In 1955 a young Korean Chung Do Kwan Black Belt named Han Cha Kyo knocked over a full-grown bull with a flying kick: a remarkable feat for someone weighing only about 130 pounds (See TKD Times, Jan. 1995). This level of power and skill attracted attention and, among many other accomplishments, took him on to lead International Taekwondo Federation demonstration teams through Europe and Asia, to instruct the Hong Kong Police, to form the Taekwon-do Association of Singapore, and later to move to the United States where he developed training devices and methods to help the able-bodied as well as the handicapped to realize their full potential. In 1981 Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo founded The Universal Taekwon-do Federation to teach the principles and methods behind his accomplishments.
Grandmaster Han was very interested in the interaction of mind and body, in how exercising the body in certain ways altered mental attitudes, and in how the mental state effected the physical condition and performance. He devised exercises and training methods which maximized performance through a mutually-reinforcing balance of internal and external development. His was possibly a unique approach where the “soft” style was learned simultaneously with the “hard” style of martial arts thereby developing the whole person at once, instead of addressing the parts separately.
This article was written at Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo’s request and is dedicated to his memory. It will explain The Universal Taekwon-do Federation’s method of developing power by examining the most efficient way to generate and apply force.
Although Grandmaster Han’s work came from a long tradition of manipulation of ki/chi (energy) this concept, along with some of the other principles which evolved through centuries of observation and pragmatic development by Asian martial artists, often seems rather vague and mystical to Western-trained minds. Grandmaster Han focused on understanding the process behind the result, and then taught the process. He understood that the result is only the consequence of the process, and that the only way to directly change the result is to change the process that led to it.
To try to concentrate on the result itself is to remove attention from what caused it. Just as seeing a slow motion detail of how a board physically breaks apart will not improve our ability to break it, concentrating on speed in our training will not help us know how to make more of it, but understanding and being able to control the principles of force will.
One of the things which impressed me about Taekwon-do when I first began training as a college chemistry student in 1967 was the apparent intention of the art to use a scientific approach in order to understand and refine techniques and movements discovered and developed by many centuries of martial artists. It is perhaps this attempt to use a scientific approach which may be Taekwon-do’s most significant legacy to the continuing evolution of the martial arts. If some of the feats accomplished in Taekwon-do seemed almost “magical”, there was, nevertheless, the desire to understand the “magic” so that the benefits could be applied elsewhere.
Science does not mean, however, just the studying or observation of something. “Scientific” refers to a specific method of study which demands the testing of any idea (hypothesis) of how something works. If the idea does not hold up under testing it has to be thrown out, or modified and tested again. Only when an idea holds up to physical testing can it be considered a “theory”. When a theory can hold up to extensive testing from all different approaches without any inconsistencies it will eventually be considered a “law”.
Ideas have been presented before this about how Taekwon-do works, but unless they have held up to controlled testing they are only somebody’s ideas, and cannot be considered as “scientific”. In fact, well-known principles, long used in other fields, already exist which explain much about the workings of Taekwon-do. Understanding these principles may remove some of the “magic” of Taekwon-do for some people, but that understanding will give us the ability to examine and improve our own performance in Taekwon-do, or any other activity.
Not understanding these principles can result in us wasting a lot of time and energy doing things which cannot directly improve the results we want, because those things are not actually involved in the process which produces the result we are looking for. They might be good exercises for coordination, balance or aerobic conditioning, but they are not going to directly improve our intended result.
In the hope of making our training efforts more effective this article will blend “East” with “West” and show that they mutually support each other. This discussion will use long-accepted laws of classical mechanics, along with some of the findings of the infant science of biomechanics to bring more understanding to many of the principles used in our martial arts training. This will not be just a theoretical scientific discussion, however. As we go along, over a dozen experiments will be presented here so that the practical applications of these principles to our training can be tested and felt first-hand. Tested scientific principles will be presented along with “every-day” examples using such things as rockets, whips, slingshots and elevators, so that the ideas being presented to improve our training do not have to be accepted “on faith”. Among the topics covered will be:
1. the many roles that focus play for our bodies, minds and lives;
2. how acceleration is the trainable element that controls speed;
3. the difference between mass and weight and how ‘effective’ mass can be controlled;
4. the use of counter force as a means of controlling the unstoppable reaction force;
5. the need for the concept of center in a body in motion, and in other places in our lives;
6. how integrated breathing enhances physical and mental efforts.
Understanding these principles of force can allow us to improve and refine our control of them which can directly benefit our training and our lives. It is hoped that both the explanations and the experiments contained here will demonstrate the benefits of unifying inner power with outer strength to maximize anyone’s performance.
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