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Main Question: Is there a difference between Shotokan Bunkai for blocks and Taekwondo "Bunkai" for blocks?

  • Sub Question A: Does the wrapping motion of Taekwondo Blocks interfere with the Bunkai?
  • Sub Question B: What is the purpose of the wrapping motion in TKD blocking (from an application perspective)? The generation of twisting power and range of motion is understood and need not be discussed.

The above questions are inter-related and sub-sets of the main question. In other words, they don't deserve their own question (as far as I can see), but they did need to be separated out.

Background:

TKD is a direct descendant of Shotokan Karate and could be considered a Korean form of Karate. The main difference besides technical emphases between the two arts is how they chamber for their blocks. Shotokan will tend to chamber the block further out from the body, while TKD does this tight wrapping against the body at neck level. The link shows a woman chambering for a block, but the chambers I've seen are much tighter than the one she shows. It's really almost as if you're trying to apply a rear naked choke to yourself (if that makes sense). There are variations, but most block chambers in TKD are like this.

This link shows a Shotokan block (Chudan Uke) along with a few variants of applications for this technique. Most analyses of bunkai show the preparatory chambering of the block as a counter-grappling maneuver as shown in the video.

As this question is not about any specific block, but Shotokan and TKD blocks generally, how can we explain the applications of the wrapping chamber of TKD? Wrapping the arms across the throat does not offer the same counter-grappling opportunities as Shotokan bunkai (or does not seem to). The one "application" that I've read about the TKD's wrapping chamber is protection of the neck. Sorry, that's not enough bang for my buck (i.e. there are much simpler ways to protect the neck than by wrapping both arms around it and exposing the rest of the torso).

  • Also consider that you have chosen two separate blocks, rather than comparing the same block between styles. In my variant of TKD, my low block chamber has my blocking fist on my opposite shoulder, with my block elbow pointing out and down from my body, not wrapped around my neck. Our inner forearm block (Which matches the middle block in your video) chambers in front in the same fashion as the video. – JohnP Nov 25 '14 at 17:29
  • You can also consider that many styles teach overemphasized chambers to emphasize it, as many many students doesn't do things as far/tight/extended as they think they do. – JohnP Nov 25 '14 at 17:30
  • @JohnP, over-emphasis was considered, but relates to teaching body mechanics moreso than application. The final question is as to whether the over-emphasis that results in neck wrapping is combatively feasible as "bunkai". – The Wudang Kid Nov 25 '14 at 17:42
  • Also, interesting that your TKD is closer to Shotokan style. What branch? – The Wudang Kid Nov 25 '14 at 17:42
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    "TKD is a direct descendant of Shotokan Karate" is a simplification. Some of the Kwans practiced Shotokan, others different Karate styles, some were also influenced by chinese arts. – Sean Patrick Floyd Nov 27 '14 at 9:33
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Kukkiwon has no official Bunkai (Boonhae in Korean). So I would say that this is a dangerous road to go down, trying to assign Boonhae to a system that specifically wasn't mean to have it. People doing this are guessing after the fact (and a lot of the founders have said there is no hidden meaning to the moves intended). Now, the previous martial arts that the founders studied (mostly Karate, with some Kung-fu) may have had them, so the movements are similar but the Taekwondo motions weren't designed with Boonhae in mind.

As for why the Taekwondo low block preparation position is so high/tight to the head, it's simply a matter of how far can you take your hand away from the blocking position without compromising either your joints or your body position/stability. Given that force equals mass times acceleration, you want as long a distance as possible to keep accelerating the blocking body part.

There's nothing more complex than that, it's no secret defence for protecting the neck (at least not in the way that my instructors or the Kukkiwon instructors on the Master Instructor Course in Korea explained it), it's purely physics principles applied.

You do say that "most Taekwondo block chambers are like this", it's only low blocks (and varients) that start from above the shoulder, middle blocks start from the shoulder line and high blocks start from the waist.

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    So how do they justify a two-beat movement as a defense to a one-beat attack (i.e. a punch)? It is simply too slow to be effective. If the answer is "you wouldn't do it like that in a fight" then why train any other way than the way you expect to use it? Analyzing the block as boonhae (application) at least explains why it is a two-beat movement. – The Wudang Kid Dec 1 '14 at 13:16
  • Also, the "arms around the neck" chamber is common to many blocks in the TKD I do. This may be a stylistic difference. – The Wudang Kid Dec 1 '14 at 13:20
  • I personally tell my students that it's like the Karate Kid, you are training complex actions and interactions in muscles in an exaggerated way to enable them to be performed in a fast way in a real situation. The reason one trains in a different way to the "way you expect to use it" is that people have different expectations of what they are going to do with their techniques. Some are here purely for their health or fitness, some are at Taekwondo for the sport side and yes, some are for self defence. So, for those doing it for health having larger movements is better. – Andy Jeffries Dec 1 '14 at 13:54
  • Thanks for weighing in. I don't like it, but the possibility that the chambers were purely for teaching body mechanics was always on the table and still is. Just seems like bad MA design to me. – The Wudang Kid Dec 1 '14 at 14:39
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    You would be surprised how much time you have to perform a proper block when you're in a self-defense situation against a non-martial artist. I was in a fight with a guy once after I had had 3 glasses of wine and I could block each and every one of his punches without worrying about it. The angrier someone is, the slower he moves and the longer his swings. While a proper block won't work in competition, it's pretty effective in the stereotypical bar fight. They also look cool to the ladies [citation needed]. – Captain Kenpachi Dec 3 '14 at 8:22
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There is no difference. We are all human, no matter Korean, Japanese, or any other culture. As such, we all have arms, legs, heads, hands - and they all move the same way. That Taekwondo had borrowed the entire concept of a martial art style - including uniform, training methods, advancement, and forms - suggests they cannot escape the essence of the forms that they borrowed, even if they changed the forms.

It seems no secret that the Taekwondo founders had no idea, or care, about bunkai, and even today, it still seems quite denied: The Kukkiwon textbook and Choi's Encyclopedia are both devoid of any meaningful bunkai (bunhae, in Korean), and often, the sparse applications mentioned go against the grain of conventional wisdom established in the system it was influenced from.

But denying bunkai's existence, or pointing to poor bunkai, or showing lack of application in the main books of the style as tacit refusal to accept its existence does not mean it doesn't exist: just because two styles have the same technique (eg, a low block) does not mean the movements must be interpreted in separate ways, no matter the name you give the technique.

The analysis of a form's movements can - and should - yield more than one application - sometimes dozens. Sometimes, the result is rather ridiculous, and I tend to pick on the Encyclopedia and Textbook often to explain. You are correct to doubt the application of the neck wrap as a way to protect the neck, because you point out it looks like a rear naked choke. But that doesn't mean the technique shouldn't be performed; we need to think about the intended purpose. In your example, it's not about protecting the neck.

You asked about blocks. In real Karate, there aren't any blocks. What we call blocks we commonly find things to block; the reality is they are usually grappling techniques: throws, locks, pins. They're strikes, too. Maybe parries. But usually, they're grappling maneuvers. There's absolutely no reason why this can't apply to Taekwondo as well. Why shouldn't it?

I've heard of some amazing feats of human achievement (read: fanciful luck) where a technique is used to catch punches, rip out groins, yank out hearts, or knock out an enemy with a stare... Meanwhile, some techniques - notably the junbe positions - are often spouted as some sort of greeting, or having some spiritual representation of elemental objects. Yikes. Maybe the shape of form takes on such meaning. But the techniques within - the business end of the concept - have meaning applicable to self-defense, not some celebration of a Korean general or ancient element like a pine tree and rock.

The elemental meanings, or representation of famous icons in Korean history - these - and not the bunhae - are the "add-ons" to the forms. The bunkai is there, and always has been. It may have been forgotten, or reforged into something else. But there's no denying bunkai - real bunkai - exists.

If you want to know more what your Taekwondo blocks (or forms) mean, I'd suggest asking a competent instructor. Failing that, find a competent Karate instructor (preferably, one from Okinawa - their teaching methods often emphasize the 'why' over the 'how'). Even, consult a competent Chinese style instructor in any Kung Fu substyle - they do the same thing as us in Taekwondo and Karate (bunkai/bunhae)! Meanwhile, read books on bunkai. Question everything. Practice often. Find out what works, and decide for yourself what is fanciful and what can work.

Oh, and sub-questions:

Sub Question A: Does the wrapping motion of Taekwondo Blocks interfere with the Bunkai?

No, it doesn't interfere with bunkai (analysis). But it is not the correct yield for bunkai.

Sub Question B: What is the purpose of the wrapping motion in TKD blocking (from an application perspective)? The generation of twisting power and range of motion is understood and need not be discussed.

The wrapping motion is not a motion. The arm is wrapped because it has grabbed something - ostensibly, the opponent's hand who is grabbing at the lapel, throat, or shoulder. The arm underneath is also wrapping, and in my opinion, is probably incorrect: that arm should be outward, either touching the opponent to maintain a sense of distance or blind sight; or it is reaching for something (which seems the case if the hand is in a fist). I tend to keep the underhand outward, so I haven't had time to think of any bunkai which has the chambering hand wrapped underneath. My first thought is that it's useless, but maybe someone can come up with a viable example.

For reference:

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