Friday, September 2, 2022

The Twelve Rules of the Sword (Part 2) --- Chief Instructor's Blog September 2022


Note: In these two two-part series, I discuss 12 rules (teachings) from sword fighting principles from the 16th century. This first part discussed the first six rules and this second part discusses the other six rules.

As stated in part one of this two-part blog, the principles the masters taught and conveyed to their students even hundreds of years ago are still very relevant today.  An example of that is The Twelve Rules of the Sword taught at the Itto School in the 16th century. The remaining six rules are discussed below.

7.  The Heart of a Fox

This rule is to “not allow yourself to doubt.”  If an assailant attacks you, any doubt, hesitation, or being cautious can lead to severe injury or worse.  So, you must train so you are confident in your techniques mechanically and you should always have an attitude and intent that your techniques are effective.  I discussed training with attitude and intent in my October 2017 blog, Training The Mind Through Attitude/Intent.

8.  Pine Tree in the Wind

This rule is “to not get trapped by the opponent’s rhythm”.    We discuss this a lot when practicing sparring to not match an opponent’s timing but to be the one controlling the timing and to not make it predictable.  We use drills like Mr. Kim’s Timing Drill to accelerate timing to throw an opponent off or practice variable timing while practicing hyung so timing is not predictable.  

9.  The Ground Beneath Your Feet

This rule states “Depending on the situation or the strategy, you may be employing, retreating or advancing .., despite its negative connotations, may be the best way to respond to an opponent.”   We practice moving forward and backwards.  What is key when “retreating” is continuously enforcing that forward energy and intent, so while it may appear to be you are at a disadvantage, you are not.

10.  Focus/Preventing Extraneous Thoughts

This rule is “to not allow distracting thoughts to plague your mind”.  Being completely present in the moment is a critical principle of self-defense. This principle is the same as the martial arts mindset known as Fudoshin - the immovable mind.  I discuss how to train your Fudoshin mind in my January 2020 blog, Training the Martial Artist's Four Mindsets.

11.[Physical] Interval Between You and Your Opponent

This rule is to study and learn the distance relative to your opponent and apply it.  For me this also means understanding your strengths or disadvantages against an opponent.  For example, if I am sparring against a taller person, I will tend to move in closer where I can still effectively use my legs and arms, but they are unable to use their legs.  It also means paying attention to any timing or tells they have that you can take advantage of.  I have seen some students slightly tap the ground before launch a kick.  This was a tell that could be taken advantage of if I move in right as I saw the tap the on floor and jammed the kick

12.  Lingering Mind

This rule is “to strike without any lingering thoughts or doubts”.   The rule concludes “If you entered a hundred battles and struck this point a hundred times, never doubt you will achieve victory a hundred times.”  This rule is very much related to the Heart of a Fox and Focus/Preventing Extraneous Thoughts rule.  Being confident (not arrogant) but confident with no doubts is also a critical concept in self-defense.  The minute you start doubting yourself is the minute you can go from beating your assailant to losing.   When we teach board breaks, one of the things we ask is if you think you can break the board.  If there is a lot of hesitancy, then we waited for another day to try to break the board.  Mindset is critical including the attitude/intent to do damage with each strike.  This principle is the same as the martial arts mindset known as Zanshin - the remaining mind.  I discuss how to train your Zanshin mind in my January 2020 blog, Training the Martial Artist's Four Mindsets.



“Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things.” ~ Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 –1645) - famous Japanese swordsman, the author of The Book of Five Rings



The Twelve Rules of the Sword by Ito Ittosai, Translated by Eric Shahan, 2018

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Twelve Rules of the Sword (Part 1) --- Chief Instructor's Blog August 2022


Note: In this two-part series, I discuss 12 rules (teachings) from sword fighting principles from the 16th century. This first part discusses the first six rules and the second part discusses the other six rules.

The Masters of the past really understood the very basic principles of self-defense.  Every time I come across literature from a hundred or hundreds of years ago, the principles the masters taught and conveyed to their students then is still very relevant today.  My latest discovery is The Twelve Rules of the Sword.  The Twelve Rules of the Sword were 12 rules taught at the Itto School of Sword Fighting that was founded by Ito Ittosai, a master swordsman in the 16th century.   

1.   The Two Places To Watch Your Opponent

This rule states that “though you are keeping all of your opponents in your field of vision, there are two points you should focus on.”  Since this was sword fighting, the two points mentioned are the tip of the sword and the hands sine it moves the sword.   So, from an HMK perspective, this principle still applies – you should never focus on just one thing.  You need to ensure you see with your peripheral vision around you and should not just focus on the weapons of your assailant (whether that is a weapon they have or their hands/legs).  You should also focus elsewhere.  If your assailant is not holding a weapon, I would say their eyes are also a good place to focus as well as center of the body, since those areas are probably the best tell of their next move.  If they are holding a weapon, their hands are a good place to look, but so are their eyes as well.

2.  Cutting Down

This rules as translated, is all about split second timing and how that timing is critical. This is true then as it is today.  Being able to react instantly and with a timing to disrupt or to land a strike before an opponent does is a critical aspect of self-defense.  

3.  The Strategy Near and Far

This rule as translated is “Creating a situation where the enemy feels their striking distance is far while your own striking distance feels near.”  The intent of this rule is to ensure you are at a position of advantage relative to our opponent.  From an HMK perspective these would be concepts such as never be directly between two assailants or be forced in to a position against a wall or corner. 

4. Horizontal, Vertical, Above, and Below

The essence of this is to strike or counter from opposite directions.  For example, “If attack comes from above, respond to it from below”.  From an HMK perspective this is aligned with the Get Off the Line concept we teach.  When we get off the line, we are taking a different angle of attack versus straight on.

In addition, this rule is also about being centered in thought and “senses free to detect attack from anywhere”.   This is a similar concept we teach in HMK to being grounded, not overcommitted, and not assume where the attack is coming from and being able to quickly react and move.

5. The Color Of Things

This rule has a couple principles.  One is to avoid labeling your assailant, meaning not to assume anything about your assailant or try to analyze them in anyway.  You should assume they have skill and are dangerous if they are attacking you.  Also, the rule states that if an assailant shouts or calls something out to you, do not try to figure out its meaning – it is a distraction and “you are putting yourself in danger”.

6. The Eyes of the Heart

This rule states that “you should not look at the opponent with your eyes, but view them with your spirit.  If you look with your eyes, you may get distracted, however, by looking with your mind you remain focused”.  We teach similar principles in HMK that you should not stare or be focused just with your eyes.  In HMK we also, at an advanced level, teach reading an assailant’s energy which I believe is the same intent meant here when stating you should view with the spirit or mind.

In Part 2, I will discuss the other six rules.



“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.” ~ Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 –1645) - famous Japanese swordsman, the author of The Book of Five Rings 


The Twelve Rules of the Sword by Ito Ittosai, Translated by Eric Shahan, 2018

Friday, July 1, 2022

Stick To The Fundamentals ---- Chief Instructor July 2022

I had a basketball coach in high school that was a stickler for the fundamentals, the building blocks.  Without the basics, not only could you not perform well, but trying to do the fancy moves more likely just ended up making you look silly or actually get yourself injured.

This concept applies to martial arts as well.  The fundamentals, the basics, are core to everything we do.  Without a strong foundation in the basics, you cannot move on to more advanced techniques, and if you tried, you will probably just end up hurting yourself.   And the fact of the matter is advanced techniques are just extensions of the basics.

And while some may think basics are just the basics techniques you were taught the first six months of training; the fundamentals include the attributes of those basics themselves.  Since that may not be clear, let’s discuss a few.


1.      Formal Cat Stance key attributes include

  • Hips and shoulders square; back straight
  • Head up, chin level
  • Front knee points in the forward direction, knee above ankle
  • Stance locked into hip
  • All body weight will be on rear leg; no weight on the leading foot


2.       Forward punch fundamentals include a strong horse stance with a proper front punch. 

The key attributes of a strong horse stance include: 

  • Feet approximately twice shoulder width; parallel to each other,
  • Knees bent approximately 45 degrees from horizontal,
  • Knees over the ankle pointing straight ahead,
  • Body weight evenly distributed on both feet,
  • Hips and shoulders square; back straight,
  • Head up, chin level


The key attributes of a front punch include: 

  • Proper closed fist
  • Arm stays in contact with side of body throughout motion; driving from the elbow
  • Punching arm elbow remains slightly bent at impact
  • Wrists flat at impact; first two knuckles pointed at target


3.      Knife Hand fundamentals include a strong attack stance with a proper froward open hand inward strike. 

The key attributes of a strong attack stance attack include:

  • Hips and shoulders square; back straight
  • Knees and feet point straight ahead
  • Front knee bent approximately 35 degrees from horizontal and above the ankle
  • Body weight evenly distributed on both feet
  • Rear leg is locked
  • Stance is approximately twice as wide as it is long


The key attributes of the forward, open hand inward strike include:

  • Palm is flat; tips of the fingers slightly bent; thumb tucked in 
  • Elbow remains close to the body and downward throughout the striking muton
  • Palm is forward and rotates upward just before impact
  • Elbow remains bent at contact


For example, without a proper cat stance, you will not be able to throw a jump kick with any force, turns will be wobbly, sparring ineffective, you will not be able perform more advanced techniques like a sweeping attack stance.  And the list goes on and on and on.

So, it is not enough to just practice hundreds or thousands of techniques in cat stance if you are not focused on and ensuring the fundamentals, those key attributes are part of the practice. 

So, if it has been a while since you focused on the fundamentals of techniques, why not start today?  Make it a priority to commit to mastering the fundamentals.



It is not the number of Kata you know, but the SUBSTANCE of the Kata you have acquired." ~ Jitsumi Gogen Yamaguchi (1909-1989), Gogen Yamaguchi (1909-1989), Grandmaster of Japanese Karate-dō and founder of the International Karate-dō Gōjū Kai Association

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Lessons From Bruce Lee ---- Chief Instructor Blog June 2022

I ran across an article from Black Belt Magazine on-line, Learn the Most Important Martial Arts Lessons Bruce Lee Taught — From His Top Disciples! [Ref. 1].  The article describes lessons (concepts/principles) from Bruce Lee as described by several of his students. 

 I will expand on a few of the items discussed in the article that resonated the most with me and align with Han Moo Kwan principles and concepts.

 Off the bat in the article is the lesson:  self-expression through self-discovery.  If you have done any research on Bruce Lee and his philosophies, you will know he was a believer in expressing the art form, and that expression comes from self-discovery. An instructor can state concepts, ideas and be explicit in what one could or should do, but a martial artist must really take those concepts and expand on them through self-study to truly discovery how to apply the techniques in ways that are most effective for them (which can be situational dependent or even change as you age). In Han Moo Kwan we describe this as an aspect of “Making It Your Own”.  I described this concept in more detail in my September 2014 blog, titled “Making it Your Own

 Another lesson described in the article is to “Take what is offered to you”.  For me, the message here is, is you should not have a preconceived notion on techniques to use but take advantage of the opening or the vulnerability created by your assailant.  A great example from the article is “If your opponent steps toward you, he's “offering" you his front leg to attack”. 

 As I have discussed in several blogs, Han Moo Kwan is to be used for self-defense only and therefore one should avoid physical altercation if one can.  And if you feel you have no other choice than use physical techniques you should go all out until you feel safe.  Bruce Lee described this as “pre-emption.”  As described in the article, “Basically, Lee’s assertion that you should intercept aggression in stages (mentally, vocally and physically) is analogous to the combatives approach of first, being avoidant by using situational awareness; second, warning off by taking some type of early physical action to avoid an altercation; and finally, in the most threatening circumstances, launching your attack before your adversary’s attack is fully manifested.” 

 The last piece I think is extremely important and leads to another concept that Bruce Lee called “interception”.  A key to interception is to “interfere with the assailant’s attack”.  In Han Moo Kwan, we refer to this concept as blocking to break.  Blocking to break will disrupt and interfere with the assailant’s attack. 

 As described in the article, Lee also stressed the importance of a method he called “alive training.”  Basically, one must train in situations to stress yourself that align with more realistic situations.  This is why we include sparring and more dynamic self-defense to our training.  As described in the article, “Particular moves and strategies are very important, but the most difficult and immediate obstacle to overcome in a real fight is the pressure and resistance offered by the attacker. If you don’t practice dealing with them, you won’t develop the ability to automatically adjust to the myriad of obstacles that a real opponent will present.”  I also discussed in two separate blogs how to better prepare yourself for these pressured situation in two blogs from April and May 2018, titled “ How To Physically Prepare For Being Under Stress “ and “How To Mentally Prepare For Being Under Stress”.

 Bruce Lee is considered one of the greatest martial artists of all time. For me this is not just because of his physical ability but because of his depth of understanding of the true essence of martial arts.  His lessons are not applicable to just his style but traditional martial arts in general and lessons for all those who strive to understand martial arts.



“Be self aware, rather than a repetitious robot.”  ~  Bruce Lee, (1940 –1973) American-born Chinese Hong Kong martial artist, actor, and founder of Jeet Kune Do


1. Learn the Most Important Martial Arts Lessons Bruce Lee Taught — From His Top Disciples! - Black Belt Magazine

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Self-defense Based Martial Arts Principles ---- Chief Instructor Blog May 2022

Traditional self-defense based martial arts may have very different techniques but their principles are quite similar.   To explore this, I will describe some key principles of Wing Chun Kung Fu (whom Ip Man and his most famous student Bruce Lee were practitioners) and how they are similar to Han Moo Kwan’s principles.

Center Line Principle

If you draw a line down the center of your body from forehead to groin, it passes through the vulnerable spots in the body.  So, it is critical to protect those parts of your body.  In Han Moo Kwan, we accomplish this by using a fighting cat stance (not squaring off to an assailant so they do not have a direct line to all of our most vulnerable spots, keeping one hand high and one hand low at all times, and using cat stance for more mobility).

In addition, this principle indicates we should be attacking those “center line” targets on our assailant.   In Han Moo Kwan, we do teach attacking those vulnerable targets are the most effective techniques.

Simultaneous Attack and Defense Principle

This can be thought of in two different ways, and each way we apply in Han Moo Kwan.   One way, is that when we defend, we are offensive, we “block to break”.  In addition, we employ two hand techniques where one hand “defends” while the second one attacks.  For example, it can be techniques like the opening move to Pyung Ahn 4, where in one application the “blocking arm” is defending and protecting the head, while the striking hand is attacking the assailant’s neck/throat.   Or, in techniques like Extended Spear Hand, where one the one hand traps the assailant, while the spear hand attacks.

Shortest and Most Direct Path Principle

In Han Moo Kwan we teach linear techniques because they are the shortest and most direct path.  For example, our front kick uses a piston action to be linear.  There are also other advantages to linear techniques.  For more information on why linear and how that principle is applied to various techniques, see my February 2017 blog “Why Linear?”.   

Economy of Movement Principle

This principle can also be thought of in a couple different ways as applied to Han Moo Kwan.  One way is short strikes.  In Han Moo Kwan, one of our goals is to use the shortest strikes possible while also generating the maximum amount of power.  In Han Moo Kwan, we also do not go force against force.  Instead, we take advantage of the direction of an assailant’s power.  For example, if our assailant is pulling us, we do not pull back, we go in the direction they are pulling and attack them.

Minimum Use of Brute Strength Principle

In Han Moo Kwan, we accomplish this by using energy and not muscle to be effective and efficient in our techniques.  By doing so, we can be effective against assailants that are much larger and physically stronger than we are.  

Based on the above, while there are different ways / techniques to accomplish the principles above, these principles are foundational to any self-defense based martial art.  I recommend thinking of these principles as you practice and explore techniques.



“If size mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle.”  ~ Ip Man (1893-1972), A Grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun Kung Fu


1.      1. Core Concepts | International Wing Chun Academy, retrieved 5/1/2022

2.      2. Five Principles | International Wing Chun Academy, retrieved 5/1/2022

Friday, April 1, 2022

Why Bunkai is Important ---- Chief Instructor Blog April 2022

While there are many other benefits for practicing and studying Han Moo Kwan Tae Kwan Do, its main purpose is to be used strictly for self-defense.

Therefore, the functional applications of the techniques - the why, the meaning - are very important to be effective in self-defense.  Understanding why that technique and for what purpose a technique can be used is a big part of learning Han Moo Kwan.  If you do not understand the functional application of a technique, how effective can you be if you were attacked?  In fact, if you do not know the best and most effective target or application of a technique, then if you use it, you may damage yourself and worse case you will be greatly harmed by the assailant you are defending yourself from because it was not effective.

The concept of learning the applications was actually part of the letter of Ten Precepts written in 1908 by Anko Itosu, considered by many to be the father of modern karate.  He wrote this letter when he realized that it was time for karate to reach beyond the shores of Okinawa to the heart of Japan.  In his sixth precept, Master Itosu writes: “Practice each of the techniques of karate repeatedly, the use of which is passed by word of mouth. Learn the explanations well and decide when and in what manner to apply them when needed. Enter, counter, release is the rule of releasing hand (tori-te).”  [Ref. 1]

The process of analyzing the applications of the techniques with hyung (or kata in Japanese) is called Bunkai in Japanese. 

Many martial arts clubs and schools do discuss the why or practice Bunkai. You may ask yourself why they would not?

·        It may be because the intent of that martial art is not for self-defense and therefore it is not important to learning that style.   

·        It may be because their teaching is more of an Eastern style where you are expected to just practice and practice and experiment on your won until you figure it out yourself. 

·        Or it may be because they don’t know.  Many of the techniques, especially if not obvious, were either only explain verbally, not discussed at all and even intentionally kept hidden because of how harmful or damaging they could be. Some styles actually had rules (Kaisai no genre [Ref. 2]) to extracting the applications of the techniques and even the rules were kept hidden except to the most senior students. 

I discuss more about learning the practical applications of the techniques in my March 2013 blog, “Learn Techniques Thoroughly”.   I also describe studying practical application in the hyung in my September 2018 blog, “Studying Hyung”.  This blog also contains some very good references that describe bunkai and how to unlock the applications.

For me, studying the why adds depth to my training and provides me a visual that helps me put purpose and intent into my techniques that would not be there otherwise.  And understanding the why helps aligns with my learning style which enables me to pick up the techniques more effectively. 

I encourage you all to spend more time studying the why behind each technique.   



“Our teachers did not give us a clear explanation of the kata from old times. I must find the features and meaning of each form by my own study and effort, by repeating the exercises of form through training.” ~ Tsuyoshi Chitose (1898-1984), founder of Chito-ryu Karate



1. Ankō Itosu - Wikipedia, retrieved 4/1/2022
2. Kaisai no genri - Wikipedia, retrieved 4/1/2022

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Is Body Memory Limiting You? - Chief Instructor's Blog March 2022


Body memory is a very important part of martial arts and some folks might say it is the key element to its effective use, especially in a self-defense situation. 

By repeating techniques over and over again they become second nature.  When you can do techniques without thinking about it, you are able to quickly react.  This concept, where the mind gets out of the way, is the results of hundreds of hours of training and thousands of repetitions.  The state of performing without the mind being in the way and your body just flows easily from one technique to another is called Mushin.  I explain Mushin in my November 2010 blog “Free the Mind – Be Like Water”.  

This ability to move from technique to technique without thinking is especially important when you are stressed.  If you have to rely on thinking when stressed, you will probably not perform well or too late to be effective.  I talk some more about the importance of how you practice in my February 2018 blog, “You Will Fight How You Practice”.  

And while I do agree that body memory is very important, it can also be limiting you. 

So, what are the cons of body memory?  One con is if your body memory of the technique is poor.  In that case, that technique will be ineffective when you need to use it.  Over the next several months now that we are practicing in person from time to time, it is important for me to review your techniques to make sure they are still effective before we practice with a partner or with full power against bags, shields etc. so no one gets injured.   

If bad habits or ineffective techniques are now a body memory, you must re-program.  First, you need to break down the technique, go slowly, think through the movements, and relearn it.  It will take hundreds and possibly thousands of repetitions correctly to get back to the state where your techniques are effective as body memory.  And this process must be repeated through basics, hyung, self-defense, sparring, etc.  This is why it is so important to check yourself from time to time to ensure you have not introduced bad form or techniques.  And this is especially true now since over the last two years we have not been able to practice working with partners, striking bags, etc. which gives you instance feedback of the effectivity of your techniques.

The other con is if you have limited your training.  What do I mean by this?  For example, if you only practice turning one way, or you have not practiced transitioning from certain stances to another, then you may get limited or stuck when you try to move that way.  And if this happens, during a time you need to protect yourself, it may result in you being vulnerable. 

This is why it is important to expand your practice to ensure you can smoothly and easily:

  • Throw all techniques from all stances in all directions (upward, downward, forward, outward). 
  • Perform the hyung in a variety of ways - mirrored, in reverse order, starting from the middle, etc.  In my June 2020 blog “Adding Variety to Practicing Hyung”, I describe 22 different ways to practice hyung. 
  • Transition from any stance to any stance and in any direction (side to side, forward and back, at different angles). 
  • Throw open hand techniques with closed fist reciprocal and closed hand techniques with open hands reciprocals. 

Body memory may save your life in a fight. 

But body memory based on practicing precisely and correctly, moving in any direction, in any stance using any technique, and changing stances from one to another with no limitations or boundaries will save your life in a fight. 



“One must try, every day, to expand one's limits." ~ Masutatsu Oyama (1923-1994), karate master who founded Kyokushinkai Karate