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Understanding Action/Reaction in Taekwondo

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Taekwondo is a martial art; therefore, an action like a punch, solicits a reaction like a block. Again, if the action is a block, then the reaction may be a punch. Thus, action and reaction are two sides of the same coin, since action solicits reaction and reaction solicits action. Therefore, understanding action/reaction is important for any sincere Taekwondo athlete.

As a Taekwondo athlete, one may act/react to:
— defend, for example with a block.
— attack, for example with a punch.
— defend and attack simultaneously, for example defending with a left knife-hand low block, while at the same time attacking with a right fist mid-section punch.
— do nothing, for example if one is knocked out by the opponent, or the opponent is knocked out, or the match has timed out.

Defining Action/Reaction in Taekwondo

Action/Reaction in Taekwondo may be defined as the bodily movement initiated by a Taekwondo athlete to defend and/or attack, in reponse to an opponent’s action/reaction. The time taken by the body for this movement, from its initiation to its completion, may be termed as its action/reaction time.

Classification of Action/Reaction

Action/reaction in Taekwondo may be broadly classified as:
— anticipatory action/reaction
— excitory/non-excitory action/reaction
— memorised (reflexive) action/reaction
— natural (inherited) action/reaction

Anticipatory action/reaction

Anticipatory action/reaction involves anticipating the opponent’s movements by reading telegraphed moves and situational openings. The purpose of this reading of the opponent’s movements is to anticipate further progression of the current situation. The reading is largely obtained by noticing the shoulder, chest, hands, hip, and foot movements of the opponent. The data obtained by this reading is analysed by the brain, which initiates an electro-chemical signal in order for the body to undertake a movement. This signal is transmitted to the central nervous system, due to which the entire human body is activated. The human body comprises of brain, skeleton, muscles, tendons, blood, organs, and many more parts, which all together act in unison and in varying degrees, to perform a bodily movement. The muscles are the main activators of physical movement and thus, they are the primary target for the brain’s signal. Due to this signal, the signalled muscles are stimulated and the result is a physical anticipatory movement by the body. In this manner, a Taekwondo athlete initiates physical movement with an anticipatory view of taking advantage of the presented situation. Movement of the body in such an anticipatory way may be termed as an anticipatory action/reaction in Taekwondo.

Excitory/Non-excitory action/reaction

Excitory/Non-excitory action/reaction involves analysis of the data obtained by reading the excitation or non-excitation of some particular physical or mental condition of the opponent. For example, the opponent’s excitation of the muscle can be read in muscle twitching, excitation of the eye can be read in pupil dilation, and excitation of the lungs can be read in shortness of breath. Excitation of the brain can be read in increased perspiration on the forehead, excitation of the whole body can be read in overall fatigue, and excitation of emotions can be read in angry sudden movements, or fearful nervous movements, or doubtful shaky movements. Non-excitation can also reveal data. For example, the non-excitation of certain limbs can be read as weakness present in those limbs, which may be targeted to gain advantage. The data thus obtained by reading the excitation or non-excitation, of some particular physical or mental condition of the opponent, is analysed by the brain, which signals the muscles and the signalled muscles thereafter undertake the movement of the body. Movement of the body in this way may be termed as an excitory/non-excitory action/reaction in Taekwondo.

Memorised (reflexive) action/reaction

Memorised action/reaction is also known as Reflexive action/reaction. Memorised (reflexive) action/reaction involves bodily movement initiated by the muscles themselves without any signalling by the brain. It eliminates the brain’s analysing and signalling processes as used in anticipatory, or excitory/non-excitory reactions. This implies that the muscles are capable of some functions of the brain like storing and retrieving data. Thus, muscles have memory which may be called as “muscle memory”. Due to constant repetition of muscular movements in a set order, the muscles can memorise those movements and retrieve them whenever required. For example, if a punch is repeated over time, then the muscles of the hands stores the signals for the muscular movements required for the punch. Hence, whenever required, the muscles of the hands simply retrieve the signals from its muscle memory and performs the punch. Unused muscle memory becomes less effective, hence it is common to hear statements like “You must sharpen your reflexes”, which means that more practice is required so that the muscle memory is used more and becomes more sharp. Movement of the body in this way may be termed as memorised action/reaction or reflexive action/reaction in Taekwondo.

Natural (inherited) action/reaction

Natural action/reaction is also known as Inherited action/reaction. Natural (inherited) action/reaction involves the inherited genetic composition of a person. All the actions/reactions, executed by all the fathers and mothers in the entire genetic lineage of the person, are stored in the human genetic structure as genes, and these genes transmit the same to the person when the person is born. Due to these genes, a person inherits innumerable characteristics of his/her ancestors. Among the several characteristics, one also inherits the actions/reactions of the ancestors. Due to this inheritance, one may act/react in a completely different and an unknown way. It is common for people to say, “I just don’t know how I did it. I simply acted without any thinking at all”, or “He’s a natural”, or “She’s gifted”, or “That person is a born martial artist.” Such natural actions/reactions arise at times of great stress or when the mind is not preoccupied by any thoughts or emotions. If a Taekwondo athlete is dedicated, then that athlete will master all the fundamental movements, hence that athlete will generally be never in great stress in any combative situation. This means that a dedicated Taekwondo athlete will not be able to use natural actions/reactions, since they arise in times of great stress. However, they also arise when the mind is empty, and free of any thoughts or emotions. Herein, lies the importance of having a calm, alert and an empty mind while fighting. A calm, alert and an empty mind gives rise to natural, inherited actions/reactions, and the body moves on its own, without any conscious movement being taken by the athlete. Movement of the body in this way may be termed as natural action/reaction or inherited action/reaction.

Comparison of the actions/reactions

In terms of speed, natural (inherited) action/reaction is the fastest. Memorised (reflexive) action/reaction is faster than both anticipatory and excitory/non-excitory actions/reactions, since it relies on muscle memory and not the brain’s signalling processes. Anticipatory and excitory/non-excitory actions/reactions are almost same, since they both rely on the brain’s signalling processes.

In terms of effectiveness, natural (inherited) action/reaction is most effective, followed by memorised (reflexive) action/reaction. Excitory/non-excitory action/reaction is slightly more effective than anticipatory action/reaction.

In terms of training, memorised (reflexive) action/reaction is most suitable. Training is also beneficial for improving anticipatory action/reaction and excitory/non-excitory action/reaction. Natural (inherited) actions/reactions cannot be trained since they are already pre-coded in the genes.


Be knowledgeable and be aware of all the anticipatory and excitory/non-excitory actions/reactions. This knowledge and awareness can be obtained by seeing how other fighters fight. There are innumerable videos about Taekwondo on YouTube, Vimeo, and many other platforms. See such videos but do not restrict the viewing only to Taekwondo, and also see videos of other martial arts. The greater the exposure to different kinds of martial arts, the more will one gain the knowledge and awareness of the anticipatory and excitory/non-excitory actions/reactions.

While training, one should concentrate on regularly practising memorised (reflexive) action/reaction, so as to keep the muscle memory sharp. Train hard and practice each fundamental movement thousands of times, so that it is embedded in the muscle memory. So, when one fights, one does not think but just simply fights with muscle memory.

Nonetheless, combats are totally unpredictable. Therefore, one must also practice to fight with an alert but an empty mind, so that the natural (inherited) action/reaction may also arise to one’s aid, if required.



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