Kuk Sool

Sneak Attack! Learn the Low Spinning Heel Kick of Kuk Sool Won

Created by In Hyuk Suh in 1958, kuk sool won is a comprehensive system of strikes, kicks, animal-inspired techniques, throws, grappling moves and weapons. One of the trademark strategies used with many of its moves is the spin. It introduces the element of surprise and generates incredible power.

When it comes to self-defense, perhaps the most useful spinning technique is the low spinning heel kick. Although kuk sool won teaches several variations of the kick, this article will focus on the basic one.

(Photo Courtesy of Daniel A. Middleton)

For the low spinning heel kick to be effective, you need speed, flexibility and commitment. If you execute the technique too slowly, your opponent can counter by stepping out of range. If you lack the requisite flexibility, your body won’t be able to move quickly enough or get low enough for the element of surprise to work. If you attempt the kick but change your mind halfway through, you’ll find yourself inside your opponent’s defenses, off-balance and low to the ground with virtually no way out. However, once you’ve acquired the necessary attributes, you’ll find that the kick is a devastating addition to your arsenal.

The best way to use the low spinning heel kick is by beginning with a setup that places your opponent in the prime position for the technique to be effective. The setup can be intentional (you employ techniques, body shifting, positioning and so on to lure him in) or spontaneous (you trigger the technique the moment the conditions are right). Although both are acceptable, it’s better to train for spontaneous deployment because you can’t depend on having control over anyone’s actions in a fight and because too many negative consequences can result from trying to maneuver your enemy into the proper position.

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That being said, the most advantageous position for the application of the kick is one in which you and your opponent are in “mirrored” stances. For instance, if you’re in a left forward stance, your opponent is facing you in a right forward stance.

Getting Started

It’s best to start by distracting your opponent with a high-line technique such as a jab or finger strike to the eyes. The objective is to get him to raise his hands and, more important, to focus his attention up high. That should be followed by your spinning to the rear and sinking your weight on your forward leg as you squat. It’s OK to place your hands lightly on the ground for support and balance.

Continue the spin as you extend your rear leg and sweep it parallel to the ground. Strike your opponent’s forward leg above the calf and slightly behind the knee. The technique will break his balance and can damage the muscles of his lower leg. The momentum of the kick will enable you to spin a full 360 degrees and stand up, re-establishing a ready position.

An alternate method, although not quite as fast or effective, involves placing your knee on the ground while you spin and executing the technique almost like a low, turning hook kick. This variation is easier for beginners but lacks speed and mobility, so it should be used only as a transitional method for developing the proper mechanics.

Training Right

An effective low spinning heel kick requires leg strength, and the best way to develop that is through squats. Lots of squats. Start slowly and pay attention to what your body tells you. The key is to build powerful quads, calves and hamstrings without damaging the connective tissue surrounding and supporting your knees. Technique development is important, but it should never be done to the detriment of your health.

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Begin with your feet together and pump out squats in sets of 25 to 50 repetitions. Don’t try to do too many or get too low to the ground. Build from there until you can comfortably do 200 to 300 reps in sets of 50.

Next, add the spin. Start in a left-leg-forward position and turn gently to the rear as you bend your knees. Begin in a relatively high stance to develop a feel for the motion and build leg coordination. As you get more comfortable, spin from a standing position and drop into a crouch with your weight centered over the ball of your forward foot.

Do …

Pressure Points Video From the April/May 2015 Black Belt Cover Story on Kuk Sool Won

The Korean martial art of kuk sool won is renowned for its comprehensive collection of combat techniques. In particular, it teaches an extensive set of offensive and defensive moves designed to take advantage of the human body’s many pressure points.

For that reason, when we were conceptualizing the April/May 2015 issue, we looked to kuk sool won. Specifically, we asked R. Barry Harmon — who’s a ninth-degree black belt in the style, a licensed acupuncturist and one of kuk sool’s most prolific writers — to pen the cover story.

Black Belt magazine cover April/May 2015 issue

We were fortunate that In Hyuk Suh — the man who assembled the art in 1958, founded the Korean Kuk Sool Association in 1961 and moved to the United States to spread his system in 1974 — was available to travel from his headquarters in Texas to Southern California for the shoot.

Because we live in the age of Internet video, our staff recorded all the action involving In Hyuk Suh and R. Barry Harmon at 30 frames per second. Below is a video synopsis of the day.

The April/May 2015 issue of Black Belt went on sale March 31. It will remain in bookstores and on newsstands until May 25 — or until it’s sold out. Get your copy today. Better yet, click here to subscribe.

(Cover photo by Peter Lueders)

Many more martial arts videos are available on Black Belt’s YouTube channel. Visit it today to subscribe — or just to watch. Either way, it’s free!

From Hapkido to Kuk Sool: Exploring Korea’s Martial Arts

Korean martial artsI found several kumdo schools (kendo in Japanese), countless taekwondo, hapkido and kuk sool academies, and a boxing gym within 100 yards of the apartment I occupied in Pusan, Korea. On the same block as my building, there stood a school that taught the rare art of tae kyon, and if I expanded the search radius to 300 yards, I could find facilities for wrestling, muay Thai and ssirum.

But most of the world doesn’t know that. How come? Because from 1910 to 1945, Korea was a colony of Japan. Its culture, language and martial arts were suppressed. In their place, Koreans were forced to act Japanese, speak Japanese and learn Japanese martial arts like karate, kendo and judo. But after World War II and especially since the end of the Korean War, all that began to change.

Koreans approach the martial arts with gusto. They’re expected to train five days a week, usually in the evening after work or school. Adults from abroad may have trouble keeping up with Korean martial artists, especially those who started training when they were kids — which pretty much includes everybody. Youngsters attend class one hour a day, five days a week. Typically, they take a belt test every month, which nets them a black belt in a year or two. Most of them don’t do martial arts again until they serve in the military, but those that elect to persevere get good. Fast.

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Because so many kids train, martial arts schools are big business. That’s great for the school owners but not so good if you’re searching for serious training on your own dime.

My first martial experience in country was at a kuk sool gym. Like most instructors, mine didn’t speak much English. At our first meeting, I strained to understand him, but I soon realized he was reciting a string of numbers, explaining the payment options. Yes, in Korea, the martial arts are a business.

I ended up paying $130 to sign up and purchase a uniform. Monthly tuition was $90, and belt tests were free. To register for a tournament cost $30. While checking a number of hapkido and taekwondo schools, I found that the rates were average. By Asian standards, that put Korea on the expensive side, but it’s offset by the opportunity to earn a good living as an English teacher. More on that later.

Korean dojang tend to focus on a single art. One time, I approached my kumdo teacher and broached the idea of lifting weights to build the muscles I needed to wield my sword and running to boost my cardio for those long sparring sessions. He looked at me like I was nuts. “Why would a kumdo competitor need to run and lift weights?” he asked. “This is kumdo.”

To stay in shape, I bought a gym membership for $80 a month. Gyms in Korea are unbelievably clean. They even provide you with workout clothes — when you’re finished, you toss them into a hamper and leave. Many facilities include a sauna and a public bath with hot and cold tubs.

At the dojang where I trained, students always arrived on time but would often start training late. That meant warm-ups were frequently rushed, forcing me to stretch on my own. On some days, we ran through intensive kicking drills that were every bit as hard as what I’d done in other countries. But on other days, we did rolls and tumbles, which kept the intensity at a level mere mortals can handle easily.

Training in Korea can be an incredible experience. It gives you a chance to learn the language and helps you get to know the people and their culture. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also a relatively easy place to find a job. All you need is a bachelor’s degree and a Korean school to sponsor your visa. If you contract to work 25 hours a week, you can score a free apartment and $2,000 a month for spending money. Bonus: Your employer might even cover your round-trip airfare.

In the past, you had to make the arrangements to teach in person, but with the ubiquity of the Internet, now you can visit a website such as Dave’s ESL Cafe (eslcafe.com) and find a job in a few hours. You can apply by email and be interviewed over the phone. If all your documents are in order, you could find yourself training in Korea a week later.

South Korea
POPULATION: 48.6 million
SIGHTSEEING: Olympic Village, Cheju Island, Kyungju City
NEIGHBORS: North Korea, China, …

The Kuk Sool Technique That Will Save Your Life

Master Suh In-hyuk demonstrates a kuk sool technique.You’re walking down the street when someone rushes up from behind and grabs your wrists. Which self-defense technique do you use? In a moment of panic, you realize that you cannot see your assailant well enough to figure out how to fend him off. If you were Jackie Chan, you might leap into the air, spin 180 degrees, execute a high-flying ax kick and escape over a parked car. But you’re not Jackie Chan. You’re just a normal human being constrained by normal human physiology.

You may be a normal human being, but you are also one who can learn from a martial arts master who possesses near-superhuman skills. Before you have to defend yourself for real, you’d be well-advised to partake in the wisdom of that master.

Self-Defense Technique Breakdown

In 1959 a Korean martial artist named Suh In-hyuk founded kuk sool, a self-defense system that is overflowing with methods for defending yourself when you’re grabbed from behind. The specific set of movements is called dee eue bohk soo. Although that is the Korean expression for “rear clothing-grab techniques,” numerous empty-hand-grab escapes are included.

Joe Burnett, a kuk sool instructor based in Wolcott, New York, is a master of these techniques. “There are two critical parts to dee eue bohk soo,” he says. “The first is the escape, and the second is the defensive counterattack. Each one is as important as the other, and both utilize important basic fighting principles.”

Be forewarned that dee eue bohk soo are advanced techniques that require refined joint-locking and pressure-point concepts, Joe Burnett says. To take control of a violent situation, you will need to have at your disposal sufficient speed and knowledge of the proper angles at which joint locks are performed and escapes are effected. You will also need to have developed your ability to function from a low, balanced stance.

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Perhaps the most challenging part of successfully performing dee eue bohk soo stems from the fact that these martial arts techniques were designed to save your skin from the disadvantageous position of having your hands grasped from behind. Consequently, you will need to possess good dexterity with both limbs, Joe Burnett says, and you must be familiar with methods for controlling an aggressor whom you might not be able to see using circular motion and leverage. As stated above, this subset of kuk sool techniques is advanced, but once it is mastered, it will boost your self-defense techniques immeasurably.

Executing the Self-Defense Technique

A typical scenario involving dee eue bohk soo could unfold as follows:

An assailant approaches from behind and grabs your wrists. You raise your hands as high and as far forward as possible. That action twists his hands outward, placing pressure on his thumbs and loosening his grip. At this point, you can easily slip loose and attend to the business of defending yourself using conventional kicks and punches.

Now for the details.

According to the gospel of kuk sool, the first thing you should do when your wrists are grabbed from behind is step backward with one leg so your foot is behind the assailant’s foot.

This movement accomplishes several things:

First, it places you much closer to the attacker and lessens his leverage. The assailant will expect you to pull forward in an effort to fight against the grab, and that sort of reaction would give him increased leverage and control. When you step backward, however, you reduce that leverage and take away much of his power.

Second, stepping back as you move your hands forward positions them in front of your body. That means you will probably be able to see exactly how your attacker is holding you. Of course, if you so choose, you will also be able to see your own hands as they perform the rest of the dee eue bohk soo.

Third, repositioning your arms in front of your body means you must exert momentary pressure against his muscles. That can give you a quick measure of his power.

Fourth, stepping behind the attacker’s leg sets him up for a trip, throw or some other takedown. Moving into his space immediately shifts control of the situation from him to you.

Strike Back

Kuk sool teaches that the next phase of this martial arts technique is to open your hands and spread your fingers as wide as possible. This action is intended to augment the circulation of ki (internal energy) in your hands, fingers and wrists by expanding your tendons and ligaments.

The energy boost strengthens your wrists and helps you extricate them from the grab. Although spreading your fingers does increase the muscle tension in …