Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Korean kicks (all through the night)

This is a post in reply to Dan Prager's comment here and follows on from my previous post about which kicks are used within hyung (forms) and drills and what proportion of drills are kicking based.

This is a very good point as traditionally Korean martial arts are heavily oriented to kicking techniques, notably high kicks and jumping and spinning techniques and this can sometimes be seen in competition Tae Kwon Do. Indeed whenever I have trained with the University Tae Kwon Do club all we seem to do is incredibly tiring kicking drills with jumps a-plenty. This influence on Korean martial arts is said to come from the Northern Chinese Kung Fu tradition of high, acrobatic kicking and high stances as opposed to the Southern styles which were more 'grounded'. (Following is cut from Wikipedia: "The main perceived difference about northern and southern styles [of Kung Fu] is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork.").

It has to be said though that Tang Soo Do is Korean 'karate' and effectively a traditional martial art with it's main heritage in Japanese karate. Karate's name was originally taken from the logograms for Kara and Te (唐手): China and hand. It was later (~1930s "a few years after I came to Tokyo...I was then able to suggest that the art be renamed" ref1) that Funakoshi changed the meaning to 'empty hand' (空手) for political and ideological purposes. Tang Soo also means China hand. 

So we see the semantics of the names but are the arts themselves similar? It's true that the core forms are very similar which I have outlined previously and I have trained with Japanese clubs and compared forms. One of the sensei actually noted that the version of the form I was doing seemed like an 'older' version which had since further developed in his style. It's certainly interesting to see how seeds are planted and grow into the same plant but with slightly different variants.

Tang Soo Do is a kicking-based karate but as it has it's roots firmly in the Japanese/Okinawan heritage there is a lot of traditional hand techniques to be practiced and this brings me directly to Dan's question: what is the proportion of hand/kicking combinations in drills outside of kata? The short answer is 70/30 kicks/hands. The longer answer is that it's a bit more complex. Often the combinations are mixed and after hand techniques there may be a period of combined hand and feet. 30% techniques in the class may be done from front stance (chungul ja sae) which lends itself to the hand combinations with a few kicks interspersed much like in the hyung. We then develop into kicking from back stance (hugul ja sae). Finally we'll practice jumping kicks and jump spinning kicks.

Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial art with strong traditions within Japanese karate, as the similarities of the original names imply. It does, however, hold on to some of the indigenous high, powerful and acrobatic kicking typified by Northern Chinese influences. This is reflected in the training: traditional forms, altered only slightly with higher kicks but more leg-based drills than traditional 'te' derived Japanese arts.

(ref1 p. 34. Karate-Do, My Way of Life, Gichin Funakoshi. Published by Kodansha, first paperback edition 1981)


Dan Prager said...

Thanks. And fair enough!

Now, since the styles I practice place a low emphasis on kicking -- jiu-jitsu, judo, and hung kuen kung fu (a southern style) -- I am always a bit curious about the pro-kicking styles -- how the other half lives and all that!

My assumption had been that most of the high kicks were there for show and/or physical development -- balance, flexibility, endurance, etc. -- rather than for practical self-defence. Similar to how in the southern kung fu one spends _a lot_ of time sitting in horse stance doing hundreds of punches: No one fights like that, but it develops many kinds of physical (and mental) attributes.

So I would resolve the paradox of the kicks by suggesting that the kata are there for learning practical self-defence (although one may need higher-level instruction to decode), whereas the kicking is there for more fundamental physical training.

But maybe that's just a justification of how I train!

Littlefair said...

I concur.


(Although the reasoning behind kick-based styles is that the legs are more powerful than the arms, but ask any MMA/cage fighter how many jump spinning back kicks he does...I saw an interesting piece which suggested jump kicks were developed to dislodge mounted warriors: The North China Plain's flat aspect lent itself more to horse communication/warriors and therefore needed a combat style to counter this threat. Not something I really worry about in leafy Cambridge though :-)

There is also a large part of Tang Soo Do syllabus devoted to 'self-defence' techniques: wrist grabs, chokes and so on. this is called Ho Sin Sul. An example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-q8cTV7MTA

Dan Prager said...

That clip is nice. The leaping knee to the head looks very cool and definitely more feasible than some of the more -- ahem -- speculative kicks.

Apropos, kicking people off horses: I have always had my doubts about this one.

Modern day equivalent? I don't think you need to jump at all to knock your rivals off their bikes in "leafy Cambridge". ;-)

Of course there is always the peaceful art of Tae Kwon Leap (Boot to the head song).

Littlefair said...

That clip is very cool. Lot of 'truth' in there :-) Sadly I have it on loop now...

Doubts about kicking off horses? Think it sounds a bit spurious? Or retrospective justification? (Dring, dring....crash!)

Thanks for commenting Dan.