BBM has a post HERE which got me to thinking about taekwondo’s hosinsul (aka escapes from grabs and holds). Hosinsul is usually called “self-defense” but I always say that’s a bit of a misnomer because all of taekwondo’s techniques can be considered “self-defense.”
During Hosinsul, the students learn how to defend against grappling and strangling, and how to use leverage to throw an opponent. The students also learn an important, but often neglected skill in TKD academies: the art of falling.
Some schools are still very traditional so their techniques are very similar to that of karate. Here you may see an inordinately high number of escapes from wrist grabs. On the other end of that spectrum are schools that are so modernized that they include ground fighting in their hosinsul (I know of at least one school in Bloomington Indiana that does).
Approximately 15 years ago when I still had my hand in corrections (paramilitary) and the military we were taught “self-defense”. Both systems stressed the difference between gross and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills are simple, large-muscle group actions like squats, pushups and push/pull-type movements. This includes basic fighting skills like a straight punch, a hook punch or a Thai boxer’s knee strike for example. Unlike fine and complex motor skills, gross motor skills DO NOT deteriorate under stress. In fact, they are enhanced by the affects of fear and stress.  This means that martial artists should use these skills in stressful situations.
Most of what the DOC and military taught where gross motor skills. Part because they work and part because it can take months or years to develop a fine motor technique to the point of where it would actually work in a real-world situation.
Within the AMAA (our accrediting body) we have 22 self-defense techniques to learn for the black belt test. In my estimation about one third of them are likely not to work. These are the hold over techniques from schools in our system that wish to hold on to tradition. The problem is that the masters voted and some of these technique made it into the curriculum! Here’s an example of one that I personally do not like:
- Attacker grabs your wrists from behind
- Defender drops to horse stance while drawing arms in to center of body
- Defender now has back to opponent in horse riding stance and grabs a wrist, then steps forward and throws opponent
Looks interesting choreographed but it would be suicide to use! First, you are in horse stance with your back to your opponent. Second, if you drop and draw correctly you almost always break your opponent’s grip. Consequently, this makes the rest of the self-defense step pointless because you are no longer holding a wrist and cannot throw your opponent.
So, for the third that would likely not work, I consider them an exercise in hand-eye coordination.
When Sabum (aka the founder) learned of my background he would always have me honestly evaluate the techniques based on what I saw go right (or wrong) in corrections. He also had studied other martial arts including hapkido and judo so he shared my concerns. The great thing about they way he taught taekwondo is that he was aware that taekwondo has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. Sadly, not all tko instructors or masters realize this.
When we have a fair number of students in class our school will often conduct an exercise where everyone takes turns defending from someone who is attacking. The catch is that they will not tell you how they are attacking. So based on what you learned in class, elsewhere, etc., you have to defend yourself realistically. Time and time again the winning techniques are usually the ones that rely on gross motor skills:
- Most of tko’s kicks, strikes, and chops
- Simple shoulder or hip throws
- Basic blocks
- Evasion via footwork, slipping, etc
The losers tend to be some of the wrist locks and most of the pressure points. Granted, some of these techniques work very well but they require precise timing and execution with a very small margin of error. Add stress and adrenaline from really being attacked and it’s usually enough to overload that margin of error.
My scare story from the prison yard. I always tell this to new students because it really puts any “self-defense” technique into perspective.
One of the gross motor skills that the DOC taught was a simple head or face push from a deep front stance. Well one day on the yard a new cadet had an inmate get in their face. After failing to comply with a direct order to back off said cadet used the patented head push. It worked spectacularly. Said inmate went back and fell in a heap while his buddies laughed at him. Well the inmate got up mad and proceeded to to tackle the cadet. Luckily several of us were close by and saved the day.
The lesson is two fold: 1) Always be prepared for a technique to fail and 2) If your technique works follow it through to the end.
(Update: In what I would call a martial arts mind meld Nathan over at TDA has opened a thread in the Convocation that gets at this topic. Post here, post there, or post at both locations!)
[tags]martial arts, taekwondo[/tags]