Updated: Mar 11, 2021
In this post, I want to explain the purpose of basic techniques in Tang Soo Do.
What do I mean by ‘basic techniques’? The term ‘basic techniques’ or ‘basics’ refers to the stances, strikes, blocks, kicks, and combinations that make up everything we do. These are referred to as the foundation of our martial art since without solid basic techniques, our technique would crumble (think of the 3 Little Pigs - the house built on strong foundations using good techniques, the brick house, stayed standing, whilst the Straw House blew away and the House made of Sticks fell down). Ever heard me describe myself as ‘the stance pedant’? There’s a reason for this - and it’s not my OCD.
We spend a significant amount of time working on the basic techniques, with as Beginners but also during classes for more advanced students. The basics will form a part, large or small, of every class. When viewed by outsiders, basic technique practice can look good but not very applicable to actual combat.
Some of the reasons why we practice basic techniques as we do is as follows:
It creates and reinforces muscle memory - repeatedly doing the same thing well, over and over again, helps to train the body to eventually do it without thinking
It allows you to focus on the details - doing a single technique over and over again allows you to correct faults, analyse its effectiveness, maximise speed & power, and ensure details such as striking area & strike point are correct
It enables you to break down complicated applications - doing a single technique at a time will allow you to perfect the technique prior to adding it to other techniques in a more complicated sequence. Think of your Forms/Hyungs; whilst they have other meaning & application, they are nothing more than a collection of techniques
It allows us to exercise our full range of power - working with a partner & using pads has advantages but in this instance, you can do the techniques with full range of motion and with full power without the danger of injury to a partner
When you look at some martial arts stances, you often see long, wide, low or uncomfortable stances. Tang Soo Do is by no means extreme in this respect. Whilst impressive, you may think that no one would actually stand like that in a fight. You are of course both right and wrong. Watching two people fight, you will not see classic martial arts stances, but you will see glimpses of various stances.
The primary advantage of good stances is stability & reach. I have often demonstrated simple self-defence from a punch or kick using stances alone. If someone were to push, pull, strike or attempt to throw you, a proper stance will help ensure your balance & posture remain intact. Good balance & posture translate into power. By moving from stance to stance and doing basic strikes from stances, we can maximise our power and learn to do them from a stable position.
A typical simple Tang Soo Do style punch has the practitioner in a front stance with the punch fully extended & the other hand chambered (held by their side, up on the ribs). If you watch boxing, which is all about punching, you never see this. That’s because punches in karate are much different. The chambered hand is sometimes called the pulling hand - we are training to pull our opponent towards us with one hand and strike with the other. The hand comes all the way back to the side because we are training to do the technique fully. By pulling them towards you as you strike, in a stable stance, using hip twisting, you will generate maximum force.
Just like with a strike, a typical simple Tang Soo Do block is done from a solid stance with chambered hand. You won’t see this ‘exaggerated’ blocking motion done in a street brawl. If you did just block like this, you could be leaving yourself wide open in several other forms of attack. In martial arts, there are many different types of blocks - single handed, double handed, open handed, locking blocks, etc. In each of these blocks, it is not just about the end point; it is also about how you get there. Every part of the blocking motion, from start to finish, has a purpose.
We must also think about blocks not just being blocks. Many of you will have heard me describe a block as a strike that stops you getting hit, so they can be so much more than that. There could be strikes, locks, parries, throws, etc. Think about a typical low block - the pulling hand could be pulling on the wrist while the blocking hand is actually applying pressure downward on the elbow, making it an arm lock.
When you talk with someone about martial arts, and particularly those in the karate/Tang Soo Do/Taekwando family, chances are they immediately think of kicks. The fact is that Tang Soo Do is a fair balance of hand techniques & kicks. If you look at our Hyungs/Forms, then hand techniques will figure more highly than kicks.
So why do martial arts get known for kicks? Well, they look impressive & movies, competition & demonstrations will often feature them to show the most athletic impressive & super high kicks. As i say in class, a well executed kick to the knee is not as impressive to the spectator, but is way more effective for self-defence. I don’t dismiss high kicks - what I advocate is training to kick at vital target areas, some of which will be high. We need to understand the benefits and downfalls to kicking at each of those areas.
Mention martial arts & it’s not long before they think ‘Karate Kid’ & the infamous jump kick at the end. Jumping kicks and spinning kicks can often look really impressive, but they are high risk in real life. Executed well, they can be devastating, so they can also be high reward. You gain power, but sacrifice time & you can often telegraph your intentions to your opponent. However, by practicing them in class & improving our body control via jumping & spinning, our standing kick technique will only improve.
After practicing single hand or kick techniques, the next critical step in the process is to put them together to form combinations. Combinations are still small in the combative big picture, but by starting to put 2 or 3 things together in sequence, we start to build up a library of combinations that can be called upon in action. As with single techniques, we are still trying to teach our bodies to execute them fully & correctly, not cutting them short because there are now more than one. Although you can put an infinite number of techniques together to form a combination, we try to put thought into them so that they flow & make sense - they need to have a useful application. Thinking about combinations & putting them together, the next logical step is to a Form/Hyung.
So, next time you are doing basic techniques & you think this is not useful, maybe you will think about some of the topics raised here. It’s all part of a grander plan…