Friday, 4 November 2011

The Pillars of Taekwondo Training Part Two; Poomsae/Patterns

In an earlier post I mentioned "The pillars of Taekwondo training". I defined them as Basic techniques, Forms training, sparring, self defense and breaking.(The post I am reffering to can be read by clicking here:)This has long been the format of what is usually labeled "Traditional Taekwondo" and I thought that I should write a little more indepth about each "pillar" this time. In this the second part of this rant I will look closer on what many consider "the second pillar" of Taekwondo training namely Poomsae. Part one was about basic techniques and it can be read by clicking here



First off I do not wish to repeat myself to much as I have allready written a lot about mainstream Poomsae training, its definition, history benifits, myths etc that can be read here (read more) and here (read more).

Lets just briefly go over a few parts that are essentual to have in a rant like this though. First of a definition on Poomsae the way it is most often viewed. I took the liberty to go to google and type in "what is poomsae". This is what Google came up with:
  • Poomsae is a combination of basic actions and movements exercised with an imaginary opponent
  • Poomsae is the Korean equivalent of Kata in Japanese karate.
  • Poomsae are practised to improve Taekwondo techniques
  • Poomsae (patterns) are a pre-arranged set of movements gradually becoming more complex the more you learn.
  • Poomsae is a series of movements with both offensive and defensive techniques, which can be practised and trained even without the presence of an instructor.
So according to the vast majority Poomsae are basic techniques (see part one of this series), both offensive and defensive, that gradually increases in complexity that are practised to improve Taekwondo tecniques (basics; again see part one). This rant has allready learned me a great deal. What I kind of expected that I came to realise in part one of this series is that Taekwondo does have forms in them and has had forms all the way back from the start, but Taekwondo is not a "Forms based" martial art. At least not to the vast majority for its students. No it is a technique based martial art. The same way boxing, main stream Judo (yes I know they have Kata but I did write main stream), Brazilian juijutsu, Krav Maga etc are.

Performing Poomsae Sipjin
To the general Taekwondo public Poomsae or forms is just a string of basics thrown together, and forms are practised to drill basic techniques or as I like to say; "fundemental movements". Poomsae does not contain any strategy or principles, they do not contain any secrets, and there is no mystique in them at all. After all a low block is a low block right? I mean there are just so many techniques missing from Poomsae that it makes poomsae a very poor way to transfer the knowledge of the martial art of Taekwondo. I always believed that Taekwondo was a forms based martial art and I will readely admitt to start Taekwondo training to learn forms. But if you take the common Taekwondoins view and see forms as just another way to practise fundemental movements then you do see that the martial art of Taekwondo are a technique based art. 

The training of Poomsae in main stream Dojang is all about performance. You practise poomsae to get to the next belt, for demonstrations, or for competitions. In a forms based martial art the forms would contain applications to show you principles that you could use in combat. Lets look at Taegeuk il Jang first two moves: Turn 90 degrees to the left and perform an arae makki (low block) in ap seogi (short front stance) then step forward with right foot to ap seogi (short front stance) and perform a momtong jirruegi (middle section punch). Two simple techniques, that in the view of the common Taekwondo student are done like this to drill basics. But look at them. Why on earth do we turn and why to the left? Why excactly these two techniques? Why is the hand on your hip on both techniques? Why this stance as opposed to another stance? The questions are endless. In a formsbased martial art all the questions above would be clear. There would be maybe two appliactions for the move (one basic and one advanced) or just the one definitive one. This application would show some important principles that could be used very different contexts during combat.

Lets say that the opponent throws a soccer kick to your groin (this way we can still use the good old low blocks are defenses for kicks explanation:-p ). You turn 90 degrees to get out of the way of the attact and use one hand to smother and controll one of the oponents hands dragging him out of balance while striking his kidney or liver with a hammer hist. You then preceed with grabbing him with the hand you used to hammer fist him and drag him onto you punch also delivered to a weak spot. Ok you learned a good defense against the soccer kick. But did you really only learn that? There are several principles we can use in any number of circumstanses for the first two moves:
  • Get out of the way of the attack! (good one)
  • Always try to control you oponent soo he can not attack you.
  • When possible take away his balance
  • Always aim for weak spots (but dont count on them, always have a back up plan)
  • Never rely on taking him out with only one attack, always have a follow up.
  • etc. 
You would practise the form to remember the principle. But when you are fighting or defending your self you do not need to use those specified techniques. You could use different strikes then straight punches with the knuckles and still use the principles mentioned above. When you start to think like this you can really appreciate why the masters of old only practised few forms. They did not need 24 forms to understand and remember their fighting principles. It is not so much the techniques contained in the form that are important, but the message they are conveying.

Taekwondo is a wonderfull martial art as it gives its practisioners the choice to either be technique based (use the poomsae to drill its fundemental movements) or formsbased (to use the forms a a "zip-file" to record the practisioners self defense strategy/strategies). There are very few martial arts so diverse as Taekwondo in this matter. Not only do the students have a choice in this but you also get so many forms to choose from. In Kukkiwon we now have 17 official Poomsae (Taegeuk 1-8 and 9 black belt forms) as well as 8 Palgwae forms that are considered supplemental forms by many. Choose wisely and study dilligently, or simply memorise the sequences and drill those basics as never before! 

In the old Kwan they relied on the most "effective" (often simple) techniques to be used in self defense and sparring. The forms were pracitsed mostly to drill the basics in large groups. I do believe the founders intended Taekwondo to be a more formsbased martial art than it is currently practised but thats for another post:-)

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