Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Poomsae and the math book. My attempt at an analogy

As the readers of this blog will know by know I really like Poomsae. Not only for their "form" (what you see) but also very much because of their "combative content". I firmly believe that Poomsae was the pioneers of Taekwondo`s way of preserving combat strategy by stringing different "examples" together into a mnemonic. I see them as "Taekwondo Textbook".

Pick up any math book and you will see each method of calculating first explained and then shown some examples and then there are assigments to work on the principle. Poomsae is not so different actually. You have the oral transmissions (wich is almost completly gone by the way). This would be the same as the explanation in the math book. For instance: Jack has two apples, Sylvia gives him two more. How many apples has Jack got now? 2 + 2 = 4. Jack has know 4 apples, but he meets his grandmother and she gives him 6 more apples. how many apples does Jack have know? 4 apples + 6 apples = 10 etc. In Taekwondo the oral transmissions works the same way. Unfortunatly much of the oral transmission is now lost or not well known to the general public. That is why you get all these weird applications as standard applications etc. You can still get the general message of old if you really study the writings of the Karate Pioneers (Choki Motobu, Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Chojun Myagi and many many more).

For instance Gichin Funakoshi gives an explanation on why you have the pulling hand in Karate (and Taekwondo) and how to use it in the Karate Do Kyohan. He explains it as grasping the limb of your attacker, twisting and pulling it into a punch or strike. Choki Motobu wich is regarded as one of the real practical expert on applied Karate explain how, and why you have to use both hands in a fight (he calls this mefutode or husband and wife hand). So now you have the oral transmission that to be a great or effective fighter you need to use both hands together. Choki Motobu explains the importance of this in his book, and Gichin Funakoshi gives some examples in his book.

Poomsae is the practical examples in the "Taekwondo textbook". Here we see the motions being used combativly using sound combative principles. The pulling hand is shown in ALL the Poomsae and this means that the principle is so important and effective that we cannot fail to make use of it in combat.

Kyorigi or sparring was originally meant to be the "assigments" in the math book. Now we have the explanations (the oral transmissions of old) on what is effective in combat, we have the pracitcal examples to both understand and remember the principles in form of techniques strung together in a sequence of moves in Poomsae, and now we have sparring to test to see if everything "works". Sparring today is far removed from its intended use as it is now being developed purely for sport and physical eduacation. I am not saying this is neccesarily a bad thing as it all comes down to what you are training for, but it is however far removed from its intended usage. For instance there is no grappling or grabbing of any kind in modern Taekwondo sparring. This makes one of the most profound concepts in Taekwondo redundant (the pulling hand is illegal in sparring and so naturally it is never used outside of Poomsae).

 The gap between Poomsae and Kyorigi/Sparring is growing more and more, and I do not see anything changing this in the near future. What I do see however is that many senior students are growing tired of sport and want more "martial" in their martial art. Therefore we loose many seniors or grown ups to other martial arts that are more "martial". If this continues I am wondering what the future of Taekwondo might be. Maybe it will only be known as "childrens martial art" in the future? Or maybe (and this is scary) the future is now???

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