Monday, 30 April 2012

Are Kicking, Blocking and Striking the only methods in Poomsae?

Funakoshi demonstrating a
grappling attack that looks
suprisingly as if it was taken
from Koryo Poomsae!
Often when you read stuff on Poomsae, Poomse, Hyung, Tul, Kata etc you will see that each movement is described as a technique and each technique belong to a specific class of techniques. The most typical way of describing them within my own school of Taekwondo ("Kukki-style") is thusly:
  • Seogi (stance)
  • Chagi (kicks)
  • Jireugi (punches)
  • Chigi (strikes)
  • Makki (blocks).
Looking at the list and knowing that each movement in Poomsae blongs into one of these you can easily be led to believe that the only methods that Poomsae records are blocks, kicks and strikes.. Very few approach their study of Poomsae with the belief that there are more to Poomsae than this.

In my last post I posted a beautifull quote from Gichin Funakoshi

"You may train for a long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not very different from learning a dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do."
So he believed that to truly understand both Karate (Taekwondo) you need to understand what you are doing, or else you are just learning movements without meaning (wich he describes as being akin to learning how to dance). What is also a little interesting about the quote is that he seems to think that your martial art need practical content for the exponent to truly understand "Do" (the way).

There has been a lot of discussion going on in the last few years that "Do"-arts do not practise in a practical way and lack realistic skills. "Jutsu" (or "Musul" in Korean) arts on the other hand is believed to contain all the pracitcal training methods that develop realistic skills that the "Do"-arts lack. Here you have one of the greatest pushers of Karate as a "Do"-art wich later influenced Taekwon to include the "Do" ending too, saying that to understand and reach "Do" you need to master "Musul" first.

But this is not a post on the difference  between Musul and Do or how "Do"-arts today practise lack pragmatisism it is a post on wether our martial forms contain other tactics than the usual blocks, kicks and strikes. I here chose once again to look to our teachers teacher so to speak. Today Karate and Taekwondo is usually believed to contain only kicks, strikes and blocks. No holds, no joint locks and no throws or sweeps are usually attributed to Karate and Taekwondo. This has not always been the case however here is one quote from Kenwa Mabuni (teacher of at least one Kwan head):

The karate that has been introduced to Tokyo is actually just a part of the whole. The fact that those who have learnt karate there feel it only consists of kicks & punches, and that throws & locks are only to be found in judo or jujutsu, can only be put down to a lack of understanding … Those who are thinking of the future of karate should have an open mind and strive to study the complete art
Choki Motobu demomstrating a
lock that looks as if it could be
from Sipjin Poomsae!
(often seen as a double punch)
So here we see that Karate did originally have everything you would expect from a well rounded martial art. The emphasis has always been kicking and punching but there was always a grappling part that is more or less lost today.

Did the founders learn this part of Karate? This is an ongoing discussion but I think we can safely say that the Karate that our founders learned contained a lot more grappling than the modern Karate styles have. Throws and locks are shown both in Kukkiwon Textbook (only in the "sparring" chapter) and they have their own chapter in the Taekwondo encyclopedia of General Choi Hong Hi. Throws as well as locks are shown in the writings of all the Karate Pioneers (even in Funakoshi`s who is often said to not know any shows numerous locks and throws in his writings).

So Karate contained more tactics that kicks blocks and strikes, were these aditional tactics recorded within the "Hyung" that the founders of Taekwondo learned? Here is what Gichin Funakoshi has to say:

In karate, hitting, thrusting, and kicking are not the only methods, throwing techniques and pressure against joints are includedall these techniques should be studied referring to basic kata
Notice the last part of the quote (emphasis added by me). He says this quite clearly that the Hyung that the founders of Taekwondo learned all contained both throws, and locks. The forms we use today are not the same as the ones they learned, but the building blocks (basic techniques) are usually the same. There are two ways you can look at it and they are
  • The locks and throws are in Kukkiwon Poomsae by accident as the basic techniques are the same as those used to reccord those movements in the original Taekwondo Hyung.
  • The locks and throws are in Kukkiwon Poomsae by deliberate design.
There are many pros and cons on either viewpoint but no matter how you chose to look at it, throws and locks are found in Poomsae and the Poomsae can be intrepreted in such a way as to reccord a self defense syllabus. Just look at Simon John O`Neill`s "Taegeuk Cipher". He has reintrepreted all the Taegeuk to form a consise realistic self defense syllabus.


  1. Ørjan - that picture of Choki Motobu you've used while looking like it's a double punch really has the dynamics of a lower block. The back hand is pulling back and 'chambering' whilst the front striking hand is blocking down or trapping the opponent's back hand. IMO one plausible application of the double punch ala naihanchi/chulgi extends the opponent's lead punching hand (with the extended 'punch') and strikes to the side or back of the opponent's neck (with the across-the-body strike). Colin

    1. You are quite right, but if you look at Chulgi Hyung as a mnemonic (Did I spell that one correct?) the mechanics do not have to be correct in the form to be an application from the form. I think this is what Choki Motobu meant in his 1932 book that this movement represents a concept of dealing with an attack with both hands.

      The mechanic of this application might fit low block movment better, but if you look at the technique in question as a snapshot (and not the movement itself) it could still be an application from the form as the snapshot is just a mnemonic to remember the application itself.

      That is why I wrote that it was almost as it was taken out of Sipjin poomsae:-) In the end though the main point is that the pracitcal application that is shown in the picture could be taken from just about any form in Kukki-style Taekwondo as almost all the Poomsae in the system contain low block:) (Sip Jin Poomsae is one of the few that does not have regular low block in it).

      Thanks for the application to the double punch Colin. Do you have any pictures or video that demonstrates it? I have a post devoted to the practical application of the double punch and yours is not in it (yet):-)

    2. I don't have a video, but if you want I could try to get some this weekend. In fact my student was practising that very technique last Thursday.

      It is not mutually exclusive. Chulgi has both the lower block and the double punch. Yet, I am familiar with Motobu's mefotode. :-) You're doing good to highlight it.



    3. That would be great Colin:)

  2. Hello
    obviously you are on the right track here. i would like to emphasize the point-there is no "do" without the effective ability to use applications. otherwise the whole thing degenerates into a sport, the meaningless dance cited above, devoid of both spirit and content.
    with regard to the double punch in Sipjin:
    1. i noted that there were certain applications in forms that made no sense without vital point knowledge. the simultaneous punches are a clear example of this. properly applied they are very effective in breaking down an opponent.
    2. while more glaringly obvious in the so called "barrel pushing" movements in the form (akin to "fair lady weaves shuttle" in Yang Tai-Chi, the double punch relies on excellent structural integrity and alignment. In Chinese arts referred to as Peng (prn "pong"). this is an area rarely studied in depth in modern TKD, as it relies on momentum to cover up these failings, but is foundational. i had a teacher who could stand on one leg, hold his arm out, and tell you to push him over. you couldn't move him. (wish i could do that!)
    3. as we move forward in the form that is how the attack is largely viewed. i don't believe this is wholly accurate. it is more like moving into a position of "Peng" as the opponent moves to attack you. with proper structure the effect (for him) is like slamming into a wall that is targeting the vital points on opposite sides of his trunk. see #1 above.
    another Tai-Chi analog for this would be the "Repulse Monkey" motion, except we are going forward.
    i realize the above seems far fetched to most, i apologize in advance, and can only say-don't get me started in demonstrating the "cup and saucer" hand formation as a way to dislocate a shoulder.
    again i apologize for the going on too long.

    1. Interesting and thought provocing all at once Richard:) Do not worry about length of the comment though. It is the readers choice if he/she wants to read them:) If they think they are to long to read than their loss. Those who wants to learn will read no matter how long the comment(s) are;)It would be very interesting to read more about the "chinese viewpoint" you have through your study of Chinese Martial Arts.

  3. Hello
    well, i hope so. i try to keep things short, but sometimes i can't. i don't mean to pick on Chinese arts to the detriment of anything else. i am trying to elucidate core concepts that are applicable to all of these unarmed arts that have a common core, but differ in emphasis. believe me, 99% of Tai-Chi practitioners have no idea what structure is, much less any of the devastating techniques embedded in the form.

    with modern TKD (as well as JKA, Wushu, and all the other modern styles) so much of this is lost to the vast majority of participants. everything, as noted, is dependent on momentum and ones natural strength. this is easy to teach and perform, looks exciting, and is fun to do. we have, in the end, lost so much.

    i have no real objection to form instruction that preserves a tradition perfectly, even if the teacher does not know what the applications are above a basic level, but the reality is that someone should have some idea. changes are made to present day forms with no explanation that makes sense other than esthetic considerations, or attempting to achieve a level of standardization for either competitive purposes or ........ something.

    here we have changes not done in the speculative distant path, but in the media charged present. changes are made, implemented, the world largely goes along, but no one knows why. nobody is telling either.
    the Spartans managed to hold off whole armies, old tales tell of warriors who could do amazing things. true, they trained all the time, and i am just a lazy american, but they also might have known things that made a difference. my comments on the form above reflect some of what i have found.

    i have just finished watching Norwegian Ninja (Kommandor Treholt & Ninjatroppen) now those guys knew what they were doing!

    1. Yeah those guys really make me proud to be a norwegian:D