Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Choi Hong Hi`s Theory of Power

(I must appologise but for some strange reason this whole post gets messed up each time I try to post it. I have tried to clean it up but it is still "scrambled" in that some of the paragraphs are a little out of place. I managed to rewrite some of them and now the post does make sense eventhough it looks a little messy. Sorry for the inconvinience)

Choi Hong Hi does not really need an introduction on a Taekwondo blog, but I will give him one nonetheless.

Choi Hong Hi (often known as "General Choi") founded along with Nam Tae Hi one of the most influential Kwan during the 1950s the Oh Do Kwan. This was the millitary Dojang and since all able bodied men had to do service in the army all were exposed to Oh Do Kwan methods. Choi Hong Hi and his pioneers made the earliest attempts (that I am aware of) of making their original Karate art into something new. One of the things they did was to make the Chang Hon form in the period 1950s-1970s.

Choi was one of the founding members as well as the first president of the KTA that would later go on to found the Kukkiwon and he founded the ITF in the 1960s. The outside worlds first glimpses of what was to become known as Taekwondo came from Choi and his pioneers tours where they traveled around demonstrating the art. He also authored the first English book on Taekwondo in 1965.
General Choi is also known as the man who named Taekwondo (this happened in April 1955).

He is a man of great controversy and much of it is rooted in the bad blood that developed between the Kukkiwon and WTF on one side and ITF on the other in the 1970s untill today. I practise Kukkiwon Taekwondo but I started practising Taekwondo much thanks to this man.

Lets turn back time about 13 years to explain: 13 years ago I was at school minding my own business. Suddenly a boy that was 2 years older (and a lot more muscular than me) started pushing me quite hard for no other reason than to have a little fun with little me:) I had just started at this school wich was known for having a lot of fights and bullies.. The ensuing fight we had was not really much of a fight. He pushed me several times untill I kicked his shin hard with my right foot (all that soccer practise finally payd of). This made him bend over so I performed a half nelson I think it is called or a head lock untill the teachers arrived to take the older student to the "office."

This was really not much of a fight but it did make me want to know how to defend myself and be prepared if this was going to be my everyday life. I started reading and researching all the different martial arts that were around my neighbourhood to find something suitable and I landed on Traditional Taekwon-Do as my chosen art to study. The reasons? They were plentifull but they all came from Choi Hong Hi. His writings about Taekwondo were clear, it was a simple, effective martial art with no basis on "magic" or the esoteric. The basis of Taekwondo was scientiffic and it allowed smaller men to defeat bigger men. One of the things that really caught my attention was his Theory of Power. The explanation on concentration to be exact. All Taekwondo techniques focuses the power in small parts of the body. He used an analogy of a man wearing snow shoes distributing his weight (power) over a large surface making no to little impression on the snow. He then wrote about a lady who concentraded all her weight on the long thin heels of her shoes that would easily sink into the snow. This analogy really got me and I searched for a Traditional Taekwon-Do Dojang as I had been made aware that there was phony Taekwondo and Sport Taekwondo that was evil itself.

A friend of mine introduced me to one of this "phony Taekwondo" teachers anyway as he was a 8th Dan (now 9th) and a Korean and that gave his Taekwondo a touch of autenticity. As Taekwondo came from Korea a Grandmaster that was a Korean had to be the best source of knowledge right? Not neccesarily but I was lucky to have ended up with my teacher and I have studied with him ever since.

As Choi Hong Hi`s "Theory of Power" made me want to start Taekwondo I think I should share it here so others might be inspired as well. If you allready practise a martial art I think that the Theory of Power is so profound that it could make you better understand where your power comes from or how to develop more.

In my opinion Choi Hong Hi`s Theory of Power was one of the earliest and most important innovations that seperated the earlier Martial art that the Pioneers studied abroad and brought back to Korea and what would become known as Taekwondo. The Martial Art(s) the founders of Taekwondo studied relied heavily on oral transmissions and "traditions". Most of the training was Kihon (basic technique), Kata (martial forms) and pounding the Makkiwara (striking post known by several different names in Korean; Dallyon Joo being one of them). There was little "testing" of skills beyond the Makkiwara pounding and the Kata exhibitions in training and most explanations on how to generate power were esoteric in nature. Choi Hong Hi developed the Theory of Power both as a scientific explanation on where the power comes from and as a way to explain how to deveolp (more) power in the techniques. The first English book on Taekwondo (from 1965) contained the first version of the Theory of Power, wich has been researched continuisly untill recent years by Choi Hong Hi. His untimely death a few years ago put a stop to the Theory of Powers evolution but maybe some of his students will pick up the mantle and add to it when the time is right. Anyway here is the introduction on the Theory of Power by the man himself: Choi Hong Hi.

The beginning student may ask; “Where does one obtain the power to create the devastating results attributed to Taekwon-Do?” This power is attributed to the utilization of a person’s full potential through the mathematical application of Taekwon-Do techniques. The average person uses only 10 to 20 percent of his potential. Anyone, regardless of size, age, or sex who can condition himself to use 100 percent of his potential can also perform the same destructive techniques.

Though training will certainly result in a superb level of physical fitness, it will not necessarily result in the acquisition of extraordinary stamina or superhuman strength. More important, Taekwon-Do training will result in obtaining a high level of reaction force, concentration, equilibrium, breath control and speed; these are the factors that will result in a high degree of physical power.

I remember enjoying his writing style. I do not know why but it seems so clear cut and simple, not to mention scientific:) One of the main selling points for me is in this very paragraph where he states that an ordinary man uses 10-20% of his full potention and that through Taekwondo training you can learn to use 100%. No wonder then that I decided to start Taekwondo.

Reaction Force: According to Newton’s Law, every force has an equal and opposite force. When an automobile crashes into a wall with the force of 2,000 pounds, the wall will return a force of 2,000 pounds; or forcing the end of the seesaw down with a ton of weight will provide an upward force of the same weight; if your opponent is rushing towards you at a high speed, by the slightest blow at his head,
the force with which you strike his head would be that of his own onslaught plus that of your blow.

The two forces combined; his, which is large, and yours, which is small is quite impressive. Another reaction force is your own. A punch with the right fist is aided by pulling back the left fist to the hip.

Here was one paragraph that I was sure I would strongly disagree on after I started researching more practical applications to our movements. But as you can see he does describe the reason for how the pulling hand creates more power when we grab our opponent and pull them onto our attack. Maybe he does so unwittingly but it is there nonetheless. The last part I do disagree with though. It is rationalization on a part of training he either did not understand, OR he meant the first part to be the real reason and added the last sentence to give white belts a "scientific" reason for the pulling hand to the basic main stream application. It is not a good reason to pull back your hand at your hip in a fight unless you are pulling your opponent off balance other practical usages. Just putting your hand on your hip in itself is never a good idea. That being said, a pseudo scientific answer sounds a lot better to white belts than the normal "Because its tradition!" answer is.

Concentration: By applying the impact force onto the smallest target area, it will concentrate the force and therefore, increase its effect. For example, the force of water coming out of a water hose is greater if the orifice is smaller. Conversely, the weight of a man spread out on snow shoes makes hardly any impression on the snow. The blows in Taekwon-Do are often concentrated onto the edge of the open palm or to the crook of the fingers.

It is very important that you should not unleash all your strength at the beginning but gradually, and particularly at the point of contact with your opponent’s body, the force must be so concentrated as to give a knock-out blow. That is to say, the shorter the time for the concentration, the greater will be the power of the blow. The utmost concentration is required in order to mobilize every muscle of the body onto the smallest target area simultaneously.

In conclusion, concentration is done in two ways: one is to concentrate every muscle of the body, particularly the bigger muscles around the hip and abdomen (which theoretically are slower than the smaller muscles of other parts of the body) towards the appropriate tool to be used at the proper time; the second way is to concentrate such mobilized muscles onto the opponent’s vital spot. This is the reason why the hip and abdomen are jerked slightly before the hands and feet in any action, whether it be attack or defence. Remember, jerking can be executed in two ways: laterally and vertically.
Here you have a lot more "gems". One variation of his analogy I alluded to in the introduction to this post can be seen here. Concentrate your power into a small area, and to a vital point on the opponent.. He has even written about concepts that are very important "new" discoveries today like using the "core" and he covers the coordination needed to create optimum power generation.. I do not really have much to add here as I largely agree on what he has to say.

Equilibrium: Balance is of utmost importance in any type of athletics. In Taekwon-Do, it deserves special consideration. By keeping the body always in equilibrium, that is, well balanced, a blow is more effective and deadly. Conversely, the unbalanced one is easily toppled. The stance should always be stable yet flexible, for both offensive and defensive movements.

Equilibrium is classified into both dynamic and static stability. They are so closely inter-related that the maximum force can only be produced when the static stability is maintained through dynamic stability.

To maintain good equilibrium, the centre of gravity of the stance must fall on a straight line midway between both legs when the body weight is distributed equally on both legs, or in the centre of the foot if it is necessary to concentrate the bulk of body weight on one foot. The centre of gravity can be adjusted according to body weight. Flexibility and knee spring are also important in maintaining balance for both a quick attack and instant recovery. One additional point; the heel of the rear foot should never be off the ground at the point of impact. This is not only necessary for good balance but also to produce maximum power at the point of impact.

Balance is an important but often overlooked component to power generation. Choi Hong Hi explain it quite well in this paragraph but there is one point I strongly disagree with. The part with the heel always have to be planted for optimum power generation is something I have a problem with. You see after a lot of thinking, experimentation and looking to other physical related activities I have reached the conclusion that lifting your back heel can increase power generation by more hip involvement (more body weight transfer) as planting the heel on the ground "locks" the hip in place. The real reason for keeping the heel planted I think is that the original methods inprinted in the Hyung og Kata that he originally learned were very close range fighting. Here you need all the extra balance you can muster so you do not go to the ground. You solve this trade off with less power for more balance by using your pulling hand to pull the opponent onto your attack (see his writings on reaction force for this one). If however you are not in clinch and neither of you have secured a grip on the other and no grappling has comenced then lifting the heel to get more hip involvement is a good thing in my own opinion. This is the difference between "attached" and "unattached" punching methods as I see them.

Breath Control: Controlled breathing not only affects one’s stamina and speed but can also condition a body to receive a blow and augment the power of a blow directed against an opponent. Through practice, breath stopped in the state of exhaling at the critical moment when a blow is landed against a pressure point on the body can prevent a loss of consciousness and stifle pain. A sharp exhaling of breath at the moment of impact and stopping the breath during the execution of a movement tense the abdomen to concentrate maximum effort on the delivery of the motion, while a slow inhaling helps the preparation of the next movement. An important rule to remember; Never inhale while focusing a block or blow against an opponent. Not only will this impede movement but it will also result in a loss of power.

Students should also practice disguised breathing to conceal any outward signs of fatigue. An experienced fighter will certainly press an attack when he realizes his opponent is on the point of exhaustion. One breath is required for one movement with the exception of a continuous motion.
Here I do not really have much to add, but I do wonder why some Chang Hon Ryu students insists on that loud breathing method when Choi Hong Hi advices to hide your breathing from your opponent as a skilled opponent can take advantage by striking you at the right time when you are breathing.. My own teacher teaches the same thing; to mask or hide your breathing from your opponent if you are not doing a "kihap" that is for the same reasons Choi Hong Hi lists in the above paragraph.. Maybe this was written before he taught that loud breathing method to his students? I do not know but this paragraph seems very logical to me.

I like most of what he has to say in the paragraph below, but as a Kukki-Taekwondo "Hard style practisioner" I disagree with the sine wave and the knee spring as combativly valuable methods of power generation. I can see that in certain grappling applications these methods can help, but the way the mainstream Chang Hon Ryu students practise it on every technique no matter what kind does not sit right with me. I will admit that perhaps my training in a style that does not use these methods but actually discurages them might have colered my view on them (even if I am a person who tries to keep an open mind). I do invite any reader of this blog to contact me if he or she wants to write a post on sine wave and or knee spring as a "guest blogger":) It might create a good discussion on the subject or at least give some clarity on the issue as my own experiences with them are limiting to say the least.


Mass: Mathematically, the maximum kinetic energy or force is obtained from maximum body weight and speed and it is all important that the body weight be increased during the execution of a blow. No doubt the maximum body weight is applied with the motion of turning the hip. The large abdominal muscles are twisted to provide additional body momentum. Thus the hip rotates in the same direction as that of the attacking or blocking tool as in figure F. Another way of increasing body weight is the utilization of a springing action of the knee joint. This is achieved by slightly raising the hip at the beginning of the motion and lowering the hip at the moment of impact to drop the body weight into the motion.
In summarizing, it is necessary to point out that the principles of force outlined here hold just as true today in our modern scientific and nuclear age as they did centuries ago.

I am sure that when you go through this art, both in theory and in practice, you will find that the scientific basis of the motions and the real power which comes out a small human body cannot fail to impress you.

Speed: Speed is the most essential factor of force or power. Scientifically, force equals mass multiplied by acceleration (F = MA) or (P = MV2).

According to the theory of kinetic energy, every object increases its weight as well as speed in a downward movement. This very principle is applied to this particular art of self-defence. For this reason, at the moment of impact, the position of the hand normally becomes lower than the shoulder and the foot lower than the hip while the body is in the air.

Reaction force, breath, control, equilibrium, concentration, and relaxation of the muscles cannot be ignored. However, these are the factors that contribute to the speed and all these factors, together with flexible and rhythmic movements, must be well coordinated to produce the maximum power in Taekwon-Do
You can not write about power generation without writing about speed:) Choi Hong Hi does a great job here but he does have a strange point as well. He writes that the hand should be lower than the shoulders in combat when you hit the opponent for maximum power. In self defense striking the head of the opponent seems to be one of the premium objectives so you can either KO him, or stun him enough so you can make your excape. We can not take the theory of power so litturally that we never strike any target that leaves your hand higher than your shoulders. That might work on paper but I do not see it work as well in practical application.

All in all I still think this is a great piece of work, and that all Taekwondoin should at least read through it a couple of times. If nothing else, this "Theory of Power" is one of the things that seperates Taekwondo from the older martial arts; in that one of our founders tried so hard to explain and ground the martial art in Modern Western Science and leave the unfounded and esoteric explanations behind...

I should perhaps say that I never did get any use of Taekwondo at the school as that one "fight" I had plus the fact that I had started Taekwondo study discouraged all the future bullies to "test" me any more.. I got off the hook pretty easily it seems, but the good thing about the "fight" was that it put me on a jurney that still continues to develop me as a person and as a martial artist.

(The quotes I found here they are in the post for educational purposes only and they were Reproduced from "Taekwon-Do" (The Korean Art of Self Defence) also known as The Condensed Encyclopaedia. Fifth Edition 1999, All rights reserved Copyright 1988, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1999 General Choi, Hong Hi.)


  1. Hi Ørjan,

    I really enjoyed your commentary on the Theory of Power.

    Just some points.

    "but the way the mainstream Chang Hon Ryu students practise it [sine wave motion] on every technique no matter what kind does not sit right with me."

    Actually there are many Chang Hon Ryu groups; i.e. groups that use the Chang Hon Rhy forms. However, most of them do not employ the sine wave motion. It is an almost exclusively ITF Taekwon-Do way of moving. But even in ITF it is not (when taught properly) applied to every technique. I wrote a post on it here: http://sooshimkwan.blogspot.kr/2012/04/sine-wave-motion-is-not-ever-present.html

    The part about the fist that should be "lower than the shoulder and the foot lower than the hip while the body is in the air", I think refers to jumping / flying techniques ("while the body is in the air"), or at least that is how I have always understood it.

    Maybe I could one day take up your invitation to write about the sine wave motion if I have the time. However, I have written about it quite extensively on my blog: http://sooshimkwan.blogspot.kr/2012/03/sine-wave-motion-in-itf-taekwon-do.html

    Btw, I enjoy your blog and was happy to include it on my links-page.



    1. Hi SooShimKwan. It is great to have you commenting on the blog, and I am very happy that you took your time commenting the post. Thank you for your kind comments on my blog and let me tell you that I really enjoy both your blog and your articles. It is your blog and articles that has made me shift from the hard style perspective of completly dismissing sine wave to be a little more openminded that there might be something in it that I am missing out on because I have not encountered it in my own training.

      I take you point that "main stream Chang Hon students" might not be a valid thing to say as there are three different ITF now (if I am not mistaken?)doing things slightly differently and following different masters, as well as all the independent Chang Hon based styles that do not incorporate Sine Wave at all. I apologize about that. I will try to be a little clearer in my writings to come:-)

      And the part where I wrote about the fist being lower than the shoulder is spot on. I wrote this post four times because there was an error that kept comming when I tried to publish it. It got deleted twice too. So in the end I was a bit rushed and forgot my original comment: "Unless he only refers to jumping techniques in wich case I agree on this point too" or someting along those lines. Thanks for spotting it SooShimKwan:-)

      Also I thank you for providing the relevant links to your posts regarding Sine wave as well as you linking to this blog from yours:-)

  2. To write some thing about this beautiful sport is similar to practice it, though it is rather the Technique than the quantity of effort. Taekwondo is very interesting and very intelligent sport. If you are intelligent, you can win against big bodies, even if you are just a little man, woman or even a child. The power of this sport lies sure on the technique, the Technique requires high intelligence to be so good and so far. If we look at this sport from scientifacal side, we will find that most of the practiced theories are scientific. The power of knowing the Technique or the power of your opponent in addition to the power of concentration make you just think of very high rank of supreme intelligence. The required cloths, the helm and other protectors are actually meant to be there, where the kick might going to reach and exactly there and not some wherre else, that is why we see that we lose points if we hit the face and some other places, meanwhile we win some points if hit the exact required points, the head under the helm and for every place there are different points, similar to Bowling play, and every body knows that Bowling depends a lot on mathematics, arithmatics and geomatry and this is pure sience. That is why also the people study the Taekwondo in universities, which is unique and seldom, but there is doubt that this sport has much to do with science, specially if you study and graduate having the title of professor of taekwondo or doctor, or phd in Taekwondo, which is very strange in any other martial arts.

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