Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Wisdom from the past

This is a short but (hopefully) interesting post. Many argue that the only thing that matters when it comes to Poomsae, Hyung, Tul or what ever you wish to call it is its performance. I have gone back in time to see what the Pioneers of what was to eventually be brought to Korea to become Taekwondo had to say in a time when student retention, comercialism and all the watering down of the martial arts had not yet had the profound effects that they have today. Do you believe Poomsae are martial dances with no practical intent? Read on and hear it from a man closer to the "source" than we are.

Choki Motobu does not really come from Taekwondo`s lineage (I have never seen any thing that would hint at any Taekwondo Pioneers have studied with him) but he does share our lineage in that he studied with the same Karate teacher Funakoshi studied with. The course of Motobu and Funakoshi`s styles in Karate took was vastly different in that Motobu kept a lot of the old style traditions and emphasis on real life combat while Funakoshi kept the Kata and the movements but downplayed the applications. They both used forms in their training but Motobu kept his study narrow and deep while Funakoshi studied wide and shallow. Anyway this is what Choki Motobu had to say about Kata (Hyung, Tul, Poomse, Poomsae etc):

"All Poomsae* use the socalled postures (Poom*). In fact, there are many kinds of postures and many kinds of Poomsae. While learning these postures should not be totally ignored, we must be carefull not to overlook that they Are just forms or templates of sort; it is the function of their application which needs to be mastered"
Read the quote above and think a little about how this can change how you view your forms. It is truly an excellent explenation on how Poomsae should be viewed in a pragmatic sense. That being said I know that Poomsae is a lot more than this (mastering of basics, Ki development etc) but in a pragmatic Dojang wich forcuses on the practical application of Taekwondo this is how it should be, and this is the older way of looking at them from a combative viewpoint.

(* The translator kept the words Kata and Kamae wich I changed to the equalent Korean terms for better understanding for the Korean stylists. In the original translation you switch Poomsae with Kata and Poom with Kamae).


  1. hello
    i think i would like to weigh in here with some thoughts. i believe that there is more to the above than most people would appreciate at first glance. in the performance of form most people think of the end movement (posture) as the definition of the technique. this is not what he is getting at.

    what is important is the mechanics of what happens in between the initial movement and final posture. that is where the techniques of the art really lie. in that sense when we first learn a "middle block" the movements constitute a "mini form". most people miss the actual initial parry that occurs--the "blocking" part is form other things. our concentration on the end posture prevents us from seeing this.
    also missing when we do the forms is the actual "feel" of the application on another body. if you keep that in mind as you do the do the form, that is how the actual mental process works. the old masters specifically said this, but is largely ignored.
    lastly, since i am running out of space, for Poomse to be a "moving meditation" the mental running through of the apps is an essential component.
    sorry for the length

  2. "It is not the end position of the techniques that matters it is how you got there". This saying has shaped a lot of my understanding of forms and its applications. Even the most basic application of moving forward in long front stance and punch, many beginners move first, get into the stance and then punch. All the power and momentum from the forward shifting of bodyweight gone they only strike with a fraction of the power they could have, but the "form" or posture still "seems" to be very good. This is a huge problem that arises when we (1) only focus on the ending of the technique = ending of movement = "Posture". And (2) when the student uses most of his or hers training time by striking nothing but air.

    How would you define a car? I would define it as "A transportation device with four wheels."

    Looking at the definition above how can we define a "good" or "great" car? My definition would be:
    "that it performs with perfect balance between speed, safety and comfort."

    Now look at Poomsae and how it is usually judged only by performance. It is just like a very nice looking car that stands still. What matters is "Can it really do its job?" Does your Poomsae have an engine beneath its hood at all? A nice looking car without an engine has lost its purpose and can no longer function as a transportation device and can never be a "good" or "great" car as it can not do its job anymore. Poomsae today is often like that, only movement but little understanding and depth.

    Thanks for you comment Richard, your thoughts are always appreciated.