My apologies to animal lovers, but I was reminded of this old saying when I was thinking about this article. I wanted to write about instructing in general, but in particular the problem of how to teach repetitive Taekwon-Do skills in meaningful and interesting ways. I was focusing on fundamental movements and the realisation that they didn’t have to be drilled solely with line exercises, one movement at a time. And then it happened, the title just jumped out at me like a playful cat trying to swipe me behind the ankles.

Fact. Students of Taekwon-Do do have to train new movements repetitively in order to learn them to the stage where they become unconsciously skilled performers. The exciting thing about teaching students however, is that there are lots of different ways to train those movements. If you’d like to read on I can show you how you can spend most of a 90 minute training session devoted to just one skill. Firstly though, just a little terminology lesson.
We need to distinguish the difference between a performance task and an exercise. There are a number of physical ability factors that when combined together can affect the quality of a Taekwon-Do performance. These would include:

  • Technique
  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Endurance

The development of technique is simply the ability to move the body to achieve a specific goal. Ultimately however, we all strive to learn to successfully apply the technique in a real life or competition situation. When we can do that, then we have learned a skill. So when I use the word ‘technique’, I’m using it interchangeably with ‘skill’ also. The element of speed can be broken down into other trainable performance factors. These are the pure speed of movement and reaction speed. The strength that Iím referring to is technique ñ specific strength, that is the strength of the muscles involved in the performance of a specific technique. Endurance is the ability to withstand fatigue while performing speed exercises (speed endurance) or strength exercises (strength endurance). Collectively these factors could be called performance components (see table 1).

Table 1

Performance Task Definition
TECHNIQUE / SKILL The ability to perform a movement in a real-life or competitive context with accurate control over distance and angle.
Speed of movement The speed of performance of amovement.
Reaction speed The speed of a movement in-betweenthe stimulus and the beginning of theresponse.
STRENGTH The strength of the muscles involvedin the performance of a specifictechnique.
Speed endurance The ability to withstand fatigue whileperforming technique-specific speedexercises.
Strength endurance The ability to withstand fatigue whileperforming technique-specificstrength exercises.

Exercises on the other hand are simply the series of movements that you wish the students to learn. These would include such things as:

  • Fundamental movements
  • Step – sparring movements
  • Sparring combinations / tactics
  • Self – defence
  • Sparring footwork

The recipe for a typical lesson that I’m about to tell you about follows a formula that I’ve used in my own classes and seems to be successful. Let’s say that Iíve planned to spend the main part of my lesson on the learning of fundamental movements. After the warmup I explain and demonstrate each grades fundamental movement. The students then perform the movements as in a line drill, first as a spot exercise then followed by stepping in accordance with General Choi‘s suggestions for leading a class.

Afterwards students are directed to practise applying their attacking or defensive movements with a partner. They begin the practice as in a step sparring or closed situation, where they have control over the exercise. More able students are then encouraged to experiment with ways of applying the movement openly, that is, making it as real-life or realistic as possible. All of this activity has been in the name of learning technique or skill.

The next part of the lesson focuses on the development of speed of movement and reaction speed. Both of these elements can be trained together with the one exercise or they can be performed separately. I prefer the former in the interests of saving some time. There are different ways of training for speed but my current flavour of the month is the use of the line drill. Students form back into lines. I get behind them with a focus paddle and whack it as loudly as I can ñ no, not on them but on my hand. The idea is that as soon as they hear the sound they not only have to perform the movement (reaction speed), but the movement must be performed as quickly as possible (speed of movement). Of course students must still pay attention to the correct performance of the technique.

The third part of the lesson works on technique-specific strength. This is difficult to organise for a class with a wide range of grades, but can be done with good planning. Basically the requirement here is that students are provided with some resistance to the movements that they are performing. In other words make the performance harder by getting them to move against body weight or gear such as dumb bells, elastic bands and medicine balls. As an example, picture two students facing each other in sitting stance. Student A extends an arm in preparation for a front punch, with the other arm withdrawn to the hip. Student B holds both of A’s wrists and gently resists the punching movements. The idea is not to make it impossible for A to perform the punch but to make it a lot harder.

The last performance task that is trained is endurance. Training for endurance is easy as basically it’s the ability to perform the particular movement for as long as is specified. Speed endurance is trained by getting students to perform specified movements at maximum speed for a predetermined time or until performance declines. Strength endurance can be developed by doing technique-specific strength exercises for a predetermined period of time or until exhaustion.

Okay, so far I’ve shown that typical lessons can be structured in such a way that various exercises can be trained by focusing on one or more of the performance tasks. There’s nothing mindblowing about that because the majority of instructors are already applying that knowledge. What instructors might not know though is that a specific performance task is but one in a continuum of tasks that follow a logical order.

There are different combinations of performance tasks and exercises that can be used in a class. They are:

  • Single task  – Single exercise
  • Single task  – Multiple exercises
  • Multiple task  – Single exercise
  • Multiple task – Multiple exercises

Table 2 outlines what each method involves and an example.

Performance Task Definition
single task – single exercise Developing speed in a punch bypunching a sheet of paper

Developing speed in a kick byextinguishing a candle

single task – multiple exercises
New technique Applying new offensive footworkmovement in pairs

Kicking a focus pad while using thefootwork

Light sparring while using the footworkkicking a bag while using thefootwork

multiple task single excercise
reaction time
punch – kick exercise with a partner
reaction time practise exercise by reacting as fast as possible to a focus pad movement
speed of movement compete with a partner to see who can perform the exercise the quickest
speed endurance count how many times the exercise can be repeated in a set time, or until
multiple task – multiple exercises
technique learning a new technique in pairs
speed of movement develop speed in the technique by practising on a bag
reaction speed develop reaction time by using it in step-sparring
technique, speed, endurance apply the technique in free-sparring

Student’s skills improve the most with lessons in which a single task is trained by a variety of different exercises. Least effective are lessons where single exercises are trained with one performance task in mind for most of the lesson.

Taekwon-Do lessons are mainly of the multiple task type where different tasks are performed in a sequence, or performed at the same time by means of the same exercise. Examples of the latter are where technical and tactical tasks are trained together; technique and speed; or technique and speed endurance.
When tasks are to be performed in sequence, the order should be:

  • New technique
  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Endurance.

The learning of new techniques should always be done straight after the warmup, as the demands on concentration are high but the students are still fresh. As you move further into the main part of the lesson, you can then expect students to perform speed, strength and endurance tasks because their bodies have slowly adapted to a higher intensity of exercise.

So there we have it, a systematic method for lessons to be structured in a multitude of different ways, so that students are never bored and always learning. More than one way to skin a cat. Enjoy.

References: Kurz, T. May 2001. Stretch yourself: A Well-Run Workout: The Main Part. Iowa. Tri-Mount Publications Inc.e