Feature Article

Tahn Bong Sul
(Short Stick Techniques)

Grand Master James S. Benko, Ph.D.

The literal English translation of tahn bong sul is "short staff techniques". This may seem confusing at first because we tend to associate a "staff" as something which is quite long. A more figurative interpretation of "tahn bong" would be "short stick". However, in order to maintain the integrity of the literal translation "short staff" will be used.

Tahn bong techniques can be found in martial arts styles in almost every country in the world. Throughout Asia it is often one of the training tools and/or weapons of fighting arts in many countries; Japan, Okinawa, Philippines, China, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Korea, and many more

Tahn Bong Techniques

Though there are many types of traditional Korean martial arts weapons, one of the most practical of these weapons of self-defense is the Tahn Bong (short stick). It may be found almost anywhere. It may be a pencil, ruler, or a piece of stick found on the ground. It may be easily adapted to practically any self-defense situation.

The tahn bong ranges in length from six inches to thirty-six inches. Tahn bong sul (short stick techniques) are helpful in developing concentration and physical awareness of techniques, both in empty-hand and weapon training.

The tahn bong is versatile for quick blocks, strikes, traps, disarms, and counterattack movements. It can be easily concealed, as in being hidden in a jacket or behind ones back. It is practical, since you are able to use many everyday objects to apply and take advantage of tahn bong applications. Police and other law enforcement personnel, as well as the military, use the tahn bong in different forms of batons, for enforcing the law and to maintain the peace.

Tahn bong techniques and training methodologies have guidelines which are designed to direct the practitioner in order to help insure the applications are both practical and precise. Though specific training methodologies may vary from school to school and even from instructor to instructor, the basic theories, concepts and principles of tahn bong techniques remains constant.

Once educated in these methodologies, an individual, under the guidance of a qualified instructor, is able to create an almost limitless series of techniques. How many techniques and variations to each technique is only limited by the knowledge and imagination of the individual.

Beginning To Train:

In tahn bong training, the practitioner is first taught the twenty-four inch tahn bong. Once the basics have been learned, the student is taught how to use the tahn bongs of other lengths. When learning the tahn bong, basic movements are stressed. One must master each basic movement if he is to ever create combinations which have power and are practical.

But knowing the basics is not enough. The practitioner must understand the principles of tahn bong techniques. The principles of tahn bong techniques instill in the individual the ability to develop his own techniques. By following these principles the student can create an almost unlimited amount of variations to the techniques he has already learned.

The techniques of the tahn bong are almost limitless. The tahn bong can be used to strike, punch or block with. When striking is performed, the tahn bong is held loose and done in a snapping motion. The hand holding the tahn bong tightens just before it impacts against its target. Using the ends of the tahn bong, you can punch an opponent. In all types of blocking and striking with the tahn bong, proper muscle tension, breathing, body movement and centralization of Ki power is essential.

Muscle Tension And Relaxation:

One factor to take into consideration when practicing tahn bong techniques is the proper tensing of the muscles. If you tighten the muscles in your arm and try to punch as hard as you can, you will be much slower than if your arm muscles are relaxed until just before the point of impact. This same principle is applied to the application of tahn bong blocks and strikes. You must be like a cat, relax. Then, in a split second, move quickly and relax again. This will help you conserve your energy and increase your speed. By increasing your speed you will be able to generate more power, thus making your techniques much more effective.

Correct Breathing:

Another factor which is a must for the performance of proper tahn bong techniques is correct breathing. When you begin to move you should inhale. As you execute your block or strike you should exhale quickly through your mouth, while at the same time lowering your center of gravity and tensing your muscles. Breathing between movements should be normal. This type of breathing also helps conserve energy and increases your speed and mobility.

To breath correctly, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You should not try to fill your lungs with air. Rather, you should gently force your stomach out as you inhale. This is where your Dan Jun is located. The Dan Jun is where you store your internal energy, known as KI (pronounced Kee). By breathing in this manner you will also fill the lower third of your lungs, which is usually not brought into use when you are simply trying to concentrate on filling your lungs. Proper breathing is required if tahn bong, or any other type of techniques are to be executed with maximum power.

Correct Body Movement:

Correct body movement is the third factor to understand in order to execute correct tahn bong techniques. Body movement is concerned not only with evasive tactics, but how the body itself moves. Evading a direct confrontation with an on-coming blow is vital when applying tahn bong techniques. Therefore, tahn bong techniques are used in conjunction with evasions and counter attacks.

When a person is in an on-guard posture he is ready to defend against your attacks. However, as soon as he begins to move, openings in his defense are created which in turn expose targets the tahn bong practitioner can attack. Also, it is hard to change direction once a person begins to move. With Tahn Bong Sul, in the beginning, the student is taught to wait for the opponent to make the first move so he will be easier to neutralize. Correct body movement is taught in order to increase the student's ability to move quickly with balance, speed and power.

Centralization Of KI Power:

The next factor to take into account when learning Tahn Bong Sul is the centralization of KI power. There are two types of power, external and internal. External power comes from developing strong muscles. A person can possess great physical (external) strength and be able to lift heavy objects or move huge obstacles. However, though Tahn Bong Sul helps build a strong body, it reaches toward the cultivation of internal strength, known as KI.

As time passes, a person's physical strength will diminish. Yet, internal strength, if proper training is maintained, will increase with age no matter how old a person becomes. Learning to centralize one's KI will greatly increase the power of the techniques of Tahn Bong Sul, giving the practitioner not only power but confidence and control.

The tahn bong is a universal defensive weapon which can be found almost anywhere, yet by many, never seen. Its techniques are natural, fluid and practical. The traditions of this ancient Korean weapon teach the practitioner control, confidence, respect, discipline and humility. It is a weapon which will help you develop effective self-defense techniques if that is your goal. But, tahn bong training will aid you in cultivating something much more valuable than the ability to defend yourself, family or country. Tahn bong training gives you, continued peace of mind both in and out of the training hall.

There are many different types of tahn bong (short sticks) used in the Korean martial arts. Some are pointed at one end, others at both ends. Some have a leather strap or rope attached at one end for wrapping around the practitioner's wrist in order to provide added speed and power to strikes and blocks. Tahn bongs also vary in length from six inches to thirty-six inches. They are usually made from a hard wood, like oak, or a more porous material such as rattan or bamboo.

The Mini Tahn Bong:

The shorter tahn bongs are known as the mini tahn bongs, because they are only six to twelve inches in length. The most common mini tahn bong is twelve inches long. When applying techniques the execution of the tahn bong's movements are done in a quick snapping action. This is accomplished by holding the tahn bong loosely, then quickly snapping the tahn bong toward its target with a flip of the wrist. Blocks are directed to hyel do (vital points) and sensitive areas of the body.

If an opponent is holding a weapon, the radial nerve which runs along the top of the forearm is a prime target. A sharp blow to this area could cause the opponent to drop the weapon and may temporarily paralyze his arm. While the opponent is momentarily stunned another strike to a different target could disable the opponent and give the defender the time needed to get away.

While the shaft of the mini tahn bong may be used to block and strike, the ends are principally used for striking targets. The length of the mini tahn bong dictates that it is generally used as a close range defensive weapon. The defender usually will move his body out of the line of attack while closing the distance with the opponent. At the same time, the tahn bong is used to either block the attacking weapon (if the opponent is armed), block the attacking arm, or if the opponent is in range, strike the opponent somewhere other than the attacking arm. The tahn bong may also be used to re-direct an attack.

Most Common Tahn Bong:

The most common length of a tahn bong is twenty-four to twenty-eight inches. This length of tahn bong is ideal for almost every type of both defensive and offensive tahn bong technique. This length permits application of easy traps and disarms while at the same time allowing the practitioner to maintain a safe distance from an attacker.

This length also provides for a larger blocking area thus enabling the practitioner to protect a larger portion of his body with each block, parry, or deflection. The added length further provides longer range strikes than shorter versions of the tahn bong, while at the same time permitting the practitioner to move to a closer range and apply disarms and immobilization techniques.

Training Methodologies:

Here are several methodologies which can be used with the tahn bong to defend against both unarmed and weapon attacks. The following are the: "Principles of Tahn Bong Defenses":

  1. Block the weapon.
  2. Re-direct the weapon.
  3. Srike the arm holding the weapon.
  4. Re-direct the arm holding the weapon.
  5. Strike the attacking arm.
  6. Re-direct the attacking arm.
  7. Strike body targets.
  8. Trap the attacking arm.
  9. Disarm the opponent.
  10. Apply chokes.
  11. Attack pressure point targets.
Let's take a look at each of these principles.

Block The Weapon: The shaft of the tahn bong may be used to block the blade of a knife, a club, or other weapon. It is important that the block be applied as close to the opponent's hand, which is holding the weapon, as is possible. If you attempt to block the end of a long weapon, his strike may overpower your block. The end of a baseball bat which is furthest from the player's hand will generate much more power that a section of the bat which is much closer to his hands. Imagine trying to block the end of a baseball bat when it is swung full force. So, position yourself so that you are able to block an oncoming force, arm, club, etc., as close to its pivot-point as possible.

Re-Direct The Weapon: If a downward attack with a weapon, such as a club or sword, is directed toward you, you could step to the side to avoid the initial attack then, with the tahn bong, strike or push the weapon in the direction it was initially traveling. This would tend to off-balance the opponent allowing you the opportunity to strike or disarm him.

Strike The Arm Holding The Weapon: By striking the arm which is holding a weapon you could possibly disable and/or disarm the opponent. The intensity of your strike will determine how the opponent will react to your strike. Striking the arm which is holding the weapon also includes other targets of the arm including, but not limited to, the wrist, elbow, biceps, triceps, and forearm.

Re-Direct The Attacking Arm: You can re-direct the attacking arm and maneuver the opponent into an immobilization, submission, or throw. Re-directing the attacking arm may also contribute to off-balancing the opponent, will create openings in his defense, and may lead the opponent into a disarm technique.

Strike Body Targets: Vital points of the body may be struck in order to render the opponent unable to harm you. To strike these targets you must get close enough to the opponent in order to make your strikes effective. You must be selective about the targets you choose, for once an opponent is able to get close to you, he shall be in a position to possibly grab you even after you strike him. Strikes must quickly disarm an opponent or place him in a position where he is unable to reach you.

Trap The Attacking Arm: The tahn bong is excellent for applying traps. The shaft of the tahn bong is used to exert pressure against joints and sensitive pressure points of an opponent. By using leverage the tahn bong can greatly, if not completely, immobilize an opponent no matter what his size. Traps are often used to control an armed opponent while at the same time securing his weapon so it no longer poses a danger to you.

Disarm The Opponent: Disarms can be executed by striking the hand, arm, elbow or other portion of the extremity which holds and/or controls the weapon. The tahn bong itself may be used to apply pressure to disarm an opponent or as a lever to pry or easily rend a weapon from the grasp of the opponent.

Apply Chokes: The shaft and the ends of the tahn bong may be used to apply a wide variety of choking techniques to an opponent. Chokes are extremely effective when attempting to immobilize and control an opponent.

Attack Pressure-Point Targets: It is usually the ends of the tahn bong which are used to exert force to pressure points. These pressure points are nerves and sensitive areas of the body which are extremely susceptible to pain. With the use of the tahn bong, you can induce pain, paralyze portions of the body, and disable an opponent. It is attacks to these areas of the body which help make tahn bong techniques so effective against even the largest opponent even if he is armed.

The following techniques are performed by Master James A. Benko one of his students.

Assume the on-guard position with the tahn bong, as the opponents prepares to execute a strike to your head.

As the opponent strikes, move your left foot toward him, blocking the attack as you brace the tahn bong with your left hand.

Close view of photograph "2". Take careful note of the position of the hands.

Grab his weapon with your left hand pulling it downward across your right forearm. Raise your right arm so that the end of your weapon is above the opponent's arm.

Close view of photograph "4".
Use the base of the tahn bong to hook his wrist as you rotate to your right, disarming him.

Retract your left leg slightly as you quickly rotate your hip to your right striking the opponent's wrist with the tahn bong, disarming him.

As you begin moving your left foot toward the opponent, strike his ribs with the left tahn bong.

Rotate to your left forming a front stance as your strike high section.
Perform 7 adn 8 in a fast motion.

Close view of
photograph 8.

Assume the on-guard position with the tahn bong, as the opponents prepares to execute a strike to your head.

Rotate to your left striking the opponent's wrist with your tahn bong.

Close view of
photograph 2

Swing the tahn bong to your right, striking the side of his head as your left hand grabs his weapon.

Your left hand as a firm grip on his weapon, resting it on top of your right forearm. Your weapon is hooked over his wrist.

Retract your left leg slightly as you quickly rotate your hip to your right sliding your tahn bong against his wrist, disarming him.

As you begin moving your left foot toward the opponent, strike the left side of his head the left tahn bong.

(Option A)
Rotate to your left forming a front stance as your strike his ribs.

(Option B)
Strike to the opponent's head.

Copyright © 1974- James S. Benko and ITA Institute.
All rights reserved.

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