My journey began in a martial practice very different to how we train nowadays. It was a simpler time when a kick was a kick, and a block … well, was supposed to block those kicks. Not much thought was put into the martial art beyond just memorising a new pattern, getting through the aerobically challenging class, and stretching our leg muscles out.
A lot changed when I got to the US. I studied American Karate, which was actually Traditional Taekwondo. Since black belts trained for free I also embarked (read ‘freeload’) on my school’s Aikido training. And of course, in the meanwhile, I got the stuffing beaten out of me until I figured out how to block better and counter. LOL. Honestly though, the Aikido offering was hugely confusing to me. As a hard stylist, probably only knowing how to twist the wrist in about 3-4 ways and doing the most basic of throws, the ‘soft style’ approach was a huge departure and took me for a spin. But I stuck with it and eventually grew to love it.
In the last 15 years, I have modified my hard style curriculum extensively to take into consideration the fact that hard stylists are not soft stylists. 🙂 Hard stylists are taught to strike, cover, block, and counter. By hard I mean ‘linear’ but sometimes hard stylists are know for their staccato one-two moves that are drilled into practitioners from an early stage. So when the practitioner starts to ‘flow’ … meaning they’re figuring out that there is more to the martial arts than the ‘end point’ of striking, this ability to use the rest of the flight path of our techniques helps the practitioner deal equally well in both longer and shorter ranges.
In my exposure to Aikido, it seems the study is focusing on the relation you have between your centre of gravity to your opponent’s centre of gravity. The aikidoka attempts to disrupt the opponent’s body, throwing him out of the base or collapsing him onto his base. The hard stylist does not have this focus. The hard stylist just wants to smack the person around and take him as a shield.
Where the overlap occurs is when the hard stylist ‘flows’ and comes in close. Strikes and blocks tend to meld with each other, and this is where unlocking the secrets of kata or hyung is at. As I said previously, I don’t think hard stylists are soft stylists. We don’t chase the lock, we don’t prefer twisting the wrist. If it presents itself, we might apply it … probably with not much finesse but it might happen.
While not the most perfect example for this post, look at the application in Toi-gye W Block. Nothing there is from any aikido class I’ve taken. Sure, concepts marry well with aikido concepts, but that is straight out of the pattern Toi-gye, the sequence of which was in turn inspired by Karate kata Jitte.
Where I think grabs, falls, and takedowns is at for hard stylists is when we get close and go for the body itself. Neck control and manipulation (like a neck throw forward, tenchinage, etc), shoulder grabs and takedown (takiotoshi, kaitenage, ude garami, etc), leg grab and sweep/takedowns, etc. All these work surprisingly well when combined with close quarter strikes inspired by the very ‘blocks’ we have in our patterns.
Where the challenge remains is to ‘feed’ the practitioner these concepts and skills bit by bit throughout their progression – I think this is a poor way to teach locks and throws. It is far better to teach them a few locks and throws based on a theme. For instance, here we have us tilting the neck backwards. Let’s do it from the front. Let’s do it from the back. Let’s do it from the side. Let’s do it from the other side. There you go – 6 takedowns under your belt. The next time we do it, we can put our elbow on the neck and do the same, instead of putting our whole arm in front of the neck from the back, we grab the hair. There you go, another handful of variations but along the same concept. Hard stylists being ‘linear’ need this type of training ‘diet’. LOL. No disrespect intended of course, but hard stylists are very very one track … and it is up to the instructor to understand this and hopefully impart the necessary skills.
- JDK’s Lock and Throws Workshop
- Yul-gok: If you control the head, you control the body
- DCTKD’s Article Toward a Broader Curriculum