Thursday, 15 March 2012

Practical application for Keumgang Poomsae: Part One

This posture closely resembles the
signature move of Keumgang Poosmae.
Picture from summer holliday 09
Keumgang Poomsae has always been one of my favorite Poomsae in our system of Taekwondo. Even a long time before I was actually taught to perform it I loved to watch it during belt promotion tests, competitions and demonstrations. It is a very unique form in our system as it contains a lot of "Dan Jun Breathing" (deep abdominal breathing excercises used to develop "Ki") and that it does not contain a single kick. The absense of kicks makes it truly unique in that it is a form practised in a martial style often thought of as a kicking art.

I ripped this intro to the form from this site allthough that site draws its material heavely from the Kukkiwon Textbook:

"Keumgang Poomse 금강 (金剛)
The original meaning of “Keumgang” is “to strong to be broken.” In Buddhism it also refers to something that can heal mental anguish through a combination of wisdom and virtue. In Korea, the most beautiful mountain in the Taebeak mountain range is called Keumgang. The “diamond” form takes its name from Mt. Keumgang and reflects all of the virtues associated with it as a symbol of solidity and permanence. The movements of this form should be performed powerfully to represent the immovable majesty of the mountain.
Keumgang of course roughly means “mountain” and the Chinese (Hanja) for that is so clearly this is the diagram for this.

Keumgang (meaning diamond) has the significance of “hardness” and “ponderosity”. The Mt. Keumgang on the Korean peninsula, which is regraded as the center of national spirit, and the “Keumgang yoksa” (Kumgang warrior) as named by Buddha, who represents a mightiest warrior, are the background of denominating this poomsae. New techniques introduced in this poomsae are batangson teokchigi, hansonnal momtong anmakki, Keumgangmakki, santeulmakki, kheun doltzeogi (large hinge), etc., and the hakdariseogi. The poomsae line symbolizes a mountain displayed by the Chinese letter. The movements should be powerful and well-balanced so as to befit black-belter’s dignity." End quote.

The form in question can be seen by looking at this video:

Unfortunatly I do not have illustrations for the applications I am about to share so please bear with me.

First and second move after the ready position ( Betwen 7-10 seconds into the video): The first "wedge block" or "Heocho Makki" in Korean is a defense against a great number of things. For this time I will say against a person standing in front of you grabing both your arms that are in ready stance position (or simular to ready stance position). Do the "block" to release the wrist holds, extend your arm to grab your oponent and move forward striking his chin with your open hand while pulling him "into" your strike. Continue with any follow up if the situation requires it and flee the scene.
The same moves could also be a defense against a lapel grab (just be sure to do the "block" BEFORE they secure their grip on you), or a two handed push/shove.

The openhanded strike toward the chin does not appear in any other form in our system(!) so be sure to appreciate this form in your syllabus (if you are a Kukki style Taekwondo student).  The form continues with two aditional open handed strikes at chin level while advancing forwards in long front stance. This could certainly be seen as either two follow up strikes to the aforementioned aplication, it could be seen as a symbol to the student that you can follow up with any of your hands after the "block" but you use your right hand two times in the forms as most people are right handed (while newer martial arts master say you should develop both sides equally by training your weak side the most, older forms often favour the right hand more than the left hand, and this can be taken as an advice to focus on your strenghts).

I look at the two aditional strikes as being two more unique ways to use the same movement, or the same movement used in a different context. In the Muye Dobo Tongji it is written (paraphrasing) "that many movements look exactly the same but the function is different". If you isolate the movement of the second openhanded strike you will see that the non striking hand is placed in front of the body while the other is at the hip, as you move forwards you pull your non striking hand toward your hip and strike forward with your striking hand toward the chin.

The second openhanded strike in the form is done with the left hand. The oponent shoves you with his right hand, you slip slightly off line (to the outside) of the shove, grab his hand with your right hand, pull him into off balance and strike his chin while moving forward. As you are comming at him from a slight angle you can use the front stance to "chrash" into his knee from the side taking him completly off balance and maybe injuring his knee joint in the process.

The third openhanded strike toward the chin is performed once again with your right hand. Picture yourself standing infront of an oponent. He starts to throw a haymaker punch or wild swing at your head. Instead of blocking it you shoot your left hand forward and stop the punch by striking his shoulder/bicep area completly destroying his momentum. Imediatly you grab his upper arm with your left hand (you could do this in one motion, and if you think about it as this is a follow up from the last openhanded punch the "non striking hand" is actually in an open handed position allready, you just close the hand to grab) and pull him off balance and into your openhanded strike toward his chin.

So here we have valid "street worthy" practical combative applications against common "street attacks" or HAOV (Habitual Acts Of Violence). If you want to learn how to "read your forms" like I have done in the examples above I will refer you to "Bunkai Jutsu" by Iain Abernethy. If you want a resource with premade combative applications to the forms you practise you should get: "Taegeuk Cipher" by Simon John O`Neil if your are a WTF/Kukkiwon affiliated student or "Chang Hon Hae Sul" by Stuart Anslow if you are an ITF/Chang Hon affiliated student. If you want to get started right away and for free of charge you can read my posts regarding practical applications of Poomsae and especially the post "Get some function in your form".

Click here for part two. Here I will look closer on the three "inward knife hand blocks" performed in back stance.


  1. In my dojang I had sessions once and a while where two students had to cooperate. One was doing the pomsae, the other one had to run around and to tecknicks that could fit whith the application. Lets say it was a hight block in the pattern, the other one had to do an attack to this defence. If it for example was a kick in the pomsae, the other student had to find a way to think for himself how to defence himself to the kick... Many things was a benefit of this sort of training.

    1- students had to think for them selfs what they was actiually doing in the pattern

    2- many then saw why I tryed to say that everything we do and train are for beeing better fighters, and to train pomsae is a must if you want to be a full complete martial art fighter.

    3- they understod faster the inportentnes of thinking by them selfs, and not only follow orders.

    4- Its actiually not easy to do a pattern, and have another student running around you to do the attacks or defences that an imaginering person jusely are,-

    This a recomand for all instructors to do at training once and a while,-
    both students also have to learn to be "partners", and the sixe or the weight, have nothing to do whit it,- it actually become even more difficult if the two persons have different bodysizes..
    try it,
    you learn as well, as an instructor...

    " a great instructor have something new at every training, even to do things everybody know, just that they do it in a tiny different way, like let 3 or 4 students start going pomsae whith theyr backs together. They start in different sides in the dojang, they must concentrate, even more just because they start in 3 or 4 different sides in the room, because you want them to find a rythm together, and end the pattern exatly where they started, "

    nina standal, 3dan in TTU , Norwau

    1. Hi Nina and thanks for sharing this tip.

      This is in my opinion a great way to start the students with "hard style/old school" applications. I remember that this was one of my favorite ways to practise Poomsae, and I think it is an important first step that is sadly often not taken in many schools.

      For many the practise of forms is the same as practising the performance of the forms, but if you take your time and read the Kukkiwon Textbook you will see that the performance part of Poomsae training is just the first two steps (out of five). The rest is about finding out the practical uses for the movements, practise them, and adopt it into your own personal way (this is not openly taught in the Kukkiwon, but this is what the kukkiwon textbook says).

      Your method of teaching takes the student from step two (perfecting the performance of Poomsae) to step three (finding out the practicality of the movements).

      Later when the hard style applications are mastered to a sufficient degree the same teaching method might with small changes prove most usefull for the more "alternative" applications like the ones I have provided in this post.

      Thanks again for sharing Nina.