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Use of the Hip in Tang Soo Do
Master C. Terrigno - 6th Dan
Editor - Tang Soo Do World


As most Tang Soo Do practitioners know, the extensive use of the hip is fundamental to our art and is its most distinguishing feature - its "signature" which sets us apart from other martial arts systems in terms of how we move. At first glance, the correct use of the hip may seem like a simple principle but in reality it is a difficult one for both Gups and Dans alike to internalize and execute properly.

Our late Great Grandmaster Hwang Kee devoted a considerable amount of space in his textbook to the "scientific use of the hip" in Tang Soo Do, so it is imperative that practitioners take the time to fully understand it and apply it early on in their training so as not to create bad habits that will later be difficult (and time consuming) to correct.

From personal experience I know the extra work it takes to "un-learn" acquired muscle memory, although my situation was not due to having formed bad habits per se, but from having studied Japanese Karate for six years prior to Tang Soo Do. Japanese karate techniques are more linear and direct, with less hip rotation compared to our art. Consequently, I had to work extremely hard at overriding my instinctual movements and replace them with the more circular motions that Tang Soo Do is known for. I can still hear my original Instructors, especially Master Young Ki Hong admonishing me, always with the same statement - Hu Ri, Hu Ri. And after a little while he would just look me in the eye and with his ever present smile simply say - more practice! Yes Sir, I would respond. That was over 26 years ago, and I'm still working at it.

The challenge for students with no prior training is to overcome their natural tendency to use one part or area of the body more than or in opposition to the other(s). Men, because of their physical build and strength are prone to predominately using the upper body while at the same time applying too much power, literally throwing themselves head first into the movements.

To correct this, your Instructors have no doubt urged you to "keep your back straight", "move from your center or abdomen (Dan Jun)", "rotate your hips (Hu Ri)", and use "more trunk twist". Easier said than done in many cases, especially in the heat of training when there is no time to stop and think, and maybe that is the point - there is no time to think about a technique when you're in the middle of it. The "thinking" should be done when we're off the training floor. Consider it the planning or research phase of your training.

So to help put these terms into visual context, consider the drawing at right. The Hu Ri, or hip, is the blue horizontal line and the red line is our central axis which keeps us in correct vertical alignment. A trunk twist then is simply the blue line rotating from one side to the other of the red line. Where both lines intersect is the Dan Jun (yellow dot), the central balancing point about 3" below the navel. This is where our energy resides and movement is initiated from. When all these considerations are met and the correct amount of power is added we are said to be in balance (Choong Shim). Movement will then be fluid and effortless.

With the benefit of this illustration in hand, there are three concepts to explore to help achieve fluid and powerful motion.

   Offensive Hip
   Defensive Hip
   and Pull rather than Push

Offensive Hip

This is most often employed in Tang Soo Do attacks, although there are some attacks where a defensive hip is used. For purposes of illustration we will focus on the middle punch. Offensive Hip is characterized by opening up of the hip, holding it back and then releasing it at the moment of impact (the final step). You will note in the photos below that the vertical alignment mentioned earlier is maintained. There is no leaning forward with the upper body.

(Note: Because I am using snapshots rather than video, Figure 3 below would seem to be an actual step, however it is not. It is the position your body would be in if we froze the video just before the final hip rotation when the punch is released. In reality, the foot has not even landed yet. The landing, hip rotation and punch all happen at the same time as in Figure 4. The photo is meant to show that the punch has not yet moved forward - a mistake commonly made by beginners where their punch precedes the step.)

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4

Defensive Hip

With Defensive Hip you have a contraction, or closing in of the hips. It is a defensive posture where we also present the smallest target to the attacker. Figure 3 once again highlights the fact that the hip has not yet turned and the blocking hand has not yet moved. As above, this all happens in Figure 4.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4

Pull rather than Push

This concept might be a bit abstract and difficult for some to grasp because it is more mental than physical, and it relates to the Dan Jun specifically.

When you push something you have its mass and weight in front of you. By its very nature it literally and figuratively gets in your way. As a result, students tend to overcompensate by applying more power than necessary to drive their techniques home.

An analogy that my students are used to hearing from me is this. A rear-wheel drive car driven in the snow has a greater tendency to fishtail and lose control because it is pushing the mass in front of the rear wheels, and the more power you give it, the worse it gets. With a front-wheel drive car you are being pulled and because the mass is behind you it simply follows where you steer. In addition, pushing is more awkward than pulling. Try pushing something heavy across any surface and then pull it and you'll see what I mean. It also takes less energy to pull. You will also find that this concept is not limited to just martial arts activities - a golfer pulls not pushes the club through to the golf ball; a batter pulls the bat to the baseball, and a fly fisherman pulls (whips) his line to his target spot in the stream).

To implement this type of motion, whether you're in Offensive or Defensive Hip, think of a string tied to your Dan Jun point and that there is an outside force (not your own) that is pulling you forward. Imagine now that forceful pull suddenly stopping (as in hitting the brakes on your car). What happens next is "inertia" - everything wants to keep moving forward until it comes to a snapping halt. This is what happens to your punch or block. When done correctly, it goes by itself. You "become" the punch or block. The greater the pull the more power in the technique at the end. Of course you must again remember that what prevents your whole body from falling forward is keeping it aligned with the vertical axis.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4

As a further aid in your practice, try this simple exercise. First walk across the room as you normally would and try to sense where your propulsion is coming from. Next, switch your awareness and visualize a string tied to your Dan Jun which is being pulled by someone else, and with your back straight, just go with it. It will probably be very awkward at first but with practice you will begin to feel as if you're gliding along as opposed to being pushed across the floor.

Like everything else we do in our training, the benefits to understanding and putting these concepts to use spill over (in a positive way) to other tasks we perform in our daily lives. These may even change how you move entirely.

I hope you find this useful in your continued studies.

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