Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is Taekwondo a Cult?

    Martial arts is a broad and varied field.  Although there are many no nonsense groups such as kickboxers, Muay Thai practitioners, and more,  there exist groups such as Yellow Bamboo, a martial art that claims to harness "chi balls" and uses "white magic". Although completely bizarre in nature, these organizations are more common than one would think.

 Does this exist in Taekwondo? With over 80 million practitioners worldwide, you bet. Although not common, stories like these can be found.  The organized structure of Taekwondo makes it highly susceptible to quickly becoming a cult. Many religions across the world, from Christianity to Buddhism, incorporate their teachings into religious Taekwondo classes. There are thousands of Christian Taekwondo and Karate schools in America alone. Combined with the personality worship of many instructors, this can quickly become damaging to the mental and economic health of members. In certain subsets of the ITF Taekwondo organization, Choi Hong Hi, their founder, has his pictures displayed in tournaments. These pictures are shown large amounts of respect and bowed to. While some see this as merely a sign of respect, others have interpreted it as a cultish worship of an inanimate object.

A very interesting story is that of Tae Yun Kim, a Korean woman who came to America and claimed to have been taught "Tae Kwon Do with an emphasis on Ki Energy". She created "Jung SuWon" , a variation of Taekwondo. Her organization has been involved in several court cases, national investigation, and several shady or unknown deals. Her members have followed her around the country. Pictures taken inside her school show images of herself plastered all over the walls.

All aspiring martial artists should take a good look into whether or not their local school has the elements of a cult.

Monday, June 25, 2012

School Ratings

Seen a McDojo? Been ripped off by a McDojo? Taught at a McDojo?

Been to a great school? Loved it? Learned lots and had a great time?

Post them here.

Put the name of the school and location in the comments section, as well as a short description about your experience there.

The Next Generation of Olympic Competitors

                                  Looks too much like Planet of the Apes for our comfort.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Taekwondo Myths Debunked (Part 1)

This is a small list of myths spread about Taekwondo among people who do not practice it.

1. Taekwondo is scored simply on touching your opponent

This is completely untrue. Yes, some schools that want to promote safety do this, but as a whole it is not representative of the sport. "Slapping" your opponent's chest guard with your foot will not get you any points. The official rules set clearly states that "displacement" is needed, meaning you have to have moved your opponent through the force of your kick. However, this rule may change, as the rules regarding headkicks have already been altered dramatically.

2. Taekwondo is all kicks

While Olympic Taekwondo is primarily kicking-based, punching is a traditional aspect of Taekwondo. In Taekwondo forms, punches outnumber kicks in an overall ratio of more than 9 to 1. Various kinds of Taekwondo organizations, such as the ITF or smaller combat Taekwondo societies, allow punches to the face and body. Time and effort is put into conditioning the fists and hands for breaking, specifically of thick pieces of wood and concrete.

3. Taekwondo kicks are primarily spinning and jumping

Completely false. Jumping and spinning kicks leave you very open to attacks from behind, counters to the side, or plainly missing your opponent altogether. Even in the flashy higher levels of sparring, jumping kicks are almost nonexistent. The number one most used and most scoring kick in Taekwondo is the diagonal roundkick. Spinning and jumping techniques are practiced in Taekwondo as a show of control and acrobatic ability, as it is known that jumping techniques will often actually have less power than a ground-based technique due to hip rotation and energy transfer.

The next part will be about Taekwondo myths....that Taekwondo practitioners themselves believe!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Muay Thai vs Taekwondo: Is Taekwondo Effective?

A long standing debate in MMA and kickboxing is whether or not Taekwondo is an effective art in comparison to Muay Thai. Taekwondo and Muay Thai are both exclusively stand-up styles that have both found their ways into the ring. Currently, Muay Thai is the standup style of well over 75% of all professional MMA fighters, while Taekwondo has taken a backseat as being only a background art practiced by fighters in their youth.

What is to blame for this lack of Taekwondo in the ring? There are multiple factors and no one is innocent. During the martial arts movie craze of the 70s to 80s, hordes of martial arts enthusiasts emerged from the theaters and basements of America. While many of these movies were Kung Fu and Karate oriented, word quickly got out that the acrobatic, spinning, and flying kicks were largely Taekwondo-based. Soon, movie fans everywhere wanted to learn these "deadly" techniques. But where could they find them? Martial arts schools of any kind were hard to find. As fate would have it, politics and immigration policies drastically changed just around this time period. In 1965, the United States lifted the stringent immigration laws on Asia. Immediately, waves of East Asians entered America. Within approximately 10 years, Koreans, specifically, reached the Top Ten List of people immigrating to America in numbers. With well over a million directly foreign-born Koreans from both the North and the South, came entire families, often unskilled labor. With fierce competition in any field, some turned to what they had done for sport in Korea: Taekwondo.

Now that Taekwondo schools were open, the martial arts movie fans now had a place to train to become the badass-killer-movie-star-kicking machines they had seen in the movies. The problem was, many soon discovered that they were not willing to put up with the training to do so. After all, Taekwondo in the the 1950's and 1960's was still a military martial art. In fact, there was very little resemblance to modern Taekwondo at all, it was a form of Korean Karate with a slight emphasis on kicks. Leg checks, low kicks, knockouts, and knees were common. Sparring was often with little-to-no padding and hogus/chest protectors would only emerge in great numbers in the 70s.  To the vast majority of the American public, this was not at all what they had expected. As droves of Americans left the dojangs, the instructors and owners had to think of new ways to appeal to their audience. The simplest solution? To drastically lower requirements and the intensity of training.

Within ten years, Taekwondo became heavily commercialized. Taekwondo summer camps opened up. The WTF emerged and with it came a new generation of sport Taekwondo. With "belt factory" dojangs being opened left and right, the ratio of quality fighters to hobbyists fell dramatically. As many of us know, a large portion of Taekwondo schools offer a workout barely comparable with a high school P.E class. Taekwondo went from an small martial art taught in a similar fashion to full-contact Karate to a global sport version of  glorified foot fencing.

The elimination of many techniques formerly found in Taekwondo has rendered much of the art ineffective in MMA. However, many Taekwondo kicks are still found and extensively used in these gladiatorial fights. MMA fighters still train with Taekwondo athletes to perfect hook kick and specifically the side and back kick, which are not commonly found in other arts. Much of the footwork found in Taekwondo has also transitioned to long-range MMA fighting.

But where does this stand in relation to Muay Thai? It's quite simple. Muay Thai and MMA is rapidly following the same pattern as Taekwondo and Karate in the American media and public, through the television, movies, and video games. With starry-eyed youth envying the fighting machines in the Octagon, many want to learn "The Art of the Eight Limbs" a.k.a Thai Boxing or Muay Thai and are convinced of its invincibility by numerous sites like these. However, just as with Taekwondo and Karate, many of these people simply can't stand with the rigorous training requirements of the original sport. Some schools are beginning to eliminate knees and elbows due to safety concerns and elbows are downright illegal in many U.S states.

Inherently, both Muay Thai and Taekwondo are very effective arts. Taekwondo may return to its traditional basis as the McDojo cycle ends, as it is already being considered to be removed from the Olympics. What will take its place? Who knows. It might be Muay Thai. As with any Olympic sport, that could be the death knell for its effectiveness in actual combat due to shifting rule sets.

Muay Thai is rapidly being "McDojo'd" with corporate hawks waiting to descend onto their money-spending prey. Who are these people? Not unexpectedly, it is the largest MMA corporation in the entire world that is pushing these McDojos forth.

To quote the UFC Chairman and CEO:

""We're not looking to train or create fighters, we're looking to create a fun family environment.”

And so it begins.

2012 Olympic Update: Will Aaron Cook Face Off Against Lutalo Muhammad?

With the media's favor turning towards Lutalo, Aaron Cook has offered to fight Lutalo in a match to decide who will represent Great Britain in the Olympics.

 If he is not granted this,. Cook has said he will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, an international organization created to settle sport debates across the world, from national events all the way to the Olympics.

Cook is confident that he can win a match against Lutalo, who he believes was granted the spot due to Cook leaving the current Olympic team's training quarters.  Cook is still currently ranked number one in the entire world in his weight class.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is Taekwondo Bad for Your Knees?

The short is answer is.....yes. However, that simple statement ignores the many reasons, exceptions, and more that will now be detailed below.

Is Kicking in Taekwondo Bad for Your Knees?

     This is the largest source of controversy. Many argue that kicking puts the body through sets of motion that it would absolutely never do in a natural setting. Taekwondo kicks, especially, are very unnatural movements, all the way from chambering to how the kick snaps before contact. However, these critics tend to completely ignore the extensive stretching done before most Taekwondo classes. Taekwondo athletes are among the most flexible, rivaled only by gymnasts and yoga practitioners. These stretches prepare the body for acrobatic and high-reaching kicks. However, stretching does not usually aid the knees and muscle must be built in these areas instead to ensure stability and to prevent injury. Without substantial amounts of muscle in the area between the shin and the femur, the knees are very prone to rubbing together and causing injurious friction. Snapping your kicks, especially, can prove to be distasterous in the long run if you do not have enough supporting muscle. These muscles can be built very easily by positioning your bike seat lower when riding around, squats with and without weights, etc. Knee problems from kicking aren't usually an issue at all for people under 25. However, Taekwondo athletes should strive to kick solid targets and kick the air less often, as the air does not offer proper resistance to prevent the knee from overextending.

Verdict: Kicking is only bad for you if you aren't prepared for it

What About the Rest of Taekwondo?

This question usually accompanies the previous one. Most of the other aspects of Taekwondo are actually very beneficial towards you joints. Stretching is immensely valuable. Forms, when done with proper form and intensity, help build up strong joints due to the stances. Breaking, when done within your limits, builds strong bones through the principle of Wolff's Law, which is commonly seen in  Muay Thai shin conditioning.

There are only three sources of consistent knee pain and injury that can be found in Taekwondo. The bouncing seen in Olympic sparring applies stress to the knees in jolts when done for extended periods. Repetitive full power kicks aimed into the air can cause the knee to overextend. The third and most common method of attaining injury is not stretching properly beforehand.

All in all, Taekwondo is a martial art that is actually largely beneficial to the knees, if done with proper precaution. Without precaution, it is just as injurious as other sports.

A Comic Is Worth A Thousand Words

Choi Kwang Do: Joint-friendly Taekwondo

    Choi Kwang Do is a variety of Taekwondo. Splitting off in the late 80's, it was and has remained a very small school of Taekwondo with very little practitioners.

    Choi Kwang Do takes Taekwondo techniques and modifies them to make them more compatible with the natural flow of human movement. The creator of the system had suffered serious injuries from years of hard Taekwondo training and sought to create a more fluid system.

The art contains a large amount of yoga exercises and drills and is inspired through scientific research of the human body's motion.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Journey to the Black Belt

 How does the journey to become a black belt feel? To have mastered the basics is a different experience for everyone, no two paths are the same.

Here is one account:


"The first time I walked into the dojang – now my home away from home – I knew I was in the right place. Years earlier, when I was about 10 years old, I saw a black belt demonstration at my local school and I was hooked. As the man did his demonstration with the forms and breaks, it seemed as if his moves were effortless – every jumping kick higher and higher – like he could fly. Although I grew up in a small farming community and didn’t have the means then to take lessons, I made up my mind that someday; I would find a way to learn how to fly. Fast forwarding 30 years; I found myself barefoot in the training hall staring at the words imprinted on the mirror that runs the length of the hall,  
                                         “YOUR GOAL IS TO BE A BLACKBELT”.

   As I started to dream, my thoughts were quickly interrupted by my master instructor when he smiled and said, “Are you ready?” After nodding and a quick “Yes Sir!” my journey began and every day just keeps getting better.

Even though I frequently dreamed about testing for black belt, when I earned my Candidate belt in August 2011, my feelings intensified. All of a sudden, it went from distant dream to potential reality. In an instant, my 30 year dream was within my grasp and I kept pushing myself to refine my forms and improve my technique. At our dojang, we need 60 lessons in between Candidate and Black Belt and at least 6 months between tests. As I train 4 days a week and earned my 500 lesson patch on February 10, 2012, it was really just a matter of patience getting through that six months. I know patience is a virtue, but it sure wasn’t easy waiting that long.

After training the day before the test, my instructor told me he had a big challenge for me. He explained that although the next day would likely be “one of the biggest days of my life”, to just go into it as “just another Saturday” – just another day. I agreed, but my heart was racing! That night, hard as I tried, I could not get to sleep. After going to sleep at midnight, I woke up at 1:00 a.m., 1:30 a.m., 5 a.m., and 7:30 a.m., respectively. I honestly tried to sleep better, but every time I woke up I started thinking and couldn’t stop. At 7:45 a.m., I gave up and took a shower. After I got ready to go, I had the choice of waiting around the house until 2:00 p.m. or going to an open rank class at 10:30 a.m. and then just staying after and working on keeping loose until test time. Knowing myself, I KNEW I could not pace around the house for 5 hours before leaving, especially with my family there continually asking if I was nervous. I was truthfully more excited than nervous, but I needed time to focus so I went in early.


   As our dojang has an active enrollment of over 200 students, our pool of black belts is constantly growing and my testing panel consisted of my master instructor (6th Degree), 2 5th Degree Black Belts and a 4th Degree. As we lined up to begin, my left leg was shaking a bit from nerves and I was grateful when it stopped during warm-ups. The first section was hand strikes and kicking drills followed by a roundhouse drill consisting of 10 roundhouse kicks up the floor and sprinting back to start again. Once I felt that my legs were going to fall off, we did kicks with x-ray targets demonstrating various kicks and kicking combinations. From there, we started forms and since I had to perform every form I’d learned so far, that meant 10 forms all the way through Koryo. Going through the forms, I felt really on track and when I finished Koryo, my confidence doubled when I didn’t have to redo any of them! I’s seen other members test and watched many redo’s and even some Candidates space a form completely!

   After forms, we were permitted to get water and instructed to put our sparring gear on for 2 on 1 sparring. This was one section that unnerved me a little bit because I didn’t know who I’d be put up against. Plus, although my sparring has improved greatly, it is my weak point and something I continually work on. The challenges just kept coming when I was put up against 3rd and 4th Degree Black Belts. After getting in some decent shots and trying desperately to keep ahead of them, I got knocked down and scrambled to stand up. When my round was over and I got some water, I put my hands on my back to stretch and came back with my hands dripping with my own sweat. The back of my dobok was absolutely soaked. When all the Candidates had their turn sparring, we lined up for one-steps where we needed to demonstrate all the one-steps from every belt level we’d passed so far. It was at this point I found my second wind and felt the power in my legs come back. Subsequently, this helped my memory a lot and I performed all of my one-steps at full power. Following one steps was 100 horse stance punches into a focus pad which - after regaining feeling in our legs – was probably designed to take it out of our arms! The last section was breaking and when my turn came; my instructor had 3 boards in a stack set up on concrete placeholders. I’d gone through 2 boards before so I focused on going through to the floor and took several deep breathes before I made my first attempt. As I began my attempt, everything my instructor said about that break flashed through my mind and my hand went straight through!! My momentum was so quick – in fact – I almost tipped over the bricks. My other breaks were a back kick and a jumping front kick, but the 3 board break is something I’ll never forget! From there, we had to recite the school rules, membership oath, and the definition of tae kwon do from memory and then it was time for the belt presentation.


   At our dojang, our instructor always asks the black belts in attendance to indicate by applause if the individual Candidates are worthy of joining their ranks. He asked about me first and – despite their continued friendship and support – I closed my eyes and prayed that at least one person would clap. When they all did, I dropped my head and had to bite my lip to keep from crying. When my instructor called my name to receive my belt, it was almost like a dream! As he tied it around my waist, all I could do was stare at it and when he reached out his hand to shake mine – he smiled and winked and I knew I had made it. By tradition, every black belt test concludes with 50 knuckle pushups and I’ve never felt happier doing pushups!! Never before in my life had I felt more sweaty, exhausted, and proud. I had absolutely left it all on the mat and although Black Belt is considered the “beginning” of serious study, the end of my first phase is a day I’ll never forget!! And the journey continues…… "

Kris Selting - 1st Degree Black Belt - KOR-AM TKD - Minnesota USA


Aaron Cook Barred From 2012 Olympic Team

The BOA stood by their decision to not have Aaron Cook on the Olympic squad. Muhammad Lutalo will be replacing Aaron Cook's previous position.

Critics still do not agree with the BOA's choice and show that Lutallo ranks 50 places below Cook. However, some say that the new scoring system, which is also disputed, will favour Lutalo's fighting style in the upcoming Olympics over Aaron Cook's. 

However, others point out that Aaron Cook has defeated 15 of the competitors from other countries that will be competing this year and has experience dealing with their style and technique.

The WTF and other major organizations have had high-ranking members express distaste at the BOA's decision. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

3 Ways to Improve your Roundkick

The roundhouse kick is the basis of most kicking arts

Number One: Hold Your Kick

Holding your kick is a very important aspect in building strength in the muscles required to kick effectively.  You should at least be able to hold a steady position on one leg, with the other raised in the air. The next step should be to chamber the kick and hold the chambered position for at least 30 seconds After having mastered that, practices holding out the leg extended in the manner you would strike an opponent for at least 10 seconds. The final step is to be able to perform the entire kicking motion in complete fluidity over a period of at least 15 seconds.

Number Two: Keep Your Back Straight

Too many newcomers to kicking arts tend to hunch over as they kick. This gives the illusion of being able to generate more power, just as winding up a punch makes your cross or hook feel stronger. In reality, hunching over and winding up completely telegraphs your motions to your opponent. You should be able to kick quickly and without warning from a standing position. Keeping your back straight and your center of gravity directly below you also gives you a better range, as well as making it easier to retreat in case your opponent evades the attack. However, avoiding leaning back, as this exposes the chin.

A straight back also allows you to keep a better defense, by protecting your head with your arms, as well as allowing you to clearly see your opponent.

Number Three: Drop Your Kicks

Now that you can hold your kicks, it will be almost counter-intuitive to drop them as fast as possible. While practicing slow kicks may have increased your technique and power, it also leaves your kick vulnerable to grabs and takedowns. Practice your kicks as you usually would, but now drop them to the ground as fast as possible after hitting the target. Initially stomp them down right next to the target, but slowly begin to attempt to drop them closer to their original starting position. This may sound easy, but it is incredibly difficult if done with a straight back and proper technique, as well as speed. This is best combined with speed training.

Good luck training!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Buakaw Por Pramuk Retires

The martial arts legend Buakaw Por Pramuk has retired. Known for his devastating low kicks and mastery of shin kicks, the K-1 champion and Muay Thai legend has already delivered his retirement statement from both kickboxing AND Muay Thai.

(Turn on Closed Captioning)

 This retirement was caused by a rift between Buakaw and his managers. Buakaw felt that too much of his money was being sent towards his training camp and was dissatisfied with his tournament earnings being split up and taken away from him. Due to Buakaw rapidly approaching retirement age anyway, he felt it was in his family's best interest for him to save away money for when he would be too old to compete. His managers disagreed and Buakaw decided to pack his bags.

Buakaw has some of the most feared kicks in the modern martial arts scene

While Buakaw may have a future in the acting field, this recent development has, once again, brought light to the unsavoury world of sport politics and the harm it brings to the sport, the athletes, and the viewers.

However, Buakaw is rumored by many to be preparing an entrance into the American MMA field, but this remains only speculation.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Andy Hug: The Blue-Eyed Samurai

Andy Hug was a Swiss-German Kyokushin Karate practitioner. Known as one of the few to give Mirko Cro-Cop a run for his money, Hug was the 1996 K1 Grand Prix Kickboxing world champion. An often underrated fighter, Hug was one of the top standup fighters of his time, exhibiting excellence in every field, ranging from striking to blocking to footwork and his ability to take damage.

Andy Hug displayed a wide variety of kicks. Although he maintained a Kyokushin or a kickboxing stance when fighting, his kicks were highly influenced by Taekwondo. Hug launched spectacular axe kicks throughout both his Karate and kickboxing career, rising far up over his opponent's guard, and coming down on the shoulder or the head. These kicks had been previously regarded as fairly useless in high level competition due to the precise timing and high speed required to hit a moving target, in contrast to simpler kicks such as roundkicks. Andy also regularly used spinning hook kicks, a technique relatively new to kickboxing, to the legs and head of his opponent. His leg kicks were powerful enough to often end the fight on their own. Andy Hug was one of the few fighters to prove that unorthodox fighting could, indeed, prevail in the ring.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Britain Picks Three More Athletes To Go To Olympics

   The British Olympic Team has confirmed three more members of the Olympic squad for 2012. This year's team is considered one of the best, boasting athletes with numerous international wins, especially in the World Championships. The new team is rumored to be able to compete toe-to-toe with the Korean National Team, which has previously dominated the entirety of the Taekwondo Olympics.

The three athletes are:

Martin Stamper- From Liverpool, England, Stamper was a gold medalist in the U.S and German Open.  Bronze medalist in the 2011 World Taekwondo Championships.

Sarah Stevenson- Considered on of the most famous Taekwondo athletes in the world and ranked a number 10, she  has two golds in the World Championships and four in European Championships. Won third place in the Beijing Olympics.

Jade Jones-  A Welsh Taekwondo athlete, she was a gold medalist in the U.S and Dutch Open. Silver medalist in the 2011 World Taekwondo Championships.

Bareknuckle Boxing

John L. Sullivan: Bareknuckle Boxing Champion

   While cruising aimlessly on the internet, I found this interesting article concerning Bareknuckle Boxing. While many people think of drunk Irish bar patrons or Gangs of New York when they hear the term Bareknuckle Boxing or "fisticuffs", these fighters were actually highly skilled and competent athletes. There are recorded matches of opponents fighting for upwards of six hours of action with little pause. Bareknuckle boxing was also occasionally modified to allow short kicks to the lower body for self defense purposes. While wildly popular in America during the 1800s, it was also found far earlier in Russia in a more extreme manner.

Russian fistfighting

   Russian fistfighting was a sports spectacle where members of a village would gather together for a massive brawl. Each side was called a "wall" and would be commanded by a leader who served as a tactician, ordering contingents of his men around the "battlefield"/arena. In fact, Russian fistfighting, although governed by strict rules (such as not hitting someone who had fallen), was a simulation of warfare at the time. The goal of the game was to push the other "wall" out of the arena. This could be done through bashing the other team into retreat, through complex encirclement to funnel the opposing side outwards, or through the brute force of simply pressing the other team out with more men.

 What is highly interesting about both methods of fighting is the stance the fighters took. While modern day boxing evolved from these arts, Russian fistfighting and Bareknuckle boxing resemble the Chinese kung fu art of Wing Chun/Ving Tsun. The head is kept up and slightly tilted back. One fist is held in front of the other and the elbows are kept in tight and close to the body. Strikes were very linear and carried little body rotation, often striking with a vertical fist. Elements of hand trapping were also observed. Russian peasants and average American workers  had little to no contact with the Chinese, let alone Chinese who practiced martial arts. Therefore, it is often assumed that these arts developed themselves independently.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Great Britain Taekwondo Selection Update

In a recent update, GB Taekwondo has refused to rethink their selection choice for the Olympics and refuse to nominate Aaron Cook.

The controversy has reached new heights, now that it appears that Lutalo Muhammad's coach was a member of the original board that turned down Aaron Cook for the Olympic National Team. Sarah Stevenson, who has her husband on the selection board, was selected to go to the Olympics, despite her recovering from a knee injury. These discoveries have led to the questioning of favouritism and ulterior motives in the Olympic selection processes this year.