Choi Kwang Do - A review

Discussion in 'Other Styles' started by Aegis, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. Aegis

    Aegis River Guardian Admin Supporter


    Due to work and personal circumstances I have recently been unable to train in my usual art, and have instead done some training in Choi Kwang Do because it was the nearest art to me which met the aims that I had for my time off. These aims included the desire to improve my striking and to be able to practice some of my self defence techniques.

    This article is a summary of my experiences with Choi Kwang Do. Do please note that it comes mostly from personal experience and may not represent the whole style; however I have included extracts from websites and videos from Youtube which back up my position.

    What is Choi Kwang Do?

    Choi Kwang Do's history can be viewed on almost any of their websites. In summary it is an interpretation of Tae Kwon Do by someone who trained in it for most of his life. Various official websites claim that it is modernised to avoid long-term injury based on scientific understanding of how the human body works. Further claims state that the art has been developed to be extremely effective in self defence situations without the need for contact training or sparring.

    It is interesting to note that although claims are made about scientific understanding of human anatomy being used to develop this art, there are no references to specific studies on injury prevention though any scientific journals, which is what one would expect in any other field if claims about scientific investigation were made.

    Regardless of the scientific validity of the claims, I would support the claim that the art is unlikely to lead to long-term stress or injuries, however my reasons are somewhat different to the ones outlined on various Choi Kwang Do websites.

    To sum up the characteristics in a single sentence: Choi Kwang Do is a mostly striking based art which relies on linear movements to begin with (interestingly the claim is that the art is circular, however it doesn't fit with the definitions I am familiar with, at least at the lower levels) trained in a non-contact environment.

    Class structure

    Choi Kwang Do classes all seem to follow much the same structure. First there is the opening ceremony, consisting of a group pledge and recitation of the principles of Choi Kwang Do. Following this is a warm-up. Then basics practised in the air, then patterns and defence drills, then “close range” work, then shield drills, then cool down and closing ceremony. I will deal with each of these sections in more depth below.

    Opening ceremony

    Most Asian martial arts have a simple opening ceremony consisting of a bow to the instructor and a bow from the instructor back to the class. This resembles the salute in many traditional European arts and is something often omitted from many modern martial arts. The ceremony in Choi Kwang Do also consists of a bow to the flags (Korean flag, country of training's flag, and flag bearing the style's logo) followed by a children's promise, an adults' pledge and the recitation of the principles of Choi Kwang Do. I personally found this to be pointless. With martial arts it should be obvious to all that using the techniques irresponsibly could get the student into trouble, and asking adults to “set positive goals and strive to achieve them” seems incredibly patronising, especially since this is a class for learning martial arts rather than a self help group.

    Still, not too bad so far, let's move on.


    Some basic stretches. I personally found that the stretches weren't held for long enough to do any real good, typically lasting a couple of seconds at most. The stretches are also done cold, which is something I have always been told not to do. We occasionally did a few sit-ups but the warm up usually left me mostly cold.


    Simple techniques and combinations done in line. Little emphasis on good visualisation, and some of the combinations didn't make any sense at all. For example we had a front kick/rear elbow strike combination at some point. To me a front kick is designed to either floor the opponent or at the least to push them back out of elbow range. Following up a front kick with an elbow therefore makes little sense to me because you would need to add other techniques between them before the elbow strike became viable. However, I believe you get from this sort of exercise only what you put in. As such if you treat it as an exercise in shadow boxing and try to ignore the odd combinations, you can get something out of it.

    Patterns and defence drills

    I always feel that patterns in general are unnecessary for learning how to defend oneself, so I won't go into much depth on this one except to say that the white belt pattern is almost too basic to be called a pattern to begin with. For anyone who hasn't trained in this art, the white belt pattern is effectively block/counter attack, once on each side. This develops into more complicated arrangements at the higher grades, but is still mostly static and rarely seems to focus on power generation or visualisation of an opponent.

    The defence drills seem to be very odd. At the lowest level the students stay a great distance apart and do techniques at each other. One student moves forward and throws punches into the air, the other attempts to duck and weave under the attacks from several feet outside the attack range. At the higher levels hand and foot protection is worn and more techniques are used. However what I have seen is that attacks generally aren't done with any intent and defences are made too easy (i.e. slapping away a kick to stop the attack: works ok if the attacker isn't trying too hard, doesn't work so well if they're throwing a very hard kick), so it's hard to say if this is a useful practice or not. There are plenty of videos on Youtube demonstrating these defence drills, and I have yet to see any with real intent on the part of the attacker. To be perfectly honest, the hand and foot protection almost seems like a waste of time because the attacks never come close to connecting in these drills, at least not in any that I have seen so far.

    Close-range techniques

    This is the part where self defence starts to be trained. Unfortunately the standard I have seen is woefully inadequate, and I would almost suggest that students would be better off not knowing the techniques than trying to use them on an attacker. Attackers are generally utterly compliant and the attacks they use are unrealistic. For example, when training against a front strangle, the attacker will reach out and lightly touch the throat of the defender at arm's length. This attack can then be defeated by sweeping an arm over the attacker's arms, and this technique will work every time. However, someone actually trying to choke the life out of an opponent will generally get a lot closer to their victim, bending the arms to get more leverage into the strangle. Once the attacker's arms are bent the technique becomes almost useless: it can be shoved through with brute force, but for a smaller defender trying to deal with a larger attacker, it is ineffective, leaving the defender stuck in a technique they can't escape. Under these circumstances a different technique becomes much more appropriate, but Choi Kwang Do students only seem to train one defence per attack.

    All in all, students would be better prepared for this sort of self defence by going to a dedicated self defence class or somewhere which deals specifically with grabs, such as Judo, Jujutsu, Aikido, Krav Maga, etc.

    An example of black belts demonstrating one of their self defence techniques can be seen at about 1:38 in this link (incidentally I had commented on the level of realism in this video, and eventually my comments were utterly shouted down by negative ratings, ultimately leading to the comments box being removed altogether):

    [ame=""]YouTube- Self Defense with Choi Kwang Do, Part 1[/ame]

    Here is a list of criticisms that emphasise what goes wrong in the seven seconds or so:

    1.These are black belts, but there's no evidence that they're actually treating each other as such during training. The prevailing attitude seems to be that you can get good at self defence without ever scaling up the level of intensity to better match what you are likely to find in a real situation. A slight exaggeration of what's necessary was stated by my first jujutsu instructor in one of our first sessions: “If anyone ever really tries to grab or punch you outside this class you're going to find it easy in comparison to what I put you through.” Tough words from a tough teacher, but I learned more from him about carrying on through pain and exhaustion than from anyone else, making it an extremely valuable lesson. That sort of extreme attitude is not necessary to get good at self defence, but there has to be some level of reality-based training involved
    2.Whenever we do a wrist release in my style we either step forward or step back. Either way, if we end up in striking range we put up a guard to ensure that the logical next move, a punch to the face, doesn't connect
    3.Ideally once you start doing self defence you should maintain control of a situation. When grabbed you don't want to give your assailant the chance to pick a new attack, you want him on the floor as quickly as possible. The first release should therefore be combined with something designed to leave the attacker unable to continue or, at the very least, a very fast exit
    4.In the second technique there's no release at all. The defender just hits the attacker with an elbow then executes a side kick while still grabbed. I see two problems with this. Firstly if the attacker has done his job properly and has grabbed at much close range with the intention of throwing his weight around, head-butting or kneeing, a side kick will be impossible. Secondly, if the attacker is making life difficult the absolute last thing a defender should be doing is putting all their weight on to one leg and lifting the other. If you assume that the attack is sexually motivated, hurling the defender to the floor will be a priority. Standing on one leg makes this a lot easier to achieve
    5.There's a huge exaggeration of the end result. A side kick at that range from an off-balance position will almost certainly be lacking power, if it can even be executed in the first place. As such the chances of throwing an attack several feet through the air onto his back are very slim indeed

    I had hoped that this was for demonstration purpose only, i.e. playing up to the cameras and maybe not getting it quite right, but a quick search for “Choi Kwang Do Black Belt Grading” on Youtube throws up a few similar results, including this 10-minute clip of a couple of students going for their black belts, including another close-range demonstration at about the 2:30 mark:

    [ame=""]YouTube- .[/ame]

    Once again, there's no aggression at all from the attacker and therefore no decent defence required from the defender. All of the attacks are easily countered because no effort is made to increase the difficulty beyond what I would consider to be novice-level attacking.

    Both of these students were awarded their black belts.

    As I posted in the comments section of the first video (prior to comments being disabled due to the user disliking criticism), it is easy to step up the intensity of a grab attack without hurting your opponent. Grab hold and twist your grip into the attacker's outfit, throw a few mock head-butts or knee strikes, shake them around a bit, push them backwards with your weight behind it. For a wrist grab, get hold, drag them away, throw an attack with your free hand. For a front choke step in with elbows bent for better leverage and actually build up to trying to choke each other for five seconds or so. The quality of both attacks and defences will sky-rocket very quickly when the intensity is stepped up, which would be a great start to dealing with one of Choi Kwang Do's biggest problems in my view: their lack of quality self defence.

    My comments have not been taken well by either the instructor in the video or several anonymous YouTube browsers who have effectively attempted to silence me by driving my comments so far into the negative that they get blocked from general view.

    Shield drills

    This part of the class is a great workout and builds strength in strikes as well as aerobic fitness. My only real criticism is that there's little feedback on stance, guard, etc, meaning someone might well have awful technique but not be corrected to help them do better next time. Remember that positive practice makes perfect, not just any practice.

    This is probably the most useful part of the class, but again there are some very important self-correction habits that must be adhered to in order to get the most out of it.

    Cool down and closing ceremony

    Nothing remarkable here, all pretty standard stuff.

    Summary of the class structure

    There's a lot packed into what usually boils down to quite a short class. Where I trained the classes ran for a little over an hour, so time was very limited when studying certain techniques or skills. My usual art runs two-hour long classes with warm up and breakfall practice taking up the first half hour and pressure testing usually taking the last half hour, leaving a full hour for just technical practice of usually a mere handful of techniques. Specialised training during that hour means that there's time to practice literally hundreds of repetitions, driving the technique into muscle memory. A handful of repetitions without escalation of the pressure makes it very difficult to learn effective techniques for self defence.


    When all's said and done, people are always interested in money. How much something costs, how much an organisation can get away with charging, etc. From my experience Choi Kwang do is a very expensive art to train in. Early costs seem to be quite high: £25 for the dobok, £25 each for hand and feet protective gear, £25 per grading (18 up to black belt) plus monthly training costs of around £40-50 for as little as a couple of 1-hour training sessions a week. Assuming three years to black belt (probably not out of the question based on what I've seen), this means total charges of £1620 for training and £525 for gradings and equipment.

    You'll notice that these costs are very hard to find out until you actually go along for a trial class. It's quite difficult to entice new students if you tell them that their training twice a week or so is going to cost them over £650 a year on average. From what I have seen the classes are invariably charged on a monthly basis as well, so if you miss classes you don't get the money back. This isn't a system I particularly like, preferring to have a basic class cost and a potential reduction for paying in advance for specific time-frames.

    However these costs would be fine for something offering as much as Choi Kwang Do does if the claims are legitimate. The next section examines three of the common claims made by Choi Kwang Do schools all over the world.

    Claims of Choi Kwang Do

    “Choi Kwang Do is based on scientific principles”

    Science is effectively based around the scientific method, which effectively states that in order to advance knowledge one must propose a hypothesis, test the hypothesis rigorously, examine the results and decide whether to tentatively accept the findings based on statistical probabilities. As such, a scientific investigation of a martial art would involve setting up a test of its claim and then pressure testing that claim. However, there seem to be few (or no) documented cases of actual investigation done into any of Choi Kwang Do's claims. As such I don't quite see how it is based on scientific principles.

    In actual fact the techniques mostly seem to come from Tae Kwon Do for the kicks, Boxing for the punches and weaves and arts like Jujutsu for the close range escapes. Little seems to have been done to alter any of these techniques from their original forms (though they are trained in different, arguable inferior, ways), so it is hard to see how any of the techniques could be said to have been designed for Choi Kwang Do with the science of anatomy in mind. Any changes that have been made seem to be to the training methodology, and those changes do not appear to have been beneficial in any way.

    “Choi Kwang Do has proved to be the most effective martial art in the world”

    Usually this claim on its own is enough to turn away even the most open-minded martial artist around. No one system has ever proven to be the most effective system in the world: if it did everyone would be training in it already and all other systems would have been made redundant. People adapt themselves to systems, systems adapt when people learn them, and different systems will fit different people. That's just the way of the martial arts world.

    However, taking this claim in isolation I would like to propose two tests that could be used to determine relative effectiveness of systems.

    The first is true combat: students of different arts going into a ring with precious few rules to see who emerges as the clear victor. In case this sounds familiar, it should: No Holds Barred competitions have existed for some time to allow people to fight other people to see who comes out on top. Arguably at the top level this boils down to person vs person rather than system vs system, but it would not be difficult to arrange a match between two pure stylists to see what happens. This doesn't happen, however, because Choi Kwang Do prides itself on being non-competitive. Indeed, I have seen the claim that if someone who has studied Choi Kwang Do were to compete, it still wouldn't count as Choi Kwang Do because Choi Kwang Do doesn't compete like that. Circular reasoning, and a possible indication of how instructors might react if their style were somehow tested and found wanting.

    The second test would involve serious pressure testing for self defence scenarios. This means really driving home lessons about how to defend against attacks and how to counter-attack in turn by introducing non-cooperative attackers. Training like this is hard. It hurts, it feels awkward, the failure rate is very high to begin with. The results are worth it though. However I have not seen this type of training in Choi Kwang Do, and their claim of non-contact training with an almost non-existent injury rate precludes this sort of training. The videos posted earlier support the view that self defence techniques are certainly not taught realistically by black belts nor are those same black belts required to demonstrate techniques against competent attacks to receive their grades. There may be Choi Kwang Do schools out there which teach these techniques in a more realistic manner, but if so they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

    As such there are two tests that matter for martial arts effectiveness, and Choi Kwang Do doesn't partake in either test. The claim of being the most effective martial art in the world is therefore a completely unfounded assertion which utterly baffles those of us in the martial arts community who have been training hard for most of our lives.

    “Choi Kwang Do is a holistic health system, which every student is focused on living a more productive, healthier and longer life”

    Exercise in general is good for you, there's no question about that. I would assume that half an hour in the gym three times a week would probably result in a healthier and longer life for most people. As such I don't see that there's much wrong with the latter part of the claim, but what about the “holistic health system?”

    A holistic health system would presumably be something the benefited all aspects of your health, from your day to day fitness right through to critical illnesses. Exercise may benefit someone who is unfit but otherwise healthy, Choi Kwang Do will benefit by being a little light exercise a few times a week, but a holistic health system should also benefit someone terminally ill or with long term health problems in some respect. I certainly don't feel that any form of exercise is going to help someone in those conditions, and therefore am somewhat surprised by these claims.

    This has nothing to do with the martial aspects of the art, but I felt it was worth mentioning as another very odd claim for this martial art.


    Choi Kwang Do is an art which is rising in popularity all around the world. As it can be trained by almost anyone in any physical condition there is obviously a lot going for it. However, the claims of it being the most effective self defence system is patently absurd when that claim hasn't been tested in any meaningful manner. Considering the lack of testing for most of the other claims by Choi Kwang Do, the costs of training in this art are extremely high compared with other systems from around the world with proven track records.

    In short, if you're looking for something easy to learn and don't mind the costs, this might be for you. If you're looking for effectiveness and are willing to push through pain and exhaustion on a regular basis to get that effectiveness, you would probably be better off going elsewhere for your martial arts needs.


    In case anyone thinks that I've made up any of the statements about Choi Kwang Do's claims, an official website of theirs which puts them all on to one page:
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2010
    heidimade and Vince Millett like this.
  2. eedan

    eedan Valued Member

    Great summary, Aegis. You have pointed out the absurdity of choi kwang do hype - and you were able to do it with the objectivity of an outsider who went inside - only to see the reality. I'm glad you did this because most of us who were sucked in and then screwed over by kwang jo choi and his minions are discounted by the ckd rank and file as being just liars who are over-stating their case. As an exercise programme, ckd is OK. To claim it is the greatest martial art is just silly - no dangerous to the extreme because students believe they are learning self-defence but are being set up to be seriously injured if they need to utilise the technique. Of course, what you didn't get to experience was the inner workings of the organisation that produces this insane hyperbole.
  3. Aegis

    Aegis River Guardian Admin Supporter

    I certainly didn't write this to be malicious towards the students and lower-level instructors of the art. I found them to be predominantly very courteous and genuinely nice people. I actually think they're the victims in all this, as they've been indoctrinated by a system which persuades them that they're learning something really amazing while simultaneously reinforcing the belief that going out and testing the claims is a bad thing. Once you get to the high end, I imagine it starts to be a case of teaching if only to try and get some of your money back out again, as the 27 or so gradings to get to 2nd dan much cost an absolute fortune!
  4. Yohan

    Yohan In the Spirit of Yohan Supporter

    I'm not as diplomatic as you, and have no problem saying the following:

    From the examples I've seen of Choi Kwang Do from videos on the internet, I've found Choi Kwang Do practitioners to be the worst quality Martial Artists I've seen, other than self-trained loonies.
  5. Toki_Nakayama

    Toki_Nakayama Valued Member

    i dont get the point of Choi Kwan Do claims.....sounds like marketing hype. those same claims can be found in TKD and other martial arts concerning scientific principles and holistic health practices for those practicioners who choose to use them.
  6. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    I think the health claims come from the idea that as an adapted form of TKD it has removed the locked out techniques done in the air that cause joint problems.
    So it's a healthier thing to do. I'm inclined to agree with that.
  7. Mike Flanagan

    Mike Flanagan Valued Member

    Maybe, but anyone who makes claims like:

    "Choi Kwang-Do was developed by Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi between 1978 and 1987 and has proved to be the most effective martial arts system in the world."

    should expect to be called out and challenged on that. I market what I do as self-defence oriented and consider it an excellent method of self-defence. But I don't make bald and unsupported statements like the above, or claim superiority over other arts in my marketing material. During class discussion we may discuss/compare other arts and our own, and examine their various strengths and weaknesses, in the context of what their intended purpose is. But that's a whole different ball game to making comparisons that are both derogatory and without foundation.

  8. eedan

    eedan Valued Member

    But, here's the thing - it is the "old style" TKD (old ITF style) that is most like karate and does the lock out movements. Modern (WTF) style kicks and punches haven't done the lock out movements for as long as ckd has been around. :bang:
  9. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Bingo. I started training in WTF TKD in 1988 and that was how I was taught by my instructor, he by his instructor and so on.

    Incidentally, I very nearly took legal action against a CKD instructor to whom I'd taught a stretching seminar; afterwards he made claims that the methods I'd taught to his school were his original idea. Understandably I was peeved and he eventually retracted his claims. Seems to be an inherent pattern in CKD.
  10. Kwajman

    Kwajman Penguin in paradise....

    Every martial art has good and bad practitioners. I've seen 7 yo second dan TKD blackbelts (what a joke) and individuals who have stayed at first dan for 15 years who would destroy move third and fourth dans in sparring.....don't pick on just one martial art....
  11. eedan

    eedan Valued Member

    Puleeze Kwanjman! You know that most of us are equal opportunity pickers : ) But ckd has just SO much to pick on. BTW, a 7 year old black belt is not uncommon in ckd, but I have never seen one in tkd - at least not in WTF TKD.
  12. Yohan

    Yohan In the Spirit of Yohan Supporter

    I know - in this case, all the practitioners are bad. Thus, the art sucks. CKD sucks. I'm happy to be proven wrong. Simply show me evidence of one good CKD practitioner.
  13. eedan

    eedan Valued Member

    Now, Yohan, don't be so harsh. In fact, there are many students and instructors who practice ckd very well. You notice I said ckd. That certainly doesn't mean ANYTHING in the world of real martial arts as your average ballet student can take a class or two and look equally good!
  14. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    The "average ballet student" is an advanced athlete compared to most martial arts hobbyists.
  15. Yohan

    Yohan In the Spirit of Yohan Supporter

    Well said.
  16. eedan

    eedan Valued Member

    Modern TKD does NOT use "lock out" punches & kicks. You guys need to update your knowledge base! WTF style tkd has used sequential motion training (choi claims, of course, they are the only ones doing this) and non-lockout kicks and punches since before the days of ckd.
  17. Kwajman

    Kwajman Penguin in paradise....

    Well its obvious you have an axe to grind against CKD, I'm not real happy with the organization at the moment either. But saying the entire art is worthless is quite a claim. I trained in TKD for 8 years by an 8th dan and was never once told NOT to lock out the knees or elbows on kicks or punches. Does that make all TKD instructors bad? No, just the one. My 19 year old son has a 4th Dan blackbelt from TKD who came to his school. He regularly gets destroyed by new BJJ students, but the blackbelt claims he's better because of his blackbelt.....there are just too many claims as to what art and what practitioner is best....what works for one person may not work for another.......otherwise we'd have one martial art in the world that ALL of us practice.....
  18. m2karateman

    m2karateman New Member

    Truer words were never spoken. There is no such thing as a poor martial art. There is no such thing as a poor student. There are only poor instructors, who choose to brainwash their students and process them into "false" black belts for the money. Any instructor who gives their students a false sense of security by giving them a black belt when they obviously could not successfully defense themselves against a typical aggressor is doing his students a huge disservice, and whatever Federation certifies that instructor should de-certify that person immediately. Unfortunately, that never happens.

    Having a black belt is not about the rank, or the's about the attitude (humble) and the attention to detail you have for your art, and the ability to teach it efficiently.
  19. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    CKD is terrible...sorry but it is absolute garbage. I have not seen ONE example of something that looks passable as a combat system.

    As for no such thing as a bad art look at Hikuta, Aha-Set, Ashida Kim, Yellow Bamboo...hell the list goes on and on (Aha-Set is especially it)
  20. m2karateman

    m2karateman New Member

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. However, I think it is sad that your opinion is seemingly based on watching videos of someone on YouTube or some other outlet. I've seen questionable demonstrations of some well established martial arts, like TKD, JKD and Krav Maga. It doesn't make them poor martial arts.

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