lørdag 17. september 2011

A closer look at Poomsae training.

This is part one in an article I wrote for a Taekwondo magazine. 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 one:

Author being explained the finer points
of the long front stance (apkubi)
A closer look at Poomsae training:
(By Oerjan Nilsen)
In this article I want to discuss what Poomsae training can do for the Taekwondo students and what it can not. I want to put some of the more common myths to rest and try to shed some light on this controversial and often missunderstood part of our training. To acchieve this we first must define what Poomsae or "patterns" are.
Being an exponent of "Kukki/WTF" Taekwondo I will first look to the official "Kukkiwon Textbook" to give a definition of Poomse.

Definition of Poomsae (Quote from the 2006 edition of Kukkiwon Textbook, Page 304)

"Each poom of the Poomsae has been inherited through a history of about 5 000 years, finally as a product of scientific techniques formulated on the basis of the traditional national spirit and practical experiments. From a Technical viewpoint, the Poomsae itself is Taekwondo, and the basic movements are no more than the preliminary actions to reach the Poomsae. The Kyorugi is a practical application of the Poomsae and the Taekwondo spirit is manifested not in an abstract mental philosophy expressed in the documents but in the actions of Poomsae. Then, what is the Taekwondo Poomsae? The Poomsae is the style of conduct which expresses directly of inderectly mental and physical refinements as well as principles of offense and defense resulting from cultivation of Taekwondo spirit and techniques (end quote)."

This is indeed a wide definition on what Poomsae is, as the definition provided is touching on  both mental, physical and philosophical areas. However I think it is safe to say that for most of the Taekwondo world Poomsae is defined something along the lines of: "basic techniques strung together in a logical order". This and variation of this definition is a much more common view of Taekwondo Poomsae, but as the readers can see for themselves, Kukkiwon intended a lot more for the Taekwondo students than this.
Gichin Funakoshi performing Heian Kata
or is it Taebaek Poomsae or perhaps
even Wonhyo??
Patterns role in martial arts vary slightly from martial art to martial art. Traditionally patterns were a way to record and transmit combative principals from one generation to the next, demanding a deep study of few forms rather than todays superficial study of many. "In the "old days" a master would only know one to four forms and study them indepth (Paraphrasing Funakoshi from Karate-Do Kyohan)". In Karate for instance Kata (pattern) is viewed as the backbone of the art. Kata is Karate, and Karate is Kata. Now from the Kukkiwons definition you can see that this view is shared by the Kukkiwon, but most instructors (and students) view Poomsae not as the back bone of the art, but as a part of the coherent whole. Many divide Taekwondo into 4 (equally important) parts:
  • Basics (Gibon Dongjak)
  • Patterns (Poomsae)
  • Sparring (Kyorugi)
  • Self defense (Ho Shin Sul)
This is in contrast to Japanese based and many Chinese based martial arts where pattens are the foundation and frequently viewed as the soul of their arts.
Now that we have defined what Poomsae is, the next thing to do is to define what Poomsae training is. In contemporary Taekwondo schools this is relatively easy. Poomsae training is most frequently viewed as to practise and perfecting the perfomance of Poomsae. This could be done in different ways, for example:
  • Practising to perform Poomsae over and over again.
  • Repeating one pattern over and over.
  • Performing patterns by the instructors count
  • Performing pattern from start to finnish
  • Performing one pattern first, then moving on to another pattern
  • Breaking the pattern up into smaller sequnces and focusing on one sequence at a time.
  • Other varieties of the above, etc.
The thing is that most Taekwondo students and masters a like would share this view of Poomsae training. Focusing solely at getting better at the performance of Poomsae. Some few (and lucky?) students would be showed some basic applications for the Poomsae (the typical kick, punch and block variety), but for the most part Poomsae training is practise to get better at performing Poomsae. This is how mainstream Taekwondo is taught and trained all over the world, but what does the masters of Kukkiwon mean by poomsae training? Let us look at Kukkiwon Textbook once more:

(Quote from Kukkiwon Textbook page 306 Training of Poomsae)
1)      Pattern. The first step of training Poomsae is to learn the pattern. Concentration of spirit, eyes, angles of movement must be emphasized in addition to the accuracy of actions.
2)      Significance. In the next step, the emphasis must be laid on the balance, strength and weakness, low or high speed, respiration and Poomsae line. The significance of movements, connection of pooms and the complete Poomsae must be learned correctly.
3)      Practical use. One must adapt what he has learned to his practical use, finding out the practicability.
4)      Self style. One must evaluate his findings about the effectiveness of what he has learned, comparing with his or her bodily structure, speed, strength, impulsive power, point of emphasis in training etc., and  modorate the techniques into his own style.
5)      Completion. One achieves a synthetic accomplishment of Poomsae training bye mastering the art of taekwondo techniques including taekwondo spirit (end quote).

Author training Poomsae in Korea.
This is the common view of
poomsae training.
Comparing the comon view of poomsae to the one from Kukkiwon Textbook, we see that most students are "locked" in step one and two. Very few people "dazzle" in step three and the author have seen even fewer at step four or five. In Kukkiwon Textbook Poomsae training is defined radically different than the common view of perfecting the performance of Poomsae. Here we see Poomsae as the back bone of the art, and not just as a way of practising basic techniques, or as a performance art, as it is practised in most mainstream Taekwondo schools today. Now that we have defined what the vast majority mean by Poomsae training we can look at what Poomsae training can, and can not do for the Taekwondo students. First lets look at the positive sides and benefits of Poomsae training.

One benifit of Poomsae training as described above is that the students get very good at basic techniques. A strong foundation is as important in martial arts as it is in construction. Also the practise of different Poomsae gives the student a diversity in their basics training. It is very boring to train low block in front stance going back and forth on a line when training alone. But practise all the different Taegeuk Poomsae for instance, and you will train low block many times without the "boring" repetitive training pure basic training of one motion would be. Also you get to practise many different basic techniques at once.

Another benifit that normal "line training" does not provide is that you get many different basic techniques in different sequences. This makes good practise for linking different basics together in a seamless fashion. This also increases the speed of techniques. One of the perhaps biggest benifits of Poomsae training is to ingrain the movements into the students. After practising Poomsae over and over in a long period of time, the students no longer have to think about how to perform the movements, they simple do them without thinking. As we all know; thinking is the enemy in both sparring, competition, combat as well as self defense so this is really one of the crown jewels to Poomsae training. The other "crown jewel" to Poomsae training is that it teaches the student to move in a very fast and powerfull way in all directions. This is an attribute that translates well into sparring, combat and self defense. And let us not forget that the practise of Poomsae also develops other positive attributes as coordination, control of body weight distribution, power generation, and balance to name a few.

The repetitive performance of Poomsae can also help develop both aerob and anaerob endurance (depending on the speed and length of the training of Poomsae). The kicks, and long stances increases the range of motion of the performer, and the hip twist for power generation soften up the hips and lower back.

In Poomsae competition
most kicks are aimed
at the head height
or even higher(!)
It is also possible to use Poomsae as a mnemonic devise and use it as a platform for a students own self defense training regime. Now this is something out of the scope of one short article but I would advise any reader interested in this part of Poomsae to read the books of Stuart Anslow and Simon John O`Neil, as well as Lawrence and Kanes "A way of Kata" and any book of Iain Abernethy, plus Bill Burgars "5 years one Kata" for further reference. This benifit of Poomsae training is for those who take their Poomsae training to "the next level"; if you look back at the 2nd qoute from Kukkiwon textbook. For this part you have to get from simply memorising and performing the patterns (step 1-2) to step 3-5 which is all about putting patterns into practical use for the individual.

Now all of this is very good reasons for including Poomsae as a part of your training regime, but all of these benifits could probably be acchieved in more efficient ways, training spesifically with these benifits (as goals) in mind. It is of the authors opinion that the use of Poomsae as a platform and mnemonic devise for a self defense training system was the original reason for including the Poomsae as part of the syllabus. Even without the applications however, the "side benifits" listed above are good reasons for training Poomsae.

Go to part two by clicking here

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