Thursday, November 29, 2007

When You're Learning, Sometimes You Need To Have Some Fun

Earning a black belt can take 3-4 years. Becoming really proficient in Tae Kwon Do, or in martial arts can take a lifetime.

So let's face it - you need to make time for fun in your training.

This video from the 2007 Goodwill Tour is fun to watch. Heck, it might even inspire you to work harder, so you can be as good as these gents are!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Form, Power, and The "Snap"

Whether you are training to spar, to compete in forms, or for self-defense, part of mastering a technique is to generate power using good form. And the snap is a crucial.

But what is the snap? At it's most basic, it is a whip action, a very quick motion to finish a technique that creates the same kind of crack that a whip would. In many martial arts demonstration videos, you can hear the sound of the snap (real or added) at the moment of impact of a punch, kick or block.

First, let's say that the snap is on the level of a more advanced technique - something you should shoot for, but may not be successful at until you become more advanced. Part of the reason that the Tae Kwon Do belt structure rotates through learning, and then repeating different kicks, blocks, stances, and hand techniques is that your learning goes in phases:
- Learning the basic move (often your form will not be great)
- Mastering the basic move
- Learning a more advanced style
- Mastering the advanced style
- Refining your control, timing, form and power

Since you need flexibility and strength to complete any technique, in the beginning, the focus is not on form as much as trying to build up your ability to complete the technique. Later, when you have more strength, flexibility, and awareness of what the technique is about, you can refine your form.

The "snap" is critical refinement which affects your power, your form, and success as a competitor. You will eventually find that every technique can and should be done with a snap. In a forms competition, the sound and look of a technique executed with a snap will score higher; in sparring, the snap may make the difference between scoring a point or not, because the "snapped" kick will make a louder sound on your opponent.

In practice, a snapped kick will deliver more speed and power, and set you up better for your next technique in many cases.

How do I snap? The snap is different for each technique - for punches and blocks, the snap involves a twist of the wrist and hand at the end of the technique. For kicks, like the front kick and roundhouse kick, the snap is created by what happens after impact, i.e, your lower leg quickly retracting back to its position before impact.

Monday, November 12, 2007

All Pre-Black Belt Forms Videos

Forms 1-8, the forms you will learn on your way to Black Belt. Watching videos is, at least to me, a lot more helpful than reading text.

Taeguk Il Jang (1)

Taeguk E Jang (2)

Taeguk Sam Jang (3)

Taeguk Sa Jang (4)

Taeguk Oh Jang (5)

Taeguk Yuk Jang (6)

Taeguk Chil Jang (7)

Taeguk Pal Jang (8)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why Am I Stretching? When Do We Get To The Jumping and The Spinning?

To outsiders, the study of martial arts can seem like the simple pursuit of the ability to beat some one else in a fight. Or to do really cool jumping spinning kicks!

For this very reason, some activities you engage in when studying a martial art at first may make no sense.

But every exercise in Tae Kwon Do has its purpose, which becomes especially clear when you consider that the true goal of a martial arts class is to help you perfect the art. The reasons behind you taking the class may change (you need to defend yourself from marauders, your career will be in the military, you want to become fit and confident, and so on), but the purpose of the structure and activities with the art are intended to help you perfect it.

So let's expose the purpose of some activities in martial arts:

1. Stretching - A key issue in all martial arts is flexibility. Flexibility is important to doing individual techniques correctly, but also to ensuring you don't hurt yourself (and have to stop your training for a month or more).

2. Warm ups/Strength Training Exercises - If your muscles aren't warm, they don't stretch as well, and you run a greater risk of injury. So warming up is important. Strength is important as well, both to help you complete a technique with good form, but also to increase your power in striking, hitting, or throwing.

3. Individual Technique Practice - In your average martial arts class, there will be a part of the class where you will repeat one technique many times. This could be kicking, punching, blocking, or footwork, but generally, the idea is to focus on that one kick, that one block, that one strike, and focus on perfecting your technique. Usually, your master will observe students as they perform the technique, and offer guidance. If you can't punch with perfect form in a controlled setting, you won't punch well when sparring.

4. Forms - Forms test a series of different things, but they involve using all the techniques you should know at your level. The point of practicing forms is to practice your individual techniques in a series - when you perform a form, you should make every motion exactly. That means breathing correctly, using solid stances and good footwork, relaxing your body in between strikes and snaps, and performing blocks, kicks, and strikes precisely. Like individual technique practice, forms provide a controlled setting for practicing - simulated reality.

5. "Self-Defense" Techniques - These techniques are generally not about form primarily (although good form is always important). First and foremost, self-defense techniques are about speed and accuracy - they prepare you to put together movements when actually being attacked at speed. Of course, like forms, self-defense techniques also provide strength training.

6. Sparring - Well, the purpose here is fairly clear - this is the closest you come in a martial arts program to an actual fight. This is your chance to use what you've learned, but also to add to it a new element - competition. Your opponent will try to surprise you and trick you, so you will have to not only perform your technique with good form, speed and power, but also select the right technique!

7. Courtesy, Rituals, Respect - There is one final element to what we do when we train in a martial art. We wear a special uniform. We go to a special place, use special equipment. We also show respect by bowing to other members of the school and our masters, using the words sir and ma'am to refer others, and by removing our shoes and bowing when we enter our school. This might be the hardest aspect of martial arts to understand - what does this have to do with learning to fight? Well, a lot, actually. Even in more modern sports, sportsman-like conduct is important. Showing respect for people who know more than you, who you are learning from is important. The rituals and attitude we bring to our training is important because it shows that we are ready to learn, ready to pursue excellence.

Armed with this understanding, hopefully you'll be a bit more patient when things are quite as exciting!