Books to enhance your study of Tang Soo Do

My recommendations this month are again based on one for training and one for enjoyment and education. For your training I cannot recommend highly enough ‘Karate’s Grappling Methods’ by Sensei Iain Abernethy. I’ve had the pleasure of training with Sensei Abernethy nearly half a dozen times over the last few years and he is inspiring, entertaining and hugely talented. He has spent years delving into the ‘Bunkai’ or applications within forms and he never seems to stop researching and learning. If you ever get a chance to train with him take it – you won’t be disappointed. He has a brain the size of a planet, a wicked sense of humour and a deep capacity for efficient violence that you can’t help but admire!

He is also an excellent author and his book ‘Karate’s Grappling Methods’ is very good introduction to his theories and offers scores of applications for the movements we practice weekly through our hyung. I find his approach very useful to peel away the layers of a hyung and really understand not just the pattern of the form but why a move is there in the first place. Each movement of the arms or legs or shift of stance makes more sense when you can see the throw, lock, grapple, choke, wrench or pull it represents. It’s also an invaluable teaching tool to help show students the context of a move in a hyung which in turn makes it easier to remember and perform in the right way. Each set of our hyung represent an entire fighting system and have unique and deep histories. Books like this really help a student of the martial arts delve into that.

Sensei Abernethy has written numerous books now and I recommend them all but this one is a brilliant starting point if you haven’t already engaged with him.

My second recommendation is full of history, politics, intrigue, bad behaviour and rampant egos and I loved reading it. ‘A Killing Art: The untold history of Taekwondo’ by Alex Gillis tells the story of TKD from its inception to the modern day. It starts before TKD existed when there were still many separate, independent Kwan or martial art schools in Korea and Choi Hong-Hi decided to try and unite them all to create a single ‘Korean Art’ in 1955. As I’m sure most of you are aware Grandmaster Hwang Kee was one of the school leaders who resisted the call to unite and he is mentioned a few times in this book and there are even some old historic pictures of our founder looking less than impressed in a drinking house as other masters carouse!

TKD has had a chequered history and this book tells it all – defections between North & South Korea, bribery to get TKD into the Olympic Games, clashing egos and the development of contrasting styles of ITF & WTF Taekwondo. I really enjoyed it and found it very entertaining – a real insight into one of the biggest martial arts on the planet.

Tang Soo!

By SBN Ben Leonard