Monday, 21 November 2011

Hyung, Tul, Poomse, Poomsae, whats the difference??

Pyongahn Hyung
Most styles of Korean Martial Arts do some kind of forms in their training. ITF has its "Tul", Kukkiwon had "Poomse" but changed the spelling in the 1980s to "Poomsae" and GTF (Global Taekwondo Federation) and other styles of KMA has "Hyung" in their systems. What is the difference between all these forms and names you ask??? Why do some styles use Hyung while others use Tul or Poomsae? First of; good question. Click the read more button and you will become much wiser on this issue:-)

In the early days of Taekwondo (when it was known as Tang Soo, Tang Soo Do, or Kong Soo Do (the Korean reading of the Chinese characters for Tode and Karate) they used imported forms from mainly Japanese Karate. The first Kwan founded was the Chung Do Kwan that was founded in 1944. The founder had practised for many years in Shotokan Karate directly under Funakoshi and so the style taught was essentually a hard style of Karate with Karate Kata. The Chinese character (Hanja) used to write Kata in Karate ( 形) is pronounced "Hyung" in Korean. The word means shape or form and is not only used in the Martial Arts. In Japan you have Tea Kata, Flower Arrangement Kata, etc. It is in Japanese culture an ideal way to do things. As far as I know in the 1940s and 50s all Kwan used "Hyung" as a word for their forms no matter if it was the original forms of Karate or Quan Fa (Kwon Bup) or even their own inventions. General Choi Hong Hi (founder of Oh Do Kwan and later ITF) named his own creation "Hyung". For example "Chon Ji Hyung" etc. Only later (between 75-78) would he come up with ITF current name of their forms "Tul".

As you can see Hyung means form or shape and can be applied to all martial forms out there. It is just a name and there is no real difference like this is a "hyung" and that is a "Tul". Different organisations favour other words of course (if they did not then this post would not be needed). Hyung is then just the Korean pronounciation of the letter for Kata.

Keumgang Poomsae
Tul (틀) is as far as I know a purely Korean word, and the only "style" of Taekwondo or even a KMA for that matter that uses this word to describe their forms is the ITF. Choi Hong Hi most likely changed the name of his forms from Hyung to Tul because of the purity of the Korean language as he was very frank in his views of making Taekwondo into a "purely" Korean art. The word "Tul" can be translated into several different words in English but in the book called "What is Taekwondo Poomsae" by Lee Kyu Hyung he writes that Tul means "Frame". In the dictionary you get:
  • frame
  • housing
  • mold
  • case
  • formality
All these translations of the word could be used. Mold, and Case could both have the same meaning as the Hanja for Hyung. Another possibility for a translation of "Tul" is "Pattern". I learned that General Choi did not like the word "form" as people could have great kicks, punches (good "form") but their patterns could be very bad. Therefore he did not equate "form" with "pattern". While most "older" KMA styles use the word "Hyung" ITF today uses the word Tul.

The WTF and Kukkiwon stylists uses a different word for their forms. Originally they too used Hyung. The first Koryo form from 1965ish was named Koryo Hyung. While the subsequent forms developed for the Kukkiwon style (Taegeuk and new Koryo) was named Poomse (품세). Until 1987 the Hanja for poomse was 品勢, and meant something like "Quality Shapes of Strength" or possibly "Flow of movements" (The last one being the closest to a literal translation on the term). In 1987 the Hangul (native Korean writing system) was changed to a pure Korean word, with no Hanja by changing the last Hangul letter from Se () to Sae (새). Now the meaning of Poomsae (품새) according to Marc Tadeshi is Appearance of movements, look of movements, poom meaning or implying movement, se meaning flow, and sae being a shortened form for looks, appearance . So these days Patterns or Forms in the Kukkiwon and WTF should be written poomSAE and not poomSE. Still there is nothing wrong with using Hyung, Tul, Poomse, and Poomsae interchangedly as they all describe essentually the same thing in the martial arts. Namely Martial Forms/Patterns. It is the different organisations that favour the different names, but they do point to the same activity. Therefore there is no real difference between a "Hyong" pattern and a "Tul" pattern as they both refer to martial forms, but I guess you could make a case on the following:¨
  • Hyung refers to the original Karate forms that was imported to the Kwan as well as older forms before the word Poomse/Poomsae and Tul was used. As such they would most likely do their power generation by hip twist.
  • Tul refers to the martial forms of the ITF as it is only they that seem to use this word. These forms use Sine Wave to do their power generation.
  • Segment of a martial form found in both
    Kata, Hyung, Tul and Poomsae
  • Poomse was Kukkiwons own name for form until 1987 when it was changed to Poomsae. They both refer to the forms taught and practised by the Kukkiwon and WTF stylists.
And thats it. It is not that easy as the model above since all the words refer to martial patterns. It is not uncommon to see a pattern named using all the above in different Dojangs. A WTF affiliated school using both the forms created by Choi Hong Hi and the Taegeuk set for instance would most likely chose just one term for all its forms. As such the form Chon Ji could be called Chon Ji Hyung/ Chon Ji Tul or Chon Ji Poomsae in different Dojang around the world. But for the most part my "definition" above could be used (allthough with care) as this is the most widely usage of the terms.

I hope you became a little wiser in regards of the terms and usage of Tul, Hyung, Poomse and Poomsae:-)

All the best.


  1. Very nice read! I was just asking a very senior Korean Pioneer what Poomsae means & he couldn't say. He was very clear about Hyung & Tul.

    1. You welcome :-) I'm glad you enjoyed the read:-)

    2. perfect good job explaining the difference with out all the politics involved in the changing of the names.

    3. I'm glad you enjoyed this article :-) I try to stay away from politics as much as possible.

  2. Thanks, that was a really cool read!