Friday, 23 March 2012

Are Poomsae designed to fight multiple opponents?

I had this discussion the other day on the internet with a "TKD Master Instructor". He basicly believed that everything in the mainstream texts when it comes to applications are the one and only. All the Poomsae are designed to fight multiple opponents and each time you turn you turn to face a new opponent. I said that yes this is one way to look at it, but for me the opponent is situated in front of me and the turns are to tell me where I should postition myself, to get body weight into grappling techniques, to learn how to develop hip twist as power generation etc. He then quickly pointed out the classic double blocks that are "obviously" designed to block two opponents attacks at the same time. I gave him some realistic applications against a single opponent instead. In the end he said that he would continue with the way he learned allthough I had "clever arguments":-)

I then tried to find out what the founders of Taekwondo said about this issue. I did not really find anything so I thought I should see if I could go nearer to the source so to speak. As forms in Taekwondo came largly into our art because of Japanese influences and because all Kwan had Karate roots looking at what the Karate teachers said about the issue is one way to enlighten ourselves. Then I stumbled upon this excellent piece of writing by none other than Kenwa Mabuni teacher of at least one Kwan founder. I guess that next time anyone wishes to discuss this issue I will just send them this article written by Kenwa Mabuni and translated bu Joe Swift:

"Kobo Kenpo Karatedo Nyumon by Kenwa Mabuni as translated by Joe Swift:

The meaning of the directions in kata (Poomsae) is not well understood, and frequently mistakes are made in the interpretation of kata (Poomsae) movements. In extreme cases, it is sometimes heard that "this kata (Poomsae) moves in 8 directions so it is designed for fighting 8 opponents" or some such nonsense. I would like to specifically address this issue now.
Looking at the enbusen for Pinan Nidan (Pyung Ahn 2 Hyung), one can see that karate kata (Taekwondo Poomsae) move in all directions, forward and back, left and right. When interpreting kata (Poomsae), one must not get too caught up in these directions. For example, do not fall into the trap of thinking that just because a kata (Poomsae) begins to the left that the opponent is always attacking from the left. There are two ways of looking at this:
1 - The (Poomsae) kata is defending against an attack from the left.
2 - Angle to the left against a frontal attack.
At first glance, both of these look alright. However, looking at only number (1), the meaning of the kata becomes narrow, and the kata, which in reality must be applied freely in any situation, becomes awfully meager in its application.
Looking at an actual example, the 5 Pinan kata all start to the left, and then repeat the same series of techniques to the right. Looking at interpretation (1), the opponent must always attack from the left, and while fighting that opponent, another opponent comes from behind so the defender turns to fight that opponent. This type of interpretation is highly unreasonable.
Looking at interpretation number (2) however, the 5 Pinan kata show us that against an attack from the front we can evade either left or right to put ourselves in the most advantageous position to defend ourselves."

Here is a link to the original site where I found this.

I do not think that I could have any hope to explain the turns and angles in forms better than Mabuni did. And Mabuni was also our teachers teacher so to speak, wich gives him a lot of authority on the issue.


  1. Hello
    a couple of extra thoughts to throw into the mix:
    many of the older forms (basai, tekki, empi) and their korean equivalents always begin to the individuals right hand/side. as they were more combat based and, most people being right handed, you always went out with your best shot. later when balance and symmetry become more important you always begin to the left--perhaps better to train it(?).

    it is useful to consider that in many forms the yell (kiai) comes when the individual is either setting up or performing a throw of some sort. many of the turns in the forms are exactly that.

    as an example to the discussion above many forms have a 270 degree turn to face an "enemy" on your right--who would ever do that!

  2. Ah but the 270 degree turn could be used by the likes of: Chuck Norris, Van Damme, Steven Seagal and the late Bruce Lee to name a few:p

    Seriously though a 270 degrees turn in my head is either a throw, take down or simply a turn so the pattern you are performing would not take up to much space:-)

    Interesting what you say about the older forms starting with the right hand. Why do you think that the newer ones starts with the left instead? I was taught that it was part of Asian Um (Yin) and Yang philosopy, that Um comes "first" because it is positive just like heavon is above the earth.

    Do you have any theories or have you been given a reason? All the Kukkiwon patterns starts to the left except Pyongwon where you first do a block to the right before turning and continuing with the left (Taegeuk Paljang startes to the front but with the left hand first).

  3. How about this mental excercise: Put the opponent directly infront of you for the opening moves in all the forms starting with form number one. What does the oponent do that makes you shift to the side while doing a low block movement (this is the opening move for the first three forms of Taegeuk patterns). Is he Pushing, punching, grabbing, etc? Something to play around with next training session?:-)

  4. Hello! I hope you guys don't mind me thinking along? I've been intensively studying (WTF) Taekwondo for the past 5 years (and will be up for my Black Belt this june). Besides that I've also been training weekly in Wing Chun as well as Baguazhang and Xing Yi Quan for the past three years.
    Every system you start practicing can teach you more about the other systems you've been practicing, much like Karate allows you to understand Taekwondo better. Of course, somewhere most of the styles are connected ;-).
    In Wing Chun we also start all the techniques with left, mainly because that's the weaker side (just as you've said Ørjan). In Baguazhang, many techniques are mainly to increase a certain body-awareness or control. I think the 270 turn is also there to increase the student's sense of balance. If he were to need it during a throw or the like, he will be able to perform it.
    I didn't really say anything new, I'm just confirming what you guys have said through what other systems have clearly documented. Oh and Ørjan, I'm really glad I came across your blog. I've always felt the sports Taekwondo was'nt really my thing, and it's glad to find fellow Martial Artists in the WTF Taekwondo world!

    1. Hi and welcome Thomas:) I do not mind you "thinking along" and I look forward to your thoughts and contributions. The more the merrier:)

    2. Not sure if you still read this but I wanted to say good luck with your black belt grading Thomas.