Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Maximizing Your Techniques - - Chief Instructor's Blog June 2021


I have written serval blogs on how your focus, mindset and intention is important for your techniques to be effective. 

 In my November 2016 blog, Defend or Protect?, I discuss that even the words we use can make a difference in the effectiveness of your techniques.

 In my October 2017 blog, Training The Mind Through Attitude/Intent, I discuss the importance of the attitude/intent aspect of training.

 In addition, your goal when you have no other choice but to use your techniques to protect yourself or your friends is to maximize damage and end the fight quickly. 

 So, when throwing your techniques, your intention is to break, drive kicks and strikes through targets, and render your attacker unable to continue to do harm.  I really like some quotes from Choki Motobu, founder of Motobu-Ryu style of karate, that provides some excellent examples of that intention and aligns with how I have described this intention in classes:

  •  "When punching to the face, one must thrust as if punching through to the back of the head."
  • "When blocking kicks, one must block as if trying to break the opponent’s shin."

So, you need to practice each technique with the intention of maximizing damage (block to break, go through the target, etc.).  Obviously, we need to temper this when practicing with a fellow student, but in the air or against the bags, this should always be your intention. 

And, you need to practice so that your intention of damage is with every inch of every movement you make.  In the beginning of our training, we assume we strike or kick someone at an exact spot. The reality is that in the dynamic situation of a real attack, the exact spot and exact part of your body you strike or kick the attacker with may not be your original intention.  This is why it is critical you are thinking of maximizing damage with every slight movement you make.

If, when you are striking or kicking, your intention is damage only in the last couple of inches, what happens if your attacker moves in on you and is closer?  Most likely your technique will not be effective at all.

As you punch, the moment your fist leaves your hip, if you focus on damage with every inch, them it does not matter if the attacker has moved in or not and your punch will still be effective.  If you are throwing a high block, your intention should be your entire arm (elbow, forearm, bottom of the fist) is a weapon and all parts of the arm are ready to strike. If you are throwing a front kick, for example, you should perform the technique with the intention that the knee is used as a strike first followed by the kick. And even if your techniques do not result in breaking bones or damaging the body, this intent and focus will result in disrupting your attacker such that any follow-on attacks will not be effective or as effective.

The above examples should give you ideas on why and how you should be performing your techniques to maximize damage.  When you maximize damage, you will end the fight quickly. And, in ending the fight quickly, the more likely you will walk away with no injuries. 



“One cannot use continuous attacks against true karate. That is because the blocks of true karate make it impossible for the opponent to launch a second attack.” ~ Choki Motobu (1871–1944), Founder of Motobu-Ryu style of karate


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Hyung vs Sparring - - Chief Instructor's Blog May 2021


I have written serval blogs about differ aspect of hyung.  My last one was in September 2019,”Hyung Are Not Just About The Pattern”.       

I ended that blog by stating (as pertaining to hyung), “In essence, after learning the techniques, practicing in a pattern/sequence provides all the key ingredients needed to survive a fight in the real world.”

Why am I so sure that hyung are the key ingredients (techniques, motions, etc.) for surviving a fight are similar techniques, motions we should be using in sparring?  (Notice I said similar and not exact.  I have mentioned in class many times, that for applications the exact move in a hyung would not be precisely the same move.  With that said, if you are wondering why we practice hyung as precise moves, please refer to my October 2011 blog “Benefits of Learning Hyung Exactly.). 

The reason I believe this is many masters and founders of various styles of karate have stated so in various ways.

Hironori Otsuka, founder of Wadō-ryū style of karate wrote, “Martial Arts progress from kata, to kumite, to combat.”  (Kumite is the Japanese word for sparring)

Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate, wrote in his book Karate-do Kyohan, “Sparring (kumite) is a form used to apply offensive and defensive techniques, practiced in the kata, under more realistic conditions, in which by prearrangement between participants one applies offensive and the other defensive techniques.”

Chojin Miyagi, founder of Goju-Ryu style of karate wrote in his Karate-do Gaisetsu (outline of karate-do), “Through sparring practice the practical meaning of kata becomes apparent.”

Katsuya Miyahira, grand master of the Shorin-ryu Shido-kan style of karate, is quoted as saying, “Sparring is essential to development but only when it comes from the kata…no one spars until they are San Dan rank or above.” 

Choki Motobu, founder of Motobu-Ryu style of karate, is quoted as saying, “Kumite is an actual fight using many basic styles of kata to grapple with the opponent.”

I am not saying that by practicing hyung and mastering them you are automatically effective at sparring.  Sparing involves an understanding of applications, timing and interactions with others that cannot be replaced with single person hyung.  However, what I am saying is the hyung contain those techniques, movements, and principles that when mastered and applied appropriately are those key ingredients for effective sparring.



“The techniques should not be practiced simply so they can be performed in the kata. Since karate is a fighting art each technique and movement has its own meaning. The karateka must consider their meaning, how and why they are effective, and practice accordingly” ~ Shigeru Egami (1812-1981), master of Shotokan karate who founded the Shōtōkai style and a student of Gichin Funakoshi

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Martial Arts and Cross Training -- Chief Instructor's Blog April 2021


Can cross training improve your martial arts?  Yes.

Will cross-training improve your martial arts.  It depends.

What do I mean by this?

If you are practicing or participating in other activities and have identified the goal on how it will improve your martial arts and practice with those items in mind so it becomes natural, then yes, it can improve your martial arts.  If you are just participating to participate, then it probably will not and in fact may actually hold you back in your martial arts.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. 


Running can help improve your cardiovascular endurance and build leg strength, so in theory it can help you in your martial arts.  But will it?  If you are focused on controlling your breathing, explosive sprints, remaining grounded, run from your center, staying focused on the running and being present, then it can help in your martial arts.  If you are just out for a leisurely jog and not focused on your breathing, being grounded, etc., then it will not and in fact may hold you back in your martial arts.  


Yoga can help improve your breathing, balance, flexibility, and muscular strength, so in theory it can help you in your martial arts.  But will it?  If you control your breathing even when a pose becomes straining, remain focused on the present moment in every pose, remain grounded and work from your center in every pose, challenge yourself to try new poses even if you think they may be difficult or you cannot them do at first, then it can help in your martial arts.  In addition, if you let you mind wander, release the pose when it starts getting tough, disconnect from your breathing or center throughout the pose, then it will not help and in fact may hold you back in your martial arts.

Motorcycle Racing

Motorcycle racing can help with your mental focus, breathing, using your entire body as one, staying in the game and never giving up (even if you are at the back of the pack), checking your ego at the door, and providing you with a real understanding of your skill.  But will it?  If you control your breathing even when adrenaline is high, remain focused on the present moment for the entire race, are one with the motorcycle and use your entire body as one, ensure stay in tune with your abilities and do not over exaggerate what you are capable of while keeping a positive mindset, then it can help in your martial arts.  If you do not control your breathing, if you overexaggerate your skill (which in a motorcycle race, can mean severe injury or death), if you do not stay in the race until it is over and give up before the finish line, then it will not help and in fact may hold you back in your martial arts.

Martial arts are not just a practice but a way of life, so if you participate in other activities and incorporate the fundamentals of martial arts, then it can help your martial arts practice.  The more you do in your life where you breathe evenly, have body awareness, are grounded, focused on the present moment, the more these principles will be part of everything you do.  And once that occurs, you are no longer practicing a martial art but have become a martial artist.



"The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things." ~ Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 –1645) - famous Japanese swordsman, the author of The Book of Five Rings


Monday, March 1, 2021

Other Methods: Applications & Intentions -- Chief Instructor's Blog March 2021


In my February 2021 blog, HMK is More Than Strikes & Kicks I discussed the fact that HMK methods are more than kicks and strikes, and include other methods such as take downs/ throws, joint locks/arm bars, traps/pins, grabs/crushes, and nerves/pressure points.

The good part is these other methods are already part of the techniques you are learning/ have learned and the difference is really about intention in their applications.

Let’s look at some of these other methods and some examples of how the intention in their applications can change them from a strike to another method.


·         Outward Ridge Hand/ Backhand

o   If you turn perpendicular to the opponent, the movement across the opponent’s chest/neck can be used as a takedown maneuver.  This can be very effective if, as move perpendicular, you also move in a horse stance behind the opponent, especially from a same side or cross hand grab where the reciprocal moves the opponent off-balance.

·         Inward low block

o   The movement can be used as a takedown from across the collar bone/ side of neck in a close attack


·         Augmented Medium Block

o   The augmented hand could be used as a trap from a same side punch, a same side grab or cross hand grab, followed by an upper punch or backhand to the opponent’s face

·         Extended Spear Hand

o   The opposite hand could be used as a trap from a same side punch, a same side grab or cross hand grab, followed by a spear hand to the opponents’ vulnerable spot below the sternum or throat

o   The opposite hand could be used as a pin to the chest from a same side grab, followed by a spear hand to opponents’ vulnerable spot below the sternum or throat

·         Double Knife Hand

o   From a cross hand wrist grab, as you raise your hands and move to the inside into a Horse Stance, the outside knife hand /pins the wrist of your opponent, and the inside knife hand can be used as strike to the opponent’s head/ groin/kidneys or whatever target is open

·         Two hand Reciprocal

o   From same side or cross hand wrist grab,  the reciprocal motion pulls the opponent off balance, and the upper hand traps/ pins the opponent's hand

Joint Lock/Arm Bar:

·         Side Medium Block

o   From cross hand grab, as you step back and perpendicular to the opponent, the movement will straighten the opponent’s arm, followed by side medium block which will create the arm bar

·         Augmented Medium Block

o   From same side or cross hand grab, the medium block movement as you move off-line from the opponent can straighten the opponent’s arm, followed by the augment that will create the arm bar

·         Double Inward Punch

o   From a double lapel grab, the movement can create an arm bar – you may need to move to the side or backwards

o   From same side grab, this movement can bring the opponent’s arm up to your shoulder and then once you finish the movement, you have the opponent in an arm bar  

·         Horse Stance Double Knife Hands

o   From a cross hand wrist grab, as you raise your hands and move to the outside of your opponent, the double knife hand strike as your move into Horse Stance creates the arm bar across your knee

The above are just a few examples of HMK striking techniques that can be used as other methods.  So, in practicing applications think about the motion and parts of the hand being used and how they could be used as one of these other HMK methods if performed with a different intention.



“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” - Max Planck (1858 – 1947), German quantum theorist and Nobel Prize in Physics winner

Monday, February 1, 2021

HMK is More Than Strikes & Kicks -- Chief Instructor's Blog February 2021


When we think about Tae Kwon Do, many think of only strikes and kicks, but traditional Tae Kwon Do, which Han Moo Kwan is one, also incorporates other methods in martial arts such as take downs/ throws, joint locks/arm bars, traps/pins, grabs/crushes, and nerves/pressure points.

 So, why do we mainly practice strikes and kicks in the beginning?

In the beginning, we want to focus on mechanics and body awareness to get the mechanics right.  These other methods require you to practice with others, which would take away from being able to only concentrate on your own body mechanics.  The good thing is the same body mechanics that are used for blocks and strikes can also be effectively used for the other methods.

To be effective in these other methods, you have to have effective stances and use your entire body not just your upper body.  For more about effective stances, refer to my June 2009 blog, The Importance of Stances.  For these methods to be effective, you must also be grounded.  For more on grounding, refer to my March 2009 blog, What Is Grounding?.  Most students have not developed good stances and are not adequately grounded to become proficient in these other methods until blue belt.  In addition, we want students to learn to fall properly first for safety reasons before practicing such methods as take downs and throws.

These other methods can also cause significant damage more easily than strikes and kicks since they usually go against joints or very vulnerable parts of the body.  And as mentioned above, the only real way to practice these other methods are against a partner.  It takes time to develop the control, timing, and understanding of your force, so when you apply these other methods, you are effective, are not overusing your muscles and not actually causing damage to your partner but going to the edge in class.  Most students have not developed enough of this skill until advanced blue belt/brown belt. 

For lower ranks, I believe some of these other methods at first are a distraction.  For example. I have seen many times in class, less experienced students try some of these other methods like grabs in class, and all they do is focus so hard on trying to grab that they lose sight of their partner’s actions which puts them at risk.

In addition, for many of these other methods to be effective, you have to have the intent to do damage.  For instance, in Han Moo Kwan, we do not actually teach to grab.  We teach how to crush which takes significant intent of destruction which most students do not possess until brown belt or higher.

Nerve/ pressure points are a little different, from my perspective, take significant precision to be effective and not everyone is susceptible to nerve/ pressure points in the same way. We have discussed, and from time-to-time practiced with, nerve/pressure points, but we do not focus on them or practice them as an effective technique for self-defense.  For more information on my thoughts on nerve/pressure points, please read my February 2020 blog, Are Nerve Points Effective For Self Defense.

While strikes and kicks are the foundation of Han Moo Kwan, there are so many more methods that are part of the art form that are effective for self-defense once a student has established that foundation.



“In karate, hitting, thrusting, and kicking are not the only methods, throwing techniques and pressure against joints are included ... all these techniques should be studied referring to basic kata” ~ Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), founder of Shotokan Karate

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Value of Practicing Basics -- Chief Instructor's Blog January 2021

We always start each practice with basics.  But why and what is the value of basics.  Wouldn’t we learn more if we always practiced with other people or using equipment like pads and bags?  

There are several reasons to start each practice with basics.

1.        Complete warm-up

Even though in a real situation you do not have time to warm-up, the basics do allow time for your body to continue to stretch, warm-up or finish warming up before more intense practice against bags or with a partner.  We always start basics with upper body techniques since the upper body muscles tend to warm-up faster and the stances allow the legs to warm-up prior to lower body techniques.  For more discussion on whether you should stretch or not before class, see my July 2011 blog, To Stretch or Not?.

2.      Focus on Mechanics

The mechanics are the foundations to any art form.  Basics provide an opportunity to practice with complete focus on body mechanics and body awareness without distraction.

The repetition of basics allows you to concentrate on one technique at a time and all aspects of that technique: precision, alignment, motion, transition, stances, eye positions, etc. to master it.  Every technique has many nuances so it takes a lot of repetition to ensure everything about that technique is correct so if you ever need to use it for self-defense, it is body memory and effective.

For more information on mechanics, refer to some of my earlier blogs:

·         April 2012, The Importance Of Alignment and Breathing

·         January 2017, Alignment: Critical to Protecting the Muscular Skeletal Body

·         February 2017, Why Linear?

·         June 2017, Be Precise Consistently

·         January 2018, Key Alignment/ Motion Fundamentals

I think Bruce Lee’s quote sums it up the best:  "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

3.      Focus on Breathing

Basics also allows you to focus on your breathing and be effective with your breathing.  As noted in my October 2016 blog, the benefits to effective breathing are three-fold.  (1) Physically, if you are breathing evenly and smoothly and using as much of your lungs as possible it will improve your endurance. (2) From a physiological perspective deep, smooth, and even breathing will decrease your heart rate and improve your ability to handle the stress of the moment during an attack.  (3) If you are breathing, you are flowing energy.  For more information on breathing, refer to my April 2012, The Importance Of Alignment and Breathing and my December 2016 blog, Deep Breathing…Could Be A Life Save.

4.      Prepare the Mind

Even though you should enter the class mentally ready to start practice (the etiquette of bowing when entering the dojang should be the means to clear the mind of the day and prepare for practice), basics allows you to complete that process and ensure the right state of mind to train against a bag, with a partner, etc.  For more on the importance of your mental state entering the dojang and during practice, see my January 2014 blog What Are you Bringing Into the Dojang? and my May 2011 blog Your State of Mind Matters (and Matters Most)

5.      Train the Mind

In addition, the basics allow you to focus on training the mind.  Training the mind is a critical part of mastering a martial art - where the mind goes, the body follows.  For information on training the mind, see my September 2017 blog Training The Mind by Staying Focused and my October 2017 blog Training The Mind Through Attitude/Intent.

Basics are an important part of our practice and practicing basics alone will not allow you to master a martial art, but it’s the start.



"Train hard, sweat, finish, bow and say thank you for the opportunity to sweat." Shojiro Koyama (1935-), Shotokan Karate 9th Dan

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Belt Colors and Their Meaning -- Chief Instructor's Blog December 2020

As mentioned in my June 2012 blog, History of Belts and Rankings”, the first martial art to introduce belts and ranking system was Jigero Kano, the founder of Judo in the late 1800s. Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan karate, who brought karate from Okinawa to Japan in the 1920s adopted the belt/ ranking system and a modified uniform from Judo. 

While colored belt system has been adopted by almost every martial art since then, they do not all use the same colors. However, the meaning of each belt color does appear to be a fairly universal meaning related to growth regardless of the martial art style or school within a specific style. 

While other martial arts may have additional colors beyond our Han Moo Kwan Club, in this blog I will focus on the belt colors we use in our club and their meaning. I selected several references to demonstrate the fact the meaning is fairly universal. 

White belts are given to beginner students of the martial arts. White is a symbol of birth and beginning, indicating that the student is just starting to gain knowledge [Ref. 1]. It signifies innocence or purity, and indicates a lack of knowledge for the mind to have true control over the body. [Ref. 2].

Green belts signify the growth of the seedling as it grows from the earth, reaching toward the sun and begins to transform into a recognizable plant [Ref. 1]. It represents the beginning growth of the seed as knowledge and skills begin to develop [Ref. 2].

Blue belts represent the sky and signifies continued growth. A student moves upward in his/her development, just as a plant reaches up into the blue sky as it grows [Ref. 1]. It represents the growth and maturing of the young plant and how it continues its skyward growth toward the heavens. This correlates to the student starting to solidify skills and knowledge as training progresses [Ref. 2]. And the student is beginning to understand the fruits of his/her hard work as a beginner [Ref. 3].

Brown belts represent the ripening of the seed, a maturing and harvesting process. [Ref. 3].The student will begin to see the benefits of his/her work, like a farmer reaping his crop at harvest [Ref. 1].

Black belts are the level of training where all of the previous belt colors merge into one color. A black belt signifies proficiency and maturity in taekwondo knowledge and skill [Ref. 2]. It is popularly said that ancient martial artists' white belts would become black with dirt over years of training, but this story is likely just that [Ref. 1]. Black signifies the darkness beyond the Sun. A black belt seeks new, more profound knowledge of the Art. As he/she begins to teach others, he/she plants new seeds and helps them grow and mature. His/her students, many whom will form roots deep into the Art, blossom and grow through the ranks in a never-ending process of self-growth, knowledge, and enlightenment [Ref. 3].

So, as mentioned in many previous blogs and in class, martial arts is a journey of learning and self-discovery and sharing that knowledge with others. In the end it is not about the belt color you wear but an indication of where you are at in the journey. 


“Black belt is not something you get; it is something you become”. ~ Warrior Spirit 

2. Taekwondo Belts (koreantaekwondo.com), retrieved 11/27/2020