The Korean Middle Staff
By Scott Shaw
This article originally appeared in the February 1994 issue of Inside Taekwondo.
Escrima, Kali, and Arnis are not the only styles of martial arts to have developed a defensive system using short lengths of wood as weapons. Korean warriors from the ancient period also devised a system of self-defense using the baton. In Korean, the weapon is called the Jung bong.
Jung Bong Basics
To begin our understanding of the use of the Korean baton, we must first let go of all previous visions of the Escrima sticks in action. For though Escrima sticks appear similar in appearance, they were developed as a weapon of martial arts in a completely different time period than that of the Korean jung bong and their foundational understanding is based in a separate set of parameters and defensive understandings.
The Korean middle staffs are not simply objects that you pick up and swing at an opponent. They are a highly developed and practical tool that when put into proper application, are a very viable weapon of self-defense.
The Korean middle staffs can be used as a singular defensive weapon but they are also commonly used in pairs. It is understood that their defensive applications are more exacting when a pair of jung bong is utilized.
The middle staffs are properly grasped by holding them approximately five inches from the end. From here, they are allowed to naturally extend outward.
The common opening stance with the Korean middle staff is to have your arms extended approximately one foot away from your body. Have your elbows slightly bent. The staffs themselves are crossed in front of you, a few inches away from each other. In this way, they both equally have free movement and can either go up or down to block your opponent's advances or strike at him offensively.
The middle staff is never swung randomly. Whenever a strike, be it offensive or defensive, is launched, it always has an intended target in mind. The middle staffs are also not swung widely. For if you swing them up or out too far in order to gain momentum, you then open yourself up for counterattack. To this end, they are kept in tight to your body. Thus, protecting you from attack.
The Offensive Jung Bong
To properly strike with the middle staff and achieve concise opponent hits, you place your body into a natural stance. You should never tighten up or lock yourself into a rigid stance while using the batons, as this will hinder the freedom of your movement.
When it is time to strike, you rapidly move into attack range of your opponent. The middle staffs are led in towards your target with your upper arms and then snapped out, making impact, from your elbow.
The power and impact of the baton's strike comes from this snapping out of the elbow, not from momentum caused by swinging your arms up or out from the shoulder and then forcefully bringing them down.
When a strike with the middle staff is performed, the striking arm is never fully extended. The elbows always remain slightly bent. This aids in any confrontational situation you may find yourself in for two reasons. First of all, it keeps your elbow joint from being damaged due to hyperextension. Secondly, this allows you to keep the batons in tight enough to your body to not allow the momentum the baton may develop to open up your stance to such a degree that your opponent may penetrate it and counter strike.
Your wrists are allowed to pivot freely when you perform techniques with the middle staff. If you tighten your wrist muscles, the impact force of the attack or the momentum of the middle staff technique itself could cause you to inadvertently injure your wrists.
All strikes or blocks with the middle staff are made in a linear fashion. It is a straight to the target weapon. Though circular applications are used, there is nothing ornamented about any technique performed with the Korean batons.
Any hit is directed at its objective. No flamboyant twirling of the baton is ever used — as this is unnecessary use of energy and it gives the trained opponent the ability to counter strike while this type of meaningless activity is taking place.
Certain striking techniques are delivered most effectively by driving the full power of the baton's strike into your opponent, while other ones are much more effective when finesse is used. The only way to learn the appropriate applied power per each technique is through practice. Thereby, coming to a deeper understanding of the jung bong.
How To Practice
The quickest way to gain understanding of the middle staff is to get two pieces of wood approximately two feet in length and hold them in the manner previously described. Then, begin to block and strike at an imaginary opponent with them.
It is important you never allow these blocks and strikes to be just randomly appointed techniques. All techniques used in the practice of the jung bong have a purpose and are performed as extensions of your arm.
The two key mistakes many practitioners of the middle staff initially make is to, first, overextend their body while encountering an adversary. You should never reach to strike or block your opponent. By reaching, you leave your body open for counterattack. Secondarily, the middle staffs are somewhat large pieces of wood. Thus, you should not place yourself into such tight proximity to your opponent that they can not be effectively used.
To keep these negative occurrences from happening, range effective consciousness is always used when the middle staffs are employed.
Range effectiveness, in terms of the Korean middle staff, refers to the distance that you may effortlessly strike at your opponent, while leaving him the least amount of ability to block, counter strike, or perhaps even take the weapons away from you.
To define your own range effectiveness with the Korean baton is a twofold process:
1. By moving towards your opponent, who is given the advantage of your new location? If your opponent is, then do not close the distance. Instead, allow him to come to you, where you can define the next level of attack or counterattack. If it is you who will take the superior positioning, however, then move forward.
2. How far can you effortlessly strike at your opponent without extending your arm past the slightly bent elbow point?
Once these two conditions have been surmised, your defense or attack can take place with your chances of being injured minimized and your opportunities for victory heightened.
As there is virtually no difference between the striking techniques used in attacking or blocking, your actual motion is not effected by whichever application you are using. The only variance is decided upon by your own choice of action.
In offensive applications with the middle staff, there are precise points that you should strike for on your opponent. The common strike point may come to mind: the head, the solar plexus, and so on. These targets are not negated but there is a vast array of other points on your opponent, which are equally vulnerable. These strike points include, but are not limited to, the elbow joints, the wrists, the shins, and the ankles.
Often times you will not want to extensively injure your opponent. When you strike at a person's joints, with a middle staff, the impact of the wood to bone is quite a successful way of debilitating him, but not causing him permanent injury. For this reason, it is important to develop the focus to strike at these regions.
The ability to consciously attack these strike points comes from continued practice and the development of hand-to-eye coordination with the use of the middle staff. This can be acquired through the practice of hanging a small tennis ball from a string and consciously striking at it — especially while it is moving.
Though it is common that an individual views the jung bong and immediately sees them as primarily an offensive weapon, the Korean batons are equally useful as a defensive tool. The use of the middle staff as a defensive instrument does, however, take additional practice and a deeper understanding of the weapon.
The simplest defensive application of the jung bong is to simply do with them what you would do with your hands or arms when an opponent punches or kicks at you. By blocking with the jung bong, not only have you saved your body from possible damage incurred from impacting your opponent's strike, but you have possibly injured him in the process - depending upon where the blow of wood to skin occurred on his body.
Blocking techniques are easily experimented with. In a practice situation, allow your opponent to straight punch at you. By slightly sidestepping and impacting the outside of his arm, with an out-to-in block, you have deflected the punch and the assault has been diverted.
When you use the Korean middle staff, as with any martial art weapon, all defensive applications should instantly be followed by an offense. This not only assures your victory in the confrontation, but prevents you from incurring further attacks from your opponent, as well. Thus, the moment the aforementioned block has been completed, a follow-up strike should be instigated.
The best counter strikes are always ones that easily follow the blocking technique just performed. This is to say, your strike should not be a clumsy and awkward attempt to get one of your jung bong's to a location that perhaps you desire to reach but is not easily obtainable.
At times, these initial counter strikes may not be fully debilitating hits to your opponent. None-the-less, they will set the stage for the next technique, which will be launched much easier due to your opponent having been stunned by the first strike.
As no confrontation is etched in stone, there is no simple answer that can inform you of which strike should follow what block. Through practice, however, it becomes obvious which technique easily follows the last.
In terms of the previously described straight-punch blocking technique, it is quite easy to simply strike your opponent in the ribs with the other baton immediately upon completing the previously described out-to-in block. It is this type of continual motion sequence that will ensure your victory in any altercation.
Joint Locking Techniques
Joint locking and trapping techniques have long been a part of the Korean martial arts. These were first developed by the Hwa Rang warriors and later emphasized by hapkido and to a lesser degree advanced practitioners of taekwondo.
Joint locking techniques are integrated into the art of the Korean middle staff. These joint locking maneuvers, in association with the use of the middle staff, have been highly developed in Korea. This is one of the large differences between the Korean understanding of the baton and the Filipino arts.
As the middle staffs are wooden extensions to the hands, the joint locking techniques themselves are not as precise as with the hand-to-hand techniques originated in Korea. Yet, they are equally effective.
While joint locking with the middle staff, the emphasis is placed more upon the major bone junctures, such as the elbows, the knees, and under the neck, rather than where the more intricate hand-to-hand joint locking techniques are emphasized on the wrists, finger joints, and so on.
The purpose of any joint lock is to place your opponent at a disadvantage in order to end the confrontation more quickly. With the jung bong, this is aided by the fact that you may integrate very effective strikes either just before or just after any joint lock application.
For example, your opponent performs the same straight punch as described earlier. You now sidestep it while you block the punch with an out-to-in deflection with one middle staff as you did before. Now, while leaving the blocking middle staff in place to control your opponent's ability to hit you, continue through with a strike to his ribs with your other middle staff. Since his punch has been deflected and his ribs struck, he will be vulnerable. Now, bring the striking baton down into his elbow joint as you force his punching arm back onto itself with your blocking baton. You can now easily throw him back onto the ground, where further counterattacking motions can be launched.
The jung bong is a highly stylized weapon of both offense and defense. With practice, any practitioner can easily and effectively add it to his martial arts arsenal, making himself a more complete warrior while practicing a time-honored tradition of Korea.
Copyright © 1994 — All Right Reserved
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.