I’m pretty sure that the headline will make just about zero sense for most Taekwondoin beyond it being “something” Korean. I do hope I will make the term very clear through this blog post though.
The term is often translated into English as “one strike one kill” or “1 deadly strike” and it used to be a pretty common term in traditional taekwondo dojang during the Kwan era (1940s-70s); but these days it is not used much, and if it is used it is often changed into il kyok pilseung (일격필승) meaning roughly translated one strike one win, victory in one move etc. It is more political correct than the original using pilsal (필살) but both do contain the essence of this post which by the way will go into a few different aspects of Taekwondo training while having the term Il kyok pilsal (일격필살) in our minds.
History of the term Il kyok pilsal (일격필살) (Ikken hissatsu)
Many authors seems to agree that this term while being present in the root arts of Taekwondo (Karate) dating back to the 1800s was originally used in weapons based martial arts. There are also many sources claiming that this term came into Karate usage after it was exported from Okinawa to Japan in the 1920s onward as an influence from Kendo. Kendo being a martial art based on the usage of swords it seems to be a reasonable explanation for where the term came from but personally I believe it was part of the Karate mentality even before they exported it to Japan. It could very well be that the term did come from Japanese weapons based martial art however since it is known that several Karate masters had extensive training in Jigen Ryu which was the Satsuma Samurai clans martial art. Bushi Matsumura and Azato Anko both teachers of Gichin Funakoshi both had mastered this art at a high level and in “Karate Do My way of life” Gichin Funakoshi tells us that Azato taught him Karate With a mindset that the opponents hands should be thought as if being swords. No matter where the term did came from we do know it was pretty “popular” and well known after Karate was exported to Japan and we do know that Taekwondo`s original Kwan founders practised and studied Karate during this era which also explains why the translated term came into usage in the different Taekwondo Kwan (schools).
Meaning of the term
I have already translated it as “One strike, one kill” and it seems very straight forward but I think that it is often misunderstood the term. Like “There is no first strike in Karate/Taekwondo” many people interpret the term as is without any thought or critical thinking present. We know that both Karate and Taekwondo techniques can be fatal if used in a lethal way. You do not have to look hard to see that, as knife hand strikes to the neck, neck cranks, and stomping someone who is on the ground could all easily be used as lethal strikes and all these are present in many Taekwondo Poomsae, but at the same time we know that many strikes, locks and throws can certainly be lethal but usually they are not. You can kick someone in the ankle and they can fall down and hit their head and die so there is no such thing as a “safe” place to attack your enemy and this is the first meaning of the term in my opinion. As a moral and ethical reminder that everything we do can result in a death even in one move, one strike or even push. It is quite sobering and removes many preconceptions when you Google stuff like one punch kills etc and see all the news stories out there where people have indeed been killed by one punch. Often it is the fall that kills them not the punch itself but it happens quite more often than what you believe.
The other meaning is one that I believe is the martial goal and describe the mindset we have in Taekwondo when we train and when we look to our Poomsae for combative meaning. Some think that one strike one kill is the ultimate goal of Taekwondo so they practise single punches and believe that their single punch should be able to end all physical conflicts. I believe it is much more a term describing the mindset rather than the actual result. I take the term to mean that we should strive to end the conflict with one move, in other words as quickly as possible. The goal is not to kill the enemy but to deter him from pressing on his attack. Whether that is by shock, knockout or whatever is besides the point. It also tells us that sportive tactics like feinting an attack or going into a halfhearted attack is not the way of Taekwondo. In a real conflict you will most probably be facing an untrained opponent. He can be very dangerous and depending on the setting he can be much more accustomed to real violence than yourself even if he has no formal training. Feinting an attack works by taking advantage of trained responses in a competition format. I have no doubt in my mind that they are effective, but feinting in a real attack will only take away precous time and energy. You will likely not be able to provoce any trained responses anyway, even if the enemy is trained simply because of the effects of adrenalin.
Going into a halfhearted attack is often done in sports too, but you do not afford this in real life. In a real encounter you need to take as few risks as possible, and when you do go on the offensive you need to do it with all your mind body and heart. You might just get that one chance so make the most of it.
Il kyok pilsal (일격필살) in Gibon Dongjak and Poomsae training
The term is also a great description to have of the mental attitude you need when you are polishing your techniques. This goes for Gibon Dongjak (basic techniques) and Poomsae (forms) training. Forms training in this context means the solo performance of the form. When we polish Our techniques in isolation (Gibon Dongjak) you can often see students who obviously are bored or who goes through the motions without any “intent”. Reminding ourselves of Il Kyok Pilsal can put us back on track where we do each repetition with full intent and thereby strengthening the movement instead of just “doing it”. Same for solo performance of forms. Many beginners and even advanced students alike do their forms with far to much speed so they are blending together the techniques or only “half doing” some of them to get to the other. Especially the “kick block punch” People do this as they want to get the “block” done so they can strike their enemy already. For those who look deeper we do not always have this “rush” as we have taken care of the enemy with our “block” and the punch comes almost as an afterthought.
Il kyok pilsal (일격필살) in Poomsae Boonseok (forms analysis)
I am not a dogmatic thinking individual when it comes to analysing (Boonseok 분석) your forms for combative meaning. In fact I am quite the opposite as the forms I practise comes from different sources and People from different time periods. What I do strive for however is that each movement should be used in its entirety (not explaining away any parts of the technique which does not make sense) and that each technique should end the conflict or at the very least put me into a position of advantage so that I can end the conflict from there. In certain forms you get sequences where you block and then block again without any obvious follow up. I always think about Il Kyok Pilsal when analyzing my forms so I do not explain these sequences as blocks at all. I do not think literally that each Poomsae move should kill an enemy but I do think that the movements should stun, shock, knock out or whatever the opponent so that the conflict can be ended then and there. This seems to go hand in hand with the Poomsae themselves as they rarely go on for lengthy sequences, instead preferring small sequences of 1-3 techniques.
Il kyok pilsal (일격필살) in in Kykpa (breaking)
The mental intent and focus of the technique manifests itself in breaking. At least in the traditional breaking displays where there were thick wooden boards and or roofing tiles, stones etc. that were broken. Today you often see spectacular breaking displays where they break with acrobatic kicks etc but the breaking material is often “baked” or otherwise tampered with or replaced by paper thin wooden boards. Il Kyok Pilsal is the mental intent you need when doing traditional breaking where a failed break can result in a real injury. You need to put away all your mental “brakes” (i.e. the little voice inside your head that says you should not be hitting these stacks of 10 roofing tiles). You cannot hesitate once you start your break or you will not be able to make it and a failed break means a lot of pain and perhaps a serious injury. You need to go full in, with full intent and smash through. Everything must come into one; your body, mind and spirit if you are to succeed. I don’t think I have to say this but I will say it anyway: I do not care much for the modern easy peasy breaking displays anymore, I would much rather see more old school breaks instead. They are less acrobatic and flamboyant but they do show real skill.
Il kyok pilsal (일격필살) in Ho Sin Sul training
Ho sin Sul can be translated as self-defense skills and in Taekwondo this often means breaking free of grabs and joint locks although as the translation explains anything relating to self-defense skills should be part of Ho Sin Sul. I covered this earlier in the blog post but it is so important that it bears repeating here: You need to keep any real life altercation as short as possible. The longer the incident the bigger the chances for it escalating and serious injury occurs. You want this ended as soon as it starts, a “fight” is what happens when your self-defense has failed completely and utterly. Il Kyuk Pilsal (not killing but winning) is a noble goal and it can save both you and your enemy from serious injury by ending it before it really starts.
Although fallen out of use these days Il Kyok Pilsal 일격필살 or Il Kyok Pilseung 일격필승 conveys a profound essence of Taekwondo`s goals and philosophy. It is my belief that it should be like a read thread going through all of your Taekwondo, from the realization that real life violence can be lethal in just one punch or kick, to the mental attitude during training, to the goal of ending any conflict as soon as possible. I allways have this term in my mind when training and I am very grateful that my teacher imparted this lesson to his students, when I know so many others practicing Taekwondo who has never heard about this term. It is my hope that the term will be taken out of the dark and into the light in mainstream Taekwondo so that we allways know what we are striving for and that it is understood that we should not take the original term literally (killing is not the goal). I prefer the older term over the more political correct term as the political correct term Il Kyok Pilseung 일격필승 (One strike to victory) fails to impart the seriousness of the art.