Friday, January 24, 2020

Why ITF Taekwon-Do? (As taught in MTG Taekwon-Do Club)

I thought I would write a little about why I chose this particular style. Most believe a martial art is a martial art is a martial art.

I have trained in different styles formally and informally and have a big interest and love for Martial Arts and combat sports in general. This has also led to my quest for knowledge on many styles. Which, comprises of too many books, magazines, training and hours researching to go into now.

My interest is primarily on each styles strengths and similarities and how could aspects of training benefit my and my clubs training. This love is also evident in my self defence system/syllabus MTG Hosin Sul which is part of the training within ITF Taekwon-Do.

I can only speak for our style ITF Taekwon-Do (Original Taekwon-Do style) and in particular ITF under GM Choi Jung Hwa (Son of the father & founder of all Taekwon-Do) and not the myriad of other Taekwondo styles that have emerged since then.

ITF Taekwon-Do was originally born out of the military and evolved with General Choi Hong Hi at the helm.

ITF Taekwon-Do as a martial art/combat style is very well rounded which is a a great advantage and actually not that common. When I say it is well rounded it encompasses: Sparring (competition & traditional), Patterns (traditional techniques in a sequence), technical floor exercises,  Breaking (power, height & distance), Hosin Sul (Self defence against grabs, common attacks & weapons including situational awareness), Fitness, functional strength, flexibility and moral culture.

With the aim of incorporating these aspects seamlessly into each other through the training. Striving to forge a more complete martial artist. Each aspect strengthening and adding to the other aspects.

Therefor with our MTG training of  ITF Taekwon-Do it is a traditional Martial Art, reality based system as well as a combat sport. It is firstly a Martial art with a combat sport aspect as part of the system.

Taekwon-Do as a whole is also the most modern of the traditional martial arts. As in further discussions on the blog there have been break away's and photo copies.

Taekwon-Do grew out of the need to re-invigorate Korean Martial arts after the second Word War. Basically it is an amalgamation of ancient Korean styles such as Taekyon, Japanese Karate/ Japanese arts , influences from ancient Chinese arts as well as aspects of western boxing in the sport aspect. All this originally for the intent of military use, which is where it matured and formed.

So basically to make it easier to understand our club training includes training which is associated or similar in nature with :Kickboxing (Sparring), Kata -Karate, Kung Fu forms (ITF Patterns), self defence like Krav Maga/ Hapkido (MTG Hosin Sul) with a moral code and typically military structure .

The techniques of ITF Tekwon-Do are effective because it uses the flow and speed of typically Chinese Kung Fu arts with the snap and hard aspects of Karate. Utilizing the flow and speed to end with the hardness. This aims to create extra power by using the basic scientific formula: mass x velocity = force. Many aspects known as the secrets of Taekwon-Do are applied to the techniques. This is in order enhance scientific and ancient principles for generating more power out of ones body, all while aiming to protect the joints more.

In other words true ITF Taekwon-Do techniques have evolved from a long line of martial arts techniques with a modern scientific approach utilising bio-mechanics to aim to maximise each technique. Make no mistake, it does take a bit more work get this right and it is technical in that aspect of training but it is worth it in the end. The Sine Wave concept also unique to our style is also part of this which aims to also make use gravity to assist in generating more power.

Many people think that Taekwon-Do is only for the youthful because some of its more athletic attributes. This is untrue, those attributes get allot of attention and people often only associate that with Taekwon-Do. The fact is, one trains to their ability. The high kicks get the attention but in actual fact within the traditional aspect are relatively rare. Most kicks are mid or even low and the high kicks are not compulsory but dependent on ones bodies capabilities and focus on each individuals strengths. Taekwon-Do caters for every age, young and old!

Taekwon-Do is definately and exciting art to take part in. It challenges all the time and there are always new goals to strive for. This all being done with a belt structure which is a great goal oriented approach for training.

It is a great way to keep in shape and also spills over to the rest of ones life. Making lifestyle adjustments in order to improve your Taekwon-Do training is common place.

The style we teach, ITF Taekwon-Do with our MTG Hosin Sul urban defence aspect is very well rounded for self defence, fitness, flexibility, traditional moral culture, sport aspect and functional, scientifically oriented  technique. The ancient techniques have been modernised or adjusted and concepts mixed in many cases if necessary to maximise the potential of the techniques.  A well trained, up to date ITF Taekwon-Do instructor should be able to prove why many techniques are done in a particular way in most cases for the sake of effectiveness, not simply only for arts sake . If they cant, they should be humble enough to admit and find out.

Please don't mistake this article for an overall view of the TKD world even in ITF many have slipped into the overly sport oriented aspects or the moral culture aspects not being in the forefront. As a club MTG we strive to the best of our ability to endeavor to keep the true meaning of martial arts alive in all aspects of this amazing Martial Art.

One of the main reasons is it is a great vehicle to help people achieve improvement in themselves. The training allows one to get to know ones self and grow in the many broad aspects of the art. It helps build confidence in people lacking and build humility in those lacking. In our clubs we strive to find that important balance with our students.

We aim to develop well rounded, balanced individuals. If only interested in fighting and if that mentality was the only part of the training we offered, the balance and aggression levels of an individual could be compromised. I like to think our training allows for a highly effective self defence art when needed but also useful and proactive members of real life who make a positive contribution to the world.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Choosing a Martial arts club

I understand how difficult it must be to decide on a club or style for you or a child. There are so many out there, all proclaiming to be the best.

The first thing that is important to understand is that all martial arts clubs or organisations and even styles are certainly not equal. Even, with different styles within or under the banner of a particular system can differ greatly in quality and authenticity.

In the world today many styles even of the same name have popped up to ride on the coat tails of the original or authentic versions. Unfortunately, back in the day trademarking names was not wide spread, so unfortunately it is common for big name styles to have many photo copies each getting further and further from the source and the core of what that art is.

This is highly prevalent in all styles but very much so with Taekwon-Do becuase of its popularity. Many have moved further from the source that the self defence aspects and pure scientific techniques have become unrecognisable.

This can also be seen throughout the martial arts and combat sports world. In Taekwon-Do it is especially damaging as it is  highly technical, purely for the purpose of making each technique as powerful and effective as possible with current knowledge and safer on ones own body and joints. The tiniest details are where it counts. The tiniest details are what tends to get lost. The moral culture of the art is also vitally important and this aspect being watered down is also a significant loss.

One should see the heritage of the club/instructor. How close to the original source it is. We pride ourselves on being directly connected and mentored by the Vice president of ITF under GM President Choi Jung Hwa the son of the original founder of Taekwon-Do.

A club should also have a focus on real world self defence as was originally the purpose of all martial arts. The self defence aspects are lost more and more in martial arts nowadays. This is another aspect to see about when beginning.

Please also be aware of clubs marketing and boasting about many, many world champions etc. This would only be the case most of the time in much smaller usually less authentic organisations with open championships, that technically wouldn't constitute world champions. As I said not all organisations are equal. In the most authentic organisations it is a huge accomplishment to get through  few rounds or reach the medal rounds. We have been on the podium overseas but cannot boast such huge numbers as some others in SA because we choose to be in an authentic, very large world wide organisation. We have had members who have beaten many world champions of other organisations over the years. The only reason I point this out is to emphasise the varying levels of quality and what constitutes a world title holder. For instance, a colour belt who has not achieved black belt competing in an open (as many people from a country can enter the category) tournament cannot be called a world champion, which is often what happens.

Another aspect to look out for is use of the word Master. Many styles vary at which level a person can be called master. In ITF Teakwon-Do it is at 7th Degree/Dan.

Please also make sure the instructor/club is correctly certified and registered to the correct authorities internationally and in SA, also in possession of a valid 1st aid certificate and the soon to be compulsory NQF3 coaching certificate for SA.

It does also help if the club has a long track record of running in as many fly by nights pop up all the time with big promises and specials which often in the long run are unsustainable.

In conclusion I would suggest after doing a bit of research, trying out the classes you are interested in. Martial arts are broad and it is impossible to see all they have to offer in two classes, but you can also get an idea of the teaching quality and culture of the club.

I hope this helps you get started on your martial arts journey.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Helping competition be positive for your martial arts training.

Competition within martial arts can be a very good and positive aspect to the training. Remembering that it is a Martial Art with a sporting aspect and not the other way round. The martial code or Tenets should also be practiced in the sporting aspect.

If competition is to truly benefit the training the first pit fall to avoid is comparing yourself to others. By all means look to others to inspire you to improve. It is all about improving on your previous self as opposed to bettering others.

Using a task oriented approach instead of an ego oriented approach is more beneficial. Having said that the ego or confidence is still very important if under control, as it fuel's one to do better. The problem comes in when some get totally disheartened or give up due to not "winning" against another.

Entering is never losing! Looking at the many aspects in your particular category entered, there are many victories and losses in one match. You should pat yourself on the back if you improved on a certain aspect from the last time because have been working on it or tell your self to focus on a particular weakness you may have come across during the match. This task or climbing the ladder approach yields fruit over time, as I have seen time and time again. Seeing someones perseverance pay off is extremely rewarding to the individual and to me as an instructor.

Perhaps someone has a mental block against a certain category or entering in general. Just getting over the hurdle and doing it is a win in itself. You see there are many victories to be had !

Also if only comparing ones skill to others is totally unrealistic. As there are so many factors involved. Imagine the person you always go up against happened to be Bruce Lee or alike. Not winning and improving time on time would not be a loss. Infact the tougher the opponent the better one gets. Sharp blades sharpen each other.

The many lessons learned through competition can help forge positive characteristics for everyday life. The highs, the disappointments and how you react all reflect to many aspects of ones life. They could range from gaining tenacity, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, indomitable spirit or endeavoring to remain humble. Each persons journey will dictate the lessons to be learnt from competing.

I mentioned some pitfalls in my previous red flags article which should be avoided in order to make competition more valuable for the martial artist.

Also remembering the martial arts and ITF Taekwon-Do in particular is one of the hardest disciplines to judge in competition. Some descisions can very disappointing to a competitor, coach or parent. I have been on all of those sides of the coin. Until technology can fully catch up with the needs and even then Patterns for instance can be very much up to individual taste and the many organisations and even clubs emphasis.

Until then we rely on humans and sometimes even though doing ones best to have fair decisions it can slip. One has to make it extremely obvious and be many points ahead to try to guarantee a decision.  It is better to take what one has improved on as the main motivation at the end of the day. As difficult as it can be sometimes.

All of that was not even mentioning the many health, fitness, skill, camaraderie and general improvement gained from the training for a competition, which is actually the biggest reason to compete in the first place.

Competing is exciting & winning is exhilarating, but the true prize will always be the self-knowledge and understanding that you gained along the way.” Sebastian Coe

Red Flag warnings to look out for when joining a club or instructor.

Staying with the theme of knowing you are in the correct martial art for your self and acknowledging all of the difficulties of what to look out for in order to make the martial arts training a long term positive aspect of ones life.

There are some red flags to look out for after witnessing some negative aspects through my years involved in the scene.

Poaching of students

For any looking for a martial art or for some within a club who get approached by others, some red flags should be looked out for: One of the largest red flags is a clubs members being contacted (poached) either by a similar or same style club “instructor or owner” (often less authentic organisations).  Or another fighting style, often being one such as explained in my earlier article as only focusing on the fighting aspects. Lately, some clubs are being started by non martial artists, but "business" men.

Though “poaching” might happen in the business world perhaps. It is definately a red flag for True Martial artists. There is an unsaid code! I have never approached anyone from another club to poach them (even when in the early days our club and organisation had large attempts to stop us) . Firstly, I am not that desperate to lower my standards and secondly I consider myself a martial artist, following the moral code of especially integrity (also mentioned in the earlier article). Having said that, I have been around a long time and my compatriots from most other organisations  respect that I would not do that to them and in turn wouldn’t do it to me or even in times have stopped any rogue rookie newcomers in their tracks.

Generally many promises get made by these fly by nights , normally unrealistic to maintain a steady club in the long run. Very, very few new martial arts clubs go the distance. Again, I emphasise, a martial arts instructor, like it or not will have a big influence over a practitioners life and even more so on your children. Is a person who is willing to go so low as to break a warrior code, and possibly having practiced less than savoury practices on other occasions, be the person you would want to train under or have your kids train under?

Even though rare in happening to my clubs, I take it as a positive. It allows me an insight into peoples loyalty, integrity and actual goals for themselves or children.

I also never say blind loyalty, if there are very good reasons to leave a club or instructor such as the instructors moral compass going in the wrong direction, if after following the correct avenues in the the club and organisation don't work out. I also know that not all puzzles pieces fit and one of the reasons we have become successful time tested clubs is that we have parted ways with some in order to keep our clubs main goals central.

Winning at all costs

Of the many red flags to look out for, many show up in the sporting aspect. Remembering that our training must be balanced and primarily build characteristics through the training that are positive which influence our everyday lives.

Sadly, there are many instructors/coaches out there who's focus on winning in competition can cloud moral judgement and therefor damage what martial arts is supposed to instill. I could write a book on the many different ways I have seen to cheat, go into very grey areas or influence a persons aggression in an unhealthy way.

Without going into too much detail, some that upset me is when illegal techniques are done by "accident" and taking into account sacrificing a warning etc. This would normally be done to try break the opponents spirit etc and hence give an advantage. Also annoying is when one pretends to have a glove etc come loose or fall or the worst of all run out of the ring near the end if ahead (Not even talking about skillful dodging, but turning and running) in order to avoid having a point scored. If an instructor encourages favour for club members in competition judging or umpiring even by shunning a person for not voting in the way of a fellow member, this is a huge lack if integrity.

Gladly, these are rare but can happen. If instructors are encouraging less than clean ways to win a match, this can clearly lead to people taking that sort of behavior into the real world which could be a gateway to leading to more serious crimes etc.

We do teach the nastiest techniques in our Hosin Sul and self defence oriented part of the training for use only in the direst self defence situations, but within competition the rules must be obeyed to the letter.

I often say. Even if you become a world champion. You could still have lost. As is it worth "winning" if not done with integrity or if one becomes arrogant thereafter?

Monday, March 20, 2017

What makes a true Martial Art ?

Having been around martial arts, training and teaching for much of my life, I have seen allot. I also know how confusing and misleading the martial arts scene may be to someone looking to get themselves or children involved.

The word Martial arts conjures up many images in one’s mind.  Some examples are martial arts movies , their stars like Bruce Lee and alike. Martial arts popularity definitely was boosted a lot by the rise in the way martial arts movies exploded onto the scene especially in the Seventies. Hopefully, many see martial arts as a way to hone one’s mind and body with discipline and a moral code, although sadly, that image has seen some tarnishing with the rise of “martial art” entertainment or combat sports, which image generally is the opposite of humbleness, balance & projecting a moral code to the public in general. That is not entertaining enough unfortunately.
I have no problem with it necessarily and many have great match fighting skills,   except that it gets confused with martial arts sometimes due to the name, causing confusion with what a traditional martial art wants to display to the public.

The many styles that focus on this type of sport or the sport aspect mainly, unknowingly take themselves further and further away from what a true Martial Art is. As said before, if it is called or classified as something else other than martial arts, I have no issue.

We have always tried to stay as true as possible to the martial arts code in our clubs. We practice ITF Taekwon-Do under the Original founders Son, showing loyalty and the importance of being closest to the original source. I have remained in our art so long not because of pure blind faith or habit, but the fact that it meets my requirements. What are my requirements? Not only for me but my children as well.

It is an all round martial art if taught correctly. It is brutally effective in pure self-defence, with people of appropriate age learning simple effective techniques to undo pretty much all holds and scenarios (this of course takes tons of training and hard work, including being put under pressure in order to utilize it if necessary instead of freezing  and is by no means magical).

It has a centering, balancing and focusing effect with many aspects including Patterns.

It has a great and challenging fitness aspect to it. It challenges one to have a body that can withstand a lot more pain, be flexible, strong , healthy and harder bones. (Again all from years of blood sweat and yes tears.)

It has a great sporting aspect for those keen on being competitors. I find it the most exiting to watch and in my opinion puts most combat sports to shame in terms of blinding speed and combos as well as the breaking, specials and patterns categories being fantastic. As an instructor this allows me to also enjoy a coaching role.

The moral code. General Choi Hong Hi, the founder of Taekwon-Do was sure to include many moral teachings in his art. We all recite the Tenants at the end of class: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control & Indomitable Spirit. These all being very positive objectives to try to strengthen through our challenging physical training. Sadly, many might say them but not take them seriously or even care.

Many, dare I say most fighting styles have only a focus on the fighting side of the style. Many also not having patterns. I am personally not a huge fan of that. Why? Because the person runs the risk of becoming unbalanced, overly aggressive and basically project a bully or unsavory demeanor . A club should endeavor to forge powerful  warriors who are positive ambassadors in society  who can use the many, many life lessons gained through their training to enhance their life in a positive way.

"I know a pattern"

I always find it amusing when a student says they know a pattern or technique. This is very common, especially when requesting to grade or young members get bored with a pattern because they "know it". It is understandable as to why this is so common, mistaking knowing the sequence of steps for knowing the pattern. The truth is, to know something is to have reached perfection. It is impossible to reach perfection! It is therefore impossible to ever fully know a technique.
What should be strived for is to get as close to perfect as possible. That is our aim, with this mountain that has no peak.
This can also be said especially when one reaches black belt first Degree. Many see this as the end goal, while it is actually only the beginning of ones training after passing through the basics.
Also some believe that once they believe they can beat another person, they now know Tkd and need not continue anymore. Well, that is a whole other story, with a person not understanding that the training is about self improvement as discussed before.
Lets try to persue perfection in every technique and aspect of training and not rush through to only know the sequence without a deeper understanding of the mechanics of each technique.

How can one benefit most from the belt ranking system ?

I have always been a proponent of the belt system in Taekwon-Do and martial arts. It has many pro's and as in life there can also be unintended con's. The positives for me out weigh the negatives. One should look at belts in a way that will benefit you. The goal orientation is very valuable as we as humans beings improve and work harder when there are set visible targets and rewards. Belts are also very valuable to the instructor of the class in a more practical sense. With a quick glance the instructor knows at what level the student is and can apply their syllabus accordingly. The pride in what the belt represents is important for the student.
Image may contain: one or more peopleThe general belt system as we know it today was started by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo I the late 1800's starting with white and black belt and colour belts added in the early 1900's. Many asian martial arts followed suit. Now adays many styles including non asian styles use a belt system.
Each belt has a syllabus and certain expectations to be met in order to pass the grading and move onto the next level. Taekwon-Do also uses stripes in between belt colours. Different age groups often also have variation in the amount of stripes and time between gradings. It is important to remember that children need more time and usually therefore more stripes between gradings as their ability to take in and physically meet the standards required takes longer due to their coordination still developing. Kid syllabuses vary greatly from club to club and organisation to organisation. This is due to the fact that the original Taekwon-Do was innitially designed for adults in the military. Following an exact replica for adults in a childrens class is not beneficial. Therefore it has been adapted by each country organisation as Tkd has become more and more popular for children aswell, to meet the childrens development needs and age limits for Dan belts.
Some of the issues that can arise from awarding belts are the fact that we can become competitive even with the belt system. Many start to compare them selves to others. It is very important to use the belts to guage ones own progress and not focus on others. Taekwon-Do is a solo journey seeking self improvement. Compare your self to your previous self ! We cannot controll the tempo of improvement in others, only oneself. We all develop at different paces, due to many factors including practice and genetic predispositions. Be inspired by others improvement, not discouraged !
Sometimes feeling done in can be justified unfortunately, due to some instructors who might give rank too easily. In our clubs we actually do not double grade students, which some clubs are permitted to do if allot more training was done in that period (ITF does allow for double gradings, under special circumstances). While I respect that some clubs use that correctly. The problem is that most of the time double gradings get awarded even if the amount of training was not met. I have even heard of tripple gradings. I don't practice double gradings in my club as a personal choice, as I believe one needs to let the techniques sink in with time and not rush, extra training will be of great benefit but doing it to get a double or even tripple grading should not be the goal.
I find that double gradings also cause a huge amount of problems in a club with undue questions of favouratism etc arising. Personally if I did do double gradings, I know it would be purely on merit, but at this stage personally don't believe it to be beneficial enough for the student, also putting undue pressure to learne double the amount. This is and has always been our country organisations viewpoint although I believe it is unusual and I respect others right to do it if under correct supervision. What might happen if a worthy competitor for World Champs is close to achieving blackbelt, extra training would be given and they might have a slightly shorter time between the grading as World Champs is only open to 1st dan and up. This is only if there are no existing black belts in that division and the person has proven themselves very worthy competitor. They would still need to pass the full grading.
Sadly some clubs or organisations hand out belts far quicker or easier than our club. Some see people who began at the same time, become many belts ahead after seeing them at the tournaments. Questions then arise. Often the students or parents who might not necessarily have the mindset of our club seek faster results and more belts. I always use the metaphor of being a high quality restaurant over a fast food outlet. There are many McDojang/ McDojo's out there. Lately I have seen online courses advertised to achieve black belts in Krav Maga and Karate online. I am waiting for the Taekwon-Do one.... Clearly this is when belts are misused. Also different styles all use different belts, times between belts, criteria and different numbers of dan ranks. In ITF Taekwon-Do 9th Dan Grand Master is the highest. Master is from 7th Dan. Many styles including some Tkd styles have more dans or the title Master or Grand Master is at a lower dan etc. You would not have to look to far to see a 20th Dan super grand senior master etc. This is normally done as marketing gimicks for the lay person. I mean obvoisly a 20th dan is higher that a 9th dan......
Belt chasing is another unintended consequence of the belt system. Some see the belt as overly important and want to grade for belts sake as quickly as possible, in order to get the shiny new belt. While the motivation is good, it should not be all consuming. One should feel they would be worthy of representing that belt. Soon enough, in a worthwhile club, that person would learne , that may result in not passing. Instructors should give permission to grade, if a person chooses to not listen, then often not passing a grading or not being allowed will either set that person on the correct path or they will realise that club is not for them and perhaps will move onto a McDojo to feed their need for fast and instant gratification where paying automatically equals rising in rank. In my club I also use a stamp system on a card for a minimum number of classes being attended before they can ask permission to grade. Some still believe that reaching that number means automatic permission to grade, but it only allows to ask permission from that point. The person might need more time as we all develop at different speeds or they might have attained that number over a long period of time with long breaks inbetween.
There are those also on the other side of the coin who take too long to grade even once the instructor has suggested they should. Find the balance and trust your instructor, provided they are not a Mc Dojo instructor after your money when you grade.
Often children don't understand as they grade slower or receive more stripes inbetween belts than those in the older class. Due to their brain development stages. I have even had kids having a problem being taugt by adult or high teenage assistants who are equal or slightly higher belts. Children need to understand that age also plays a major factor in terms of seniority. A child that has moved to the older class, might move a little faster through the ranks perhaps, once in the older class because their age dictates they can handle more info and syllabus work. The problem can arise when children in the kids class see that person as an equal, but possibly moving at a slighty different pace. There are even age limits for 1st Dan and the different Dan levels, which kids would reach too early if extra stripes and junior black belts were not awarded. This is all for the good of the childs continued motivation. If belts are the only motivation and not looked at as an extra incentive to help, problems will arise and people could get demotivated.
Taekwon-Do is a journey of self improvement. If a certain jealousy arises, which is often human nature. Check yourself or ones child and look at it as a life lesson and be reminded that self introspection is the goal of the belts, to help ones own improvement. Looking and focussing on others is not the pathway to long term martial arts training.
Humbleness is also an important lesson not only for the lower belt person, but especially for the wearer of the higher belts. The untended consequence that can arise from the use of belts is that sometimes the wearer of the higher belts might take the belt overly serioisly. Making the wearer possibly closed to learning from people below their rank or seeing themselves as a higher lifeform. While I believe in the rank system to keep order in the class, lower belts should always respect the rank, like in the military, as it was intended. Correct protocalls as dictated by the rules should be observed. This needs to be seen for its uses and benefits. If overly focussed on, it could make the wearer arrogant and inflexible. I can truly say I have learnt so much from teaching and observing white belts and lower belt ranks. If ones mind is closed and shut by ones belt rank, then it is not benefitting ones training or life improvement at all.
Remember we want and should gain from our training and use of the belt system as intended and just keep an eye on the ourselves to keep it that way. I would still defend and take the belt system over the styles that dont use it and take pride and respect authentic achievers of their belts.
Taekwon !