Archive for the ‘Taekwondo’ Category

            Taekwondo is a very effective martial art with both its Mu Sool (Martial Skills) and moral tenets.  In this paper I will reveal little known advanced principles in Mu Sool vital point striking, many of which can be used effectively in taekwondo.

            Generally, when people think of taekwondo they see a martial art which utilizes phenomenal hand and foot techniques which are applied with focus, timing, speed and power against an attacking opponent’s weak areas (vital points). In this way, the resulting self defense applications have a much greater success in their effectiveness; as opposed to just punching or kicking randomly on the opponent’s body in hopes that you will defeat them.

            The intelligence of utilizing these vital points on the opponent’s body sets apart an advanced taekwondo practitioner from a novice.  But what if there was an even a greater methodology to vital point striking than what is typically known?  If so, this knowledge could further the advanced practitioners skills. Well, there is a more advanced science to vital point striking and to the Chinese it is known as the science of dim-mak.

* * *


            In order to accurately comprehend aspects of this paper, one needs to have some understanding of the energetic meridian based system found in traditional oriental medicine. Generally speaking, the human body has 12 bilateral primary meridians (see “Yin/Yang Channels” below). There are also two special vessels (the Conception Vessel – CV and the Governor Vessel – GV) that are not bilateral. These are singular channels, which follow the midline of the body, one in front and one on the back.

There are a number of ways in which the Primary Meridians can be classified. One method is to classify them into two groups, according to their polarity of Yin and Yang. The Chinese determined that some of the meridians are predominantly of Yin energy, and some are predominantly of Yang energy.  We will be referencing certain vital points and their corresponding numbers using the abbreviations found in this meridian system.  

Yin Channels (Organ) Yang Channels (Organ)


Lung (LU) Large Intestine (LI)
Spleen (SP) Stomach (ST)
Heart (HT) Small Intestine (SI)
Kidneys (KI) Bladder (BL)
Pericardium (PC) Triple Heater (TH)
Liver (LV) Gall Bladder (GB)


Number of Points on each Meridian

Governing Vessel = 27

Conception Vessel = 24

Lung = 11

Large Intestine = 20

Spleen = 21

Stomach = 45

Heart = 9

Small Intestine = 19

Kidney = 27

Bladder = 67

Pericardium = 9

Triple Heater = 23

Liver = 14

Gall Bladder = 44

Note:  Certain Meridian’s have more than one name and or abbreviation. Here are some examples:  Triple Heater (TH) could also be Triple Warmer (TW).  Large Intestine (LI) could also be Colon (CO). Bladder (BL) could also be Urinary Bladder (UB).

One additional but critical aspect to meridian vital point striking is in knowing the direction of the strike since different effects are produced depending on the angle of the strike.  This is important for single strikes as well as multiple strikes, and how they affect each other.  (refer to #4 below Dropping the Heart Rate”). 

In order to have a fundamental understanding of which direction to strike a point, one must first understand that the energy or (Ki) in the posterior meridians on the arms and legs flows in a downward fashion, while the Ki flows in an upwards direction in the anterior regions of the arms and legs. The energy flow in the torso and head can be a bit more complex to follow. 

Note: When one examines the numerical system along each meridian in acupuncture the ascending numbers reflect the direction of the energy (Ki). But with dim-mak vital point striking, one must think of the energy flowing in the opposite direction from acupuncture. For in dim-mak striking we are trying to hurt or kill, not heal.   

Next one must understand what effects the points, used individually or in combinations, have on the attacker. This science is very comprehensive and beyond the scope of this paper. If you would like to study this topic further I recommend the exhaustive works, “The Encyclopedia’s of Dim-Mak”, by Erle Montaigue and Wally Simpson.

* * *


There are five ways to cause a knock-out.  These five methods are the same ways one can also kill an opponent. So the utmost caution must be used when applying this knowledge.

Note: It is dangerous to knock someone out regardless of how it is done. We lose a few million-brain cells every time we are knocked out. Not to mention possible long-term damage and or death.

1. Head Trauma Black Out: (Blunt Trauma or Concussion)

Most of us know that a strong percussion type strike anywhere near the head, chin, face, etc., will cause a knock out. This is because these areas are vital to human survival and when struck, the brain simply causes the rest of the body to faint thus saving all of the energy and blood for the affected area. This is the first and most basic of the knock out techniques. This method is often seen in boxing or mixed martial arts fights.


2. Air Restriction to Lungs: (Lack of Air)

There are two approaches using this method.  The first one, and the one most often considered, would be to restrict air to lungs by cutting off the airway through a choking, compression, or crushing techniques on a person’s airway (larynx).  The second method causes the muscles around the lungs to constrict violently by going into spasm thus causing the person to black out. With this approach, using the meridian based system; we could, for example, perform strikes to ST 15 or to SI 11.  The strike to SI 11, which is located in the center of the scapular, will have the same effect as a good kick in the gut.


3. Stopping Blood Flow to Brain: (Lack of blood)

In this method the blood is restricted or stopped in its ability to get to the brain, such as a squeezing method which cuts off circulation to the carotid artery (a.k.a. the old sleeper hold).  One must be careful since prolonged constriction can cause brain damage or even death whereby the opponent may not revive.

If the person is knocked out or the heart has stopped from a sleeper hold type choke then we can use CPR.  Another approach is to lift him into a sitting position placing our hands under his chest from the rear and jerk him upward while squeezing inward lightly. This should bring him around. If not, a medium slap on the back in between the scapular should work.


4. Dropping the Heart Rate: (Shock, or rapid disruption of systems)

With this fourth method we would strike at vital points to cause the heart rate to drop, such as striking the carotid sinus or (ST 9). For another example, envision an attacker who uses a right arm hook punch. In defense, we could use our left palm swinging up and outwards in a blocking type motion striking the attackers point known as Neigwan or (PC 6).  The key to this block/strike, (Note: with dim-mak all blocking motions are in fact strikes or set-ups since blocks are seen more or less as wasted motion which makes one susceptible), is that we hit PC 6 in an adverse direction (against the flow of energy – or in this case, the direction of the attackers wrist) while virtually simultaneously we use our right palm striking to his carotid sinus point (ST 9).

There are three other organs which when struck in certain directions will also cause this blood pressure dropping effect. Gall bladder (or GB) and the intestines are the ones that are the easiest to get at. We have gall bladder points all over our bodies from the feet right up to the head and any of these points will cause the knock out when struck in the correct direction.  Take for example GB 14, located just above the eyebrow in the middle of the forehead.  This point can be struck in three different directions each causing a different effect.  For instance, if we strike with an upward blow to this point it causes what is known as an energy or Ki rush to the head resulting in a knock out or death. (Essentially the brain explodes energetically!) But if we use dim-mak points in a different way, they can also be used to heal. For instance, we know that the antidote for striking GB 14 is the point GB 21 just on the shoulders. If we put pressure onto this point and quickly brush to both sides, this will bring the Qi back down out of the head. And since striking GB 14 results in the exact same symptoms as a person suffering from a bad case of sunstroke, we know that GB 21 can also be used for sunstroke victims. In short, sunstroke and striking GB 14 are the result of too much yang energy in the head.

Another approach for striking GB 14 is to use a set-up point.  For example, if I block a punch by using an inwards strike towards me on the posterior side of the attackers arm, this accelerates the normal Ki flow; in analogy this would be just as if I was pushing water downstream.  This method with both water and Ki basically increases the rate of speed and volume.  Thus by causing the Ki energy flow to increase in the arm when striking a specific point, GB 14 will also become engorged with even more Ki than normal. And if GB 14 is struck at this instant and in an upward fashion, it causes an even greater energy rush type effect than by striking it alone, again resulting in a sunstroke type effect.

In another totally separate example, if I were to strike GB 14 in a downward fashion it would lower the blood pressure, which could cause the heart to slow dramatically or even stop thus causing knock out or death (from the heart not starting up again). And if I used a set-up point in conjunction with this point, the negative effects would be further enhanced.

Dim-mak becomes even more complicated when we learn that there are certain points that when struck will cause seemingly totally unrelated parts of the body to react. For instance, if SP 20 (Spleen 20) is struck in an inward manner, it will cause either the right or left leg (whichever side was struck) to lose control and the person will fall to the ground.

5. Neurological: (Disruption of nervous system)

An example of this type of knock out is an inwards strike to the chin which pushes it back towards the upper spinal cord area.  This causes pressure on the spinal column and results in a momentary blockage of information from the central nervous system to the brain. Neurological shut down is a strange human phenomenon, which the martial artist is able to use to his advantage. There are certain parts of the face which when struck with a slapping motion will cause the whole nervous system to shut down. Martial artists wanting to show off have used this practice for years. However, the dangers of this type of strike are even worse than the others. This is because it seems as if there has been no real damage but years later the recipient of such a strike suffers from mental illness, or in the very least becomes paranoid. Certain nervous disorders will also grow over the years, all of which could have been prevented if the person showing off wasn’t irresponsible or ignorant of the effects of the strikes.

* * *


To complete the science of vital points striking one must be knowledgeable of the following:


            Every vital point, whether it is associated to a meridian point or just some anatomical structure of the body, (the latter being something like the Adams apple), has a precise science on how to locate it. 

            For example, in oriental medicine each person can find points based on their very own anatomical body structure.  One such measurement is the width of one’s thumb (called an accu-inch).  One can therefore use their own accu-inch and measure out each meridian point with complete accuracy.  Suffice to say that no two accu-inches are exactly the same. An interesting side note here is that meridians also change their pathways in the body dependant on numerous factors such as diet, stress, sickness, etc.  In acupuncture these deviations are important to note.  However, the pathways rarely (if ever) deviate beyond the effectiveness of dim-mak.  In dim-mak one does not have to be as precise in relation to a point as say an acupuncturist would need to be.  As long as one strikes in the area around the point approximately the size of a large coin the strike will be effective. 


One must learn how strikes (or healing) to certain points/meridians affect other meridians.

Direction of Strike:

            Some points only have one direction (straight in) while others have multiple directions, often with different effects.


            Light, moderate and heavy strikes produce different effects. In some cases you may only wish to drain the energy of an opponent, while in other instances you may need to knock out or even kill an opponent.  (Refer to “five ways to cause a knock out”)  

Set-up point:

            Set-up points are those which when struck a split second before another point will enhance the effect of the main strike. These can be found on most of the main points used in real self defense techniques.


            Some points have antidote points which can be used to reverse the effect of the harmful strike. However, some points are so dangerous that there is no antidote.


            No art in hurting or killing is complete without knowledge of how to heal. Although a martial artist isn’t a licensed medical doctor, they should have a decent understanding of healing techniques which they can apply in martial arts related situations/scenarios. Obvious approaches such as first aid and CPR are vital to any martial artist. But there are also methodologies whereby one can use meridian points in a healing way, such as using ones fingers, palms, elbows, etc, or even by running ones hands over the body without touching it projecting Ki energy to certain areas.


            Finally, one must know effective martial art techniques (blocking, striking, grabbing, kicking, etc) to apply dim-mak.  Consider that many people create martial arts hyung (forms) merely for their dramatic look or beauty.  But serious martial artists know that forms contain real applicable techniques for real fighting.  They know that one technique is followed by another which has a direct subsequent fighting application (block followed by strike, etc). 

Yet in the case of even more highly developed martial arts which use dim-mak forms/techniques, we learn that the hyung strategy is taken to a whole new level. Not only is there a basic block/strike type application available for anyone to learn, there are also hidden applications for those who understand dim-mak.  In these hidden applications, one learns all of the above mentioned specifics (point location, direction of strike, etc).



            Obviously through learning dim-mak one can decisively enhance their martial art. Yet to truly complete ones martial art journey (“Do” or the Way) one must develop their character, ethics and spiritual values transcending ego, striving and attaining enlightenment.

Some of the major problems with many martial arts today revolve around the over emphasis towards merely pugilistic and strenuous training approaches.  Another major problem lies with instructors who are egotistical and need to be noticed, popular or famous at the expense of the students or art. With the advent and popularity of martial sports, such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), violent and fantasy martial arts video games/movies, and the overall tendency for instant (albeit superficial) gratification, many martial artists have lost sight of the deeper more perennial aspects of our art. Suffice to say that there is a disdain or just plain apathy towards the “Do” (Way).   

It’s not that hard to hurt or even kill someone with some training.  However ask yourself, can you heal just as well?  How’s your self defense as it pertains to not only your or others physical bodies, but how is your defense against the enemies of your own psyche, emotions and other debilitating faculties?  It is incumbent that we understand the vital points of our inner being and annihilate any area which threatens our inner mastery.  Mastery of one’s self and all else will follow.


  1. http://www.yinyanghouse.com/
  2. http://www.taijiworld.com/
  3. Montaigue, Erle and Simpson, Wally; “The Encyclopedia of Dim-Mak”, Paladin Press, Boulder Co, 1997.
  4. Montaigue, Erle, “Dim-Mak: Death Point Striking”, Paladin Press, Boulder Co, 1993.
  5. Montaigue, Erle and Simpson, Wally; “The Encyclopedia of Dim-Mak: The Extra Meridians, Points and More”, Paladin Press, Boulder Co, 1997.
  6. 6.      Tedeschi, Marc, “Essential Anatomy: for healing and Martial Arts” Weatherhill, 2000.


Author: Brian Alexander

October 24, 2009

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Martial arts is a broad topic based on a philosophical, scientific, artistic and spiritual approach.  The following are eight categories within the martial arts framework known as Mu Sool (Martial Skills). (1)

  • Striking/ hitting techniques
  • Avoiding and blocking techniques
  • Holding or grabbing techniques
  • Throwing techniques
  • Weapons techniques
  • Internal techniques
  • Healing techniques
  • Spiritual or metaphysical techniques


Mu Sool can also be categorized into four divisions. (2)

  • Wae Kong  – which is the externalization of Nae Kong and deals with the offensive and defensive combative applications found within martial arts.


  • Nae Kong – which deals with one’s internal energy (Ki power).


  • Moo Gi Kong – which involves the offensive and defensive use of traditional weapons.


  • Shin Kong – which is the study, development, and control of the human mind in order to attain one’s full potential and mental capabilities.


In this paper, martial arts and Taekwondo (TKD) are considered dynamic based action philosophies of Asia.  Their pragmatic science, art and philosophies revolve around the Eastern macrocosmic principal known as the Universal Law (Tao) and its microcosmic counterpart the Law of Change (Um/Yang).   Both of these in synthesis are known as Samjae (Triple Essence) where in the universe is divided into Heaven, Earth and the Human being.

The force by which all action is utilized is known as Ki.  The human’s ability to tap into this life force, via technique, is critical to the quality of energy receptivity and output they wield.  Hence, the greater ones power, knowledge, etc, the greater their connection to the Tao and subsequent Ki accessibility.  This, in turn, is proportional to the degree of balance they consciously wield in the Law of Change through their daily activity or martial arts training.

I believe that such concepts are indispensable to a comprehensive martial art as a way-of-life (”way-of-life” denoting a direct integrative synthesis between martial arts and ones daily activities).  Martial arts cannot utilize these principles optimally if there is an excessive co-dependence with external resources, such as the sciences and technology.  In other words, personal power and mastery of self is the quintessential attribute for the martial arts practitioner.  Thus, personal power is the only power one truly has control over and so any attainable information must be integrated via personal experience for it to be optimally valuable.  Validating information from anything but personal experience, regardless of what the masses do via social science, etc, can only lead to personal neglect and ignorance if direct integration and comprehension isn’t obtained.

At present Taekwondo (TKD) integrates some of the aforementioned categories and philosophy through its four core training methods, which are patterns (poomse or hyung), breaking (kyukpa), sparring (kyorugi), and self-defense techniques (hoshinsul).  

However, I am of the opinion that TKD should strive to be a more inclusive martial art eventually expanding into all eight categories, etc.  It should predominately focus on holistic paradigms, which in turn engender a stronger connection to self and martial arts as a fulfilling way-of-life.

As the world’s largest martial arts organization, with approximately 5 million black belts and 50 million practitioners residing in 170 nations, TKD has the necessary groundwork to effectively change into a more comprehensive system. (3) Such a large organization offers a vast resource for empirical research and development unpararelled by any other martial arts organization.  Conversely a major draw back due to its size, is the ability to find consensus regarding valid or accepted techniques followed by the difficult task of accurate dissemination and integration.    

However, with the advent of science and technology there has been a monumental increase in communication mediums and modes of transportation.  Such ability has made the world community smaller, contributing tremendously to the possibility of  cosmopolitan growth via person-to-person interaction unlike any in history.  As such, it is my belief that TKD has current and future resources available to facilitate a workable plan towards making it a more comprehensive martial art.

A major argument against expanding TKD into a comprehensive martial art is the appeal towards simplicity.   The theory being that the simpler the art form the more attention to detail and the greater mastery one can obtain.  While this is certainly true from a certain perspective, (this simplicity reflected in TKD’s premise that using kicking and punching predominately can be effectively utilized in most traditional combat scenario’s regardless of the opponents style of combat), it is reasonable to conclude that a grounded knowledge in other methods of defense/attack can assist in certain combative instances that the current art of TKD is not fully prepared to respond to. 

After attending the first Korean Taekwondo Association Instructions course in 1994 and subsequentially two United States Taekwondo Union Instructor courses, I have witnessed a need for comprehensive growth in TKD.  For instance, instead of these seminars being held in a metropolitan area/hotel why don’t they hold mountain style retreats instead.  Doing this would foster a stronger connection to the roots of TKD, via a strong connection to nature and simplicity.  This would set the tone for a more holistic approach that would resonate with the majority of TKD practitioners and not just sport minded athletes.  (Of course such an environment shouldn’t totally dismiss the utilization of any facilities or modern approaches via media, etc, where they may be needed.)

Also, too much emphasis is put on sport TKD and its particular technical approach.  I don’t understand this trend since the use of the whole body is needed in fighting and to forgo implementing the hands, grabbing, takedowns, weapons, etc, is unrealistic and eventually damaging to TKD as a martial arts.  Further, there are ways of conditioning the hands, etc, for kyukpa using special training methods and liniment that do not scare, disfigure, callous or redden the limbs.  And even more advance methods of conditioning using danjon hohup and meditation, which go beyond mere physical conditioning.  A comprehensive understanding of vital points for martial and healing needs should also be integrated combined with western medical approaches.   Finally, the option to defend physically doesn’t mean that physical harm should always be the end result of the conflict.  Knowing and utilizing certain non-collision/ redirecting techniques on your opponent resulting in little to no physical injury should also be a realistic option in pugilism energy/efforts.

By implementing the various topics I have generally discussed throughout this paper in a systemized and thorough manner TKD can expand its technical and scholastic repertoire to a level that few martial arts organization/ systems can compare to.  Such a change would catapult TKD to the forefront of true comprehensive martial arts and gain the respect and admiration of the martial arts community in the world.

 My views on this topic and TKD began when I meant my Master Sung Hong Park.  At the time, (in my teens), I had already studied under my cousin in an eclectic form of Shotokan and was well read on a diverse collection of martial arts.  However,  I wanted formal education.  So I chose to study with Master Park since after our meeting, I felt he represented a true master. In actuality I never sought to study TKD per say. 

In the successive years I have evaluated my choice to remain in TKD.  Overall it has been very enjoyable and good to me and yet I have often felt an affinity towards a more comprehensive system of martial arts.  I was fortunate to have a Master who had a diverse background and so this need was some what satiated.  As I mature the need to see TKD grow into a comprehensive martial art increases.  This is further prompted by TKD’s trend to disproportionately revolve around the sport and or economic/business sides which often over-shadows what I connote as the traditional martial arts values of TKD.

The term “tradition” may be a misnomer since it often precludes a static unbending concept attributed to mere culture or race.  But to me a traditional martial art doesn’t reflect a static predilection to some group or culture without room for growth.  It includes research, development and innovation, which in turn are tempered with the long time tested values of sound perennial tradition and lineage which the individual can integrate into their lives.  There is room in TKD for tradition, sport and business.  In fact it would be imprudent to disavow either since each projects a certain social pragmatic value and philosophical development. But in my humble opinion the trend to focus TKD around either the sport and or business paradigms is not as beneficial as focusing on a comprehensive martial arts approach.


(1)   Tedeschi, Marc. Hapkido,  2000: Weatherhill, Trumbull, CT, p.18.

(2)   Website, http://www.hwarangdo.com/hrd3.htm.

(3)   Tedeschi, Marc. Taekwondo. 2003: Weatherhill, Trumbull, CT, p. 32.

Author: Brian Alexander

November 2003

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Modern Martial Arts Research:
A Woman’s Developing Role within the Martial Arts


Dr. Amanda L Jenkins
March 2004

Martial arts study and practice is of great benefit to both men and women alike. Women martial artists often bring things to the disciplines that their male counterparts do not. However, many women martial artists daily face the combined obstacles of sex bias and lack of resources in the martial arts. As women in the martial arts, we are continuously reminded that we are but a small representation in a man’s art, and that we are here only by the permission of the stronger male contingent. We want to change the face of our world and our martial arts, and teach others to respect us for our strengths and our knowledge. It is well understood that this is will be no easy task. Women martial artists have fought just as long and just hard to reach this spot, and in some cases we have fought even harder. In order to understand the future of women in the martial arts it is first important to look at our roles in martial arts history. This paper will review the impact that women have had on the martial arts and then discuss how women can be greater influence on the future of martial arts.

This work is dedicated to all the women who have come before and mastered one or many martial arts. They have served as an inspiration for all of us who have come after.


Women’s roles in the martial arts have always been changing. In the battle tales of most countries, the focus is almost completely on the deeds of the nobility and warrior classes. These tales, passed down by blind bards much as Homer’s Iliad, present warriors as archetypes: the tragic Loser-Hero, the Warrior-Courtier, the Traitor, the Coward, etc. Women warriors are almost never described or even mentioned. Women’s roles in such tales are slight: the Tragic Heroine who kills herself at the death of her husband; the Loyal Wife who is taken captive; the Stalwart Mother who grooms her son to take vengeance for his father’s death; the Merciful Woman whose “weak” and “feminine” qualities encourage a warrior chieftain to indulge in unmanly empathy and dissuade him from slaughtering his enemy’s children, who later grow up to kill him; and the Seductress who preoccupies the warrior leader and diverts him from his task with her feminine wiles. Finally, almost casually mentioned, are women en masse: either slaughtered or “given” to the warriors as “spoils-of-war.” Unless one is willing to imagine a conspiracy of silence in which women’s role on the battlefield was suppressed in both historical records and battle-tales, it is a fair assumption that women warriors were very unusual. This is borne out by the prominence given to the few women about whom accounts are written. Some of those will be discussed here.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is known for its specialized Weapon Fighting Arts, from Krabi Krabong in (Thailand), Kiris and Tongkat in (Indonesia), to Kiris, Barong, Bolo, and Rattan Stick in Eskrima (a group of styles also known as “Kali” or “Arnis” from the Philippine islands). The technical emphasis of these arts is always on the forearm , and the lower leg (from foot to knee), and not on the torso or the skull, although that can be considered a target once the opponent is stopped in the attack. The combat practice is in drill methods to improve timing and reflexes. And so it became like learning to play a “musical” instrument, or saying poetry, although in this instance the “poetry” is based on multiplying of one technique with another and coming up with various advanced techniques from fundamental counter routines. This “multiplication” factor between fundamental counter techniques became known as Kali-Kali.

Historically, these arts are traced to India. They appeared during the age of the Maja Pahit Empire in Indonesia, which was the age of design and development of the native Fighting art systems in the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesians credit these arts to the work of the Nine Wali who appeared in different regions of Sumatera and Java. Traders had arrived from Arabia and India during the 7th century, first to north Sumatera island and then across Java to south-central Philippines. Haji Omar Din of Malaysia, a renowned master of the Lincah system, credits the old native culture of Rampur, India, (the Bin Ot (staff), and the Gatka stick fighting arts) with influencing the southeast Asian weapon arts. A legendary teacher of these arts was a blind girl, known as the famous “Blind Princess” in the Philippines. Women are credited with designing Limb attack-based martial arts in two instances: first the Filipino Eskrima, and then in Wing Chun Kungfu (in southern China, and Hong Kong) which is also a Limb Attack and Trapping based system.1


Japanese martial arts are more straight line fighting styles, than the circular techniques of their Chinese cousins. Japanese arts range from empty hand martial systems to joint locking and throwing systems to styles devoted entirely to weapons’ practice. The art of karate (kara-te), which means empty hand, is commonly believed to have come to Japan from the island of Okinawa, where fighting with weapons was banned for many years. There are Japanese martial arts that teach archery and special long weapons, such as the naginata, a long handled knife made famous as a women warriors’ weapon. All Japanese martial arts have their roots in the principles of bushido, the way of the warrior. Japanese martial arts are seeped in tradition and discipline to one’s teacher and to the art itself.2

For many women interested in Japanese martial practice, there is the image of the woman warrior bearing a naginata in the protection of her home and even on the field of battle. Although it is a glorious image, it is difficult to separate fact from fancy because of the almost complete absence of historical records that document the role of arms-bearing women. The most famous Japanese women warriors are Tomoe Gozen and Hangaku Gozen (sometimes called Itagaki). Interestingly, for both of these women the naginata was not their weapon of choice. Tomoe Gozen was described as a general in the troops of Kiso Yoshinaka, Yoritomo’s first attack force. She was described as especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swords-woman. She was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors. Her last act, on the verge of Yoshinaka’s defeat, was to buy time for her husband to commit seppuku. She rode into the enemy forces and, flinging herself on their strongest warrior, unhorsed, pinned, and decapitated him. In the interim, however, Yoshinaka was killed by an arrow. Another legend states that she survived to become a Buddhist nun.

The second famous woman warrior is Hangaku Gozen, daughter a warrior family of Echigo province. She was known for her strength and accuracy with the bow and arrow. In 1201, after the feudal government attempted to subjugate one of her nephews, the warriors of Echigo and Shinano revolted. Besieged in Tossaka castle, she held off the enemy from the roof of a storehouse. After being wounded in both legs by spears and arrows, she was taken prisoner and presented before the Shogun Yoriie. Drawn by her beauty and dignity, Yoshito Asari of the Kai Genji courted her and they married. According to one account, they lived the rest of their lives in peace, but in another account, she was killed while assisting in the defense of the Castle.
Thus, at least in the earlier periods such as the Heian and Kamakura, women who became prominent or even present on the field of battle were the exception rather than the rule. This does not indicate, however, that most women were powerless. However, this does not consider the bushi women who were pioneers, helping to settle new lands and, if need be, fighting, like women of the old western territories in American history. Some bushi clans may even have been led by women. This can be inferred from the legal right given to women to function as jito (stewards), who supervised land held in absentia by nobles or temples.3


Korea is a predominantly mountainous peninsula 600 miles in length first inhabited by Tungusic tribes from central Asia in about 3000 B.C. The legendary figure Tan’gun is said to have formed the first Korean Kingdom in 2333 B.C. China introduced bronze into Korea in 108 B.C. This introduction, combined with the fact Chinese military colonies with a greater understanding of agricultural sciences were pushing their way onto the Korean Peninsula, led to a rapid progression of both weaponry and farming for the peoples of the Korean Peninsula. This was the beginning of what became known as the, “Three Kingdom Period” of Korean history. During an extensive period of war, in the 6th Century, the first highly formalized group of martial art practitioners came to be organized on the Korean Peninsula. They were known as the Hwa Rang. This aristocratic warrior group, is what is attributed to unifying of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

The Hwa Rang (Flowering Youth) warriors were first envisioned by King Chin Hung of Silla. Though his kingdom had its army, he believed his soldiers were not of an exceptional nature – which is why his country could not defeat Koguryo, Paekche, and the invasive T’ang. Therefore, he set about to organize a group of young talented noblemen who were exceedingly loyal to the thrown and could be extensively trained in all forms of warfare and then successfully go into battle. The problem was, however, how to secure and evaluate aristocratic men of this caliber. To this end, two beautiful court women were selected to gather men around them. The names of these two girls were Nam Mo and Chun Jung. Several hundred men did, in fact, congregate in their presence. Chun Jung became jealous of Nam Mo, however. She poisoned her wine and threw her in the river, killing her. Chun Jung was subsequently put to death by the Royal Court and the group of men surrounding them disbanded. Those chosen men, now referred to as Hwa Rang, were trained in all forms of martial combat, as well as continuing their studies in Buddhism, Ki science, and the arts. The martial art instruction program of the Hwa Rang warriors included, developing their bodies by climbing rugged mountain and swimming in turbulent rivers during the coldest months of the year. They trained in all forms of known hand-to-hand combat. The primary system of which was named Su Bak. The Hwa Rang were additionally taught to use weapons unyieldingly. They were trained with the sword, the staff, the hook, the spear, and the bow and arrow. The Hwa Rang are believed to have invented the martial art system of foot fighting named, Su Bak Gi. It is believed this new dimension to combat was added by the Hwa Rang due to the extensive mountain running endurance training they practiced. As their leg muscles were developed to exceptional levels, they began to incorporate formalized kicking techniques into their overall system of hand-to-hand combat. Therefore, Su Bak Gi is believed to be the source point for the advanced kicking arsenal the Korean martial arts possess. Interestingly enough, at the head of the Hwa Rang hierarchy were women. Not a single woman, as some historians have falsely claimed, but, several women. These female leaders were known as, Won Hwa or “Original Flower.”

As Korea entered the twentieth century, they were plagued by expansionist activity at the hands of Japanese. The Yi Dynasty, which was considered Korea’s, “Age of Enlightenment,” came to an end in 1909 when Japan occupied the country. Thus, the transmission and advancement of Tae Kyon ended.4

Women Martial Artists in the 21st Century

The entry of Asian martial arts into the Western world has happened to coincide, through no particular design, with the transformation of women’s role in society. Women of the late twentieth century have risen into prominence in business, science, and as players on the political stage. The victimization of women in domestic violence and sexual and physical assault is still rampant, but it is increasingly countered through legislation and political activism and, on a personal level, through women’s pursuit of fighting skills to defend themselves. Ever greater numbers of women are involved in martial arts and self-defense training.
Even in countries such as Iran where the role of women is very limited martial arts is having a great effect. On January 8, 2003 the First Women’s Karate Festival was held in Tehran. During the one-day festival, three thousand karatekas from Tehran province performed different movements of 23 styles. Head of the Iranian Women’s Karate Association said her office started its work in 1990 and now over one million female karatekas from 18 provinces are under umbrella of the association. Eshrat Shahmohammadi added karate is the most popular sport among the women, adding that since the establishment of the association 1,730 judges and 1,300 coaches have been trained at different levels.

Difficulties Women Experience

There are distinct differences between men and women, differences that seem to come into focus under the harsh light of the martial arts. Martial Arts may be perceived by the uninitiated as a purely masculine sport, but female martial artists disagree. And as to whether it will diminish a woman’s femininity, that depends on what traits she counts as feminine and how she perceives herself according to those standards. A woman who is feminine, and knows it, may feel even more feminine as a result of practicing the martial arts. To put it another way, taking karate and being pretty are not mutually exclusive. You can do both at the same time.
The general public sees karate as a contact sport, in the realm of blood sports such as boxing, football, and rugby. Even at a time when physical fitness is so highly valued and self-defense is so important, women hesitate to get involved in the martial arts. The words “karate” and “martial arts” conjure up images of sweating bruisers punishing each other in the name of discipline — images that just don’t fit the way most women want to see themselves or want others to see them. It is no wonder, then, that women fear the benefits of martial arts will be, at the same time, detrimental to their femininity. Consequently, the amount of aggression a woman learns to use in martial arts class should make no difference to her “real” femininity (how she sees herself). A more realistic fear, perhaps, is how her actions lessen her femininity in other people’s eyes, especially when these traits become a part of her life outside the karate class.

In spite of the firm establishment of a person’s sexual identity, a woman’s femininity can crash head-on with institutions or settings, such as martial arts class, that work against it. Adolescent girls invariably giggle when they must practice kicking an “attacker” in the groin. Adult women may not giggle, but they feel the same embarrassment and overwhelming reluctance to be so crude while “everyone in the world” is watching them. Even women who master their sense of propriety enough to go through this “little game” of self-defense may refuse to spar or exchange blows as part of an exercise. They might even say, “I can’t hit him. I might hurt him.” This attitude isn’t logical, but it’s a part of being feminine. Femininity nourishes and heals the wounds, but does not cause the wounds.5

If a woman does learn to attack and actually hits someone, causing an immediate bruise or bleeding, they quite often are overly apologetic. They want to go over and hug the abused person and tell him or her it’s okay. They show great restraint in simply saying, repeatedly, “I’m sorry.” When a woman in a sparring situation cries, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s been hurt. In most cases, her tears are a release from a buildup of frustration, not a result of getting hurt. If a woman has stayed in karate long enough to be involved in sparring, she can hide her pain just as easily as anyone. If she got hit, she’s likely crying because she’s frustrated she didn’t, or couldn’t, block the attack. In sparring, a woman is colliding with her femininity on all sides, and crying works very well as a release of tension. Even so, she tries to hide the fact she is crying, because this is another feminine trait not acceptable in the martial arts.

Women who have taken karate long enough to become aggressive do not feel they are less feminine. There seems to be two reasons for this: 1) sexual identity is resistant to change; and 2) women no longer accept aggressiveness as a purely masculine trait. If they originally felt passivity was a desired feminine trait, they ended up readjusting their attitude to align with their perception of themselves as feminine women. They reason “I am feminine, yet I have learned to be aggressive. Therefore, femininity and aggressiveness are not mutually exclusive.” While society sees masculinity and femininity as opposites, the truth is, a person’s sexual identity can be found somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes. Many women who do gain aggression through martial arts training believe the trait is a positive one – a good attitude change and that not being aggressive is a problem, both inside and outside the class.

Organizations for Women in the Martial Arts

There are many organizations that currently exist to support women in the martial arts. One of those is the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation. In 2001, NWMAF held their 25th anniversary celebration. NWMAF exists to promote the involvement of women and girls in the martial arts. Its purpose is to share skills and resources, promote excellence in the martial arts, and encourage the widest range of women to train in the spirit of building individual and collective strength. It holds martial arts as a path of self-discovery and transformation and as a means of transforming ourselves and the world in which we live. The Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors is another group founded to empower advanced women martial artists via paths of learning, training, and ranking. The AWMAI believes that passing on the knowledge from teacher to teacher adds to the power of the individual and the entire world of martial arts. Their mission is to enhance the learning experience and professional recognition of women martial arts instructors by actively promoting and encouraging instructor excellence through teacher training, school and organizational development, ethical standards, and rank recognition and promotion.
A third organization is the Black Dragon Association. It is an organization of concerned female martial artists working together to assist other women to achieve their highest possible goals in the martial art of their choice. The idea of this organization is to foster awareness of the strength and creativity of women as martial artists, and to act as a support network for those who have need of our help.6

Benefits Women have in the Dojang

Not only does martial arts study provide, redirect, and redefine a valuable human trait, but it allows women to excel in their own way, demonstrating that karate is not an activity for men only. Even in the physical realm, where you would think women are at a disadvantage, many women overcome deficits in size and strength through advantages in flexibility, speed, and endurance. Because their legs are much stronger in relationship to their arms, women can rely on kicks when men might punch. In training, women learn more quickly to combine muscular relaxation with focused tension to add power to their punches, while novice men are still using brute strength. Not given to using brute force, women are generally more willing to adapt strategies. Another benefit of being a female martial artist is the element of surprise. Many times, a woman’s male opponent discovers only too late that he has underestimated her abilities. In the case of self-defense, the element of surprise could give a woman the victory — and her safety. Women can also enjoy emphasizing the more aesthetic aspects of the martial arts. Poomse especially intrigues a woman’s creative/expressive impulse. The challenge is to combine the more “feminine” qualities — symmetry, rhythm, expression and beauty — with the more “masculine” qualities — power, intensity, and combat realism. It’s a challenge for both men and women.

Martial arts is an ideal way to teach women to be as they use to say in the ARMY, “be all you can be”. It is more than another work-out tool like kick-box aerobics. Martial arts training teaches self discipline and self respect. I began martial arts when I was a shy slightly overweight teenager with no sense of self respect. Over the years, the study of tae kwon do helped me through many tough situations and gave me the self discipline I needed to struggle through the rigorous demands of a chemistry PhD program (another male dominated society) and to go on an become a researcher for the military, again achieving what few women before me had done. I even went on the win the Army R&D award in 2001. Without my experience in the martial arts, I would never have been able to survive in these environments. However with the experience I gained, I not only survived, I thrived and made it easier for women to follow after me. Today, I have my own branch school with many young women as students where I teach what I have learned. In fact, I may be taking my 4th dan test with my first black belt candidate a young lady named Taylor. She like me has grown much through her experience with Tae Kwon do and has learned not to be intimidated by teaching and training other students even if many of them are men much older, bigger, and stronger than she is.

The legacy of women in the martial arts is far reaching. You don’t have to be a world champion or an Olympic competitor to be a role model to other women. (Although there are many women who are grand champions, and Olympic gold medal winners) Women can also be a role model for there male students as well. Women bring a softer more spiritual side to the martial arts. They bring beauty and grace to forms that were previously war-like. Women are natural teachers and as such can help other to be better teachers. As more women participate in the martial arts, the arts can only become better. Martial arts families where both mother and father are martial artists will create martial arts children with a more rounded holistic view of the arts. Each subsequent generation then will grow the martial arts into a life style, which can only serve to improve the civilization as a whole.


  1. http://www.geocities.com/eskrimagirls/index.html
  2. http://www.martialinfo.com/HistoryJapan.htm
  3. http://womenshistory.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.koryubooks.com%2Flibrary%2Fwwj1.html
  4. http://www.scottshaw.com/history/
  5. Gulick, Connie; “The Women of Karate”, Black Belt Magazine; April 1986.
  6. http://world.std.com/~sparrow/wma.html

Dr. Amanda L Jenkins
4th Dan Taekwondo

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