Why Tae Kwon Do Has Such Good Kickers

14 03 2013

Hopefully this article does not offend or insult. Please hear me out.

What is Kung Fu people generally known to excel at? Take note that the key word here is “excel”–as in “few others do better”. Our hedgehog. It is the one thing that we do, that we are so good at, that anytime someone wants to learn this one thing (or short list of things), general consensus is that you need to go see a Kung Fu guy. You’re not going to like this…

With the exception of only a few within our arts–like Wing Chun or Shuai Chiao–the answer is “nothing”.

See, in Kung Fu, there exists a phenomena that we seem to embrace and it prevents us from being dominant in the world of martial arts. And that one thing is this:  We try to learn and do everything. Our systems often boast of teaching 10 weapons or more, but most of us only know one or two forms for each weapon, and we don’t really possess any fighting skill with those weapons. In fact, we probably have never fought with those weapons… ever. Our Sifus have never fought with those weapons. If asked to fight, say, a fencer or a Japanese Kendoka–we probably couldn’t do it. We don’t want to admit it, but a vast majority of the things we teach our students have almost no combat value to us. We will tell those who ask, “Later, later” until they stop asking. Instead, we distract them by telling them to focus on learning the form at hand, or promising some later period in their training when it will come. And one day, years from now–that student will be a Sifu himself, and offer the same, lame excuses for why the butterfly sword is no more effective against a broadsword than a pair of double daggers. Why? Because the truth is, we’ve never tried it ourselves.

So the Kung Fu man, if he is known for everything, is generally known for knowing a little of everything–but not knowing and being able to do anything well.

Hey, don’t kill me, I’m just the messenger.

There’s no reason for it to be this way. We are, after all, the forefathers of most Asian martial arts. The Chinese arts, if you dig deep, are highly advanced. Traditional Chinese arts are perhaps more advanced than most systems tenfold. But over the generations, we have weakened to the point that we must throw Chinese-style only tournaments and tout fighters (San Da/San Shou) whose fighting styles look nothing like what we do in our schools as proof that CMAs are just as effective as any styles. We have the disease called “Oh-we-have-that-too”, and then in our classes we fumble around with techniques that are very unfamiliar to us:

  • We have “hidden” grappling in our arts, but a wrestler would murder us on the ground
  • We have trapping, but a Wing Chun guy tells others that what we do “isn’t the same” (out of respect)
  • We teach the same punches that a boxer teaches, but please….
  • We have staff techniques, but we have to use waxwood so that our technique looks strong
  • We kick, but TKD green belters kick way better than our Sifus, unless that Sifu use to train in TKD too
  • We have “sword” techniques, just don’t try to hit anything with those swords (they’re too expensive to have to keep replacing broken spring steel pool noodles

I think you get it.

So what can we do? Easy. From this point forward, I want you to take one set of skills and one weapon. If you want it to be one form, or techniques from one group of forms, or one type of technique–whatever. For the next 6 months, aside from your classes, practice nothing else. Experiment. Spar. Test it with someone whose martial arts experience is very unlike your own. See what you can come up with. If you have a form that you want to use, start with a chart and doing that form 500 times from beginning to end. Then once you accomplish that, start breaking down that form, technique by technique. Find ways to work those techniques into your sparring. Replace the tiger claw with a punch, the chop with a back fist. You get it.

Because the reason why the Tae Kwon Do guy is known for his kicks is that he doesn’t do much else besides that. He can kick far better than you can–in fact, he can fight a whole match and use nothing else–and probably kick your behind. And you’ll be sitting there after a loss complaining that the rules prevented you from using “your” techniques, as if your system doesn’t have a Roundhouse, a front kick, a side kick… blah blah blah. He just does it better; it’s his hedgehog.

Here in the Chinese Martial Arts, we offer a little of everything and that isn’t good enough. We can offer a little of everything, but we need a lot–a WHOLE lot–of something. So perhaps your lineage has not come up with one–so you do it. You’ll be glad you did.

We welcome comments and dialogue either here or on our Facebook page.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Frivolity in Kung Fu

14 03 2013
I have always said that martial artists with good skill on the path to mastery have no time for silly things. Where you find a martial artist who is preoccupied with rank, politics, online battles, bragging rights, and money, you will often find the most poorly skilled among us. There is a saying that martial arts politics–be it money, rank or power–is for those who have little useful skill. That is a very true statement, because the skilled have little interest in those things. This is the reason that every school has a group of men who are low Black Belters or under belts, who are the best fighters in the school–yet they have yet to test for higher rank:  they have little use for anything that does not improve their skill.
Why don’t you chew on that one for a minute?
See, as martial artists we should have two things foremost in our minds:  the development and improvement of our personal skill, and the promotion of our reputations–our school’s reputation, and our teacher’s reputation. And that emphasis on reputation brings you back to your own personal fighting skill. Anything outside of those two things–who is recognized as “senior” in your system, who has the “real deal” version of your teacher’s teacher’s art, who was teacher’s favorite, which master can lay claim to the creator of a concept or style, I could go on–means nothing. Nothing, if the man in front of you has the superior fighting skill. Please don’t forget this.
But what of other martial arts skills? Like brick-breaking? Chi Sao skill? Form performance? The number of forms learned? The ability to hold a strong stance? Physical Strength? Speed? Flexibility?
Listen. If those things will make a difference in your ability to put a man on his behind after you learn them, then I say go for it. I have had my own classmates talk of going to Hong Kong and bringing back a different version of the forms we learned here in America. They talk of learning the second version of a Broadsword form we learned from our teacher 30 years ago. My question is, will these things improve our fighting ability and the functional knowledge we have of our style? Probably not. So I’ll pass. But it is a personal choice. Some people enjoy learning new forms, and that’s fine. But let’s not get so preoccupied with it that our judgment of good Kung Fu vs mediocre Kung Fu or authentic versions vs illegitimate versions is not affected by adding all this stuff.
We love history, foreign-language terminology, arguments about what to call our arts, titles and ranks we should be using, blah blah blah. But those things are silly non-issues for the true warrior. And anytime you meet someone obsessed with those things, I guarantee you that you are in the presence of the inferior martial artist. And that’s why you will be wasting your time until you get away from that conversation and back into the gym.
Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.