Rock Pushing

Saturday, February 7th, 2015


A Movement Comparison


It is a common practice to compare martial arts by their differences. In this discussion I would like to compare movements from three arts TKD, Tai Chi, and Xing-yi, by their similarities. I am not trying to say that the movements are completely identical—at least in the way that we perceive them, but that by looking at how each art emphasizes a different aspect we can gain a greater understanding of how each arts focus can help us in our own. The applications feed into each other much more readily than most would realize, or that various practitioners would even admit.

To describe in detail the dynamics of each motion is far beyond the scope of this discussion, indeed it can involve years of study. I am going to try to get the basics of each across.

  1. Rock Pushing (Bawl-Milgi): this movement is from the WTF poomse Sipjin. It consists of both hands starting from the waist of the opposite side and rise with a pushing motion, palms forward (slow with tension). Commonly described as either an internal power generator (Chi-Kung type), knocking aside something like a jumping sidekick, or just pushing something away.








2.Fair Lady at Shuttle: In this movement as the body turns at the waist and the weight shifts forward, the lower arm rolls upward to above the head, palm facing forward. The other hand moves straight, palm open and front facing in what we would call a palm heel strike. Note that just before impact the palm “sits” (i.e. extends sharply, exposing the heel of the palm). The movement is designed to rotate the body of the incoming attacker so that he has lost his stability, at this point the defender can either push or strike with the straight palm. In either case the defender will usually go flying. It is important to note that the Tai Chi practitioner is primarily using his postural/structural integrity not his muscular strength to achieve this. The attacker has the feeling that he walked into a solid object that has somehow slid past his attack.





  • 3.Fire Fist: One of the five basic fists of Xing-Yi: in this movement the feet come together and the body is launched forward, usually on a diagonal. At the same time the forward had rises and performs an upper sweeping motion, which we would call a high block. The bottom hand strikes its target with a vertical fist. All of these motions occur simultaneously at great speed, and the contact is made before the attackers weight is fully grounded. This ensures that all of the mass of the defender is directed into his attack. Immediately the defenders rear foot with a quick hopping stamp, returns to its original posture, thus allowing the attack to be quickly relaunched if needed. It is this staccato like continual motion that gives Xing-Yi its unique flavor. The effect is like having a giant boulder crashing into you.









So where do these examples lead us? I started off by saying that all of them feed into each other in many ways, but as TKD practitioners do we ever take the time to look at other arts and re-interpret what they do in light of what we do?

Could we not take that movement from our form and by changing our intent make it work as it does in those other arts. Wouldn’t our “vocabulary” of applications be increased?

I have heard many arguments on “stylistic purity”, “traditional versus non traditional”, “It’s not Korean”. It is my personal opinion that almost all of that kind of thinking is nonsense. Nothing ever existed in a vacuum, everybody used whatever worked for them, and it really never mattered where it came from except in some Kung Fu movies.

Does this mean that the basic syllabus of a given style should be ignored and techniques grabbed from anywhere? No, techniques are not principles. I believe that one has to have a grasp of the principles of any art. Only then can you really begin to interpret how the principles are applied in another.


Exploring Body Subtleties

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

Recently, while strolling through New York’s Central Park with Totally TKD magazine’s esteemed editor, his daughter, and frequent contributor Master Vitale, I went on my usual rant concerning the loss of subtlety in the arts these days. it occurred to me that I never really fully explained what I meant. so picking up from my first attempt at discussing this (TTKD # 51) I will attempt to return to the matter with greater clarity.

In my previous discussion we concerned ourselves with the small details that assisted in making our movements and stances more effective. Since the title did mention the wrist, I feel, in the interest of truth in advertising, we should start our present discussion with a look at how a tiny change in wrist position can alter a technique dramatically.


As our base example let’s start with “making” a proper fist. the first issue for most beginners is alignment. this is actually quite easy. have the student point at something in the distance. Then all they have to do is fold the index finger back and they will have a properly aligned fist.




Now let’s dive deeper. most people when forming the fist will fold the thumb over both the index and middle finger. this reduces the integrity of the wrist and fist.

here is how to test it:

Make a fist with the thumb over both fingers. Have a partner place one hand at the base of your wrist and the other on the top of your fist. His job is to bend your wrist–yours is to keep it straight. Most of the time, unless your wrist is very strong, your partner will succeed in bending it. Note the amount of effort you need to use to maintain your position.








Now do the same things but this time only allow the thumb to cover the index finger. Repeat the test as above. Suddenly your partner has to really sweat to get anywhere. Most of the time they will not succeed in getting your wrist to bend. You will feel that there is almost no effort on your part.






All of that from just a slight repositioning of the thumb!

The position of the thumb can actually have system wide effects-in essence changing the relative strength and energy of the entire body. That discussion however is beyond the scope of this article.



I have mentioned this in other contexts but I here am remaining with basic punches. Most TKD people punch with a fully pronated (horizontal) fist. Without being careful this leads to some problems, the primary one being the position of the elbow. For maximum effect the elbow must always point downward!





Let’s demonstrate that:

Make a fist and hold your arm out to the side at shoulder level. Have your partner put their hand on your upper arm just above the elbow. Your job is to push him moving your arm forward. Again, you will find it takes a fair amount of effort, and may not succeed in moving him at all.





This time, keeping the same bend, place your arm at your side, so that the elbow faces down. Your partner places his hand as before. Now push forward as if you were executing a punch. Note how much stronger you are! You may actually be able to move your partner.






You get to decide which you prefer, elbow out or elbow down.



We tend not to pay much attention to the position of our feet when executing our techniques, but once again the position of our foot can have a systemic effect throughout the body.

Another experiment:

Stand in a forward stance with your arm in front of you as if you have just executed a forward punch. Take care to position both feet facing forward. Have your partner place his hand on the top of your wrist and push down as you resist. Note how much effort is required by you to do this.






Keeping everything the same, rotate your rear foot to the outside. Have your partner retest by pushing down. Did your arm collapse? Did it feel as if the available muscle power just left for a lunch break?







Think about how common this foot position is among TKD practitioners. You see it almost everywhere. Now think about the effect it is having on them.

I suppose that this is a byproduct of our fast moving lives, where information is blasted at us at a frenetic rate, but much of value is lost in this manner. We teach our techniques and forms to a large group, and do our best to make sure they get it right, and, to a large extent they do. For many though, the tiny details that make things work dont get through. In the end, what looks right becomes what is right. The rest is covered up by muscular strength, momentum, flashy stuff, or often, just ignored.


That is how I began my last article on the idea of subtlety. I feel that it remains as relevant today as it ever was. It is my hope that the presentation and the above exercises will spark a renewed interest in the details, however seemingly minor, and how they can cause huge changes. Of course, this is just scratching the surface. There are many other things to be aware of, and later on you will learn how to exploit these in your opponent, many times by causing these things to happen. Perhaps when I get around to “part 3”

Lastly I have included these tests for two reasons: one, it has been my experience that many people just don’t believe this until they experience it themselves, and two, as I always tell my students “take nothing I say on faith–make it work!”

Our final coda: Pay attention even to trifles- Miyamoto Musashi



Richard Conceicao would like to thank Master Gary Stevens and A. Ramos of Gary Stevens TKD, Glenn Rock, New Jersey for their assistance in these photos.


He is als o available to demonstrate this sort of weird stuff in person to non believers as it happens all the time.

Tong-Milgi the opening of Koryo

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


by Richard Conceicao 

koryo open-1 




The hand position that is the beginning of Koryo poomse is described in many ways, ranging from a Chi Kung energy concentration to the more fanciful “gazing at the sun”. In this discussion I would like to propose an alternate interpretation of this movement, and the subsequent knife hand block.

For those unfamiliar with the form: both hands rise from stomach area, close to the body, to face level. They are then pushed forward with the side of the hands straight out. A knife hand blocking movement to the left follows this.

Our targets for this initial strike lie on the Stomach meridian. Specifically, St. 1,2,3. These points lie on the face in a straight line dropped from the pupils of the eye to the level of the bottom of the nose.

 koryo open-3 koryo open-2

These points are symmetrical and will be found on both sides of the face.

We will be striking with the outside edges of the hands—Knife hand edge.

Of course this can be struck with only one hand, but since hitting on both sides of the body always has a more amplified effect, we will demonstrate it as the form does.

The key to success in this is to not allow the opponent to see the attack coming. If you just stick your hands in their face, they will simply block them. You have to raise your hands below their line of sight. This can be done by holding them close to your body, as the form does, or close to theirs.

The goal of the strike is to knock their head back and disorient them. Once this is done we move the next part.

koryo open-4

Instead of viewing this as the so called “knife hand block”. Let us instead view it as a continuation of the prior defensive movements.

In this scenario (above), we have just pre­empted an attack, and in the brief interval created, we reach out to their opposite arm (in this case our right to their right), and with our other hand hit the opposite side of the neck.

By shifting to a back stance and continuing the knife hand block movement exactly as it is done in the form, the opponent will thrown to the ground. Of course, as the form is symmetrical, the technique works to either side.

CAUTIONARY NOTE: while these techniques are paired together, as they are in the form, either of them, taken alone, isperfectly capable of effecting a knockout, or causing serious injury. Please use only very light pressure when practicing.

Here is a video of the technique:

Richard would like to thank Master Mike Barnard and his instructors D. Macri, D. Post, and H. Stehlik of Han Ho Martial Arts for their kind participation. Also Bob Adams of RADesigns for the photography


*top image R. Chun “TKD Spirit and Practice” YMAA publications copyright 2002




reality and ritual

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Reality & Ritual

By Richard Conceicao

One day among a group of TKD students, I had the opportunity to train with a law enforcement instructor in some basic control techniques. It was fun to go over things that I haven’t done in years. The hard part was forcing myself to do it his way, as you find your muscle memory moving you elsewhere. I always try to avoid that trap otherwise I would never learn the new way, and it may prove to be far superior!

The group was very receptive to his “reality” based techniques. They usually are, as there is a clarity, and immediately visible effectiveness to these techniques. They are usually easier to understand because you can actually see the application, and work on it with your partner, till both of you gets it right.
Most of the material presented had to do with containment and control, as is appropriate for law enforcement. The same concepts could have been easily
I think this is one of the main appeals of MMA fighting. I also believe they are a welcome relief from “kick-kick-punch-kick” (rinse and repeat) world of karate for most people, especially those with little grappling experience.
dangerous outcomes.

I am sure that most, if not all, of the participants did not realize that much of what they were doing were movements, either directly performed or implied in the forms, and one steps, that they were all familiar with. Of course, it is true that, in many cases, the movements are so stylized that it becomes difficult to perceive them. In addition, we are so conditioned by the sporting aspects, which suffuse everything these days, that we modify our applications to fit that model.
The real issue to me is that we have made everyone blind to these applications through our training process. We give movements erroneous names, which just serve to confuse instead of describe. As an example, can’t we really drop the idea that the “assisted/augmented block” is one hand supporting the other as it is “blocking” something! It isn’t a block, it never was a block, but because we tell everyone that it is, their minds stop there. It never occurs to them that more may be going on.
I remember commenting to a participant that we would be better off telling our white belts to just “move like this” and not give it name, then maybe they would like to learn all the things that you can do when you “just move like this”.
For historical reasons we have skewed the approach to forms. We expect the forms to show us what to do, and, I guess in a rudimentary manner they do. The “reality” based approach is very different; you learn the techniques and variations only. You work on them over and over till you can do them by feel. You can later pantomime them in a solo fashion because you know exactly what if feels like to do them.
How many of you when practicing your forms recreate in your minds the memory of what the technique “feels like” when you do it against an opponent’s body. Do you remember the tiny changes that you do to compensate for resistance or variations in angle?

Well guess what, that is exactly how it was done in the old days. The practitioners knew the applications cold. They had banged each other around enough to know exactly how everything felt, and how to change it depending on what the other guy did. The only thing most of them couldn’t do— write it down! With the exception of the scholars and nobility, many practitioners were completely illiterate. So, they did the next best thing, they developed a pantomime of the different scenarios and strung it together in what we now call a form, which they then memorized. To make it perfectly clear, they knew the applications before they learned the form.
To paraphrase Patrick McCarthy (the noted karate historian) speaking about Pinan 1, the kata contains “advanced fighting techniques strung together in a highly improbable way”. There are some interesting observations on the formation of these embusen (Jap. “Combat line”), but that is a topic for another time.

Of course some of the old masters drew pictures as well as wrote, but there were very few. Even still, if you didn’t know the applications you could only go so far. In Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the bandit daughter is a much better fighter than her mother. Mom stole the WuDeng manual but she could only look at the pictures, the daughter could read as well.

Therefore, I suggest that we might want to change our training emphasis around. We should spend most of our time on two man drills, with many variations, and then learn a form that encompasses them. This is actually the way all the classical ryu were taught. After doing all that, it is pretty easy to memorize a form, and have it contain a wealth of meaning.

To our great loss, by the stylistic ritualization of everything we do, we have lost much of the “reality base” that was always there, and if we can get past the window dressing, is still there. I suppose I would be lax if I didn’t mention the other major method of the transmission of knowledge- the oral one. I find this mostly in Chinese systems. Every move has a name, and if you memorize the names and the order that they appear, you have a poem. If you memorize the poem, you know the form, and of course, no one else does—it’s your secret.
The “seventh road” (form) of Dragon Palm Baqua: “Lion holds the ball, Lion rolls the ball, Lion pounces on ball, Lion opens mouth, Lion rolls over, Sky horse walking in ai

koryo’s hidden “side kick” throw

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

By Richard Conceicao, 6thDan

In Koryo there is a pair of extended arm sidekicks followed immediately by a turn and a low strike.These are commonly viewed as two separate techniques to be directed at adversaries approaching from two different directions


I have never been fond of the  “multiple opponent”  description of the poomse, as I believe it creates more confusion than it clarifies, and feel that it has little historical accuracy. In addition it obscures the grappling and throwing applications that were part of the fighting art, as opposed to the sporting one.So lets take a fresh look at the sequence. We realize from the first picture that the extended arm can’t be used as a simultaneous strike as it is too short. If the kick is hitting its intended target, the arm can’t be anywhere near it. Looking at the second picture, one is struck by the seemingly odd choice of an opening attack or defense. In an attempt to get so low, he risks blocking the next punch with his face!I would like to suggest instead that this is a representation of an inner reaping thigh throw known as an  “Uchi Mata”



In the first picture  we see the initiation of the throw. What we would normally consider the sidekick is actually placed between the opponents’ legs, and past them. This allows the extended arm to hook on the upper body in any number of places.In the second picture (at the apex of the throw) the leg is fully extended and the throwers body is beginning to turn to the rear. At the completion of the throw he will be facing the rear in exactly the low stance that we see in the form.Not only does this interpretation make sense within the movements of the poomse, it also makes sense combatively.

No longer are we faced with a difficult explanation as to why someone would behave in that manner.I believe the serious practitioner should take a hard look at the various spins and turns found in many forms, and begin to think of them in other ways.

here is video presentation of the technique:

Richard would like to thank Master Mike Barnard and his instructors  D.  Macri,  D.  Post, and  H.  Stehlik of Han Ho Martial Arts for their kind participation. Also Bob Adams of RADesigns for the photography