Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fighter of the Month: Steve Vick

Steve "Superkick" Vick is a retired Australian kickboxer. His kicks were absolutely PHENOMENAL. Taking his Taekwondo background with him to the ring, he became one of the most respected kickboxers of all time.

Vick was the Taekwondo National Champion of Australia five times in a row. Not satisfied with dominating the Australian Taekwondo circuit, he moved on to kickboxing. Vick easily brushed the competition aside, becoming State Kickboxing Champion, then National Kickboxing Champion. Setting his sights on the rest of the world, Vick entered the international spotlight. Soon he was crowned the Commonwealth Kickboxing Champion, then the Intercontinental Champion, until, finally, he fought his way to become the World Kickboxing Champion in 1994.

Here are some of his fighting highlights. Prepare to be amazed.

His Taekwondo years.....

 and his kickboxing years...

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Karate Method of Striking

  When we practice Taekwondo, we must remember that a great deal of our techniques originate from Japanese Karate. Understanding your origins is very important, so here is a post detailing Karate hand strikes, in particular the standard punch.

We will start with the "tsuki" (thrust or strike in Japanese). Some terms you might need to know when reading this are "Kihon" (fundamental), "Ken"(fist), and "Sei" (correct or proper). These are often combined, eg. "Seiken"(Proper fist or horizontal punch).

A basic understanding of muscle groups and how they work is also important, so I would recommend keeping a Google tab open to look up what you don't understand!

  This is in reality an oversimplification, as the shoulder should ASSIST the movement, but for developing an isolated Kihon Tsuki, lowering the shoulder girdle is the order of the day (With or without significantly abducting the shoulder girdle, which some styles do, like Shotokan). It is done mainly by contracting the Latissimus Dorsi and Serratus Anterior muscles*, which pull the shoulder girdle down and brace it against the torso, for more effective force transfer through postural structure (By this meaning the structure that you create in your torso by adjusting your posture, which is equally as important as the structure your limbs create by moving).

    In order to create proper structure for a basic Tsuki, the trajectory has to be as straight as possible. For this, the shoulder joint flexes first, and then rotates medially, mainly through action of the Anterior and Lateral Deltoids, the Pectoralis Major and the Latissimus Dorsi (Along with minor action from other muscles), while the Triceps Brachii extends the elbow joint*. Visualize trying to “push” the fist, with the elbow, and THROUGH a target.

    Twisting the wrist (Forearm pronation*) causes the forearm bones to come out of alignment, and your Seiken will not be properly supported by the elbow nor make contact properly, making your punch less effective and potentially dangerous for your hand. While there IS wrist action during a Tsuki, it is mostly due to a return to a more neutral position during the punch, as the Hikite has the forearm almost completely supinated*, along with a slight abduction in order to fully expose the Seiken, although at a proficient level it integrates with item 4 and can be used to augment the effects of items 1 and 2.

  Imagine a straight line running from the crook of your elbow, through the Radius bone and past your wrist. You should align your fist so that the Index finger's knuckle and Metacarpal bone lie on that line, by, as previously mentioned, bringing the forearm to a neutral position and abducting the wrist slightly. That way, the elbow pushes "into" the seiken as the arm extends. This will only change when we start to deal with variant punches, where the alignment must change to follow the trajectory of the strike.

Many thanks to Fish of Doom for letting me use his guide on this matter!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nigeria Makes the Cut

Nigerian Taekwondo athletes Chika Chukwumerije and Mohammad Adam placed in the African qualification tournament for the Taekwondo Olympics in London this year. Chika received a nose injury during one of the qualification rounds and is currently undergoing treatment in the London Hospital.

 The two are set to tour South Korea for enhanced training until the Games begin.

The duo also represented Nigeria in the 2008 Summer Olympics, in which Nigeria did reasonably well, compared to Nigeria's disastrous appearance at the 2004 Olympics.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Want to Improve Your Kicking Power?

        Not satisfied with your kicking power? Check your technique first. Without proper technique, your kicks will rarely, if ever, reach their full potential. Check basic things such as whether you are rotating your standing foot enough, your balance, whether you are extending your leg enough, ect.

However, assuming your have nigh-perfect technique, there are always some measure you can take to give your kicks a little more "kick"(pun intended).

Develop Your Leg Muscles!

There are countless exercises to develop stronger leg muscles, such as squats and just running. Here are some you might not know of:

Burpees.  This is an exercise that will fatigue you quickly in a short amount of time and are excellent for building up leg muscles. To do a burpee, assume a standing position. Then move into a squat, shoot your legs back and assume a pushup or plank position. Quickly assume the squat position again by shooting your legs forward. Now jump back up into a standing position. Congratulations, you have now done 1 burpee. In sets of 10 and above these can be highly fatiguing.

Kung Fu Squats: I do not know the proper term for this, but this is what I have heard it called. Assume a standing position with both feet together. Move your feet out with your feet pointed inwards.  There should be a distance of about 3 feet ( 1 meter) between your feet. Keep your back straight as possible and attempt to cease all movement. You should feel the burn fairly soon.

Hopping with jumps: Bounce very lightly on both feet in an upright standing position. Every 5 or so light hops, jump as high as you possibly can. For this exercise to be effective, I recommend getting your knees as close as you possibly can to your chest each time you jump. This exercise develops explosive speed and strength, which is excellent for kicking. To increase difficulty, add less hops between each jump. Continuous jumping WILL wear you out. This exercise should not be attempted with a knee injury or condition.

Develop Your Core Muscles!

Core muscles are important in that they help rotate your body. Rotation in a kick leads to power. 
Once again, there are many well known exercises for this purpose, mostly situps and crunches. Here are some more:

Planks: Assume a pushup position. Now ease yourself onto your forearms instead of your hands. If you form your hands into fists, both should be pointing directly in front of you. Keep your body as straight as possible (like a wooden plank).  Hold this position and cease all movement. I would also recommend looking straight head during this exercise, not down.

Ground drills: There are many drills that can be done on the ground to improve core strength. In this particular drill, lay down on your back. Clasp your hands together above your head. You may not use them in this drill. You may use your feet, but use them as little as possible. Now attempt to turn and rotate your body over and over again...the catch is, you should try to stay in the same location. That means no log rolling on the floor. If you are familiar with grappling, you will notice that your position will often resemble the movement of "shrimping". If you are not familiar with grappling, this drill will get you used to being and moving on the ground.

Situps Into Shoulder Rolls: Exactly as the name implies. SLOWLY do a situp. As you reach the very top, pull a leg back and transition into a shoulder roll. Rinse and repeat. Find an open area to do this drill.

As you may have noticed, the drills above are strictly body weight drills, although some may be done with weight. There are many other drills you can do using weights at a local gym, studio, or at home.

Note: Aside from these drills, a surefire way to improve your kicking power is simply to PRACTICE. I encourage that you do NOT using leg weights for kicking drills. Although endorsed by some, this is highly dangerous and adds unnecessary strain on your knees and can result in long term health applications. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kicking from the Ground

 While Taekwondo does not lay a basis for grappling or groundfighting, some aspects of the art can be adjusted and used from the ground, especially while on the back.

         What is the importance of being able to kick from the ground? Outside of a taekwondo or non-MMA ring fight, there won't be a referee to create distance when you hit the ground. Knowing how to utilize strikes from this vulnerable position is highly important in such a situation.

There are two main positions one can take up when on the ground  and your opponent is standing:

A. Demonstrated in the picture above (with the man in the red uniform at the beginning of this post). This position may seem strange or appear awkward, but is in fact a fairly comfortable position for being on the ground. With your chest turned to either side, rest on your non-dominant leg (meaning, if your right foot is better, rest on your left foot). Your entire chest should be turned one way or the other. Support your upper body with at least one hand firmly planted below your head. Now use your dominant foot for one of three kicks: the roundkick, sidekick, or hook kick.

What are benefits of this position?

Well, this position offers incredibly powerful kicks and extended range. Your entire body can be turned into the kick quickly, resulting in high power and the possibility of turning and rolling your body away, giving you a chance to recuperate and stand up at a range. Your head is also fairly far away from your opponent and you can rotate away, protecting your head, using your hands.

What are the cons of this position?

Although there is distance between your opponent and you head, your opponent can still outmaneuver you. If this happens, you have nothing to protect yourself, as your hands are occupied supporting your body weight. Although your kicks from this position will be powerful, if you turn over too much, you are exposing your back and head, again, with no means to protect yourself. This position also cannot be held for very long and can be knocked off balance.


B.  In the picture displayed below, we see the second ground kicking position. It is basically a crunch/situp position. It can also be seen as a guard position in Jiujitsu without someone on top. This is the most common method of going on the striking offensive while on the ground.
The hands are held in front, protecting the face and sides of the body. The legs are in front, also protecting the body. It is very difficult to effectively strike a person in this position. Kicks and even punches can be used here. However, this position is very uncomfortable on a hard surface ( for example, a sidewalk) and can cause discomfort to even pain in the lower back.

What are the benefits of this position?

This position offers GREAT protection. If your opponent comes close, rapid straight kicks can be aimed at the shins, kneecaps, groin, and gut. If the opponent deals with this damage and continues to go on top of you, punches can be used. If this fails, you are now in guard position, which is considered a neutral position in grappling. Assuming you have grappling experience, you will still have a fair chance of overcoming your attacker.

What are the cons of this position?

Although it offers a great defense, it has the same flaw as the previous position, being that your opponent can outmaneuver you and attack the back of the head. This position is easy to hold for longer periods of time than the previous position, but will become uncomfortable far quicker. Your strikes will have little power, as rotation will be comparatively more difficult, and you will have to rely on almost pure core strength. This is why you will have to aim for weaker and softer areas of the body, such as the gut.


Both methods have their ups and downs, but both should definitely be practiced. Doing so will result in a full understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and allow you to adapt should such a situation arise.

NOTE: Your opponent WILL NOT wait for you to take up your position. If not done quickly, you will get hit, as with most martial arts techniques.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Roundkick: The Bread and Butter of Kicking

 The roundkick, also known as the wheel kick or roundhouse, is an important kick that builds the basis of any kicking martial art.

         The roundkick is useful for striking  practically any part of the body with high speed and power.
         The roundkick should strike with either the shin, the instep, or the ball of the foot.

This is mostly seen in Muay Thai. The shin offers a very hard impact surface, resulting in less pain to the thrower of the kick and more damage to the target. When executed in this manner, the kick comes straight from the ground towards the target in a line with a slightly curved trajectory. The entire body weight is often thrown behind this kick.

Seen in most kicking arts, the instep offers greater range and precision than the shin. However, without padding, a roundkick thrown with the instep can result in pain and broken bones if applied to the opponents elbow, shin, or forehead without padding.
This is a very rare method of kicking seen in some forms of karate. The ball of the foot is less fragile than the instep, while still not as strong as the shin. This method allows for the range given by an instep roundkick, but with the impact concentrated in a smaller area. However, this kick can be injurious if the toes are not pulled back correctly.

In this depiction, one can see how the toes are pull back and above, rather than pointing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Head Kicks vs Body Kicks: Playing it Safe

           Taekwondo lays a massive emphasis on kicks that are fast, long reaching, and high. In WTF sanctioned competitions, kicking to the head is rewarded with more points, not to mention that the judges will probably score your kicks more often after seeing you are capable of dealing damage and not a pushover.

As flashy and cool as these kicks may seem, sometimes good old fashioned body kicks will get the job done better and land points far more consistently.

Which ones should you use? Both, if possible. However, a Taekwondo fighter should mix and match the ratio of high kicks to body kicks in a manner that suits their needs and the current situation at hand.

Here is a short list comparing the two methods:

Head Kicks
  • More points- Headkicks will always receive more points than a standard kick to the ribs or the chest. 
  • Knockout- The possibility of a knockout is comparatively FAR higher than powerful body shots.
  • Intimidation- Facing an opponent who regularly throws high kicks can be daunting, especially to inexperienced fighters. This applies to sparring as well as a possible scenario on the streets.
  • Diversification- Tossing just body kicks will result in your combinations becoming predictable. Headkicks will cause your opponent to think more and worry about what your next move is.
  • Balance issues- Without proper training, a beginner will have problems maintaining balance during a high kick, let alone returning to a proper fighting position afterwards. 
  • Vulnerability- While in the middle of a high kick, you have little to no options when it comes to protecting yourself. Your supporting leg is wide open to unintentional (or intentional) low kicks. Your head may come closer to the ground, allowing kicks aimed at the body to hit you in the head. 

Body Kicks

  •   Consistency- Landing body shots to the chest protector is far more common than landing head shots. On average, you should be able to score more points using this method.  
  • Speed- The foot with which you were kicking can quickly be dropped right next to your opponent in order to fire another kick in rapid succession.
  • Solid base- Your foot remains closer to your center of gravity for the majority of the kicking process, especially the chambering sequence.  This means you can pull your foot back faster if something goes wrong.

  • Predictability- Throwing almost 100% body kicks will result in an opponent that will know where to protect themselves, as they will not have to worry about their head.
  • Little Chance of Knockout- This is self-explanatory. Incredibly powerful blows will be needed to achieve a TKO through the sparring chest protector.

I personally use a ratio of about 3/4 body kicks to 1/4 high kicks, not including when I see an opening for a headkick by chance that I can exploit.

The Front Kick Dilemma

         The front kick is undoubtedly one of the most practiced Taekwondo kicks in existence. Countless hours are spent as a white belt practicing the same kick over and over. However, when watching sparring matches, one notices that this kick is practically nonexistent in sparring. What were those hours of practice put in for? Breaking a few flimsy plywood boards? A few flashy jump kicks in forms or demonstrations?                                                                                                                                            
The problem lies not in the front kick, but rather how it is taught and practiced. In most Taekwondo schools, the front kick is taught by kicking the air or by striking a kicking paddle (porkchop) held parallel to the ground. When one asks where this kick should land, the most common answer tends to be the chin. That is good and well, until one considers how many practitioners are taught to kick with the instep of the foot. Let me repeat that: The objective is to kick with the instep of the foot to the chin.                                               

 This is a horrible idea.
The area behind the toes and in front of the joint where the foot connects to the shin is commonly known as the instep (Look to the area marked with a #4 on this picture. Then go towards the center of the foot. That is the instep)

The instep of your foot is similar in structure to the area of your hand between the knuckles you punch with and your wrist. Feel this part of the back of your hand. Notice the large amounts of thin bone structures (the metacarpus). These bones are susceptible to breaking if you are not careful. While this area can definitely be used for striking, it is best suited for attacking the softer and meatier parts of the human body. Experienced kickers could theoretically hit harder parts of the body due to their bones adapting to kicking impact over time, but a Taekwondo rookie will end up with broken bones at worst or at least massive painful bruising.      

Then how should one go about using the front kick? Very simple.  

Avoid hitting with the upper part of your foot. Pull your toes back and hit with the "ball" of the foot. Your kick should resemble something similar to a snapping push kick. This kick not only reduces the risk of damage to the top of your foot, but concentrates the force of your kick into a much smaller area. However, as injury is a risk inherent to all sport forms, you may jam a toe if you do not throw the kick properly.

This kick, although hardly ever witnessed in Taekwondo, is gaining popularity in MMA matches and has been a staple in kickboxing and karate tournaments for years. This method of kicking allows for targeted shots to the liver, solar plexus, and gut.                                                                                                   

The Taekwondo Sidekick

 The Taekwondo sidekick is among the most useful kicks in any situation. It is an excellent defensive kick and a devastating offensive kick. The sidekick was often demonstrated by Bruce Lee, who showed the true power a person could generate from this simple looking thrust of the leg.

Defensive Capabilities and Uses

1.    A Counter to "Bum-Rushing"- This is the most commonly taught application of the sidekick. An inexperienced, reckless, or substance-impaired fighter will often charge directly at the target at full sprinting speed. To reach full sprinting speed, both knees have to face the target and usually the arms will be pumping up and down to reach a higher momentum.  
                                                   Why is this important?
     If both knees are facing you, 90% of the time, it means that their chest is, too. The chest provides a large, open target with numerous weak spots, especially the solar plexus. This is partially why most martial arts take up a stance in which the chest is facing away at an angle, or can be moved to an angle to avoid direct blows. If the arms are pumping up and down, your opponent is not protecting his chest or his face, but the up and down motion of his elbows will be guarding the ribs, putting a roundkick out of the question.  A sidekick to the unprotected chest will not only potentially knock the breath out of your opponent, but also create distance.  If you are heavier than your opponent, your kick will send them a few extra feet in the other direction. On the other side of the coin, if you weigh less, you will most likely move back a few feet, creating distance, while still having hit them with n effective and painful strike.

            The Flying or Jumping Variation of the Sidekick can be used offensively and defensively.

2. Counterfighting in Sparring

       In any form of sport, maintaining stability and balance is key. While we practice balance with one leg in the air in Taekwondo, some of this training can go out the window in a heated sparring session. Always maintain good balance in a sparring session...and exploit your opponent's lack of balance.One of the best times to catch your opponent off-balance is after a missed, full power kick. Usually, this kick will go too far over their body and they will land in a compromised position. The best time to strike is anywhere from when the kick misses you to right before they touch the ground.  
                                       How does this tie in to the sidekick?
      While seeing an opponent off balance might lead to the simple conclusion that one can simply shove them over, this is not allowed in most forms of sparring, regardless of the kind of martial art. Even if it were allowed, running up to shove your opponent is a dangerous and tactically unsound choice (as well as not being a nice thing to do in a friendly match). Moving in to shove your opponent results in you moving out of your fighting stance from which you can throw your arsenal of kicks and punches, while the opponent can still potentially turn into a spinning roundkick, backkick, hookkick, even a hook punch or backfist. This is where you can use the sidekick. A turned opponent exposes his ribs and upper leg. The head is also exposed, but is not generally in an ideal position for a sidekick. A low sidekick to the upper thigh will definitely slow down your opponent's kicks, footwork, and reduce their punching power(this is a kickboxing scenario). In a situation more oriented towards Olympic-style sparring, a sidekick to a partially turned opponent's ribs, especially lower ribs can:

A. Score points in a point sparring match
B. Cause large amounts of pain if applied to the floating ribs (not recommended for a sparring match)
C. Result in the same effect of shoving someone over, but from a distance and from the safety of your fighting stance (plus extra points for the knockdown!)

Stay tuned for a post detailing the many offensive uses of the sidekick!

5 Amazing Martial Arts World Records

Here is a short list of some of the best of the best in Martial Arts.

1. Highest Assisted Kick

Brett Sawley, of the British Chi Takwondo Team, smashed a wooden board 4.25 meters (14 feet) in the air with a flipping front kick, setting this amazing world record. He was launched into the air by his two fellow practitioners in an exhibition-style event.

2. Highest Nonassisted Kick

Jessie Frankson, from the state of Alaska, placed a kick at 9 feet and 8 inches up in the air, accurately hitting his target. This took place in 2000 and has, to this day, not officially been broken in any recorded event.

3. Hardest Punch

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, the famous MMA fighter in the UFC, registered a 1800 pounds per square inch punch on television. That is a knockout blow almost regardless of where you hit!

4. Most Powerful Kick

Bas Rutten, the Dutch Mixed Martial Arts superstar, tested a kick not measured in pounds of force, but rather how much the target was compressed. His roundhouse kick with the shin pushed the test dummy's chest in just below 3 inches, with rib-cracking force. The damage caused was the equivalent to a life threatening car crash. Bas Rutten is also one of the fighters out there with a great sense of humor. 

5.Most Concrete Blocks Broken in a Minute

Ali Bahcetepe of Turkey broke 317 CONCRETE BLOCKS in one minute, including a stack that contained 25 concrete slabs. This was confirmed by Guinness World Records.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Brief History of Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a sport with a long tradition reaching into ancient times. Seeing as this timeline is sometimes difficult to process with and without substantial reading, here is a general overview.

               Taekwondo has only "officially" existed since April 11, 1955. Although modern Taekwondo is a primarily kicking based form of combat, it draws influences from various Korean martial arts.

                       Korean martial arts were primarily grouped under the umbrella term of "Subak" (sometimes known as Yusul), a form of exercise and training available to the youth in the northern region of Korean kingdom known as Goguryeo, which ceased to exist sometime in the 7th century A.D. The combat part of Subak covered joint locks, kicks, throws, hand techniques, and ground fighting. Subak also included "taekkyon", a kicking-based fight-dance competition which shares certain similarities with modern Taekwondo.

   In order to become a soldier in the army of Goguryeo, one had to win three matches in competitive Subak tournaments. This training, coupled with the tough, unforgiving terrain of Northern Korea, helped form a powerful army that carved Guguryeo into a large empire spanning most of modern-day Korea, as well as parts of eastern Russia.

  To the south, a comparatively smaller kingdom known as the Silla (lasted until the 10th Century A.D) developed similar applications for martial arts. A small group known as the "Hwarang", an upper class social organization with academic and religious leanings, would evolve into a warrior elite known for archery, horsemanship, and sword-based martial arts. The Hwarang would prove inspiration for the martial art that is known as Hwarang-Do today.

Throughout the next few hundred years, Korean martial arts continued to develop with hints of Chinese influence. However, it would not prove as radical of a shift as the Japanese occupation of Korea.

 On the 22 of August, 1910, Japan officially annexed Korea into its empire. Korean martial arts were suppressed in an attempt to bring Japanese culture to Korea. Japanese culture would include Japanese martial arts, such as Karate, which was widely taught in Korea during the occupation. This is the reason why many Karate techniques, especially blocks, are seen in modern Taekwondo forms. Japanese arts such as judo and jiujitsu also gained popularity among the Korean youth, leading to these arts being  incorporated into previous Korean arts.

After 1945 and the withdrawal of Japanese military forces, Korean martial artists grouped together across the country in an attempt to revive the martial arts that had come close to extinction under Japanese rule. Under these practitioners, the five original "kwans" (martial arts schools)came into existence.

Song Moo Kwan
Chung Do Kwan
Chang Moo Kwan
Moo Duk Kwan
Yun Moo Kwan

 During the Korean War, the South Korean president ordered these kwans, as well as the four more that had formed by that time, to unify and create a fighting system that could be taught to the South Korean military. This proved an excellent opportunity to unify and regulate the Korean martial arts under one banner. This unified sport would be known as Taekwondo.

In the last fifty years, Taekwondo has soared in popularity, becoming an official Olympic sport in 2000, with an estimated 70 million registered practitioners worldwide.

Taekwondo athletes have formed many organizations across the world, each with their own rules and regulations. Taekwondo is now practiced in many armed forces around the globe, including U.S military branches and both Korean armies.


2012 London Olympics on the Horizon!

                                                Credit for Photo Given to The U.S Army
               As the London Olympics approach (the opening ceremony is only a few months away), the athletes that will be representing each nation are beginning to emerge into the spotlight. As always, the Lopez family seems to have a potential candidate in their son, Mark Lopez. 128 contestants from around the world will meet in London during August to test their skills against each other in this tournament of epic proportions.