Over the past five years a few Tae Kwon-Do practitioners have begun to emerge who do not follow the syllabi of the major federations, openly reject many of the theories of the founding masters and frequently contend that many of the techniques taught in traditional Tae Kwon-Do classes are dangerously confused - yet these `heretics' still claim to be performing a legitimate variant of Tae Kwon-Do. Such practitioners are not as loopy as they first seem - in fact they are often the ones who are talking the most sense. Their views are informed by rigorous analyses of Tae Kwon-Do's patterns/forms (Tul/Poomsae) and an acknowledgement that Tae Kwon-Do's techniques descend from Karate (something often denied by many high ranking Tae Kwon-Do masters despite irrefutable evidence).
Put simply, these heretics do not see Tae Kwon-Do as a graceful art or beautiful sport, but as a system of simple, brutal fighting techniques. Poomsae and Tul are not simply routines of punches, kicks and blocks, but routines that also involve close range grappling, throwing, joint-locking and strangleholds which can be seen if only one bothers to look. Furthermore these techniques are not designed for use in a Tae Kwon-Do tournament, a Vale Tudo fight, or any other `ritual-hierarchical' combat sport. Tae Kwon-Do's techniques, as shown in its patterns and forms, were designed to be employed in the drunken, sloppy, close quarter environments of pubs, bars and back alleys. Instead of being created to counter elaborate punching combinations or to escape intricate holds, they are raw survival techniques designed to give their user a means of self-defence against the wild, power crazed attacks, often involving weapons, which come instinctively to all members of our species.
Mathew Sylvester's book is, at the time of writing this review, the latest and, to my mind, the best work of blasphemy on the market at present. It is the first of a series of books that examines the techniques within the patterns and presents some applications of the techniques to the context of street fights.
This first book covers three different patterns: Saju-Jirugi; Chon-Ji; Taegeuk Il Jang. Of these the first two are taken from the Chang Hon style as used by the International Taekwon-Do Federation (it is acknowledged that Saju-Jirugi is not classified officially as a `pattern' by the ITF, however it can nonetheless be - and is - treated with the same analysis) and the third patterns from the Kukkiwon's Taeguek set, as used by the World Taekwondo Federation. Subsequent volumes, the author informs me, will focus on latter patterns in both Chang Hon and Kukkiwon systems, as well as analysing the older Okinawan Kata and introducing some training drills.
It begins with an explanation of what his system of `Practical TaekwondoTM' is and how it differs from the more traditional ways of viewing Tae Kwon-Do. The first few chapters continue with: techniques; stances; targets; the Burgar Rating System (essentially a method of evaluating the usefulness of techniques). The second bit of the book introduces readers unfamiliar with this interpretation of Tae Kwon-Do to alternative possibilities for the uses of the classical movements that they have been performing in the patterns. Finally, the third part provides step-by-step instructions on performing the three patterns and Sylvester's suggestions for how the classical pattern based techniques might be best put to use.
Overall the book is very, very good. The pictures are big and glossy, and it is easy to see what the protagonists are doing. The explanation given is usually pretty comprehensive and is unlikely to leave much to be desired. The applications themselves seem well thought through and well tested. A particularly nice point is that Sylvester devotes two chapters to analysing stances (`parallel ready stance' and `walking/front stance'), showing how one's base can be an integral part of the technique, and not merely serving as support for the arms.
But the book is not perfect.
First up for criticism is the very brief detour into groundwork (pp. 150), where the author argues that the position adopted during the walking stance with low block can be used as a pin (essentially a Full Scarf Hold). This oversteps the bounds of the traditional technique (at least, in my opinion). But there is only one technique falling into this category and this is hardly enough to taint the book.
A more serious criticism is that it is occasionally hard to see how the aspects of the self defence technique are related to the more abstract motions present in the patterns. That's not to say they are not related, simply that the author has not made it clear which self-defence technique is supposed to correspond to what sequence within the patterns. On balance, this is not a critical error - just something irritating.
Summing up I'd certainly recommend this book to any student of Tae Kwon-Do who is interested in starting to explore the patterns/forms in more detail. It will serve you as a very good guide.