Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Back to Basics

If you think because you can do karate you can do Taekwondo, or vice versa, then you may be in for a shock. I made a number of assumptions when I started taekwondo that I would probably be quite good at it, given my background, and that I would find the sporty element of it ineffectual.

Taekwondo comes at kicking and punching from literally a different route. In wado we are taught to take the shortest distance from start to finish, wasting no movement. We are also taught to flow movements into one another and to use our opponents force against him or herself. The fist sits high up above the waist so that the distance to attack or block is minimised. Stances are generally higher than in, say Shotokan or Shito-ryu and more natural.

Now, taking into account that I am a beginner in taekwondo and my understanding is very much at that level I fully expect some tkd experts to challenge this comparison but here is my understanding of the basic differences.

In blocking, taekwondo blocks tend to come from the centre of the body with the hands crossed. This emphasises the “reaction force”, both sides of the body move equal and opposite distances. This creates power and a good defensive position. However it also slows down the transition and creates risk. Used correctly with a side facing stance it can be effective, but my observation is that this is rarely used when sparring, only in patterns and line work. One advantage is that it does teach newbies some excellent principles about defending their centre-line which will pay dividends as it becomes ingrained.

Upper: Taekwondo Sine Wave, Lower: Karate economy of motion
A wado karate punch drives directly from below the shoulder, generating force through speed and a twist of the fist and the hip at the end. It’s very hard to generate a lot of power this way until you master it. A good karateka performing tsuki does not rise and fall but maintains his height. By comparison a taekwondo punch drops down from the hip, picks up the whole body as it rises and smashes that whole body-weight down into the punch. This is the “sine-wave” of taekwondo; the down-up-down motion that characterises the art, and it’s bloody hard to get right if you’ve spent 25 years doing the opposite.

Similarly with kicks; in taekwondo the whole weight falls forward into the kick, in karate the kick is controlled and the weight is held over the hips. Is one better than the other? Well, I’m siding very slightly with karate on this one because whilst it is much easier to generate a fight-ending kick or punch using the Korean method, I think the sine-wave provides too many opportunities for your opponent to send you off-balance or strike first. That said, if I want to break a board or had time to generate the power for a finishing strike, I would totally use it.

My reflection is that in taekwondo the emphasis is on generating as much power as possible even at the expense of some speed. But who would win in a fight? Well judging from the little sparring I’ve done I would say that a good karate technique is more likely to connect but will struggle to generate the raw power of a good taekwondo attack. But if that attack fails they are then at the mercy of the karateka.

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