Seventh-degree tang soo do black belt Dominick A. Giacobbe takes you on a journey through the art's history and demonstrates four techniques!

Seventh-degree black belt Dominick A. Giacobbe knows a little something about free fighting. The owner and chief instructor of the Tang Soo Karate Academy in Pine Hill, New Jersey, has trained in the Korean art of tang soo do for more than four decades. During that time, he's educated more than 1,000 black belts and 40-plus masters, all while finding time to further his own training under some of the finest experts in America, Korea and Japan. Among them are the renowned J.C. Shin and Black Belt Hall of Fame member C.S. Kim (1995 Man of the Year)


Tang soo do legend C.S. Kim shows you the art's universal lessons in this FREE download! Tang Soo Do: How the Traditional Korean Martial Art Teaches Universal Lessons for Effective Self-Defense Moves

From 1968 to 1978, Dominick Giacobbe reigned as a free-fighting champion on the East Coast. Fortunately for modern martial artists, he's still eager to pass on the knowledge and experience that decade of competition gave him.

Some of his more recent tang soo do contemplations have involved the evolution of the art's fighting method — from ancient times to the modern era. …

The Way It Was Then

The fighting art of tang soo do is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago during Korea's Three Kingdoms period. Silla, the smallest and least populated region of the peninsula, was under constant attack from the larger and more powerful Paekje and Koguryo kingdoms. After a few centuries, the Silla rulers are believed to have allied themselves with a skilled fighting force created by the Tang dynasty monarchs of China (618-907). It was then that the tang soo warriors were born. For years, this elite group of combatants trained on the rocky beaches of southern Korea, where they honed themselves into a fierce fighting force.

Their combat system was a combination of a traditional Chinese art known as the “Tang method" and a set of powerful kicks native to Korea. It was during this time that tang soo — the “hand of Tang" — became respected and feared. The fighters garnered a reputation that was so intimidating that as recently as 30 years ago, Korean parents would discipline their children by threatening, “The tang soo man is going to get you!"

To propagate their morality, the tang soo warriors developed the Sesok Ogye, or Five-Point Code. Its tenets were the following:

  • Show loyalty to one's king or master.
  • Be obedient to one's parents and elders.
  • Honor friendships.
  • Never retreat in battle.
  • In killing, choose with sense and honor.

With the Five-Point Code as their philosophy, the warriors went on the offensive and eventually conquered Silla's neighbors, unifying Korea for the first time. The consolidated dynasty lasted from 668 to 935 — cementing Korean solidarity through the Koryo dynasty (935-1392) and Yi dynasty (1392-1910). During the unification period, tang soo saw its greatest development.

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At the time, the art consisted solely of fighting techniques; there were no forms. The traditional style of combat was swift, aggressive and relentless. Its guiding principle was, Don't give the opponent an opportunity to attack.

The fighting strategy emphasized the fourth line of the Five-Point Code: Never retreat in battle. Quite simply, practitioners were taught to never move backward in combat, Dominick Giacobbe says. Instead, they were instructed to charge at their opponent, attacking with a punch and following up with a series of kicks, forcing the other person to retreat. Soon the adversary was rendered unable to defend or counterattack.The tactic was not unlike that of the elite fighting forces of our era: Overpower the enemy and kill him.

After peace was established, the word do, or “way," was appended to tang soo. Tang soo do then came to refer to the peaceful pursuit of the warrior arts, and it remains that way to this day. To further drive home the transformation, the fifth line of the code saw the word “killing" replaced by “conflict." The new term doesn't refer to only physical confrontations; it also applies to mental, emotional and spiritual battles.

During the Yi dynasty, arts and crafts rose to a high level, and Koreans learned the necessity of protecting their hands and fingers. Consequently, tang soo do evolved into a system that focused 80 percent of its arsenal on leg techniques — especially those that relied on the more powerful and less-likely-to-be-anticipated rear leg.

The Middle Period

Dominick Giacobbe's first experience with traditional tang soo do fighting came around 1970 when as a green belt he received his first opportunity to spar with J.C. Shin, his first instructor at the Burlington, New Jersey, school. J.C. Shin used a series of forward-moving punches and kicks, driving Dominick Giacobbe backward and leaving him unable to defend himself.

When C.S. Kim came from Korea in 1972 to assist J.C. Shin, Dominick Giacobbe experienced the traditional fighting method to an even greater degree. A sparring champ in Korea and Japan, C.S. Kim displayed an ultra-aggressive style that brought to life the true combat roots of the ancient art.

From 1972 to 1978, Dominick Giacobbe had the opportunity to welcome numerous Korean masters brought to the United States by J.C. Shin. Upon arrival, they would first spend time with J.C. Shin to learn the language and the business of teaching. Then they would be sent to various locations across the United States to establish their own schools. But while they were in Burlington working out at J.C. Shin's studio, Dominick Giacobbe would take advantage of every opportunity to spar with them and pick their brains for fighting secrets.

Shortly thereafter, J.C. Shin advised Dominick Giacobbe to spend some time in Korea so he could learn more about the art and its traditions. In Korea, the American was immediately impressed with the way the locals blocked attacks without using their hands. Instead, they used body rotation and spins to negate kicks. That facilitated a quicker counterattack because the defender didn't have to waste any time with hand techniques. Dominick Giacobbe also noted that the Koreans favored an aggressive free-sparring style very similar to C.S. Kim's, but of course he was quite used to dealing with it by then.

The Way It Is Now

Because of the popularity of tournaments, modern tang soo do fighting is a “point-conscious" method of sparring. It usually involves standing upright with the hands held in front of the body for blocking purposes. Some 80 percent of the leg techniques used in competition are executed with the front leg because of its speed and control advantages. The extra speed, generated at the expense of power, makes it easier to score. And because tournaments require maximum control — light contact or none at all, in most cases — sacrificing power is not a problem. Furthermore, with front-leg kicks there's less chance of being disqualified for excessive contact.

Tang soo do in the modern era also emphasizes defending and countering. No longer is the traditional attack-only methodology the be-all and end-all of fighting.

But that doesn't mean tang soo do is no longer relevant for fighting. Dominick Giacobbe maintains the old style is more effective for self-defense, partly because of the adage that holds that the best defense is a great offense. Seek out an instructor who teaches it if your primary interest is street defense. But if you're into competition or if you're an instructor who teaches women, children and professionals, you'll probably want to reduce the risk of injury in class by sticking with the modern method.

The old style of tang soo do served an elite class of warriors who made up an extremely small percentage of the populace. Today, they might be compared with the Navy SEALs or Army Rangers. The majority of Americans don't want to engage in the type of training the tang soo warriors underwent in preparation for war, and that's fine because tang soo do is comprehensive enough to offer spiritual, mental and physical health in addition to self-defense suited for the average person.

About the Author:

Nicky DeMatteo is a sixth-degree master who has trained under Dominick Giacobbe for 26 years. For more information about tang soo do, visit tangsookarate.com.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

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GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

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Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

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In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

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If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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