Keumgang magi-the Diamond Block

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

WTF forms Applications


Because of the increased “sportification” of the WTF, many of the forms have been under appreciated, and, in many schools, de-emphasized. Yet the original fighting concepts are still maintained within them, albeit often overlooked. My purpose in this series is to take some of the more “obscure” movements from some of the forms and provide some insight into how they can be used in a realistic combat scenario. Hopefully people can take these ideas and add their own concepts and broaden the knowledge of these arts to those who practice it.


The key movement of the form is the keumgang magi—diamond block. It consists of one arm executing a high block movement and the other arm a low block movement. The leg is then raised to knee level.



A key to interpreting this complex action is to stop focusing on the final position and concentrate on the specific motions involved. One arm moves up and back, and the other moves down and back. The knee then moves forward.

In this example we face our opponent with our lead arms clashing (separated here for clarity). While we could perform this from a grab, a punch, or even a handshake, we are demonstrating the technique from this position because it is so commonly encountered




From this position pull the opponents arm down towards your side. Since the normal reaction when your arm is tugged is to pull back, you can use this pulling back to help you spring around to his rear




Once you are behind place your arm around his neck and then pull his head to the side.





Your knee will then be raised to kick out the back of his knee completely destabilizing him.

keumgang 5


At this point any number of finishing moves are available to you. As the form indicates you can initiate a throw. You can even  put a one arm rear naked choke on your opponent by placing the hand of your upper arm on the back of your neck to act as a fulcrum. A bouncer (doorman) can use that technique to walk someone out having one arm free to op





reality and ritual

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Reality & Ritual

By Richard Conceicao

One day among a group of TKD students, I had the opportunity to train with a law enforcement instructor in some basic control techniques. It was fun to go over things that I haven’t done in years. The hard part was forcing myself to do it his way, as you find your muscle memory moving you elsewhere. I always try to avoid that trap otherwise I would never learn the new way, and it may prove to be far superior!

The group was very receptive to his “reality” based techniques. They usually are, as there is a clarity, and immediately visible effectiveness to these techniques. They are usually easier to understand because you can actually see the application, and work on it with your partner, till both of you gets it right.
Most of the material presented had to do with containment and control, as is appropriate for law enforcement. The same concepts could have been easily
I think this is one of the main appeals of MMA fighting. I also believe they are a welcome relief from “kick-kick-punch-kick” (rinse and repeat) world of karate for most people, especially those with little grappling experience.
dangerous outcomes.

I am sure that most, if not all, of the participants did not realize that much of what they were doing were movements, either directly performed or implied in the forms, and one steps, that they were all familiar with. Of course, it is true that, in many cases, the movements are so stylized that it becomes difficult to perceive them. In addition, we are so conditioned by the sporting aspects, which suffuse everything these days, that we modify our applications to fit that model.
The real issue to me is that we have made everyone blind to these applications through our training process. We give movements erroneous names, which just serve to confuse instead of describe. As an example, can’t we really drop the idea that the “assisted/augmented block” is one hand supporting the other as it is “blocking” something! It isn’t a block, it never was a block, but because we tell everyone that it is, their minds stop there. It never occurs to them that more may be going on.
I remember commenting to a participant that we would be better off telling our white belts to just “move like this” and not give it name, then maybe they would like to learn all the things that you can do when you “just move like this”.
For historical reasons we have skewed the approach to forms. We expect the forms to show us what to do, and, I guess in a rudimentary manner they do. The “reality” based approach is very different; you learn the techniques and variations only. You work on them over and over till you can do them by feel. You can later pantomime them in a solo fashion because you know exactly what if feels like to do them.
How many of you when practicing your forms recreate in your minds the memory of what the technique “feels like” when you do it against an opponent’s body. Do you remember the tiny changes that you do to compensate for resistance or variations in angle?

Well guess what, that is exactly how it was done in the old days. The practitioners knew the applications cold. They had banged each other around enough to know exactly how everything felt, and how to change it depending on what the other guy did. The only thing most of them couldn’t do— write it down! With the exception of the scholars and nobility, many practitioners were completely illiterate. So, they did the next best thing, they developed a pantomime of the different scenarios and strung it together in what we now call a form, which they then memorized. To make it perfectly clear, they knew the applications before they learned the form.
To paraphrase Patrick McCarthy (the noted karate historian) speaking about Pinan 1, the kata contains “advanced fighting techniques strung together in a highly improbable way”. There are some interesting observations on the formation of these embusen (Jap. “Combat line”), but that is a topic for another time.

Of course some of the old masters drew pictures as well as wrote, but there were very few. Even still, if you didn’t know the applications you could only go so far. In Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the bandit daughter is a much better fighter than her mother. Mom stole the WuDeng manual but she could only look at the pictures, the daughter could read as well.

Therefore, I suggest that we might want to change our training emphasis around. We should spend most of our time on two man drills, with many variations, and then learn a form that encompasses them. This is actually the way all the classical ryu were taught. After doing all that, it is pretty easy to memorize a form, and have it contain a wealth of meaning.

To our great loss, by the stylistic ritualization of everything we do, we have lost much of the “reality base” that was always there, and if we can get past the window dressing, is still there. I suppose I would be lax if I didn’t mention the other major method of the transmission of knowledge- the oral one. I find this mostly in Chinese systems. Every move has a name, and if you memorize the names and the order that they appear, you have a poem. If you memorize the poem, you know the form, and of course, no one else does—it’s your secret.
The “seventh road” (form) of Dragon Palm Baqua: “Lion holds the ball, Lion rolls the ball, Lion pounces on ball, Lion opens mouth, Lion rolls over, Sky horse walking in ai


Saturday, February 23rd, 2013



By Richard Conceicao


A movement pattern can encompass many uses—“a middle block is not only a middle block”.

Once you get away from limiting term “block” and just concern yourself with the movement interesting stuff begins to show up.  

There is an Aiki-jitsu throw where when your same side wrist is grabbed you step behind your opponent, bend your elbow, bringing the hand towards your centerline and then back out. The opponent is off balanced and falls to his rear.  If you were to pantomime this action without the opponent physically there, the entire karate/tkd world would say you were simply demonstrating a forward stepping inside-to-out middle block.

A few other examples:

  1. a.     Hair pull: very often grabbing your opponents hair, pulling his head down and back, is a very effective way of opening him up to your attack. One can imagine that the Samurai of old, with everyone’s hair in a topknot, loved this technique! 
  1. b.     Reverse Supinating Wristlock (Kotegaeshi) Once again perform this on your partner, and then do it again solo, the movement mirrors that of a middle block. 
  1. c.     Uppercut: if you were to intercept an incoming straight punch by throwing an uppercut at opponents head you would not only appear to but would in effect be doing an out-to-in middle block. Of course, this is a more advanced motion as it demands timing and a bit of courage on your part, but is easier to pull off than you think. 
  2. d.     White crane nods its head: as the name implies this is a finger chin-na from White Crane kung fu. It is done by grabbing and then hyperextending your opponents finger in a downward motion, forcing him to the floor. 

Now, one may argue that the human body can only move in certain ways, therefore it is unfair to imply that all of these techniques can be found within the karate/tkd syllabus, or that the founders were even aware of them. Perhaps, but honestly, I don’t care. As long as I can look at anything that widens the perspective I have on these arts, I am a happier man. 

The Motion of a Middle Block

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013


 by Richard Conceicao

Part I

               “The purpose of blocking is to maneuver your opponent into a disadvantageous position”

                                                                                                            G. Funakoshi

No form of attack ends in a block.

One of the problems with our use of terminology that always creeps up is when we define things in only one way. Even after years of practice, when we of course “know better”, we still use the same terms as a shorthand description. This closes our minds to all the possibilities that can be developed out of the motion that we describe as a middle block.

Here is a brief list of the basics:

Scooping Block (sukui-uke)                              Striking Block (uchi-te uke)

Pulling in Block (hiki-te uke)                            Sweeping Block (harai-te uke)

Trapping Block (kakae-te uke)                           Hooking Block (kake-te uke)

Opening Block (kakiwake-te uke)                      Circular Block (mawashi uke)

Single-Double Knife Hand

I have cheated a little by taking this list from Gichin Funakoshi’s “Karate-Do Kyohan”. I did this for two reasons, one-Shotokan is a primary influence on most TKD styles, and two, to show how much can get lost in translation. All of these (with the exception of the Circular) fall into what we would call middle section body blocks, with, perhaps, a further descriptive “inside to out” or “outside to in”. At this point we are pretty much done as far as common TKD vocabulary goes.

But take a closer look at the above list. Notice that they all delineate the function of the movement. Each type is used for different reasons and, as such, have different applications. In addition, each of these variants also has both a defensive mode, and an offensive mode. They are not completely identical motions changed solely by intent. Once again this shows the problems that come with a limited descriptive vocabulary, it limits our realization of possibilities.

I am not suggesting that these concepts are unknown to some TKD practitioners, or are not demonstrated in many of our forms. What I am suggesting is that the multiple variations are never really thought of as we remain fixated on the most common type—the focused striking block.

In the following sections I would like to cover some of the mechanical fundamentals, basic structural testing, alternative applications, and lastly some theoretical ones.

I suppose it is important to start at the very beginning and recognize the most elemental concept, i.e.  “How you get there is more important than where you get to.” All of the important action occurs before the final position. This applies to all of our practice, not just the subject this particular discussion. We tend to look at our movements (including those in our forms) as a series of end points. “I kicked here, I blocked here, and then I turned this way, and then punched high.” Once again, the movements that lead up to those positions, such as the initial chamber, the arcs of the hand and elbow, center line covering, and so on, are the critical components that make everything work. In fact, very often the final position can be written off as mere follow through.


You must observe the function of each component of the movement. Each motion in any form comprises a unique system in its totality.

 When you first went through learning the movements that comprised a “low block” or a “high block”, you started by separating the action and function of each arm. Where did the upper arm start and end up, where did the bottom one go. You then put both motions together and developed the ability to perform them in a smooth integrated way. You may not consider it the same but, in my opinion, these were your first forms (or kata, poomse, hyungs– however you wish to describe them), albeit much shorter than the more official ones.

Each of these white belt/simple/beginner techniques is packed with applications that are not immediately obvious, especially when you are focused on just the end position.



Sunday, April 29th, 2012

by Richard Conceicao

This particular hand formation has become, in the western mind, as representative of all Asian martial arts in general; from the “judo chop” on. It is ubiquitous in all of our forms, and taught in all dojangs at some level. Obviously the founders regarded it as important. Yet, other than the forms, it is essentially absent from much of our practice, and when used, it is usually in very limited and elementary ways.

In the following discussion I would like to review some of the basics, some variations, and some common errors in the application of this technique. Some of you may feel that I am wasting your time with white belt stuff, others that I am being overly pedantic, or that I am saying my way is better. While there may be some truth to all of this, I ask that you bear with me. I have seen many injuries occur due to error, and am just expressing what has worked out best for me. Take whatever is useful.


Just in passing to mention the basics before skipping to the variants; the knuckles (pip joints) are extended backwards, distal tips (dip joints) are flexed inwards in order to properly tense the muscles of the hand. The base of the thumb is fully extended and back, the tip flexed inward.

Striking surface variations:

  1. By rotating the wrist to the thumb side (radial deviation) we expose a small bone at the base of the wrist—the pisiform. This striking surface is utilized for two basic reasons. First, it is relatively insensitive to pain. Even novices with no hand conditioning can strike a hard surface comfortably. Second, it concentrates the force in a relatively small area, making it an excellent choice for attacking acupuncture points and other vital targets. Some have argued that this curved hand forearm shape was the original Bubishi “sword hand” as it more closely resembles the shape of a samurai sword. The modern use was straightened for esthetic reasons. You can see remnants of this in the tegatana of aikido.


  1. Side of hand. This uses the fleshy musculature on the side of hand and represents the most common formation. Care must be taken because it does not use the exact side of the hand! The small bone that lies there is especially vulnerable to breakage when striking hard targets. It is the muscles that lie closer to the palm side that form the striking surface. As a result the hand must be oriented with around a 20 degree tilt off the vertical or horizontal axis to strike safely.  Those of you who look like waiters carrying a pizza will regret it sooner or later. For a quick visualization of this—place the palm of your hand on the side of your partners jaw (fingers pointing to back of their head). When you remove your hand the orientation will be almost perfect for a horizontally directed strike.



While this may seem obvious—hit what you aim at, there is more to it. Most practitioners conceive of the motion as going from side to side in a largely horizontal (albeit slightly downward arc) or straight ahead. Unfortunately, because these angles use the smaller muscles of the shoulder they tend to be very weak, and, there is no really good way to add the body weight to the blow.

Much more preferable to me is to move the hands forward in a downward arc. This applies to attacks that are straight down, sideways, or even forward. This recruits the stronger latissimus dorsi (lats) of the shoulder and enables the body weight to be put behind it, provided of course, that you remember to drop your weight. Strangely enough, when this weight shift is done properly, it will feel as if your body is slightly rising as your arm presses down.

The one essential element: The elbow must always face down!!!! As soon as you raise your elbow you lose what will feel like more than half your power. One way of visualizing this is to imagine that your arm is a hollow trough filled with water. The water represents your energy. If you raise your elbow to the side the water spills out, and your energy is lost.  This is almost a universal concept. It applies to punching, joint locks, and many throws. Always keep it in mind.



While this is an accurate rendering of the Korean, I prefer to keep in mind the Japanese word ‘uke”. This is usually translated the same in English as a block. A more accurate rendering would be “reception”. To receive an incoming attack does not denote how you will do it. You can deflect, parry, strike, press, trap, lock, or even throw. All of these are reflected in the motion of the knife hand block. I consider this multitude of applications one of the reasons it is found in so many of our forms.


The essential consideration: The chambering motion is the block; the forward motion is the attack.

This may seem strange to some, but think it through. We know from experience that in a fight there is no time to retract in order to go forward. You would end up blocking with your face. The upper hand moving from the opposite side of the body sweeps up and strikes with the knife hand by your ear. This motion both protects you from missing, and attacks the nerve points on the opponents arm or wrist. This can be areas such as Lung 6, 7 (pronated fist) or Lung 8, Pericardium 6 (vertical fist). All of these tend to numb and weaken the arm and open the hand. It also reverses the normal energy flow of the arm.  At this point the hand moves forward to attack the opponent.

There are a number of stylistic variants of this, but they all retain this essential characteristic.

Variant 1. Single knife hand: the upper hand moves back over the outstretched lower arm, deflects and then moves forward again. In this case while the upper knife hand is doing this, the bottom is actually attacking the opponents’ body. As the lower arm recedes it pulls the opponent into the upper arms forward knife hand strike. More common in Japanese/Okinawan systems but still found in many traditional TKD schools.

Variant 2. Double knife hand, rear hand chambers at waist level. The upper arm function remains the same. In this case the lower arm is used to press, deflect, and lock up the opponents’ arm to allow the upper arm a clear path to the target. This can be done from the inside or outside. The lower arm can even be used to strike nerve points on the other arm to amplify the effect of the attack. Common to many WTF schools.

Variant 3. Both arms sweep back as a cross body deflection and unbalancing. This was discussed by me in a past issue (totally TKD #?).   The forward motion can be used as a strike or throw or both. Common to ITF schools.



I am demonstrating some non blocking/striking uses for the motion of the knife hand block. As stated before there are many, and to attempt a comprehensive list would be far beyond the scope of this discussion. These are provided as a starting point to expand your thought process when practicing.

As your prior experience no doubt has shown you, the knife hand block motion is very difficult to manage effectively when directly on line with your opponent. They work optimally on a 45 degree angle. Keep that in mind as you attempt the examples below.

  1. Two middle knife hand blocks in succession. No, you are not blocking two retreating punches. As you step forward, your lead hand presses his arm downward and away. As you step forward again, maintaining the grip on his arm, raise your other arm above it (the second knife hand block) striking downward and pulling the trapped arm, throw him to the ground. The double sequence sets him up and throws him.


  1. Middle knife hand sweep down to lower knife hand block. As opponent throws outside haymaker, step in and strike arm targets (e.g. L5, PC 2, 3 etc) and neck. No chamber! Forward hand grabs arm, rear hand scoops back of neck. Move weight into back stance sweep arms around to turn him and cause him to fall. The discerning among you may have already recognized that puzzling sequence from Pyongwon.
  2. Arm bar. As punch comes in, pass it with forward hand, rear hand rolls over forearm, forward forearm presses down on elbow or upper arm (TW 11, 12). It may sound difficult but it is a simple rolling motion that is very quick. Remove the opponents arm and it looks for all the world like a double middle knife hand block!

I hope that this long presentation has something that is useful to you immediately, and that it further stimulates discussion, experimentation, and trial.