Taekwondo at the United Nations
Teaching Self-Defense in the Hallowed Halls of Reconciliation
-by Grandmaster Doug Cook
November 2022 (NYC)– Security was tight; so much so that mock pistols and knives regularly used as training tools in the dojang, were forbidden. Kicking paddles were permitted allowing for focused contact during practice. None of this came as any surprise. Clearly, prominent, distinguished buildings worldwide – often decades or even centuries old – edifices like the US Capitol, the White House, the British Parliament, the French Eiffel Tower, India’s Taj Mahal, and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, are all on high alert given the current state of global discontent. So, who were we, four martial arts masters requested to provide self-defense training to staffers at the famed United Nations in New York City, to take umbrage at this minor inconvenience. Paradoxically, one security agent stationed at a fortified entryway, familiar with our art – taekwondo – joked that our hands and feet were equally as lethal, if not more so, than the weapons their machines routinely screened for.
After meeting our contact, Lucile Meunier, a member of the UN editorial and press department who, after searching the web in 2020 sought convenient, online training with us at the onset of coronavirus pandemic, we were issued passes in the names provided weeks ago: Master Terri Testa, Master William Cirillo, Master Danielle Roche and myself, Grandmaster Doug Cook. Clearing an array of metal detectors and X-ray devices, we were then led through a labyrinth of hallways, fortunately being treated to a private tour of the facility.
In America today, it appears one word supersedes all others in describing everything from a pizza to a glimpse of black holes in deep space. That word is ‘awesome’ and as a writer unequivocally respecting the symbolism and power of words coupled with their proper use, I fine the overuse of this term deplorable. However, when the double doors opened to the inner sanctum of the UN General Assembly – a cathedral to world peace – no more appropriate word came to mind than ’awesome’. Here I was at the nexus of debate, agreement and divergence, reconciliation on the international level. One could quite literally feel the weight of joint sessions, the tense tug-of-war between member delegates, circling around disarmament, human rights and social accord so heartily fought for in this sacred chamber. And here we were to teach individuals how to take their fellow men and women apart, admittedly, against an unprovoked attack. The juxtaposition was comically ironic.
But that was our job; that is why our school, the Chosun Taekwondo Academy, was chosen from amongst a universe of others to offer a special, two-hour workshop focusing on self-defense. This – this is what we do best as taekwondoists – promote self-defense, a sense of empowerment, discipline and confidence.
After strolling through a series of cavernous halls dedicated to various themes – Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the threat of nuclear weaponry, great works of art, Picasso, Rockwell; a display case memorializing hangul, the Korean alphabet created in 1443 by King Sejong, we burrowed down into depths of the building’s vast basement where room after room was designated for educational and entertainment purposes for exclusive use by UN staff. One space in particular contained a well-appointed gym with mirrored walls, exercise equipment, mats, fans and a forgiving, wooden floor. This would be our workspace for the evening. As time to begin approached, participants trickled in, two and three at a time, until my instructors and I were facing twenty, eager men and women of varying nationalities and ages ready to begin their lessons.
Initially, upon entry, all participants naturally appeared wary, unsure of what was to come. Would we be hitting them? Throwing them to the floor? Was injury imminent? But, following a brief period of seated meditation to calm the mind after an eventful day – the Security Council was in session responding to missile strikes on a NATO ally – and a fairly detailed explanation of defensive principles, including possible liability, a sense of calm, trust and unity pervaded the room; we were all in this together for better or worse. Thankfully, as the event slowly unspooled, all agreed it was for the better!
Teaching self-defense incurs great responsibility. Students – even though, they are ultimately being exposed to skills of enablement, consciously refusing to become innocent victims – must be reminded never to develop a ‘false sense of security’. Techniques need to be practiced slowly and deliberately over time so as to become second nature. Clearly, one, two-hour class will never be sufficient to attain this goal. With that in mind, all involved were provided, at the program’s end, with a detailed two-page, neatly-laminated, hard-copy explanation of the selected skills, mapping out each defensive scenario piece by piece, motion by motion. Additionally, a YouTube video was produced as a reference guide, posted at http://www.youtube.com/c/DougCook/videos for later viewing at home. This link can be used by readers of this article to help decipher the technical explanations listed below.
The seminar was broken down into two distinct segments, the first including essential stances followed by a series of practical strikes, kicks and blocks; what we refer to as ‘bash & dash’ techniques. The defense posture, front, round, side kick, jab, reverse punch, back fist, palm heel, elbow and knee strikes were all introduced. Hand targets, held by our instructors, were utilized to increase focus and to marginally simulate human contact.
The second stage of the program emphasized potent release techniques against the most prevalent grabs. The group was arranged into three lines with an instructor overseeing each, there to initiate the attack with the student responding in kind. Techniques included:
- Defense against same side grab. Attacker grabs your left hand with his right. Force release by pulling thin side of wrist from attacker’s grasp assisted by right hand. Complete with left side elbow strike in horse stance.
- Attacker grabs both wrists from the front. Pull down and out while stepping back with right leg into front stance, breaking opponent’s balance. Move head to side and finish with right upward knee strike to solar plexus or groin.
- Defense against same side grab. Attacker grabs your left hand with his right. Reach over with your right-hand gripping outside of opponent’s hand, thumb on middle knuckle. Force release by pulling thin side of wrist from attacker’s grasp. Once released, grasp opponent’s hand with your left, matching thumbs. Twist arm clockwise until elbows meet. Bear down with your elbow while keeping hands at face level.
- Defense against frontal pistol assault. Pivot 90 degrees counter clockwise on left foot into front stance while executing right palm heel block to offending hand. Secure attacker’s right hand with left. Step forward with right foot into horse stance and complete with right side elbow strike to ribs.
- Attacker grabs your left lapel with his right hand. Turn slightly to your left while securing offending hand with your right, fingers downward. Twist opponent’s hand clockwise while grabbing with your left, positioning pinkies at crease of wrist. Bear down, stepping back with right leg, breaking wrist. Complete with knee strike to solar plexus or groin.
- Defense against knife thrust strike. Step back with right leg into a front stance while executing a low X-block. Place thumbs on the back of opponent’s hand, twisting clockwise while stepping forward with right leg, locking wrist.
- Defense against rear choke-hold. Tuck chin. Execute rear head butt. Step to left, finishing with rear elbow strike followed by hammer fist to groin.
- Defense opposite wrist grab or handshake. Step forward and across attacker’s right leg with left foot. Thrust left arm under opponent’s elbow, securing left shoulder with right hand. Pull down on offending hand supported by forearm, breaking elbow. Apply palm heel push to fingers.
- Defense against left shoulder grab from the front. Secure attacker’s left shoulder with right hand while simultaneously grabbing right forearm with left hand, palm up. Pull opponent’s right arm over head while pushing left shoulder forward.
- Defense against bearhug from behind. Drop center while stepping into horse stance with both legs. Simultaneously, shoot both arms forward. Grab attacker’s right ankle and pull forward, forcing to ground. Push down on toes with right hand while trapping ankle with left hand by grabbing your right wrist.
At the session’s conclusion, we made it abundantly clear that a great deal of caution needs to be displayed between partners during personal, home practice so that skills can be engaged in effectively, yet safely. Moreover, a number of significant points regarding self-defense were emphasized as well:
- Always use caution during practice.
- Do not develop a “false sense of security”.
- Practice slowly and deliberately in the beginning.
- Approach the various applications with utmost seriousness as though you were truly being attacked.
- Techniques must become instinctive if they are to become effective.
- As in any defensive situation, it is wise to execute a technique to the point of submission, then escape. Remember: the ultimate goal of practical self-defense is to extricate oneself from bodily harm, not simply to injure another human being.
- Better to be ‘judged by twelve than carried by six’.
- Martial arts are brutal by nature, but tempered by compassion.
- SKILL + WILL = ESCAPE
The instructors of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy whose primary mission is to promote traditional taekwondo, are no strangers to self-defense workshops. As an institute we have offered dozens of empowering sessions across the decades. Recipients have included civic associations, women’s groups, corporate clients, law enforcement, the US Army, agents from Homeland Security and youth organizations such as the Girl and Boy Scouts. Still, being given the opportunity to enlighten members of the United Nations – an entity dedicated to world peace – with proven methods intended to triumph over personal violence, was indeed an honor of noteworthy proportions. It is my hope to return to this bastion of global amity to further educate UN employees in the art of self-protection.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Chosun Taekwondo Academy masters Terri Testa, Danielle Roche and William Cirillo of helping transmit these defensive scenarios on to the UN staff. I would also like to thank Patty Cook for here photographic and logistical skills.
Grandmaster Doug Cook, 8th Dan Chang Moo Kwan and 7th Dan Kukkiwon-certified black belt, is owner of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of the late Grandmaster Richard Chun, president of the United States Taekwondo Association, and an Advisory Council member of the World Martial Arts Alliance. He has authored four best-selling books entitled: Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Traditional Taekwondo – Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, Taekwondo–A Path to Excellence, and Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo and Koryo. Grandmaster Cook has been a contributor to TaeKwonDo Life in the past. He can be reached for seminars, Korea training tours, national and international online ZOOM workshops, or questions regarding USTA membership at www.chosuntkd.com, www.ustaweb.com, on Facebook, or through email at email@example.com.
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Master Gregory Nabel