Black Belt December 2000

Survival Instinct

Hee Il Cho and Stanford University Team up to Transform Taekwondo's Best Techniques into the Ultimate Combat Course

by Robert W. Young

Amid all the my-art-can-beat-up~your-art bickering that permeates the martial arts world, more and more practitioners are acquiring what could be termed an enlightened attitude. They are concluding that all arts are good and any art ean help you defend yourself on the street.

What seldom gets mentioned in all that I'm-OK-you're-OK back-patting is the amount of practice time you would have to invest in some styles if you wanted become truly capable of punching out a bad guy in a dark alley. Obviously, that time factor is significant, especially when it comes to some of the more flowery"fighting" arts being taught to the public. The average American who wishes to become proficient in self-defense does not have 20 or 30 years to dedicate to the task. He needs tol earn to proteet himself, and he needs to learn it yesterday.

Taekwondo master and Black Belt Hall of Fame member Hee-Il Cho recognized that problem years ago. He recognized that some people‹particularly those who are not "into" the martial arts - may have no interest in devoting their life to an endeavor such as tae kwondo. So, with technological help from a company called SyberVision, Cho devised a solution: a course called Instinctive Self-Defense. (Note to all you die-hard readers: Feel free to rip this article out of the magazine and give it to a loved one who, despite your best attempts at persuasion, has not yet begun training in the martial arts.)

Blinded by Science

SyberVision is a scientific approach to video-based learning that was developed after eight years of research at California's Stanford University. It uses "repeated sensory exposure" to train the brain of the viewer to mimic certain movements. One of several sports-related courses that employ the SyberVision method, Instinctive SelfDefense promises to guide even a neophyte along an easy-to-follow path to proficiency in fighting back.

Although Instinctive Self-Defense was designed as a video course, an overview of the techniques and targets it emphasizes will benefit any martial artist. Those who already practice taekwondo will learn‹or be reminded of‹the hand and foot strikes that Cho, perhaps the world's best-known practitioner of the art, has deemed the most practical for the street. And those who do not practice the Korean art will no doubt notice similar techniques in their own style, thus reinforcing their commitment to mastering them.

Cho's course focuses on 10 natural weapons. Once learned, those weapons and the techniques associated with them can be instantaneously applied in response to a plethora of street attacks.


The portion of the skull that makes up the forehead and the back ofthe head is one ofthe strongest areas ofthe body. In a close-range encounter, it is frequently near a vulnerable target: your opponent's face. Therefore, when you are trapped by a front choke, lapel grab or bear hug, it is only natural to use your head to attack his face.

Care must be taken that your forehead does not crash into the opponent's teeth, Cho says, or a serious wound may result. "It is much safer to aim for his nose, cheeks or chin," he adds.


The elbow is a superior close-range weapon because the muscles that move it are powerful‹and they can be made even more so when they are aided by a twisting motion of the upper body. The wounding effect of a front or rear elbow technique is amplified because the striking surface is so small, Cho adds.

Common targets for the elbow strike include the solar plexus and rib cage. "And the jaw is great when you use your free hand to keep his head from moving," Cho says.

Open Hand

The first type of open-hand strike taught in Inatinctive Self-Defense is the knifehand. When it is angles downward, gravity augments the muscle power of the upper body, generating significant force. It benefits further from twisting the upper body just before impact.

Because its contact aea is so narrow, you can easily slip it into an opponent's defenses to strike a sensitive area such as the Aam's apple, windpipe, carotoid artery or back of the neck.

The second type of open-hand strike, the ridgehand, uses the thumb-side of the hand to make contact. It is often aimed at the same targets as the knifehand. "It is a more difficult hand motion than the knifehand, but both are useful in self-defense", Cho says.


For most people, the fist is the primary weapon for self-defense. When the adrenaline starts flowing, it is the one they use without thinking. When you punch correctly - whether it is a jab, cross, hook, or uppercut - you put your bodyweight into the blow. That gives the technique more power than it would have if you relied on merely arm strength. Cho says.

Care must be taken with regard to choosing a target for a punch, Cho says. "Every professional fighter knows that hitting a hard surface such as the skull can easily break th bones of the hand". That's why he advocates using the fists to attack soft targets only.


The fingertipes cannot deliver a knockout blow, but they can inflict a distracting or wounding strike, Cho says. A quick flick to the eyes or windpipe can offer a means of escape from many self-defense situations.

"When striking with fingertips, you should hold your fingers close together and align the tips to strengthen the weapon", Cho says. "If you do not feel comfortable doing that, you may be beter off doing a palm strike".

An alternative method of using digits for self-defense involves digging your thumb ino the same target areas, Cho says. "Because the thumb is not strong enough for striking, you should use it only for gouging", he adds.


A knee thrust is effective at close range because it is powered by the muscles of the abdomen and the swinging motion of the hips. The most common target areas are the groin and, when they are pulled downward, the head and solar plexus.


The shin is a string bone with a sharp edge that can inflict damage on almost any part of the opponent's body For maximum power, you should propel your shin kick - which is like a roundhouse kick but does not use the ball of the foot - by extending your quadriceps and extending your body.

You can use your shin to sweep an opponent's leg out from under him or to strike his floating ribs, Cho says. However, kicking higher than the waist increases the chance that he will grab your leg, so beginners are encouraged to keep their shin strikes low.


The instep makes a good striking surface for taekwondo sparring, and with the protection offered by shoes, it is just as effective on the street. Instep kicks can sweep out a supporting leg or strike the side of the knee. With the proper training, they can even smash the nose or break a cheek bone, Cho says.

"You should choose the instep rather than the shin when you need extended range," Cho says.


The heel forms a hard, bony weapon that is excellent for self-defense. Cho teaches students to strike with the back of it when using spinning and sweeping motions, and the bottom of it when us using stomping motions. Heel strikes work nearly as well barefoot as they do with shoes.

Common targets for spinning and sweeping heel strikes include the opporent's knee, torso and face. "For stompng heel strikes, his instep is preferred, but the technique must be followed immediately by a more debilitating blow, Cho says.

Edge of the Foot

The final self-defense weapon is the edge of the foot, which is the part of the anatomy taekwondo stylists ordinarily strike with when they launch a side kick. With a long and narrow impact surface similar to that of the knifehand, the edge of the foot can attack at the knee, the rib cage and if your kicking skills are up to the task, the throat.

"Don't try to use the edge of your foot if you're wearing shoes," Cho says. "In that case, it's best just to use the bottom of your foot."

Top 10 Targets

The efficacy of any self-defense move can be improved through strategic targeting, Cho teaches. So even if you opt to employ a technique that seems more instinctive to you than those listed above, your chance of success will be better if you aim for one of Cho's favorites:

  • The nose. It is easily broken, especially when struck at the base. A moderate impact can result in pain, tears and breathing problems.

  • The eyes. Because they are so closely connected to the brain, a strike will inflict great pain, mental confusion and a temporary loss of sight.

  • The temples. A blow to them can damage the brain.

  • The chin. The bone is fragile, and the joint is easily dislocated. A strike can lead to unconsciousness.

  • The neck. Even though it contains many vulnerable targets, it is relatively unprotected. A blow to the windpipe or Adam's apple can obstruct the flow of air into and out of the lungs, possibly resulting in death.

  • The collarbone. It is easily broken by a downward hand or foot blow. When damaged, pain and a loss of arm mobility often result.

  • The solar plexus. It is widelytargeted in the martial arts because it is so vulnerable. A strike to it may damage nerves that connect with the major organs, possibly resulting in unconsciousness or even death.

  • The rib cage. Individual ribs can be broken relatively easily, and a shattered bone can puncture a lung. A strike that narrowly misses the ribs may slam into a kidney, which can bejust as effective.

  • The groin. It is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body, especially for men. An upward strike can incapacitate a person for an extended period of time.

  • The knee. It is easily injured, especially when struck from the side. A moderately powerful blow can immobilize the entire leg. ~

    Not for Men Only

    In addition to SyberVision's Instinctive Self Defense for Men, the company has also produced Instinctive Self Defense For Women. Featuring Black Belt Hall of Fame member Cynthia Rothrock, the video course covers all the skills women need to know to kick, punch, move and maintain their balance in a fight. It is available from Action International Martial Arts Association.

    Qualifications Galore

    Hee Il Cho has trained in taekwondo for more than five decades. In 1989 he was neamed Black Belt's Co-Instructor of the Year, Since moving to the United States in 1968, he has written 11 books and produced more than 70 instructional videotapes. He founded the Action International Martial Arts Association in 1980. For more information, write to 4217 San Mateo NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110. Or call (505) 881-1888 or fax (505) 881-2888.

    © copyright Black Belt December 2000