor because after all the destruction there wasn’t much prime real estate available.  But he and his students made do and the gym soon experienced growth again.

All was well until May 16, 1961 when a military government was installed as a result of the April Revolution.  Lt. General Chong Hee Park took control of the government.  They immediately forced the gym to stop their monthly publications.  They fired the people instructing Moo Duk Kwan in the military bases “with no reason”.  They were prohibited from attending any international events. 
But perhaps most notable in this period of political unrest is the split between Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do.  Originally Tang Soo Do practitioners, several individuals split off and formed their own style which was very similar but had more emphasis on the sporting elements- tournaments, competitions and such.  Their new form which they name Tae Kwon do became very popular due to its high visibility and experienced growth.
In 1964, the Tae Kwon Do group attempted to unify all Korean martial arts into one organization.  Tae Kwon Do had won favor in the Korean military during the Korean war and gained popularity when it was taught in the Korean military bases.  Supported by the government, pressure was placed on Moo Duk Kwan to join this system and Hwang Kee considered it because of this political pressure.  He ultimately refused for three reasons: 1) the fact that the official name would be Tae Kwon Do and he felt that they would lose the history of Soo Bahk, 2) they would be granted only 3 of 21 seats on the board of directors and 3) Moo Duk Kwan had previously been the leader in international activities/competitions.  (This is one of those historical stories that you can't help but suspect would be told very differently from the other side...)
Hwang Kee’s refusal to join marked a huge shift in the popularity of the art.  Before this time, Moo Duk Kwan was practiced by over 70% of martial arts practitioners in Korea.  After this time, Tae Kwon Do replaced it as the most widely practiced martial art in Korea and, eventually, the world.  Many people split off from Mood Duk Kwan in order to practice Tae Kwon Do, eventually forming their own schoolIt became an Olympic event in 2000.  In a nut shell, it’s why I had never heard of Tang Soo Do before I started practicing it in 2006.
But back to history: Tae Kwon Do was so highly favored by the government that in 1965, the school received a countermand ordering the dissolution of the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association.  Hwang Kee started legal proceedings against the Korean government in order to protect the school.  He won the lawsuit.  The government took it to the supreme court.  In 1966, he won again and forever secured the organization’s existence.
Since then, despite continuing political unrest, the art has continued to spread.  There are federation instructors in Malaysia, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the UK and the USA.  There are unofficial gyms (i.e. lead by instructors not officially ‘in the club’) all over the world.

It's easy to see what a huge impact the wars- both international and internal- have had on the development of this style, thus why W is for War.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for... and Celebrate the Small Things

V is for Vertical

Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan is performed on ones feet but I've gotten comments throughout this month about the proposed likelihood of that given the difficulty of some of the forms and techniques I've discussed.  So today I'm going to review some basic tips on how to stay vertical while doing techniques.

These are general tips and tricks which I believe would be applicable regardless of what particular style of martial art one were doing.

1) Breath- There's far more complex reasons for this (meridians, pressure points and physiology I won't get into) but the most basic reason to pay attention to breath is for balance.  We inhale on the chamber and exhale on the attack- whether it's a punch, kick, sweep, what-have-you.  In forms we inhale during the transition and exhale when we hit the move.  This affords us power, protection (that physiology I mentioned) and, most importantly, helps up keep our head over our hips, where it's supposed to be.

2) Eye contact- Another trick for any good technique is to focus your gaze on a single point.  When practicing on a person or a target this is relatively easy- you look where you're striking.  But when learning a form or a one-step technique for the first time most people (myself included) look down at the floor.  We're thinking about the next move, trying to turn our hips and otherwise occupying our mind thinking about the technique.  Not surprisingly, when you look down your body tends to go down.  So when we practice our forms and techniques we have to constantly remind our students (and ourselves) to look in the direction our technique is supposed to go and focus on a single point.  This combined with that all-important breath will keep you vertical.

3) Change the plane of attack- When spinning we tend to over-rotate which will force us to lose our balance.  When moving forward we might gain too much momentum and have trouble stopping.  When balancing on one foot we tend to tilt.  Something that helps with all of these is change the geometrical plane.  For example, when balancing on one foot (think Jin do) we try to think about our vertical energy pulling us up so that we don't tilt on the horizontal plane.  When spinning we explode into the move on a north-south orientation to help us stop on a dime.  And when moving forward we try to think about our base foot or ready hand snapping back at the same speed that we're throwing our attacking hand with (that equal and opposite force I was talking about yesterday).  By mentally focusing on a different plane, our body tends to remain vertical.

And of course, the number one way to remain vertical while performing any kind of technique?  Practice.  None of us look very good the first time we do something, as a general rule.  Like everything that requires some skill, regular practice is required to perform these techniques at a high level.  Great martial artists have that in common with all greats of any variety (writers included)- they practice all the dang time.

And now it's time again to celebrate Friday with our friend Viklit!

This week I've got one super-awesome thing to celebrate: I'm visiting my super-awesome friend!
One of my BFFs from college lives in Jersey and, like me, has a busy life.  Subsequently, we don't get to see each other too much (even though Jersey really isn't all that far away).  We usually only see each other 1-2 times a year.  This weekend is one of those times.  I'm driving up this afternoon and crashing with her and her husband until Sunday night.  The plan includes an amazing restaurant or two, a museum of some-kind, board games with friends and a pottery show.  Not to mention tons of incredibly wonderful conversation.

As Friday has drawn near I've been getting more and more excited and by the time I actually arrive I anticipate that I'll be vibrating out of my car with giddiness.  And then I will bear-hug my friend into oblivion and the weekend will commence.  It's gonna be so awesome!

What about you all?  Fun things this weekend?  Rocking the A to Z?  Let me know what you're up to in the comments, and happy Friday!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for...

  U is for the Um Principle

As I mentioned earlier, Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan philosophy is based on Taoism.  One of the core components of Taoism is the idea of equal and opposite forces.  This creates the balance of life which keeps us humans centered physically, mentally and spiritually.
Two equal and opposing ideas behind physical movement can be seen in Yang and Um.  Yang is fast, hard movement characterized by rapid, hard strikes and deliberate, heavy steps.  The moves are fierce, hard and heavy.  The element associated with it is fire because it destroys.

Um, on the other hand, is the fluid, graceful movement seen in some of the upper forms and more advanced techniques.  While still very powerful, these moves are graceful, soft and light.  The element associated with it is water- it's a gradual build-up that strips a defense and seeps into the gaps presented by an attacker.

Different forms have different have needs so far as movement goes.  The Naihanchi forms, for example, are a good demonstration of the Yang principle- they're hard, punishing movements designed to break bones.  Jin Do, Sip Soo and Lo Hai, on the other hand, are good demonstrations of the Um principle- they're meant to be light, fluid and graceful.

Both techniques have a place within the system, neither is better than the other because each is needed for different intents.  Equal and opposite, both in their place- creating balance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for..

T is for Testing

There are two kinds of tests in our school- Gup Testing and Dan testing.

Gups are the colored belts- individuals below black belt- and their tests are relatively simple affairs.  In the course of an hour or two they perform all of their forms, one-step techniques and sparring techniques for a panel of judges who grade them on their level of performance.  A proctor will K'ihap for each move which all the testing students will then perform together as one group.

If you practice on a regular basis the test is really just a celebration of knowledge- you know the forms, your technique improves as you move up through the ranks, and now you're simply performing what you know for a group of your instructors.  In our school we don't test anyone who we don't know is ready- i.e. if there's any chance of you failing, we wait for the next cycle to test you (we do 3 test cycles a year).  Despite my initial anxiety at my very first test (which one of my instructors still loves to remind me of), it's a relatively low-key event.  

The Dan test, on the other hand, is a drastically different affair.  It still involves the performance of all of one's learned techniques for a panel of judges, and it's still a celebration of knowledge- but that's about where the similarity ends.  For starters, the Dan test is 29 hours long.

I know what you're thinking- 29 hours?!?  Are you kidding?  No, I'm not- but here's why: back in the old days, black belt tests were weeks long, not hours.  They tested everything from mental ability to understand all the learned material and demonstrate that understanding through individual demonstration all the way to physical stamina to sustain movement and technique despite exhaustion.  Our test is designed to mimic those traditional tests by holding testing over the course of a day and a half.

It's split roughly into two parts.  Part one is the graded exam.  We go through all of our forms, one-step techniques, knife defense, self defense, a verbal exam on the history of Tang Soo Do and breaking.  Breaking wooden boards stems from the time in history when armies wore wooden armor to protect themselves in battle- the break is supposed to replicate a technique that can penetrate such armor in order to defeat the attacker.

We perform everything at the highest level we can and towards that end we get lots of breaks to rehydrate, stretch and otherwise physically prepare ourselves.  It's nerve wracking in that you want to perform really well, but it's less intense than part two.

Part two is designed to test one's mental discipline through physical exhaustion.  We go through a series of exercises (which I'm not allowed to disclose) designed to basically exhaust you.  The test part is that you cannot allow yourself to quit- regardless of how tired you are, how much your muscles ache, how much your mind tells you that you absolutely, positively cannot go on- you force yourself to keep going, and that's how you pass.  (Now you see why that quiet mind/quiet body meditation is so important.)

The rationale for this part of the test is to replicate the less than ideal circumstances one might find oneself in a real-life fight.  You have no guarantees of having gotten sleep or being in peak physical condition when you get attacked and you have to be able to defend yourself nonetheless.  By pushing us physically they prepare us for this real-world self defense.

They keep a bell at the head of the gym that one can choose to ring at any point in time if one wants to quit.  To my knowledge, no one has ever rung the bell.  Not because we're all supermen, but because we have so many of our peers supporting us and pushing us through.  It's like boot-camp in a lot of ways- yeah, it's probably the most physically difficult thing you'll ever do (unless you actually do real boot camp) but the people you go through it with are your brothers and sisters for life.  All black belts- regardless of whether or not they're testing, have to be at the test.  If it's not your year to test, it's your job to support the other black belts.  And boy, oh boy do we support each other.  There's nothing like it.

We do a presentation for the parents of kids taking the test for the first time every year to provide them with information so they won't be concerned for their kids' well being.  I always tell people that my greatest accomplishment of my life was getting my master's degree- and that getting my black belt was a very close second.  Not surprisingly, getting 2nd Dan was an even greater feeling.  And I have no reason to suspect that getting 3rd Dan in June won't top that.  It's going to be the most difficult black belt test I've ever been through and because of that I've been training for it harder than I've ever trained for anything in my life.  When I walk out of there on June 21st having successfully completed the test I have reason to believe I will be more proud of myself than I have ever, ever been.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for...

S is for Soo Bahk Do

As previously discussed, when Hwang Kee originally started Moo Duk Kwan he had no formal knowledge of the traditional martial arts system of Korea and subsequently all the techniques he originally based the system on were from China and Okinawa.  In 1957 he discovered the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji- translation: "Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts"; a book which documents the ancient martial arts of Korea.  This book uses the term "Soo Bahk" to describe a hand striking method which was used in Korea around 2200 years ago and includes illustrations which depict some of the techniques.

Further study of this book taught Hwang Kee that "Soo Bahk Ki" (translation: 'hand striking technique') was commonly practiced during the Ko Ku Ryo dynasty 2000 years ago and remained common through the Yi dynasty 600 years ago.

Why, you may wonder, was it lost for so long such that it was not commonly practiced at the time that Hwang Kee began originally studying martial arts?  Well, while we don't know why it was lost after the Yi dynasty, we do know why it was unaccessible during Hwang Kee's childhood and early adulthood: the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

The Japanese occupation was a period of time when all elements of Korean cultural expression were prohibited in favor of Japanese culture- martial arts being one of them.  It because of this that he had access to books on Okinawan karate, but nothing on Soo Bahk Ki or Korea's traditional martial arts. of several factors which prevented Hwang Kee from developing the system, as I will discuss in more detail when we reach W.

At any rate, when Hwang Kee discovered the book, and the traditional techniques it documented, he changed the system to reflect these revised influences.  It is described as the "rebirth" of the Moo Duk Kwan system  because it was the first time that this traditional Korean system was gain being commonly practiced.  This influence was so important to Hwang Kee that he ultimately changed the name from Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan (which shows the Chinese influence) to Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for...

R is for Rules

There are five core rules/governing principles of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan:
1) Loyalty to country
2) Obedience to parents and elders
3) Respect to instructors and teachers
4) Remain in self-control
5) Never misuse the art 

Loyalty to Country- In Hwang Kee's time this was difficult to do.  Originating during the Japanese occupation and then surviving the Korean war the school faced seemingly endless difficulties in remaining true to the Korean roots it was founded on (more on this when we reach W).  We carry this tradition here in the US by honoring the country in which we practice and displaying and saluting our flag at the beginning and end of each class.

Obedience to Parents and Elders- Because their wisdom and experience is what leads the path for us to create our own lives.  None of us could be what we are or what we will become without that which was given to us by those who raised us and those who came before.

Respect to Instructors and Teachers- I spoke about this at length already for I so I won't repeat myself here other than to say that this is the guiding principle behind the rules of seniority we follow.

Remain in Self-Control- Directly related the rule that follows it, this reminds us that we cannot utilize our physical techniques if we do not have the ability to think.  A good martial artist is one whose ability to remain calm in a crisis situation leads them to successfully navigate conflict.

Never Misuse the Art- Martial arts- all of them, not just Mood Duk Kwan- are technically weapons.  They can be used to injure, incapacitate or ultimately kill an attacker.  Because of this, it is understood that they should never be used outside of the structure of class or designated events.  Even if someone were to attack you your first recourse would not be to bust out your best self-defense move and hurt them- it would be to protect yourself and then attempt to resolve the situation peacefully.  It is only when a situation escalates and there is no chance for escape that you would ever use these tools in real-life.

The school gained its virtue through these principles, which is why it is named Moo Duk Kwan- School of Martial Virtue.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for...

Q is for Quiet mind, Quiet body

During the black belt test (see T) there are several times when it feels as though one's body can't possibly go on.  Your heart is beating out of your chest, your muscles ache, the sheen of sweat cocoons your body in a seemingly impenetrable casing of heat.  During these times your mind will tell you all sorts of things in order to make you quit.  Things like "you're going to pass out" or "that leg's gonna give out any second" or "you can't do this".

This is where one's meditation practice comes into play. 
It is possible to quiet one's body through the quieting of one's mind.  Of course the mind start first, because the mind controls the body.  You tell yourself "you can do this" or "just breathe" or "keep going".  And then when your thoughts keep cycling back around to all those negatives you shut it up by giving it something to do- focusing on your breathing.

The breathe comes in, the breath comes out.  Again and again and again.  You concentrate on lowering your heart rate, trying to make it match the calming breath.  You visualize a blue light spreading throughout your entire body, cooling your skin as it goes, soothing your tired muscles, healing you.  You forget all about where you're at, what impossible things you have to do and you focus on your body- calm, rested and ready.

And then, inevitably, the short break you were given ends and you have to get up and move on to the next physically taxing exercise.  But you do so with a slow, steady heart beat, relaxed muscles and a lower core body temperature.  This is what enables you to finish the test, no matter how tired or achy or spent you were- you go on, and you win.

We never know how many meditation breaks we're going to get during the test, or how long they will last.  But it doesn't matter- all that matters is that internal process.  Not letting your thoughts run away from you, concentrating on the breathe and on calming the body.  Quieting yourself.

Which is why a big part of my training for my test coming up in June is mental.  If I believe I will rock the test, then I will rock the test.  If I can slow down my heart rate after a heavy workout just by breathing, then i'll be able to do that again when the time comes.  Quiet mind, quiet body.  It's that simple.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for... and Celebrate the Small Things

P is for Passai

Passai is an advanced form first taught in preparation for black belt testing.  It's history appears to be rather convoluted as there's no consensus on its origin.  While we know that it was evolved by our Okinawan friends I discussed yesterday there is definitely an observable southern Chinese influence which may predate the Okinawan or Japanese development.

The name itself means different things depending on which variation you're discussing (Okinawan vs. Japanese vs. Korean) but in our school we define it as "collection of the best" and characterize it as a fast and active form.  Given that I have other things to talk about today I'm going to end the history lesson there.  (But if you're interested, you can click HERE for more information than your brain can easily swallow.)

And now it's time to Celebrate the Small Things!  As always, our awesome host-est with the most-est is the one and only Viklit.  Click on the name to see the full list of wonderful participants.

Forgive me for departing from tradition, but this week I've got something BIG to celebrate...
Those of you around last week may remember me saying that I was nervous/excited about my upcoming home tournament where I would be competing in both traditional and open divisions.  I told you that I'd been practicing my behind off and was hopeful that would pay off.  Well...

That's me with the silver medal I got for taking 2nd place in traditional forms and the gold medal I got for taking 1st in open forms!  Woo-hoooooo!

It was seriously great to have all my practice rewarded with recognition, but it was even more rewarding to hear the judges give me feedback on my intensity and the quality of my performance.  Two of the judges are friends of mine and have trained with me for years and both of them said that I have improved SO MUCH they were blown away.  Having two individuals who I know from first hand experience to be amazing martial artists tell me that I've grown by leaps and bounds meant the absolute world to me.  I'm thrilled to pieces.

And now with this tournament out of the way I can focus all my energy on preparing for 3rd Dan in June.  It's gonna be epic!

What about you lovely folks- what are you celebrating?  Let me know in your comments!
Happy Friday, all!