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Fusion Martial Arts

ITF Taekwon-do + modern sports science + ideas from other Martial Arts

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U-Nam Movement #23 – Side Snap Kick?

Thanks to Redditor /u/doboksquawk‘s keen eye we have more information on U-Nam’s movement #23. On page 115 (page 67 in Master Vitale’s PDF) there are the following photos describing the Side Snap Kick:

Side Snap Kick from pg 115

From Master Vitale courtesy of Master Nathan Doggett

This seems to be somewhat inline with what Shotokan karate refers to as a Side Snap Kick. The execution presented in the linked video is somewhat in-between how Taekwon-Doists would execute a Front Snap Kick and a Side Piercing Kick, which makes since considering the choice of name. Yet the description in the photos above seem to be more inline with a Side Piercing Kick or Side Thrusting Kick as described by the Encyclopedia’s Volume 4 (Leg Techniques).

Looking to the Encyclopedia for images that approximate those found in the 1959 book turns up the following on pages 18-20 (Side Piercing Kick) and 28-29 (Side Thrusting Kick):

From Volume 4, pages 18-20

From Volume 4, pages 18-20

From Volume 4, pages 28-29

From Volume 4, pages 28-29

Interestingly, page 20 shows a Bending Stance A with both fists on the supporting leg’s hip as being an incorrect execution of a Side Piercing Kick due to no guard. This is pretty clear evidence that U-Nam movement #23’s technique was discarded due to the lack of a guard. Also telling is the description of the basic principles of a Side Piercing Kick (from page 17):

  1. The attacking tool must reach the target in a straight line in a revolving motion.
  2. Regardless of the stance, the foot sword must be brought to the inner knee joint of the stationary leg prior to delivering the kick.

This seems to describe exactly what is going on in the 1959 depiction! Continuing our search through the Encyclopedia, the description for a Side Thrusting Kick also seems to describe the motion of the kicking leg in a similar fashion to the 1959 depiction.

So… what is U-Name Movement #23? From the information presented above, it could well be a kick that is no longer practiced in Taekwon-Do called a Side Snap Kick. But what is more likely is that “Side Snap Kick” was terminology that was later changed to either “Side Piercing Kick” or “Side Thrusting Kick”. The image isn’t clear enough to determine if the attacking tool is the ball of the foot (as in a Side Thrusting Kick) for the foot sword (as in a Side Piercing Kick) but a best guess from what can be seen plus the research detailed above would seem to indicate a Side Piercing Kick.

Hence, U-Nam’s movement #23 should be executed as a Side Piercing Kick with a Side Fist executed over the kicking leg.

Where to look when sparring.

Great video on how to develop awareness during sparring. The only thing I’d add is to “gaze” towards your opponent’s stomach area so that your peripheral vision can work optimally.

What Powers A Strike

If you watch skilled practitioners of any form of fighting in a sparring or self defense situation, you are likely to find that their core skill-set lies in the understanding and maintenance of distance, angles and timing. Angles open targets on your opponent, distance dictates the available techniques and timing plays the dual role of using your opponent’s motion against them as well as the proper orchestration of the movements required to execute a technique with power and accuracy.

Below we take a detailed look at one way to dissect your timing by breaking down complex techniques. Being able to identify composite parts allows us to break techniques down into smaller pieces that can be individually polished then reintegrated into the whole.

Four Sources Of Power

There are (at least) four ways to generate power when striking or dokken-style (offensive) blocking:

The Drive, Turn and Drop motions are ultimately powered by inertia; body mass in motion. The Swing motion is ultimately powered by the bio-mechanics of muscles pulling on bone. An argument can be made that some forms of the Swinging motion (specifically forward penetrating strikes) can be described as a Driving motion, but as these motions are primarily powered by mechanics rather than inertia (as in isolation they only incorporate the mass of their appendage), any motion of appendages involved in the striking portion of a technique are referred to as Swinging motion.

While few techniques utilize all four sources of power, a thorough understanding of these methods can assist in maximizing the power of a technique.

Constructive Interference

Each source of power can be analogized as a wave, where the greatest power is at the peak of the wave. As there are potentially (and preferably) multiple sources of power for a technique, it is imperative to align these peaks at impact to maximize power. Looking at this through the lens of physics, aligning these waves at their peaks is referred to as constructive interference:

Enlarge… Animation thanks to the University of NSW

Or in musical terms, traveling waves and standing waves:

Enlarge… Animation thanks to the University of NSW

These examples illustrate waves traveling in opposite directions to simplify the effect. These effects also additively contribute to the height of the peak when traveling in the same direction:

Enlarge… Animation thanks to the University of NSW

As you can see, when the individual peaks align, the overall peak is higher. However… when the peaks are misaligned they can actually be subtractive to the overall peak of the wave (or for our purposes, the power of the technique).

Enlarge… Animation thanks to the University of NSW

Thinking about which of the four sources of power a technique is utilizing and then considering the constructive interference of their peaks in power can lead to a better understanding of which portions of technique execution need improvement. Furthermore, techniques that utilize multiple sources of power can provide an explanation as to why certain techniques are inherently more powerful than others as well as to help inform as to a technique’s advantages and disadvantages.

Stored Kinetic Energy

As mentioned above the Drive, Turn and Drop motions are powered by inertia; it takes time to get the mass into motion (so they are slower) and it takes time for that mass to come to rest (so they are more powerful). A semi-truck is slow off the line at a traffic light but once it is in motion the damage it can deliver to a brick wall is substantial. The Swinging motion incorporates far less mass and is therefore able to utilize speed to its advantage. A motorcycle is fast off the line but would at best only displace a few bricks on impact due to its comparatively small mass.

The motor vehicle analogies are apt as they segue into another area of physics that helps to explain the effectiveness of techniques; stored kinetic energy. Motor vehicle crumple zones were developed specifically to combat stored kinetic energy:

A 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) car traveling at 60 km/h (37 mph) (16.7 m/s), before crashing into a thick concrete wall, is subject to the same impact force as a front-down drop from a height of 14.2 m (47 ft) crashing on to a solid concrete surface.[7] Increasing that speed by 50% to 90 km/h (56 mph) (25 m/s) compares to a fall from 32 m (105 ft) – an increase of 125%. [7] This is because the stored kinetic energy (E) is given by E = (1/2) mass × speed squared. It increases by the square of the impact velocity.

Small increases in speed (when paired with mass) create outweighed increases in energy delivered on impact. Crumple zones work by extending the amount of time the energy has to disperse from a collision, or in the context of martial arts the compression of muscle, bone and/or simply pushing your opponent with your technique. The take away is that if we are looking to inflict as much damage as possible on an opponent with a technique, we should look to limit the amount of impact time while paring the technique with mass in motion.

Applying The Knowledge

A jab is a lighting fast technique but as it only employs the Swing motion (in its most simplified form) its capability to damage an opponent is limited by its low mass. A rear leg low side kick takes comparatively longer to execute but employs all four sources of power. If all four are orchestrated well, they come together at impact to deliver at the speed of a motorcycle (via Swing) while reinforced with the hit of a semi-truck (via Drive, Turn and Drop).

These are just two generalized examples. If you move slowly and technically through your art’s techniques the four sources of power will begin to reveal themselves. Once you have identified which methods are being used for a given technique, you can isolate the execution of each and polish its timing. With further practice the proper orchestration of the technique (that is the lining up the peaks of the waves) will evolve.

Grandmaster Hwang Seminar Notes

Exceptionally rough notes from the Seminar. This post will be improved over the next few weeks.


Student Notes:
* Fiona: earned me a “very good” w- thumbs up when asked who her instructor was =)

* Joe: Rising blocks, Side Kick Hands

* Me: Walking stance back foot 30deg? (defined as 25deg?), L-stance too short, ensure walking stance front knee is over heel, Release from Yul-Gok, doing Po-Eun well (w-Mr Paul, a double compliment)!

GM Conversation


* GM learned a lot as a 7th Dan as there were many things that he was doing wrong. Always be open to learn. We are allowed to forget, students are allowed to remind us, etc.

* Pay equal respect to ALL students; Kup and Dan. Spoke of instructor who didn’t want to bend down to readjust a student’s leg so he kicked it instead, GM found this extremely disrespectful. Have respect from Instructor to Student, be humble, be courteous, have integrity.

* GM encouraged us to sit in chairs at the side in order for us to be comfortable while we observed the seminar. This differs from the traditional but the GM specifically wanted us to be comfortable. Relax, ask many questions at any time. “feel better when you are relaxed” -GM. At belt presentation, specifically mentioned that my questions were good and help everyone else learn thanks to me asking them.

* Student’s should clearly say the pattern name “in respect for the man” they are named after. Grunting out 2 syllables was disrespectful.

* Took time to have the 9 Training Secrets read aloud

* Choi pronounced “CH-eh”

* When transitioning between stances, feet should not be any closer than 1/2 shoulder width. The reason for this is to maintain stability throughout the movement, should you be disturbed during transition (as narrower feet could result in loss of balance). This is also more of a natural motion/gait.

* When transitioning from full-facing to full-facing, facing should be maintained throughout the motion (e.g. no hip twist).

* Middle punches performed at shoulder height, but “water would run down the arm towards the fist” (so fist is to be slightly below shoulder). Middle blocks differ per type of block; but are of course meant to cover the mid-section (so use logic and don’t execute too high/low). E.G. Inner Forearm Block; palm/wrist in-line with shoulder (so like the punch just at/under shoulder height).

* Punches (e.g. arms) should reach for the target, but not shoulders. That is, arms should be at extension (but short of over-extension) with the sense of reaching.

* In the “relax, re-extend, execute” cycle of a technique, during Re-extend the punching (or otherwise) fist should not return to the hip, but just in front of hip with the wrist in a natural slightly rotated position. If the fist is returned to the hip, students have a tendency to punch incorrectly (elbow out). Once again, the focus was on natural movement.

* Per the General – Takeown-do movement is like a river; sometimes slow, sometimes fast, there are waterfalls and sometimes it stops.

* Minor breath on Connected motion first technique (much like, though more subtle than Continuous motion)

* Everything moves at the same time during a technique, not foot then hands, etc. all together

* Fist not fully retracted during fast motion, seemed to be more in front of belly/in natural relaxed position rather than re-chambered at hip between techniques 1 and 2.

* Continuous Motion; 1 breath, 2 techniques. Exhalation at technique 1 but breath continues throughout whole movement.

* X-Stance Technique timing; Execute technique as first foot lands as that is when the body is still in motion. If you execute at second foot landing you’ve lost all of the additive momentum from the forward body motion.

* Angle Punch is to reverse Breast line.

* Slow motion has no audible breath

* Connecting motion has audible breath at first technique, similar to Continuous

* W-Shape Block, driven by the body/arms come with body (so they don’t move?/move much?). Leg raise/foot stomp performed almost as an upward knee, not arching/relaxed but with purpose.

* Consecutive kicking motion – 2 kicks done without dropping the leg (kick/re-chamber/kick)

* The neck exists on the border of Middle and High section, and can be considered to be in both.

* Twin Outer Forearm (& Twin Knife-Hand Blocks & U-Shape Grasp); Arms are doing the work, body should not follow the arms/lean in. Focus on stability and not offering a target by leaning forward.

* Both Korean and English are the official languages of Taekown-do, so there is no issue with using English in class what so ever. But in Ref course, hand signals were put paramount in order to clearly communicate rather than using any language (Korean or otherwise).

* Bowing – to 15deg, don’t lose eye contact

Sine Wave/Knee Spring(SW/KS)
* Kinds of SW/KS:
#1 – Down…Up/Down: motion-based
#2 – Up/Down: stationary, no forward motion, vertical only
#2.1 – Down…Up/Down, Up/Down: fast motion (motion-based + stationary really)
#3 – Down…Up/Down, (down)Up/Down, (down)Up/Down[, (down)Up/Down]: continuous motion, minor initial (down) motion followed by full Up/Down (e.g. Po-Eun)

* #2 and #2.1 rear heel raised slightly, not too high, subtle

* Connecting (Continuous?) Motion described as “One AND Two”

* Coordination of motion; Step to happen with execution of technique. “Step” seemed to be placement of the heel as opposed to contact of the ball of the foot with the ending position. Heel seemed to function as the baseline/drum beat for timing of the entire technique.

* Peak of the Up portion of the SW/KS is as the feet are passing parallel.

* Naturally “fall” (or really crest) into second Down.

* While described as “fast motion” still take your time to execute the SW/KS correctly

* After jumping techniques, SW/KS #1 should still be performed on 1 leg

* Up (second driving leg) very important

* First down motion assists with the up motion. Second down adds gravity to the strength of the punch. Analysis/Opinion: This is very much in-line with the Bujinkan interpretation of the SW/KS. Bujinkan looks to which leg is “driving” the motion. In order to produce drive off the initial leg, a bend in the knee is required (e.g. the first down) and the first driving leg/loading of the second driving leg results in the upward motion, while the extension of the second driving leg results in the final down motion (or drop in the Bujinkan vernacular). So in addition to “down…up,down” the SW/KS can also be thought of as “driving leg 1, driving leg 2, technique execution”

Pattern Specific
* Chon-Ji: Focused on SW/KS, especially executing technique in coordinating with foot landing.

* Dan-Gun: Twin Outer Forearm (see rules)

* Do-San: Release, turn wrist to release ~90deg to rotate “oval” from advantageous for opponent to weak/thru gap. Release done with forward body movement, not arm.

* Do-San: #2 et’al, SW/KS #2

* Won-Hyo: #1 weight shift to R leg to allow movement of L leg (e.g. load R leg to allow movement, first Down and prep for Up of SW/KS).

* Yul-Gok: X-Stance technique timing (see rules)

* Yul-Gok: #1 is a measurement for the punch (minor is to prepare for reaction force). Arm is moved Horizontally into position as you lower your body from Parallel Ready Stance into Sitting Stance; no (not much) up and no down movement of placed arm.

* Jhoon-Gun: #1, #2, Twin Palm Heel (et’al) don’t lean, let the arms extend and keep the body vertical.

* Jhoon-Gun: Back fist to Release; Front foot slips from L-Stance into Walking Stance as the grabbed arm drops into an almost upset punch position. Elbow comes to hip and forward body movement is used to effect the release. Arm is dropped vertically rather than in an arc. Straight shot between Back Fist position to Upset Punch-esque position. Fist is in Upset Punch-esque position before body is fully finished moving forward.

* Tae-Gae: #3 back fist position to upper lip/philtrum of opponent at side/back.

* Tae-Gae: Back Fist/Low Block combo, Spot back fist before/at start of motion

* Tae-Gae: W-Shape Block (see rules)

* Hwa-Rang: Ready Stance C left over right with left 4 fingers over right 4 fingers (L pointer finger to R pinky)

* Hwa-Rang: pointed out Vertical Stance

* Hwa-Rang: Hand grab/release, grabbing hand’s palm placed over fore fist with fingers/thumb gripping at sides (as opposed to palm on top or thumb on top). Grab and pull with body, moving punching arm to approx 45deg bend. Rear foot heel raised slightly. Grab/pull done without body, body/rear foot follows to near original position of the punching fist.

* Hwa-Rang: Turning kicks, kick, land foot at half shoulder width and kick again. Name of motion not mentioned, but it was not Consecutive kicking motion.

* Hwa-Rang: L-Stance Obverse Punch #1 (Funky Punch), Encyclopedia incorrectly illustrates a U-shaped motion, while it describes a pulling of the front foot back. Written description is correct. Pull front foot from Walking Stance to L-Stance WHILE executing the punch (so the pull of the foot is additive to the punch).

* Choong-Moo: This is a dan-level pattern.

* Choong-Moo: Jumping side kick performed at below hip height (p 190 v10) and to land with both feet. The trick here is that unlike every other kick we train in TKD, this kick is not retracted (though Mr. Paul did retract to a small degree thanks to height of his jump). GM was content with a below hip height kick that was then “dropped” into the landing with the leg left extended. This can be thought of as almost a kick to the knee followed by a scrape down the front of the shin (but performed higher up on your opponent). This was practiced from #5-#8.

* Choong-Moo: U-Shape block done in Fixed stance (believe the E says L-Stance?). Fixed stance makes more sense as this is one of the few techniques we lean forward into, and leaning forward while maintaining a 70/30 weight distribution in an L-Stance seems odd.

* Kwang-Gae: Reviewed this in separate groups (I was with Mr Bower) and GM oversaw. No corrections made for our group.

* Po-Eun: #6-#12 Continuous Motion uses SW/KS #3 (full SW/KS-lite), ensuring to “stop” after each motion a the minor first down is performed.

* Po-Eun: “Pulse” inward side fist block done in front of body

* Po-Eun: U-Shape Grasp (see rules)

* Po-Eun: Twin elbow slow motion; From U-Shaped Grasp, arms separate then come back to center then execute Twin Side Elbow. Feet moving slowly entire time, hands have to keep up with feet.

* Po-Eun: Post twin elbow, look forward for side-back fist (as opponent is to the side back, not back so in peripheral vision)

* Po-Eun: Wedging block performed across, no looping back/rolling of the wrists

* Gae-Beak: Has all motions; fast, connecting and continuous

* Gae-Beak: #3-4 SW/KS is #2.1, focus was on the second half of the fast motion SW/KS ensuring back heel only came up slightly.

* Gae-Beak: Double Arch-Hand block done with SW/KS #2. Lead hand forward, rear hand back but further out from body with both palms on an approx 45deg plain down and back. Hands do not touch/make a diamond but you do look thru the gap. performed in reverse half facing and powered by the hip twist (per GM to Catherine when she asked about hip twist, it’s still in ITF!). Defense against a twin kick (“I don’t know how realistic” -GM).


My Own Analysis/Opinion

* Heavy focus on sitting stance punching due to simplification of Sine Wave/Knee Spring (SW/KS). Once timing of SW/KS was consistent, moved into Walking Stance/Mid Punch while still focusing on SW/KS. Then onto L-Stance/Mid Inner Forearm in prep for Chon-Ji. Also focused on coordination of Hand, feet, breath, eyes.

* Heavy focus on natural movement and to a lesser degree conservation of movement. E.G. move naturally but only when you need to (as with no hip twist when going from full-facing to full-facing).

* Heavy focus on continuing to learn, and to help each other learn. When students, be they senior or junior were brought up to the front mistakes were corrected but not criticized. Everyone was encouraged to make corrections to seniors and juniors alike, and seniors were encouraged to take this constructive criticism on-board. To paraphrase the GM: “if you could do everything correctly, you wouldn’t be at the seminar”.

Springfield teen uses martial arts training to defend child from bully

Springfield teen uses martial arts training to defend child from bully


SPRINGFIELD – As the son of an instructor, Roman Rodriguez has studied martial arts for many years.

“I don’t teach how to fight, I teach kids how to defend themselves,” said Roman’s father, Ricardo, the founder of a martial arts training program, Holyoke Kenpo and Fitness.

Yet, when walking out of class last Monday, Roman needed to use his skills to protect another.

“There was another teenager picking on a child with mental disabilities,” said Antonio Colón, one of the Holyoke Kenpo and Fitness instructors.

Upon leaving the building and stepping onto Nick Cosmos Way in Holyoke, Rodriguez saw a group of approximately eight teenagers huddled around a younger child. Realizing what was going on, Rodriguez approached the group.

“When I saw the situation, it immediately bothered me. I saw he was crying,” Rodriguez said, during an interview on Thursday. “Everyone should be appreciated for who they are as a person, not made fun of.”

The 16-year-old student at the High School of Commerce added that he has experienced bullying himself.

As he walked towards the group, Rodriguez said he asked the main aggressor to leave the younger child alone, adding that he did not wish to fight. “I told them I didn’t want any trouble, I just wanted to walk him home,” he said. “This, I guess, provoked him.”

Rodriguez said the boy, later identified as only 14 years old, was much larger than himself, at approximately 6-feet, 220 pounds. So, when he attempted to hit Rodriguez, his training helped him remain calm.

“He’s a lot bigger than me, so I only knocked him down and restrained him,” the 16-year-old, who has earned a purple belt, said. “I wanted to avoid things getting worse.”

Rodriguez’s strategy worked. The teen, who Rodriguez could only identify as “Angel” ran home, with his group of friends following. What he wasn’t prepared for was the threat he yelled.

“The kid threatened to stab or shoot Roman,” Colón said.

Rodriguez ran back inside the building to tell his father, who was still packing up after class, what happened.

“My son is a pretty mellow kid and I could tell something was wrong as he was pretty hyped up,” Ricardo said.

As they walked outside together, Ricardo said, the teen had returned brandishing a large kitchen knife with his mother by his side.

“I witnessed this kid’s mother encourage her son to stab mine. She was instigating a fight,” Ricardo said. “My first reaction was to protect my son, but also to avoid any kind of tragedy.”

Within minutes, officers of the Holyoke Police Department were on the scene. The 14-year-old was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. His mother, Jomery Rivera, was charged with disorderly conduct.

Reflecting on the high-intensity situation, Ricardo said he is proud of his son. “Just as I taught him, he defended someone who couldn’t defend himself.”

In addition to studying martial arts, Roman plays football and track at Commerce and is a cadet in the U.S. Army Junior ROTC.

The “best part” came a day later, Ricardo said, when another of his students who witnessed the incident, 11-year-old Timothy Colón, gave Roman a certificate of recognition to thank him.

“It emphases what I already knew; he’s a really good kid,” he added.

Grand Master Hwang Seminar, May 23-25 2014 Canberra

Grand Master Hwang, the third person to be graduated to the rank of Grand Master (9th Dan) by General Choi, will be in Canberra for a seminar from Friday May 23rd through Sunday May 25th. The Seminar will be held on the grounds of Telopea Park School in Barton (directions: New South Wales Crescent, Barton ACT 2600) in the Main Gym. The Gym is circled in red below and entrance to the school grounds is indicated by the red arrow:


While much of the weekend is focused on Black Belt basics and patterns, all ranks are invited and encouraged to participate during all aspects of the seminar! Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon are likely to be the only times that Color Belts will sit and watch much of the time.

Approximate Schedule of Events:

Be sure to arrive in dobok and ready to train no less than 15 minutes before the above listed start-times!

Further information can be found on Mr Bower’s Tong-Il Taekwon-do website, Facebook page and Seminar page. If you haven’t already, you can register online or via the Seminar PDF Form.

What to bring:

Also please be sure to have a clean dobok!

Gaining A Deeper Understanding of Pattern-work

Patterns (tul/teul, hyung/hyeong, poomsae/poomse/pumsae, form, kata, etc.) hold a significant role within the Taekwon-do syllabus, consuming more than half of the 15 Volume Encyclopedia. The patterns were designed as artistic representations of combat expressed through a sequence of techniques as preformed by a single practitioner. In a grading context, patterns are used as a primary evaluation tool to determine a student’s ability to consistently and effectively execute a selection of techniques with precision, speed, balance and control.

Other Martial Arts also have a significant focus on this style of exercise:

The basic goal of kata is to preserve and transmit proven techniques and to practice self-defense. By practicing in a repetitive manner the student develops the ability to execute those techniques and movements in a natural, reflex-like manner. Systematic practice does not mean permanently rigid. The goal is to internalize the movements and techniques of a kata so they can be executed and adapted under different circumstances, without thought or hesitation. A novice’s actions will look uneven and difficult, while a master’s appear simple and smooth. [1]

Due to the weight given to patterns within the Taekwon-do syllabus and the importance of similar exercises within other Martial Arts, it is worthwhile to look outside of Taekwon-do for inspiration on how to teach, learn, train and explore patterns as thoroughly as possible.

How Are Patterns Trained Within Taekwon-do?

Generally speaking, patterns are trained as they are described within the Encyclopedia; rote from start to finish. Unfortunately due to Taekwon-do’s pattern design assumption of a single practitioner, applications are not always obvious in this style of training. This results in a layer of abstraction between the patterns and the application of individual techniques. If an instructor is not careful, students will simply “go through the motions” of a pattern without actually understanding the techniques they are executing.

Occasionally a single technique or a short sequence of techniques will be broken out from a pattern and practiced as fundamental movements, but this approach is generally focused on learning the motion of a technique rather than its application. Some instructors try to bridge the gap by incorporating techniques into 3-Step Sparring, allowing their students to learn both application and effective blocking/countering of techniques but by and large student’s are left to their own devices to learn the proper application and blocking/countering of techniques.

Taekwon-do instructor Catherine McMaster (III Dan) saw the limitations of the standard approach and endeavored to develop new strategies to learn Taekwon-do patterns while considering different learning styles as well as the realities of time constraints. The strategies that Mrs McMaster uses in-class to teach and train patterns include:

  1. Solo Legs: performing the pattern as taught while dispelling arm movements;
  2. Solo Arms: performing the pattern as taught while dispelling leg movements;
  3. Solo Blind: performing the pattern as taught with eyes closed;
  4. Elemental Blind: performing each fundamental movement in isolation with eyes closed; and
  5. Solo Reverse: performing the pattern as taught from end to beginning.

The Solo Legs expression looks to force the student to focus on stances and the transitions between stances. There is a strong argument for this expression as improper stances and unbalanced transitional movements result in poor technique execution no matter the technical ability of the upper body movement. Utilizing this expression to focus solely on the execution and development of proper footwork is therefore highly beneficial.

The Solo Arms expression is a logical progression from Solo Legs. This expression forces the student to recollect the prescribed arm and upper body movements outside the context of the defined pattern movements. This expression is not highly beneficial in refining technique, but is useful in getting students to think of the patterns in a different context which in turn helps them remember the pattern. In light of other pattern expressions, this expression is far less useful and arguably somewhat detrimental as proper stances are not present to support the upper body techniques. Alternately, a supportive argument could be made for this expression as all upper body techniques are executed from a natural posture, giving the student experience in what works and what doesn’t from the likely starting position of a self-defense situation.

The Solo Blind and Elemental Blind expressions focus on stability of movement and accuracy of technique based purely on accuracy of movement. As the eyes are not available for reference to fudge inaccuracies, they highlight a student’s weaknesses in movement and balance during execution. These expressions are most useful when used with slow execution in a quiet space so as many senses as possible are eliminated to the benefit of focusing on the body’s movement to build muscle memory of proper technique.

The Solo Reverse expression exercises a student’s knowledge of the pattern by forcing them to work backwards through the pattern. While ostensibly the same techniques, this expression has the side effect of changing the pattern as techniques are performed in reverse resulting in differently executed and occasionally impracticable techniques (e.g. Choong-Jang #19 reversing the Low X-Fist Pressing Block parry/Knee Strike, changing the nature of sine-waves, etc.). Further, this expression is not beneficial for all students as some individuals are not able to easily mentally reverse a sequence (e.g. saying the alphabet in reverse) and as such this expression results in frustration rather than learning. As this expression’s main thrust is to reenforce the student’s recollection of the pattern, an argument can be made that other expressions accomplish this in a more logical and applicable way.

How Are Patterns Trained Outside Of Taekwon-do?

Similar to Mrs McMaster, instructor Rick Owens (VIII Dan) also saw limitations within the traditional approaches to teaching and training kata within the Bujinkan. Mr Owens’ approach was to focus on the application and by logical extension the realism of the techniques expressed in the Bujinkan’s katas. This lead to the codification of a number of the traditional strategies and the addition of expressions with specific context to kata. Mr Owens argues that if you do not have the ability to perform the kata effectively in each of these expressions then you do not have a full grasp of the exercise. The strategies that Mr Owens uses in-class to teach and train kata are:

  1. Solo: performing the exercise as taught in the official texts;
  2. Elemental: performing each fundamental movement in isolation;
  3. Partnered: performing the exercise as taught against attacking partner(s) with no impact;
  4. Impact: performing the exercise as taught with assisting partner(s) holding shields for full impact; and
  5. Henka (meaning “variations”): performing the exercise free-form against attacking partner(s) with no impact.

At first blush, two or three of these expressions look foreign, yet Taekwon-do still manages to touch on every one of them in one form or another via traditional drill-work. This lends credence to the proposition of incorporating these ideas within a Taekwon-do training regime. Most martial artists are very familiar with the Solo and Elemental expressions. Within the context of Taekwon-do, the Partnered expression is by no means a foreign concept though it not a widely trained aspect. Conversely, the Impact and Henka expressions are much less familiar to Taekwon-doists.

The Solo expression is embodied by most martial artists’ traditional performance of patterns where a student executes them as defined within the official texts (e.g. the Encyclopedia). Being taught the full Solo expression first gives the student a big picture understanding as well as context for the fundamental movements they are expected to learn.

The Elemental expression is embraced by Taekwon-do’s fundamental movement drills where students work on each technique in isolation. This approach has the benefit of focusing on and polishing a single technique or short sequence of techniques for proper technical execution.

As for the Partnered expression… while Taekwon-doists are taught that a pattern can be thought to generally represent a fight, the patterns were not designed with partner(s) in mind. While training of this fashion is done in Taekwon-do, it is rarely done outside of preparing for demonstrations. The Chang-Hon pattern set was not only developed to highlight techniques per rank and to give students a method to focus on them, they were also developed to be beautiful to perform and to return to the starting position. These additional pattern design criteria inject the occasional impracticality when viewed through the lens of a realistic fight sequence. Despite these impracticalities, there are a number of excellent examples of the Partnered expression being performed at various Taekwon-do demonstrations (such as the DPRK Team performance of Chong-Moo).

Taekwon-do trains a variation of the Impact expression but only within the context of the Elemental expression; as fundamental movements into a shield. This work is generally performed in a forward motion and is therefore not fully representative of what is taught in the patterns. The patterns attempt to train us to utilize techniques while integrating omnidirectional movement, yet in the context of impact training we rarely listen. How often have you executed a retreating punch (e.g. Chon-Ji #18-19) or a technique paired with a turn or transition into a shield? One could argue that the Impact expression is utilized more generally in Dan-level breaking, where multiple targets are destroyed by multiple techniques. The issue is that while there is a higher degree of dynamic movement, it is still highly prescribed (e.g. the boards are positioned “just right”). Besides, impact training of this sort is far removed from both the juniors and the patterns which provide a perfect framework for such training. Balance, power, accuracy and the proper use of attacking/defending tools are gained by the pattern performing student while the assisting student benefits by experiencing applications, learning proper distancing as well as experience holding a shield.

The Henka expression is about utilizing the pattern within the context of a natural posture and response to an initial attack. To “pull the pattern out of one’s backside” as it were. There are only a few fleeting examples within Taekwon-do of using a pattern as a guide in a free-form context. Occasionally, we will extract a short series of movements from a pattern and apply them in a self-defense or sparring context. Prearranged Free Sparring is another example but once again this is far removed from both the juniors and the patterns. Not utilizing the patterns in a free-form expression is an opportunity lost as they can provide a wonderful tool for students to achieve a deeper knowledge and understanding of their movements and applications as well as offer a new avenue to practice distance, angles and timing all within a well-known framework.

A Unified List of Pattern Expressions

Valid arguments could be made for each of the explored pattern expressions but due to the limited class time we have with our students, a succinct unified list of pattern expressions is a useful tool for instructors. Listed roughly in teaching order:

  1. Solo: performing the exercise as taught in the official texts;
  2. Elemental: performing each fundamental movement in isolation;
  3. Elemental Blind: performing each fundamental movement in isolation with eyes closed;
  4. Solo Legs: performing the exercise as taught while dispelling arm movements;
  5. Partnered: performing the exercise as taught against attacking partner(s) with no impact;
  6. Solo Blind: performing the exercise as taught with eyes closed;
  7. Impact: performing the exercise as taught with assisting partner(s) holding shields for full impact; and
  8. Henka (or Free-Form): performing the exercise free-form against attacking partner(s) with no impact.

Some of these pattern expressions deserve more dedicated class time than others. The Solo and Elemental expressions are paramount in establishing a solid understanding of proper technique execution and deserve additional attention when students are learning a new pattern. The Elemental Blind expression is useful to explore in-brief in class to expose the students to this approach and to highlight some weaknesses but generally students should have the discipline to include this expression themselves during Elemental expression drill-work.

Once the students are familiar with the pattern in a big picture sense, the Solo Legs expression is useful in refining and further underlining the importance of proper footwork. It also provides the opportunity to highlight the importance of specific elements of the footwork. To establish a basic understanding of distancing, timing and applications within the context of the pattern, expose the students to the Partnered expression. At this time, students can also be exposed to the Solo Blind expression to highlight any latent technical deficiencies.

With a thorough foundational understanding of the pattern in hand, the Impact expression can be employed to once again highlight any latent deficiencies when techniques are executed for effect as well as underline the proper use of attacking and defending tools. The Henka expression can also now be employed to further refine distance, angles, timing and applications within the context of the pattern.

Applying the Pattern Expressions In Class

Ultimately we end up with three levels, each with 2-3 pattern expressions based on the level of understanding of the pattern; initial, basic, and thorough. Expressions 1-3 are for laying down the initial understanding of the pattern, with Elemental Blind employed primarily by the students themselves. Expressions 4-6 are worked in parallel once a basic understanding is in place to further refine the pattern. Expressions 7 and 8 are only undertaken once a thorough understanding of the pattern has been achieved. This is not to say that as an instructor you do not revisit the earlier expressions once a level of competence has been achieved; far from it. Rather this is a description of the order of operations to help a student progress through the expressions for each pattern they are to learn.

The final challenge is in regards to integrating the pattern expressions that we are less familiar with; Impact and Henka (Free-Form).

Integrating the Impact Expression via Modified Drill-Work

Utilizing the pattern-specific Impact expression is simply a matter of adding a second student to a by-numbers pattern performance.

Impact Pattern Drill: Create groups of 2 students each, preferably of varying ranks. Ensure both students are able to perform a particular pattern (any pattern will do). Initially, task the junior rank with performing the pattern by-numbers while the senior student positions a shield (or grab) in advance of each technique.

The junior student is tasked with performing the pattern first as that is the easier of the two tasks as the senior student must know the pattern’s applications and techniques in advance. Performing the pattern by-numbers allows time for the senior student to properly reposition the shield/grab between techniques while most Fast, Continuous and Connecting Motion movements allow for a single placement to be effective.

Integrating the Partnered and Henka (Free-Form) Expressions via “Pattern Sparring”

Utilizing the Henka expression requires new drills to be added to your training arsenal. These drills can be thought of as a new form of sparring; Pattern Sparring.

Basic Pattern Sparring Drill: Create groups of 3-6 students each, preferably of varying ranks. Ensure all students are able to perform a particular pattern (any pattern will do). Initially, task the junior rank with performing the pattern by-numbers while the other students are tasked with attacking the junior with appropriate attacks and defending with appropriate blocks based on what the pattern prescribes for each count.

For example: Dan-Gun movement #1 prescribes a Left Mid Knife-Hand Block. The attackers are to execute a penetrating mid-section attack (Mid Punch, Mid Front Snap, etc.) that allows a valid application of the Left Mid Knife-Hand Block as a defense. Dan-Gun movement #2 requires the other students to properly defend against a Right High Punch.

When students first attempt this drill, they invariably stay on diagram; that is to say they perform the pattern as taught maintaining the directionality of each technique. This version is akin to the Partnered expression and is referred to as Pattern Sparring (On Diagram). In order to achieve a Henka expression, do away with the diagram and rather require the student performing the pattern to react to the random angles of attack from their partners. This variation forces the pattern performing student to focus on supporting the prescribed techniques with footwork that likely differs from the pattern’s prescribed footwork. All students are forced to adjust to different distances and angles. This version is referred to as Pattern Sparring (Off Diagram).

Minor modifications of this drill lead to a number of other skill development opportunities:

Balance, accuracy and the proper use of attacking/defending tools are gained by the junior student while the senior student benefits by experiencing applications and learning proper distancing.


1 – Rosenbaum, Michael. Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts. YMAA Publication Center, Boston, 2004. (via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kata#Background)

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

A few things I’m just now realizing after some 10 years of training. These are not hard-and-fast rules, but rather rules of thumb; there are always exceptions. But if you keep these in mind and only violate them when it’s logical to do so, you are likely to fair much better than without them.

It’s amazing how much about martial arts we all know intrinsically, yet ignore in much of our training.


1) This scene from Black Swan; be Mila Kunis, NOT Natalie Portman! I train martial arts quite technically (this stance is X wide, Y long; this kick follows along path ABC, etc.). But when we deploy the arts, the technical form doesn’t matter and generally gets in the way! Move naturally. When you find yourself in a bad position (which you know is a bad position thanks to the technical training), readjust.

2) How do you push a car (or fridge, or…)? Hands at shoulder height elbows in-line with the shoulders. How do you carry a 24-pack of soda? Arms at 90deg, elbows at hips and wrists in-line in front of elbows. You wouldn’t push a car with your arms to one side, you don’t carry 24 cans with your arms outside of your hips, so why execute a technique there? As one of my instructors says, “keep it in the workshop”. Need to execute a technique outside of this zone? Move your feet while executing the technique to reorient your body as required (and here-in lies the difficulty; coordination, angles, distancing…). Look at arm wrestling, basicially you want to execute your techniques as they describe their proper positionality and you want your opponent in the “arm break” position. This brings us to…

2a) So you keep your techniques in-front of your shoulders/hips (or between them) because that gives you the most power and control (and visibility for that matter). You want to position your opponent to execute their techniques “outside of their workshop”, so move to the flank (or at least outside their lane of attack). Speaking of lane of attack…

3) Almost every attack is directed, ultimately, towards your spine. Hooking punch to the jaw? Continue on an extra 3-4 inches, it’ll hit the top of the spine. Upper cut to the kidneys? Again, few more inches = spine. The exception here is leg attacks/sweeps/etc. If you’re facing someone chest to chest and you slug them in the shoulder, what happens? Their body naturally rotates and that turn dissipates much of the strike, so we intuitively attack towards the spine. This is where the concept of the center-line comes into play; move the spine/target out of the lane of attack (outside of their “workshop”) and your opponent has to readjust or throws a far less effective technique. So this means you have to…

4) Move. Moving makes you a bad target and once you’ve trained a bit you can use this movement to power your strikes. Why hit them with your arm when you can hit them with your whole body? Bruce Lee’s 1-inch punch is an epitomical example of this in action (and yes, this is outside the workshop… but he’s using his whole body behind the punch). This is HARD to do. Like an orchestra, if even one minor part is off (e.g. the violin’s are behind a half step) the whole thing ends up not working.

5) Embrace the lizard brain. The lizard brain drives things like shutting your eyes when something comes toward them; it’s automatic, subconscious. Understand what you are likely to do under stress/when surprised, then take that as a starting point and try to re-engineer it (e.g. raising an arm to avoid a sucker-punch). Conversely…

5a) Use your opponents lizard brain against them. Jab someone in the eye and what is their response? Drop whatever is in their hands and cover their eyes. Push someone’s head up and back (from under the chin or under the ocular bones [Zygomatic/Maxillary]) and their body follows. Throw pocket sand and they turn away. Jar a joint and they retract the appendage. Learn these natural responses and use them against your opponent!

6) If you build a house on sand, it’ll fall over. If you throw a technique from a poor stance, so will you. Stance/footwork is EVERYTHING. Work on coordinating and perfecting your feet to support your house technique first!

7) Learn your anchor points; In front of each rotator cuff of your shoulders and in front of each hip (you know, like when you were pushing the car/carrying the soda). Pinning part of your opponent (forearm, wrist, ankle, etc. preferably a joint or close to one) to any of these spots and simply MOVING puts your entire mass against their single appendage. Conversely….

8) In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig? The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed! In a martial arts context: connect but avoid attaching to your opponent. Some arts tend to train attachment (such as Judo, JuJitsu and BJJ) but this done within the context of their training; the assumption of a single opponent. If you cannot make that assumption (such as in a self-defense situation) but you want to effect your opponent by your movement while not allowing them to the same to you, how do you accomplish this? Get your opponent’s arm/leg at extension and move. They tug it back, let the damned thing go once it turns into a liability (as they may be attempting a reversal). Speaking of which…

9) Don’t focus on any one thing. Have a kubotan in your hand? Great, use it when it’s useful, otherwise it’s just a passenger. If you focus on any weapons you have or any favored techniques, you will likely end up forcing techniques that use said weapons rather than just moving and deploying them when it makes sense. And while we’re on the subject…

10) Effect your opponent’s balance. If they are worried about falling over, they will focus on regaining their balance before they worry about hitting you (thanks to the lizard brain). This allows you to say a half-step ahead of them, almost like putting a comma in a conversation. The trick here seems to be bringing them to the edge of disequilibrium, rather than dragging them over/down. Finding this edge takes training. Speaking of edges…

11) For the love of all things holy, maintain distance! No matter how fast you are, you stand like this (warning, loud audio) and you’ll cop that sucker punch in the jaw. I train to maintain an arm’s plus fingers reach (as the fingers simulate a short edged weapon). You have to worry about kicks above the knee at this distance, but those take time to deliver and therefor provide for time to react. But you can’t hit your opponent from here…

13) Think like the porcupine/echidna; attack what is given to you. You punch someone in the jaw turning off their lights, they fall and hit their head and die from a hemorrhage… you’ll likely go to prison. Besides, if you’re close enough to hit them in the jaw, they are likely close enough to hit you there too. Are you 100% sure you’re better, faster, stronger, luckier then they are? Dislocate their shoulder, break their elbow and/or tear up their ankle and you’ll likely fair much better in front of 12 of your peers. And if you break/tear/dislocate something they attacked you with, they will not likely use that implement again. Even if they are high, if you “disable the machine” then biomechnicially they will not be able to attack you. And while you’re playing porcupine…

14) Water doesn’t attack the rock in the stream, it flows around it. Flow around incoming attacks (e.g. find the kukan [sp?]). Further to this, where ever the attack’s energy is going, let it go that way and if you can, continue its direction to your advantage (e.g. don’t fight force on force). For example; a punch is anchored at the shoulder but will generally travel towards the center line, giving the technique a slight inward arching trajectory. Parry or otherwise move the strike across towards the opposite shoulder of your opponent, continuing the power in the direction it is already traveling. Further, gravity is your friend. Use gravity as it’ll always pull for you. Employing a dodging movement, a parry, and a connection above the wrist in concert with continuing the punch across toward your opponent’s opposite shoulder while also using gravity when you have them at the edge of disequilibrium, you’ll be able to drop your opponent down to waist height with almost no power at all in your technique (I wish I had a video for this one).

15) Go high/low. Cover with a high jab while at the same time kicking low, they are likely not to see the kick coming. Got their arms gummed up? Kick. They’re stomping you? Jab them in the eye/head/etc. High/low/high/low/high… where ever your opponent is focusing you want to be elsewhere. If you are both focused on the same thing, it’s a fight and fights have winners and losers. In self-defense, it’s not about winning, it’s about surviving/disengaging.

16) The world’s most effective martial art is the 400m dash.

17) This scene from Black Swan; be Mila Kunis, NOT Natalie Portman! No, really, WATCH IT AGAIN!

Uke and Tori

The Japanese Martial Arts concept of Uke and Tori is a much more formalized concept than the attacker/defender relationship and is a tool I have successfully integrated into my Taekwon-do classes to aid in drill-work focus and participation.

The attacker/defender relationship is often thought of as “my turn”/”your turn” where as an Uke and Tori have a more well defined partnership. Arguably in each dichotomy both parties are actively engaged in the drill and both are learning aspects of the attack and defense based on their roles. Yet I have found that using the terminology of Uke and Tori set much clearer roles, responsibilities, definitions and expectations which in turn improved student focus and participation in drill-work.

Defined individually, the roles of the Uke and Tori can be thought of as:

Uke: The action of an Uke is called “taking ukemi (受け身)” which literally translates to “receiving body”, it is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack and often incorporates skills to allow one to do so safely. These skills can include moves similar to tumbling and are often used as an exercise in and of itself. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uke_(martial_arts)]

Tori: The term Tori (取り) comes from the verb toru (取る), meaning “to take”, “to pick up”, or “to choose”. In the Bujinkan, Judo and some other martial arts, the Tori is the person who successfully completes a technique against their Uke (training partner). [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tori_(martial_arts)]

The terms Uke and Tori are not synonymous with attacker and defender because these roles are determined by who successfully completes an effective technique (Tori), not who initiates one (which could be either party depending on the drill). Furthering the differences is the distribution of responsibilities between the Uke and Tori:

Uke are responsible for setting the pace of the exercise. If the Tori is not executing the drill as intended or is otherwise reacting with haste rather than intent, it is the responsibility of the Uke to slow the pace to allow the Tori time to react appropriately. The Uke is also responsible for maintaining a soft frame for their Tori to practice against and to react to stimuli in a realistic manor. Resistance and rigidity does not serve either party, though eliminating these elements can require the building of trust between the Uke and Tori. In short, the Uke is there to support their Tori and should leave their ego at the door.

A key outcome for the Uke is gaining practical experience on how their balance is taken, how they are manipulated into compromising positions, the effectiveness of their ukemi (tumbling) out of said positions as well as the proper execution of the prescribed attack(s) (if any).

Tori are responsible for the safety of their Uke. The Tori should be aware of their Uke’s ukemi (tumbling) abilities, ensure open lanes of traffic before executing a throw, conscientious of the Uke’s flexibility and level of discomfort/pain when executing joint locks and strikes. The Uke invests a lot of trust in their Tori and that trust should never be abused.

A key outcome for the Tori is gaining practical experience on the effectiveness of strikes, locks and movement via exploratory manipulation of the Uke.

For example: A kick to the groin. The Tori’s responsibility is to maintain control and not make physical contact with their Uke. The Uke’s responsibility is to react in a situationally appropriate manor, such as flinching to block, moving away from the attack or a measured reaction as if contact had been made. Saying this, it is still the Tori’s responsibility to affect their Uke with intent, though not in a manor that will injure their Uke. For instance, a Tori’s light touch should not engender a weight shift by the Uke while a full or near-full contact strike is also not called for. The key is that the intention of the technique is relayed in a measured way upon the Uke without injury.

Typical Application In Drill-Work

The Uke is normally (though not always) prescribed attack(s) that are delivered with intent to defined target(s) on the Tori. Each technique is executed with proper kamae (stance) and intent to where the target was at the beginning of the Uke’s motion. Uke does not anticipate the Tori’s movement or follow the target during execution of a technique, even if the Tori reacts prematurely to the attack (though this should be pointed out to the Tori).

Conversation between the Uke and Tori should be limited to feedback primarily from the Uke on the effectiveness of the Tori’s techniques; “you haven’t taken my balance”, “I feel weak in this direction, try taking me there”, etc. Tori should take the approach of  “shut-up and copy” the drill as shown, while taking the time to consider what options are available at each moment in time. Tori’s internal dialog as well as dialog to their Uke should be along the lines of: “If I do this, how does the Uke react?” “I’ve ended up here, what can I do from this position?” “How can I get a response from my Uke that gives me new options?”

Drill-work is best preformed slowly to see all of the gaps in both yourself as Tori and the opportunities in attacking your Uke. Moving too quickly misses these moments and does not allow for the fullest learning experience.


Stance Diagrams in GIF and SVG

Click here to download the Stances ZIP archive. This ZIP archive contains huge A3 sized GIF images for each Taekwon-do stance. Additionally, this ZIP file also contains an Open Document Graphic (ODG) file which houses each stance in Scaleable Vector Graphics (SVG) format. SVG drawings are stored mathematically rather than as a “rasterized” moasic of pixels (as is the case with the GIF images) meaning that they can be scaled to any size without loosing image quality.

The SVG/ODG files can be opened by a number of paid and freeware applications. The file itself was authored with Open Office’s Draw application (see: http://www.openoffice.org/product/draw.html). You can download a freeware portable version of Open Office from http://portableapps.com/apps/office/openoffice_portable.


The stance drawings utilize the proportions of  Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man to ensure accurate scaling and layout. da Vinci’s notes on the original drawing specify in part (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man):

Ergo, the maximum width of the shoulders is equal to 1.5 times the length of the foot (6/4=1.5). Therefore, 1 shoulder width in the drawings equates to 1.5 foot lengths.

These drawings are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-By-SA) and may be used, reused, modified or otherwise for any purpose (including commercial use) as long as the following copyright notice is retained in full:

© 2011-2013 Nicholas Campbell (II Dan). Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-By-SA). Edited By C. McMaster (II Dan), Mr. S Bower (VI Dan). This work may be copied, distributed, transmitted and/or adapted (even for commercial use) provided this copyright notice is retained in full. See FusionMartialArts.com.au/freeware/ for more information and acknowledgements. Thank you to all who came before, from all of us who follow. Taekwon.