Global Training Report
The Globalization of
By Dr. Lim Smith
Reprinted from the Korea Herald, c.1996
Around the time I first became interested in the Northeast Asia
martial arts, during the early 70's, there was a taekwondoist named Byong Yu,
teaching and competing out of Berkeley, California. Yu, as he was known, was
famous for his spectacular jumping, spinning, flying kicks. Watching him fight,
I thought, "this guy is twice as good as David Carradine, Chuck Norris, and
Billy Jack, combined." I mean, this guy was good.
It came to pass one day that Yu agreed to
fight a full contact exhibition match against an amateur boxer, a young
Mexican-American kid from San Jose. My first reaction was one of sympathy for
the boxer, whose gloved hands could in no way be expected to be any match for
Yu's awesome arsenal of kicking techniques. I visualized the hapless boxer being
decapitated by Yu's supersonic jumping axe kicks.
But that didn't happen. Instead, Yu got his butt
It took me many years to understand what had
happened, paradoxically, precisely because the answer was so obvious: Yu, one of
the top ranking sport karate fighters in the United States, got his butt kicked
by an inexperienced boxer of no particular accomplishments, simply because boxing
is better than taekwondo for anything remotely resembling real fighting.
Boxing is effective for fighting because a
boxing match is similar in important ways to a real fight and that's the kind of
contest boxers train to win. Boxers are in the business of hitting hard and
avoiding getting hit, and failing to avoid getting hit, to take it and come back
slugging. Even a mediocre boxer is tough. Taekwondo, however, is a game of
"tag" and granted it can be a lot of fun to kick someone in the face.
That's fine if the objective of training is taekwondo competition. But anyone
taking up taekwondo as a form of self-defense will not be getting much bang for
Even taekwondo players sometimes concede that
the kind of kicks that score tournament points are not the ones that will take
their adversaries out on the street--or in the ring. In a real fight, they say,
they'll kick low, not high. They keep their hands up, protect their backs, and
punch to the head.
But how will they do in a real fight precisely
the opposite of what they have been drilling into their muscles and nervous
systems for years?
It won't happen.
I realize that taekwondoists like taekwondo the
way it is. I'm not going to propose changing taekwondo. I am merely going to
propose one modification in the way taekwondoists train. It is a method that has
been proven to be effective, and its effectiveness can be verified by anyone
with a pair of arms.
Taekwondoists practice kicking at a little
paddle. The paddle produces a sharp slapping sound when kicked. Players apparently
believe that there is a positive relationship between the loudness of the
slapping sound and the power of the kick. The relationship is illusory. In
addition, the paddle is used less effectively than it could be. Typically, one
person holds the paddle in a stationary position while other players kick it.
The paddle offers no resistance so they knee extends fully at high speed, which
is tremendously destructive of the joint. What's worse, the player doesn't even
get the benefit of attacking a moving target, which is ironic if the supposed
objective of the drill is to develop accuracy.
Pads should offer one or both of two things,
either resistance or movement. There is no useful purpose in kicking a
non-resisting, non-moving target.
The solution is simple. Replace the paddles with
Thai pads. These are thick pads strapped to the trainer's arms. Through the
padding, the impact of the shin bone can easily be felt and feedback immediately
conveyed to the athlete. Plenty of resistance is provided and the trainer can
move the pads at will to simulate an advancing, sidestepping, or retreating
opponent. The taekwondoist will be confused at first because he will be
judging the power of the kick from the loudness of the slap. But the trainer
will register something different. Because powerful kicks don't make a sharp,
slapping sound. Rather, they make a dull, thudding sound.
If the taekwondoist wants to throw his axe
kicks, crescent kicks, hook kicks, and so on, he can practice these on the Thai
pads too. The feedback from the trainer will not be encouraging however, because
these kicks lack power. The kicker will also notice that his feet get easily
caught and he loses balance when that happens. A technique that combines a low
payoff in terms of power with high cost in terms of the probability of ending up
flat on your back may not be the best technique to do.
Taekwondo is a wonderful sport, and I think it
should be promoted more as a feel-good leisure activity like bowling, darts,
golf, and aikido, for refined people who don't like violence or underarm odors.
It should not be marketed off as a method of self-defense. I hope that my simple
suggestion will help popularize taekwondo and I believe the world will be a
better and more harmonious place when everyone learns to practice taekwondo
(c)1996, Dr. Lim Smith. All rights reserved.
Note (November 22, 2016). The original newspaper article is here.
Dr. Smith received death threats from members of the ex-pat TKD community in
Seoul after penning his seemingly inoffensive opinions (or so a normal rational
person might think). According to this article (Combat
Hapkido in the ROK), Dr. Smith was found mysteriously dead, apparently by
foul means, in a short-time room above a go-go bar on Soi 6 in Pattaya,
Thailand, sometime shortly after his article rocked the TKD universe. His body
was completely drained of blood, yet there were no signs of bleeding anywhere to
be seen. Pattaya police ruled it either an accident or suicide, or possibly
murder. The case remains cold to this day.