Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Tang Soo Do - training like the Koreans did

I'm typing this morning with knuckles that are very sore. Grandmaster Richard Byrne ran a special seminar last night in which he talked about, and we went through, a class modeled on the training classes in Korea when he learned.

In the late 60s, Grandmaster Byrne went to Korea as a member of the United States Army. And while he was there, he joined the school run by Master C.S. Kim at Osan Air Force base, and learned Tang Soo Do. (The most famous Tang Soo Do practitioner from that school is probably Chuck Norris.) He's been studying and teaching for over 35 years now. In addition to being a Tang Soo Do grand-master, he holds black belts in Shotokan and Tae Kwan Do. He holds several world records in breaking (including 15 boards with an elbow smash, which he just accomplished in March of 2005 at his annual tournament.) He's a two time world "Shoot Fighting" champion (which is, as near as I can tell, a version of "full-contact karate" or "ultimate fighting championship". He's a former professional wrestler. He's 6'5" and 265. He's a big, tough guy.

And he's a fantastic martial artist and teacher of martial arts.

The class last night was an opportunity for him to impart more of the training methods of the koreans, the training that he did when he was just starting out. It's difficult, in our society, to commit to training the way they did in Korea. Our classes tend to be an hour at a time. In Korea, Grandmaster Byrne was training in 3 hour classes, 6 days a week, and twice a day twice a week. Most of us don't spend that long on anything we don't get paid for.

"I don't think that they were necessarily better martial artists. But they were tougher martial artists, because of the training they did..."
- Grandmaster Richard Byrne
    So, the class:

  • Upon entering the studio, each student performed 20 hard punches with each hand on the makiwara pad. The striking surface was padded but not soft, and covered with burlap. For the first two weeks, knuckles would be bleeding at the end of the punches. After a couple of weeks, knuckles wouldn't bleed anymore. The pad we hit last night was not covered with burlap, and my knuckles didn't bleed. But 20 hard punches to a barely padded surface has left them sore and swollen.


  • The next thing we did was work on toughening shins and forearms. In a seated position, with a thick dowel, they'd push their forearms down as hard as possible on the dowel and roll them back and forth 20 times, rolling on the bone of the arm. Then, they would roll the pole on their shins, as hard as possible, 20 times up and down. Toughening the bone.


  • Class starts with bowing in. Normally, we stretch as a group. We do a lot of static stretching. According to the grand-master, they didn't do group stretching in Korea. There was a little bit of dynamic stretching, where you might use a partner to help maintain balance, but there wasn't the kind of static stretching that we do, where you have a partner push your leg up in a side or front kick position.

    His thought is that the Koreans did stretch. They just didn't do it in class. Much like lifting weights, he thinks it was the kind of activity that was considered to be the practitioners own responsibility, and they didn't want to waste time during class with it.


  • Line forms. Much of that was, of course, very similar to what we do. The blocks and strikes haven't changed, but there were a couple of things that we did a little bit differently.
    1. The load for han dan mahkee (low) was different than we normally do. Instead of loading with the non-blocking hand extended, it was raised, and in front of the blocking hand.

    2. The terminology for "double-block" or "two-handed reinforced block" has changed. What we now call sang soo mahkee, they called yang pahl mahkee.

    3. The loads for center and low chops were significantly different. Rather than loading the center chop from the hip as we do know, they loaded extended behind. The low chop also extended behind. (Doing it, I realized that I've seen it before. What I'm uncertain of is whether those loads are in any of the traditional forms or only in Chil Song forms.)


  • After working through line forms doing hand techniques, we went into bahl cha gi chun bee and did ahp podo oll ri gi, front stretch kicks. From there, we did line form kicks, front, side, round.

    I suspect that we spent much less time doing line forms than the Korean class would have spent. Grandmaster Byrne stopped to teach between drills, talking about the environment and sharing philosophy with us. I have the impression that the classes he was in would have spent less time talking and more time working techniques.


  • After line forms, we worked forms. Again, these are forms that are the same forms that we do now, so this section of the class was just the same as we typically go through.


  • Following form work, there would have been sparring, though we were running out of time last night, and didn't do that. We fell in, did knuckle push-ups and bowed out.


  • He had a tape of some home movies that had been taken of a Tang Soo Do demonstration that he'd participated in at Osan when he was a green belt, and of some demonstration that he'd done at a village after he'd earned his black belt. That wrapped up the evening.



There were a couple of other tid-bits that were related to the Korean training that he talked about.

  • The training took place in a quonset hut, 90-100 degrees.


  • One time he was holding a position while the master was correcting someone else. He reached up to wipe the sweat out of his eyes, and the master came over and slapped him across the face - hard. They did not move unless they were told to move. Discipline was important, and maintained at all times.


  • The lower belts had to clean, sweep, after every class. The black belts would toss them the brooms and mops and mock them while they were doing it, point out spots that they missed. People that weren't willing to put up with the structure and discipline didn't learn Tang Soo Do.


  • Where we get new belts with promotions, there, the master would take the white belt, and bring it back to the next class, having been covered with green cloth to make the green belt. Likewise with the red and black. When you were a black belt, you were wearing all of the belts that you'd earned around your waist, as the black was over the red, which was over the green, which was over the white.


In any event, it was an interesting evening. It wasn't a full-fledged training session as they'd have done, but it was an interesting look at, and fascinating insight into, what those sessions were.

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