Where Is Taekwon-do Heading In The 21st Century?
An interview with Stuart Paul Anslow IV degree about his new book,
Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-do Hae Sul, Real Applications to the ITF Patterns
Interview by Marek Peter Hanzel
An edited version of this interviews appears in the December 2006 issue of Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts Magazine
A ground breaking new study on the applications contained in the patterns studied by Ch'ang Hon (ITF) Taekwon-do students threatens to open up an explosive debate on the way that modern day Taekwon-do is taught. The author, Stuart Anslow, IV degree, hopes that his debut book will lead to what he regards as a long overdue and much needed examination of where the art is heading in the 21st century.
Covering the first seven patterns learnt by students of the art, as well as Saju Jirugi and Saju Makgi, the book explores the numerous realistic applications that can be found in each movement of the patterns as well as their roots, Taekwon-do's development and its differences with other arts such as Shotokan Karate.
Revealing some previously unknown and undocumented applications, the patterns are expertly analysed in great detail by the author over 350 pages. Using step-by-step photographs (1,600 in total) as a guide, the patterns are broken down and shown to contain a great number of realistic self defence techniques including throws, locks and deadly moves designed as they originally were for use on the battlefield by Korean soldiers who were taught that mercy was a fatal weakness.
Already having received rave reviews from a number of readers, both students and instructors, it is shaping up to become a must-read for all Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-do
Marek Peter Handzel caught up with him recently to find out what motivated him to produce the book and what he hopes its readers will get from it.
You state in the book that your desire to write it has "evolved". From concept to finished product, what sort of a time scale are we looking at?
Well, for years I've written articles on all things related to Taekwon-do and how it should (in my opinion) be trained, how certain aspects are not trained as they were meant to be and this book was originally going to cover one of those areas, the most over looked araea - the patterns and patterns training, but as I put pen to paper my enquiring mind wanted more facts, more information, so the book has evolved dramatically since the initial concept to the finished item and as someone who received one of the first copies said, it's so much more than a patterns application book.
Although the patterns applications are the books focal point, it covers many other areas that readers will hopefully find interesting, from the historical background of the art and patterns to Ki in Taekwon-do. To put a time scale on the whole thing is difficult, I suppose the actual book concept has been in production much of my Taekwon-do career, but around 2 years ago I started to write lots of notes of what I already knew, from there it developed into the book. The actual time period from notes to finished book was about a year, so I could research certain areas I felt warranted more in-depth answers.
You're young, British and a 4th degree. Do you fear that people may dismiss your work because you're not 65, Korean and a 8th degree? Are you afraid that you may be exposing yourself to criticism or even ridicule, given the politics and egos that seem to dominate the art at times?
(Laughs) I never thought of that! But no, I'm not bothered if people don't like it or dismiss it as at the end of the day it's their loss. I wrote the book for Taekwon-do, my contribution to the art that I love, it was almost personal in a way. For my students and others that get the book their art will improve in many areas I'm sure, whether they like to admit it or not. If they dismiss it because I'm not Korean, or not an 8th dan etc, they are sadly blinkered and again it's their loss. If dismissed by an instructor, their students loss too, until their student buys a copy and realises there is so much more that they could be learning. The bottom line is that you can't please everyone, I accept that. For those that have more interest in simply learning, improving and getting the most out of their art rather than any political agenda, these are the people I wish to reach as they are the true martial artists out there and the real saviours of their respective arts, be it Taekwon-do or anything else. Thankfully I have had some great feed back already, not only from Korean people but also a highly respected master from one of the large organisations, other high ranks and respected Taekwon-do instructors as well as many other practioners of the art of many nationalities.
One of the most startling revelations in the book (if not the most surprising and controversial) is your assertion that General Choi Hong Hi did not in fact know many of the applications or uses for many moves in the patterns. How sure are you of this?
It's fact, simple history, in the book it charts Taekwon-do's father art of Shotokan, it's on record and widely acknowledged that Funakoshi (the father of modern day Shotokan) wasn't taught the applications, so how could something not learnt be passed on? That said, with the tools he had General Choi and others did an amazing job. This area is explored and examined quite in-depth in the book as it's not an insult to the General but actually an accolade to the hard work and insight that General Choi had back in that era, in what was really a hard job from a tough position. The discussion gives much food for thought I believe!
If this is the case, then how much research did you have to do in terms of tracing arts that Taekwon-do is based on such as Shotokan?
Well, the Shotokan influence is widely acknowledged, even though Taekwon-do has evolved down a different path to Shotokan which makes it unique. The book doesn't just nick applications from Shotokan though it does examine some. The era of formulation for Taekwon-do, the information General Choi had available at the time and what I call Taekwon-do's 'DNA' make-up, all contributed to the conclusions I reached and as many of the moves are now performed differently to Shotokan, this of course became a big factor and meant that many applications can't translate directly from Karate, even if we do know them. In short, I tried to look through the eyes of General Choi and his first generation of pioneering instructors, many of whom had their own applications to certain moves that differ from each other and the General himself.
Many aspects of life and nature are cyclical, do you think that Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-do will come full circle and begin teaching the patterns in the way that they were originally intended to be taught?
I wish! Honestly I would sincerely love that to be the case, but it's an unfortunate thing that the modern world is more focused on money and this will always off-set things such as this, as instructors are afraid of scaring off students, or simply content to do what they do as it earns them money - so why would they change it? I know of other instructors and masters interested in this area and this book enables everyone to pull resources and form a resistance movement, so you never know! After all, Ghandi said; "you have to be the change in the world you want to see." So one pebble at a time! Now if the bigger organisations got involved like I have asked in the book, we could turn it all around for the betterment of the art and every student. Time will tell I guess.
You repeatedly champion Taekwon-do's credentials as a military based martial art and lament the fact that so many instructors simply teach it as a "tagging" sport. But this is now the image of the art with many people dismissing it as being of no use "on the street". How can this image ever change with so many instructors having lost, or never even having been taught applications in so many areas, such as throwing and locks?
They can buy the book, and use it as a resource to go in the right direction, but like I said before it's down to instructors and organisations and many simply will not acknowledge a 'didn't know' attitude as it takes a strong man to do that! Taekwon-do gets a bad rep, but it is the Taekwon-do organisations and many instructors fault to begin with, to increase the arts credibility we all have to strive towards the same ends, though we can all get there by different routes!
I like in the book how you not only detail the actual applications but also discuss their role, how to train them and how to utilise them in real life situations. Why do you feel this was so important?
Well I believe that knowing the applications is one thing and a good thing at that, but making them work is a different ball game, after all, there's no point giving a person a tool but not showing them how to practice and use it, so both knowing and training the applications is important if the student really wants to gain the most benefit from them.
In the book you have actual documentation of how Taekwon-do was utilised on the battlefields, do you think this will alter peoples perception of the art?
Well to many the fact that Taekwon-do was originally formulated as a military martial art is almost a myth due to its worldwide evolution into the sport side of things. Aside from Choi Hong Hi being a General and a few military references he makes there is not much other information available. To read a first hand account of someone who took part in the battle and how they discuss how Taekwon-do itself played a role cements, at least for me, its reputation, other documents in the book further support this and for the first time I believe the student is able to gain an insight into it all and maybe proudly adjust their viewpoint and in turn the way they train because of it!
The introduction sections of the patterns reads like a mini-book on their own and some of the facts are quite startling and you personal observations add a further dimension to them. Was this an important part of the book?
Well that area developed as the book went on as originally it was just about applications and I simply used the standard information as a basic intro that every Taekwon-do student knows. But as I wrote I found this area also became more fascinating to me, so I started adding the extra details I had learnt over the years, then researched further to what you now see in the book. The personal observations are just things I noticed during my study and I hope they also add benefit to their overall practice.
One of your assertions is that teaching many applications within the lower grade patterns should only be shown to higher grades and 1st degrees. If so, then if a student stops learning Taekwon-do for whatever reason at for example, 5th kup, then will they not be short-changed in terms of how many self-defence techniques they actually know? Does this mean that Taekwon-do can only be effective once a student reaches or is very close to their black belt?
No, not at all, it's a simple assertion that black belts have literally more time on their hands than junior grades as in theory their technical side should be pretty good which allows this area to be focused on more readily. I think in-depth training in this area is for higher grades sure, simply due to the reasons I've just stated, but it doesn't mean that lower grades cannot practice applications - it just means they have less time and it makes it harder if they are still learning the patterns themselves or the movements. Besides, you can know a thousand self defence techniques, it's not how many you know, but which ones you can ensure work for you, a black belt has time to practice them more often than a coloured belt. All grades should start to learn various applications, but in-depth study can only be done when one has the time to do so, black belt levels usually allow that time. Taekwon-do after all, like many arts, is a life long study!
What do you hope this book will achieve, do you want it to be translated into other languages, for example?
Translating the book into other languages would be great but ultimately I would like to see Taekwon-do's students to learn the martial art they deserve, not the slimmed down system often seen today which, while it may be fun, it's more a sport than a martial art! Students rarely start a martial art for sport, this is a by-product not 'THE' product!
Why were all 24 patterns not first formulated when Taekwon-do was formed?
Who can say except the General himself? Perhaps we can liken it to a computer program. We have the first release, which is usually pretty good and what the buyer wants, but later come tweaks and updates, perhaps this was the same with Taekwon-do and upon reflection General Choi and others possibly though certain techniques or areas of training were missing, so implemented the other four patterns which co-incidentally fitted in with the "24 hours, 1 day or all my life" statement. Of course it could easily have been the other way around, though I doubt it as in actual fact it took 15 years for the final four patterns to be introduced.
Is the fact that they were slowly introduced over a 25 year or so time period a reason why many applications where never properly learned/developed?
Possibly the early time period was more about learning the art of hand and foot and tweaking and refining it, rather than utilizing the actual movements as thoroughly as possible. Many masters have their own interpretations of applications that differ from one to the other and this is possibly because General Choi's main concern after 1955 was promoting and propagating it round the world. I'm sure he had applications in mind when the patterns were put together, whether these were the original ones (from Shotokan lineage) or new applications needed for that time period. In the push for worldwide acceptance these were over-looked somewhat, perhaps even forgotten or simply not taught for others to pass on. I recall a well known Aikido master (I don't recall his name unfortunately) who saw a student practicing a technique and told him to stop as it was useless. The student asked why and the Aikido master said something like "it's useless because I invented it and even I can't remember what it is for" - perhaps some techniques just seemed good at the time! Just to clarify though, twenty patterns were originally introduced when Taekwon-do was unleashed, followed by the other four. The 25 years period you refer to was about change, refinement and updates not introducing one pattern at a time over a long stretch.
How many different sets of Taekwon-do patterns are there and how similar are they between the ITF and WTF?
Well as far a Taekwon-do goes, you have the original Shotokan katas (the Heians) known in Korean as the 'Pyong-Ahn' hyung (the old name for patterns/kata) as well as Shotokan's black belt kata which a few of the original pioneers would have learnt. Then there are General Choi's 'Ch'ang Hon' tuls known as the 'Blue Cottage' or 'Chon-Ji' patterns which are still practiced by all Ch'ang Hon (ITF based) practitioners today. The WTF, when set up, created their own patterns for reasons I won't go into here. They started with the Palgue patterns which I think were for coloured belt grades, but these were swiftly changed a few years later to the Taegeuk patterns, plus the WTF has their own black belt patterns. I believe the ATA an American organisation created their own forms known as the Song-ham forms, which are trademarked to them, and though I don't believe they are popular on a worldwide scale, the organization (in the USA at least) is very large and could be considered another set. Plus, I believe some smaller groups have instituted their own type of patterns into their organizations, such as the late Grandmaster Park Jung Tae adding some patterns to the Ch'ang Hon set.
How different are they? On the surface they look different, but underneath they share similar if not always identical techniques and thus are bound by common threads throughout. I've no doubt that learning applications from one set can enhance or directly translate to a technique of a completely different set, it may not be the case all the time, but it's more common than not!
How many instructors do you know of in Britain and indeed around the world, who have studied the patterns in Ch'ang Hon as you have?
I know of a few instructors that study Ch'ang Hon applications in a similar vein as I do, some also in different ways, as in more pressure point related applications, though it is possibly under two digits, though I'm hoping that will increase now. That said, I'm sure there's many others I haven't heard of and others still that have useful applications to techniques if not complete patterns and I hope the book can bring these people together so everyone, including me, can enhance their knowledge and better our art, our training and that of our students.
You hint in the book that in fact "there is no right or wrong" way. Is there a danger that people could adopt such an attitude and teach all sorts of false or unworkable applications from moves in the patterns?
The problem is that they already do which was one of the reasons I wrote the book. It dispels many of the old applications taught, as they are unworkable (and in some cases, downright dangerous) and provides a better and more useful alternative that actually works, while at the same time pulling in a few of the better applications taught. Even if an application is not an 'original' (ie. from the Shotokan roots or from the time when Taekwon-do was formed), if it works and is useful and can be used under pressure it is not wrong, just not original. An application which is clearly unworkable should be considered wrong for that student but not wrong for all, but an application which puts the student at risk and /or doesn't work for anyone is probably totally wrong and training would be better spent elsewhere while it's researched!
How easy/hard was it to get students to demonstrate techniques for the camera?
Well we've been doing pattern applications for a while, but in front of a camera it's a different thing entirely. They are not models or actors but martial art students and for a book that is heavy on photographs the small details had to be included. Some applications had to be demonstrated in a realistic way to portray them properly and I think all in all they did an excellent job, but it wasn't easy as they had to portray them in a realistic way as well as make them clear for the camera and not too untidy so that the reader can easily see how they translate out from the pattern. Some of the pictures will make you go 'ouch!' due to the way they were shot!
The book layout is great and a good blend of pictures and the text relating to them. You obviously spent a lot of time and effort in this area?
Many many nights at the computer yes, but it was important for me to ensure the information was transmitted in a way that everyone will understand and that it is clear, so I feel it was time well spent, even more so now as people who don't even read English have commented that it is not such a big drawback due to the many pictures that cover small details.
Starting to seriously research the patterns in depth must have been a daunting task. Where did you start?
My own experiences and those applications that I practice and teach. Then it was a case of simply filling in the holes and further research to find alternatives or better applications.
I like the way the patterns seem to follow a theme and that you have highlighted this with a sub heading for each. Was this intentional?
No, it just the way they panned out. Perhaps this was the original intention. Either way, it's a useful way to recall applications whilst practicing and helps with the visualisation aspects when performing solo.
You have also mentioned what one may term "Historical Applications" that even by your own word are now out-dated, why did you mention these and are they relevant?
They are relevant from a historical aspect to give the student a deeper understanding of the art they are practising and where it came from and although I have detailed many of these, I have also given the student alternatives to practice so no training is wasted.
You've had some great responses so far, everyone who's read it seems impressed, one stated that its "The most important book published on Taekwon-do since the encyclopaedia" how do you feel about that?
The response so far has been fantastic and that quote is obviously an accolade in itself which I'm totally flattered by. I didn't expect such responses as I've been working applications for years and they are just normal things to me, the book took quite a while so things that to me were once exciting and new have also now become standard almost to the point where you forget that not everyone teaches Taekwon-do this way, so the great reception it has received has been brilliant and has made the effort all the more worth while.
From the reviews I see the book transcends organisations to the point where its beneficial to every organisation that practices the Chang Hon forms in their various guises, from the ITF groups, to TAGB students as well as some that don't even use this forms set, how did you manage to please so many groups with all the small differences in the way the techniques are performed?
Well I guess the fact that it focuses more on the application rather than minute details of solo pattern performance is a key point. Many changes made to the patterns were based around the image that they are simple strikes and blocks, but as the book shows this is not the case, so the changes do not affect the applications that much really making it useful for all camps that wish to train in this way.
Do you think the heads of the various Taekwon-do organisations will take up the gauntlet you have laid down in the book?
It would be great if they did and it would be a major driving force into bringing Taekwon-do's status back where it belongs. Many instructors and students hands are tied by the organisations requirements and if they would take on board what the book proposes then the students and instructors would be able to implement this side of Taekwon-do more thoroughly and thus benefit directly, rather than having to try and do it on their own or squeeze bits in when time permits. Then again, time will tell. If their student body is the most important aspect of their organisation then I guess it will show now!
How do you implement all this within your own schools curriculum?
Well students learn applications and practice and test them as they go up the grades. More senior grades are taught how to incorporate applications into both Hosinsol and traditional free sparring where we use various forms of sparring to aid this, until it become part of the whole. Both hosinsol and traditional free sparring are part of the grading requirements for senior graded coloured belts. Black belts also have requirements in their syllabus where they have to demonstrate and teach whole patterns and their applications to classes as part of their actual grade requirements. All this goes a long way to ensure applications, their usage and their practice are ingrained into the students.
You have two great forewords in the book, one from Iain Abernethy whom is a leader in the field of Karate Bunkai. Why did you choose him and Mr Rhee for the forewords?
Well as you say, Iain's a leader in his field which is of course a similar field to this, so his approval for me meant so much. I was very pleased he said he'd write a foreword but his approval of its content, even if he chose not to get involved any further meant a lot to me personally because of the respect I hold for him. Mr Rhee is obviously Korean, a Taekwon-do instructor himself and has a great lineage back through first generation pioneers. His father was in the Korean military training martial arts when Taekwon-do became Taekwon-do, so saw first hand the things that went on. His opinion is highly regarded by many and as well as being a friend of mine, I too hold him in the highest regards and respect his knowledge and opinions, I see him as a Taekwon-do 'old guard' (in the nicest possible way of course).
Are you planning any seminars to accompany the book to aid those that want to make the transition to include this type of training or indeed simply train more in this area?
It wasn't something that I even thought of when writing the book though since its release I've had a couple of the readers ask the same thing, so if there's a call for them, then why not if it helps the art.
Finally, many thanks for doing this interview. I wish you continued success with the book and hope it brings Taekwon-do the credibility it deserves.
No, thank you for taking the trouble to do it
Author: Marek Peter Handzel, Journalist
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