Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A closer look at Poomsae training part two

Application from Taegeuk Yuk (6) Jang.
Notice how the "pulling hand" is used
to hinder the oponents defense.
This is the 2nd part of an article I wrote for a Taekwondo magazine. Please read part 1 before reading this part. Part one can be read by clicking here. It is still a work in progress, but I think the readers of this blog will find it interesting:) So without further adu here is part two:
Part 2
Surrounding the Poomsae there are many myths as of why we practise, and what we can acchieve with the training. One of the strongest myths and one I want to put to rest first is the myth that if you are good at Poomsae you are good at fighting/sparring/self defense.
 

We defined poomsae training earlier as training for perfomance of poomsae (at least that is how it is usally practised). This training is actually not much different to dance or gymnastics training. Yes we use combative motion, and we could enhance the training with picturing your oponent and his/hers attacks on you, while you defend and attack yourself, but lack of an opponent steals a lot of the combative benifits away from Poomsae. Many students do not even know basic application for many of the motions and that makes the training even closer to "dance training". You can not learn how to fight/spar/defend your self without a partner. If you practise alone you can practise techniques and attributes that can HELP you in these areas, but relying on Poomsae training alone to make a sparring champion is just not realistic.

The removal of the oponent in itself makes Poomsae training less combative relevant training, but there is also one other reason for poomsae training not being relevant for sparring (and especially olympic sparring) and that is the poomsae movements themselves. They consist of combative motions but the tactics and strategy they represent is so different from sparring that they are almost without relevance.

The axe kick is "strangely"
missing in official TKD
poomsae.
The footwork, kicking and other key ingredients from olympic sparring are all absent from Poomsae. The key kicking technique of olympic sparring is without a doubt "dollyo chagi" or roundhouse kick. This is only featured twice in all of Kukki Taekwondo Poomsae (Taegeuk Yuk Jang, with one kick performed with each leg). So if you practise all the 17 Poomsae of Kukki Taekwondo, consisting of 100s and 100s of moves you only do the key attack of olympic sparring 2 times! In short: Poomsae consists of techniques inappropriate for Olympic sparring. The the tactics in Olympic sparring and in Poomsae just do not overlap for the most part.

The tactics of Poomsae are more suited for self defense against habitual acts of violence (e.g. hook punches to the head, soccer kicks, different grabs, etc) than olympic sparring. Unfortunatly without the knowledge of the applications there is not much to gain in the area of Poomsae and self defense. This is perhaps one reason the founders of Taekwondo  included Ho Sin Sul (self defense) as a seperate part of Taekwondo as oposed to the Shotokan Karate`s three Ks (Kihon, Kata and Kumite. Basics, Forms and Sparring respectivly). Even with the knowledge of the applications in mind Poomsae training alone will not help you develop self defense skills. To develop them you need to drill them with a partner (working from compliance to non-compliance). The timing, distancing and other key attributes in the areas of sparring, combat and self defense can not be learned by performing a pattern over and over again without a partner.

The patterns we study are ancient is another myth that should not be so hard to dismiss. The myth probably originated when the Kukkiwon tried to validate Taekwondo as an ancient martial art with a 2000 years of history. If you look at the definition of Poomsae provided earlier in the article taken from the Kukkiwon textbook you will see that each poom (motion) of the pattern is inherited through a 5000 years of history!

The ancient source of
"Keumgang arae makki"?
Today the Kukkiwon recognises 17 Poomsae. 8 Taegeuk Poomsae for coloured belts and 9 black belt poomsae. Before the Taegeuk Poomsae they recognised Palgwe Poomsae (there are 8 palgwe Poomsae). The oldest pattern set that the Kukkiwon recognised were made in the early 1970s. This was the Palgwe, original Koryo and the rest of todays Black belt Poomsae. The sources vary a little at how old the patterns are. Some are saying that the work on these patterns started in 1965 where as others say as late as 1972. The answer is probably somewhere in between. The Taegeuk patterns and a new version of Koryo was made a few years later.

So the patterns themselves are not ancient (nowhere near 5000 years) but what about the motions (poom) in the patterns? Here we need to look at a side of history that is mostly overlooked. The tradition of forms in Taekwondo came largely from Karate, and especially Shotokan Karate. There were other influences as well, but the proof is in the original Kwan founders own training (most having trained Karate directly from Gichin and his son "Gigo" Funakoshi) and the original patterns taught in the different Kwan themselves. Forms taught in the different Kwan included (but was not limited to):
  • Kicho Hyung 1-3. Hyung is another Korean word for pattern. The Kicho hyung is no longer practised within main stream Shotokan, but they were originally known as Taikyoku 1-3, and was developed by Gichin Funakoshi himself. Others say he was helped by his son, and yet others say it was his son "Gigo" Funakoshi who invented the patterns. The invention of these forms is most likely the 1930s or 1940s.
  • Pyonghan 1-5. Depending on the Kwan there were only minor differences between the "Korean" way of performing the patterns and that of the Shotokan way of performing them. The Shotokan students today know the patterns as "Heian" Kata 1 through 5. The original Okinawan name was Pinan. One thing of interest is that Gichin Funakoshi changed the traditional order of the two first patterns in the set. 1st Heian Kata is the 2nd Pinan Kata to other styles of Karate. The old Kwan used Funakoshi`s teaching order, witnessing Shotokan`s influence in the patterns of the old Kwan. These forms were formulated by Anko Itosu in the early 1900s, and most of the Kukkiwon patterns draw their basic techniques from theese patterns.
  •  Chulgi hyung 1-3. These are known as Tekki 1-3 in Shotokan and Naihanchi/Naifanchi to Okinawan stylists. The firsk Tekki form in the series is one of the oldest in Okinawa. Some sources lay claim to its existance in the late 1600s. Others say that "Bushi" Matsumura introduced the form and that he brought it from China. The infamous Karate pioneer Choki Motobu based most of his teachings on the first form in the series. He insisted that all you needed to know to be a great fighter could be found within Naifanchi. The 2nd and 3rd forms in the series are said to be created by Anko Itosu somewhere around the late 1800s and the early 1900s.
  • Kong sang koon hyung. This is also one of the oldest Kata in Shotokan. The Shotokan students know this form as Kanku Dai, but it is also known as Kushanku Kata. The form dates back to the days of "Tote" Sakugawa (born ca 1733). He studied with a Chinese martial artist and made this form to preserve his teachers lessons. The Korean Kwan`s used Shotokan`s way of performing this pattern. This way of performing the pattern is very different to how the pattern was originaly performed. Just look at how okinawan stylists perform the form vs how a shotokan stylist perform their version.
  • Palsaek hyung. The Shotokan students know this as Bassai Kata. This form is thought to be developed by "Bushi" Matsumura (born ca 1796).

Old School Taekwondo at its
most effective. Notice that
the blue player has been lifted
off of his feet. Ouch..
The list of forms in the old Kwan could be longer but these seems to be the most universially practised forms in the early days of Taekwondo (The oldest Kwan was opened in 1944). The basic techniques and in some cases whole sequences or slightly modified sequences of movements in todays Poomsae (Chang Hon Tul/Hyung, Taegeuk, Palgwe and Kukkiwon Black belt patterns) are lifted straight from the Shotokan Kata. There are some movements that have been slightly altered in exectution but the changes are mostly only minor. So the movements (or poom) that the Kukkiwon says we have inherited in a history of 5000 years are at least older than 1965. They were imported from Shotokan Karate. But how old are they really? No one can really tell, but according to Bruce D. Clayton`s book "Shotokan`s secret" there does not seem to be any evidence of linear Karate techniques before "Bushi" Matsumura. If he is correct than the movements can not be older than Matsumura who was born ca 1796. This is because Taekwondo is largely based on the "linear Karate" tradition. We are therfore still a long way from 5000 years old.

In short: The patterns we study are anything but ancient but the movements are a lot older than the patterns Kukkiwon recognises as their official patterns. The movements however does not seem to be older than Matsumura (who Bruce D. Clayton identifies as the man who "invented" linear Karate)

I doubt that a defense aginst a flying
kick like this is something we will
have recorded in our Poomsae..
The last myth I will write about this in this article is the myth that all motions in Poomsae are defenses against "Taekwondo attacks". By "Taekwondo attacks" I mean the typical lunge punches from 7 feet away, flashy kicks, and other techniques that only a martial artist would be able to perform or use. If we accept the history I have provided above on Karate`s major influence on Taekwondo forms and that the motions we do (sometimes whole sequences of moves) are lifted straight from Karate Kata than it stands to reason that the application of the movements in Poomsae are the same as in Karate Kata.
Unfortunatly modern Karate shares this myth with us to a large degree and so the typical block, punch and kick applications you would see in official texts on Taekwondo are essentually the same type of applications you would see in a contemporary Karate school.                        

Many modern researchers have found that the movements in Karate were originaly meant to be defenses against normal untrained assailants. One of the key researchers in this area is Patrick Mcharty and his books and DVD`s come highly recomended. The attacks I am talking about is the type of attacks you would be facing "in the street" and not in the Dojang. We are talking wild swings at the head, soccer kicks to the groin, head butts, lapel grabs etc. Patrick Mcharty coined the term "HAOV", meaning Habitual Acts Of Violence. It is of this authors opinion that the techniques of Taekwondo works best against these kinds of attack, and as such I have stopped looking at the Patterns I am studying (not just practising) as a battle between me and a bunch of Taekwondo "robots".
Did the creators of the modern patterns know this when they made the modern Poomsae or did they formulate the patterns entirely based upon the kick block punch way of application? I think that would be a great topic for a future article, but for now I will simply recomend interested readers to read the Taegeuk Cipher where Simon John O`Neil has done a lot of research on this.

Modern Keumgang Arae makki
So now we have examined some of the benifits of Poomsae training, we have seen what Poomsae can and can not do, as well as putting some of the myths surrounding the patterns to rest. I hope that the readers now have a clarer view on the possibilities of Poomsae training. Should the readers ever be confronted by the idea that Poomsae training is a vaste of time, then remember that the pratice of performing the patterns are only the begining and should you never go further with your study than the memorising and perfecting your performance of the patterns, then the side benifits will in themselves be worth it. If it has been a long time since you saw a beginner coming straight from the street struggeling through Taegeuk il Jang for their first time, I recomend you comming early for your next lesson, sit down and watch. If you are reading this as a black belt you can see just how far you have come since the day you started practising. Your control of your body is probably light years away from the common man who does not practise a technically demanding art as Taekwondo.

Sources and further reading:
  • Chang Hon Taekwon-do Hae Sul (By Stuart Anslow)
  • Karate Do Kyohan (By Gichin Funakoshi)
  • What is Taekwondo Poomsae (By Kyu Hyung Lee)
  • Taegeuk Cipher (By Simon John O`Neil)
  • Bunkai Jutsu (By Iain Abernethy)
  • Five years one Kata (By Bill Burgar)
  • Kukkiwon Textbook
  • The Bubishi (Author unknown, translated by Patrick Mcarthy)
  • Practical Taekwondo (By Mathew Sylvester)

By Oerjan Nilsen

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