Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tae Kwon Do Forms - A Primer

Tae Kwon Do has 8 forms associated with "colored" belts, and about 9 forms associated with black belt. Forms require a lot of practice, but first, they require learning the basic stances, blocks and strikes and memorizing the patterns.

Generally, memorization becomes the key to delivering a smooth form, and that comes through repetition. Once you have the general form down, you can target in on specific areas where you need help. A good process for memorization, I've found, is the following:
1) Watch a video of the form (below)
2) Write down the movements, or look up notes on the web
3) Memorize the movements using your notes and following along
3) Repeatedly practice the technique in class
4) Ask your master where you can improve

However, another helpful technique is to remember that the first 8 forms follow a distinct pattern, which is roughly symmetrical. Each form models a character, and has a specific teaching purpose. Although this might not be helpful to you, knowing this really helped me get my head inside the forms...or the other way around.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Connecticut Open 2007 - Tournament Notes

Tournaments are great. The video above is your intrepid author, laying it on the line to bring you information and insight about learning Tae Kwon Do.

My opponent was a black belt, more experienced by at least a year, but I learned quite a bit.

My insights for you:
1) Tournaments involve a lot of waiting
2) You should bring a jump rope and some targets for kicking so you can warm up
3) Tape your feet under your foot pads
4) Be prepared for some black and blue marks

There are a few typical events in a tournament:
1) Forms competition
2) Breaking competition
3) Demonstration team competition
4) Sparring competition

The first 3 are largely one-performance affairs - you choose your form, or your breaking techniques, and you do them once. The best wins.

Sparring is more complicated - it's like a typical bracketed competition. The winners of each match move on to fight the other winners until the gold/silver bout, and the bronze/fourth place bout.

Good times.

Friday, October 26, 2007

How You Advance in Tae Kwon Do

There are many Tae Kwon Do schools across the country, and, as I mentioned in earlier posts, they vary both in terms of culture/philosophy and in other ways. One important variation is what style of Tae Kwon Do the school practices. The major ones:
- World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF)/Kukkiwon - This is the officially sanctioned, Olympic sparring style.
- International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) - The other important Tae Kwon Do association and standards body

ITF and WTF forms and instruction differ - although you are learning Tae Kwon Do in both places, there are stylistic differences which affect forms, rules of competition, etc. Generally, WTF emphasis is more on sport, where as ITF seems more practical.

Another variation you will see is the belt system. In the past, schools had as few as 4-5 belts, but these days, Tae Kwon Do schools generally have 10-15 belts. Why? In part, in recognition of the fact that belts motivate students, so it is important to have recognition of advancement around every 2 months. It can take 3 years to achieve a black belt, and most would have a hard time staying motivated if they were only getting a belt every 7 months.

Both WTF and ITF schools require you to master certain techniques to advance to a new belt, for the most part, in four areas. Regular tests will focus on you demonstrating your knowledge of these skills:
1) Forms - A pattern of footwork and techniques, with the emphasis on your form. Sometimes called poomsae.

2) Self Defense - Self defense techniques are, in a way, like short forms. You execute a pattern of movements - but in this case, the emphasis is on speed and accuracy first and foremost. Often times, self-defense techniques are executed with a master attacking you.

3) Kicking - Each belt has a specific kick associated with it, and each test usually involves a combination of kicks based on that primary kick. Emphasis is on form.

4) Breaking - Breaking techniques can often mirror the kicking technique for the belt, although at lower levels, hand or elbow breaking techniques get you started. At first, you break one board (about 1/2" to 1") At higher levels, you break more boards...

The process of learning is fun, but you may also question how much you are progressing at first. Depending on your school, your master will probably reassure you - the techniques you learn early in your Tae Kwon Do career are repeated in later tests. So don't worry too much - practice daily, work hard, and do your best. Mastery doesn't happen in a day.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Picking a Tae Kwon Do School - Financial

Once you've decided why you want to take up Tae Kwon Do, and which schools seem to fit best with your needs, it's important to consider cost.

In the very old days, instruction was not paid for - some martial arts, like Aikido, still charge "mat fees" only, for upkeep of the dojo (the Japanese term, the Korean is dojang). But that is rare - these days, one needs to feed the kids, pay for gas, etc. Even in the old days, students would find non-monetary ways to compensate the master.

In Tae Kwon Do, it is typical for lessons to be paid for by the month or by the year, with prices ranging from a couple hundred bucks to much less. Paying for a year will generally get you a discount.

But it is really important to note that this is not the only charge you may see for your or your child's lessons:
- Belt tests
- Gear (uniform, sparring gear, weapons, etc.)
- Competitions

These types of charges can double the year's instruction costs, so it is important to plan for it. Some schools are very upfront about these costs, but not all think to mention it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Picking a Tae Kwon Do School - The School

Once you've come to grips with what your reason for taking up Tae Kwon Do is, you'll be prepared to venture out into the world, and look at your options. Armed with your goal (I want to get in better shape), you should think a little bit about what you need out of your Tae Kwon Do school.

For example, as with any exercise, generally, your school should be close to work, close to home, or on the way between the two. Location is important for an obvious reason. If I have to travel out of my way to exercise or train, I will be more likely to 'skip' on a day my motivation is low. So save yourself the trouble. Less than 15 minutes of extra travel time is probably what you should be shooting for.

Now that you've ensured you will physically get there, you need to be sure that the school itself is a place you want to go. This comes down to Regimen, Focus, Instructors, and Fellow Students. The training regimen itself should be challenging, but also interesting and motivating. So if the classes involve running 5 miles and doing a thousand push ups, and you aren't really into that, look for another school.

Similarly, the focus of some schools is "competition" and sparring is a regular event in class. If that isn't your cup of tea, you might prefer focusing on learning techniques, and non-sparring forms of practice.

Finally, the instructor and the other students in the school are going to be a big part of your experience. If you need a patient, easy-going instructor, stay away from drill instructors!

A good way to get a feel for all the issues is to sit down with the master of the school, and to do a trial lesson. Most schools let you sit in on a class before you decide. If they don't offer it, suggest it. Before weighing price, be sure you are choosing between alternatives that are good for you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Picking a Tae Kwon Do School - Your Goal

If you are about to take up Tae Kwon Do, or to enroll your child in a school, it pays to have a sense of how to evaluate Tae Kwon Do schools. The criteria differ a bit for adults and children, but generally, they apply to both.

Your first step in your "due diligence" should be to ask yourself a basic question - "Why am I studying Tae Kwon Do"? Some reasons why people study martial arts:
- To get into shape
- To learn/teach (children) discipline
- To compete
- To be capable of defending yourself
- To participate in a sporting community

There are other, less noble, reasons that people take up martial arts, but these are a few of the basics. Note, depending on your goal, different schools will fit you better or worse.

Purpose of This Blog

Tae Kwon Do is a great sport and a great way to keep your body and mind sharp. But, speaking from experience, it can be challenging to find resources you might need as you begin to learn.

I've found that by watching videos of forms and competitions outside of practice, I've been able to accelerate my progress. And make learning more fun.