Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The importance of "Chambering"

Traditional Martial Artists often discuss "technique" and how to properly excecute them. Great deal
of thought and teaching goes into minute detail for each technique. One thing that I see less and less in Kukki TKD these days is the variance within how to do the techniques. Before the internet, and the large focus of Kukkiwon to standarize its techniques many masters did the techniques different from each other. Often the differences amounted to very little if any difference in actual application, making most changes aestetic instead of practical. In some cases though how to perform a technique will change the application or in worst case make the practical application of a technique impossible.

I have opted to demonstrate two techniques in Taekwondo in this post: Knife hand guarding block (Sonnal geoduro makki) and forward back fist strike (Deungjomeok ap chigi) to show how the chambers fit in with the actual application of a technique.

If you look below you will see two different chambers for the knife hand guarding block. One is the most common chamber in Taekwondo today, while the other is often known as a "Karate Chamber" these days. It should be noted however that both versions were taught in the old schools that later formed modern Taekwondo (at least in the Ji Do Kwan and as late as the early 70s). 

"Karate Chamber"
"Taekwondo Chamber"

Both Chambers
 finish like this

As you might imagine since both techniques end up in the same finishing position the practical application is somewhat similar. The crucial difference is that one is more suited for straight attacks and is very agressive in nature while the other is better suited for circular attacks and is more defensive in nature. Both will be effective for their correct context and both will finish off the attacker if done with sufficient force and accuracy (allthough no technique is perfect and invinsible so take that with a grain of salt). As we who practise Taekwondo today are likely more familiar with the "Taekwondo Chamber" I will start With this application first. Note that I have shared this exact one before a long long time ago but with drawings instead of pictures.

Practical application of the
Taekwondo Chamber

Above you can see the practical application of the Taekwondo Chamber. The attacker does a haymaker to the head. You step offline and into the opponents Space while warding off the attack with your chamber. This work well with the natural flinch response and the effects of adrenaline. You then trap the arm.

After trapping the arm imidiatly flow into a knife hand strike to the neck. There is no pause between the "block" and "strike". Just as in the basic technique the movement is one flowing motion which wards of the attack and counters in one move.

"Karate Chamber"
As for the Karate Chamber you defend yourself against a straight punch by deflecting it inward, and countering with a spear hand strike to the armpit. From here you trap the arm and do a knife hand strike to the neck.

As you will notice the first one is very "yealding" while the second is on the offensive at the get go. They both end up in the same finishing position though so their usage within the forms are actually quite similar despite how different the chambers looks. In this case we can say that both ways have merit and both are effective allthough they are different they both work well within their proper "context". When people start arguing about which way a technique should be performed and they are arguing from a pure block kick punch perspective (as in this block will block a lunging punch) I can not help but feel it is an empty discussion and a complete waste of time. In a block kick punch perspective it is only the end position that is actually being used and since in this case (and in many others) the end position is the same they dont differ in application in those discussions. It is only when we look deeper at the movement and how the complete movement can be of use we can have a constructive discussion on "which is better" of the different versions.  Allthough most often there is no really "this is better than that" when it comes to these discussions as demonstrated in the earlier example since both work well in their given context there are other ways of doing other techniques that do have in my opinion a "this is a better way to perform it than that way" answer. The next example I have chosen is the forward back fist fist strike.

Below you can see the "correct" Kukkiwon standard chamber for the technique. The backfist comes from underneath your armpit and continues on the inside of the pulling hand (dangkinun son).  I have seen many teach this incorrectly with the strike traveling on the outside of the pulling hand. It travels longer, get to accelerate longer and therefore is more powerful so what is my beef with chambering and striking on the outside of the pulling hand?

" Correct" chamber

End position
In this application to set it within a combative context I have applied it "within a combative setting" instead of isolating it as in a one step or similar place. In the picture below my punch has been blocked and evaded by my opponent.

Punch is blocked
From there I trap and pull his blocking arm as you can see from the picture below. Doing this I can unbalance him, I get to know where he is and where he is moving not only by sight alone but also feeling it through my connection.

recognice the Chamber for the backfist?
below is the actual delivery. You can step forward and use Your stance actively to crash into his "structure", which along with the strong pull and the forward momentum of your forward step makes this a lot more powerfull than merely chambering on the outside of the pulling arm. I kept my stance as is for clarity in the photo.

the backfist is delivered along with a strong pull
The problem I have with the chambering on the outside vs on the inside as the one I have demonstrated here is that if you look closely on the last picture you will note that chambering on the outside nullifies the application. You can not hit him with the back fist strike because his arm is in the way. If you exclude the pulling arm you get a slightly stronger basic technique but if you include it one will be useable and the other will be useless.

My experience is that the "official way" more often than not is useable, and the local variances are more often than not aestetic in nature and does little if anything to change the actual practical application of a technique. There are some variants however that simply does not work. Again in my own subjective experiences and study the Kukkiwon standard of techniques is a very good standard to follow even if you are not that interested in Poomsae as a performance sport. If you have a teacher that teaches you differently you should not imidiatly discard his way of doing it though. It is likely that he learned it that way and somewhere along the line of transmission of the technique there was a clear objective of doing it that way. If that is the case you should be able to analyze the technique pretty easily to see if it holds up for closer scrutiny.

I have questioned the Kukkiwon standard many times but through study and analisys I have found that that standard is actually pretty neat.


  1. I've never fully considered the load for the knife hand guarding block. I'm going to explore that in my one step, thank you. (The back fist as you describe is how I've been taught. For one step, we teach knife hand block, grabbing the punching arm, followed with back fist, which, as you say, only works if the load is inside.)

    1. I hope you will enjoy playing around With it Jemima :-)

  2. Good post!' Even though the Kukkiwon standard occasionally holds up to scrutiny, it does us no good to promulgate it without examining the reasoning behind it.

    For the back fist, another possibility is deflecting and then subsequently striking with the same hand (and also grabbing/controlling with the rear hand) -- i. e. deflecting using the chambering motion -- somewhat à lá the palm block-backfist combination in Chil jang, in that the chamber is higher.

    This is preferential to me because it allows us to simultaneously deflect and counter-attack, which sets us up for seizing the initiative. In this scenario, the elbow of the lead (deflecting) hand could be a simultaneous elbow strike, and the grabbing hand could be a conventional strike.

    For this reason, I prefer the karate chamber of the knife-hand block as well.

    1. I am glad you liked it :-) I agree With the comment on the Kukkiwon standard. We should test it out and strive to understand it before going out to the world and shout out how great it is.

      As for Your comment on the back fist I think you are "on the mark" :-) I tried to demonstrate the technique from within a combative setting (i.e. how you can use a technique when your first strike fails). I have noticed that often the demonstrations I give is from a "static" context and little is shown "in fight" so to say (I know that there is a difference between fighting and self defense but I also think you know what I am getting at here:-) )

      Thanks for commenting Jon Arild :-)

    2. The static context is a good fit for illustrating your point, and a good starting point for those who are new to this line of thinking/training.

      I often choose different standards than what the KKW stipulates, and I wanted to show why. I could and should have been clearer on that. :)

  3. That is to say, I prefer these methods as my primary, go-to applications. There is a time for every variation.

  4. We have to remember that also with Kukkiwon a lot of its influence came from Japan when in creation of the art of modern day Tae Kwon Do. One of Gichin's students of Karate was the founder of the Chung Do Kwan school with Tae Kwon Do. And accordingly to my recorder Chung Do Kwan is the first and oldest of the original Kwans. So this is why with traditional Tae Kwon Do and with traditional Karate we see a lot of similarities.

    1. Yes you are right:-) Formally however Song Moo Kwan founded by Ro Byung Jik was first established before the Chung Do Kwan. He tried twice before managing to open up a Dojang that would last and be stabil. His Third try was after the Chung Do Kwan was established.

      Most of the Kwan have roots in Japan, but not only through Funakoshi. I have written about this extensively before in the blog, but as a short sumary Kukki Taekwondo is the joint merger of all the Kwan in Korea in the 1970s.

      Song Mu Kwan: Shotokan Karate

      Chung Do Kwan: Shotokan Karate

      Mu Duk Kwan: Various Chinese Martial Arts and cross training

      Yoon Mu Kwan: Shudokan Karate or Shotokan Karate (Sources vary on Chun Sang Sup) + Judo.

      Ji Do Kwan: Shotokan, Shudokan, Shito Ryu Karate.

      Chang Mu Kwan: Chinese Martial arts and Shudokan Karate

      Oh Do Kwan: Shotokan Karate.

      (If I have left a Kwan or two out it is not on purpose, Im just typing from memory). I Write Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Shudokan Karate in this reply, but we should keep in mind that what was taught before WW2 was different from what came after. A lot of the Things that are characteristic of SHotokan today for example were implemented after WW2 by Funakoshi`s sucessors. The Kwan founders learned Karate by the karate styles founders (Funakoshi and his son, Kenwa Mabuni and Toyama Kanken) at an early point in their career (in Japan). We can therefore not look at the styles today and conclude this is what the founders learned. We need to look at what was taught in the time periode the Kwan founders studied (1930s-1940s). Luckily FUnakoshi and Mabuni both wrote several books :-)For Funakoshi I recommend his 1935 Karate do kyohan.