Inside Kung-Fu May 2004

ikf-may-2004Inside Kung-Fu

“The Future of Dummy Training”

By Joseph Simonet

May 2004

Pg 30-35, 66-67

Put 13 dummies together and what do you get? The training system of the future.

The mook jong, or wooden dummy, is among the unique and effective training devices developed for the martial artist. Unlike simple punching bags and makiwara that only allow the practice of offensive striking techniques, the mook jong provides a platform for training both offensive and defensive movements. With a bit of imagination, it also helps the practitioner chain numerous techniques together, accurately simulating the dynamics of a real fight—an even that rarely resembles a one-sided offensive combination on a heavy bag.

Although the mook jong is probably the most advanced method of solo training possible in the martial arts, learning its proper use is best accomplished through hands-on instruction with a qualified teacher. To do this effectively, both the instructor and the student should be able to perform the movements on the dummy simultaneously. In this way, the student can accurately mimic the instructor’s technique in real time.

With two or possibly three dummies mounted side by side, an instructor can effectively teach up to two students at a time. Beyond that, however, the traditional wall-mounted dummy configuration makes real-time mirroring of an instructor’s movements—the most efficient learning method—impractical and ineffective.

In the KI Fighting Concepts curriculum, we focus heavily on mook jong training because we are confident that it is the most advanced and productive method of solo practice. Although the roots of our dummy draining lie in wing chun gung-fu (one of our core systems), through extensive experimentation and development we have adapted the techniques of our other core systems—kenpo, eskrima, pentjak silat, and taijiquan—to the dummy as well. The resulting training method is called “The Art and Science of Mook Jong.” Like the KI Fighting Concepts curriculum, this method is an eclectic, combat-orientated synthesis that blends and cross-references movement at the conceptual level, while maintaining respect for the core classical styles. The “science” of our wooden dummy training identifies the common elements and physical structures of the arts and refines them through repetitive contact training. Based on this foundation, students learn to connect and integrate movement in a non-linear progression. This personalized and, ultimately, spontaneous expression of their martial skill becomes the “art” of the method.

Despite the many advantages offered by our mook jong curriculum, for the reasons noted earlier, we sill couldn’t teach it effectively to large numbers of students. Therefore, we applied the same spirit of innovative traditionalism that characterizes our dummy curriculum to the design of the dummy-learning environment itself. The result is The Octagon.

What It Is

The Octagon is a 25-foot-wide octagonal platform that is home to an array of 13 wooden dummies. The base of the Octagon is a four-inch-thick concrete pad reinforced with #9 bar screen. This pad, which required eight yards of concrete, was poured over a two-inch bed of 5/8-inch gravel to keep moisture from leeching out of the concrete and ensure that the base would be impervious to the extreme weather changes at its location in Lake Chelan, Wash. After the concrete was poured, it was carefully surfaced to create a 1-1/2-inch drainage slope from the center to the outside edges of the platform. It was then coated with a pecan-colored powder and stamped with a late stamp for texture and aesthetic appeal. All edges of the platform were reinforced with 22-1/2-degree steel braces to guarantee the proper angles at the corners of the Octagon and further strengthen the platform.

Most traditional mook jongs use a wooden framework to provide the combination of support and shock absorption necessary for a good “live” dummy. To provide this same feel, yet allow for simpler construction and an unobstructed view, we developed a different mounting method. After determining the proper locations of the 12 other dummies, we used a roto hammer to drill a pattern of holes into the concrete to accept threaded inserts. We then used lag screws to attach three steel right-angle brackets to the base of each dummy. A thick rubber pad was placed over each set of mounting holes in the concrete, each dummy was carefully aligned, and then 5/8-inch steel bolts were screwed through the brackets and pads into the threaded inserts in the concrete. By carefully adjusting the tension of the bolts against the compression of the rubber pads, we tuned each dummy to have just the right about of “give” to move and react like a traditional frame-mounted mook jong.

Pivotal Change

The center dummy of the array was mounted differently. Instead of a static mount, we attached it to a pivoting steel sleeve that was inset into the concrete platform. This arrangement allows the center dummy to pivot 360 degrees, yet be locked down in any position. In this way, I can quickly and easily reposition the dummy to provide different views to the students working the outer dummies.

The first real test of the effectiveness of the Octagon came during my Wind and Rock training camp last July. I took 24 of the 60-plus participants in the camp and paired them on the 12 outer dummies. I then proceeded to teach a variety of dummy movements, drills, and combinations just as I do during private lessons. After one partner of each pair had an opportunity to both follow along with me and practice the movements individually, we repeated the process for the other partner. Throughout the process, I adjusted the position of the center dummy to provide a variety of viewing angles for all the students.

The results were phenomenal. I not only could effectively teach dummy technique to a large number of students in a single session, the group learning dynamic provided by the Octagon reinforced the training material and reduced the performance anxiety that students typically feel when working the dummy alone. Rather than feeling like they were in the spotlight, they felt the support and camaraderie of a group training session. The net result was that they learned faster and had better retention of the information than students who performed one-on-one. This method also validated wooden dummy training for many of the participants and motivated them to incorporate it into the practice of their core styles.

Height Advantage

The Octagon also offers a number of other significant advantages. To accommodate students of different heights, the outer dummies of the Octagon were made different sizes. Initially, students are positioned at a dummy that is comparable to their own height and reach to make learning the movements easier. However, once they become proficient at using the dummy, we move them to a different dummy that is larger or smaller. This forces them to adapt their motions to an “opponent” who is taller or shorter than they are. Rather than forcing a technique to work the same way, they learn to modify their movements on the fly to achieve the desired result. For example, an elbow strike to the head of a shorter dummy might only reach the torso of a taller one. A downward check and strike might, therefore, be replaced by an upward check and strike to compensate for the difference in height.

Initially, students are given time to sort out the necessary changes in their technique. Once they have learned to adapt to both taller and shorter dummies, they proceed to a form of “round robin” training unique to the Octagon. Like a game of musical chairs, the students must quickly move from one dummy to the next to perform either a drill, a portion of a form, or an entire form. By varying the movement pattern through the dummies, they have to spontaneously adapt to the different heights as they move. For a real challenge, I have them begin a form, like our “slam set,” on one dummy. On my command, they stop where they are in the form, move to another dummy, and resume the form. This process is repeated until the form is complete. This type of marathon training is one of the most challenging forms of dummy practice and is the final stage of testing in our mook jong curriculum.

Unlike the traditional wooden wall mount, the mounting system used for the dummies in the Octagon allows a 360-degree range of movement around each dummy. Students can practice a broader range of footwork and angling and can even move behind the dummies to practice chokes and rear takedowns.

Multiple Uses

The array of dummies in the Octagon is also an excellent resource for multiple-attacker training. Advanced students who are already comfortable dealing with a single opponent are first introduced to the basic concepts of fighting multiple attackers. Once they understand the concepts of “stacking” attackers, the use of human shields and obstacles, and the use of hit-and-run tactics, they learn to apply them with power in the Octagon. By varying the student’s starting position and orientation, we can simulate countless realistic attack scenarios.

Another unique advantage of the Octagon platform is that its outdoor location leaves it completely exposed to the elements. This allows students to train in all the weather conditions possible in central Washington, from intense heat to bitter cold. When the snow falls, we do not shovel the Octagon platform clean. Instead, we use the snow and ice that accumulates on the platform as a training tool to teach students how to move, maintain balance, and generate power in realistic environmental conditions. Since many real street attacks occur at night, we do much of our practice on the Octagon during the hours of darkness. This teaches us to rely on touch rather than sight and to apply our sensitivity skills to realistic fighting situations.

Since a number of my private students are law enforcement officers and security professionals, I have also adapted the Octagon to their training needs. But using soft-air pistols that replicate their duty firearms, they can practice integrating empty-hand defensive tactics with close-quarters shooting skills. For example, an officer may engage one or two dummies with empty-hand strikes to buy enough time and distance to draw his weapon. He can then fire at the dummies, which simulate attackers at different rangers and angles more realistically than a traditional shooting range. By attaching wooden panels to the dummies or removing the arms from the dummies themselves, the officers can also incorporate the use of barricades and cover.

For most dedicated martial artists, dummy training represents a significant step in their training evolution that allows them to creatively explore both their offensive and defensive technique through dynamic solo training. Similarly, the Octagon represents a quantum leap in dummy training methodology, enabling a single instructor to not only teach a large group of students, but to lead them in real time through progressive dummy drills and forms. It also opens the door to the creative use the multiple dummies and the realistic environmental training that is impossible with traditional mook jong configurations. Most importantly, it is another manifestation of the KI Fighting Concepts motto, “Where innovation transcends tradition.”


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